Black Market Karma – Interview & Review

South East London’s favourite psychedelic darlings, Black Market Karma have recently released their fifth (yes, fifth) studio album – and gosh-darn, it’s a goodun’. Titled Upside Out Inside Down, it’s a swirling, hemisphere-spanning beast of a record, carefully embellished with the intercontinental subtleties that we have come to expect from them since their impressive 2012 release, Semper Fi.

“Our band’s music is most affected by sixties psychedelia and garage rock, through to the more modern psychedelia from the eighties onwards, traditional music from around the world, blues, northern soul and rock ‘n’ roll,” says Stan, the band’s vocalist and songwriter. “Our sound is mainly created with guitars, organs, synthesisers, drums, percussion and Indian instruments such as the sitar and harmonium. We do, however, use many other sounds in different places throughout our music”.

With opening track Heady Ideas, the album eases into a delectable whorl of colour and sound that twists about itself gently and cleverly like a python. It’s an album of layers; built on driving drum, made full by rich, warm guitar licks and iced with tambourine shivers – you can sink back into it like the sea. Only Once teeters on sitar string tightropes and then tumbles into rocking, swaying shanty, while the bubblegum-synth of Omnipersist acts as a sort of telephone-operator interlude. Skullgroover, the second-last track, is a sun-drenched, kaleidoscopic slow-mover.

upside down inside outIn all, the album’s eclecticism is stunning, and the way that it all fits together is near magical considering the far-reaching nature of the pieces. Its understated complexity is an art that Stan has been honing for many years now. “I’m always making music or thinking about music,” He says. “I record demos most days and end up with a big jumbled list of ideas. The songs on this album were part of the next batch, and I felt like they all fit together so well that they became the new record. Like I said, I’m always playing music, or thinking up ideas for music even while I’m doing something else – when one of those moments comes along I try to record a really rough demo straight away. Some turn into finished songs almost instantly, whereas others stay as these ambiguous jams. I collect up a bunch of these, go into the studio and just start where it feels right. I used to wait until I had more complete ideas at first, but now I find this way of making music so much better. The ideas are really raw – it’s almost as though it isn’t my music. I don’t get bogged down in overthinking it, and just go with it.”

BMK aren’t the only band toying with psychedelic fascinations at the moment – the past few years have seen an explosion of new groups leaping eagerly beneath the candy-striped ‘psych’ umbrella, and a smattering of psychedelic festivals, blogs and magazines to match have begun to emerge the world over. It’s gradually bringing this once-niche genre of music into the spotlight, and, due to its important historical rooting in counter-culture, inevitably raises eyebrows about maintaining originality and integrity amongst all of the hype and hubbub.

“I think it can be a good thing in some ways, as it opens up the music to a wider range of people that may have never listened before,” says Stan. “They can then dive in and find more great music. I do feel like it’s become quite fashionable lately, though, and have been noticing it everywhere, even in clothing being sold by the big brands. It feels to me like these people are all working together. It’s a machine, really. The clothing becomes more psychedelic in its style, you notice more mainstream attention to it in films, and then labels start picking bands whose sound may lean that way, but still has some “accessibility”, for lack of a better word. That side of it is a shame to me, because I’ve seen bands being lauded as the new best thing in psychedelia or whatever, which is great for them, but I feel that there are groups who have been making it for decades and have a really great body of work who have never reached the same level of mainstream media attention as other bands who’ve been around for five minutes.”

black market karma-001Stan is undeterred by this, however – BMK remain incredibly prolific, averaging about one full length record a year since their inception. Not only are they generous enough to provide you with a new offering of psychedelic treats on a near-annual basis, but they’re actually giving it away [pause for double take] for free. That’s right, Black Market Karma are recording album after album of excellent music and handing it to you on a silver pixel-platter.

“We’re making new music all the time and want to share it,” explains Stan. “We don’t have big marketing backing us or extravagant advertising campaigns, so we figured that we’d let the music do the work. We thought the best way to do that was to give it away online. Also, people can get anything for free on the web now. This way we at least get direct contact from the people downloading our albums and we can keep in touch with them. If people enjoy the music they buy physical merchandise anyway, such as vinyls.”

Stan’s own musical tastes are, like the sounds he creates, eclectic – and like many of us, he credits one of his defining musical moments to a record passed on by his parents. “I didn’t really properly get into music until around the age of about twelve. Looking back though, I’ve realised that all of the TV shows and films that I loved as a kid had great soundtracks. I was being drawn to the music as much as the show without even knowing it – Star Wars being an obvious one to me. My Mum has always listened to Motown and soul and my Dad was more into rock music in general. I remember him giving me a Velvet Underground record which really had an impact on me. I also got into the Brian Jonestown Massacre at around fourteen or fifteen, and I fell in love with their music. From there I went back and forward and sideways and found a lot of great stuff that led me to where I am now.”

“[At the moment] I’m obviously always listening to the stuff that I really love and have done for a while: Spacemen 3, Velvet Underground, BJM, My Bloody Valentine, Curtis Mayfield, Serge Gainsbourg, Spiritualized, The Warlocks, etc.
I’ve also found some tunes that are real gems but can’t find much of anything else by these bands. Some that come to mind are:
The Kynds: If someone sends you flowers
The All Night Workers: Why don’t you smile?
The Cape Kennedy Construction Company: Armageddon
The Cryan Shames: Sailing Ship

As for more recent bands I’ve been digging:
Magic Castles, The Koolaid Electric Company, Flavor Crystals, Les Big Byrd.”

And what next for Black Market Karma? 2014 looks as though it’s going to be another fruitful year, with another record already in the works. Stan explains, “We’re extremely close to finishing our sixth album, and have plenty of ideas in the pipeline for more music. I’d like to try and get another record after that finished before the end of the year, too. We’re also planning some tours and other things this year so it’s all very exciting. We just want to stick at what we’re doing and be the best we can.”

In the meantime, wrap your ears around Upside Out Inside Down, which is available now. All of Black Market Karma’s music can be downloaded free through Flower Power Records.

Chloe Mayne
Words by Chloe Mayne.