The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of art struggle. The spectacle of accumulation demands that repetition, the fetishism of commodities, reification and alienation be its most glaring superficial manifestation. Ideas improve. The meaning of words participates in the improvement. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It erases a false idea, and replaces it with a left idea.
As this early shot of The Slits from 1927 attests, punk rock was anything but original. As these pages have implied previously, there is very little new under the sun. Digging in the crates of Greil Marcus‘ ‘Lipstick Traces’, a theme can be traced: through essays, manifestos, film scripts, photographs, poetry, protest songs, collages, and classic texts, from Marx to Henri Lefebvre, revealing a tradition of shared utopias, solitary refusals and impossible demands.
Heretics such as The Brethren of the Free Spirit in medieval Europe; The Ranters in seventeenth-century England; The Dadaists in Zurich in 1916 and Berlin in 1918, wearing death masks, chanting glossolalia; one Michel Mourre, who in 1950 took over Easter Mass at Notre-Dame to proclaim the death of God; the Lettrist International and the Situationist International, small groups of Paris-based artists and writers surrounding Isidore Isou and Guy Debord respectively, who produced blank-screen films, prophetic graffiti, and perhaps the most provocative social criticism of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s; inspiring in turn the rioting Parisian students and workers of May ’68, scrawling cryptic slogans on city walls and bringing France to a halt. These ugly times that envelope us now, like a poisonous miasma of accumulated wealth, demand a response that rises above: “will this do?”
As Mark E Smith once said: “All you daughters and sons/Who are sick of fancy music/We dig repetition/Repetition in the drums/And we’re never going to lose it/This is the three R’s/The three R’s/Repetition, repetition, repetition”.
Listening to almost every Fall record post-‘Live At The Witch Trials’, one has to surmise: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Bodies of work are therefore sparse. Real magick tends to occur sporadically, before interring itself in cultural detritus to dutifully await archaeological rediscovery.
One such recently exhumed find is Count Ossie & The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari‘s ‘Grounation’ (Dub Store Records), an unimpeachable classic, considered to be the pinnacle of Rastafarian inspired music. Master drummer Count Ossie’s band, including the incomparable tenor saxophonist Cedric ‘I’m’ Brooks, recreate a Rasta grounation, or gathering, playing and chanting a sublime supplication, including bible readings, in praise of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Available as a triple vinyl set or a double CD edition, ‘Grounation’ is the first in a radical triumvirate I have spent the festive period digesting; the second being Errol Brown‘s ‘Orthodox Dub’ (Dub Store Records), a miraculously rare and seriously obscure collection of killer dubs, one of the very few hardcore seventies dub albums mixed by Errol Brown. This selection was originally recorded by BB Seaton at Duke Reid’s legendary Treasure Isle studio, and mixed in-house by the Duke’s nephew, Errol Brown. A radical departure for all concerned, this bold dub album was never officially released, although a few clandestine copies reputedly did the New York rounds at the time. Original copies now change hands for exorbitant sums on the collectors circuit; the third and final find is Yabby You & The Prophets‘ ‘Beware Dub” (Pressure Sounds). Almost 40-years after its original release, ‘Beware Dub’ has lost none of its power and conviction, and this reissue should hopefully confirm its status as one of the key dub albums of the 1970s.
Dragging the legacy of Count Ossie, Errol Brown and Yabby You kick-drumming and screaming into the twenty first century, Jamaica’s Equiknoxx deliver ‘Bird Sound Power’ (DDS), a veritable cornucopia of avant-dancehall mutations released on vinyl for the first time ever. Ramming twelve crooked riddims onto two twelve inch discs, core members Gavsborg and Time Cow are abetted by Bobby Blackbird and Kofi Knoxx, with vocals by Kemikal, Shanique Marie and J.O.E. (R.I.P). Propelling reggae forwards in both space and time, Equiknoxx nod towards King Jammy’s foundational digi-dub in a paradox that is both utterly forward reaching yet classically grounded in the grounations of Rastafarian tradition.
Meanwhile, DDS Records patrons Demdike Stare return with their first full-length since 2012’s ‘Elemental’. Released on my birthday (Dec 2), ‘Wonderland’ (Modern Love) provides nine excursions in the reapplication of existing structures with wit and verve, and is proving to be the gift that keeps giving. Constructed from the fallen masonry of the edifice of intelligent dance music, ‘Wonderland’ is a post-everything dub masterpiece that steals the finest elements of what has come before to assemble a state of the art manifesto for where dub technology needs to go next. Plundering the archives of alt.electronica, industrial house, ambient techno, jungle, grime and psychoacoustica, ‘Wonderland’ reinvents the wheel to forge a future unitary urbanism for revolutionary relaxation. Released on double lime green vinyl, and as a triple CD that includes two bonus discs compiling the entire ‘Test Pressings’ 12″ series, ‘Wonderland’ sits comfortably alongside Zomby‘s ‘Ultra’ (Hyperdub), rattling away on repeat into those wee small hours traditionally occupied by those condemned to stay awake during holiday periods.
Finally this month, everyone loves a bit of intrigue, and there is little more intriguing in the art world presently than the true identity (or otherwise?) of alleged Serbian sound painter, Abul Mogard. Reputedly an erstwhile Serbian factory worker-turned-synthesist, who on retirement from his job at a nameless ‘factory’ which he’d ‘held for decades’, craved the ‘mechanical noise and complex harmonics of the industrial workplace’, found that the best way to fulfil that need was through electronic music.
trakMARX wasted no time in contacting tMx‘s man on the street in Novi Sad, Predrag Ljuštikin Stražmešter, who not only described the official scenario as ‘too prosaic’, but also dismissed the name Abul Mogard as ‘totally fake’. Whatever transpires in this regard, Mogard (or whatever his name is) has his early work complied by Ecstatic Recordings in the form of a rather sumptuous artefact fittingly entitled ‘Works’, a double vinyl affair on smoked grey wax. ‘Works’ comes soused in an emotional richness that’s hard to forget once experienced. Broad daubs of distorted bass and naturally glorious harmonic progressions paint panoramas of wide open, grey-scaled skies, whilst equally conveying the intimate feel of an operative with their nose to the machine (grindstone?), working the unconscious tool of history to bring about a revolution that is neither toil nor spin: a heterodox economic theory of value that argues, that both in the case of the machine and the tool, their average daily cost is the value they transmit to the product.