Sounds : 17 March 1984
AND THE MEANING OF MUSIC
Times forever change. Who would have thought that an
Australian collective of psychiatric nurses, nihilists and self-styld
death-trippers (of whom two have, to date, committed the ultimate
snuff by killing themselves!), who rejoice under the unlikely
name of Surgical Penis Klinik and hurl out vinyl slabs of pure
noise such as 'Leichenschrei' ('Corpse Shriek'), would one day be
welcomed with open arms by the same record company that calls
Fleetwood Mac, The Doors and the Doobie Brothers their own? But,
as the song says, it's only rock 'n' roll, so why not?
So to celebrate a million-dollar signing, I arranged an exclusive interview with Graeme, the leader of SPK, before the band returned to Australia to start work on their new LP for Elektra. The first thing I wanted to find out was why SPK had changed from the abrasion and non-music of their earlier works to the mega disco-pop of their 'Metal-Dance' hit; simply a case of sell-out, or is there more to it than that?
"Well, I felt it had got to a point where the whole industrial thing had been more or less exhausted," Graeme explained. "As a possibility of undermining or subverting - a ridiculous word, I know - it had gone as far as it could. So we either had to stop there, or try something different. But I wouldn't say that 'Metal Dance' was the definitive new SPK sound; it was more a statement to open up a new space, rather than anything particular meaningful."
"The new SPK sound" must have come as quite a shock to all the hard-core fans. Graeme agrees.
"The whole problem with that hard core was, it made a middle-of-the-road of its own, and if you trotted out the same stuff you were acceptable."
An attempt to drop an audience?
"Surprisingly, it didn't. Live, people expect to see a dancing show with flashing lights and all that. In stead what they got was completely different, and probably more exciting than 'industrial' shows which, really, were tragically boring. It's the same with any kind of music; it goes thriugh its three stages of tragedy. And with SPK, it was long past the dénoument."
What brings about the mass exodus of the SPK camp to Australia, apart from the recording? Live shows, maybe?
"No, we've just done a live tour of Australia, which was quite amusing really. The first one in Sydney was probably one of the bloodies affairs you'll ever see... we were using glass percussion, and then I waded into the audience to where all the hecklers were and started swinging this chain about. There was a mad scramble to the stage, and I got really badly cut by glass, so I spread the blood about a bit and because there were no lights at all in the show, except the slides and films, it looked as if mayhem had occured. After the show, a magazine called On The Streets (a free equivalent to Time Out) called us 'fascists' and 'the enemies of progressive society', so we got Rupert Murdoch's defamation lawyer on them, and won.
"The bass player and the drummer ran off immediately, and spent the rest of the show cowering, looking between their fingers, leaving just myself and Sinan on the stage."
What about the new LP? Can we expect more 'Metal
Dances'? Will there be a 'Stars On SPK' type single?
"It will be commercial, but far more lush than the last single. I've written a few tracks already, including one called 'Metropolis', which are commercial aberrations. Even on 'Metal Dance', in the middle section all the dance music stops and there's a piano solo."
With the previous SPK, there was a predominance of not so much industrial ideas, but more medical and deviant imagery. Are the ideas that powered the earlier versions of SPK still present now, or do you think you've shifted from your original influences?
"What I would like to do eventually is to start making videos using an important variant of medical imagery - as the basic medical imagery has now permeated the media - concerning the aesthetics of imagery. Why is Mae West unattractive now, whilst Bo Derek is acceptable? It comes down to the media's presentation of what is or should be desirable. So we will show acceptable imagery cut in with highly unacceptable imagery - a sex-goddess followed by, say, a hunchback dwarf, which really isn't that far removed from Mae West, though she has got wit.
"Basically, the point is that if you had the right media or press campaign, it would be possible to alter what would be considered to be the natural response, that is primarily the sexual one, in perhaps as little as two years."
Hmm? I'm not quite as sure that changes could be wrought in such a short time, although the power of media manipulation is uncontestable. Graeme's opinions on the quality of videos today and the use to which the medium is put are not high.
"I look at them and think, 'My God, what a load of rubbish.' They are given huge amounts of money and all come out with the same uninspired rubbish!
"But I've always had a different attitude towards deviation to people like Throbbing Gristle or the Come Organisation; I'm not interested in star deviants like Peter Sutcliffe or Manson, with whom the media can say 'look, here are the nutters; society's all right, we've got the weirdos under lock and key.'
"The truth is that society is rotten to the core, and there's ten million people locked away in institutions and mental homes basically for no other reason that they can't get on with capitalism."
I agree to a large degree, although I wouldn't say that all deviation can be put down to the nature of the political system.
But if ideas are unable to reach new audiences, if you preach only to the converted, doesn't it render all such discussion academic?
Graeme concurs: "The option occurs when you realise that, and then you either try and go into the centre like some groups do, such as Cabaret Voltaire and perhaps Soft Cell, though I don't really feel they succeed, especially the latter, or you just carry on in the same area. The basic mistake with such band comes in the fact that the lowest common denominator is so low at the centre you can't say anything at all, really.
"Therefore, what we have tried to do is adopt the the bipartite strategy where you try and infiltrate a mass market, but do all your work from the outside that you feel to be really important, such as the Adolf Wölfli project and The Insect Musicians.
"So the SPK stuff will remain basically commercial dance music; whilst with Wölfli, the project will consist of SPK, Nurse With Wound, DDAA from France and, hopefully, Holger Czukay in attempts to put into sound the revolutionary, not to say incomprehensible music scores of a mad Austrian composer who lived at the turn of the century."
Alas for the strictures of the journalist's task of writing only a certain amount of words on the interviewee. To cut dead a conversation that goes on to include the aborigine's concept of spatial relations and the meaning of anarchist music within a capitalist music biz will no doubt have all you out there in readerland fuming, especially those of you who have so eagerly enjoyed the previous sounds articles on aboriginal culture. Still; SPK: it's only rock 'n' roll. (Is it...?) TIBET
Back to SPK = Interviews