Friday, December 31, 2010

The Atrocity Exhibition (Plunder the Tombs, 2010)

A very happy new year to all of you who’ve visited Plunder the Tombs during its first four months of infancy.

And so, look what we have for you to kick off the new year – a free compilation documenting all (well, almost all) of the archeological discoveries so far uncovered.

To be honest, I’ve never tried doing something like this before, and hope like hell the download actually works, but I’m actually really happy with how this turned out, especially with regards to immortalising those bands whose back-catalogues have been long deleted.

Obviously, a number of other artists included here do have material that is still available, and nothing would make me happier than for folks who download this and discover bands that appeal to them to go, seek out, and buy more of those artists’ material.

What more can I say? I’m pleased as fuckin’ punch with this, and I think you will be too.
The thought occurred that some of you in the old school might actually want to run off hardcopies (rather useful to play in the car if nothing else), so I’ve put it in a 2 CD format.

What’s more, there’s even cover art and a track list to go, with production generously provided by Living Horus and featuring imagery by Jean Delville, one of my favourite artists of the Symbolist movement – just print it out, fold in half and presto – instant CD Cover!

With 26 tracks, there's a lot of bands represented here, ranging from some towering giants of the genre, right through to others who've been sadly lost in the mists of time, but there's a lot of variety here and I like to think there is genuinely something for everybody. Lets see, we've got Bone Orchard, X Mal Deutschland, Into A Circle, The Vyllies, Danielle Dax, UK Decay, Belfegore, Danse Society, Kukl, Children's Hour, Diamanda Galas, Sex Gang Children, The Sisters of Mercy, Clair Obscur, Gene Loves Jezebel, 45 Grave, Ritual, Blood and Roses, And Also The Trees, Burning Image, The March Violets, Ausgang, Cold Dance, Specimen, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Kommunity FK - a fine assortment indeed!

Don't be shy - download, listen and tell me what you thought.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Specimen – Batastrophe EP (Sire Records, 1983)

It would be easy to ridicule Specimen if one was to approach them from the point of view of a serious music critic, but to take that stance would be to completely miss the point.

There was nothing profound or deeply artistic about Specimen, they were purely and simply a goth party band who made an artform out of campy tackiness with androgenous sexuality set to overdrive.

The origins of Specimen are to be found in Bristol in 1980, formed by vocalist Ollie Wisdom and guitarist Jon Klein. They soon relocated to London where in 1982 Ollie launched the now infamous Batcave club (a story that will have to wait for another time, although interviews with Jon Klein suggest that Specimen viewed the band and the club as different legs of the same dog). Seeking to make Specimen the house band, Ollie put the hard word on a club patron  Jonny Melton, later known as Jonny Slut, to play keyboards for them. As Jonny tells the story:

First week I went to The Batcave I thought it was brilliant…I went the second week and was approached by Ollie Wisdom who said, ‘Do you want to join our band?’ I said ‘Oh, I can’t play anything!’, He said ‘That doesn’t matter, you’ve got nice hair’” (Gothic Rock, Mick Mercer – Pegasus Publishing, 1991). The rest is history.

Jonny did indeed have very nice hair, and his legacy to the scene, if not musical, became the prototype of what has retrospectively become known as the “deathhawk”, and he overcame his self-confessed musical inadequacies by putting guiding stickers on the appropriate keys of his keyboards.

Jonny Slut with deathhawk 
in full flight

Specimen meanwhile had a quite substantial catalogue of songs, as revealed by posthumous compilations like Azoic (Jungle Records, 1997) and Warm Wet Clingfilm Red Velvet Crush (Cleopatra, 1997), but released surprisingly little during their original existence, The Batastrophe EP and a handful of  singles and 12”s being their entire output.

The Beauty of Poisin (sic) and Returning From a Journey 12", both through London Records, 1983

Although Specimen's most defining statement of intent was 
indisputably the decision to release the Returning 7" in this distinctive format:

Feeling the decline of the Batcave style of Goth, Ollie attempted to transport the band to America, but Jonny Slut apparently didn’t want a bar of it and the original line-up split in 1985: “after Sharp Teeth Pretty Teeth (7”, The Trust, 1985), I just knew I didn’t want to go to San Francisco. Fuck knows what would have happened if I’d been out there broke, at the mercy of… Ollie, or what ever.” (Gothic Rock, Mick Mercer – Pegasus Publishing, 1991). Jon Klein went on to join Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Jonny Slut (in a career remarkable for someone who “can’t play anything”) popped up in KLF, Adamanski, Diskord Datkord, Sadodada, Atomiser and as prime mover and shaker for London Club Nag Nag Nag driving the UK arm of the sadly short-lived Electro-Clash scene.

