Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

cd:
1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay (Les Films Du Garage film, 2014)

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay logo

Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay is a film by Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins which will be released in late 2014.

The film charts the history and development of industrial music through the political, economic and urban upheaval experienced in late Seventies Europe and America through a series of interviews with the key individuals and groups that were at the forefront of this musical genre.

The film features interviews with many names familiar to Mute Records fans – Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis Breyer P. Orridge from Throbbing Gristle, Boyd Rice, Graeme Revell, Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire and other luminaries such as Test Dept, Hula and Z’Ev. The film promises to be one of the first, and certainly most comprehensive, surveys of a scene whose echoes can still be felt in the worlds of Factory Floor and noise protagonists like Cold Cave.

A trailer for Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay can be viewed below. A Documentary Evidence interview with Ravalec and Collins, as well as a review of the film, will follow later in 2014.

For more information, a list of interviewees and a selection of industrial mixtapes (including one by electronic music stalwart and Simon Fisher Turner / Githead collaborator Robin ‘Scanner’ Rimbaud) head to industrialsoundtrack.com

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2010

Throbbing Gristle, Village Underground 23/10/2014 - photo source unknown

‘If you’re going to come to a Throbbing Gristle gig,’ said my friend Ian, ‘you have to expect it to be loud.’ He was gesturing in the direction of the couple next to us at their gig at the Village Underground on the Shoreditch / Hackney borders, both of whom had their fingers in their ears throughout the final song of their set.

It was a common sight. There were lots of earphones and earplugs, which we felt rather defeated the purpose. The point is that this was supposed to be confrontationally loud, because that’s what TG were always all about – confrontation. It was one of many observations made through the course of almost two hours of relentless and – mostly – structured noise. Other observations included Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (in a kimono) looking a little like Harold Bishop, and Genesis Breyer P’Orridge looking like… well, we aren’t really sure what he looks like, but he’s certainly a lot shorter than I thought he’d be.

I’m writing this on a Jubilee Line Tube the day after; my ears are still ringing. But there is something about the noise of Tube trains on this particular line which provides a useful analogy for the majority of ‘songs’ last night – leaving the stations along the line the trains depart quietly until some sections of the tunnels where the noise levels rise quickly, swiftly becoming almost distressingly loud in their dense screeching and howling; like a gong softly hammered and then hit more forcefully, only put through a massive bank of distortion. Lots of the songs were like that last night – quiet, almost dark ambient at first then rising through waves of added ferocity to create a huge bed of noise that occasionally made the tendons in my neck vibrate. Beats were not eschewed, sometimes emerging as deep bassy throbs, sometimes rattling around like an old Cabaret Voltaire vintage drum machine.

New instruments were apparently being roadtested tonight. Chris Carter chimed what looked like small bells, while P’Orridge waved an iPhone about, coaxing feedback and tones from a white electric violin, at one point standing in front of it while it was resting on its stand and bowing it with two bows at the same time. Cosey Fanni Tutti played an electronic guitar, producing sparks of feedback, and switched to cornet for one track. At times the four of them were sat at their devices like online gamers. During the cacophonous final track of the main set, Christopherson put his fingers in his ears. It tells you it must have been loud if one of the band members had to block out the sound. By the end his eyes were closed and his head swaying from side to side, much as you’d expect to see someone absorbed rapturously in a piece of classical music.

The sound came to a juddering halt and they left the stage to applause marginally louder than the racket they’d just made. A few moments later Christopherson took the mic and advised that the band were ‘all feeling a little jetlagged so there’ll be no encore tonight’. This prompted boos from some quarters and half the audience departed, but, though it was delivered in an apologetic voice which hardly encapsulated rebellion, I almost saw in it the contrarian-ness, the punk spirit, of their earliest days. When they came back on, Christopherson muttering ‘Oh, go on then,’ like he was taking a proffered chocolate that he knew he probably shouldn’t take, it almost felt like baying to the pressure of the crowd, something they’d have never done back in the day. Luckily, the unashamed confrontation and aggression of ‘Discipline’ more than made up for the doubts, P’Orridge by this stage swigging from a glass of red wine and fending off a naked stagediver, taking the evening to a powerful close.

