1.1.17

KRAFTWERK : Live at Rock City, Nottingham - 24th June 1981 (Cassette recording).

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It wasn't until 1981's globe-traversing Computer World tour that Kraftwerk made their first appearance in Nottingham, my home town. Thus far, it remains their only visit, though the current, significantly modified incarnation is scheduled to finally return to the city in June of this year, a mere 36 years later, with only frontman Ralf Hütter still present from the classic '70/80s line-up.

Their debut show in "the heart of the Midlands" took place in front of a capacity crowd on Wednesday 24th June at the recently opened, but already somewhat dilapidated, Rock City venue. Notorious for its comically inadequate sound-system, malodorous sticky carpets, rancid shit-stinking toilets, and daunting Hell's Angels bouncers (though, in its favour, advance tickets cost a mere £3.50), its biggest claim to fame was that its manager would wind up being head-hunted by Factory Records' pre-eminent Hacienda club - with The Garage's Graeme Park in hot pursuit - just in time for the drug 'n' gun fuelled Madchester phenomenon. On reflection, Rock City hardly seems like a suitable locale for a prestige performance by Düsseldorf's finest, but the recorded evidence suggests die Mensch-Maschine pulled it off with aplomb as the audience's response verges on the rapturous.

Kraftwerk, of course, were still a relatively hands-on proposition at this point: the synths often slip out of tune and their timing is often a little rickety, while Ralf still counts in some of the songs with an amusingly anachronistic "Ein, zwei, drei, vier" and even responds to the occasional heckle. Whereas their current touring configuration could feasibly comprise Hütter and a fully-loaded USB stick, back in 1981 it was necessary that all four members be on-hand to tap in most of the sounds manually. Consequently, there's a humanistic, even vulnerable quality to parts of this performance (the elegant "Neon Lights" and "Ohm Sweet Ohm", for instance) that one simply wouldn't expect to hear nowadays, while audience participation introduces a good-humoured spontaneity to the undeniably funky rendition of "Pocket Calculator". The career-spanning set-list naturally focuses on their then-current Computer World album and its immediate, benchmark-defining predecessors, The Man Machine and Trans-Europe Express, but - at almost two hours long - it also includes a surprising number of selections from the earlier Radioactivity, and even Autobahn's seductively morose "Mitternacht" makes a fleeting appearance. Possibly the biggest surprise is the climactic pitched-up version of "It's More Fun To Compute", whose expedited rhythm sounds exactly like one of DJ Assault's bawdy late '90s Detroit Ghettotech jams. Take note also of the house DJ's gauche post-performance announcement - all gigs ended like this in the 1980s! Incidentally, Kraftwerk's 1981 U.K. tour dates were postponed at least once due to problems with their prototype video projection set-up, and the Nottingham show was originally scheduled to take place a month prior to this one.

Several versions of this recording have been circulated over the years, but this one is the very best I've heard. Much gratitude to the original taper, whoever (s)he may be, and to the enigmatic Hiro 666, whose skillful pitch-correction and remastering have made this 36 year old clandestine cassette sound far better than it reasonably ought.

Set-list: Introduction / Numbers / Computer World / Computer Love / Home Computer / The Model / Neon Lights / Geiger Counter / Radioactivity / The Voice of Energy / Uranium / Die Sonne, der Mond, die Sterne / Ohn Sweet Ohm / Autobahn / Hall of Mirrors / Mitternacht / Showroom Dummies / Trans-Europe Express / Abzug / Metal On Metal / Pocket Calculator / The Robots / It's More Fun to Compute.

● Die Stimme der Energie

2.10.16

VARIOUS ARTISTS : Posters For The Royal College Of Art, 1953-1967 (Vintage design).

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This selection of eye-catching and era-defining poster art from the archives of London's Royal College of Art would've originally been employed in-house to promote the institution's manifold art exhibitions, guest lectures, film clubs, and student balls. Concurrently topical and ephemeral, many of them would have also decorated the pages of Ark, the college's regular self-published journal. All of them date from the mid-1950s to the tail-end of the '60s - an explosive period for British art which sired both the "kitchen sink" and Pop movements before collapsing into Psychedelia. Pink Floyd's comically ghoulish 1967 Horrorball design - the poster that drew my attention to this collection in the first place - so perfectly reflects its era of conception that it could only have emerged during the closing months of 1967 I think?

Artists include Brian Hodgson (Horrorball), Barrie Bates (Young Commonwealth Artists), Gordon Moore (The Wild One), John Sewell (Markfilm), Neil Godfrey (The Savage Eye), Wendy Coates-Smith (Graphics RCA), Tony Guy (Wozzeck), and Patric Toft (Why Do The Germans Hate The Russians?) - though many remain sadly unattributed.
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13.5.16

SUICIDE : Craig Leon sessions, aka "1977 Demos" (Archival studio recordings).

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Suicide's eponymous debut LP, a demonstrable (punk) rock music milestone, was released in December 1977 on manager Marty Thau's Red Star Records to complete bemusement in the U.S. - Rolling Stone magazine dismissing it as "absolutely puerile" - but to immediate and voracious deification by the British music press. Since the mid '60s, Thau had pursued a career in management and publishing for the Buddah and Paramount labels, concurrently marketing several of that decade's biggest bubblegum hits while working on early solo albums by Van Morrision (Astral Weeks, Moondance), John Cale (Vintage Violence), Cass Elliot, and Biff Rose. Quitting Paramount in 1972 to champion the New York Dolls' cause, he quickly immersed himself in N.Y.C.'s mushrooming underground scene, shepherding the Ramones, Blondie, and Richard Hell (amongst others), and subsequently founding his own label, the aforementioned Red Star, to showcase local talent.

