Monday, August 08, 2005

Postscript

I’ve been asked whether the preceding tale is a satirical attack on the power electronics genre. I’d like to reiterate that it is intended as an affectionate tribute.

I became aware of power electronics in 1983 at the age of fourteen, through occasional and largely disapproving references in Sounds. I found the clandestine, genuinely underground nature of the network added to its attractiveness. Hearing Sutcliffe Jugend’s "Slut Meat", Ramleh’s "Prossneck", and reading Come Org's "kata" magazine I felt the thrill of the illegal. My adolescent sexuality had already been twisted by punk rock, then more seriously by TG and SPK. Power electronics felt like some kind of finality; whether it was a criminal liberation or a blind alley is a moot point.

At one stage I had intended to accompany the story with a full scale, well-researched history of power electronics. There are certainly enough fascinating details, curious characters and unexpected connections to make a rival book to Simon Ford’s "Wreckers Of Civilisation" volume on Throbbing Gristle. However, I lack the stamina or business brain for such a major project. Moreover, part of the pleasure for me in researching the historical facts has been the detective work involved. I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone else’s fun in attempting to track down zines like Philip Best’s "Intolerance", early Broken Flag releases or rare Come Org items. Some things should remain hard to find out about. But for what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts on the genre:


The Players

I would define the classic power electronics era as between 1982 and 1984, and the key figures of that era as William Bennett, Gary Mundy, Philip Best, Maurizio Bianchi and Kevin Tomkins.

Whitehouse and the Come Organisation were of course responsible for founding the entire subculture. The 1981 "Dedicated To Peter Kurten" album was the blueprint not only for the intensity and attack of the sound, but also for the pervasive themes: sexual deviance and violent crime. The next album ("Buchenwald") added fascist politics to the pot-pourri. These themes were largely inspired by (a misinterpretation of?) Throbbing Gristle's pre-1979 releases. William Bennett has talked on more than one occasion about his feelings of disappointment when TG released "20 Jazz Funk Greats". If Genesis P-Orridge’s suicide attempt at TG's final 1978 show had succeeded, perhaps power electronics would never have existed.

Whitehouse survived the classic power electronics era with style and went on to flourish during the ‘90s with increasingly ‘serious’ records whose depth is largely due to the involvement of the controversial American writer Peter Sotos. All Whitehouse records are essential and the band remains utterly unique.

Ramleh, led by Gary Mundy, were an important act whose organisation/label Broken Flag was the only major rival to Come Org. The sound was slightly more thoughtful/considered than Whitehouse’s and the shock tactics involved were a little more subtle (although they certainly did well on the Nazi fetishism front). Mundy lost interest in the genre by 1984 after an impressive two years of active involvement. The name Ramleh survived into the ‘90s, as an excellent avant-garde rock band fronted by Mundy and Philip Best, with involvement from other veterans of the classic power electronics era. Gary Mundy now plays guitar in a shockingly awful goth-rock band culled Breathless - he always had such side projects, but now Ramleh and Broken Flag are perhaps finally defunct.

Philip Best, the child star of power electronics, founded Consumer Electronics, the Iphar label and Intolerance fanzine at the age of 14. By 15 he had joined Whitehouse and toured Germany, and by 16 he had retired. Best’s approach particularly focussed on women-hating. It’s easy to be all Sigmund Freud about this, but the fact remains that Philip Best’s adolescence was more productive and worthwhile than most of ours’. When Best resurfaced in the ‘90s to work with both Ramleh and Whitehouse, his approach was tempered with the sadness and knowledge of maturity — indeed, some of his ‘90s work has more intelligence and depth than is usually seen in any area of popular culture. There was a one-off Consumer Electronics comeback album in ‘95, the "Horn Of The Goat" collaboration with Merzbow. This deserves a special mention for managing to offend the idiot who writes ‘Compulsion’ magazine, who typically managed to miss the reference to Dennis Cooper’s novel "Try" in the packaging which adds a crucial ambiguity to the paedophiliac themes.

Maurizio Bianchi was a one-off and one of the most enigmatic figures in all twentieth-century music. Working in isolation in Italy, he produced over ten albums and myriad cassettes of uniquely depressing power electronics between 1980 and 1984, before becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Listening to his chilling noise and themes of genocide, one can certainly empathise with the torment he was going through at this time. In many ways the self-aware psychological depth of MB’s work sets it slightly apart from the rest of the scene. In recent years, a superb set of CD reissues has been made available, and two new albums of Jehovah New Age music have been issued under his name. There exists a magnificent internet site devoted to an extremely fetishistic survey of MB releases. MB is someone worth fetishising.

Kevin Tomkins formed Sutcliffe Jugend in 1982 as a response to what Come Org were issuing, and in many ways his initiative really kickstarted the power electronics scene. By 1983 he had joined Whitehouse, and by 1985 he had retired. For sickening undereducated violence, Sutcliffe Jugend’s output is hard to beat. It’s easy to laugh at the song titles, but the fact remains that for Tomkins this felt real. His furious themes of unabashed aggression upped the stakes for everyone involved in the scene. Kevin Tomkins resurfaced during the ‘90s with a rather dull rock band, Bodychoke, and with three ‘comeback’ SJ albums (alongside reissued ‘80s material). The last of these in particular, "The Victim As Beauty", is a disturbingly authentic-sounding restatement of the original SJ themes and is well worth hearing. If Tomkins’ intellectual powers have not increased over the years, neither has his rage diminished.

Aftermath. Honorary Mentions, etc.

Tim Gane made violent-sounding power electronics as Un-Kommuniti before turning indie-pop with McCarthy (named after a Ramleh track?). Nowadays he’s best known for his extremely irritating retro-pop band with pseudo-political lyrics, Stereolab.

Jordi Valls, along with Glenn Michael Wallis (Konstruktivists, Whitehouse session man), provided one of the only real links between old--school industrial and power electronics by being simultaneously involved on the peripheries of both Come Org and T.O.P.Y. He remains best known for his series of releases as "Vagina Dentata Organ" — perhaps the most unique series of anti-records ever made.

Matthew Bower (along with Alex Binnie - now better known as a world-famous tattoo artist) made arty power electronics under the name Pure. He went on to find his own voice with a huge number of often excellent experimental records under the names Skullflower, Total and Sunroof!, and he remains very active to this day.

Mike Dando arrived a little late to the power electronics scene; although his first show as Con-Dom occurred on 13th September 1983, it took many more years for him to begin issuing records regularly in the ‘90s. Con-Dom recordings are distinguished by their depth and ambiguity. He specialises in ‘political’ themes. His vocals are certainly reminiscent of the classic P.E. era, although much of the sound is perhaps a little too considered and ambient to qualify. Con-Dom is a unique and fascinating project and all recordings are recommended.

Trev Ward (and his longstanding cohort Dave Padbury) similarly arrived late on the scene as The Grey Wolves, although they were peripherally involved during the glory days. Their cassette labels with ever-changing names (Anal Probe, Zeal SS, Lebensborn, Strength Through Awareness, Industrial Warfare, Open Wound), their superbly packaged Grey Wolves albums, their wretchedly zeroxed ‘offensive’ publications and their deservedly legendary "Cultural Terrorist Manifesto" (First issued ‘87) make them the nearest thing the world still has to the ‘82-’84 power electronics scene in all its gloriously threatening silliness. Their activities are hugely recommended.

The third and final entry in this ‘latecomers’ section goes to Ulex Xane, who after many years of underground involvement in both surrealism and the cassette scene, began to issue almost PERFECT power electronics recordings as Streicher during the ‘90s in Melbourne, Australia. The ultra-right, utterly preposterous tone of his ‘skinhead nihilism’ makes it totally irresistible to me. The music is hard to find, but well worth your effort.

Americans have never created a viable power electronics act. Peter Sotos’s infamous "Pure" magazine (briefly reavailable during the mid-90s in the now out-of-print "Total Abuse") is possibly best regarded as power electronics-based writing. But someone like Mark Solotroff, who’s made noble attempts under many monikers to get the sound right since the 1980s, has consistently failed. Paul Lemos’ Controlled Bleeding were briefly regarded as power electronics in the classic era, but my ears find little evidence to support this claim. Special mentions should go to Taint and to Deathpile for being particularly clueless and stupid.

Japan has never produced a power electronics act which I would recognise as such, although P.E. was of course a major influence on the Japanese noise scene.

Europe responded to power electronics by taking their template for the sound from MB’s more laid-back moments, and by reproducing the fascist imagery without either aggression or irony. Europeans, particularly Germans and Scandinavians, are stupid and worthless fucking idiots on the whole, and at least thirty years behind Britain in most cultural fields. Those with more patience than myself can investigate the Cold Meat Industry and Tesco labels, and acts like Genocide Organ, Survival Unit, Brighter Death Now, Anenzephalia etc. The best source for this material in Britain is Cold Spring.

Honorary mention to the now sadly defunct "Freak Animal" magazine from Finland who attempted to cover the modern power electronics scene with a little more intelligence than many other culprits.

A possible last word on power electronics was said by Herne Bay’s self-consciously parodic noise outfit Slugbait on their 1995 album "Medium To Heavy Flow". This included an epic twenty minute piece of very harsh sound called "There’s Nothing To Do In Greenhithe".


This publication is dedicated to the ultimate power electronics chancer, John Murphy. At the same time as being an integral player in the original scene, working with Whitehouse and Consumer Electronics as well as his own Krang project, Murphy also played drums for chart pop act The Associates. "...the drummer would mooch around Morgan Studios in a dirty old raincoat with a Burroughs paperback poking out of the pocket" - The Glamour Chase: The Maverick Life of Billy Mackenzie, p.52. Under capital the only honest approach that can be made towards art is through showbusiness.

To preserve the clandestine integrity of this project, we offer no credits or contact addresses. Please accept, the assurances of my highest consideration.