Published Aug 21, 2010Though he's been the ceaseless ambassador for some of the most extreme music to see the light of day since the mid-'80s, Justin K. Broadrick's range and tastes as a musician are so wide that few fans have an easy time wrapping their heads around all this legendary UK artist has accomplished over dozens of albums. To fans of punk and metal, he's the man behind Napalm Death's legendary grindcore beginnings. To fans of industrial music, he's the founder of long running industrial-rock pioneers Godflesh. To followers of electronic music and experimental hip-hop, he was the frequent collaborator of the Bug's Kevin Martin in shadowy '90s projects such as Techno Animal, Ice, and Curse of the Golden Vampire. To legions of today's indie-rock fans, he's the mastermind behind Jesu. All in all, Justin K. Broadrick's life and catalogue are a testament to an independent spirit that is rare to find in music these days.
1969 to 1981
Justin K. Broadrick is born on August 15, 1969, in Birmingham. "I was born in a pretty unpleasant part of Birmingham, which in the UK is renowned for being like the Detroit of England," he elaborates. "A really poor city, very depressed and mostly born from the industrial revolution. When I was growing up in the '70s, it was just a wasteland of factories and high-rise council flats. I was born on a particularly horrible, really oppressive council estate - council estates are just like the projects in the U.S. So I was born into a poor sort of family, but as much as anything, both my mum and my stepfather who brought me up came from the end-of-the-'60s hippie movement. They were from proper working-class roots. For the first four years of my life I was brought up in an actual hippie commune, and then we moved into a really shitty apartment above some really depressing shopping centre."
Through his parents, he latches onto music early on. "What kept me above most of that environment throughout my childhood was the fact that both my parents had a huge obsession with music," he says. "And because they come from the whole hippie thing of the late '60s, they had a pretty wide range of music around. My stepfather was a guitarist in a local band. They were really influenced by Hendrix and stuff like that. My real father was actually a bass player too, but I didn't see him for the first 15 years of my life. He was a heroin addict."
By the time the mid-'70s come around and Justin is old enough to be aware of the music around him, the early punk scene was beginning to pick up steam in the UK, and his parents bring the new music into the apartment. "They were the type of parents who, around '75, were getting into Lou Reed. They'd buy the national music papers, so they kind of had their fingers on the pulse, even though they were dead working class. When the Clash and the Sex Pistols started coming around in '76 and '77, they were into that. I was about eight at the time, and I got into it as well. By about the time I was ten years old, I was a full-fledged punk rocker."
But by the end of the '70s, Broadrick is already developing his own tastes, and the fusion of punk and early industrial that was emerging in small pockets of the UK scene is what catches his ear. "The first thing I probably heard out of the house, when I was about 11 years old, was Crass," he says. "The band Crass had nothing to do with my parents whatsoever. They hated it. Even though they were into the early punk like the Clash, that stuff is arguably pop music. But Crass sounded fairly amusical comparatively. And because my drug taking, ex-hippie parents weren't into it, by the age of 12 I fell into early industrial music, stuff like Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse. When I played that stuff in my bedroom at 12, that did warrant them coming into my bedroom and telling me to turn that shit off."
At that age, he begins to play guitar for the first time, picking up some of his stepfather's instruments that are around the apartment. "My stepfather had a small amount of really budget gear. We listened to such a wide range of music so early on that watching my stepfather play guitar was an inspiration. Oddly enough, he'd gotten into the krautrock band Can, and he was also a big Roxy Music fan, which led him and some of his best friends to Brian Eno. As a result, I heard Ambient 1: Music for Airports right when it first came out. And so when I began to play guitar, I mastered one bar chord and realized that I could any Crass song I wanted. That was pretty satisfying in itself. Music was like a dirty word when I went to school in 1978. Everyone was just into football hooliganism. But at home, I was absolutely inspired at a very young age to act in my environment, both in the form of music and to some extent against the oppressive environment I was in."
1982 to 1983
For the first two to three years of playing the guitar, Broadrick plays punk rock casually with other kids from school here and there. Then in 1982, at the age of 13, he starts what is considered his first serious band, Final, which was heavily influenced by the DIY punk-industrial fusion of UK proto-industrial bands like Crass, Throbbing Gristle, and Whitehouse.
I formed Final after a chance meeting with another kid who was about my age, one year older, and who discovered industrial music as well," he says. "It was at a really shitty flea market in the middle of Birmingham, at a store where a bunch of ex-punk rocker guys sold a bunch of bootlegs by bands like Killing Joke, Discharge, they had a whole section of just Throbbing Gristle bootlegs. They had a Walkman there, and you could just pop in one of these cassettes and have a listen. I discovered Throbbing Gristle literally like that. And then this other kid is in there, I could tell he was about my age, and I just talked to anyone to try and relate to someone at that age. His name was Andy Swan. We just started talking and I discovered that he had a synthesizer.
