Another playlist for Halloween

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A follow-up to last year’s list. Seeing as Joy Division are very much in the news at the moment with the release of Control and the re-issue of the albums, I thought a post-punk theme would be appropriate. The period which immediately followed punk in the late Seventies saw a lot of doom being imported into what was then still a proper alternative to the mainstream of popular music. This trend quickly ossified into the distinct and far less adventurous genres of goth and post Throbbing Gristle/Cabaret Voltaire industrial but between 1978 and 1982 everything was in a state of fascinating flux.

Hamburger Lady (1978) by Throbbing Gristle.
TG’s heart-warming ode to a burns victim.

6am (1979) by Thomas Leer & Robert Rental.
Leer and Rental’s The Bridge album was originally one of the few none-Throbbing Gristle releases on TG’s Industrial label, one half songs, the other moody electronic instrumentals. 6am perfectly conjures a picture of empty streets at dawn and sounds like a precursor of Ennio Morricone’s score for The Thing.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead (1979) by Bauhaus.
The first Bauhaus single and the only song of theirs I liked. Put to great use at the beginning of the otherwise pretty risible The Hunger.

Day Of The Lords (1979) by Joy Division.
If anything shows that Ian Curtis was a Romantic in the 19th century sense, it’s this grandiose wallow in the atrocities of history. “Where will it end?”

James Whale (1980) by Tuxedomoon.
Church bells toll and a lonely violin shrieks for the director of the Universal Frankenstein films.

Halloween (1981) by Siouxsie & the Banshees.
With a title like that, how could it not be included here?

Goo Goo Muck (1981) by The Cramps.
Always superior collagists of rockabilly weirdness and early garage riffs, The Cramps started out in the horror camp (“camp” being a big part of their act) with the Gravest Hits EP. Goo Goo Muck was a cover of a great single by (I kid not) Ronnie Cook & the Gaylads. “When the sun goes down and the moon comes up / I turn into a teenage goo goo muck.”

Raising The Count (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire.
An obscure moment of resurrection originally on the Rough Trade C81 cassette compilation from the NME.

Gregouka (1982) by 23 Skidoo.
Gregorian monks meet Moroccan pipes and drums with the result sounding like a voodoo ceremony taking place in cathedral catacombs.

The Litanies Of Satan (1982) by Diamanda Galás.
The formidable Ms Galás was part of last year’s list and her first album is just as hair-raising as her later works. The second part is the marvellously titled Wild Women With Steak-knives (The Homicidal Love Song For Solo Scream).

Happy Halloween!

Previously on { feuilleton }
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
The Séance at Hobs Lane
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box

Street Sounds Electro

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I spent much of the summer of 1983 playing games on a very primitive ZX Spectrum computer while listening to the first couple of Street Sounds Electro compilations. Those mix albums were among the best releases that year and remain highly sought after, seeing as they’ve never been reissued on CD.

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The musical reputation of the compilations has overshadowed the sleeve design which was very distinctive for the time and undoubtedly a factor in their success. The vertical ELECTRO type was inspired by Neville Brody’s design for The Face which had turned the magazine’s title through ninety degrees the year before. Also very Brodyish was the use of photocopier-processed graphics and narrow typography although it should be pointed out that Brody hand-drew nearly all his headlines which left his imitators searching through type catalogues for approximations. The sleeve designs are credited to “Red Ranch for Carver’s” about whom I can find no information whatever. Things came full-circle when The Face ran a feature on the electro scene in 1984 giving Brody the opportunity to do a cover with his own variant on the sleeve layouts.

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Essential Electro 9-album box, HBOX 1 (1984).

One of the big attractions of these albums for me was the new directions they were opening up for electronic music. Outside the mainstream pop world electronica in the early Eighties meant either the polite fare of Tangerine Dream or the dreary sludge of minor industrial acts such as Portion Control. Cabaret Voltaire were still vital in the early 1980s: their thundering Crackdown single (with sleeve design by Neville Brody) was remixed for its 12-inch incarnation by dance producer John Luongo while electro producer John Robie (whose production is featured on Electro 1) remixed their Yashar single for Factory Records. But nothing matched the excitement of a bunch of NYC kids lifting Kraftwerk riffs and playing in a very unselfconscious manner with new and relatively cheap equipment, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine which provides the backbone for many of these recordings.

Continue reading “Street Sounds Electro”

Chrome: Perfumed Metal

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Chrome: Firebomb single (1982).

