Sunday, October 9, 2011

Crate trawling I – London: From Mongo to Fruition

Everything seems to have stopped. Too much work, day and night, coupled with racing across town in secret looking for jobs meant that my free time has been broken into little fragments, usually early in the morning or late at night where it is impossible to do anything properly. It is then you realise how long it takes to do useless tasks like charging your iPod or do something more substantial like actually immersing in a book, writing something or just being happy. Thank god then for immediate consumerist satisfaction and mind emptying vacations to plaster over the shallowness.
A hasty trip to London, partly also to look for jobs, was as vacuous as it gets in terms of clashes with foreignness, new things and intelligent tourism, with neither a monument nor a work of art in site other than a pint of real ale. I did squeeze in a football match which can seem like theatre or art when at its best. Unshakeably, there is always a sense of something Thespian amongst the fans no matter what happens on the pitch. Particular characters are attracted to the stadiums, radiant with beer, replete with cerebral analysis and immediate recourse to ancient history and a nervous clammer for total victory whose drive is honed by the edginess that comes from forever staving off enemies with banter, abuse, threats and the rare act of physical violence. But I digress….

I did manage some crate digging while there at Notting Hill’s fabled Music and Video Exchange stores which is always a great way to dispel the blues.

Trawling through the rock crates is always a little bit more sentimental than browsing through the stock in the electronic store, largely since I listen to far less rock-related stuff these days, but more since its glory days extend far back beyond when techno was a twinkle in the eye. That is just another way of saying that here you find more music that is wrapped in memories and personal mythologies. The blurred, half-conscious remembering of this music is of course what journalist David Keenan labelled as hypnagogic pop, one of the most derided genre terms   of recent memory (see my next post for some more on genre terms…).
So it was that I found myself paying money for little treasures whose only purpose seemed to remind me of the faraway past. In particular, the 7” section delivered many treasures that were part of the regular playlist of DJ Wayne at the mythical Fruition Club in Perth back in the first years of the 90s. Due to the small size of the “scene” it was a chaotic mix of Goths, punks (not too many) and indie kids still confused by the looming acid house invasion. The club was eventually over run by a dance music club, but back then the question was is it ok to like electronic and indie music? The biggest conundrum of the night was always the arrival of Peter Fonda from the 1966 film “The Wild Angels”.

Until the end of the sample, the crowd was always poised waiting to see if it would be Primal Scream’s “Loaded” or Mudhoney’s “In and out of grace”. Half the crown would invariably walk, whereas another half would come running, depending on your allegiance to the guitar. There are always traitors in the midst.


But I digress again. As well as Mudhoney or Primal Scream, you would more often than not find Sisters of Mercy playing for the Goth kids. “Temple of Love” was always the standout track for me, but on this trip I managed to pick up the 7” of “This Corrosion” for a paltry sum.

Listening to it now it seems remarkably pallid (sic) and really the smallest stone’s throw from some of the more miserable 80s synth pop on the radio, saved perhaps by the gothic overtones and the forever catchy chorus. Except for the slightly heavier finale, my memory has this song sounding much more menacing and less like a hungover Bowie singing over a Cure track with the Def Leppard guitarist soloing all on the set of Les Miserables staged in the Manhattan of Escape from New York. Memory will never erase the death walk though, a type of dance the Goths used to do to Sisters tracks, parading backwards and forwards with as little passionate expression of the body as possible, but with subtle twists to imply sexual ambiguity and, above all, a theatrical draping of the obligatory cape over the body as one goes down, presumably towards the grave.

One other Goth song that alternatively sounds better than I remember was The Cult's legendary “She sells sanctuary” which I also picked up on 7”.

The riff is still so good it could be holy, aided in particular by some great commercial-styled mixing that really brings the shimmer of the chords and the motoric rumble of the bass to the fore without cheapening them. While the lyrics are largely inane, there is always something uplifting and superhuman in Ian Astbury’s lamented cry “And the world drags me down” even if he is dressed a bit like Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow character in the video.

With a lovely etching of rapper skulls on the B-side was a little 7” version of “Bring the noise” by Public Enemy and Anthrax, is more like a work of art than just a musical toy. Along with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Ministry’s “Jesus Built my Hotrod” and “Thieves”  this was one of the all-time heavy tracks for the club.

Speaking of Ministry, I also managed to grab some music by the Revolting Cocks, one of Al Jourgensen’s other bands. While the “Big, Sexy, Land” album I nabbed for £8 had no previous place in my musical memory, the joy of finding the single for “Beers, steers and queers” was as great as the many happy moments it gave us all back in the Fruition Club. The fact that there was plenty of nice Industrial stuff like 12”s by Foetus, Cabaret Voltaire and Atari Teenage Riot on the cheap may suggest that someone dumped a collection or that there is not much interest in this sound these days. This is in contrast to techno where the last two years has seen a formidable rise in industrial sounds, from Adam X and Traversable Wormhole, to Ancient Methods, Stroboscopic Artefacts and more. The origin of this is probably an interesting thesis: is it just the success of Ostgut Ton and Berghain, a backlash against the “designer-as-god” ethos of minimal techno or a subconscious cry from those closer to the ground and the rising tide of unemployment?

I didn’t find this on my “trip”, but who remembers stuff like My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult these days? Another Al Jourgensen project, it’s hard to gauge where the Thrill Kill Kult stand these days, but surely WAX 140 from 1990 must be one of the greatest singles of the era, with hybrid rock-dance music on both sides, Lydia Lunch vocals and freaky drug references.

One last curio was a 7” of Queen’s main theme from the Flash Gordon movie, one of me and my sisters all-time favourite movies as a kid, despite its obvious racist overtones since the evil man was known as Emperor Ming (played excellently and excessively by Ingmar Bergman stalwart Max von Sydow in the 80s movie) from the planet Mongo, and clearly meant to symbolise some threat from the Chinese back then in the 30s when it was created. As a minor piece of trivia, apparently in Australia it was named “Speed Gordon” for the negative connotations of Flash. The censors were apparently no worried about a grid iron player exposing himself, but apparently the connotation of flash meaning “flashy” or untrustworthy, something like “bling” in modern speak. Who knows what connotations you might get from the name Speed Gordon nowadays?

While the A-side is well known and a great track, the less known B-side “Football fight” was quite startling in that it shares more than a passing resemblance to the retro-synth “hypnagogic pop" of the Not Not Fun label and guys like James Ferraro et al. I love the overlaid sample from the movie

“Are your men on the right pills? Maybe I should execute the trainer?”

Sounds like something Roman Abramovich might think?

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