We were pretty heavily into the whole industrial tape culture and fanzines of the very early '80s. I discovered that is was very easy to run your own cassette label. We'd record a bunch of cassettes; I'd copy ten copies of each on a little shitty double-tape deck. I was lucky if I sold three or four via magazines. I ended up meeting a lot of people like that, from the old cassette culture and mail-in people that existed in that industrial scene for a little while.
None of us could afford to press a seven-inch single. That was beyond my wildest dreams. So buying a couple of really cheap cassettes and photocopying sleeves for them was dead primitive, but pretty easy. So I had a cassette label called Post-Mortem Recordings, and I had about 50 Final releases over about a year and a half."
Few of these recordings are still available today, though that may soon change. "I'm going to remaster a load of this stuff soon, and put out five or six double-CD volumes for collectors," Broadrick says. "It's highly limited stuff. So people can see the genesis of the whole sound. It's fairly important to everything that I come from, in a way."
At 14 years old, after starting his own cassette label and releasing upwards of 50 tapes as Final, Broadrick joins his first real band, Fall of Because, a heavy, guttural, slow-grinding metal band with punk leanings that draws influence from another Birmingham success story, Black Sabbath. The band is named after a song by British industrial-rock act Killing Joke.
I met a new crowd of guys," he says. "I met three guys in my local area who were about five years older than me, and they only started talking to me because they met me on the street wearing a Stranglers T-shirt. They saw me as some young local punk kid. They were alternative sort of guys as well. So one of 'em came up to me and started talking about the Stranglers T-shirt, and then next thing you know, we're sitting in their parents' house smoking dope. One was Ben Green of Godflesh. One was Paul Neville, who was in early Godflesh. And the third was Diarmuid Dalton, who's the bass player in Jesu now. These are people who, ever since I met them in 1984, are still working with me now and have their own bands as well.
I met them literally on the council estate we lived on. At that time, everything was so tribal anyways. If you saw someone walking around with a T-shirt of a punk band, you'd just go straight up and talk to them. Britain was really tribal. You still had mods, punks, rockers. Whatever you aligned yourself with, if you were lucky enough to find someone of a similar background or tastes, you'd be running to these people. You'd learn about people through their music tastes.
I took myself very fucking seriously, which was quite comical in a way for a 14- or 15-year- old. They were in bands when I met them, and Ben Green and Paul Neville were in a band called Fall of Because. It was just them two and a drum machine. I thought I'd already mastered how to abuse the drums."
Fall of Because would go on to record only a single demo called "Extirpate" in 1986, which would later be collected in 1999 with other material from the period to produce the only Fall of Because package currently available, the eerily ahead-of-its-time Life Is Easy. As Green and Neville divided their time between multiple bands, in 1985 Broadrick joins another Birmingham band then playing the pubs, Napalm Death.
1985 to 1986
The Birmingham scene of the mid-'80s is littered with young outsider music fans of punk offshoots such as industrial and metal, and who connect through a network of record shops, concert, fanzines, and mail-order labels. It is through this community that Justin Broadrick meets core Napalm Death member Nick Bullen.
I met Nick Bullen at the flea market where I met Andy Swan," Broadrick says. "Me and Andy Swan had already got together and were doing Final, and we'd always hang out at this store, and one day this other kid comes up who looks like the same age, and we started talking to him and he happened to be Nick Bullen. He told us about Napalm Death, who we'd heard of because they were on a compilation on Crass Records, Shit Detector. I was suitably impressed, because it was coming from the Crass background, that I gave him a bunch of cassettes from Final. He actually came over to my parent's house and we recorded some Final stuff together. Then I played him some of the stuff I did with guitar, which he then played to another guy in Napalm Death. Basically, they were impressed with what I was doing with guitar, and so I joined Napalm Death."
The early incarnation of Napalm Death still sounded much like Fall of Because: a Black Sabbath-tinged mix of dark, plodding, sludgy, and low-tuned metal. "With Napalm Death we'd play the same pub in Birmingham every weekend, and on that same night every weekend Fall of Because would play as well. I was just on stage all night, 15 years old, drunk off my tits, smoking dope all night, and just losing it basically."
Soon after Broadrick joins Napalm Death, much of the band quits and the band is left as a three-piece, with Broadrick on guitar, Bullen on bass, and a drummer. It is around this time that Mick Harris enters the picture, and his participation in Napalm Death breeds the line-up that will transform the group from just another metal band to grindcore pioneers.
