New Musical Express : 9 April 1983
Maniac cab driver Chris Bohn takes you on a ride to the terminal zone with the New Zealand / Chinese alliance called SPK Pics Peter Anderson
Where to Mister ?
Say don't you know that's a No Go area ? What do I mean No Go ?
Well, Mister, ha ha, you'll hear soon enough. Like as you'll not hear it before see anything. Listen out for the drumming and you'll know you're getting close. Not just any ordinary drumming, mind, more the raw noise of metal beating metal. Then there's these really odd chants, high pitched Chinese voices and low sub-vocal moans, and - here's the worst squeals the sort of which must've been squeezed from electronic gizmos.
The funny thing is it gets to you after a while, against your better judgement, like. Specially when the sun comes up and then the noise seems really appropriate to the environment; if you get my drift.
It keeps drawing me in, though some cabs refuse point blank to go No Go. The others have taken to call me Stalker, aftre that Russian picture, ha ha. What does No Go look like ? You'll know soon enough, it's spreading fast.
Ok, ok, keep cool I wasn't trying to upset you.
Well, No Go goes something like this : it's full of crumbling buildings, broken down churches, factory ruins, vine seeping out of window sockets. Kinda eery. Unemployed people still haunt these places, shuffling between the ruins of their home and workplace. Just out of habit I guess. Someone forgot to tell them we've gone post industrial. Ha ha ha. Anyway that's my theory. Yeah, yeah, all we cabbies got a theory about something, but mine sticks better than most.
You can tell by the graffiti you'll see, which'll tell you some of the ghosts are trying to make sense of it all: Einsturzende Neubauten - that's Goiman for Collapsing New Buildings, what'll they think of next ? - Test Dept, Throbbing Gristle, Foetus and - get this one ! - Legendary Pink Dots ! Seems the dispossessed down this way are dissatisfied.
Just recently I picked up this faded sign I hadn't seen before, but going by it's age it must've been round some time. SPK, it read, and right next to it Beating the violent and primitive heart of a controlled post industrial society !" Caught my eye, that !
So I felt of honoured when I took a pair back No Go the other night and they turned out to be this self same SPK. Odd looking they were, too. He was tall, coated in black and talked with an Australian accent. "New Zealand," he corrected.
New Zealand ? Say we don't get many of your kind down this way. What's your name fella ?
"Graeme, and this is Sinan, she's from China."
China ? Red China ? Hey, how'd you meet ? In Sydney, Australia ? Well, tell me Graeme, what does this SPK stand for ?
Now this is where it gets a litle complicated. Nothing, he
said, but it sure coincides with plenty, like System Planning
Korporation, the US chemical weapons development division. It's
also the signature of a Japanese war poster propaganda artist.
You better close your ears for this one - Surgical Penis
Klinik. Another's Se-Ppuku, Japanese for ritual
suicide. He seemed kinds taken with that one; cheerful ! There's
also Sozialistische Patienten Kollective.
"Our first single was a homage and a parody of them," this guy Graeme says. "They were a group of patients in Heidelberg who made the decision to break out of the situation in which they found themselves. They chose the terrorist route, rather than the aesthetic route and they proceeded to organise a working circle for bomb making for Baader Meinhof; they had these slogans Bomb for mental health ! Kill for inner peace!
"They were rather hippy, I think, ha ha. Extraordinary. They were always a bit mixed up really, and they eventually blew themselves out because they had a short concentration span. We were just commemorating that attempt to get themselves out of the shit they found themselves in."
Aren't you guys getting yourselves in a bit heavy, I suggested to Graeme, concerned - he seemed like a nice guy - all this talking about taboo stuff, mental health, terrorism ! Turns out, though, that he's no dilettantish dabbler, as he's talking from experience - he was a psychiatric nurse in Sydney and formed SPK back in '78 with a schizophrenic patient who was interested in punk. Remember that?
"We tried to start up a musical expression of both the positive and negative sides of our predicaments. That is, he was a prisoner an I was a jailer and there was no way round it. I had to stop him running away, give him drugs to dampen the positive expression of the energy he retained...
"Being in that environment, what with its false sense of calmness and reasonableness, was like being in a microcosm of social control.
"I mean, society sees these areas - mental aberration, non-normality as deviant, and we're to say it's not. Where society tries to normalise the thing, we try to use the energy back against society in a positive way..."
Lost ? Well, let me try and explain : whichever society you're
in decides what is normal and what is likely to disrupt the
social order. So in America it's the drunks and in Russia it's
the dissident. In both cases, they'll be locked away and/or dealt
with, lobotomised. The lucky ones will be treated leniently as
eccentrics, made stars out of.
"Star deviants I call them," kids Graeme. "We're always careful not to sensationalise criminal insane figures like Manson, Jim Jones or whatever, because that's exactly what the system does, it produces star deviants, and says, Look at them, we're right (to lock them away).
"It's an error to fetishise, sensationalise these people. What is important is that Mr Smith, or whoever, is in a mental hospital. We're trying to express they're not a deviant phenomenon. But it's not just people in mental hospitals, it's all the strange so-called marginal people in this society who are kept out of creative spheres.
"All the time this media society forces us and our like into limited areas, the margins, where you can't carry on. Then you feel depressed and want to give up and that's exactly how it works with mental patients and groups like us. We can be destroyed so quickly."
Now, Graeme he went on quite a bit, expounding on a new dark age, in which light is shut out by an information overload : that is; we're being bombarded with so much information it's impossible to make sense of it. At the same time we're being desensitised by it. The end effect is the same as in a more rigidly controlled and restricted society; we're being kept in the dark.
And Graeme, he's smart enough to know anything SPK feeds in only adds to the information overload.
"Which is why we say our strategy is catastrophic. It doesn't work to try and overthrow any system. Society will eventually have to come to terms with all these signs all round it. We're just trying to speed up the process. That's all you can do : try and insert yourself and your ideas into society and try and take it to the limit, try and explode it, and hopefully something better will come out of it. We claim that our strategy is both catastrophic and symbolic, insofar as we're not prepared to go out and commit violence, be a terrorist or whatever. But you can in some way operate as aesthethic terrorists, use the violent signs of the system in the symbolic sense, use the violent signs of the system back against it..."
Well, Mister, that's quite a mouthful for a short taxi ride.
And Grame, being a relatively sober-minded individual, was
concerned that I might've missed the point, so he wrote me a
letter, clarifying things, which said :
"Our music is a new kind of expressionism. It is taking things at hand - elements and materials from work and leisure - and converting them into an object for your own use. Drills, grindeers, motors, bones, burnt out vehicles etc. With them we express internal and external conflict between a clean, well ordered society and the brutal reality of the efficiency of its repression to seduce us and normalise us. We are the expression of the energy needed to break out of this claustrophobia."
You might consider that outburst to be a touch hysterical, Mister, but listen to this tape he gave me of a 12" they're bringing out, called 'Dekompositiones'. Absorbing, exhilirating, even.
Now you've heard it, you still wanna go No Go ? It ain't no disco ! Great ! Hop in !
*('Dekompositiones' will be available shortly on Side Effects records via Rough Trade, as will the LP 'Leichenschrei; hitherto only available on import. There's also a good live tape 'Last Attempt At Paradise' available from Fresh Sounds, P.O. Box 36, Laurence, Kansas 66044, USA)
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