Pere Ubu – “Modern Dance”

Pere Ubu

Pere Ubu – “Modern Dance”

When I was at school we had a classmate called Tim Lewis. My best buddy Olly & I – being the Punkest of Punkers in our year – found Tim slightly safe - with his cleanly laundered uniform, standard issue Ramones bowl cut (sadly affected by his Mom – with a bowl - & most definitely not in reverence to Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee or Tommy!) & his burgeoning collection of avant-garde sound-scapes.

He would often dismiss our rabid droolings on the Sex Pistols, The Damned, Buzzcocks, Eater or The Adverts with an outstretched left palm & the nonchalant tap of an insistent right digit – rather like a metronome:

“What you need in your life – (insert name here) – is some Pere Ubu - Captain Beefheart – Residents –Chrome - Throbbing Girstle – etc - etc . . .”

. . . he’d say. We used to take the piss. What did we know?

These days – whenever we meet up for the odd mineral water – Tim always has the last laugh: he still has all his extreme vintage vinyl, you see – most of it as rare as Blairtruth - but he will never agree sell it to me. Mo matter how disproportionate my offer.

All of which brings us to Cooking Vinyl/Silverline Record’s Dual Disc reissue of Pere Ubu’s seminal “Modern Dance”:

CD Side – CD Audio 44.1khz/16 bit:

“Non-Alignment Pact”/”The Modern Dance”/”Laughing”/”Street Waves”/”Chinese Radiaion”/”Life Sucks”/”Real World”/”Over My Head”/”Sentimental Journey”/”Humour Me”

DVD Side:

* The entire LP in 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo
* Exclusive David Thomas Interview 
* Pere Ubu biogrpahy
* Computer extras

When “Modern Dance” first appeared back in January of 1978 – Joy Division were still called Warsaw - & any dreams of “Unknown Pleasures” were at least 37- minutes & 1-second of cribbing away from their initial realisation.

The critics – not unsurprisingly – went suitably overboard:

“Uh-oh, this is getting frustrating, trying to tell you how good this is – black & white is an inadequate substitute for the impact heard. This is a brilliant debut. Granted, it lacks the superficial accessibility of lesser works, but this time around the aroma lingers. This is built to last! Ubu’s world is rarely comfortable, full of the space beyond the electric light & what it does to people, but always direct & unwavering. And courageous.” John Savage – Sounds – 11/2/78

“It’s a devastating debut. This LP has struck me with a vengeance. Because it delivers such a powerful, complex, & open-ended punch, it’s almost impossible at such an early stage to explain why or how in full.” Paul Birch – Melody Maker – 18/3/78

Amongst other things, the above quotes are made all the more interesting by the month or so that separates them. Proof – if any were needed – that Sounds were as ahead of the curve in 1978 as Ubu themselves. By the time “Modern Dance” landed in the record shops of the UK, Pere Ubu had already established themselves as the world’s only ‘expressionist Rock & Roll band’: Andy Gill - NME – 30/11/85. Pere Ubu, it was implied, reflected the urban discontent of their native Cleveland, pre-empting almost every notable practitioner of what would eventually become known as ‘post-punk’.

Describing Pere Ubu as post-punk – as many do, however – is just plain wrong. How can something be post something when it existed before that very thing even existed in the first place? As David Thomas himself attests during the accompanying DVD interview footage: what Pere Ubu were doing in the mid 70s was intrinsically New Wave – a term self-coined in homage to the influential French cinema of the time - & a ‘movement’ subsequently crushed (in Thomas’ own mind) in its tracks by the arrival of a bunch of gobby Punk Rockers from the UK.

“Non-Alignment Pact”, “Modern Dance”, “Street Waves”, “Life Sucks” & “Humour Me” are the rock – “Laughing”, “Chinese Radiation”, “Real World”, “Over My Head” & “Sentimental Journey” the roll. Somewhere in between is the expressionism. As a grubby young Punk I loved the rock – found the roll hard to swallow - & had no concept whatsoever about the expressionism. Only with the benefit of hindsight – the advice of those more knowledgeable than I - & the subsequent passage of time - have I leant to appreciate the potency of the whole.

Tim Lewis wasn’t so safe after all.

Jean Encoule – tMx 26 – 09/06
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