The Trevor Blake book
Note: This so-called "history" has been taken from the book 'SPK
- Krankheit Im Recht'. First part (not published here) is about the German
Patientenfront and second part covers the story of 'our' SPK. The
unfinished edition was edited and published without approval from the author
Trevor Blake, who felt betrayed but has now come to accept the situation.
Be aware that there are lots of errors and false facts in this article, for the real story, check out the History chapter.
During the decade of its activity, SPK* was many things. Participants
would come and go, using any number of names (or none) as they passed through.
Styles, politics and intent were adopted, tested for validity, and jetisoned. Outside of a single member involved from beginning to end and the consistent use of the name SPK (albeit in many forms) which, it would seem more likely that the history presented below is that of several bands. The vagueness of certain sections of this narrative are more accurate to other intentions of SPK at the time than a naming of, names; pursuing each political/musical expression to the right angle where it meets and is invalidated by the next offers a record of what SPK did in the very form it was done. The ability and willingness of those closest to SPK to describe what happened is seldom equal. Compound this with a great deal of acitivity over a short period, distanced by time, muddied by personal differences among the band (fully censored from this account), distorted by a money and statusdriven music press, and the opportunity to present SPK exactly as it happened is marginal. Therefore, I have attempted to present SPK as it presented itself at each stage of its growth, retaining the contradictions and false information it deliberately generated, based on the hundreds of readily available texts and recordings of SPK and augmented by conversations with many former participants.
* The name SPK origins from the revolutionary movement in Germany, formed
since 1965/66 until now, which invented this name as a program for the
further work to do, using this name publically since July 1970.
2. CRY FROM THE SANITARIUM (1978 - 1982)
2.1. DEM NEEBENSAAL
SPK began as a collaboration between a psychiatric nurse and a psychiatric
patient in Sydney, Australia in 1978.
The nurse was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1955. He was trained as a Third World political economist and employed as a regional environmental planner in the wine growing region of Australia. Most of his suggestions were vetoed by VHP, the largest iron and steel company in Australia: feeling he was wasting his time butting heads with corporations, he left to do more concrete work with individuals. In 1978 he was employed at the Callin Park Mental Hospital in Sydney. His responsibilities at the hospital included dispensation of drugs, administering electroshock, and physical restraint of patients. He knew the experience of the patients was terrible, and the normal state of mind they were being pushed towards by therapy was in fact the cause of much of their distress. By being a friend, bending the rules, and encouraging the musical artistic talents of the patients he did what he could to lessen their suffering, but over all he considered their situation to be hopeless: therapy was obviously harmful to many patients but no other option was available. Some patients who resisted therapy appeared to experience less distress afterwards - but how to know when involuntary therapy would be beneficial and when it would be harmful?
The patient was born in Sydney, Australia. He was interested in the progressive currents of music, fashion, film and philosophy of the late 1970s, including punk rock, the Situationist International, and anarchism. He also admired Yukio Mishima and European terrorist groups such as the Red Brigade, the Red Army, and the Red Army Fraction. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, he was an occasional patient at Callin Park.
The patient and the nurse shared a house in 1978. There they discussed the patient's interests, shared by the nurse, and listened to electronic/ecclectic bands such as Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Faust, and John Cage. They also played their own music.
The patient learned of the Socialist Patients' Collective while researching the RAF. The SPK was a tremendous inspiration to the two. They believed the SPK was responsible for the siege of the German embassy in Stockholm in April 1975 and had died with that explosion, a dramatic effort and ending they found attractive and symbolic of the hopelessness they had experienced in mental hospitals. They decided to name their band SPK as a tribute to the original group.
Having met in a hospital, and naming themselves after a group with similar
origins, they decided madness would be a central theme to their work. Although
they acknowledged the positive qualities of madness, SPK would not glorify
it. Rather, they hoped to question the necessity of labels such as mad
and sane, beautiful and ugly, deviant and progressive.
They were very concerned with labels for people and behavior. They adopted pseudonyms: the nurse became EMS/AKS after his brand of synthesizer, and the patient adopted a chemicalization of his birth name, Ne/H/Il. At times they refused to answer questions about their origins or gave disinformation. The band was called SPK, but what those letters stood for would change with each project as would their pseudonyms. Their sound would chance as well, attempting to be as far removed as possible from anything that had occurred before including their own work. These were efforts to prevent an identity for what they were doing from coming into sharp focus, for to lack an easily defined identity prevented that identity (and what that identity stood for) from being co-opted to ends they could not control.
SPK had no interest in acting as a loyal opposition to mainstream media's presentation of deviants (serial killers, the mad, tyrants) but would instead strive to offer a voice to the _majority_ of deviants, such as mental patients, who generally lived and died unnamed and unheard. By focusing on these individuals instead of star deviants such as Charles Manson SPK would expose the false dichotomy between deviant and normal.
Although possessing strong beliefs, they did not intend to use SPK as propaganda for any agenda. SPK intended to force an abrupt dislocation in preconceptions of music in its audience without providing any new points of reference. Lyrics were seldom included on records, and were often distorted beyond conscious recognition. Deliberately false information about the band and its members was sprinkled in its literature and interviews.
SPK was to operate entirely outside of the music industry. They would produce, record and distribute their own works, a rare enough concept in the late 1970s but unheard of in Australia. They bought no advertising, were hesitant to contribute to compilations or give interviews, and sold their works in deliberately provocative packaging.
SPK began performing as a back-up for punk rock bands in June 1979.
Audience reaction was confused: while playing they were assaulted with
bottles and cans, but afterwards they were called back for well-received
encores. SPK considered this a sign of success. These early shows included
EMS/AKS and Ne/H/II on synthesizer, Danny Rumor on guitar and David Virgin
on bass. Rumor and Virgin went on to form the band Secret Secret and eventually
became followers of the Bagwhan Sri Rajneesh. Another band using drum machines
in a similar, aggresive manner was Metal Urbane of France; SPK sometimes
performed a cover of their "Panic" in concert.
The punk sound of SPK is represented in their 1979 7" records, No More/Kontakt/Germanik and Mekano/Retard/Slogun. Among the first independently produced singles in Australia, they sold over one thousand copies each without any advertising, interviews, and only a handful of reviews (one of which managed to evaluate the record at 45 rpm instead of the intended 33 1/3 rpm). In keeping with their drive to present a forceful but indirectly/nonspecifically delivered message, the vocals for Germanik were writen in English, poorly translated into German, cut up, and shouted through distortion.
The authors and topics EMS/AKS was most interested in - Baudrillard,
Foucault, the situationists, certain trends in history and philosophy -
were often only available in French, so in June of 1979 he moved to Paris.
He taught himself French by repeated reading, sometimes up to fourteen
hours a day, and further refined his goals for SPK. Another Australian
SPK, Tone Generator, joined him in France. Tone Generator had bean admitted
to the SPK due to his unique perspective: his eyes pointed in different
directions as a result of three incompetent childhood operations.
A disc jockey who had conducted an interview with England's Throbbing Gristle mailed TG vocalist Genesis P. Orridge an SPK 7" in 1980. Impressed, Orridge contacted EMS/AKS and offered to re-release the second single on the TG Industrial Records label. Having no money to produce their own work, SPK accepted the offer, and in 1981 IR released Meat Processing Section by Surgical Penis Klinik. Promotional material for this 7" stated Ne/H/II had left the band: he never joined SPK in England although he did record and perform with them in Australia. "Retard" was omitted from this re-issue, the master tapes having accidentally been destroyed. SPK designed the sticker inserted in the dust jacket, a human adult penis run through by a large metal rod, to be used as an optional front cover. The rear was a cell from [Note: the name of the painting is missing, if anyone knows, mail us] by Jean-Luc Goddard.
In June 1980 EMS/AKS adopted the pseudonym Operator. He moved to England and spent time with the members of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. In December 1980 SPK attended a Psychic Youth Rally with Throbbing Gristle and A Certain Ratio. The rally took place in Heaven, a gay disco temporarily transformed into a different kind of meat market.
Lustmord of Wales was given the IR 7" from Cosey of TG and, intrigued by the band's name and music, began a correspondence. He was invited down to London by SPK, who promised him a show even if it had to be in their living rooms. Instead, it occurred at The Crypt in April of 1981. Stephen Stapelton of Nurse with Wound and John Balance of Coil were among the thirty-odd present, and the show was recorded by Nigel Aire of Noctumal Emissions, who also performed. NE's Sterile Records label later released Lustmord's self-titled first LP.
Q: The sides of [Information Overload Unit] are the Ultra face and the
Hyper face. What's the difference between Ultra and Hyper?
A Ultra is the manic face and Hyper is the depressive face. I don't like the Hyper face.
Q: You don't like it and you did it?
A: Of course. We don't do just anything we like. We do things scientifically.
- Operator interviewed by Bill Rich in Talk Talk V3#5, April 1981
Operator worked in a hotel for six months to raise money for the first
SPK LP. Information Overload Unit was recorded over a two-month period
in a squat in Vauxhall. A busy rail line lay on one side of the squat and
a building under demolition on the other: these sounds influenced and were
incorporated into the album. IOU came with a collection of political statements
penned mainly by Operator titled Dokument I and a sperm-filled gelatins
capsule (most of which quickly dissolved).
As System Planning Korporation (taken from a Dutch census business), SPK consisted of Operator (synthesizers), Mr. Clean (technician), Tone Generator (synthesizers), and Wilkins (guitar). Wilkins, a native of the UK, had been suggested by Genesis P. Orridge to SPK as a guitarist who couldn't play guitar and a bassist who could just barely play bass. Mr. Clean, Operator's brother, flew to England to record this album and perform in a small number of concerts, after which he returned to Australia to work as a television engineer. Tone Generator and Operator returned to Australia as well. SPK performed in San Francisco on the way back.
