Monday, 16 July 2018

Sin - First Movement: Disease (1985) C90

Confusion or possibly Alzheimer's dominates this week with both myself and the author of the work having variant memories of the tape I released on my own Do Easy label back in 1985, and also that the one thing we seem to agree on was that it featured the excellent Baseball Bat Song, except the version I digitised somehow didn't. So far as my useful, or at least coherent memories go, I recall that Tom came to stay a couple of days at my cave in Maidstone around the time of this work. I was a student at the art college, and Tom's visit coincided with an events week, with students from all across the universe converging on our little Kentish town to show avant-garde films of themselves dropping pens into a bucket, and so on. Tom, also being a film student had produced an hour long video, of which Disease was the soundtrack, and frankly it was about the best thing shown that week by some margin.

I've digitised the tape as I had believed it was intended to be heard for most of the past three decades - two long tracks divided into sections, one a side; but it transpires that this was wrong and a couple of these pieces shouldn't even have been on the tape. Anyway, over to himself...

Following The Complete Trilogy and the little C-15 which Lawrence had put out, I was itching to create something special for my third Do Easy tape. I had always been interested in film and video. In fact you could say I came out of film, did music for a while, then went back to film – which is what I do now.

In 1984 these influences, film and sound, were really vying for attention in my imagination. I was also interested in subliminals, in the way a viewer or a listener might be subconsciously affected by particular words and images – carefully hidden in the mix. I had experiments along these lines on a few previous tracks – Batora is loaded with muttered phrases and threats – although at this point I wanted to take all of this several steps further. I was, of course, heavily under the influence of TG at this time (even though they were ancient history by ’84) and I'd just seen Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun at the ICA. So I wanted my next project to be a full audio-visual experience.

Another reason I decided to push in this direction was that I was about to start a Film & Drama course at Bulmershe College in Reading. I already knew they had excellent video production facilities and had already befriended the technician in that department, a guy named Simon, before I even started. Oddly enough, the course I was attending did not include any access or use of the video studio – which seems incredible in retrospect, but was very simply because the course I was on was about film theory,  not practice. I soon realized that the only way I could use the studio was to cut out of my film & drama classes whenever possible. So it evolved that for the first 6 months of my Film & Drama Degree I put very little energy into my studies and was totally focused on creating what you’re about to hear… and see.

Of course, thirty-four years on it looks and sounds incredibly primitive, but I still feel it was better to neglect my studies in favour of this project - it’s about the only worthwhile thing I gained from my two years at Bulmershe.


Side one starts with the longest recording I ever made.

Track 1 – (19:45) Of Predators and Prey
Recorded October 1984.

Arriving at Bulmershe Halls of Residence I brought my whole recording set-up, for what it was: my Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster, my Boss echo machine, A reel to reel tape recorder, an equalizer, my dad’s old music centre, a Casio VL-Tone and the Beast - a Roland SH-1000 of unpredictable temperament.

I thought I’d find all sorts of like-minded weirdos among my fellow students but I soon found I had very little in common with anyone, and neither did they with me. So while I would go drinking a bit with my dorm neighbours Simon and Andrew (who once took me to a great Test Department gig in Sheffield) and a year later formed a one gig band with Steve Middleton, in the year above me, I had little meaningful interaction with my fellow students. I often just buried myself in working on tapes and sound ideas – much as I had at home.

This opening track starts with a series of radio frequencies – more of which will be heard in a moment - and a manipulated field recording, which I’d made on holiday with my parents. We were travelling by coach, when I noticed a great interference sound whenever I positioned my Sharp over the engine of the bus. Experimenting with this and the dubbing function I was able to create a powerful series of rhythmic engine stabs – which when put through the echo machine sounded mighty and strange. This runs for several minutes before the next part of the track, – a grinding series of descending notes, another engine sound I believe, leading us to the main part of the track – a prolonged experiment with a borrowed electric guitar and my electric razor. I liked how switching the razor on and off created these very sharp, clean electrical sounds, and then bringing it into contact with the strings made for a powerful ambient soundscape. I was also exploring some of the remoter frequences on the radio that night and stumbled across a pre-Glasnost USSR radio station, broadcasting anti-British and American propaganda alleging that scores of Greenham Common protestors were being shot at and killed by the military based there. I mixed that with another broadcast, which I was able to weave in and out of the guitar sound and then added another layer of me reading a personal piece of text I'd written that summer.
So what was the visual component of this?  Before I started at Bulmershe I was shooting a lot of Super 8mm, trying to create mysterious sequences that would blend in and out during the music. One piece was of me on the stage at the ICA Cinema, filmed by Colin, the friendly projectionist. Another scene is of a man descending into Charing Cross station on the escalator and then waiting for a train. Basically I was stalking him with the camera. There are some single frame shots of a TV program about Harrier jets, then there's news footage of a train crash, all mixed with a close up of me, a passenger on a train, looking bleakly out at the passing landscape. My expression isn't acting. The night before I'd taken a trip and watched Eraserhead for the first time – so I was feeling seriously fucked up.

