The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

It would be difficult to follow Simon Reynolds’ definitive article on this most elusive of microgenres in issue 173 of The Wire; indeed it was that article which alerted me to the very existence of operatives like Marc Acardipane, the Mover, Reign/Miro, and others. Almost impossible to get in the UK, where there never has been that great a market for gabba to begin with, let alone this particular sub-stratum – and yet it must be rescued from obscurity.

The 2CD compilation The Best of Marc Acardipane (1989-1997), which appeared on the ID&T Music label in 1997, is the ideal place to start. Chronologically it is best to start with disc 2, as this contains all Acardipane’s early work. Basically this music develops on the template of post-Acieed disorientation most popularly heard on things like “Dominator” by Human Resource and turned into pop by the Prodigy on “Charly.” Something like Turbulence’s 1990 “Disaster Area” creates queasy chord sequences out of tape varispeeding, drifting in and out of focus, in and out of bliss, over a pitiless beat. It is particularly interesting how rap samples/vocals are ripped out of their original macho context and thrust into an asexual limbo; hear especially the tracks by Ace The Space: “9 Is A Classic” (i.e. gun, turntable and dick) and “Go Voodo” where the unstoppable rush cancels out the boasts, turning them into simply another layer, another set of signifiers minus the signified. Masters of Rave’s “Are You With Me” brutally roughs up what could almost be “Old MacDonald Had A Farm.” Nasty Django’s “King Of FFM” (Frankfurt) and Rave Creator’s “Immortal” have the same aesthetic directness that one finds in Rocket From The Tombs or Gang of Four; this music knows exactly where it’s going.

By the time we get to tracks like Nasty Django’s “SGE” and Tilt!’s “Sound Of Emergency” the staccato Gothic choral cut-ups which we find in brutalist rave hits of the time such as T99’s “Anaesthesia” or Quadrophonia’s “Quadrophonia” have become another essential ingredient. This particular approach reaches its climax in PCP’s phenomenal “The Phuture” recorded live in January 1994, which sounds like Hieronymus Bosch pulling down the world into his amoral pit.

Even here, the variety of approaches is remarkable; pointers to the more considered, grandiose Gloomcore such as Marshall Masters’ “Stereo Murder” and The Mover’s “The Emperor Takes Place” are solemn in their spaciousness, like 2 Unlimited drained of their primary colours and re-scored by Laibach. And at the other extreme you can find the still flattening likes of “World’s Hardest MF” by Program 1, and what can only be described as punk – “At War” by the Leathernecks, with its rapid-fire “fuck you, fuck them, fuck the muthafuckas” refrain; so much harder-hitting, even nine years after its recording, than any of the pitiful politesse which passes for “the spirit of punk” today. It is exactly what the likes of the Vines should be aiming to reproduce and develop, were they not so damned reverent of all the wrong things.

Disc 1 concentrates on more recent (1997) stuff, but with a few earlier pieces still thrown in. Certainly I find it remarkable that “I Like It Loud” by Marshall Masters (just two letters away from his successor!) with the Ultimate MC was never considered a hit; even dotted with fucks, this is a cooler DJ Otzi, or a more hardcore Scooter (“If you think it’s too loud, go listen to yr fuckin’ Walkman!”). “Hustler For Life” which finds Nasty Django guesting with Herr Masters “at Club X” is almost as admirably bullish in its approach; the latter rants as the track stops halfway through, commanding the DJ to put the fucker back on ‘COS I NEVER STOP. Generally, though, this CD contains more considered, architectural gabba; Rave Creator’s “A New Mind” slowly dismembers its female “something for your mind” sample into new patterns, although for the real punctum try and find the “Rave Creator’s Original De2001 Raveremix” which initially turns the track into pop and subsequently slows it down to the depths of avant-incomprehensibility. Nasty Django’s “Hardcore Muthafucka” is based on a sample of a young kid intoning the title; Turbulence’s “6 Million Ways To Die” starts off with the entire, unadulterated intro to Sid Vicious’ “My Way” before turning it into a jackhammer rave-down. But the stand-out track for me here is “Slaves To The Rave” by Inferno Bros. Hear how it begins with splashes of water and a distant humming choir (which could almost be “Rivers Of Babylon” by Boney M). The latter is quickly dehumanised into a beelike drone and a beat which seems to rebound from inside your skull. Eventually the whole track slows down into a watery grave, as though slipping into an aesthetic swamp.

What were others up to? Certainly a greater ethereality and sense of doom and foreboding became gradually evident; hear the near-delicacy within aggression of something like “Astral Dreams ’94 (Cold Planet Remix)” by The Mover and Rave Creator, or Trip Commando’s “3rd Trip Phase,” the latter of which could almost pass for a psychedelic lament straight outta Easter Everywhere. Also necessary to hear is Renegade Legion’s “Torsion” which may well be the one track which balances perfectly all the approaches described above; propulsive yet melodically reflective.

Above all you must hear the work of Reign (also known as Miro and various other pseudonyms) for what delicately avoids being Goth but instead introduces a terrible grandeur to Gloomcore; listen to the regretful lamenting melodies of “Light And Dark (The Next Dimension)” and “Skeletons’ March.” And his greatest achievement may well be the track “Hall,” specifically the Maximum Mix, which refracts the poignant chord changes through a screen of water (and water seems to be a recurring factor or leitmotif in a lot of these tracks), reminding one of a drowned cathedral, or a ruined 16th-century mansion, its grand debris floating in the depths, undiscovered for 400 years. A meditation on the transience of people and things. “Hall” is one of the great singles of the ‘90s.

The Mover covers much the same territory in tracks like “Final Sickness.” Other operatives to be noted include Mescalinum United, whose 1989 track “We Have Arrived,” which kicks off the second Acardipane disc, set the tone for everything which followed, but whose masterpiece is the shattering “Symphonies Of Steel (Part 1)” – the choirs of Bayreuth continuing to sing as both the roof and the floor cave in. Like much of what is being celebrated here, this is 170+ bpm (in some cases, e.g. “Symphonies Of Steel,” 200+ bpm) and not immediately danceable to those who have not understood, or at least ingested, which probably explains its micro-share of the dance market. Architecturally, however, the music is, at its best, literally awesome – with “Hall” you actually have to stand back from the speakers in vertiginous disbelief. Superpower’s “Move: Don’t Stop” takes the surface off dance cliches to find the brutal yet stunning lack of pity beneath. The camp commandant barking at you to dance for your life.

And, amongst all of this, emerges a pearl of a group (if it is a group) – The Horrorist. Would it be fair to categorise him/them as Gloomcore? In fact the seven tracks I have by them seem to indicate proto-Electroclash – but better because it takes No Wave into account as well as shiny yellow New Pop. Certainly “Wet and Shiny” with its Devo-meets-Numan filtered vocals (check that flittery “ohhhh”) and measured pauses is an Electroclash classic waiting to be discovered. Better still is “Mission Extacy” which could best be described as a cross between a psychotic Jonathan Richman and a destabilised Underworld. The deliberately juvenile vocal (ah, Supergrass, to think – you could have been capable of this had you the nerve!) narrates the story of cadging lifts and money with the ultimate aim of getting some Es “’cos I like fucking drugs,” its assumed menace contrasting nicely with the faux-naif leitmotif of “my school project.” Actually this is a very funny record as well as a powerful one – aurally it foresees the likes of LCD Soundsystem, amongst other things – and the musical gear-change ascent when they have ingested their Es into gabba heaven is particularly inspired.

Tracks like “Run For Your Life” and “Flesh Is The Fever” are very strongly reminiscent, in their hypermanic, epileptic rhythmic/vocal onslaught, of the hecticity underpinning the best of the No Wave operatives (especially James Chance and the Contortions at their best – go and buy Buy now!) (if you can find it) – the rush of drug adrenalin failing to dispel the confusion and fear beneath. And I still can’t imagine the likes of Interpol or Ladytron (given their respective merits) coming up with something as mindblowing as “One Night In NYC” which sets a tale of sordid urban seduction against a feather-light lullaby glockenspiel-led backing and within a fairy tale scenario with a deeply unsettling result, its power perhaps rivalled only in contemporary hip hop (Eminem’s “Kim” most obviously, but also Raekwon’s “Rainy Days,” the Coup’s “Me And Jesus The Pimp In A ’79 Granada Last Night,” etc.). Discover him/them now, any way you can.

(Profound thanks must go out to my good friend Simon Reynolds for his invaluable work and extremely generous assistance, without which this article would not have been possible. To get hold of at least some of this music, there’s a PCP Mailorder Worldwide telephone number listed on the sleeve of the Acardipane compilation - #49 (0) 69 440022. Bear in mind that this release is now five years old, so I’ve no idea whether this number is still valid, but it’s worth trying)

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