IOU served as a training device in assimilating increasingly dense amounts of information, as presented by mass media. Sounds were layered to excess in a "vertical" fashion, all sounds at once rather than in linear form. Each track contained narrative, instructional and contextless or nonsensical elements. Contrasts between what is considered normal (germ warfare and advertising) with what is considered deviant (psychophamisuticals and pornography) in Macht Schrecken revealed them to be identical. Stammheim Torturkammer compared National Socialist and contemporary British and German torture techniques, with similar results. The themes of Retard and Cult Prussic Acid Death came from Operator's experiences in Callam Bay. Robert Gie's 1916 work "Distribution d'effluves aver machine centrale et tableau metrique" was used as cover art.
SPK continued to work independent of the music industry by raising their own minimal budget, designing and producing their own packaging, and trusting word of mouth among friends rather than advertising to sell records. They did allow others to distribute their album, bringing about their first major financial loss: when Rough Trade went bankrupt, they lost their records and went unpaid.
Wilkins and SPK intended to remain in contact so he could work on the second of two planned LPs (after which the band intended to disolve), but by March 1981 he and Operator had lost touch. Thirteen years later, Mike Wilkins (now a civil service employee) released a very limited edition IOU in an original sleeve.
While one faction of SPK had been in Europe and England, Ne/Hil continued recording in Australia. In July 1981 he and another person released the SoliPsiK 7" on M-Squared Records. Also in July he penned "Infanticide" for a book titled "The Eighties." Some time after May he travelled to Japan, where he gave the only interview of his life to Fool's Mate magazine.
Ne/H/Il from FOOL'S MATE
Q: Tell me the history of SPK, and where the name came from.
A: SPK was formed by me and another member, Oblivion, in 1979. in those days we were interested in terrorism. We talked about terrorist groups, the Italian Red Brigade, Japanese Red Army, Ulrich Meinhof's Baader-Meinhof Group, which is famous in Germany... We learned about another German terrorist group, the Sozialistische Patientenkollektiv. They were formed in Heidelberg University and were active from the 1960s to the early 1970s. They were quite different from other terrorist groups; they were anarchist rather than Marxist. They believed capitalism was the cause of sickness, and new members were collected from mental hospitals. Their activities were much stranger than that of the Baader-Meinhof Group. They taught a class in making bombs as therapy, and had the slogan "Kill for Inner Peace." Our best single SLOGUN was greatly influenced by their therapy. But as a terrorist group, SPK didn't succeed: they were caught in the Stockholm Embassy and killed themselves.
Q: SPK was taken from the initials of the Sozialistische Patientenkollektiv...
A: We played twice, and then the members changed. One member formed SPK, then went to England. He stayed there for a year while I stayed in Australia, listening to other music. My friend continued SPK in England, released System Planning Korporation [Information Overload Unit], then re-released the Australian single SLOGUN courtesy of Industrial Records.
Q: Do you watch TV? Have you looked at Japanese programs already? Are you influenced by TV?
A: Yes, I watch TV, Japanese programs too. Japanese programs are excellent. But I'm not influenced much by TV. Compared with Japanese programs, Westem programs are not interesting. Japanese programs have a different style, they're more interesting, more worth watching than Western programs.
Q: Are you influenced by William Burroughs? TG seemed to be influenced by his cut-up method.
A: No... two members of SPK had a naked lunch with William Burroughs in the USA. But now we don't like him, we don't think he or his works are important. TG seems to love him a lot, but he is very stupid. He is a simple-minded idealist.
Q: Have you ever used drugs?
A: We've tried LSD, heroin, cocaine, but don't use at all now. We are not junkies. We are interested in trying many kinds of medicine. Many medicines are used in mental hospitals, and influence human activities. We don't use drugs for stimulus or pleasure.
Q: What do you think about your audience?
A: Our music is not as violent as our audience thinks, although sometimes we shatter glass in concerts. There are many homosexuals in our audience, and I can understand why.
Q: What do you think about the difference between music in the city and in the country?
A: The problem is in individuals, not in cities and countries. By the way, don't you want to know about our instruments?
A: EMS AKS synthesiser, Syncussion Unit, metal percussion and tape effects.
Q: Outside of music, what art does SPK do?
A: We project films on stage, while we play. Half of our live shows are tape, the other half is performance. Most of the material in the films are autopsies and pom.
Q: Do you have a castration complex?
A: I have a lot of complexes, but death obsession is stronger than castration, for me.
Q: What do you think about fetish music?
A: I'm interested in fetishism and the castration complex. Because they are related to political philosophy.
Q: What do you think about post-industrialism?
A: We don't consider our music as industrial music. [...] In our society, everything is dominated, individuals have little power, and everything is always organised. Like a machine controls everything. How that energy could be used to change the existing censorship, that is where our music can be used in revolution.
Q: It seems you are familiar with Noctumal Emissions.
A: Noctumal Emissions and two members of SPK are familiar, but our music is different from industrial musicians like TG, Nocturnal Emissions and Whitehouse.