I ran all this material at various speeds – forward and back – some of it on loops and on three projectors running simultaneously with a video camera filming each. Then I did a live mix between the images in time with the soundtrack. Additionally I added very mixed down visuals from a porno video that I got hold of – in the final visual mix it's almost imperceptible – though you can see that something suspect is going on whenever the screen fades to black.

The best moment of all was what I found to synchronize with that opening series of noise stabs – a scene from a nature doc where we see a large fish eating a smaller fish.

See and hear for yourself:

Note: the video version is somewhat abbreviated – I edited the track down to 14:50

Audio: Various electromagnetic noise / interference, electric guitar (borrowed), electric razor (and that's why), unknowing members of public, English language Russian radio (pre-Glasnost), shortwave radio frequencies. All recorded and assembled on a Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster
Track 2 – (6:39) No Escape
Recorded September 1984.

If the first track was something of an improvisation this in contrast was structured and carefully paced. That summer I had been reading a lot of about the Theatre of the Absurd, and one piece in particular which stayed in my memory was Boris Vian's The Empire Builders, a play depicting the plight of a suburban family, pursued through their home and into the attic by a terrifying sound and the disquieting presence of a figure in their midst called the schmurz. I wanted to try to encapsulate this figure and the terror it created in a piece of music that would have a claustrophobic, ghostly ambience – something that would be both intense, yet quiet. I had a melody going through my head which I sang into my reel to reel recorder running the tape very fast. Then I took the piece of tape, which was perhaps six feet long and created a loop which I then played at a slow speed through my echo machine.  I found the effect was mesmerizing and I built this up with multiple layers of Roland SH-1000 and then whispered phrases – inspired by the text. The schmurz itself was again from the Roland and reared its head at key moments.

Visuals: For the video I wanted to experiment with the image of not being able to escape, so I had one of my fellow students, Gemma, filmed trying to escape from a window and being captured by  two guards. This was combined with other footage filmed while I was walking along towards Earley while running the camera. I had an idea to create a similar video effect to the one I often used in audio, where two versions of the same recording run together slightly out of synch. That along with some primitive chromakey created an interesting effect.

With this video there are actually two versions – one has been on YouTube for some time and is considerably different to the original (when I originally digitized it in 2010 I felt it needed sprucing up) and then the original somewhat battered video from 1985, which has some moments of sound drop out.

Recorded on the Sharp tape to tape.
Sounds Roland SH-1000, TF voice and background tape loops.
Track 3 – (8:13) untitled
This spaced-out, sweetly melodic track almost didn't make it to the final cut. I had planned it to be a jaunty pop song, with vocals – something that would come as a complete change of pace from the previous tracks. But my initial attempts at this were dire and I abandoned the song. It was only some weeks later when I was fooling around with my reel to reel and slowed the track down to about a quarter of the original speed, that I thought there might be something in it after all. Adding a tape loop of me making clicking sounds with my tongue through the echo machine and possibly another layer of keyboard, it arrived in it's present form. Initially I had video images for this, but I decided it wasn’t a strong enough track for the video and dropped it.

Track 4 – (10:00) field recording
This is a field recording made while boarding a tube train in Hampstead with some friends. I was quite surprised to find this on the tape digitised by Lawrence.

Track 5 - (17:06) Pagan Orchestral
Recorded October 1984.

Side two opens with my second Martin Denny inspired track and probably the most sophisticated recording I'd made to this time. After the dark and doom laden tracks on side one I was keen to do something with more air in it. So this is my attempt at pure music without the subliminal underlay of the rest of the tape.

When I was on the induction tour of Bulmershe College in September '84, aside from the aforementioned video studio, I was also very intrigued by the well equipped music practice wing, with orchestral instruments, recording facilities and great rehearsal spaces. I immediately decided that I should record something using this facility – even though I wasn't a music student. Among other instruments they had there were a grand piano, tubular bells, xylophone & tam tams – and whilst I had never played any of these – aside from childhood picking out of tunes on the piano, I thought these would be great for the piece I had in mind. So I booked a two-hour slot and took my Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster in one morning, and this was the result.

Recording with the
tape to tape involves recording a first track, then playing back that first track on deck A while re-recording that along with new live input on deck B. You then repeat the process building up your track layer by layer. Unlike a four or eight track recording where one could re-record an earlier piece if it was unsuccessful, once you had layered the second track over the first, you were stuck with what was underneath – unless you wanted to start again. This was both a limitation and a boon since I was forced to work with what I had already created.

On this occasion the first layer was the tam-tams, since I felt they would drive the rest of my playing and give the piece energy. However I didn't want the track to actually start with the tam-tams playing. So I started the recording and stood in complete silence for about a minute before beginning. I then added layers in order of the piano, xylophone and tubular bells. With each instrument, I knew I had this minute or so before the drums kicked in where I could noodle around – essentially establishing a key for the piece. It then grew organically from that point on. During the recording, I remember some music students peering through the glass of the door to the rehearsal space – wondering what this lone student was up to - but they never bothered me. At the end, when the drums finish – and as the instrumentation becomes more stripped down – I began intoning various long notes on each layer – which I harmonized with on subsequent layers and it is this that you hear as the piece drifts into a dreamy and rather pensive conclusion.