Mick Harris came to see Napalm Death quite frequently at this pub, and he just started talking to me in the crowd one day," Broadrick recalls. "He mentioned that he was a drummer, and that I should go see his band. I was utterly blown away. He was in a psychobilly band that sounded like the Meteors, but sped up to the speed of Discharge. He was also in this two-penny punk band called Anorexia. They were awful, but his drumming was amazing. To make a long story short, we kicked out the original drummer of Napalm Death - we were pretty opportunistic 15-year olds - and we brought Mick Harris into the band. I ended up going to rehearse at the house of Mick Harris's parents, in his bedroom, much to the displeasure of his parents.
All these Napalm Death songs we used to play, I just sat there with Mick Harris and we devised a way to play them ten times faster. So we literally just sped up all these songs that had existed for two years. This is the period of Napalm Death where we actually found a style, which was amazing for us, and we began to play every weekend with that style, supporting every which band that came into Birmingham, we gathered an audience really quickly for this new sound that we'd developed."
Broadrick's involvement in Napalm Death is about as quick as Mick Harris' drumming. Young, passionate, and brimming with control issues, after two years the Broadrick phase of Napalm Death dissolves when he abruptly quits the band. "Nick Bullen and I left Napalm Death after we recorded the first side of [debut album] Scum. I'd had enough of Napalm Death very, very quickly," he says. "When I left the band, Mick Harris hadn't got together the other people yet. As soon as I said I was leaving, Nick Bullen said he was leaving as well. It all imploded quickly. This is before any sort of notoriety outside of the local environment. We were still playing the bar down the street. Mind you, there were a lot of people in that bar, but that's still where we were."
Although Scum would go on to become a grindcore classic, finding anyone to release proves difficult. "The first side of Scum, I couldn't offload on anyone. It was just a demo. I had a hard time dishing it out to anyone. Luckily, Digby Pearson at Earache Records heard it. He had just released like some flexi-disc by this time, but he had been notorious on the scene, having been around the punk scene for many years. He expressed an interest in it. I remember speaking on the phone to him one day, and he said something like, 'Oh, I might do something with it.' And I was like, 'Alright, you can have it. I'll post it to you. You can take it off my hands. I'm not interested in it anymore, and no one else seems to be.' I didn't really care what happened with it."
Given the album's short length, Pearson takes Scum and contacts Mick Harris, who has by then formed a new version of Napalm Death around his ultra-fast drumming. This version of Napalm Death ends up supplying what becomes Side 2 of Scum. "All those guys that joined the band to replace me and Nick Bullen were all fans of Napalm Death," Broadrick says. "They were guys we either hung around with or traded tapes with. Me and Bill Steer used to write to each other before he was in contact with anyone in Napalm. Lee Dorrian was local to us, and he used to hang around, he was a good friend. The other guy on the B-side, Jim Whitely, I taught to play bass myself, over a two-week period. When Nick Bullen got tired of playing bass and just wanted to do vocals, that's when Jim Whitely came in and took over the bass."
"I was 16 when I left Napalm Death," Broadrick explains of his next musical move, "and I joined Head of David when I was just coming on 17." At the time, Head of David were among the more successful bands to come out of the sludge-metal scene in the region, and so Broadrick considered the new group one of his most serious undertakings to date.
Head of David already had an album out," Broadrick recalls. "They were the only people I knew who had fans and actually had a record in the shops. It wasn't just opportunistic for me, that first Head of David album I actually adored. I thought it was fucking amazing. With Napalm Death, we played with them a few times, and they were absolutely stunning. When their drummer left, they saw me drum with Fall of Because and invited me to join."
As Broadrick moves ahead with Head of David, Fall of Because breaks up. "I was in Head of David literally six weeks, and we did a John Peel session for Radio One. That was the first highlight of my life, because I've been listening to John Peel since I was ten years old. And I went back to Birmingham after the John Peel session, and the night it was broadcast, I was at Dermot Dalton's house, and we were in his parents' bedroom where we were listening to the Radio One session, and straight after the first track from Head of David, Peel played Napalm Death. It was unbelievable. I was just coming up on 17-years-old, just had my first Radio One John Peel session, I felt like I'd made it, and he played Napalm Death. I couldn't believe it. That was the beginning of something that then spiralled completely out of control."
The critical success of Napalm Death's Scum outshines Head of David in the music press, and the album quickly picks up an avid cult following that earns the new Napalm Death a wide following in the metal scene. "I was absolutely stunned at the success of Napalm Death, at what that album did. Stunned. But I was really quite happy in Head of David. I was writing stuff a lot in Head of David, really contributing to the writing in that band. Even though I was drumming, I would contribute a lot of bass lines and guitar lines."
But Broadrick's tenure in Head of David doesn't last long. "I think it was quite obvious that I was very slowly becoming a control freak. It wasn't my band. The other two guys in Head of David, it was their band basically, and they were both ten years old than me and the bass player. I was 17, and the bass player Dave Cochrane was 18, and the rest were like 28 years old. I was fucking unhinged, quite maniacal, and they were pretty laid-back guys, and I think that my enthusiasm and angst and all the rest of it got a bit too much for them. I was still a fucking child in development, really. Head of David kicked me out of their band."
