SOUNDS : 6 October 1984
Note : this was also part of the "Meltdown" promo presskit
SPK SHOW THEIR TRUE METTLE TO KEVIN MURPHY
Metal Machine Music marches on. The primaeval hollering, the tribal tortures mixed with a clinical abrasiveness as executed by bands of tormented, frustrated souls have been laid to rest. Shed like an illfitting skin, it has outgrown its usefulness.It serves as a reminder of an age when there was pleasure through power, aggression as art. Phase one is over phase two is dawning.
This is the stage where predetermined ideals are exposed, when
you provide all you promised. As all eyes eagerly peer in
anticipation in your direction. Now is the time for surprises.
Now is not the time to disappoint. Now is the time to threaten
safe vantage points. The foundations have been firmly laid, the
second wave challenges all non-believers.
SPK are back, back with a vengeance, back with renewed hope, a new spirit and a new album 'Machine Age Voodoo'. The album marks a distinctive change of direction, for where their last single 'Metal Dance' dipped an exploratory toe, 'Machine Age Voodoo' totally immerses itself. The cross-fertilisation of raw, un-bridled power with a smooth, crystaline production produces a mutant soul capable of crushing and charming its listeners.
They have never been ones to stagnate, as every new venture presents fresh scope. They actively scorn the copiers of this world and feel it's important to tread new ground, to look beyond your immediate confines.
"Although we are constantly looking for new areas and mediums to work in and and feel it's important to be different, we are not arrogant enough to admit that what we're doing is totally unique. You're always liable to have someone come up and point out a derivation, an earlier reference point," admits Graeme.
Their satisfaction is gained from pioneering. Quick to adapt
themselves to new surroundings and circumstances they absorb
information and attitudes, regurgitating them in a form designed
to maximise response from all who encounter them. They are a
fluid unit revolving round the nucleus of Grame - who does much
to dispel the adage that all antipodeans are loud mouthed,
beerswilling sexists as he eloquently enthuses the SPK creed -
and Sinan, a native China girl whose elegance belies her strenght.
Her haunting vocals weave majestically amidst their often harsh
surroundings, giving the overall impression of controlled power.
The forthcoming LP is their third, following in the wake of 'Information Overload Unit', originally released in 1981 and 'Leichenschrei' in '82. Both previous efforts differ in construction yet contain surging, discordant rhythms adorned with a latent passion. They tended to delve into the realms of abstraction, with subliminal references emerging through-out.
'Machine Age Voodoo' possesses all the unyielding aggression of the other two. But its stength is more formulated, more structured and is more direct in its aims and ideas.
One surprising development that has happened since the release of 'Metal Dance' last year (it has sold well over 30,000 copies) is that they have recently signed a deal with Elektra in America and its sister company over here WEA, on which 'Junk Funk' will be the first release. It's an upfront dance track lifted from the album, released this week just prior to the album.
With the release of the new album should come the end of their association with those groups with whom they shared a crowded pigeonhole last year, a group of diverse members all herded under the often misleading heading of Metal Music. It was a group whose principal exponents were Test Dept, Einsturzende Neubauten and SPK, and one where Graeme is keen to clarify the distinctions.
"We're much more aggressive and faster than most of the others, a lot of what they call industrial is really quite ambient, which ours never was.
'We always had the idea of producing fast and danceable pieces. Originally we did it by programming four drum machines with Latin American rhythms and then starting them off simultaneously.
"I always thought it was a bit of a false analogy comparing us with those others. It's a bit like saying any groups that contain guitars should be lumped together, although I concede that there's more you can do with a guitar than say an oil drum, although even that has a vast potential depending on what mood you're in.
"This need to be capricious, to remain at a tangent to their contamporaries is one of the main driving forces behind a phphilosophy continualy on trial, a vehemently hold belief that in order to progress one has to look back, not necessarily to obvious reference points like those within music, but to look beyond into the world of literature and art.
They are keen to expose such influences, people whose work has had a profound effect on them as well as society and yet whose true worth has never been recognised or credited.
Graeme: "There are people like Adolf Wölfli, who is probably one of the most important figures of the century and has never been credited as such."
Important in what way ?
"Important in terms of the yardsticks which are used to gauge originality and culture."
Sinan: "He was unique in that he was creating in so many different areas, and wasn't confined to using conventional frames of reference for his art, painting or writing.
"This desire to continually extend the boundaries of
exprassion has been exhibited in many forms since their formation
in 1978. Their stage performances have always been directed
towards a strong visual stimulation. In the early shows it took
the form of eating the brains from a sheep or subjecting the
audience to a threatening performance on a flamethrower. Later,
all-out assaults on an array of junk metal combined with a solo
display on an angle-grinder. All this caused much consternation
amongst the ranks of the establishment, who abruptly terminated
their show at the Venue last year when Graeme's antics included
wielding a hefty chain low over the heads of an enraptured
All of these were designed to work with and for the music to provide an effect, a mood and a potency that the records wer unable to achieve.
In their efforts not to promote an SPK 'look', an identifiable image for people to manipulate, they still regard the live medium as showbusiness, and as such to be treated with a liberal coating of flamboyance. Hence the show at the ICA this week is introducing a new gimmick.
Graeme: "This year we're doing much more sculptural things. We have someone, Brian, who's actually going to be building things while we're playing. We're not really using it as a musical instrument, it's more a visual constructive thing. It will be interesting to see what happens.
"This heavilly visual aspect of their persona is the one that has probably gained them more recognition than anything else. Their stylish, strident performance on the Tube did much to shake people into submission and startle the uninitiated as well as cause others to reappraise their standing. An obvious example were Depeche Mode, who promptly emulated the entire stage set-up following a jolly jaunt to their local scrap metal dealers, even down to an angle-grinder and promptly set off to produce metal music for morons in a vain attempt to salvage their flagging fortunes and enhance their innocuous image.
Having spent the bulk of the year in Australia in order to escape London, and the fast and furious pace that its inhabitants chase to be a part of this week's fashion, a game SPK weren't keen to play, they duly returned to find Depeche Mode ripping them off and clearly profiting from the exercise. It was an unacceptable state of affairs and one that incensed Graeme.
"When we came back from Australia and saw them on TV I couldn't believe it, it was blatant plagiarism. At one stage we even contemplated suing them, but there's no point. That's why we've this album so that we can start reaping the benefit of our earlier stuff.
"It's a well known fact that it's those who copy an original idea, adapt it and make it more commercial that make the money, and never the pioneers."
Since their forrnation they have followed certain guidelines in terms of what levels they should achieve and by when, all done in an attempt to eradicate the element of spontaneity which Graeme dismisses as a misplaced trait in a group's make-up. Having now teamed up with a major and with their music taking on a more cornmercial guise, how do they view this game-plan now?
Graeme: "I'm not sure what our game-plan is at the moment, but with the wider audience we're bound to get with this sort of material, we want to reiterate some of the points we were trying to make with the earlier material.
"What we'll probably do is exercise the Jeckyll and Hyde option, which is to be totally commercial on the one side and exercise our more uncompromising ideas on the other.
"We just wanted to prove we could do it, we knew that if we set our minds to it we could produce an album of well structured, concise songs and we have. A lot of groups talk of producing commercial material, but when it comes to the crunch they can't come up with anything.
"How do they feel looking back on the metal movement, a
movement that carried apocalyptic overtones in its representation
of the destruction of the industrial world?
Graeme: "That was something that I always thought was silly about the language that was written about what metal music was supposed to be about, the end of civilisation or something like that. To me it was the end of nothing, you should never say something is the end, it never is. It's to do with the decadent idea that comes at the end of every century. You've got to expect it."
Sinan: "There does come an end, but it's not as dramatic as that, it's more of a gradual petering out."
How much significance do you attach to your metal period, looking at it in the overall evaluation of your work to date?
Graeme: "Our whole attitude's towards using sound, metal is just the obvious one everyone picked up on. They missed out on all the earlier tape material. It's to do with having a certain attitude towards the way you use it. It's this approach that differentiates us from our contemporaries.
"Like, we used technology in a bizarre way in order to make a glossy machine sound primitive. All these products are just being used in some kind of cultural way, that is what we've been trying to do.
"Throughout their existence they have often flirted with popularity, and just at the point of acceptance have deliberately kept a low profile, either by travelling or by just not performing anywhere. Was this a calculated ploy, or is it just that the final crossover has eluded them?
Graeme: "I think we're quite overtly cynical and bitter that it has taken so long to get noticed. All the time we were doing material that we regarded as important people ignored it, and as soon as we came out with a commercial track they all turn round and say they preferred the earlier material.
"But this twist isn't likely to impede their progress, as criticism is something they've shared beds with for the last six years. But their ethic is change for change's sake, and even before the album hits the street, plans are afoot to immerse themselves to a greater degree into the world of soul. Where this album still has traces of their earlier incarnations, the following phase promises to threaten the very roots of soul.
Graerne: "I play tracks from the album to soul fans and they still think it's weird so the new stuff will be trying to finally break through in that field ... I hope." Watch out Robbie Vincent, you have been warned! But to satisfy their more deviant whims, they will be releasing three albums based on three differing themes before the end of the year on their own Musique Brut label.
The first is called 'Adolf Wölfi', and this tribute to their mentor will take the form of different interpretations of the deranged composer's work. The second 'The Insect Musicians' is a collection of various insect recordings which have been sampled on computer, then arranged in a loose musical format. The final offering will be dedicated to Harry Partch, whose' 40s album 'Delusion Of The Fury' Graeme cites as one of his all-time faves. Entitled 'Machine Melancholia' it is built around the sole use of 1/4 and 1/2 tone beats to compile a mood and sound closely akin to the more lauded 'Carmina Burana'.
Will the real SPK please step forward? Your time is nigh.
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