Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sleeping Dogs Wake - Toys for Alice / Confined to memory 12” (One Little Indian, 1988)

For a band who managed to knock out no less than five full-length albums and had sufficiently decent distribution to see their CDs make it all the way to isolated little Perth, finding hard information online concerning these kids is surprisingly difficult. Their CD liner notes aren’t much help either.

Sleeping Dogs Wake were initially a two piece consisting of Robert Wilcocks and Karin Sharret, who seems to have had a thing for playing drums sans shirt, although judging from band promo pics they seem to have acquired an extra or two as time went on (members that is – how many shirts Karin eventually owned remains a matter of speculation).

Robert also appears to have some connection to German Darkwave outfit Girls Under Glass and the more industrial The Cassandra Complex, although it’s not terribly clear if he was actually a member or not. Both Robert and Karin also seem to have been involved in a relatively obscure dance/industrial project known as Cobalt 60.

Originally starting out in 86 or 87, rehearsing in Robert's Camden flat, the Toys for Alice / Confined to Memory 12”appeared in 1988 as their first release, and a thundering unique beastie it was. With the possible exception of a vaguely passing resemblance to the early electronica of Diamanda Galas, I honestly can’t think of anything similar that had gone before. Sleeping Dogs Wake weren’t quite as scary as Diamanda, although the necrophilic imagery of “Toys for Alice” certainly came close:

She dropped her gaze, those lips, those eyes,
I’ve got you at last,
Come closer, come closer,
Into my web,
I’ll not leave you living!
I’ll haunt you, I’ll haunt you!
Till your fresh young skin
Crawls back off your skull and the maggots step in.
Toys for Alice!

The B side “Confined to Memory” presents a considerably more restrained face of the band, although the vocal dynamics are astounding. It’s a mournfully beautiful piece of reflections on a dead (or possibly dying?) relationship. I suspect most of us have been there at some stage or another and know that empty feeling of wondering what the aftermath will be like and what will remain. It’s a magnificent break-up song, but I’d certainly be inclined to leave it until well after said break up.

Mick Mercer seemed to like them, noting Sleeping Dogs Wake in the summary of Goth History Part 2 (The Gothic Rock Black Book, Omnius Press, 1988) as one of the new up and coming bands to watch out for.

Two full length albums followed. The first of these was the exemplary Understanding (One Little Indian, 1989) which included both tracks from the Toys For Alice 12” and a number of others, often displaying some very odd lyrics. If art-rock is your thing, it comes highly recommended. Threnody (One Little Indian, 1990) came next – in a very similar vein from recollection, although it’s been years since I heard it.

Mick Mercer evidently had a change of heart however, describing them in Gothic Rock (Pegasus, 1991) as “Godawful pretentious bilge” which I always thought did Sleeping Dogs Wake material a terrible disservice.

They popped up again a few years later with Up! (One Little Indian, 1992) which I can’t claim to have heard, but by this time had added Haggis to their membership, who had previously played bass as a session musician on the Understanding album. Following this, SDW would undergo a complete change in direction on the utterly brilliant Sugar Kisses (Hyperium, 1993). A much more laid back approach than SDW had displayed previously, beautifully dreamlike and whimsical that remains a firm personal favourite to this day. They made their final full length album with Under the Stars (Hyperium, 1995). Robert seems to have more recently done some work with German Darkwave outfit Deine Lakaien on their April Skies album (Capitol, 2005).

I think we’ll close with some brief live footage, just because I can. The sound quality here is awfully muddy, but I think it makes for interesting viewing nevertheless.

Track Listing:
1. Toys for Alice
2. Confined to Memory

Robert Wilcocks (guitar, sampler, vocals), Karin Sharret (vocals, drums), other participants including Haggis and Jens Lankniv seem to have been added from the Up! album onwards.

Many thanks to Haggis for filling in some important gaps in the Sleeping Dogs Wake history.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An Amusing Interlude - The Second Wave of Goth

I know – I do give 90’s Goth a lot of shtick.

Retrospectively, much of it was just plain clichéd, if not outright ridiculous. Much of it did consist of very sub-par Sisters and Nephilim clones. It was simply depressing that the much more exciting and adventurous developments in Darkwave like Printed at Bismark’s Death, Das Ich, Die Form, The Eternal Afflict and Ghosting that were emerging at the time from Europe, simply never seemed to catch on in the English-speaking countries.

I won’t name and shame, (the litany of the bands I detest from the period would make for a blog in itself) but really…much of it was just...well…awful.
That said however, is not to say that there weren’t some redeeming features, and some bands did it really well, and sometimes even intelligently.

I’m not going to analyse this in depth, but just to get it off my chest, what we have here is an inexhaustive sample of material from 90’s Goth that offended me least.

Rosetta Stone

To all intents and purposes, the band that launched the second wave. I’ve often wondered what might have wandered through the mind of journalist Mick Mercer when these kids burst out after he wrote that “Fresh impetus into the Gothy scene seems unlikely” (The Gothic Rock Black Book, Omnibus Press, 1988). Probably very little, since he declared the Goth scene dead for a second time writing in Gothic Rock (Pegasus, 1991) with “This book is all but done. I can’t see me doing another on the topic, unless Goth is due for an entire rebirth which seems totally unlikely”. Seemingly unapologetic, the Mighty Mick has since gone on to produce at least another three volumes on said topic.
“Deeper” is from their debut An Eye For the Main Chance (Expression Records, 1991) and their big hit “Adrenaline” from the album that bears its name (Cleopatra, 1993). These days, main man Porl King has moved on to a new project called Misery Lab.

The Marionettes

Hot on the heels of Rosetta Stone came The Screaming Marionettes, who would soon shorten their name somewhat. Although it’s probably safe to say The Marionettes represented a case of the anthemic over the cerebral, the title track of their debut album (Ave Dementia, Flicknife Records, 1991) remains a Goth dance-floor classic. Oddly enough, it doesn’t ever seem to have been released as a single. The Marionettes went on to release at least another three albums. Not seeming to take themselves completely seriously probably worked in their favour.


The third big name in the second wave.
It’s probably easier if I just confess up front to having always been uneasy with Nosferatu. Riding around in an antique hearse, and taking the vampire imagery beyond either the metaphorical or the tongue-in-cheek of “Bela Lugosi is Dead to the literal level never struck me as something resembling a serious musical project so much as a tribute to The Munsters. The harpsichord intro to “Vampyre’s Cry”, a complete rip-off of The SistersBlack Planet” didn’t help either. Indeed, it’s so close, that I’ve often wondered if it really was plagiarism or simply Nosferatu’s ill-advised attempt at humour.
Nevertheless, just as if you sit enough monkeys at typewriters, one of them will eventually replicate The Complete Works of Shakespere, even Nosferatu managed to get it right once in a while. This is from the B-Side of the Diva single (Possession Records, 1992).

Children on Stun

Charging out of Hasting, and certainly one of the better generic bands, these are from their album Tourniquets of Loves Desire (Cleopatra, 1994). They also get bonus points for taking their name from a March Violets song.  The album cover was certainly effective, if simple, with a specialist Goth record shop and label in Melbourne seemingly taking a variant of it as their logo. Unfortunately, if we fast-forward a few years, we find Children on Stun releasing an album entitled Mondo Weird (M and A Musicart, 1997) which must have seemed like a good idea at the time, and even worse was to come the following year with Outrageous, Outlawed, Outspoken (M and A Musicart, 1998), a title that sounds more like something that might emanate from the bowels of some hellish 80's hair metal band than anything remotely to do with Goth.

Corpus Delecti

Vastly more compelling than other many French Acts like say, Lucie Cries, Corpus Delecti swiftly rose to much-deserved prominence, for once escaping the cookie-cutter sound of so many Sisters clones, often with instrumentation more resembling Bauhaus. Even if the imagery was often over the top, it was a welcome change nevertheless. Absent Friend comes from their first album Twilight (Glasnost, 1993) and Saraband and Noxious from the Sylphs album (Glasnost, 1994). If you wanted to investigate deeper, then the Sarabands compilation (Cleopatra, 1996) comes highly recommended.

Brotherhood of Pagans

Another French band. When on the money, they did it much better than a legion of others. Forgiving them for calling their debut Tales of Vampires (Darkland of Tears, 1995) was considerably more difficult, but songs like "Resurrection" certainly helped.