Meanwhile, Ollie Wisdom ended up DJing raves and dance parties, a tale which leads us into anecdote corner when somewhere around ’97 my housemate’s brother actually found himself DJing alongside Ollie at a dance party in Perth. Absolutely astonished, I asked him if he knew who Ollie Wisdom was and discovering he had no clue about Ollie’s  Goth past (or for that matter, his even more oscure punk tampon-wearing past with The Unwanted), played him Syria. They guy evidently had a sense of humour and in the middle of Ollie’s set snuggled up next to him and suggested he “turn it up up, turn it up up up!”  Ollie was apparently less amused and turning to him with a withering look of doom informed him; “You’re… very… fucking… funny.” But I digress….

Specimen did eventually reform – initially with Jon Klein as the sole remaining original member, and released Electric Ballroom on Metropolis in 2007 with some minor contributions from Ollie and Jonny Slut. The entire original line up reformed the following year and released Alive at The Batcave on Eyes Wide Shut Recordings.

 Considering all the early Goth bands that seem to be reforming, a 2008 interview with Jon Klein makes for interesting reading:

Q: “Many of the bands that began back then with you are still around, either in their same band sense or doing solo careers. Recently Bauhaus released a new album "Go Away White" after 25 years. What’s your opinion? Do you think it is only nostalgia or is it like a music life-force growing and maturing constantly?”

Jon Klein: I like it when bands are able to survive. I haven't had the time to really penetrate the Bauhaus album that thoroughly, though the last show I saw in London a year or so ago was really powerful. I don't think it's only nostalgia. For sure there's some nostalgia, it's only natural (music can glue itself into memories the same way that smells can) ....but I just saw a really great band do a great show. Some people I'm sure do it for the attention, some for the money, but many do just because they have to make music..... it's just what they are and they do.... yes maybe a musical life-force.”

What more can I say? Specimen were simply tremendous fun. A complete and devastating rebuttal to those who attack Goth of being all depressing and suicidal. To accuse them of being all style in lieu of genuine substance is best left to the Grinches and while I’m on the subject, Merry Christmas to ya all!

Track Listing:
  1. The Beauty of Poisin
  2. Syria
  3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  4. Returning From a Journey
  5. Tell Tail
  6. Lovers

The Batastrophe EP is reproduced (in a fashion) on both the Azoic (Jungle Records, 1997) & the Warm Wet Clingfilm Red Velvet Crush (Cleopatra, 1997) compilations. One has to suspect some bizarre and dark collusion has occurred here since both were released in the same year, and both have almost identical track listings, but with Azoic containing the 12” versions of early songs, and Warm Wet Clingfilm Red Velvet Crush containing the 7” versions. Both compilations end with two live tracks. In the case of Azoic these are “Wolverines” and “Azoic”. On the Cleopatra version these tracks are “Ooze” and “Warm Wet Clingfilm Red Velvet Crush

Line Up: Ollie Wisdom (vocals), John Klein (guitars), Jonny Melton /aka: Jonny Slut (keyboards), Jonathan Trevisick (drums), Kev Mills (bass, backing vocals)

And last but not least, a brief interview with Jon Klein and Ollie in which Jon's hair and nose vie for supremacy:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kommunity FK – The Vision and The Voice (Independent Project Records, 1983)

Another trip on the Way-Back Machine, this time to Los Angeles 1978 where we find a young man, Patrick Mata becoming increasingly disenchanted with the LA punk scene. Heavily influenced by Bowie’s “Berlin period” and Dadaism, Patrick’s frustration with having no bands really reflecting what he and his clique were into led him and his girlfriend into developing a band of their own, despite their self-confessed modest musical abilities.

The plan seems flawless, until the duo discover they can’t find a venue that will give an outfit so far removed from the mainstream LA punk scene and so immersed in “doom and gloom” a gig, or for that matter, the time of day. Concluding that the LA music establishment is in fact one huge community fuck, the group adopt the name “Kommunity Fuck”, but coming to the realisation that this is even less likely to attract gigs, swiftly abbreviate it to “Kommunity FK”.

Exactly how the group’s fortunes were turned around remains a little unclear, suffice to say, that gigs did eventually come and Kommunity FK managed to enshrine themselves as one of the biggest names in the history of LA Deathrock, eclipsed only by 45 Grave and Christian Death.

The Vision and the Voice would eventually emerge in 1983 as Kommunity FK’s debut album, at once sorrowful, dreamlike and fueled by anger, it remains comfortably seated as one of the cornerstones of American Deathrock. Taking its name from the writings of occult mystic Aleister Crowley (the title relates to Crowley’s "Liber CDXVIII" for those who take an interest in such things), the cover art consisted of a collage by Patrick Mata, itself entitled “Kommunity Fuck” and proudly displaying a big red phallus as its centre piece.

Opening with the confrontational (but now more true than ever) “Restrictions”, the album moves through both the aggressive and the introspectively mournful, with the early and much more hardcore-influenced “Fuck The Community” as a mid point before we reach the climactic finale of “We Will not Fall” which would effectively became both the band’s signature tune and a rallying cry to the Deathrock subculture.

Some fans were especially dedicated...

Although Kommunity FK would only release one more official studio release during their original incarnation (Close One Sad Eye – Independent Project Records, 1985), it’s not commonly realized that a live album from this period is also available (Kommunity FX: The Krypt, Los Angeles,CA, 1984 – Invisible, 2006) which comes highly recommended. To the best of my knowledge, the wee beasty was never physically pressed and is only available by download. iTunes and, (depending of which country you have the dubious fortune of residing in) Amazon both have it.

The story of The Vision and the Voice doesn’t end there however. Re-released on Cleopatra in 1994, this reportedly unauthorised re-release on CD inexplicably changed the track order, completely destroying the flow of the album. What’s more, they apparently found Patrick’s art collage with its Swiss Alps orgy and big red cock far too hot to handle and added insult to injury by completely replacing the cover art with something much blander.

The next and this time, apparently official, re-release came via Mobilization Records (2006). Mysteriously, they opted to retain the Cleopatra version of the track listing. They did however return to the original cover art but feeling terribly coy, made a feeble attempt to conceal the now fabled “big red cock” by superimposing the album’s title over it. Honestly, around 50% of the human race have got one, and most of the rest have at least seen one – what exactly is your problem?

I’m not quite sure what it is about right now, but it seems to be quite the time for comebacks. Kommunity FK are back too and accompanied by a splendid CD, La Santisima Muerte (Kommunity PM  Records, 2009). The cover art is once again a Patrick Mata collage. I notice he has very wisely avoided any penises this time around, but for those who found the Aleister Crowley reference to Vision and the Voice interesting, an investigation into the origins of La Santisima Muerte (residents of Mexico excepted) should blow your tiny minds.

Track Listing:
  1. Restrictions
  2. Bullets
  3. Incompatible Disposition
  4. Tribulations
  5. Unknown to You
  6. Fuck the Kommunity
  7. To Blame
  8. No Fear
  9. Nothing Yet
  10. Anti-Pop
  11. We Will Not Fall

Later re-releases on CD have tracks appearing in a different order. The Mobilzation Records Version (2006) also includes live versions of “Tribulations”, “Unknown to You”, “Restrictions” and “To Blame” as bonus tracks.

Line Up: Patrick Mata, Sherry Rubber (both apparently doing pretty much everything. Other musicians may have been involved, but whether they were actual members or hired guns is less clear. Better info is welcomed.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Clair Obscur – La Cassette Noir (Self-released, 1982)

For a band almost unnoticed outside of French arts circles, Clair Obscur has been a surprisingly prolific outfit over the many years of their on again-off again existence.

Much of their later material from throughout the late 80s and 90s remains easily obtainable through the wonderful world that is teh internetz. However, exposure to the experimental neo-classical music of their albums of this time, although beautiful in their desolate ambience, could well leave the novice listener wondering what this could possibly have to do with Goth? 

More mysteriously still, what possible connection it could have to the band’s frightening reputation for performance-art stage shows involving simulated rape, toilets and audience participation?

The answer involves, as that great prophet Kylie Minogue would say, “a step back in time.”
Formed in Creil in 1981 by Thierry Damerval and the brothers Demarthe, early Clair Obscur was a much darker entity that bore little resemblance to what would eventually follow once the band began recruiting classical and jazz-trained musicians into its ranks. Nevertheless, the band was always coming from the more performance oriented end of the spectrum. thinks this is the original cover - I could be wrong, but intuition 
& production quality suggests that the inferior b/w print 
is actually the original release and this is the tape that was re-released 
by Pleasantly Surprised in 1985. I stand to be corrected. 