Considering I had no real idea of what I was going to do when I walked into the rehearsal space that morning, it's remarkable how quickly and easily this came together. But sometimes it's just a fluke of luck and when I tried to repeat the experiment a few weeks later in the same place it didn’t work at all. I remember the evening after this recording I went to visit my friend (and occasional collaborator on this tape) Jon Lawford and played him this. His wife, Gwen, happened to walk in, just at the point where it all momentarily sounds tight, and said, 'Wow - Tom, that's actually listenable.' High praise indeed.

The only addition to the original recording was the opening feedback – which was an excerpt from an unreleased (at that time) recording from May 1984 in a busy Waltham Abbey underpass.

Here is the video (shortened to 12.19) - visuals include footage shot in early 1986, including on-set footage from my friend Kaprice Kea's film Virtues of Knature.


Track 6 - (6:47) Words Cannot Describe
Recorded in July 1984, before I began attending Bulmershe College, this is the earliest track recorded for Disease, and the only one which Jon Lawford had any direct involvement with, although it was more in the line of ideas and suggestions than the actual recording. Using the Sharp tape to tape ghetto blaster to gather industrial sounds and radio snippets at various sites, I aimed to create an industrial soundscape with the intention of causing maximum physical discomfort. During this time my dad worked with Tarmac Construction, building the Hatfield by-pass. Part of the project involved the construction of a huge tunnel, which I was working alongside for some weeks. The sounds emanating from this vast chasm were incredibly powerful, drills, diggers and various electric hand tool sounds, would combine and resonate through several miles of smooth concrete surfaces to create an astonishing aural barrage – which of course I recorded. Credited collaborator Jon provided the sample of the Dalai Lama which opens and closes the piece and also suggested having one sound gradually blend into the other, so in that sense it was a joint effort.

The Video is comprised of a montage of shots of a student friend at Bulmershe. It was something of an experiment to blend a loop of zooming-in shots with a rapid montage of single frame close-ups of the same guy's face from different angles. The effect complements the audio quite nicely.


Track 7 – (6:34) untitled
This mysterious track – which I had no memory of until I heard it again when Lawrence digitised his version of the tape - was the original last track of Disease, and would have brought the recording full circle, by returning the listener to radio static and electronic drones.

Track 7 (bonus track) – Baseball Bat Song
As mentioned before, I had hoped to incorporate one song in Disease, but the one attempt didn't work as planned. A month or two passed and I had already sent the audio master to Lawrence and was spending Christmas with my folks when I recorded this track. With its persistent bell riff and graphic lyrics about street violence (though it's fuzzy as to who's doing what to whom) it's a completely different beast to what had gone before. Although the original final track was an appropriate way to end the tape, I was keen to include something that might point to the next stage in whatever evolution I was making. At the time, and for a good thirty years since, I thought this was the track everyone who played this tape heard – ironically, so did Lawrence. So it was quite mysterious to discover it wasn't here. Anyway, here it is – in a somewhat degraded audio from a video master.

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Monday, 9 July 2018

Man's Hate - Suffer in Silence (1984) C60

Man's Hate was a one-man band comprising Andi Xport, also of the APF Brigade whom you may recall as appearing on this compilation, and also this one; and he was also behind the International Sound Communication compilations, of which you'll find one here.

This was the first of two tapes he recorded as Man's Hate, according to Discogs. There's a blog entry about it here, or there was, but I'm reposting the material just in case it disappears, as I suspect the download may have done due to Mr. Xport no longer being with us. Anyway, here's what he said:

Suffer in Silence was my first solo cassette album. I used the sound on sound method using the new-fangled tape decks that had just come out with two tapes being able to be placed in one machine at the same time, recording onto one tape deck then playing that back through speakers and recording onto the next tape deck whilst playing live over the top. The only problem with this method was that if you made a mistake then the whole song had to be redone and the tape quality soon deteriorated.

This was a review of Suffer in Silence from Cause and Effect, a US zine done by Hal McGee and Debbie Jaffe.

Man's Hate is Andi, an Englishman with strong convictions who plays guitar and sings songs with a directness and energy that incites the listener to get up off her/his ass and act. Andi was a member of the seminal early eighties punk-folk protest group APF Brigade. The ten tracks here are highly charged dramatic rock anthems decrying man's cruelty and stupidity towards other beings, human and animal alike. The lyrics are of a political nature (personal politics with a conscientious bent)... The main thing here is the sound. You will hear a voice, a voice of conviction and desperation. This is the music of a man who will not shut up and passively accept what he hates.

Okay - last time I nosed around on the internet, I'd swear I read that Andi Xport is no longer with us, but now, although he seems to have remained conspicuously silent for a while, I can no longer find any reference to his supposed passing, so if you're reading this, Andi - or anyone who knows him - and I've got it wrong, please excuse my succumbing to fake news.

Anyway, as you'll hear, Suffer in Silence is somewhat didactic, but helpfully tuneful, and enough so as to negate any whining about Mr. Xport's failure to have recorded it at Abbey Road. Actually, I sort of miss things being this didactic, as opposed to just - well... you know... The thing which has surprised me most about this after all this time is that this guy was a genuinely inventive songwriter, slipping all sorts of weird jazzy chords and changes in there. Would have loved to have heard this stuff played by a full, well-rehearsed band, but never mind.