With Broadrick coming up on adulthood, he already has four serious projects under his belt, as well as the critical acclaim of Napalm Death's success and a run with the more professional Head of David lending confidence to his ideas. The time had come to form his own band and explore his own sense of style. "I was writing more and more stuff for Head of David that was brutal. Behind my back, they had decided that they wanted to go a bit more mainstream sounding. They wanted to lose a lot of the noise and the qualities that had attracted me to that band. So when they kicked me out of the band, I thought, right, I want to do something that takes the basic premise of where I wanted to go with Head of David, low-tune everything, make it brutal, get a drum machine and do the singing."
1988 to 1991
In need of a vehicle for his own musical ideas, in 1988 Justin Broadrick forms Godflesh. "Essentially Godflesh was just me and Ben Green, who was the bass player in Fall of Because," he says. "I left home when I was about 17, and just before I formed Godflesh I was sharing a one-bedroom flat with Ben. We two were big friends. We moved out together into an area of Birmingham, which was a bit more cosmopolitan. We were still tramps, really, but at least we were out of the council estates and in an area that was poor, but full of musicians, artists and students.
Godflesh really became my vision, and Ben Green was really into the same type of stuff. It was taking the Head of David and made it thoroughly more brutal, and we already had our songs from Fall of Because so we began with those.
I was really influenced by people using drum machines, most notably some of the hip-hop at the time: Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim. When I first heard some of those records, I was astonished at the brutality of their drum machines, and I really was excited by that sound. I really wanted something inhuman sounding and beyond human capability. And I was already a drummer, so I knew what beats I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear them in the most disgusting, heavy fashion going."
Godflesh debut in 1988 with a self-titled EP on Swordfish Records that stakes out their distinct style: industrial percussion, metal riffage, distorted vocals, and brutal paranoia. Earache Records sign the group's debut album, and in 1989 Godflesh release their debut full-length, Streetcleaner, which at the time sounds like little else out there.
Streetcleaner, when it was first released, was mostly met with derision," says Broderick. The audience he has built thus far has been expecting material more along the lines of Napalm Death's thrash metal and aren't necessarily ready to follow him into industrial punk with electronic flirtations. "It was too out there at the time, back in 1989. When we first started touring that album, supporting bands like Napalm Death, people were standing a million miles away from the stage and couldn't believe what they were hearing."
Broadrick's early audiences may not want to hear high-octane industrial rock, but in the U.S. a potent scene is beginning to build around industrial-dance labels like Chicago's Wax Trax Records, the legendary record shop and imprint that spotlights the fusion of early industrial music with new electronic sounds, and bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails are building large audiences for precisely the music that Godflesh is creating.
By the time people really caught on to it, and the world caught on to Godflesh, it was already around 1991," says Broadrick. "Streetcleaner was released in 1989, and we must've toured it solid for about two years." In America, Godflesh is received with open arms.
"Godflesh came to America with Napalm Death in early 1991, and up until that point every band I'd played in had toured in the UK and Europe. So I'd never been to America, and by the time we got there, the band had already grown beyond my expectations, it was already becoming a popular band in the underground, which we hadn't really expected. It was very much a surprise for us that people responded so positively to the music."
The relentless touring is beginning to pay off, and by 1991 Broadrick is finally able to crawl out from under the shadow of Napalm Death's early and unexpected success with a loyal following in hand. As a result, what started off as a very reactionary undertaking to Broadrick's bad experiences and control issues in Head of David and Napalm Death has steadily developed into a full-time band.
I wasn't aware of those bands before coming to the U.S.," Broadrick says, "but as Godflesh took off and became popular in North America, I was exposed to this scene. A lot of people I would meet would say, 'You ought to check out Ministry. This is sort of the U.S. equivalent to what you guys are doing.' Godflesh and that album made an indelible mark on audiences there, and that's stayed. To this day, I still sell the majority of my records in America. Of any music I make, it mostly goes to America."
By the end of 1991 Godflesh follows up Streetcleaner with the Slavestate EP, laying down a formula for releases that will allow Broadrick's more experimental ideas for Godflesh to flourish on the shorter format in between albums.
1992 to 1993
Following the sleeper success of Streetcleaner, Godflesh goes back into the studio and records their second album, Pure, which sees release in 1992. Alternative music is exploding all across North America, and many industrial rock bands - Front 242, KMFDM, and Skinny Puppy - are drawing the largest audiences of their careers on the continent and beyond. Pure is both a cleaner production and a more diverse outing than Streetcleaner, an early hint that Broadrick sense a contradiction in simultaneously minding a larger audience and pursuing his wide-ranging tastes. Loop's Robert Hampson guests on the album, and his influence is evident on the more experimental and processed second half.