La Cassette Noir was Clair Obscur’s first official release following on from a demo tape the previous year. We are greeted with the ominously thunderous “Sequence” before moving swiftly into the oppressive threat of “The Last Encounter”. “Blume”, the compelling “K.G.” and war-dancesque “Pessimiste Combatif” follow with a trio of short atmospheric pieces closing the experience.

If The Black Cassette is reminiscent of anyone else, then The Virgin Prunes would most readily spring to mind although the comparison is a superficial one. Evidence of the hand of Joy Division and Bauhaus at work are also evident here although not perhaps as markedly as on the 1981 demo tape.

Atmospheric” is the operative word in describing this terrifying yet gripping example of art-house post-punk. If one was hoping to be dragged onto the dance floor with black hole like force then La Cassette Noir is going to disappoint (Although later singles like the unforgettably titled Smurf in the Gulag (Cathexis Recordings, 1986) may well delight in this regard).

Clair Obscur had something of penchant for re-recording/re-interpreting 
certain songs throughout their career, in some cases multiple times. "Blume" and 
"The Last Encounter" are cases in point. The versions below are much later 
(and tamer) versions than those which appeared on La Cassette Noir. 
You can hear the originals on the band's Myspace site - I'd post them here, but sadly 
Myspace and Blogspot appear unable to play together nicely.

The only damp squib on the otherwise outstanding La Cassette Noir is indisputably the reverse recorded Revol Dub which with a bit of manipulation with Audacity software turns out to be “Bad Lover”, one of the lesser tracks from the band’s earlier demo tape played backwards. The result really doesn’t add anything to the experience and in point of fact is basically irritating, so one has to ask what possessed Clair Obscur to think this was a good idea? 

Were they trying for weirdness purely for the sake of being weird? Or were they trying to cheaply pad out the tape to something approaching full-length? Or were they in fact poking fun at the then nascent obsession of the religious right with backwards Satanic messages supposedly hidden in rock music? (No, I really couldn’t make this shit up if I wanted to. If you’re too young to remember that ludicrous debacle, go here ).

Whatever their intention, the result does little save annoy the listener. Let us not forget that the item in question was a cassette; the only way to deal with Revol Dub was either to endure sitting through it (the longest track on the entire tape BTW) or to fast forward and attempt to guesstimate where it might end – obnoxious by anyone’s estimation.

If one can overlook this though, it matters little, because La Cassette Noir is both essential and excellent listening for anyone with a genuine interest in early Goth. The band would follow through with two brilliant if more accessible self-released singles Santa Maria 7” (1983), Dansez 12” (1984) and then the live album The Pilgrim’s Progress (All The Madmen Records, 1986). All are highly recommended and happily Kruptobolo has placed what is in effect downloads to all of the band’s back catalogue on their blog.
Go. Go now.

“From the most tribal cold wave to chamber music, from industrial music to dance music (unless these two are synonymous), their musical approach is eminently atmospheric and embraces a surprising variety of styles, giving birth to iconoclastic scenic transcriptions.”- David Sanson

After an absence of new studio material for 11 years, Clair Obscure are back too, shedding the neo-classical influences with the relatively accessible We Gave a Party For the Gods and the Gods All Came (Optical Sound, 2009). Fans of the more danceable facets of Einsturzende Neubauten or left-field electro like Askii Disko will find much to appreciate here. It too is recommended.
The official site suggests that earlier this week, the band released We Gave Our Music to the Gods and the Gods Remixed it (Optical Sound, 2010) – something to look forward to.

Track Listing:
  1. Sequence
  2. The Last Encounter
  3. Blume
  4. K.G.
  5. Pessimiste Cambatif
  6. Revol Dub
  7. Vivant
  8. Hibernation
  9. Kriegs Opera
La Cassette Noir was later re-released as an untitled cassette (Pleasantly Surprised, 1985) and again in its entirety as an LP along with the Dansez 12” (self release, 1984) as Play (Cathexis Recordings, 1988).

Recent pics suggest that Clair Obscur's contemporary 
performances may have restrained themselves considerably:

But back in the day, one suspects their live 
performances must have been rather confrontational:

Line Up: Christophe Demarthe (vocals), Thierry Damerval (bass), Nicolas Demarthe (guitar)