...and that nice Mr. Zchivago seems to have the second tape, if anyone's interested.

1 - Overdose
2 - Burn the Flag
3 - No Money, No Rights
4 - Work Experience
5 - A Gun! For a Toy?
6 - Animal Farming
7 - Meat Means Money
8 - Workers Playtime
9 - Not a Minority Anymore
10 - Suffer in Silence

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Friday, 29 June 2018

Eat the Rich (1984) C60

For some reason I thought I'd aready digitised this one, but I hadn't, so here it is, nearly a year after Political Piggies, the compilation to which it was a follow up, and another obscure chapter in the prehistory of the Grey Wolves. I seem to remember it came out pretty quickly after the first tape, even too quick for me to spam the poor buggers with yet another brace of underwhelming Do Easy contributions in a doomed attempt to spread the word far and wide so that I wouldn't have to get a proper job when I left college.

If you're a regular here, you should know at least a few of these names. The Unkommuniti was Tim from Stereolab with a few others, Brides of Christ II were this lot, Opera for Infantry were er... the Grey Cubs, I suppose, and Pacific 231 was, or rather is, Pierre Jolivet who seems to have kept himself busy over the years. Mass of Black had a couple of tapes on the Subhumans' label. A-Void appears to have been a very early Stan Batcow thing, from what I can tell, unless it's a different A-void to the one listed on Discogs. It does sound a bit like him though. As for the rest, if you're reading this on something with internet access, then you're in as good a position as I am when it comes to typing names into a search engine. Discogs seems to acknowledge that most of the others existed, but beyond revealing that Kteis Sekret once appeared on the same compilation tape as 23 Skidoo, there's not a whole lot I can tell you.

1 - Unkommuniti - Yog Introduction
2 -
Geschlekt Akt - The Slave
3 -
Brides of Christ II - The Tongues of Boys & Girls
4 -
Society's Victims - Reject Religion
5 -
Opera for Infantry - Self Discipline
6 -
The Cause for Concern - Psychick Pillocks
7 -
Dark Party - Night Nurse
8 -
Mass of Black - Invision
9 -
Berlinerluft - Point 1
10 -
Society's Victims - Army
11 -
Dark Party - The Edge
12 -
Kteis Sekret - Fleischhaken
13 -
A-Void - Necropolis
14 -
Opera for Infantry - Laughter for Drowned Men
15 -
Mass of Black - Overseer
16 -
Unkommuniti - On the Washington Monument
17 -
Pacific 231 - Useless Weapon (extract)
18 -
A-Void - God is Dead

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Monday, 25 June 2018

Human Trapped Rhythms - And to Z (1984) C60

There's a chance you may remember Human Trapped Rhythms from their (or, I suppose, his) album, Drowning and Falling in You. If not, then I already wrote as much as I know in this review, so it might be worth having a look at that because I can't be arsed to write it all out again. If you regularly follow this blog, there's also a chance you will have encountered HTR on the Moraals compilation.
Anyway, this was the tape which came out before either the album or the Do Easy compilation, and which was later issued on Anal Probe. My copy was from when Peter himself was sending them out to people, and there's also a booklet of artwork illustrating each track, so I've scanned that and it comes with the download.

I'm not sure there's much more I can say about this tape. I hadn't listened to either it or the album in a couple of decades due to a long period of finding myself less than settled, so - as with a few things - this has been a little like listening to something for the first time, for me. I remember that I always though Human Trapped Rhythms sounded interesting but a little too minimal for their own good, but I think I've finally begun to appreciate where the guy was coming from. This is some really quiet, powerful music, and it isn't really quite like anything else - so give it a few listens and a chance to settle in.

1 - The Being
2 - Tunnel Vision
3 - Tomorrow's Lie
4 - Rise to Power
5 - Hero Worship
6 - Time Lines II
7 - But Feeling
8 - The Figure
9 - Burn Body
10 - Sex-Sake
11 - The Eternal Becoming
12 - Bastard Dance

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Monday, 28 May 2018

Total Big - Rehearsal 13 & 14 (1986) C90

Total Big at Max's Kansas City showing(left to right) Porridge, Carl, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Dr. Who, and Loz.

Fans of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV will most likely be aware of Porridge's proposed formation of a band with Ian Curtis of Joy Division, as referred to here.

'I was very good friends with Ian Curtis from Joy Division. In fact, I was the last person he spoke with before he died. We used to talk about Frank Sinatra's early records and how they influenced our phrasing. That crooning style we both had was knowingly done. And the two of us had a plan. Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle were going to play together in Paris, and at the end, Ian and I would announce that we were both quitting our bands to start one together. It was not to be, though.'