"At that time I recognized how restless I was," Broadrick says, "but I was also struck on being in a band that has a good career and a set of albums. I was very inspired by groups who had good runs of albums. I was a big Killing Joke fan, and the Swans, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Stranglers, rock bands who had nice, large careers and a good span of albums that covered everything within. I think I felt for many years that I had a lot to give with Godflesh, that it was maturing and developing."
In 1992, the desire to grow and mature Godflesh's success also kick-starts a decade of prolific promiscuity in side-projects that allow Broadrick to explore the further reaches of his musicals tastes without alienating Godflesh's audience too much. Between 1992 and 2003, he will release upward of 15 albums - not to mention countless single and EPs - outside the band, a significantly larger catalogue than that of Godflesh in that period and arguably more relevant a key to understanding his creative impulses in the '90s.
Of all those albums, at least 12 are collaborations with Kevin Martin, a Brixton club owner and music journalist who also leads a band called God. "He promoted the first-ever Godflesh show in London," Broadrick says of Kevin Martin. "In those days, you put your phone number on the back, so people could call and say they want to put a show on or something. The day it came out, he was the first person to phone us up. He said, 'I've got a little shitty pub in Brixton, where I run punk shows, and I'd love Godflesh to play. I have your record, and I love it.' We just went down, played the show, and I met him, and I thought, 'Wow, I just love this guy.' We share loads in common musically and personally. We forged a relationship immediately."
God's debut album Possession, which is produced by Broadrick, comes out in 1992. That year, the pair also releases the first of its many collaborations, the Ghosts album under the name Techno Animal. Techno Animal's ambient dub ventures where Godflesh cannot, and for the most part remains unknown to fans of Broadrick's industrial leanings. "We both had similar interests in hip-hop, and we started to gravitate towards that. All these avenues developed during the '90s, out of [our] interest in the excessive side of a lot of dance music. In the early '90s we were discovering acid house, early jungle, and more brutal forms of dance music. We got very obsessive with hip-hop production, and that rubbed off on and informed everything I was doing."
By 1993, Broadrick's musical partnership with Kevin Martin is in full swing and the duo reveals another side-project, Ice, whose debut album Under the Skin showcases a deep interest in fusing the voltage of industrial music with the beat patterns of hip-hop. That year, Broadrick also decides to reprise Final, the tape-collage project from his teens. The album One features long guitar-processing experiments that align closely to the last half of Godflesh's Pure, most notably the 21-minute ambient-feedback epic "Pure II." One also includes a layered edit of the many tapes recorded during Final's first phase, entitled "1983-1987 (Edits)."
1994 to 1996
In 1994, Godflesh record and release their third album, Selfless, their most mainstream effort to date. The album instigates a shift in direction from the relatively inhospitable Pure, and constitutes the beginning of a mid-'90s period that sees Godflesh making the most obviously "rock" records of their catalogue. Given its more conventional characteristics, Selfless is licensed by Columbia in an effort to break the band to a larger alternative audience. The album sells approximately 180,000 copies, nowhere near the gold and platinum records racked up by Ministry and Nine Inch Nails.
But if Godflesh is moving closer in the direction of conventional rock, Broadrick has shifted his more industrial impulses over the Kevin Martin's God, which he joins as a full member for their second album, 1994's Anatomy of Addiction. Based on the one hand in Martin's wailing free-jazz saxophone and on the other in the propulsive beats and feedback guitar imprinted on the band by Broadrick, the album is dense and intimidating.
I played all over Anatomy of Addiction," says Broadrick. "I started getting really seriously involved the more the band changed, the more he changed the band. The more it became a serious proposition, the more I became interested in working with it. At first he just wanted me to produce them, but then he invited me into the band and I played with them whenever I could."
Content to lead multiple musical lives, Martin and Broadrick move ahead with their second Techno Animal album, the massive two-disc Re-Entry, which comes out in 1995 on Virgin UK. By then, Kevin Martin's music journalism in magazines such as The Wire and Alternative Press has made him a highly regarded voice in new music. He's curates a collection entitled Macro Dub Infection, which brings together all the offshoots of dub into one package. The collection has its finger on the pulse of electronic music, making strong connection between the post-rock of Tortoise and Laika, the roots dub of Mad Professor and Rootsman, the leftfield drum & bass of $Hero and Springheel Jack, and the industrial ambient of Coil and Mick Harris's Scorn.
