Matt Johnson talks about The The’s “Infected” at the ICA
Matt Johnson made a series of rare public appearances last weekend as a spate of screenings of The The’s “Infected” movie got underway at London’s ICA. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to go to the opening night, and after the movie there was a Q&A, and it was great to hear Matt talking about the making of “Infected”, his career, his plans for the future, and about politics.
I’ll get the politics one out of the way straight away. Matt was highly critical of the mainstream media, in particular the BBC and the Guardian, for allowing left-wing ideas to become marginalised. “We don’t have an extreme right-wing politics”, he said. “We have an extreme centre.”
He said that thirty years ago if you’d told us that endless war on terror in the Middle East and constant privatisation would be considered mainstream centre ideas, you wouldn’t have believed it.
He cited Operation Mockingbird as a reason to distrust media and praised the internet as an alternate source of media and information for the public. It makes him feel optimistic, he said. In the 70s and 80s, he said, you might have had the inkling that the media were telling you lies, but now, thanks to the web, you knew they were lying. The demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn, he believed, would have finished him off without alternate media on the web presenting a truer picture of what is going on.
He spoke a little about what was coming up next for The The. Progress on new The The material was halted earlier in the year, with the passing of Matt’s brother Andy Dog, who supplied so much of The The’s brilliantly distinctive artwork over the years. Making an album seemed trivial, Matt said, compared to being a family going through bereavement.
He talked about his working methods — saying that because digital recording and production gives you so many options, you have to impose your own limits if you want to ever get anything finished. He prefers restricting himself to just using 16 tracks, like he did when he was first starting out and didn’t have much equipment.
There’s also a The The documentary and a biography coming up.
Matt revealed that “Dusk” was probably his favourite The The album, adding “You aren’t supposed to say things like that are you? It’s like having a favourite child.”
And the movie itself? It holds up pretty well after 30 years. The “Infected” album’s themes of Americanised globalisation and military aggression, of developments sweeping away the working class character of parts of London, and an awareness of a threat from Islamic fundamentalism seemed just as relevant in 2016 as they did in 1986.
Perhaps the only thing particularly odd to modern eyes is that it was ever awarded an 18 certificate. “We lived in gentler times then” Matt observed. A shot with him putting a gun into his mouth might cause concern. But the costumes on Strictly these days are more revealing than the 80s lingerie on display during the sex scenes that feature in “Out of the Blue (Into the Fire)”.
Asked whether the movie might get a Blu-Ray release, Matt wasn’t hopeful. For a start, all of the original 35mm prints have been lost or destroyed — the movie was projected from a video transfer. Getting it released also, he said, involved talking to Sony. “My personal relationship with Sony is good,” he said. “It’s just the business affairs that are the problem.” Matt said that the music industry had spent 30 years putting all of the cost onto him, while taking all the money for themselves.