However, few will know that Porridge was not telling the whole truth here, because not only did it actually happen, but the full line-up also included television's famous Dr. Who - none other than Peter Capaldi. Porridge played bass and crooning. The singing was handled by both Carl Glover and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, although Ian Curtis of Joy Division tended to sing the more serious words about German cinema of the 1920s and so on, because he was better at the sort of thing and didn't keep laughing half way through. Guitar was handled by myself and that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor, and Chris played the drums. We were called Total Big because, as Porridge explained, it sounded a bit rude like it might be referring to a large penis, and also the initials were TB which acknowledged the thematic continuity with TG, his previous rock band, and also stood for tuberculosis which is a virus, sort of like the word virus which his famous friend William Burroughs used to write about, so that was playful and subversive*. This is a tape of a couple of 1986 rehearsals. Tracks one to fifteen were recorded on 4th May in Chris's dad's garage in Kemsley, Sittingbourne, Kent, and the rest was at my place in Otham, near Maidstone on May the 10th - both a Saturday I think. Unfortunately neither Porridge, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, nor Dr. Who were able to attend either of these rehearsals, so it was just me, Carl and Chris. Further information about Total Big can be found by referring to the index at the foot of this blog entry.

'Art and life really are the same, and both can only be about a spiritual journey, a path towards a re-union with a supreme creator, with god, with the divine; and this is true no matter how unlikely, how strange, how unorthodox, one's particular life path might appear to one's self or others at any given moment.' - Genesis P. Orridge.

1 - He Believes
2 - He Writes the Songs
3 - Rock Sandwich
4 - Hail Fellow Well Met
5 - Cold Sore Herpes B
6 - I'm Not Losing Sleep
7 - Are You My Mother?
8 - Call It What You Want
9 - Do What I Want
10 - Louie Louie
11 - Sister Ray
12 - Hey Joe
13 - Armchair Maniac
14 - In My Head
15 - Keep Your Dreams A'Burnin'
16 - Hail Fellow Well Met
17 - He Believes
18 - Keep Your Dreams A'Burnin'
19 - I'm Not Losing Sleep
20 - He Writes the Songs
21 - Rock Sandwich
22 - Walking in the Rain
23 - He Believes
24 - Sanity Hose
25 - Are You My Mother?
26 - Call It What You Want
27 - I'll Crawl
28 - Louie Louie
29 - Sister Ray
30 - Hey Joe
31 - Cold Sore Herpes B
32 - Madonna

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*: Most of this is a lie.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Realities (1982) C60

You really should have heard of Adventures in Reality, but if not, then it's your lucky day. By way of a slight change of pace, instead of the usual mumbling run through of who I've heard of, who I haven't heard of, which one still owes me a tenner and so on, this time I've interviewed Alan Rider, the man behind Adventures in Reality - the label and the zines, also Stress, Dance Naked and others, one time author of reviews for Music from the Empty Quarter and, more recently, of one of the best essays to be included in Greg Bull and Mike Dine's generally wonderful And All Around Was Darkness anthology. So here we go. I'm italicised. Alan isn't.

Firstly I'm afraid I never actually saw an issue of Adventures in Reality, mainly because I was still at school when I first became aware of the tape scene, so money was a bit tight, so please forgive my ignorance in the event of my asking what may seem obvious questions; but anyway, I had the impression Adventures in Reality had a fairly strong artistic sensibility, at least based on what I saw, and I recall a few bits and pieces borrowed from the Italian Futurists, of whom I was very much a fan at the time, so where did that come from? I mean the zine seemed quite different to the average, or that's the impression I get.

Shame on you, Lawrence, for missing out on Adventures in Reality at the time. You really should have gone without food to scrape together the cash for each issue! At 30p it wasn't expensive. At the time I had this radical idealist zeal about making any money from it being morally wrong, so I only charged the exact cost of production - no profit margin here! That lead to one early issue costing a bizarre 16p. Needless to say, that resulted in a pretty rubbish cash flow, but then again I wasn't exactly a businessman! I'd agree though that Adventures in Reality had a strong artistic sensibility and developed a visual aesthetic of it's own. I too was a big fan of the Italian Futurists and used a drawing by Futurist Architect Sant'Elia as the cover of the first issue. I had a strong affinity to Dada too, meaning I consciously did things that went against the norm of what a 'punk' music zine was supposed to be about. Issues were numbered alphabetically, for the majority of issues I didn't list any of the bands featured inside or indeed any other contents on the cover. Some issues came in sealed bags with a random selection of inserts (including toffees and teabags) or folders containing essays on urban life in Coventry. I was also a fan of Irish Mail Art zine Cabarte and artist John Heartfield and produced original collages which I used as posters and covers. I used to take my own photos which I would develop in the local college by pretending to be a student there (which only required you to look scruffy and a bit hung over and wear a scarf) and strolling into their dark rooms to print my gig shots from the night before. I also featured a real mix of bands from anarchist punk (Crass, Flux of Pink Indians etc.) through to industrial electronics (SPK, Test Dept, etc.) which meant I had good contacts with a really wide bunch of people and Adventures in Reality was regarded variously as a punk, anarchist, industrial, or electronic zine, depending on who you spoke to.