The collection announces dub's prevalence in the underground to the wide audience then beginning to tune into electronica. Its influence can be felt all over Re-Entry. "Kevin and I both shared an old love for dub reggae," says Broadrick. "I come from Birmingham, which has a huge Jamaican culture. Everywhere you went in Birmingham, you'd hear reggae blasting out of someone's house. So that seeped into me, and Kevin had learned to love a lot of reggae stuff when he was young as well. So we really loved this concept of using the studio as an instrument. We found a lot of enjoyment in sitting in the studio and literally using the equipment as instruments, warping this stuff out. We had old-school samplers, old effects units, and a mixing desk. And even though a lot of this stuff was arguably quite primitive, by Re-Entry we definitely had a style."
In 1996, Godflesh release their fourth album, Songs of Love and Hate. Though the album turns out to be their most traditionally metal outing of their discography, Columbia doesn't license it and their major-label experience comes to an end. That year, Broadrick also releases his second album as Final, 2, on independent hip-hop label Rawkus Records.
1997 to 1999
I'm mostly proud of the records up to and including Selfless" Broadrick told The Quietus in a recent interview. "After that, for me it became more and more self-conscious and as a consequence lost its way a little bit. I think we should probably have finished a couple of albums earlier than we did to be really honest. It's not like I didn't enjoy making those records, but it had lost its way by that time."
The major label dalliance that had unreasonable expectations on '94s Selfless and unhealthily influenced the direction of its '96 follow-up Songs of Love and Hate comes to an abrupt end. Broadrick goes so far as to pull his last album back into the studio and completely reinvent it as the group's most viscerally electronic outing to date, Love and Hate in Dub. The two records are barely recognizable side by side. As Broadrick explains, "What Kevin and I were doing with Techno Animal then began to rub off on Godflesh, and vice versa."
With many of the more purely industrial acts moving into dark ambient or techno territory by the late '90s, there is a general frustration seeping through Broadrick's attitude with the limitations of Godflesh's industrial rock. He's not quite sure how to move forward and more eager than ever to experiment with new sounds.
"I don't consider myself from a metal background, only a punk background ultimately. The metal thing can get a little tiresome. Electronic music for me was always an obsession when I was a kid. I loved early industrial music. I loved the side of Throbbing Gristle that came out on Sequence, stuff that was influenced by early Tangerine Dream. As a kid I loved Kraftwerk and stuff. When I was first got exposed in '89 to the early acid-house movement, I was an instant convert. The first time I heard early Aphex Twin, when 'Didjeridoo' first came out, I knew that this was where I wanted to go."
Experiment he does. Both Martin and Broadrick are drawn to the new electronic music emerging from the German scene, which has been revolutionized by dub minimalism. The pair not only releases two Techno Animal compilations - Radio Hades and Vs. Reality - but also go on to work with some of the leading lights from the new generation of German producers. They work with Atari Teenage Riot's Alec Empire on a hardcore breakbeat record under the name Curse of the Golden Vampire. As Techno Animal vs. Porter Ricks, they produce what is among their most impressive records of their discography with Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig.
The electronic impulse feeds into the sixth Godflesh album, Us and Them, which boils over with dark breakbeats and ambient atmospherics. But by then, there is little Broadrick and Green can do to save Godflesh. "I felt like I'd become a bit of a caricature, to some extent," Broadrick tells The Onion's AV Club. "Godflesh was always perceived as this industrial, metal, grinding, brutal thing. I'd really gotten tired of it; I'd backed myself into a corner. In hindsight, Godflesh lasted a few years too long, anyway. For me, the challenge was saying goodbye and moving on."
With a new decade on their doorsteps, a strange feeling in the air tells Broadrick that he can continue on directionless like this for only so long before things explode. And they do.
2000 to 2002
"In some ways my life had been relatively accelerated," says Broadrick about his music and career at around the turn of the century. "A lot of people have their mid-life crisis around 40, 45, and I think I had mine at 31. Which makes sense, because I started doping everything at such a young age. Many personal things happened at that point, many musical things."
In 2000, Godflesh enters the studio to start recording their seventh album, Hymns, but Broadrick and Green have trouble deciding where to take the band next. "Even during the recording of that last Godflesh album," Broadrick says later in an interview with Magnet magazine, "I was already aware of Godflesh's mortality. Though I enjoyed a good amount of the album, I still felt a bit restricted. I started doing a lot of stuff during the recording of that album where I really trying to get past the limitations of Godflesh, which were self-created."
To overcome the session's growing restrictions on their creativity, they bring in ex-Prong and Swans drummer Ted Parsons to replace Godflesh's signature drum machine. Even though the sessions prove pleasant enough and the band is mostly happy with the songs they've written for Hymns, the live drumming ends up alienating Broadrick and Green from the sound of their band even more. "But I wasn't entirely sure what we were trying to achieve any more by then," Broadrick tells Quietus. "It should have been a different band towards the end really."