Q: In SPK music, are lyrics important?
A: Not much.
Q: What do you think about desire and expression?
A: If you mean desire for money, our performances are not for money. For us, expression is a method of appealing socially to people.
Q: In SPK, punk-type rhythms are emphasized...
A: Because we were influenced by French electronic punks, who were influenced by German rock bands such as Neu, Faust, Kraftwerk and Can.
3. ALL THE WAY WITH SPK (1982 - 1983)
Q: Do you get girls more easily now?
A: Can't see the correlation between playing musik and killing girls.
Q: What did you want to be at age 12?
A: A girl to kill.
- SPK interviewed by Johnny Meyers in Another Room V2#9, 1982
3.1. SANCTUM REGUM 6 MARCH 1982
The venue SPK chose for its most advanced show to date was not the small
punk clubs they had played in thus far, but an abandoned brick factory
in Sydney called the Brickworks. Filled with giant kilns, junked automobiles
and scrap metals, the band was free to create its own environment. Three
months preparation went into the show, obtaining permits from local authorities
and hiring scaffolding, while the band worked in bars and university libraries
(in addition to their dole).
Tom Ellard of Severed Heads was press ganged into mixing the board that night. The audience of nearly 350 were confronted by a masked, anonymous band wielding hatchets and synthesisers, iron bars and electric guitars, manic screams and overdriven taped Gregorian chants. The show was recorded on videotape by Stephen Jones (another Severed Head) and appears in the Twin Vision tape Despair. The lyrics for this performance, nearly half an hour's worth of medieval cabbalism, Russian phrases and medical Latin circa 1621, were read from crib notes.
At around this time, Operator and London-based SPK member Pinker began to consider starting a second band. Under the tentative title The Crash, they wanted to produce pop music using the Fairlight CMI to raise money for SPK projects. They put out the call for auditions. One woman who did joined SPK instead.
Born in Canton, China, in 1957, Sinan emigrated to Australia at the age of three. During the early 1970s she studied art, acting and photography as compliments to her Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Her art work was exhibited in Sydney and London, while simultaneously she performed in the theatre and a number of television and film productions. Sinan's skills and experience made her a valued collaborator in SPK.
Under the name Systems Planning Korporation, (the U.S. chemical warfare
production division), SPK produced the second of two projected albums in
early 1981. Barring the success of The Crash they intended to disband,
considering it impossible to otherwise raise the money required to produce
the albums they envisioned and actively disinterested in repeating what
they had done before.
The second SPK album was titled Leichenschrei, "The corpse screams." The corpse of the entertainment industry, of Westem civilization in the 20th century, endlessly screaming the same dead messages. The original cover depicted a screaming corpse before a background of an EEG reading during electroshock therapy; the back was a photo from the Brickworks show. Later covers featured Distribution d'effluves avec machine central et tableau metrique (1916) by Robert Gie, a work found in the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne. The original pressing also deliberately lacked track titles, although subsequent companies demanded titles to facilitate radio play.
Leichenschrei was recorded in Sydney on SPK's eight-track tape deck. Weary of their own voices, SPK provided none of the vocals for this album. Instead they employed tapes of mental patients, pornography, military/industrial training films, television and Russian monastic chants. SPK intended to publish these lyrics but never did. The instrumentation for Leichenschrei was based on percussive use of non-musical instruments and electronic gear knives heated red hot and thrown into boiling oil, the shells of burned out automobiles beaten with iron bars, rhythmic employment of drills and grinders, archaic rhythm boxes with
several patterns chosen at once and playing as fast as possible, etc. The manifestos compiled under the name Dokument II were written at this time.
Having demonstrated their ability to produce their own albums and concerts,
SPK gave itself the challenge of producing its own international tour.
Originally intending to perform in mental asylums and bomb shelters, they
instead used their many contacts in the U.S. (SPK corresponded with dozens
if not hundreds of experimental collaborators and supporters all over the
world) to book shows in clubs and museums, again advertised mainly by word
of mouth. Arriving with a minimum of equipment, SPK (consisting of Oblivion
[formerly Operator], Sinan and Tone Generator) bought a van and toured
the United States in 1982, with shows before and after in Australia, England
and Europe. In the end, all costs were covered.
The films and slides projected on and behind SPK for this tour were a practical realization of J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition: epileptic fits, documentaries on retardation, autopsies, war footage, pornography, medical training films on venereal disease and anti-psychotic drugs, and the desecration of cadavers. Some of these films had been stolen from libraries, while others were made by the band after breaking into medical museums and morgues. The intent of this presentation was twofold. First, through juxtapositioning related extremes (including bodies alive and dead in sexual acts, and scientific and ritualistic dismemberment of the dead) SPK blurred the distinction between the acceptable and the unacceptable, casting them both as social conventions rather than absolutes. Second, by presenting documentation of actual violence and its results, SPK exposed sanitised, Hollywood violence as the numbing agent it truly is.
