Cultural Exchange

Machine heads Christopher Phipps and Alex Zaitsev aim their humanity at your sound system

Zaitsev had never lived in the cold isolation associated with the erstwhile Soviet Union. "We'd trade tapes and stuff," he says. "I later found out that I was into the same stuff back then as Christopher was. I had a pretty big collection of Western music. Two people on the opposite sides of the world, both thinking the same, with the same influences. When I came here, at first I was disappointed by metal, by all the guitar bands. I heard on WKPX about London Exchange, and tracked him down."

While still in Moscow, Zaitsev didn't quite hear everything that Americans take for granted. "When New Wave hit," he remembers, "police would check your tapes. Madness or Culture Club -- they thought that was Nazi, fascist music. I was in the police office three times a day, even more sometimes. I had bangs, and they thought I was like Hitler. For hair, earrings, for anything they'd take me in. Dire Straits and Pink Floyd also were forbidden. You know that song on Final Cut, where [Roger Waters] sings about how Brezhnev took Afghanistan?" The authorities had ways to deal with such waywardness. "You had to be employed or be studying," Zaitsev says. "Otherwise you could go to jail. If you couldn't find a job, the police would get one for you, or help you find one. There was no unemployment. Of course, they could find you a job in a bad place. There were tons of places where people didn't want to work."

After arriving here, Zaitsev was certain of one thing: He wanted to work with London Exchange. He contacted Merlin Records -- the company set up by Phipps and his brother John after other labels declined to sign them -- and explained that he thought the guy from London Exchange might be a potential producer for him. "He played some demos of his stuff," Christopher Phipps recalls, "and it was really good, lots of potential. I needed a keyboardist."

Original Exchange keyboardist Jose Conde had announced he was leaving. Drummer Tim Gavin and bassist Martin Davis, who had joined for club dates in the summer of 1990, as well as early collaborator Douglas Edwards, had also moved on to other projects. (Gavin and Davis went on to form Plastic Nude Martini.)

A year ago Zaitsev and Phipps hooked up and began working in Phipps's by-then completed home studio in Lauderhill. "The studio was a major turning point," Phipps explains, "because there's no overhead cost to record, so we can mess with the arsenal, experiment. Before London Exchange was 90 percent me. Now it's more of a 50-50, collaborative thing. This is the definitive London Exchange."

Phipps, who produced Chatterbox's "Shake the House" back in December of 1990, sees a future in that line of musical work. Eventually he and Zaitsev will release an album -- the material on their various demo tapes is certainly strong enough to justify full-length slabbing -- and the duo this week issued a single under the band name Dos Ex Machina. The two songs, "Threat of Aggression" and "Rage," lean toward an industrial sound. Phipps also foresees a small tour in the fall. "Maybe New Orleans," he says, "there's some demand there. Then work down through the state, hit the college towns, and end up down here for shows at progressive clubs." A stop in Moscow is not on the agenda. Yet.

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