Although the reach of most fanzines was tiny compared to, say, a cult music blog now, the fact there was no other way at the time of reading about music not covered by the mainstream music press or radio meant that we had a lot more influence than our small circulations would have suggested. Labels knew that it was their best way to build up a following for a new band, but even established bands valued this way of connecting directly to their audiences. There was far less management layers between the bands and fanzines too. If I wanted to interview an act I just had to turn up at a gig during the soundcheck and ask. Usually they had time for me as soundchecks are dull and involve lots of hanging around, so they were happy to talk to fill the time. They knew also there was no 'angle', which the NME etc. would always be looking for, so they could be open. Record companies would happily send me review copies and provide backstage passes, even home phone numbers for the band. When I asked to interview Nine Inch Nails, the band themselves sent me loads of press releases and photos and suggested we talk when they came to the UK to tour. Sadly that didn't happen in the end, but Bauhaus gave me their home addresses and numbers, and when I interviewed SPK I missed my last train home so ended up spending the night on their sofa. Coil simply said 'pop round' to Sleazy's house and made me cups of tea whilst we talked. It all felt very simple and easy to do really.

It is hard to say whether I really stood out from the average though, as very little was average at the time. The zine scene in Coventry at the time was huge and very diverse, covering all styles and ranging from very basic home produced punk zines by school kids (Antisocial) to glossy art house magazines (Issue), to Viz style humour (Ded Yampy). There was no single style so I was one of many, albeit one of the better known ones. That was largely down to my writing to anyone and everyone to swap zines, get reviewed and distributed, and make contacts with bands and labels. I used to walk into HMV and Virgin and ask them over the counter to stock the zine (they did) and struck a deal with Rough Trade and Tower Records to take copies to distribute through their networks (which got them into US stores). I also sold through what was then a nation wide network of left-wing book shops (Compendium, Free Wheel, and Coventry's Wedge Bookshop amongst others). I even sold copies in indoor clothes market shops and pop poster stores. One thing I refused to do though was to go through Better Badges, a London T-Shirt and badge printer who printed many of the biggest zines of the time (Toxic Graffity and Panache amongst others), as they exchanged printing for exclusive distribution. Snag was, all of the zines printed by them looked the same and the back page of every one was a full page ad for Better Badges. That worked well for some but ruled out any diverse or radical formats, so was not for me.

Which came first? Adventures in Reality or Martin's Alternative Sounds?
Definitely Alternative Sounds by about a year. That started in 1979 and was the first local punk zine. It remained the biggest but was very Coventry based. I was too at the start, but quickly branched out into more diverse areas and became very international. I think Alternative Sounds will always be seen as a Coventry fanzine, whereas Adventures in Reality won't really. There were really close links between the two of us though. I wrote for Alternative Sounds and Martin wrote for me. All of the local zines worked together for the most part and we all got along really well. Martin and I were close friends and lived in the same house both in Coventry, and later on in London, for a long time. As you may know, Adventures in Reality Recordings released Attrition's first vinyl, a flexi disc given away with one issue, and I released several Attrition tapes and featured them on the Something Stirs compilation LP.

Was the tape label an outgrowth of the zine, or was it the other way round?
It was an outgrowth  of the zine. A progression really. Describing music is hard. Much easier to be able to hear it, so it made sense to start releasing some of the music I'd been hearing, especially if I felt they deserved exposure and I could help in some small way. You have to remember this was pre-internet times. No Bandcamp or Soundcloud. No Youtube. No streaming or Googling. If you wanted to hear non-mainstream music you either listened to John Peel, or you sought out indie record and cassette labels through reading reviews in fanzines, the occasional round up in the mainstream UK music press such as the Wild Planet column in Sounds (I also used to contribute the occasional specialist chart that featured many cassette only releases to NME and Sounds) and going along  to gigs in old factories, pub back rooms or railway arches. Those were publicised through free listings in the music press, flyers handed out at gigs, and word of mouth. Hard to imagine now really. It was very much a physical process, connecting directly with the audience. Not having the internet to rely on meant that it was very personal and having to go to such lengths to seek out new music meant that a certain loyalty developed amongst the audience that extended to supporting cassette culture and buying things that were often quite unlistenable and supporting acts that would not have ever got signed by a conventional label.

The Adventures in Reality label started out small, with the Realities Vol. 1 compilation.  There never was a Volume 2, but I released cassette albums by a host of acts from the area, before moving increasingly into the industrial scene (which felt to me as fresh and radical as punk once did) and releasing more electronic acts such as Irsol, Attrition and my own band, Stress. The big game changer for the label was The Last Supper industrial compilation featuring unreleased tracks by acts such as SPK, Test Department, Tex Mirror H (an early incarnation of In The Nursery) and Muslimgauze. That sold thousands worldwide and got me a distribution deal with the Cartel that helped finance a move into vinyl. That saw only two releases though (a compilation called Something Stirs, and the Big Wheel album by Stress) before my cash flow collapsed along with the label. Studio time and vinyl pressing was expensive back then and I simply hadn't the bank balance to support it all.

What was your involvement with Attrition? I gather you were handling slides and films for them at one stage?