Switchblade Symphony

And so we shift our attention to the US. Just as The UK scene had been swept up in the wake of The Sisters and The Fields of the Nephilim and moved away from their original post-punk origins, so too did the US scene become dragged away from its origins in Death Rock.
Switchblade Symphony neatly managed to rise above the rest of the pack though with a heavy synth wash and an often orchestral and laid-back approach that rendered Serpentine Gallery (Cleopatra, 1995) one of the shining jewels in the crown of second wave Goth.

Screams for Tina

Another US offering here. I must admit to not having particularly liked their eponymous debut album (Cleopatra,1993) which probably explains why it’s been years since I listened to it. “Eleven Eleven” was a good track however, and managed to make its way onto Cleopatra Records’ very dubious re-release of The Whip compilation (1993). Better still though was “Kristen”, which despite labouring under the now aged Goth cliché of the girl’s-name song, I thought quite exemplary for Goth from this period.

London After Midnight

Although their first album Selected Scenes from the End of the World (Apocalyptic Vision, 1995) occasionally verged into abject silliness, its earlier incarnation as a demo tape reportedly sold thousands of copies. Their second full length Psycho Magnet  (Apocalyptic Vision, 1996) was a much stronger beast and marks them as one of the last great Goth bands before everything went all dance oriented.


Absolutely nothing to do with the solo project of Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx.
This little known US band were in fact a side project of influential black metal outfit Von, and to be fair, was almost certainly a cash-in attempt at Goth during a time when black metal was virtually unknown outside of Scandinavia.
Although far from being musically original, Sixx nevertheless managed to deliver something genuinely atmospheric in the occult vein without falling into the trap that caught so many bands like Nosferatu or Two Witches who all too often came off resembling a cheesy Hammer Horror fest.
Although Sixx never formally released any recorded material, the band remastered their 1991 demo Sister Devil on Nuclear War Now Productions in 2010.


These kids I admit to having discovered retrospectively. Somehow they completely slipped under the radar at the time I was still DJing and on hearing “Marilyn (My Bitterness)” at a Der Kellar night in Perth sometime around 2003 found myself in the slightly embarrassing position of having to ask the DJ (a guy who I knew had grown up through the scene listening to the stuff I used to spin) what it was. Worse still, I had to sing an approximation of the song to him – I remain astounded he was able to work out what on Earth I was on about.
Cruxshadows had some unfortunate tendencies towards horribly pretentious lyrics and album titles, but this song I felt was exceptional, and also made for a nice demarcation between the very rock oriented second wave and the very dancy third. “Marilyn (My Bitterness)” is taken from their second album, Telemetry of a Fallen Angel (Nesak International, 1996)

Big Electric Cat

For my money, they were absolutely the best Australian Goth offering from the second wave. Bands like Ikon and Subterfuge are worth checking out too, but BEC did it better, their demo “Susperia” making huge waves at the time it was released and their debut album Dreams of a Mad King (Cleopatra, 1994) even more so.


Like any good performer, we leave the best till last and end with a bang.
Germany’s Syria (largely a one-man project of Mr Christian Dorge) quite clearly worshipped the ground The Sisters of Mercy walked away from, and weren’t afraid to openly wear their hearts on their sleeves. All the signs were there, from their album art, the songs they chose to cover (brilliant versions of "Giving Ground" by The Sisterhood and The Sister's "Under the Gun" exist), and references in their songs to earlier Sisters material.

What set Syria apart from the rest of the 90’s Goth horde however, is that rather than slavishly copying, Christian Dorge ran with The Sisters’ post Vision Thing (Merciful Release, 1990) legacy and logically developed it to the place where The Sister’s should have gone instead of the mire in which Andrew Eldrich has floundered for the last 20 or so years. Ozymadias Of Egypt (Black October Records, 1993) remains a criminally under rated album of Goth’s second wave – if only Andrew Elritch was listening…

I know, I do diss 90's Goth a lot in retrospect, but to be fair, 
photographic evidence suggests that at the time I might have been quite into it:

Your humble author (circa '94) - doing his 
best to show exactly how not into it he was.