Brooklyn's combative Suicide were the first band he signed, on the basis of a demo tape (not this one) passed to him by Phibes-ian organist Martin Rev. Having spent the previous half-decade performing them live, Rev and frontman Alan Vega knew the songs back-to-front, and Suicide was recorded in 4 intense days at Ultima Sound - an out-of-town facility frequented by Bruce Springsteen, Dusty Springfield, James Taylor, and the Ramones in it's previous 914 Studios incarnation - with dub-influened producer Craig Leon (the effects on Vega's lurid vocals were achieved with the same Eventide delay unit Lee "Scratch" Perry was so enamoured of). Once the sessions were complete and Leon had returned to California, Thau remixed several of the tracks, adding further layers of eerie delay, while Vega completely changed (and vastly improved) the lyrics to "Frankie Teardrop", perfecting his unnerving tour de force. (n.b. Jump to the comments section for some clear-cut elucidation on this subject from Mr. Leon himself.)

It's Leon's "unfinished" mixes that I've included here - historically they've been consistently mis-labeled as "1977 demos" so it's possible you may recognise some of them. They're all noticeably different to their Red Star variants, and bookending the session are 2 versions of the hitherto unreleased "Whisper", a crooning '50s-style ballad fronted, for once, by Rev rather than Vega. Though the alternate early attempt at "Frankie Teardrop" herein was belatedly released (as "The Detective Meets The Space Alien") on the B-side of a limited edition Blast First 10" a few years ago (long gone, I'm afraid), the rest of these recordings remain otherwise unavailable. Officially, at least.

2.5.16

GANG OF FOUR : Live at Southampton University - 14th November 1979 (Cassette recording).

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"I remember when I was about 9 or 10, listening to "Satisfaction" and getting very excited about it. I would walk to school and sing it all the way and walk home and sing it all the way, thinking it was the greatest thing. I always liked music that had this strong, rhythmic side to it, which grooved. My cousin showed me how to play "Satisfaction" on the guitar, that's what kicked me off with playing stuff. A lot of the things that I liked growing up were American bands: the Velvet Underground and The Band, who were one of my favourite groups, James Brown, Funkadelic, I loved all that stuff. I was also very impressed with Hendrix, listening to him endlessly. When I was growing up there were a couple of different bands that I would play with in the local area around the mid '70s. There was one called the Bourgeois Brothers (laughs). It was just simple, riffy guitar music. I was quite into Dr. Feelgood, I was very into that minimal, stripped-down nature, that kind of barely suppressed violence of the dramatic presentation of their personas onstage. I thought they were incredibly powerful, they were extremely influential on Gang Of Four.

When punk started, Gang Of Four were already writing songs and doing stuff. By the time we came to make our first recordings in 1977 we'd already assimilated the punk thing and got a take on that element. But we were never really "punk". Obviously it has some relationship to punk but wasn't that in itself. If you look at the Sex Pistols as a kind-of archetypal punk band, it's not that different from Black Sabbath. It's rhythmically unsophisticated, it's really on-the-beat rock drumming. Same with the guitar - plug it in and turn it up to full distortion. Gang Of Four was radically different from that. The guitar was very staccato, very stripped down, very repetitive, loop-based. The drumming was basically funky but not through copying black music, more through simply deconstructing the nature of drumming and where you place the beats. Hugo (Burnham) and I would argue endlessly about what the drum parts would be like - anything that sounded like rock drumming I would change. The tunes had vocals but were very rhythm and phrase related. Jon (King) would sing stuff that he'd come up with, we'd argue about it and come to some kind of resolution. You could tell by listening to Gang Of Four music that punk had happened, but it definitely wasn't "punk" music." - Excerpted from an interview with Andy Gill by Jason Gross for Worldly Remains: A Pop Culture Review, October 2000.

I'm been listening to this tape a lot lately. Though it's unquestionably a(nother) covert "Walkman under the jacket" affair, it's spiked with the urgent kinetic dynamism that most GO4 performances from the Entertainment! era (still, somehow) transmit - i.e. unruly youth vociferously celebrating the taut, syncopated din of deafening electrical discord: contagious buzz and drama.

Recorded in Southampton, Hampshire's infamously debauched rock 'n' roll Valhalla (sic), this fiery set is notable for its inclusion of the unreleased "Blood Free" - a song GO4 often played live back in '79-'80 but which they never got around to recording (it's a shame they couldn't find room for it on Solid Gold) - and a couple of somewhat improbable encores: highly charged covers of fellow Leeds University alumni the Mekons and Edinburgh's indefatigable Rezillos. Who says Revolutionary Marxists don't appreciate a little good clean rock 'n' roll fun every once in awhile, eh?

Set-list: I Found That Essence Rare / 5:45 / (Love Like) Anthrax / It's Her Factory / Blood Free / Contract / Damaged Goods / Not Great Men / Natural's Not In It / At Home He's a Tourist / Return the Gift / Ether / Armalite Rifle / Rosanne (Mekons cover) / Glass / I Can't Stand My Baby (Rezillos cover).

White noise in a white room