Laibach – Nova Akropola (Cherry Red album, 1985)


Recorded in London in 1985 with, among others, Mute regular Richard ‘Rico’ Conning, the 2002 reissue of Nova Akropola is an excellently-presented special edition gatefold digipak from Cherry Red Records, and captures Laibach just prior to their Mute releases.

The album begins with ‘Vier Personen’ (‘Four People’), a veritable shot to the head comprising barked, parade ground orders and militaristic drumming, over which an electro-industrial drum machine pattern is repeated, slowly developing as additional banged pipes and other sonic detritus is introduced. A grim and slightly sinister track, this opener adequately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.

‘Nova Akropola’ (‘The New Acropolis’) takes the dark tone of the opener, but deploys strings (keyboards, judging by the repeat points) as the main carrier of its emotion. Horn refrains and a slow, reverberating drum pattern create a filmic atmosphere, with the trademark ‘devil voice’ vocals making their first appearance; the track feels mournful, funereal, conveying plenty of rage and sadness in its minimal sonic palette. Pounding Nitzer Ebb-style drums introduce ‘Krava Gruda – Plodna Zemlja’ (‘Bloody Ground – Fertile Land’), a percussive electronic and machinery-driven vocal track conjuring up memories of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s earliest experiments with air cylinders and heavy construction equipment. Unlike the previous two pieces ‘Krava Gruda…’ has several different themes, rather than a central, developed refrain.

Beginning with some organ discord, ‘Vojna Poema’ (‘War Poem’) quickly develops into an operatic piano song extremely reminiscent of some of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s compositions. Baritone vocals are mixed with what sounds like a full orchestra towards the end of this 1920s-styled piece of avant-cabaret. If ‘Vojna Poema’ was a departure from the earlier tracks on this album, ‘Ti, Ki Izzivas (outro)’ quickly returns us there – layers of stark percussion stalk through this short piece, fading out into ‘Die Liebe’ (‘The Love’), perhaps the closest to some of Laibach’s later Mute output: faster-paced and more aggressive, with those sinister vocals casting a dark shadow on the repeated phrase of the title. The track also features a wider array of electronic sounds, with one of the central melodies recalling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, once again reinforcing the ‘extreme soundtrack’ atmosphere of this album.

‘Drzava’ (‘The State’) sounds like a twisted take on the electro genre, wherein Mantronix-esque drum programming is mixed with horn flourishes and orchestral-style loops (sampled, I presume), and also features some vocal samples that appear to be of political speeches. The track is one of the liveliest on this album; certainly not euphoric, the track is just one or two shades lighter on the colour chart than the black of the previous material. The accompanying promotional video with dancer and some-time Wire collaborator Michael Clark is fantastically bleak, perfectly rendered in monochrome colours. ‘Vade Retro’ is positively terrifying, its rhythm recalling some sort of alternative version of the Terminator soundtrack as conceived by Throbbing Gristle. The ‘vocals’ here are otherworldly, alternately wheezing and ghostly and scratchy and insistent; the ‘melody’, on the other hand, appears to be church bells mangled and heavily-processed to near oblivion. Perhaps the most aggressive and extreme track here, ‘Vade Retro’ is an exciting collage of sounds that pushes Laibach into electroacoustic territory.

‘Panorama’ ushers in on kick drums that appear to have been borrowed from New Order’s seminal ‘Blue Monday’. Extensive use of synths and percussive samples make this one of the more accessible tracks on the album – the rhythm is tight and the sounds are less obviously harsh. At around three minutes, the track pares back to some percussion loops and spoken word English reportage, before quickly reassembling itself. The final track (‘Decree’) once again begins with some sampled marching band drums, over which another electro break is layered. With the exception of some fairly random atmospherics and the odd sample, the track seems to be nothing more than a stop-start percussive experiment or remix of a more complete work. Despite its absence of more concrete ideas, the track is strangely captivating, although you do feel that this represents something of a filler, a space that would have been better filled with a track more in keeping with the extreme sonic soundscapes elsewhere on the album.

Originally posted 2003; edited 2017

Notes: this was a pretty important review for me, as it represented one of the first times I’d been sent a free CD just to be able to review it. I was amazed at the time that Cherry Red responded to my email at all, let alone that they would part company with a batch of catalogue stuff just so that I could write about it for a website – my own – that was just launching and which was so niche it was never going to attract any readers. Whenever I take the notion of receiving music in my inbox every day via various PR firms for granted, I think back to how fortunate I was that Cherry Red sent me this and other CDs, even though this one has now been sold out of my collection.

(c) 20017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Advertisements

Andy Bell – Torsten The Beautiful Libertine (Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red album, 2016)

  

Erasure‘s Andy Bell has recorded the follow-up album to Torsten The Bareback Saint, written by Barney Ashton-Bullock with music by Christopher Frost. Bell performed the first chapter in the life of the colourful polysexual Torsten at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 and will perform this next installment during March 2016 at Above The Stag in London’s Vauxhall.

I reviewed Torsten The Beautiful Libertine for This Is Not Retro. My review can be found here. Also on This Is Not Retro is my interview with Andy from last year and a review of the Variance remix collection.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A Conversation With Erasure’s Andy Bell

  
I recently spoke to Erasure‘s Andy Bell about his role in Barney Ashworth’s musical theatre show Torsten – The Bareback Saint. The show ran during the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and was accompanied by an album of the songs from the production, released via Strike Force / Cherry Red.

Upon the release of Variance, a collection of remixes and new versions of songs from the album, and ahead of Bell treading the boards again next year for the follow-up instalment, Torsten – The Beautiful Libertine, I interviewed Andy for This Is Not Retro. The conversation can be found here.

Anyone who knows me remotely well will know that Erasure have always been, and always will be, my favourite band. To get the opportunity to talk to someone whose work you’ve literally grown up with is always a privileged moment, and I am continually grateful for such chances.

I had always intended to write up a review of the performance of Torsten that a friend and I watched in Edinburgh last year, but never did. In its place, these are the rough notes I took at the time, along with a text message to a friend, all of which would have become a review if I’d just bothered to finish it.

Andy Bell – Torsten The Bareback Saint, Edinburgh 13 August 2014

In the introduction to the programme that accompanied Andy Bell’s first Edinburgh Festival show, he described taking on the role of Torsten in this song cycle as a challenge. As he climbed up the stairs to the small stage in full top hat and tails while singing the song ‘Teacher Teacher’ it was pretty obvious to the twenty or so people in the lecture theatre-cum-studio that this came pretty naturally to Bell.

‘It was really good. He came on in hat and tails, at one point was in heels, a vest and a sparkly pair of pants and ended up killing himself in a dressing gown. Very dramatic, quite funny, stirring and emotional. Boy can he sing! Only about twenty of us there.’ – text to a friend immediately after watching Torsten The Bareback Saint on 13 August 2014.

Suicide. Robin Williams.

Sax

Showgirl headgear.

Snarl. Disgust. Rage.

Weston-Super-Mare.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence // interview (c) 2015 This Is Not Retro

Alan Burnham – Music To Save The World By (Cherry Red single, 1981)

Alan Burnham 'Music To Save The World By' artwork

cherry red | cherry15 | 16/01/1981

Alan Burnham’s ‘Music To Save The World By’ was released by indie stalwart Cherry Red in 1981. As well as being something of an electropop obscurity, its interest to Mute fans is that it was produced by Daniel Miller and engineered by early Mute studio guy, Assembly member and Blackwing Studio owner Eric Radcliffe. The two tracks on this solitary release from Burnham were recorded at Blackwing, Mute’s studio basecamp for a good few years, which was based in All Hallows Church in South London. Hold on, apologies… I called this an electropop track didn’t I? Apparently we call that minimal wave these days, proof yet again that I’m not down with the kids these days at all.

Around this time, Miller was to be found producing the odd track here and there for non-Mute acts like Soft Cell, Missing Scientists and Alex Fergusson. I like to think that it was for aesthetic reasons or to help promote his nascent label, but the reality it was probably to make ends meet. Until Depeche Mode signed to Mute, the label nursed a small roster of acts and one-off singles that were unlikely to make Miller much money, so picking up the odd production job might well have helped pay some of the bills.

Could synth music save the world? Somewhat unlikely, but Alan Burnham’s single suggests it could. His vocal has a subtle, whispered quality that sits somewhere between completely captivated and slightly saddened, as if the observations catalogued on the lead track both intrigued and depressed him. Around his quiet delivery is wrapped a backdrop of ponderous bass synths, atmospheric whooshes and echoing bleeps that recall satellite signals being broadcast into space. In a blind listening test you might consider ‘Music To Save The World By’ to be a very early I Start Counting track. With distinct echoes of Miller and Radcliffe’s later work, this is a Mute record in all but name, aiming toward the radio-friendly pop that early Depeche Mode and later Yazoo would call their own, mixed in with a sci-fi sensibility that had inevitably surrounded music made with synths the decade before.

B-side ‘Science Fiction’ continues the spacey vibe with an enquiring bassline that gently nudges its way through the track. Hissing synths, bleeping melodies and live drums from Cam Findlay give this a more organic feel than ‘Music To Save The World By’, a throwback to a slightly proggier vibe with vaguely apocalyptic portents of a technologically-driven life on the horizon in Burnham’s lyrics. ‘Are we living at all?’ asks Burnham of a populous living in fibreglass domes. Maybe he hoped synth music would save us from that fate rather than being a contributing factor to the decline of mankind.

First published 2013; re-edited 2014.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence