Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month, Gary Steel presents something local from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. Today’s surprise item?
First published in the Evening Post, 4 September, 1986.
Beyond The Primal Scream
FETUS PRODUCTIONS – WHO are about to pounce on Wellington audiences – are New Zealand’s strangest music-film collective.
If The Residents are alien beings that entertain themselves by mocking and mutating the mores and manifestations of humanity, then Fetus Productions are distant cousins from another planet, intent on exposing the ruthless cruelty that lies behind every sudsy façade of ‘civilisation’.
In what amounts to a rare feast for fans of the unusual in modern music, Wellington last week courted The Residents, and this week plays host to Fetus Productions.
In 1980, Jed Town was to be found within the maelstrom of naked noise wedges that constituted Auckland band The Features. Their unhinged, raw acid-punk was a teaser for what was about to occur in Town’s next band, Fetus Productions.
When, in 1981, the then Australian-based ensemble released its first LP, the characteristics that would develop into a total entity were already in residence; the ‘song’ side, with its anguished, haunted and haunting vocals and minor key melodies; and the ‘experimental’ side with its sounds of abject terror.
While Fetus Productions has evolved, modified its lineup, developed its multi-media concept, and won acclaim in England, Europe and Japan, it has remained true to both seemingly opposed aspects of its music.
In 1983, the Fetalmania EP brought a slightly green-around-the-gills John Lennon back from the grave with its six accessible songs. Fetus Productions toured the country at the time with a musical mix of sheer brutality; the show was completed by films and slides of the most gory bodily mutations and atrocities imaginable.
Fetus Productions – who have thus far been based in Auckland, Sydney, California, Tokyo and Auckland – made its first sojourn to Wellington in December 1984, and its performances at The Pulse were scary; loud enough to push your lungs through your rib-cage, sharp enough to leave a mark where the scalpel made its incision, the slides and film images glared while crypt-crazy Town spat blood (capsules) at an enraptured crowd.
But just what were they trying to prove in this endless parade of horror?
Ray Castle, in a 1984 article, wrote: ‘Through horrific imagery there is a paradoxical ploy by Fetus Productions to confront their audience with human rights and an organic respect for life. They wish to reveal society’s consumer concepts of producing and conditioning people like perfect products, or rejects. They see themselves as positive and supportive, but add that society anaesthetizes itself from pain which it needs to confront if it is to grow.’
“The macabre factor is really quite natural,” says band member Serum. “But European cultures have whitewashed it. That’s why they are fearful of the bomb. The Japanese have lived through it and identify with mutations in a personal way.”
This weekend sees the second-ever Fetus Productions Wellington foray. Their Endless Possibilities tour will feature a collection of films called The Box with sound backdrop, and then there’s a performance described as ‘high-energy thrash and acoustic songs’.
Supporting Fetus Productions tomorrow and Saturday at the Electric Ballroom is local band Sparky’s Magic Baton. GARY STEEL
Note from the author: I remember doing the interview in a motor-caravan on Oriental Parade with Jed and Serum. There was a bottle with what I imagined to be a real fetus sitting nearby on a shelf. Jed did not communicate well… that is, he didn’t give me one single sentence I could use as a quote, although he did talk. I was fascinated with his teeth, which had been modified to sharp points. Now, I wonder where that interview transcript is hiding…
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.