New Musical Express : 22 October 1983
"I SUPPOSE the next thing you're going to ask me about is commerciality," Graeme Revell drawls in his laconic Australasian tones.
No honestly Graeme, I'd rather talk about the New Dark Age; about confronting established notions of aesthetics, about ambiguity and anonymity, about incarcerated German eccentrics who believe they're millionaires. There's a million fascinating and real FUN topics that we can talk about.
Before we can get on to the ideas and the exciting new projects though we have to establish just why on earth SPK have released 'Metal Dance'.
Inevitably somebody was going to make a banal manipulation of the metal innovation. God, we've already had the ludicrous spectacle of the flaming Thompson Twins wielding hammers and tongs.
And how could it be SPK, not only one of the first of the current crop of metal bands but apparently one of the most intent? Always studiously independent and wilful outsiders, they've been performing with various lineups since their formation in September 78. To compound the ambiguity and the anonymity they gave themselves an oscillating name, at any one time they might have been called Systems Planning Korporation, Surgical Penis Klinic, SePpuKku or Sozialistiche Patienten Kollective.
Their principles were clear on their 1982 LP' Leichenschrei' where all those elements of torch fatality and fatale sexuality were strikingly vivid.
Now reduced to a three piece of vocalist Sinan and instrumentalists Graeme Revell and Derek Thompson, they've developed a more accessible sound. It is one that can still display the necessary hard edge, as indicated on the single's B-side 'Will To Power', or the as yet unreleased 'Sandstorm Method'. 'Metal Dance' on the other hand is painfully obvious. How could they produce something as cold and premeditated?
"Why not?" Graeme replies. "Why shouldn't it be us this time, as you say, if it hadn't been us it would have been someone else. Historically, since new wave started there's been a whole succession of bands on the dole who, like us have ideas but no money. Then you get people who will take the idea and put it in a more commercial context. So traditionally the originals are continually preempted by all these more commercial bands. We thought this time why not do it ourselves? Everyone talks about a movement like this having a commerical single being a pejorative thing, why can't it be positive?
"For five years now we've been doing difficult music, why shouldn't we make a more commercial sound? We have all these people now coming up and saying, Oh, I used to like you when you did this or that. And you know fucking well that they never even knew of your existence before 'Metal Dance' came out.
"We did a concert in London in March '81 and we were using metal then. There were 58 people there and I've since met at least 400 who claim to have seen it. "
WELL!, I'm still dubious. But nobody can deny SPK their pedigree.
They have, as vocalist Sinan points out, been starving and stimulating since their formation in 1978. They've moved forward relentlessly, changing constantly, never holding a constant line-up, never staying in one country. Perhaps their only way to the wider audience they must have is through a scheme like 'Metal Dance'
What worries me is the effect that a single like this might have. At least it provides a counter-attack to the bland these bands don't even make music' criticisms, but it could simply cheapen the whole movement before the hard-hitting stuff, like the brilliant new material by Neubauten, Foetus and SPK themselves' gets its chance.
All this stuff about "A strange new sound" and "Do the metal dance" just seems to be taking it all a little too far.
'There is no point in compromising and being half commercial and half not, " Graeme and Sinan argue. "There is an avant garde side to SPK obviously but that doesn't mean that there has to be an avant garde aspect to every piece of product that we release.
"What has defined SPK in the past is its lack of definition, its ability to change stages and styles as much as possible, it's a conscious attempt to try and do somethina different.
"The whole idea of 'Metal Dance' comes from a Bauhaus performance art piece which was a critique of futurism and the idea of progress for its own sake. Now we live in an ambience where you have to go along with progress for its own sake, you simply have no choice. It's like living in a democratic society you either vote or you don't; it's Hobson's choice.
"So for us it became a waste of time after five years of coming from the real extreme. Like Cabaret Voltaire you get to a point where you can't go any further, your experiment comes to an end and you move on to something else. The idea of going towards the soft centre is an interesting experiment in itself, of going straight for the mainstream and putting something there that otherwise wouldn't have been."
WHATEVER the blandness of 'Metal Dance', there are exciting ideas behind SPK perhaps after five years of slogging it out, they don't realise quite the power and the potential that something like the superb 'Sandstorm Method' have in these days of the maelstrom of mediocrity.
Planned as possibly the next single 'Sandstorm Method' has a real movement that the Thursday-night-at-the-Camden-Palace dance cliches of 'Metal Dance' miss entirely. It also incorporates an attitude of forward direction essential to the destruction of the current nostalgic climes.
As with Neubauten, when they hit their best SPK do not confront confusion, they seize upon it and use it as a method to hasten its own inevitable destruction.
"It's an idea of information overload which is based on the fact that we are heading for a second Dark Age. In the first Dark Age, though, you couldn't get any information at all, now there is just too much, so that it becomes impossible to make any sense out of it.
"In that sense I don't treat information as being a real fact about something, it can also be falsified information. The result is that it becomes very hard to actually imagine anything, rather than just reassembling all this static material it really takes an amazing amount of effort to sift your way through it. "
"The song 'Sandstorm Method'," Sinan continues, "is actually about the method of presenting information through the media, where they present you with so much so fast that it is impossible to digest it, so you're left in this bemusing sandstorm of information.
"Also, because the items are reflected in such a bland way, they can deny them completely, or completely contradict them the next day, and nobody will notice the difference. "
Is that confusion what you try and reflect musically?
"Yes," Graeme says. "On the first LP particularly, the idea was to arrange things so that instead of everything occurring in neat blocks the sound was arranged vertically so that a lot of things were happening together.
"The main thing is that I don't take a dialectical position that you can attack an idea directly. I reason that you are basically stuck with this information overload, so the only thing you can try and do is just hasten the process of change.
"It is going to change eventually, it always is anyway. The best thing you can do, though, is to take things to the extreme. It's like what Ballard says about taking things into hyper reality. "
"Once you get to that point fact and fantasy just become blurred," adds Sinan. "So, in a sense, information and imagination become the same thing. In a time when work is becoming obsolete what else is there but imagination and fantasy, the important thing is that activity is no longer functional."
Do you ever get worried by the intellectualism of your approach to music?
"No," replies Graeme. "I don't worry about it at all, I think it's about time people stopped playing down the intellectual aspect of music, after all you can have intelligent fun. Intellectualism has always had this implication of dullness, which is rubbish, it can be amazingly exciting."
So what's the point Graeme?
"I suppose the main one is that you don't have to maintain a constant form. If there is another specific point apart from that it's to question established aesthetics. Beauty is always defined by the age concerned, and concepts of attractiveness can be changed."
WHETHER or not Metal Dance' is excusable, there is still a spirit of invention and diversification in SPK. Their next projectin which they are to collaborate with Deadly Doris concerns the German eccentric Adolf Wölfli. Held in captivity because of his violent instincts, Wölfli spent his time inventing a new musical notation, which he incorporated into pictoral form.
Now Graeme, after hours absorbing the German of Wölfli's theories, is to transform the notation into music.
"He was really funny," Sinan laughs. "He had these scrupulously drawn out accounts indicating him to be a millionairehe didn't have a penny."
"That's the justification of 'Metal Dance'," Graeme adds, "hopefully people will at least listen to the record and will find out about this fantastically interesting character that otherwise they just wouldn't have heard about. "
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