ARTITUDE No.3 : January 1985


Before SPK, Graeme Revell used to work as a male nurse in an Australian mental hospital. He started the group in early 1978 to exploit some of the outrage he felt against the abuses he had witnessed. The initials SPK actually come, sometimes, from Socialists Patients Kollektiv, a group of West German mental patients who, inspired by Baader-Meinhof, tried unsuccessfully to form a radical left-wing among their fellow inmates. SPK the music group has always kept their original intentions: to make explicit the fascism of oppression and the exploitation being committed under the guise of science and psychopathology. Understanding this, it is not surprising that it took them more than six years to be signed to a major label. Machine Age Voodoo is on Elektra UK [In this country, Elektra has actually rereleased the original "Metal Dance" single].
Revell in 1983 told the now-inoperative Adventures In Reality magazine that SPK had gone as far as it couldon its independent footing. The sound must change with the alterations in ways of working and sources of funding. The sounds of Machine Age Voodoo are those of funk bass and keyboards, vocal harmonies, dance-synth rhythms and heavy, crashing metal percussion. They have bridged the gap from Leichenschrei (portions of which overtly copy primitive musics) to modern, high-tech dance/disco/funk (or Voodoo, if you will).
An early SPK release, Live at the Crypt (Sterile Tapes) was taken from a live concert given in 1980. It is as far away from a song like "Junk Funk" as the ambience of a construction site is from the songs on [New York disco station] WKTU-FM. That embryonic show was a barrage of noise; faintly melodic, but mostly disturbing to the nervous system. No doubt the stage show included their usual barrage of visuals - slides, photos, and films dealing with mental patients, scientific experiments on the human body, and deformed children (hunt up some of the articles they published in Re/Search magazines to get a sense of their visual approach). One of their videos of the period was a graphic documentary on autopsy.
Much of SPK's music has downplayed lyrics, using them very sparsely (albeit effectively). On Machine Age Voodoo on the other hand there is a virtual explosion of lyrics, powerfully drawn and deeply insightful. they reveal a common sensibility with the band that recorded Leichenscrei. It is tempting even to say that the musics are not far removed from each other: they are similar if not equal in temperament.
SPK deal with powerfully disturbing material, but it would be inaccurate to label them (as so many bands of their 'kind' have been labelled) doomsters. In their music is actually a rush of uplifted ecstacy, even in songs that deal graphically with S&M mutillation, as with Auto Da Fe's "A Heart that Breaks in No Time or Place," which closes Side Two. Certainly there is moral outcry and humanist outrage at the sins of the world, and at the pain and suffering caused by evil men and their evil practices (such as concentration camps and the impersonal buildings of the modern Metropolis); but underneath it all is that violent outburst of joy:

Feel the magic of the dance
Let your mind slip into a trance
Everybody, everybody get together
In ritual celebration

-"Junk Funk"is constructive passion. There are now clear hints of Chinese Communism ("With Love From China"):

We'll shape the soul of industry
We'll strike the blow that fires the fire
We'll stand in line with proud profile
And face in silhouette, the Red Star
With one great cry we'll join in song
Then I'll come to you, with love from China

And what about "industrial?" The concept of machine-age voodoo implies an 'industrial' magic (or a magical industry). A favorite author of Revell's, JG Ballard, writes entire novels about how the landscapes upon which we live determine our psychic and psychological structures. In the industrial age (see his book Crash!) the cities are the landscapes; the machines are extensions of our own psyches, and our minds are in fact merged with the landscape. In Ballard, highway clover-leafs and the concrete mazes of suburban streets reflect an interior consciousness.
In Revell's interview with Ballard (Re/Search #9/10), the group founder shows a particular interest in Ballard's use of mythology. Ballard claims that he is writing "myths of the future," whereas other cultures have always written myths of the past. Our mythological consciousness is replete with our own machines: cars, computers, buildings, houses, televisions, movie projectors; and the Olympian Gods are the mythological movie stars -Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, John Wayne (see Hello America and The Atrocity Exhibition). These are the myths of the machine age, the myths of the coming Apocalypse. There is not a very wide gap at all between the visions of JG Ballard and those of SPK on Machine Age Voodoo.
On "One World," far-eastern percussive music (is it from Indochina?) becomes a funky synth song with the same percussive rhuthms. It is an important moment on the record; in it can be found the geneology of modern funk/disco/dance music. Amplified instruments, the musics of jazz, rock, funk, and dance were developed and are being played by urban musicians who live in the wasted landscapes of our cities. Still other and more primitive influences come from blues, folk, and country-western.
SPK could not however have developed in the backwaters of the Ozarks. The band came from modern cities, living among the twisted minds and bodies of the men of the "New Dark Age," with technology's imprints all over their bodies like Ballard's characters, whose faces bear the weird designs and scars of auto wrecks and jagged metal.
The liner notes of the album are designed with shafts of wheat; songs are replete with social outrage ("One world/Third world/The rich get richer/Poor stay poor") and cries of oppression ("Feel like fire/Feel like ice/Dying in this silver city/Can't accept this life of lies"). One hears a strong cry of revolt against the Metropolis, the Silver City, the murderous wasteland of machine death and decay that we are born on, grow up on, live on, and eventually get buried in. The cycle is endless; it repeats itself because of the docile complacency of its victims:

See them marching row on row
Work your fists down to the bone
The government rewards you for your pains
No you can't survive on hope
Or opiates like coke or soap
You'll learn to love your chains

So what is SPK doing on Elektra UK? Simple; using the resources of Metropolis against itself. "Metal Dance" was a big hit; it sold a lot of records and made the dance charts. But in the new version of that song, Sinan Leong sings "Can you see that Reconstruction's underway?" In the new world of hope and faith and the unification of man, there will be no room for an Elektra Records exploiting musical talent or or the gullible record-buying public.
SPK uses tools in an effective, efficient, potent, and succesful manner. In this sense they are high-techno recording musicians. They utilize "the magic of the dance," "the rhythm in our bones," and "the power in your soul." By moving forward into high-tech they are also moving backwards; reversing the moments in which music became eaten alive by Metropolis.

-Richard Behrens

[Machine Age Voodoo is scheduled for American release on January 25 on elektra US. For a more complete listing of SPK's discography, check Re/Search's Industrial Culture Handbook (#6/7), or write A/a



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