My involvement grew out of the links with Alternative Sounds described above and my personal friendship with Martin. As I said, we shared a house (a chaotic place much like the one on TV's The Young Ones - it used to be a chapter house for local Hells Angels chapter called Satan's Slaves until they got evicted) and we hung out a lot together. I had an interest in visuals and was inspired after seeing the Human League use slides and films at a show, so volunteered to do something similar for Attrition. Electronic music live can be very static so it was a way of making it more of an event. Lots of electronic bands used visuals, but we went to town within our limited budget. I used two slide projectors and a Super 8 film projector running together, with up to 100 hand made slides used per song, which I had to rehearse to a tape so they changed in time to the music (they doubled as stage lighting too, so I had to take that into account and make sure they weren't too dark!). There was no computer control, it was all done by hand every performance, projected from a converted steel shelving unit  I had to bolt together for every show.  Now it would just be a laptop and projector!

I also released Attrition material on Adventures in Reality, along with two Irsol cassette albums, which was keyboard player Ashley's project with two school friends. An early incarnation of Irsol was TSC, who are featured on Realities.

How did Adventures in Reality fit in with the rest of what was going on in Coventry? I was about thirty miles away and still at school at the time, so my impressions are vague and probably wrong but I was always curious as to why there didn't seem to be much crossover between the ska scene and everyone else, possibly excepting Kevin Harrison.

There was some crossover.  Horace Panter (Specials bass player) was a great supporter of the local scene and usually turned up at gigs when he was in town. Some members of local bands ended up in the Selector and Specials AKA and King too a bit later on. The local scene was very different though, with it's own circuit of pub, university and nightclub venues, punk festivals and even school halls. It was very DIY, no agents or promoters. Adventures in Reality was very much a part of that scene because I went to lots of local gigs (up to 5 a week) by both local acts such as Eyeless in Gaza and visiting bands (most of the national tours came through Coventry). As I said, Adventures in Reality was never purely a Coventry fanzine, it was always a bit too odd for that, but I had a really strong connection with the local scene and everyone in it.

How well did your tapes sell? You seemed to be mentioned in Sounds from time to time so I always assumed you did better than some.

Sales varied of course, but being distributed by the Cartel via Rough Trade helped a lot. At first I relied on direct sales through reviews in other fanzines and my own publicity efforts. Then I began to use various cassette distributors like Wot and Staalplaat, but these were still quite small scale. I was still copying by hand between two stereo decks in real time (so that's 45 mins - 60 mins for each tape). That was hard work and very tedious. When I put The Last Supper out, I wanted to sell more so I duplicated 100 copies (it was a C70 so that took a while!) and got the train down to London to visit the Rough Trade Warehouse. I expected them to take a few on sale or return (that was the usual arrangement with other distributors) but they said they would buy all 100 outright and could they have 500 more! That gave me a real challenge. I couldn't possibly copy that many by hand and I also didn't have the money to pay for that many tapes up front. I wouldn't get paid for the 100 for at least a month, but fortunately my father offered to loan me the money to get 500 professionally copied. That meant going into a studio to get a reel to reel master tape made (I used IPS in London where Nurse with Wound recorded) and take that along to a tape pressing company to make a loop bin master (effectively a long 70 minutes loop of tape that spooled into a bin and through the play heads at high speed in a continuous process) and run off 500 copies over a few days. Rather than the paper labels I had been copying onto and mounting by hand, they printed the details direct onto the cassette shell itself. Sleeves were printed in 2 colours on a glossy card and the whole thing packaged and shrink wrapped. It looked like a tape produced by one of the major companies so Rough Trade could get it on the shelves in record stores around the world. I did a further two pressings of 500 for them and several smaller runs of 200 or so. That was a lot for an indie cassette making it the biggest selling indie cassette release ever behind Third Mind's Rising from The Red Sand and one of Record Collector magazine's 21 most collectable indie cassette releases ever.

The success of The Last Supper resulted in a deal with the Cartel that meant all Adventures in Reality releases were distributed through them and they also paid for the pressing of vinyl releases. That obviously really helped sales! I paid 50% royalties to all of the bands too, which was really high for the time (and now!) but I figured that without the bands I had no label, so they deserved to split any profits.

What was the impetus behind Realities?  For some reason I remembered it as having been a Coventry area compilation (possibly because The Last Supper clearly wasn't), but having just digitised the thing I realise I had it all wrong. How did you come by the people whose work appears on there?
As you can see, it wasn't a Coventry area compilation at all. It was a compilation of the acts I was featuring in Adventures in Reality. The idea was to accompany the zine so you could hear their stuff for yourself. Some of it was from demos sent in (Send No Flowers, Soft Drinks, 86 Mix), other bands I came across because we (Attrition) played on the same bill (Trance, the Aucadian), others were personal connections (Attrition, Reviva Component, TSC). A mixed bag really. Like the zine itself.

Can you tell me anything about Gary Knight? I notice his name turning up here as something to do with Reviva Component, but wasn't he also in 3 Way Dance, or on one of the other tapes you put out? The Reviva Component stuff is quite funny when you listen closely to the lyrics, I thought.

Gary was the editor of a Leicester fanzine called 0533 (which was the Leicester dialling code), and he formed 3 Way Dance, who released a cassette album on Adventures in Reality. He moved to Coventry later and formed In Embrace who had a clutch of releases on Glass Records. Reviva Component was a later version of Component Erotica, his partner Claire's band, who often gigged supporting 3 Way Dance. Component Erotica were a quirky and humorous band for sure. I think they thought of themselves as the Leicester B52s!

