Closer to the Light: Justin K. Broadrick reprises Jesu

Producer, remixer and extreme music pioneer Justin K. Broadrick gets existential, reflecting on a long career and dissecting the odd relationship between his two main projects, Godflesh and Jesu

Feature by Ross Watson | 19 Sep 2013

It isn't easy to put the work of Justin K. Broadrick into context. As a teenager, the Birmingham-born polymath was already making dark, atmospheric sounds with his first project Final before briefly joining Napalm Death in the mid-1980s, laying the groundwork for the grindcore genre with his contributions to their debut album Scum. He's perhaps best known for founding Godflesh, one of the first bands to fuse heavy metal with industrial music.


This doesn't even touch on his prolific career as a producer, remixer and record label founder – his collaborations with The Bug's Kevin Martin as Techno Animal (the two met when Martin heard Godflesh on Peel and offered to put on their first ever show), or his recent, gentler work with his post-Godflesh band Jesu. Speaking to The Skinny via telephone from his home by the sea in North Wales, he opens the conversation by admitting that, in all those years working at an inhuman pace, he's never quite found the time to learn how to drive. “I've just been out for three hours almost crashing the fucking car,” he jokes. “At half six I've got some work in the studio I've got to finish to a deadline, and then I've been having to do what they ironically call a crash course in driving. I've been pressured by my partner at the age of forty-three, 'cause I've got a two year-old son. I'll be doing school runs soon, and otherwise no one else can do it. I don't want to drive at all, 'cause I know I'm a danger to myself and the public...”


Having aired his 'normal guy' problems, Broadrick begins to cautiously differentiate himself from his misplaced reputation as a metalhead, bigging up punk bands like Crass and Discharge: “Essentially, I see myself as a punk artist. That's the first music I connected with. It's the music that both spiritually and aesthetically informed my work from day one. Metal was an afterthought. It only occurred to me when it sounded more punk rock. I don't consider myself to be an accomplished musician – a lot of metal musicians pride themselves on that. I feel like I'm that same kid pushing away instinctively at anything I can to try and get a result. I don't think I'm a great guitarist – I'm not! I'm just a little bit off-centre and that gives me some sense of style. That's what was great about punk for me: it was from the heart, and even though it was a mess, it could still hold a lot of power. Ultimately I'm a punk musician, or, really, a post-punk musician. Terms like post-metal don't really compute with me.”

"I'm that same kid, pushing away instinctively at anything I can" – Justin K. Broadrick


Playing with Godflesh was the first time Broadrick was truly exposed to a metal audience. Streetcleaner, their first proper full-length, was released in 1989. A claustrophobic assault of primal drum-machine blasts, punishing riffs and enraged vocals, it was an absolute game changer. Initial audience reactions on an early stint supporting Napalm Death were less than enthusiastic, though, as he recalls: “They were extremely offended. We weren't playing fast. It was too slow, too minimal for them, which to me is the beauty of it all. It was texture over showy musicianship.”


Noise rock kids assumed that Big Black were Broadrick's primary influence with Godflesh, but his sources of inspiration for the iconic drum sounds on Streetcleaner couldn't have been further from heavy metal. Instead, he professes his admiration for the classic hip-hop records of the mid-eighties. “That's what I was really attracted to. It was those records. Even that first Eric B and Rakim album still sounds fairly surreal to this day. I was into a lot of those early electro compilations in 84 and that sort of thing. I was just really enamoured by that sound, the same way that I was into Kraftwerk and early Human League records when I was a kid. I'd always been attracted to electronic music – I always was and still am now. ” Broadrick views Godflesh as a bastardisation of the genres it's often associated with: “It's body music. It goes beyond the obvious limitations of conventional metal, punk, and so on. That's how I see it myself. It's a very brutal form of dance music.”


After the initial disintegration of Godflesh in 2002, Broadrick formed Jesu amid a slew of personal problems. Though the early releases contained traces of his old band's sound, there's a pop and shoegaze core to his work under that moniker. “Godflesh is the ball of frustration – the ritual violence that comes out of repression and council estates and all the shit that I grew up with,” Broadrick explains. “Jesu is introspective – the melancholia associated with a lot of my childhood and so on. It's definitely driven by naked, raw and very personal emotions.”


Jesu's fourth proper LP, Everyday I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came, lands this month. Broadrick's meditation on birth and death, it was inspired by the arrival of his first child. “It's a perception of how I see things, how I wish things were and how I wish things were not. It's funny – I don't take anything lightly. I'm one of those guys who's just hypersensitive. People have children all the time. It's nothing new. I ain't doing nothing special here, but it's had one of the hugest impacts on me. It just affects everything. It's hard for me to see how this is not a big deal.”


Consisting of four shorter tracks and a grand, 17-minute epic entitled The Great Leveller, there's only one collaborator other than Broadrick himself: Italian composer Nicola Manzan, who plays as a one man band under the name Bologna Violenta. The pair met when Manzan supported Godflesh at a show in Italy this past March: “He does some soundtrack stuff for Italian films," Broadrick elaborates. "He's a classically trained pianist, cellist and all the rest of it. I took all the stuff I programmed, sent it to him and within a week he'd commanded this entire orchestra in its place. He really makes that piece. There's all these subtleties, nuances.”


With ...Closer to the Light..., Broadrick expresses his desire to restore a certain balance to the project. Following Ascension's release in 2011, he concedes that Jesu weathered something of an identity crisis: “When I was in the midst of making it, I was so focused on writing these guitar songs. It's like all of a sudden I was trying to be Dinosaur Jr., as opposed to what [2006 EP] Silver was, which was literally an examination of a set of melancholy moods. There were no bottom lines in terms of instrumentation. I had to loosen the reins and approach this record and say 'these are the bottom lines, this is how it affects me and how I hope it will affect the listener.' It's not eclectic; it's just dynamic, and that's something I'm really glad to reach again.”


Broadrick has said in the past that Jesu is a difficult beast to present live, but he's now confident in its potential as a touring prospect: “We did play loads live around the Silver record and the Conqueror album – toured the U.S. twice, Europe, France, Japan, and I was exhausted from it. I was performing badly, drinking too much alcohol, destroying my voice. In support of this record we're going to start playing again. It's going to be presented much more professionally. I'm looking after myself much better, and I'll get closer to hitting them notes, basically.”


It's not just Jesu that's going through a positive transformation. Broadrick reformed Godflesh with original member G.C. Green in 2010, playing shows that effectively capture the energy and excitement of their early days. “Without Godflesh, Jesu would have gone further up its own arse. That's the way it was going,” he confesses. “I needed something as intensely self-disciplined as Godflesh for me to be able to loosen the reigns with Jesu.”


Though progress has been slow, Broadrick reiterates that a new album is in the works: “It's gotten to a point where we're almost done with the demos, and we'll start recording around November. It'll come out May next year. I made the mistake of saying it'd be out in September when we didn't even get the demos down in the end... Thanks to Jesu, this new Godflesh album will be so direct and far from eclectic – it's going to be punishing.”

Everyday I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came is released on 23 Sep via Avalanche Recordings