I seem to have spent the past twenty-five years introducing people to Chrome. The world remains stubbornly resistant to their splendour, so here we go again…

Chrome were a San Francisco rock band born in the mid-Seventies, primary members Damon Edge and Helios Creed, ostensibly part of the punk thing but their sound is most aptly characterised by shorthand descriptions such as “Cabaret Voltaire meets Amon Düül II”. A newspaper ad for their Blood On The Moon album bore the legend “New Perfumed Metal”, and Perfumed Metal (the name of a track from Blood On The Moon) is how I tend to think of their blend of chugging riffs, synth squall, distorted vocals and tape collage. Those diverse and contradictory characteristics—perfume, metal—were embodied in the name of their record label, Siren, which finds in a single word reference to erotic mythology and industrial noise. Chrome are/were a difficult band to categorise and describe, so I’m fortunate that Julian Cope has risen to the challenge already with this great potted history and a look at their finest musical moments. Cope’s site also features a lengthy appraisal by another reviewer of their unhinged masterpiece, Half Machine Lip Moves.

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Chrome’s covers were almost all the work of Damon Edge, usually collages with titles hand-scrawled in Edge’s angular script. The Firebomb single above (also the cover art of the 3rd From The Sun album) became the band’s defining image, a lion-head door-knocker transformed into some bug-eyed alien organism by the simple addition of a pair of oversize eyes. Their second album was titled Alien Soundtracks so this is entirely appropriate. As Julian Cope puts it in his usual inimitable style:

So the vibe created is definitely very Sci-Fi, but no gleaming clean surfaces from Beyond The Year 2000 here. It’s a bit like in the original “Alien” movie (also from 1979 coincidentally), where the technology is “advanced” but the space ships are dank & dirty and all the equipment keeps breaking down. Science will not only bring forth smiling nuclear families with robot maids flying around in hover cars, but also ever-more-crowded metropolitan slums and squalor and new designer chemicals to help stave off (or feed?) dread and paranoia. To borrow a term coined nearly a decade later, Chrome’s is a “CYBER-PUNK” vision of the future.

The vision didn’t last for long but then most bands have a golden period of four or five years which is then dissipated in personnel splits or changes in musical direction. Chrome’s golden period ran from 1978 to 1982; longer than most and definitely worthy of your attention.

Official website
Damon Edge | Helios Creed
• Chrome on YouTube: Meet You In The Subway (1979) | New Age (1980)

Select discography:
Alien Soundtracks (1978)
Half Machine Lip Moves (1979)
Subterranean Modern (1979) (compilation album with other artists)
Read Only Memory (1979) 12″ EP
Red Exposure (1980)
Blood on the Moon (1981)
3rd from the Sun (1982)
No Humans Allowed (1982)
The Chronicles I (1982)
The Chronicles II (1982)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer
Metabolist: Goatmanauts, Drömm-heads and the Zuehl Axis
Maximum heaviosity

Metabolist: Goatmanauts, Drömm-heads and the Zuehl Axis

metabolist.jpgNo, not the school of Japanese architecture, we’re concerning ourselves here with a UK band from the early 1980s. There’s still a number of important albums from this period that remain caught in a curious limbo between the end of the time when vinyl was the prime carrier for new music and the start of the CD era. A few groups such as Metabolist expired before CDs became something commonly used by smaller labels and their recordings have tended to evade reissue. In addition, what recordings there are were often released in small quantities through obscure independent labels (the origin of the now thoroughly disreputable term “indie”) which means that the original works can be hard to find.

Metabolist were Malcolm Lane (guitar, synth, vocals), Simon Millward (bass, vocals, synth) and Mark Rowlatt (drums, percussion), with Jacqueline Bailey designing the covers in a Suprematist style that would no doubt have pleased Kazimir Malevich. All Metabolist covers feature variations on the same line of Helvetica plus a coloured (or black) square. As to the music, here’s my good friend Gav (who carefully digitised his Metabolist collection for me) on an old forum posting:

Initially very underrated and now just unknown, Metabolist were reviewed in the UK music press (NME & Sounds specifically) alongside The Pop Group, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle & This Heat as part of a brief vanguard of new UK experimental music, and for a little while it looked like fractured noise and Europe-inspired riffing might become an important part of the independent (as opposed to indie) mainstream…but alas…

According to “Eurock” magazine in 1980:

“gladiators of independent music, Metabolist have existed in one form or another for 3 or 4 years, the present group consisting of Malcolm Lane, Anton Loach, Simon Millward and Mark Rowlatt. The group is run along co-operative lines to include Jacqueline Bailey who handles publicity promotion, etc. The five of us have all reached the decision to work outside of the large companies in the music business and have therefore formed our own company – Drömm Records. So far we have released 1 EP, 15 minutes of music incl. “Drömm”, “Slaves” and “Eulam’s Beat”, plus a cassette tape of first take rehearsal material called “Goatmanaut”, also containing 3 tracks “Zordan Returns”, “Chained” and “Thru the Black Hole”. The groups first album “Hansten Klork is released in January 1980, closely followed by a single, “I Can’t Identify”. All these recordings have been made at the group’s studio with members of the group being responsible for recording, mixing and editing. We feel that this is the only way, apart from having unlimited cash, that Metabolist can have control over their musical output at every stage. All artwork and sleeve design are also handled within the group. Thanks to the growth of alternative distribution networks in recent years our records can now become available worldwide, so we consider independence to be both viable and desirable. Musically the group has been through many changes, Metabolist refuse to be dictated to by fashion, or by establishing a Metabolist “sound” and sticking to it for ever after. You can therefore find that you love the album, but hate the EP and so on. You will have to trust us as we do not intend to have 10 versions of a hit sound on our LP’s.”

Metabolist only released one full-length vinyl LP, 2 cassettes, a 7″ EP and a single, and their entire oeuvre, including peripheral compilation contributions, would fit onto a nice double CD comp, but none of it has ever been re-released – DURTRO were rumoured to be interested at one time, but as all original members were either untraceable or uninterested, it remains up to original fans (like myself – for the record I bought all their releases directly from the band) to champion their cause – and a worthy cause it is: imagine a lo-fi garageband Magma rehearsing & recording in a gents’ toilet, minus the chorale but compensating with the intensity of ‘Metal Box’ PiL or ‘Monster Movie’ Can, grunted vocals in a kind of proto-Kobaïan neo-dialect (‘Chained’, ‘King Quack’), or short bursts of bleeping and burping feedback and electronics like a lost ‘Faust Tapes’ outtake (‘Racing Poodles’, ‘Zordan Returns’)…and at a time when ‘Krautrock’ was just the first track on ‘Faust IV’ and ‘Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh’ was a quid in any and every secondhand record shop, Metabolist were citing Der Kosmische Music and Magma as major influences, not a good starting point for a suspicious post-punk record-buying public…I’ve always loved this band because they did it their way, they rocked hard, and they then just disappeared, leaving a small but perfectly-formed Ur-Cosmic body of work that will be rediscovered at some point…surely…

Surely, but not yet. My summation of the Metabolist sound would be something like “Magma’s Christian Vander jamming with This Heat”, but seeing them as a poor man’s This Heat is rather unfair since they have their own distinct personality beyond the few areas of sound and production (This Heat also had their own studio) that overlap with Brixton’s finest. In place of This Heat’s standard-issue Socialist concerns, Metabolist are often fiercer and weirder, deliberately plugging themselves into a post-Magma “Zeuhl” axis as they growl many of their songs in an invented (?) tongue. Little wonder, then, that they remain beyond the pale. Other bands from the period such as Wire, The Gang of Four—even The Fire Engines!—have been resurrected, reissued and even reformed, with younger groups declaring them as influences. We’re currently lacking any enterprising Drömm-heads prepared to take this formidable sound as the starting point for something new. If they’re out there, they’ll need to be hardy souls with little expectation of reward; Franz Ferdinand wouldn’t have graced the charts shouting incoherently into an echo chamber while heavy bass rumbles and drums pound and ricochet in the background.

Thanks to Gav for permission to re-use his words. And for the music, of course…

The recordings:
Dromm (7″) (Drömm Records, 1979).
Goatmanaut (cassette) (Drömm Records, 1979).
Hansten Klork (LP) (Drömm Records, 1980).
Identify (7″) (Drömm Records, 1980).
Split (7″) (Bain Total, 1981).
Stagmanaut! (cassette) (Cassette King, 1981).
Tracks appear on:
Compilation Internationale No.1 (LP) Le Grand Prique, Chained (Scopa Invisible, 1980).
Miniatures (LP) Racing Poodles (Pipe, 1980).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Maximum Heaviosity
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
This Heat

The Final Academy

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The event booklet, designed by Neville Brody.

William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. A recent posting on the Grey Lodge is a torrent of The Final Academy Documents, the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

I’ve always been grateful that a record was made of this event, however poor, since I was in the audience that evening, very conscious of the fact that this was my one and only opportunity to see Burroughs in the flesh. His appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Continue reading “The Final Academy”