SPK first ignited a member of its audience on 17 April 1982, using Mark Pauline of Survival Research Laboratory's hand held flame thrower. The victim, who wore a thick coat, was quickly extinguished and the show continued. One week later SPK performed in Los Angeles, a show released on the Fresh Sound label as From Science To Ritual. The next evening's show in Phoenix was distinguished on stage confrontations between the band and some punks who took offense to Oblivion's percussive use of a machete. The show in Kansas City on 28 April was released as The Last Attempt at Paradise, again on Fresh Sounds. When SPK began its atrocity exhibition at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis on 1 May, the curators posted disclaimers and warnings on the entrance. The visuals for this show were the most dramatic of the tour, occupying an overwhelming 20" x 20" screen. Rather than drive people away, local response was favourable enough to book an encore show the next night at Sam's Disco, where they covered local models with brains and flesh. Another round of fisticuffs occurred in Boston later that month.
SPK did not show their films during the European segment of this tour. On the one hand they were being accused of sensationalism, which was not their intent at all - on the other, through experimentation SPK had learned the threshold of acceptable imagery, which SPK had formerly challenged, had been met and expanded.
While on their 1982 US tour, SPK signed with Thermadore Records for the release of Leichenschrei, with the label and the band splitting the proceeds evenly. The album was re-mixed to sixteen tracks for release. Leichenschrei was not issued on SPK's own Side Effects label until they returned to England. Original copies include Dokument II.
3.4. TWIN VISION
Dominik Guerin, formerly Tone Generator, left SPK in 1983 to join with
Kolleen Ford in founding the alternative video company Twin Vision. The
first Twin Vision (Twin 1) release was SPK's Despair, a compilation of
video documentation from the previous year's tour and the Brickworks performance,
plus stolen and original medical footage. Twin 2, Human Post Mortem, featured
two autopsies with an original soundtrack by SPK.
Among the first independent music video companies, Twin Vision also produced works by Chris and Cosey, Die Todliche Doris, La Loora, Nocturnal Emissions, Portion Control and others.
SPK began donating tracks to compilations in 1983, including Alchemy (Sterile Records), The Elephant Table (Xtract Records) and The Last Supper (Adventures in Reality). Sterile Records also released SPK's live performance at The Crypt in 1981.
The distinguishing quality of the third period of SPK is a focus on
found metal percussion. Well aware of the history of metal percussion (beginning
with Luggi Rossolo in 1918), SPK made no claims to its discovery. However,
Oblivion did resent SPK being labelled as imitators when Einsturzende Neubauten
and Test Department achieved some degree of fame for metal percussion that
year. The miner's strike in England and the dawn of digital sampling provided
a climate conducive for each of these bands to become aware of metal percussion
independently at the same time; even Depeche Mode experimented with metal
percussion in 1983. The most significant difference between SPK and these
other bands is SPK used metal percussion as a single technique among many,
while it is the heart of the music of EN and TD.
Personnel for this phase of activity were Krystal (formerly Oblivion), Sinan, Derek Thompson and (on occasion) Lustmord. SPK performed a great deal in this incarnation, mainly in England, but released very little.
The main SPK document from 1983 is the three-song 12" Dekompositiones, released under the name SepPuKu. Dekompositiones is a contrast between the clean pression of Western culture, represented by minimal instrumentation and heavy percussion, and its murderous results: the death of indigenous cultures when confronted with the unstoppable virus of the West. Previous SPK releases increased the density of information beyond the capacity to translate or absorb it;
Dekompositiones was the logical next step, a post-apocalyptic survey among the ruins of culture. SPK made its most vehement - and final - advocation of anonymity on Dekompositiones (see SepPuKu).
3.6. THERAPY THROUGH VIOLENCE
"A lot of people commit suicide. That's the main thing. I'm more interested
in all these people who commit suicide and nobody gives a shit about them."
- Operator on Ian Curtis in Beyond the Pale, April 1982
Ne/H/II never joined the co-founder of SPK in his travels outside Australia.
When his former room mate was in Sydney they worked together; when he was
away Ne/H/Il and his lover recorded and wrote SPK material of their own,
including the SoliPsiK 7" and Infanticide.
In [date] Ne/H/Il's lover, Margaret Hill, died from an eating disorder. Shortly after [date], Ne/H/II - Neil Hill - committed suicide. He left no final message, and the tapes they had recorded were destroyed before any of their friends could salvage them. If any of Neil's recordings still exist they have yet to surface. Dominik Guerin, living once again in Sydney, dedicated several performances of his band Propaganda to Neil.
Ne/H/II from FOOL'S MATE
A: After the first album, another SPK member came back to Sydney, and
the members changed again. I became involved again, so there were two members
as when we started, then a member from New Zealand became involved. Under
the line up of me, Oblivion and Pinker, we released our second album. But
SPK will be defunct soon. We want to do other things. However, we want
to visit Japan in January or February of 1983, as part of a tour, although
it isn't settled yet.