Also - I was struck by the general high quality of AIR as a label, so I assume you had certain views on quality control, the tape scene etc.?

I certainly did! Although the cassette scene was great, many of the releases were of poor quality, using cheap ferric tapes, terribly photocopied sleeves and poor artwork. I didn't want that, so I always used custom-made high quality chrome tapes I bulk bought. It wasn't that hard to get sleeves printed on glossy card and colour photocopying was available so there was no reason not to have decent packaging. Some people remember the two Stress albums came in mini video style cases. That came about because Martin Bowe's brother ran a printing business and sometimes to earn a bit of extra cash we would pack video game programmes for him. These came on computer cassettes in a mini video style case, which gave me the idea to use these for audio cassette releases. I simply added my order to his when he made one, which meant I got a bulk discount. I also experimented with printing on dayglo card for sleeves (3 Way Dance), and wrap around sleeves (Velvet Monkeys). It was fun and made them stand out. I'm really glad I used chrome tapes now as they last a lot better so the original copies still sound good today. If I'd used cheaper ferric tapes they would have deteriorated badly over time.

Any of this stuff ever likely to resurface on vinyl, as with the Stress and Dance Naked material?

Irsol has already been re-released on vinyl in a collaboration with Vinyl on Demand. I think pretty much all of the Attrition material has been reissued in some form, either CD or vinyl. I know Death House has had several reissues. I do have plans for re-issuing The Last Supper as there is the greatest demand for that. It will need to be a really nice package though, like the VOD reissue of Rising from the Red Sand. The two Stress albums have had various tracks lifted for the Conspiracy Theory LP, but deserve a full vinyl reissue. I think 3 Way Dance deserves a reissue on vinyl too, so that may happen. I'd like to reissue both Irsol albums in full as a box set (the VOD release only had selected tracks - a best of really) so that may happen too. Some of the other more obscure stuff might be harder. Religious Overdose Live may not merit a reissue, the Velvet Monkeys one may run into issues if J. Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. (whose band it was) doesn't agree. It would be great to do a full reissue of everything on AIR though.
Thanks again to Alan for kindly allowing me to give away his work for free, and for taking the time to answer at such length. The Stress reissues mentioned can be purchased from Dark Entries, whilst Dance Naked's Point of Change is available from aufnahme + weidergabe. The highly recommended Irsol album should still be available from Vinyl on Demand, but I can't work out how to get to the order page since Frank turned it into an international archive project, so dunno - maybe try Discogs. I'm intending to digitise (and to do a proper job of it too) The Last Supper at some point soon, so that will be here, unless the potential CD reissue comes first.

1 - (introduction)
2 -
Trance - Instincts
3 -
Trance - Dawn of the Dead
4 -
I Want - Myself Desired
5 -
I Want - 99th Creation
6 -
By Product - You're Not One of the Boys
7 -
Reviva Component - Black Forest Girl
8 -
Reviva Component - This Lunar Beauty
9 -
Send No Flowers - Wall of Convention
10 -
Send No Flowers - Untitled
11 -
Attrition - Hours & Hours
12 -
Attrition - Tomb
13 -
TSC - Untitled
14 -
86 Mix - Too Much the Barman
15 -
86 Mix - Custodian
16 -
The Aucadion - 3AM
17 -
The Aucadion - Closet Boys
18 - (epilogue)

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Friday, 11 May 2018

ESP Kinetic - Dance as Hallucination (1985) C60

If you're not sure who Neil Campbell is, there's always Wikipedia. His name came up a lot when I was churning out gushing reviews of stuff no-one listened to for Sound Projector, and it was a truly weird moment when the penny dropped and I realised it was actually Neil C (as he signed his letters) from ESP Kinetic to whom I used to write back in the sixteenth century; so even though no-one knows much about his early work, lost as it is in the hallowed mists of time, as I keep trying to explain to any passing clowns who've taken it upon themselves to write the history of (cough cough) industrial music - that vital early chapter in the story of Ministry - some of us were actually there, fuckface.
ESP Kinetic were the first band I heard who inspired the thought, this is what Psychic TV should have sounded like - at least based on their apparent interests, penchant for weird noise, and not being scared of the occasional tune; and those of you who have been paying attention will recall they also turned up on Fear Eats the Soul, they being Neil and Andrew Watson, although ESP Kinetic seemed to occasionally bring in others depending on the demands of the music. When I emailed Neil to ask if it would be okay to give away his ancient history for free, his response was:

Digitise those old tapes? Ha! You are insane for keeping them, but by all means do it. There was a CDR I did and the LP on Harbinger that dredges the "good" bits of those tapes, plus other bits, so not sure who'd bother to wade through the rest.

So, there's a Harbinger album I'll be tracking down, but in the mean time here's the first ESP Kinetic tape, so far as I'm aware. It probably won't change your life, but it still sounds good to me. The Message is No Message and Mission will follow when I get around to digitising those. 

1 - ESPK
2 - Wall of Words
3 - Waltzing on Air
4 - Passive Partner
5 - Dance as Hallucination
6 - Slumber-Shake
7 - Jump Deeper
8 - Cannibal Chant
9 - Kissing
10 - Ambition


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