Among the songs recorded for Hymns is one called "Jesu", which in hindsight Broadrick sees as part of a burgeoning desire to start fresh in another direction. "I had this fantasy during the making of the Godflesh album that I had this new band called Jesu," he tells Magnet. "I was writing the song at the time and couldn't come up with a title so I called that song 'Jesu.' A lot of times I use titles, which I could be tempted to use as a band name."
Shortly after the Hymn sessions wrap up, Ben Green decides that after 13 years the time has come for him to leave the band. "He wanted to leave because he'd spent too many years on the road and didn't want to tour anymore," says Broadrick. But Godflesh is already booked for a major European tour opening for Fear Factory, which is due to begin in two weeks' time. "I was in a complete and total dilemma, wondering if this is where we pack it in," Broadrick tells Decibel magazine in 2005.
Bound by commitments, Broadrick has no choice but to keep the band going. He hits the road with Ted Parsons and bassist Paul Raven, another ex-Prong member who has also done time in Killing Joke. But a week into the tour, Broadrick tells Decibel, "I was like, 'This is all wrong.' Raven is a fantastic bass player, but it just wasn't Benny, who I had been playing with for 13 years and was a whole part of what Godflesh was. It really started to get me down, and I knew it was the fucking end."
The pressure keeps mounting. With Godflesh in the middle of their European tour, a North American headlining tour is already being planned and booked without Broadrick's input. "I felt things were out of my control," he tells Decibel. "When the European tour finished, I felt really disoriented and disengaged from the whole experience. I told Ted and Raven and they were like, 'The tour is on paper. If you want to do any soul-searching, we suggest you do it after the American tour.'"
To make matters worse, Broadrick and his girlfriend of 13 years also break up at this point, sending his into a mental tailspin that results in what he refers to as a "Brian Wilson job." "I literally didn't get on the plane to leave for the tour," he tells Decibel. "I couldn't even get out of bed. I was just paralyzed by the stress, anguish and the thinking that this was the end of something that's been mine for 13 or 14 years."
Instead, he takes a flight back to Birmingham, where he hides from the world at a friend's house. With the North American tour already paid for and abruptly cancelled, everyone from opening bands High on Fire and Halo to equipment companies and promoters comes after Broadrick looking to recoup lost money. "I split Godflesh up really badly, " he says, "and it fucked me up financially." As Broadrick loses his house and practically every other valuable asset in his name, he slips into heavy drinking.
We finished Techno Animal around that time as well," Broadrick says. "Kevin started doing the Bug, which I was really supportive of. I felt he needed to do something on his as well. And because I'd reached a bit of a peak in my life and then dropped off the edge of cliff, it was basically time to go it alone. So we split Techno Animal, split Godflesh, and I just tried to get my life back together as an artist."
2003 to 2009
"I spent about two years in the wilderness, which I spent literally on my own, shaping this sound that turned into Jesu," Justin Broadrick says of the aftermath of Godflesh and the nervous breakdown that led to its demise. "The anger had not dissipated but become a sense of resignation, and Jesu had slowly become that sound of resignation for me."
Having cut all his losses in a manner befitting the brutality of the Godflesh catalogue, Broadrick moves on with the band name he envisioned during the recordings of Hymns. The first Jesu material appears in 2004 as the two-track Heart Ache EP, and if its song titles are any indication - "Heart Ache" and "Ruined" - Broadrick has siphoned his demons right back into his music and turned them into inspiration. The two tracks run approximately 20 minutes apiece, and pursue the kind of guitar-processing experiments that pick up where some of his more abstract '90s solo work leaves off. The EP appears to wipe the sonic palette clean more than reinvent its maker.
To strike out in a new direction, Broadrick invests his recent vulnerabilities into Jesu's 2005 self-titled debut, which sees him reuniting with drummer Ted Parsons of late Godflesh and bassist Diarmuid Dalton, whom he's known since his teenage years. Jesu is different than any of Broadrick's earlier works, in that its aggression has been tempered by depression, and its brutality washed away in a wall of sound. But most of all, Jesu showcases Broadrick experimenting with melodic songwriting in a way he's never attempted previously.
"With Jesu, I wanted to do something much more sombre, much more introspective, and using the influences for a lot of pop stuff I'd been listening to, a lot of intensely melodic stuff," says Broadrick. "So I really wanted to explore an area, albeit in a very heavy fashion, of a lot of music that had moved me over the years that wasn't just based on psychedelia or beats or anger or brutality. I wanted to explore melody.
I had a problem of confidence myself. I knew I was doing something that was going against the grain of what I'd already built up. And I knew it was a massive artistic risk, because a lot of people who were following my music were not following it to listen to pretty melodies. So even though I was still making low-tuned, heavy, guttural music, at the heart of this there was something quite pretty and beautiful, just being construed in an almost ugly fashion."
Despite his doubts, Jesu proves to be a universal critical success, even though like early Godflesh, it's initially greeted with derision by long-time fans of his previous work. But the strong notices are enough to convince Broadrick to continue down this new path some two decades after he first began seriously making music.
The burst of reinvention at his age is thrilling, and Jesu quickly get back to work, releasing 2006's Silver EP and 2007's massive Conqueror album in quick succession. Conqueror turns out to be an unqualified success both critically and with a new generation of fans, who latch onto its metallic shoegazing drift and buried pop sensibilities.
That was another completely accidental record, but it seemed to hit with a lot of people, and some of the right people as well," Broadrick says. "I started to be accepted on not just my history, and that's what really excited me. I was suddenly being taken as a new artist as well, being accepted in a completely fresh way. I was able to shake off a lot of what I'd done in the past and be taken seriously as a songwriter with a new sense of style. Especially since the Conqueror album is a very melodic proposition. A lot of my established audience, at that point, was having a lot of problems with this material, but I was reaching whole new crowd."
Furthermore, a new generation of heavy bands begins citing Broadrick's prolific and heavily experimental body of work as a major influence. Jesu tours alongside Sunn O))) and Isis, and they blow away new audiences with each show. "I've met a lot of people along the way and found that people like Isis and Sunn O))) come from a younger generation," he say, "and they were fans of my music when they were kids. It's interesting to catch on to a whole new vibe, to find people who've been influenced by my music. I'm finding some sort of fresher, younger kindred spirits."
As his new fan base grows, Broadrick finally finds himself back in that elusive pocket where his creativity thrives. He's an underdog again, working with few expectations and reacting to the injustices of his environment through heavy music and stylized concepts of sound, just as once managed two decades back with Napalm Death and early Godflesh.
It's really amazing and complimentary. Sometimes when I scan the net and find people who are into Jesu, the amount of people who are 15, 16, 17, teenagers, a lot of young people, and I think, 'Fuck, these people must know they're listening to a 40-year-old making records.' It makes me laugh, but it also makes me feel quite honoured to be appreciated by generations, a not by a bunch of 40-year-olds who've been listening to me all my career."
The period after Conqueror proves especially fertile for recorded material, yet unlike the promiscuity that accompanied Godflesh's rise to cult success, he's happy to focus all his efforts in one place. As a result, a flurry of Jesu releases have come out in the past few years, including 2007's Lifeline and Sundown/Sunrise EP's, 2008's Envy/Jesu and Jesu/Battle split albums and the Why Are We Not Perfect EP, 2009's Opiate Sun, and 2010's 49-minute epic track, Infinity. The latter appears on his new label Avalanche, which will house the majority of his releases from hereon in.
These days, Justin K. Broadrick is slowly working on the next Jesu full-length, a process he say has take most of the year, which is quite the opposite of how he usually works. But by his own admission, "I've slowed down with Jesu lately. I've released an awful lot of music over a two-to-three year period and probably saturated the record-buying public."
He's even beginning to spread his wings again and explore new projects. This month, Ghostly International is releasing Broadrick's debut as Pale Sketcher, his new electronic alias. Like his previous work with Techno Animal, he's using dub studio techniques to remix base tracks he's laid down with Jesu. The result is an album entitled Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed.
"This project is something I would've wanted years ago," he says. "I was doing stuff that sounds like Pale Sketcher on my own, when Kevin and I were working together. I'd often play him some of these tracks, skeletal versions of this style. It's more 4/4-based - shoegazy dream-pop that's almost techno, somewhat in the area of Gas and some of the early Kompakt stuff like Dettinger. Right now I'm totally enamoured with this electronica version of the '80s. Pale Sketcher is the project I'm most excited about now, and have been for about a year or so."
At the age of 41, Broadrick is also beginning to do something he swore he'd never do: look back nostalgically. After years of rejecting outright the idea of a Godflesh reunion, this year he and Green have hit the stage for two such festival engagements: Hellfest in France and Supersonic in his hometown of Birmingham. But like most of the best aspects of his long career so far, these about-faces often yield the most surprising results.
I thought Benny would just be totally negative about it," Broadrick told Quietus earlier this year. "Even though I've continued to work in music ever since the demise of Godflesh, he had stepped away from music and got a very nice job, been to university and got degrees, so I just casually mentioned it to him, but as soon as I did he was really quite thrilled about it, which took me by surprise. I thought it was a dead subject between us. If he'd have turned round and said 'no chance' I'd have agreed, but he inspired me to start thinking positively about it."
Thinking positively. Those aren't words that have been associated with anything Justin K. Broadrick has made or released since he first discovered music in the late '70s. And yet, as he moves into his 40s, he's mellowed. It's a concept that might just re-invent his musical life for the next 30 years.