Q: Etat Brut, alternative musicians who release tapes in Bruxell, present themselves as abnormal people. Do you consider yourself abnormal?
A: I don't know Etat Brut, but we think we are different than other people. Compared to other people, we are extreme and passionate. In the beginning we thought we had power like punks do, and we had similarities with other people, but now we don't belong to any country, any state, any culture. We feel lonely.
Q: Please talk more about the relation between industrial fetishism and biophysiology.
A: We are trying to use images and sound which make overpower people and make them confused.
In Western culture, death is the most effective image, I think. I'm no especially interested in sex, rather in nervous breakdowns due to kinks and sex. The extreme image of violence has a power which can influence people. The title of ours second album, Leichenschrei, means the scream of a corpse. The most important purpose of our music is torturing the body and spirit. Death has the ability to give pain with its absolute power. We want to find a conclusion for our music, but sometimes we find instead the limits of our freedom and become pessimistic and cynical. In spite of wishing for it, death is the best freedom.
4. METAL DANCE (1983 - 1985)
"... Why should a band do the same thing for ten years? That's not what we're on about, we're on about changing every time we come out. The earlier stuff isn't all the same either, the first album is quite different from the second. And if people say we're selling out... well, you can do anything you like really in the indie field, the real experiment comes when you try and do something out of the ordinary in the major field, that's when the censorship comes down on you. We felt as if we'd done as much as we could in the indie field and that was the end of the experiment. This is like trying to get a much wider audience involved and then we'll go back to something harder again next time." - Graeme Revell in Rip It Up 1984
Measured in terms of international letters of support, infrequent but
positive reviews of their recorded and performance work, and an enthusiastic
following in the United Kingdom, SPK enjoyed a great deal of success in
the mid-1980s. However, their record sales were diminishing and booking
shows grew more difficult. Sinan and Krystal lived in a London squat on
less than 160 pounds a month; with the birth of their first son Robert,
a more reliable source of income became a necessity. The co-founder and
only surviving original member of SPK let fall his final pseudonym. While
Operator had taken great pains to remain underground, deliberately sabotaging
SPK's assimilation into the music industry, Graeme Revell began an active
search for a large record label for whom he could produce pop music. He
hoped to raise money for more interesting projects, such as film soundtracks.
In 1983, SPK issued an audio resume for the work they hoped someone
would employ them to produce in the form of the Metal Dance 7" on Desire
Records (a sister label for Side Effects, not unlike Frank Zappa's Straight
and Bizarre Labels). Metal Dance (backed with Will to Power) was infinitely
more commercial than previous SPK releases, a straightforward, clever electronic
dance track. It quickly outsold the Smiths at over 30,000 copies, in spite
of little radio play (BBC considered the track too 'violent.')
If Metal Dance was a leap into the genre SPK wished to exploit, the ep Auto Da Fe was the bridge they built behind them. Side one consisted of songs from their early singles, while side two featured new electronic-based tracks with an emphasis on rhythm. The original issue on the German Walter Ulbricht label did not include track titles.
Auto Da Fe was not the only pre-pop product released in SPK's pop period. Two videotapes, Despair and Human Post-Mortem, were produced by Twin Vision in 1983.
Despair was a compilation of live footage, studio sessions and collages evocative of the mood SPK invoked during their U.S. tour of two years earlier: suture obsession, information overload and a steady gaze into the human (not Hollywood) face of death. Human Post-Mortem was exactly that: two human autopsies with an original score by SPK. The Viva cassette From Science to Ritual, recorded 24 April 1982 in Los Angeles, was also produced in 1983.
4.2. SANDSTORM METHOD
SPK's live audience grew geometrically during this period, consisting
of both a widening circle of support for their experimental work and a
new-found pop crowd. Graeme, Sinan, Derek Thompson, and (occasionally)
A. N. Other performed on oil drums, sheet metal, chains, power drills and
saws, gas tanks, bricks, as well as guitars and backing tapes. SPK continued
to strive for a total environment instead of simply being a band on a stage.
The shows were more than aesthetically challenging. Part of the set included Graeme wielding a hefty chain above the heads of the audience; band members were occasionally injured. In Australia the hackling of the audience was met with a direct armed confrontation. Bassist Thompson left the stage immediately, leaving Sinan and Graeme to confront the rush to the stage.Graeme was injured, cut by glass shattered earlier in the set. The violence of the show led a reviewer in On The Streets Magazine to call SPK "fascists": Graeme's response was to hire Rupert Murdock's defamation lawyer and sue (SPK won).
In October 1984 The Institute for Contemporary Art in London played host to a group of bands chosen by BBC dj John Peel under the heading "Putting the Fun Back into Being Pretentious." For this show Brian Lustmord would use welding torches not as musical instruments (as SPK had in the past) but to add a visual element in the construction of metal sculptures on stage. SPK was warned this was against fire safety regulations. On the night of the show, SPK played two well-received songs and walked off the stage to protest the censorship of their act. The audience stood bewildered for five minutes, then insisted on getting their money back. The police were called, and Graeme came out to calm the crowd. In the end, refunds were made and the ICA tried (unsuccessfully) to get the money back they had paid SPK.
