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?
S.P.U.D. – Gnaw (Flying Nun/Festival)
Various Artists – Deepgrooves (Deepgrooves/Festival)
First published in the NZ Listener, March 9, 1992.
CLASSICISTS BELIEVE THAT true art is heavenly, that it eschews the influence of its time in history. They can shove that baloney up their snobby snouts! More valuable is the art – if we really must call it that – which imitates the environment its creators live in.
Just as the industrial revolution influenced the work of Stravinsky (and more profoundly, Varese) and the Nazi holocaust and the resulting devastation influenced Stockhausen and Kraftwerk, the downside of modern industry and technology is reflected in the screaming nightmare visions of rock extremists like S.P.U.D.
There are many noisemongers in the world of rock, but few who know, academically or intrinsically, how to use it to any purpose other than metaphorical bloodletting; sperm count rage release. Those who use it effectively we shall call noise terrorists.
Blues doesn’t make us bluer, it releases our emotional demons as they relate to our intimate relationships. Noise terrorists aren’t necessarily opposed to anything, but anybody who feels exposed to the blinding, all-seeing monster in the human heart that industry and technology have amplified might find solace in this crashing cauldron.
It’s particularly strange that Aotearoa – which is hardly a hive of industry or at the forefront of the technology race – should be home to some of the earth’s most expressive noise terrorists. Maybe it’s because they can stand outside the sickness and feel its insidious glow without being consumed by it. Who knows, but the Gordons, Bailter Space and Skeptics have proved highly influential groups to groups as diverse as Sonic Youth and Jesus Jones. Now Auckland’s S.P.U.D. have joined the heavyweights with their first album, on which they manage to summon a din that could have come straight from hell’s bowels.
On ‘Recliner’, vocalist Glen Campbell (!) echoes the ghost of Nick Cave and the Birthday Party as he spits out his tuneless evil like a devil baby vomiting blood and bile. The pieces rumble along with an intense, hateful menace that reaches its pinnacle on the menacing ‘Creep’ and the monstrous ‘Hee-ha’: impossibly lurching rhythms, an incomprehensible audio horror movie inducing a feeling of creeping paralysis. ‘Mud Death’ is interesting for what is half buried in the mix, like some nerve-wracking, unidentifiable noise in the still of the night of the living dead. ‘I Can Taste’ could scare the animals or jam a wonky pacemaker with its sharp, shocking stop/start time signatures, and ‘Hit The Road’ has guitar noises that sound like animals on death row. We’re talking sheer panic here, folks.
Both Gnaw and the sonic dance experiments that comprise the Deepgrooves compilation have a depth of sound seldom heard on New Zealand recordings, and for that we have producer (and Listener film reviewer) Mark Tierney to thank. Dub reggae is well to the fore on Deepgrooves but it’s the sweet soul moves of ‘Deep Groove (Love Theme)’ by Rhythm & Business and ‘In The Deep Of The Night’ by Love & Bass that make the biggest mark. Unfortunately, they also sound almost exactly like hip British hybrid Massive Attack. Deepgrooves is stacked with juicy sounds but it’s deeply derivative stuff. GARY STEEL
Note from the author: I felt quite ashamed reading my naïve assessment. Not that I feel any differently about the S.P.U.D. album now than I did then, but I would definitely aim to be a whole lot less pompous. And putting Sonic Youth and Jesus Jones (Jesus Jones!) in the same sentence was a bit rich. I suspect that I should have also listened a little more comprehensively to that Deepgrooves compilation, as well! I wish I’d kept it.
* Don’t forget to check out www.audioculture.co.nz after May 31, where you’ll find a vast repository of NZ music history.