Subculture Unsung: Flood

One of the most-sought after producers of the last 40 years

Thursday 10th January 2019

Flood, also known by his real name, Mike Ellis, is one of the most prolific and influential producers and engineers of the past four decades. While those that used to, and probably still do, read the credits on their CDs and records will no doubt be familiar with the curiously nicknamed recording expert, others may well be oblivious to his input behind the scenes.

Together with his regular collaborator Alan Moulder, the names are woven into a constant thread of landmark albums that straddle the underground and mainstream, often marking the moment that relatively conventional rock music becomes elevated to become something else. 

Mike Ellis became a recording studio apprentice in the early 1980s at West London's Morgan Studios. He allegedly got his epic pseudonym during sessions with The Cure, when a producer pointed out that he made a lot more tea than another member of the studio staff, who got similarly coined Drought during the same session. 

An early notable credit on Flood's CV is New Order's debut LP 'Movement' for which he was an assistant engineer. He was the engineer on Marc Almond's side project Marc and the Mambas within a year, and likewise, Ministry's uncharacteristically electronic debut LP in 1983. In 1984 Flood was the producer of Nick Cave's solo debut, 'From Her To Eternity'.

The album saw Nick Cave become the new poster boy of the alternative. As post-punk and new wave became something else, the boundaries of the mainstream were reset for what was to come in the late '80s and early '90s, Flood, like Nick Cave became an integral figure of the scene. Flood also retained his ear for a pop song though, producing Erasure's 1986 album 'Wonderland'.

Flood could turn his studio sensibility to guitar-based music and electronic music. Flood's versatility, able to work in both areas of interest gave rise to a wider view of the musical landscape for those that chose to utilise him as producer. Depeche Mode and U2 were two high profile bands to embrace Flood's skills. Ellis worked alongside Alan Wilder on Depeche Mode's 'Violator', and with Brian Eno on U2's 'Achtung Baby' and 'Zooropa', albums that marked a new more challenging period in mainstream rock and pop.

It wasn't just big stadium bands that benefitted from the Flood effect. Trent Reznor brought Flood on board as part of the production team alongside the like of dub/punk producer Adrian Sherwood and John Fryer of This Mortal Coil for the debut Nine Inch Nails LP in 1989.

Back in the UK, another of Flood's professional triumphs was his work with London alternative band, Curve. Along with Alan Moulder, Flood helped create the multi-layered sound that managed to be both heavy and soft, dark yet ethereal, drenched in electronic and guitar texture. 'Doppelgänger' in 1992 and its darker sibling 'Cuckoo' in 1993 provided an alternative template for many bands that emerged while others were obsessing with grunge or formulating Britpop.

Despite only releasing two albums before their initial breakup, Curve's output with Flood was highly influential. Garbage, whose lineup included Nirvana/Smashing Pumpkins producer Butch Vig as their drummer/producer, were one such band. Widely compared to Curve, who had parted at the time, Garbage's debut release was perfectly timed for the zeitgeist that saw pop music welcome material that would have been considered alternative just a couple of years previously.

In a pleasing cross Atlantic exchange of style and methods, The Smashing Pumpkins chose to work with Flood and Alan Moulder on their 1995 double album 'Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness', and the three albums that followed it. Songs such as '1979' were transformed from what Billy Corgan described as a sad song, stating that while the song remained the song he had written, Flood could hear sonic possibilities that he could not, and knew how to achieve them. The media coined the phrase post-grunge, but the reality was that rock and pop music had developed again, enabled partly by Flood's expertise and sonic vision.

Flood remains active to this day. In recent years he has produced albums for longtime collaborators such as PJ Harvey and has worked with the like of Warpaint on their self-titled second album.

While times have changed, Flood's credits now span four decades and the influence of album's such as 'Doppelgänger' is still noticeable everywhere from soundtracks to catwalks and mainstream pop music, as well as more serious musical explorations of the fringes between genres.

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