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

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Electronic Sound #21 – Print Edition


As if I wasn’t proud already about being part of the Electronic Sound team, this month that sense of pride went up a couple of notches as the publication made the transition from being an entirely digital proposition to a fully-fledged newsstand magazine. That’s a bold move in a day and age where we’re told that everything is going in the opposite direction, but the team at Electronic Sound have undoubtedly pulled it off. You can buy copies of the print edition here.

I’m doubly proud because one of the most important features I’ve ever had the good fortune to scribe is heavily featured in the first newsstand edition – an interview with Very Records owner and one half of Erasure, Vince Clarke. The interview was conducted one extremely sticky May afternoon in Vince’s Brooklyn home studio.

As if that wasn’t seismic enough for an individual whose entire interest in music writing can be traced back to a record label flyer that fell out of the 12″ single of Erasure’s ‘Chorus’ almost 25 years ago, we were joined by Orbital’s Paul Hartnoll by Skype from his home in Brighton to discuss the Clarke / Hartnoll album 2Square. Once I’d properly decided that dance music was the place for me in the mid-Nineties, Orbital were a duo I fell for in a big way, and so getting airtime with not one, but two, idols in one go was a pretty sweet deal. I am eternally grateful to Electronic Sound for this opportunity, and also to my family for letting me duck out of part of our vacation in New York to undertake the interview.
Photography for the interview came from the wonderful Ed Walker. Ed wrote a great piece about the experience for his website, which can be read here. While you’re there, please do take a look at Ed’s surreptitious photographs of New Yorkers, which are all taken during a specific period of the day where light is particularly beautiful.

In addition to the Clarke / Hartnoll feature, I also interviewed Rico Conning for this issue. Conning will be familiar to Mute fans because of the remixes and edits he did for the label during its Eighties heyday. I had not appreciated that prior to working at William Orbit’s Guerrila Studio, Conning (and Fad Gadget drummer Nick Cash) had been in a post-punk band called The Lines. The interview tells the story of their hitherto lost third album, Hull Down, which was finally released earlier this year.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

Martin L. Gore – Counterfeit (Mute Records, 1989)

Martin L. Gore 'Counterfeit' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/c stumm67 | 06/1989

Counterfeit was Martin L. Gore‘s first solo release outside of Depeche Mode. A collection of six covers ranging from The Durutti Column to Sparks, Gore’s voice is here allowed to shine through rather than being relegated to backing vocals or only appearing on the more poignant ballads of the Depeche back catalogue that were less suited to nominal frontman Dave Gahan‘s vocal style. Counterfeit was produced by Gore and Rhythm King stalwart Rico Conning, and released by Mute in 1989 while Depeche Mode were on downtime between the Music For The Masses and Violator albums. Never a band to go for cover versions (off the top of my head I can only count three, including one Beethoven piece), hearing Gore delivering other people’s songs is something of a rare, and absorbing, proposition.

Opening with a cover of Joe Crow’s ‘Compulsion’, things start off in relatively upbeat territory. Sometime Nightingales member Crow’s solitary and pretty obscure Cherry Red 7″ is here delivered as an affirming, strident track, all upbeat pianos, pulsing percussion and melodica-style synths. I used to listen to this occasionally after disappointing events took place (usually getting dumped by a girl), the ‘got to move on sometime’ refrain and the gentle piano somehow allowing me to transcend whatever I was feeling miserable about. Nearly twenty years on from when I first bought this, it still never fails to work. ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ was originally recorded by Tuxedomoon and appeared on their Holy Wars LP. Gore’s version includes a vaguely Latin rhythm in the style of Depeche Mode’s ‘To Have And To Hold’ from Music For The Masses, underpinned by a dark synth bass pulse. ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ is filled with a theatrical drama, and to add to the mood Gore speaks his way through the final section, its elliptical lyric about telling someone everything by saying nothing making a level of sense on an emotional level.

The cover of Factory Records’ stalwart Vini Reilly’s ‘Smile In The Crowd’ again opts for a Latin-style arrangement, a thin, pondering guitar line running throughout most of the track. This cover of the Durutti Column song is perhaps the closest Counterfeit comes to the bleak, inward-looking balladry that Gore’s own performances on record tend to lean toward. Meanwhile ‘Gone’, originally delivered by The Comsat Angels, has a cloying urgency, mining the same vibe of danger and helplessness that powered ‘A Question Of Time’, riding forth on a pulsing beat marked by thick bass notes and industrial tension.

Gore’s cover of Sparks’ ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ finds Gore taking Ron Mael’s beguiling, simple ode to the planet we live on and maintaining that sense of grace over a fragile, gentle backdrop of acoustic guitar and shimmering percussion. Tempted to make this plaintive song a whole lot darker though you might have expected Gore to be, instead the sense of wonderment of the Sparks original is maintained, Gore even having a decent crack at Russell Mael’s falsetto, highlighting the lead Depeche Mode songwriter’s strong vocal range. Gore saves the darkness for his take on the traditional song ‘Motherless Child’, here cast as a edgy jazz number, the dark swing of Gore’s introspective vocal delivered like an unused track from Cabaret.

Counterfeit is a relatively unassuming record, considering how big Depeche Mode had become by this point. Gore’s emotional outpourings have always been popular with fans (check out the deafening cheers after one of Gore’s solo performances in the middle of a Depeche Mode stadium show), and hearing his effortless ownership of these six songs is one of the genuine highlights of his body of vocal work. A follow-up to this EP would be released by Mute in 2003 containing more unexpected reworkings of other bands’ material.

Track listing:

lp/cd/c:
A1. / 1. Compulsion
A2. / 2. In A Manner Of Speaking
A3. / 3. Smile In The Crowd
B1. / 4. Gone
B2. / 5. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
B3. / 6. Motherless Child

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence