Thursday, 5 June 2014

Konstruktivists - Persona Non Grata (1997)

Here's another with which I may not be able to exercise absolute impartiality, having once been in the band. I'd left by the time this was recorded, although I should probably mention that I supplied some artwork for the cover of the original 1997 release, this iteration being a timely reissue from Klang Galerie.

For anyone not familiar with the name, Konstruktivists were formed by Glenn Wallis, a founding member of Whitehouse and a former Throbbing Gristle associate. I began writing to him around 1984 or thereabouts, having been impressed by A Dissembly, his debut album on the Flowmotion label. A couple of years later by fairly massive coincidence I found myself living around the corner from Glenn and his wife when I moved to Chatham, and so we became good friends and I ended up in the band for a while. We put out an album called Forbidden on the World Serpent label in the early nineties, and although it has its moments it was never something about which I felt entirely convinced. My contribution had been negligible, and I had disliked the rushed recording, and the fact that the other guy in the band, the one with the massive sampler and all the technology, would apparently have preferred to be in Front 242 or one of those stomping around in camouflage trousers groups. His ambitions seemed limited to making records which sounded like records which had already been made by other people, and he didn't seem to like me very much.

Tapes aside, this was roughly speaking the first Konstruktivists studio album since Forbidden, recorded by Glenn who by this time was working with Mark Crumby, former editor of Impulse magazine. Whilst Glenn has always been entirely capable of producing great works on his own, he tends to be at his best - in my opinion - when able to spark ideas off an inspired collaborator. So with Persona Non Grata it was great to see him once again raising up a din with someone capable of generating ideas, and who was himself bringing more to the table than just hands up if you like Nitzer Ebb.

Persona Non Grata samples from Konstruktivists' own back catalogue, although it's quite different in sound to any of those earlier works, and serves as an indication of what set this band apart in the first place. As ever, the aesthetic seems more in tune with the likes of La Düsseldorf, Heldon, and other European experimentalists than the usual industrial suspects, even if the sound is quite different. Percussion and rhythm are employed as texture rather than in acknowledgement of a beat, and it generally does all the things you wouldn't expect. Having worked with Glenn, it's difficult to guess at quite what inspires him to compose as he does. His preferred notation and compositions appear to have their own logic, and are unpredictable by familiar terms, at times seeming like they have slipped through from a parallel reality. They occur at right angles to what we already know in the same way that the music of The Residents seems to belong somewhere other than this Earth. A few tracks hint at the distant influence of the trance and techno that was knocking around in 1997, and yet this is like an angular cargo cult recreation that bears little in common with anything.

Persona Non Grata has none of the obvious industrial clichés, no wanky attempts to recreate the music of fucking Cassandra Complex, no ambient sea of digital reverb concealing a dearth of inspiration, and it sounds somehow composed on the cheap Casio keyboards of a world in which such things are made from cogs, pistons, and flywheels; and it's one fuck of a lot better than the one on which I played guitar. It was a pisser that the original edition suffered from such a limited run, so hats off once again to Klang Galerie for spreading the good word.

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