First published 2010; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
Note – the source of the accompanying photo is now unknown. I am happy to attribute the credit if the photographer can be identified.

Can – Opener (Sunset / United Artists album, 1976)

Can 'Opener' LP artwork

sunset records / united artists | lp/c sls50400 | 1976

The title of this 1976 Sunset Records / Universal Artists compilation of Can tracks works on at least three levels – first, it suggests an accessible introduction to the music of this influential but often ignored or difficult-to-pigeonhole Cologne unit, formed as it is from their mid-period legacy; secondly, it’s an amusing pun on the band’s name (mercifully, in spite of being quite good-humoured chaps, this was the only time they – or their labels – saw fit to make lighthearted fun of their name); finally, when combined with designer Paul Henry and photographer Trevor Rogers’s sleeve image of an open Campbells condensed soup can, there’s an inextricable link to Warhol’s semi-ironic brand of pop-art. So there you have it – best of, joke or artistic statement; take your pick.

Opener was compiled by journalist and major Can fan Duncan Fallowell and Tim Read and features eleven classic cuts ranging from the impossible funk of ‘Moonshake’ to the screwy clank of ‘Spoon’. Fallowell offers gushing sleevenotes which I’ve provided below (he co-wrote ‘Dizzy Dizzy’, included here, and so represents a somewhat biased viewpoint) and the rear has that typically Seventies approach of turning the sleeve over to pictures of the band – ranging from Michael Karoli and Holger Czukay looking like extras from Easy Rider to Irmin Schmidt and Jaki Liebezeit looking like hippy professors; Damo Suzuki just looks suave – plus brief details of their respective roles. Among the facts quoted: Karoli was a pupil of Czukay and saw The Who play in Torquay; Schmidt studied under Karlheinz Stockhausen and Luciano Berio; Suzuki busked round Europe playing one chord on a guitar while improvising on top. Czukay is described functionally as the bassist and engineer, while Liebezeit’s multi-cyclical drumming is heralded as the defining factor in Can’s music. You can imagine how oddly compelling that sleeve might have been to someone flicking idly through the racks of LPs in an HMV in 1976.

So it was for me, albeit twenty years later, when I alighted upon this record in Time Records in Colchester. I bought this either just before or just after Sacrilege, and it served as my proper introduction to the music of Can. I’d been aware of them since I first read through the Mute Documentary Evidence brochure that inspired this site and my love of the label, but Opener offered the first real opportunity to get my head into their music; I fell in love with it instantly, and I used to play thus a lot, often late at night on a Sunday ahead of the following day’s lectures and classes.

I hadn’t listened to this probably since I left university in 1998 until I played it yesterday whilst selecting LPs to listen to with my youngest daughter (six). She described Opener as ‘weird but good’ and grooved along to ‘Moonshake’ like it had been recorded today.

Duncan Fallowell liner notes
Can was launched on an unsuspecting audience in autumn 1969, to a totally polarised critical reception. Their ability to arouse such strong confused feelings, for and against, was in itself a statement of their dynamism, confused because they were an enigma, could not be fitted to the current scheme of things, nothing was known of them as individuals. They are still the most unsettling of the German rock groups. Cologne is not Germany’s wildest city. This is why Can live there. Their studio, once a castle, now occupies an old cinema a few miles out of the city. Visitors are few – but never turned away, and in this easy practical atmosphere the band work. Can do not record numbers so much as discover songs or patterns in the process of recording. The timbre of their music, on record at least, has softened with their later albums from which this is compiled, and their music became more accessible. The key to Can’s music is not where it comes from or what the ingredients are, but how it works, how it moves and that’s to be discovered by listening.

Track listing:

lp/c:
A1. Dizzy Dizzy
A2. Moonshake
A3. Sing Swan Song
A4. Come Sta, La Luna
B1. Spoon
B2. I’m So Green
B3. Vitamin C
B4. Future Days

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence