Cathode Biography

The story of Cathode begins in a wobbly hired van on the M6 somewhere in the Lake District in 1999. I was moving from Oxford to Glasgow, which presented a few problems for the band I played guitar in, Cody. We continued to willfully thumb our collective nose at geographical scatter as guitarist John Johnson moved to Italy, by recording exclusively through the post, but it left me with the chance to think about making music solo. Cody had developed a strain of cautious, melodic electronic pop (somewhere between Stereolab, Spring Heel Jack and My Bloody Valentine) a few years too early, and as we scattered and our own tastes developed, I became more immersed in pure electronica, and after a revelatory Pan(a)sonic gig around the same time, Cathode was hatched.

Several shaky demos, a thousand glitch samples and one year later, another move to Newcastle-upon-Tyne (this time to train to be a clinical psychologist) coincided with the first outside interest in Cathode. Static Caravan and Unbearable records both agreed to releases, which resulted in a remix on the Unbearable compilation and the first Cathode vinyl - "Exh Cat" c/w "From and Inspired By" on Static Caravan. This tickled the ears of John Peel for a few precious minutes, which was enough reason to keep making music in itself. I'd also been in touch with the estimable Stewart Anderson of 555 Records (then of Leeds, lately of Flagstaff, Arizona) who came good with the second proper Cathode release, an EP named "The World and Back", in April 2002. This EP featured more of a feedback-laptop-rock angle, including our tribute to Queen Street Station (gateway to the tenements), "Glasgow Suburban Electrification".

These releases went down well enough to consider the possibility of playing live. The debut Cathode gig took place with Hrvratski on the Golden Jubilee 2002 and was not quite disastrous enough to put me off altogether. Somehow the next show landed up being a support slot for Bola and Gescom at Newcastle's Castle Keep. And a Dark Ages spectacular it was too.
The steady guiding hand (and blind faith in Cathode) of the Static Caravan brothers remains important in our world (we wouldn't be where we are today etc etc...) and around this time, they happily agreed to a second 7" single which followed in August 2002. "Chad Valley" was an attempt at glitch krautrock, which almost ended up being used in a TV ad for the French national railway (I'm not making this up, you know). "Sundowning", the b-side, generated a collaboration with Rob Kennedy, who made a beautiful synaesthetic video for the song, which you can see on YouTube. Soon afterwards Rob and I took part together in a night at the Side Cinema called C90, taking our collaboration live along with other local AV luminaries.

Oddly, all this local activity seemed to meet with people's approval, and buoyed up by the continuing support of promoters no-fi (now Tusk) and writer Ian Fletcher, work started in earnest on the first Cathode album. Pausing for breath via a split single with Awkward Silence, the search began for a suitable home for the album. Expanding Records, based in London, was begun by Ben Edwards as a home for his beautifully wonky analoguia, recorded under the name Benge, and after hassling them for a bit, Cathode had a new home with Expanding. The label had begun to blossom with a global collection of electronica-merchants including Vessel, vs_price, Stendec and Holkham, all of whom seemed to share an attention to microscopic detail and evident love of melody, which felt like home.

The album, "Special Measures", was released in March 2004, largely the product of desperate attempts at work avoidance in the latter stages of the clinical psychology course. It came housed in a beautiful sleeve depicting the Thames estuary WW2 sea-fort defences, photographed by Mus Mehmet. These hulking, pseudo-industrial beasts, stranded and gently withering in their natural environment, seemed to provide just the right mixture of brutalism, technology and reflective melancholy to suit the tunes inside. 

The album opened the door to other interesting projects and collaborations: dabbling with vocals through collaborations with Caro C and Caroline Thorp (the latter resulting in the Distraction Records 7” “Chronophobia”); remixes for Bauri, d_rradio, The Unit Ama and others); and some big and exciting gigs, particularly Sweden's Norberg festival, and Newcastle's own Version festival (aboard the decommissioned trawler MS Stubnitz).  Cathode also established a collaboration with filmmaker Richard Fenwick, supplying soundtracks for his RND_NE films commissioned for AV Festival 2004, and his megadystopian opus “Artificial Worlds 3.0”, the world premiere of which closed the AV Festival 2006 along with a Cathode live performance.

By 2008, the second Cathode album “Sparkle Plenty” was complete and released on CD by Expanding Records. “Sparkle Plenty” attempted to coupling the precision and warmth of “Special Measures” with a richer sonic palette – for instance, the skittering improv percussion of “Dream Feeder”, the strings, flutes and piano of “Without Memory Or Desire”, or the battered acoustic guitar and ticking clocks of “Nightly Builds”.  Clincal psychology had some oblique influences on the album; the title “Sparkle Plenty” comes from developmental psychologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist Daniel Stern’s work on infant development.  “Sparkle Plenty” is his phrase for children whose way of coping with caregivers who are unresponsive or depressed is to “sparkle” – with lots of smiles, activity and excitement, that masks the child’s authentic (possibly much lonelier) emotional state.  So it fits the record because Cathode’s music has always been unashamedly about creating something beautiful, which acts to sweeten something that’s much more melancholy underneath.  The record led to a performance at the 2009 Big Chill festival and a slap-up write-up in The Wire from David Stubbs.

Alongside Cathode, I’d been involved in a long term collaboration with sound artist and percussive whirlwind Andrew Hodson, performing as a member of his band The Matinee Orchestra (a pastoral-acoustic ensemble who released an acclaimed debut album on Isan’s Arable record label).  Having spent years on live laptop collaborations, around 2007 we hit upon a set up including electronics, live drums and live guitar which seemed to work, and both began to concentrate our energy on this new band, called Warm Digits.  Cathode began to take a back seat as Warm Digits took flight (releasing two albums so far on Newcastle’s Distraction Records), and is now more or less in hibernation, waiting for a time when it is once again plausible to play live by sitting behind a laptop looking serious.  Drawing a line under this first phase of Cathode, the two Cathode albums have received digital reissues via Bandcamp and two free download compilations collecting singles, remixes and unreleased work are available – “Before we Split Frequencies”. 

Steve Jefferis, April 2014.