Thursday, 3 September 2015

Skinny Puppy - Cleanse Fold and Manipulate (1987)

Should there not be a comma in there somewhere? Anyway, none of it will really matter once I get my bill through congress, specifically my bill to have almost all industrial music officially reclassified as Belgian New Beat. If it wasn't actually recorded by a member of Throbbing Gristle or SPK in 1978 - excluding those who bravely vocalised their hatred of gypsies or else went on to bash the skins for Skrewdriver whilst insisting that music and politics should never mix - then it ain't fucking industrial and is therefore Belgian New Beat so far as I'm concerned. Once applied, the bill will float works by Whitehouse, Ministry, Cassandra Complex and the Neon Judgement on the open market where they will be obliged to compete with the musically superior work of TNT Clan, Lords of Acid, and the Confetti's. Record stores and mail order operations will be required to reorganise their stock and the categories through which it is sold; and Oxford University Press will be obliged to recall, revise and reprint all copies of S. Alexander Reed's Assimilate: A Critical History of Belgian New Beat - as will be its new title; on which subject, here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

It was April 5, 1991, and Gary Levermore was worried. He'd spent thousands flying the band Front Line Assembly from Vancouver to London for a concert he was promoting that night at the Venue, a seventy-year-old stone building in New Cross. 'It wasn't in the centre of town where you'd think it would be easy for people to get to. Instead it was a few miles further south; not on an underground line,' he remembers. The first time Front Line Assembly had played London, in July 1989, the turnout was disastrously low...

When Levermore arrived at the old theatre, though, it was clear there would be no repeat of 1989's miserable show. Wrapped in a long queue down Clifton Ride were some three hundred industrial fans, dressed in black...

I suspect he's referring to Clifton Rise, there being no such place as Clifton Ride. Additionally, the Venue is about three minutes walk in a straight line along a main road from New Cross station, which is on the East London Line in terms of the underground network; and I myself was present at that gig, and the place was conspicuously less than half full; and all of this on the very first page, which is one of several reasons why I've yet to avail myself of a copy of Reed's Critical History of Belgian New Beat. I'm also a little put off by the title coming from a Skinny Puppy track because - all joking aside - they really sort of are Belgian New Beat, apart from being Canadian.

I never really got Skinny Puppy, and this album, picked up for mere dollars with the idea that I may have been wrong all these years, goes some way to illustrating why this should be. I'm sure I've seen it turning up in a few of those dreary ten industrial albums you must hear kind of lists, invariably alongside Coil's CD of the humming noise made by their fridge and Sol Invictus gathering together a few entirely harmless songs about how the world would be a better place without certain kinds of people if you know what I mean, not mentioning no names or nuffink.

I'm actually not averse to a spot of Belgian New Beat. Front 242 have barely ever set an electronic foot wrong to my ears, and whilst Front Line Assembly are really just Napalm Death with a synthesiser, they've usually sounded decent to me; and then there's Nitzer Ebb, and the Severed Heads were pretty much one of the greatest bands of all time, but then I hear this...

The first thing you do when you buy a digital effects box is you select reverb, you whack the decay up to about two minutes - or as far as it will go - and then you tap your finger gently against the microphone and summon forth the screaming cacophony of the void as the black stars of the netherverse devour the fabric of reality. After another ten minutes you either get bored of this or else try to make a career out of it like that Lustmord chap. Whilst Cleanse Fold and Manipulate also has sequencers and drum machines to impersonate medieval armies smashing up your castle thanks to the magic of the two minute reverb, it kind of comes from the same place; and the singer appears to be auditioning for the role of wicked goblin number two in Lord of the Rings, and it really sounds to me like he's singing with an affected English accent because the English are always the bad guys in the movies; and there's a bloke called Nivek Ogre on this record, and Nivek is Kevin spelled backwards; and the whole thing sounds so cock-obviously digital it borders on being a Duran Duran extended club mix from when they were famous, without irony, right down to stabs of orchestral sound.

Nevertheless, after three or four plays I begin to hear past the above, and see at least some of the appeal which lays in Skinny Puppy having been - probably unintentionally - a sort of Belgian New Beat Virgin Prunes. There's nothing much you would call a tune, just grooves, a lot of scraping and scowling, and a texture emerging from the relative chaos which works by similar means as did those very early Throbbing Gristle tapes - unfamiliar noises and effects rendered familiar through repetition. Much to my surprise, I ended up  enjoying this in spite of it all having been a bit studied and obvious even back in 1987, and in spite of there being a million other things which do the same job better. It's still not feckin' industrial though.

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