Offering their full performance whenever fire regulations allowed, SPK went on tour in November 1984 with Republica, one of the first Polish bands to tour the West. Nurse With Would played their first live date with SPK on the 10th in Brighton: during SPK's set, the audience took the stage and thundered on metal percussion while Graeme went to the bar. As Graeme and John Murphy attacked their equipment with sticks and chains on 10 December in London, a roadie sprayed Graeme with a fire extinguisher and the curtain came down: Sinan continued singing. A contingent of the most energetic members of SPK's audience followed the band across England, taking the stage as often as possible. For the first time SPK's audience was evenly divided between males and females (rather than being top-heavy with pale skinned young men in mace). In Germany the band was dragged bodily back on stage for an encore, only to have the audience take over. SPK played Graeme's land of birth, New Zealand, for the first time during this tour.
4.3. METAL MUSIC
SPK and Depeche Mode appeared on The Tube 4 November 1984: although
featuring metal percussion only after this encounter, Depeche Mode received
a lion's share of the credit for the post-apocalyptic socialist realism
aesthetic found among many bands in the mid 1980s. Other metal bands SPK
was accused of plagiarising included Test Department and Einsturzende Neubauten:
while each explored the potential of metal percussion in popular music,
SPK differed by employing this technique among many instead of making it
central to their sound.
4.4. MACHINE AGE VOODOO
Metal Dance drew the suitors Graeme Revell wished to court. Elektra/Wamer
Brothers made the most attractive proposal at one million dollars in advance.
The single also opened doors for co-writer Derek Thompson, who went on
to work with the Zang Tum Tum label.
SPK signed to Elektra/Wamer for seven albums. The first (and, as it fumed out, only) was Machine Age Voodoo. It sold moderately well and was popular in some UK dance clubs, but a disappointment to most reviewers. Those who had followed the band from the outset condemned it as too commercial, while new listeners found it just a bit too far outside of the commercial fommula.
The track Junk Funk was released as a single before the album came out: when the BBC banned it from radio play (misconstruing the song as being in praise of heroin) it was retitled Machine Age Voodoo for the US pressing. The video for this track also received very little broadcast time, and was never released in commercial form.
ElektraJWamer never knew quite what SPK was about, or what to do with them. Having signed them as a 'metal' band, Bob Krassner thought it would be a good idea to have them tour with Metalica. When Graeme refused, and their label was unable to grasp the difference between their metal music and heavy metal, SPK was released from their contract -and allowed to keep their advance.
True to his goal, Graeme invested the money in building a world class soundtrack studio, including being an early customer for the Fairlight CMI. He also released works by Hunting Lodge, Hula, Laibach, Gerechtigkeits Liga, Lustmord, CTI and others on his Side Effects label. While possessing a perfect opportunity to retreat from pop music and go back to the harsh experimental work of its origin, SPK instead chose to move forward into a field it had not yet explored: orchestral scores.
Dirk Hoffmann: You always had problems with being (mis)understood by
the media and audiences. With "Machine Age Voodoo" you made clearer statements.
Do you think it worked better?
Graeme Revell: No.
FLAGRANTE DELICTO (1985
FOR IMPOSSIBLE FILMS (1989
6.1. ZAHMIA LEHMANNI
After to learn the subtleties of the Fairlight CMI, SPK resumed to England
in 1986 with a Side Effects compilation LP, the EP in flagrante delicto
and accompanying full length album, Zahmia Lehmanni: Songs of Byzantine
Flowers. Zahmia Lehmanni was the most subtle SPK release to date. ZL utilises
the international nature of Byzantine culture as a reference point for
a dark, romantic meeting of Northem Hemisphere (Asian and European influences)
with Southem Hemisphere (Polynesian and the Fairlight, a product of Australia).
Sinan joined recorded vocalists from around the world, including Russian
monks and [...]. The gold and green cover features gothic architecture
captioned by quotes on life and art. Tom Ellard and Brian Lustmord again
assisted Graeme in the creation of this album, this time with full credits. In flagrante delicto, and the SPK tracks on the Side Effects compilation Vhutemas/Archetypi (also featuring Gerech Tigkeits Liga, Hunting Lodge, Laibach and Lustmord), were similar in theme and mood to Zahmia Lehmanni.
One track, Necropolis, was based on a painting by Adolf Wolfli, and would appear in another mix on the album Necropolis, Amphibians and Reptiles later that year. This original mix served as the soundtrack to a full-length film by Kim
Flitcroft and Sandra Goldbacher on the life of John Dee, chief astrologer and alchemist to Elizabeth I. Some of the material on ZL and if d had been part of SPK's ive shows since 1983, well before Metal Dance and Machine Age Voodoo.
6.2. MUSIQUE BRUT
In 1986 SPK started third imprint, Musique Brut. Musique Brut held the
same mission as Side Effects for the most part: the production of multi-media
packages which would include records, photographs, booklets, etc. Musique
Brut, however, gave itself an even higher standard of quality and utility:
where Side Effects sought n audience of its own creation, Musique Brut
courted the world of classical / experimental music with extended technical
notation and references. Musique Brut produced two albums: Necropolis,
Amphibians and Reptiles and The Insect Musicians.
In spite of the innovative packaging and groundbreaking subject matter, the two Musique Brut albums were mostly met by silence in the music press as well as in academia. Plans for additional Musique Brut albums, including works by Harry Partch, original chorale inspired by the paintings of Italian architect Massimo Scolari and a ballet for The Insect Musicians, were never realised.
6.3. NECROPOLIS, AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES
Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930) was confined in a mental hospital in Waldau,
Switzerland for thirtyfive years. During that time he produced an extended
autobiography of his voyages around the world and through the cosmos, many
volumes of poetry and thousands of paintings. Musical scores were a recurring
element in his paintings these scores used a notation system of Wolfli's
own, including shape notes, an extra staff and symbols that, while he left
no explanation for their interpretation, are consistent enough to show
they meant something to the composer. Lacking access to an orchestra, Wolfli
would audition his work by singing and blowing through paper cones.
Necropolis, Amphibians and Reptiles is the first recording of the painting/scores of Adolf Wolfli. SPK chose to interpret his scores as literally as possible, while Nurse with Wound (England) and Deficit Des Annees Anterieurs (France) used Wolfli's work more abstractly. The booklet accompanying the album included bibliographical notes on the musicians as well as illustrations and text by the composer.
6.4. THE INSECT MUSICIANS
Inspired a book on captive song insects given to him by Monte Cazazza,
Revell crested The Insect Musicians, a brilliant application of digital
The sample source for the Fairlight were insect noises, gathered from libraries and academic institutions all over the world by Brian Lustmord. The various strinulations, vibrations, chewing sounds and the like were manipulated into a novel symphony of percussion, strings and wind. Some of the tracks suggest the musical traditions of the country where the source sounds were recorded, while others meet the insects on their own alien level. The composition of The Insect Musicians strikes a perfect balance between retaining the character of the source sample and manipulating it into new forms, a subtlety rarely found
between the two poles of musique concrete: Stockhausen/Cage experimental pieces and modern dance music. The Insect Musicians was conceived to be the first of a series, according to the informative technical booklet that came with the original pressing. Some of the insect sounds on this album had never been brought into the range of human hearing before.
When SPK had shown the film Despair as part of their performance it
had provoked a strong physical reaction, but on those nights when they
had accidentally destroyed the PA system with ultra-high and ultra-low
frequency sounds and it was shown as a silent film it only caused laughter.
This profound difference in reaction had instilled a keen interest in Revell
for making soundtracks. Additionally, soundtrack work allows for a complete
change in instrumentation and mood with each project, a flexibility impossible
to achieve in the music industry where one is typecast as being 'industrial'
or 'metal' or 'pop.'
Although part of his Wolfli-based works were used in a film, it was Zahmia Lehmanni (an album whose working title had been 'Music for Impossible Films') that opened the door for him. While viewing the rushes for the 1989 film Dead Calm, director Phillip Boyce had played the track in flagrante delicto from Zahmia Lehmanni in the background until such time as an original score was recorded. After a certain point Noyce associated the album with the film so strongly he contacted Revell and asked him to re-work it into a score. Revell's first major studio soundtrack won several awards, and number of Australian television and film scoring jobs came his was as a result. Jobs also continued to come to him by happy circumstance: after eaves dropping
on a conversation between the producer of Dead Calm and another producer who needed some 'rap' music, Graeme volunteered - then was asked what else he could do. He was hired.
An agent from Los Angeles, after watching Dead Calm, placed a call to everyone with the last name 'Revel!' in Sydney until reaching Graeme. In this case, Graeme's appeal was his lack of experience and willingness to put his ecclectic talents and experience to novel use.
An increasing amount of offers to record film and television scores
was enough of a draw to cause SPK to relocate once again to Hollywood,
but not enough to make them abandon commercial music altogether. In 1987,
SPK signed to the Canadian label Nettwerk and released several EPs and
one LP [Katrina Hayes, blah blah blah]
There was no specific moment that stands as the end of SPK: rather,
it simply petered out some time in 1987/1988. Graeme was making more money
in a few weeks' work at scoring films than in ten years of SPK. Sinan [children,
acting, writing]. Brian Lustmord followed Graeme to Hollywood to work as
his assistant, while simultaneously pursuing his own (sometimes anonymous)
[GR like Andre Breton: met the person most influential on his later life in a hospital, pursued dreams as science, AB courted communism and failed while GR courted WB and won.]
[GR someone who decided to do something and it happened. Make one's own album, make one's own tour, music/politics, go pop. classical, film. Hated for his obscurity as well as his success, fed off that cynicism and perfected it.]