Punk was never a parasite gnawing at the inner fabric of society or even the music establishment, but it did lay some unexpected eggs on its welcoming host. The anti-establishment DIY ethos of making noncommercial music, and then pressing and distributing your own records clearly emerged with post-punk and electronic music...
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
In 1978 Thomas Leer pressed 650 copies of his double A side Private Plane and International on his own Oblique records - possibly a nod to the Oblique Strategies of Peter Schmidt and Brian Eno - 100 worthwhile dilemmas - used by Eno in recording sessions to overcome artistic blocks or to seek inspiration - an online version is here - be inspired!
Robert Rental similarly pressed 650 of his double A side single ACC and Paralysis on his own alliteratively consistent Regular records. When they rapidly sold out, both singles were re-released by 'Company' in somewhat different sleeves (slightly less DIY)
Private Plane/International were recorded in Tom's small Finsbury Park flat in 3 days using a TEAC A3440 4-track recorder and an ALICE mixing board. "The only FX used were a Watkins Copicat tape echo unit, Electo Harmonix DrQ filter, an old Roland drum machine and a Stylophone 350S. The process was simply a case of laying the tracks down one at a time, applying FX as I went along, and then mixing them all down onto a REVOX A77 mastering machine" They then moved everything across the Thames to Robert's Battersea flat to record ACC/Paralysis.
The DIY nature is evident above in my original time-jaundiced copies of the 45s: the xeroxed covers, even some felt tip colouring on Robert's (by him), John Bull printing on the white labels, handwritten cut-out details, even Robert's home address (where their album 'the Bridge' was recorded - see below).
Tom's single made a big impact - being made NME single of the week by Tony Parsons (now social commentator and author of Man & Boy), which normally assured fame and fortune in those days. The two 45s have a special feel that I believe have stood the test of time partly ‘because’ of the way they were recorded – at home on 4-track, in the same room where Liz was sleeping (hence Tom's vocals are delivered so softly), guitar, rhythm from a cheap drum machine and a bubbling bass that sounds too fast (in the style of Neu on Fur Immer or Hallo Gallo) and finally, Rolf Harris stylophone lead melodies! Without doubt, this 45 would be on my desert Island disc selection. Robert's two songs, by contrast, were less immediately accessible and at the time, overshadowed by his friends release; however, to my ear, Robert's ACC/Paralysis have matured more with age - on ACC sounding like a 'tired and emotional' Barry White on acid or on Paralysis like a terribly sad Tim Buckley being played at 16 RPM.
I heard Private Plane by Thomas Leer which he did all by himself, all the playing and writing, everything. That was the big turning point for me because it introduced me to a whole new form of music...Leer had all these drum machines and loops and totally different instrumentation, and this whole new world opened up, listening to his experimentation with atmospheres. I realised then that I didn`t have to make songs that sounded like everybody else...People would buy a stylophone and a small tape player and put out a record they had made in their bedroom. That was really inspiring.- Matt Johnson,The The
I don`t have to go into a studio, the fact that Thomas Leer made his record at home with a Revox and on mostly hired equipment, I thought was marvellous and I like his record a lot. In fact it`s one of my favourite records at the moment.– John Foxx, Ultravox
The Bridge: "I thought the idea of the song was dead"
Following their successful singles, Thomas and Robert produced 'The Bridge' for Industrial Records (Throbbing Gristle's label). One month after Margaret Thatcher was first elected as UK Prime Minister, and just as Joy Division released Unknown Pleasures, Tom and Rob spent two weeks (18 June to 2nd July 1979) recording the album using TG's 8-track recorder holed-up at Robert's high rise council flat (identified above). In the same vein as David Bowie's Low, released the previous year, the Bridge consists of two discreet sides - one with regular song structures, the other more fluid instrumental pieces.
Thomas said "Robert wanted songs and I wanted to do a pure ambient album...the idea of the song was dead and the future belonged to instrumental music. Voices could be used, but not in a structured way" - which I suppose is what he had been doing even in his poppier songs - the lyrics are largely indecipherable and add a melodic line for the listener.
As an example of the structured minimal electro pop of side one, here is Day Breaks, Night Heals - a dirty, grungy Kraftwerk as filtered through a more apologetic British mentality. The distinctive sound is of the Wasp synthesizer made by the British Electronic Dream Plant with its monophonic touch-sensitive keyboard, dual oscillators, it could be run on batteries, had a built in speaker, and connected to other Wasps or its sister sequencer -the Spider. It was the first affordable synthesiser to use digital technology- I bought mine over 30 years ago and it still works!
Although repetition is a major force in music it was never used in this way before - Terry Riley
From side 2, here is Interferon , which is a paradigmatic example of a looping technique pioneered by Brian Eno on Discreet Music. Althoiugh it was used earlier by people like Terry Riley, who referred to it as the 'Time Lag Accumulator' -listen to his Ecstasy from 1968; and then more explicitly by Eno's collaborator Robert Fripp (formerly of King Crimson), who referred to it as Frippertronics. Fripp introduced this to Eno on their album No Pussyfooting (listen to Heavenly Music Corporation).
Interferon uses a mixture of tape loops and synthesiser sounds played backward to develop a dense though dark orchestral sound - closer to the experimentation of Riley than the quietness of Eno. As noted on The Bridge sleeve (see below), you can actually hear interfering electrical items click (a fridge or other domestic device) echoing away infinitely during Interferon. At other points on side 2, you can hear their soft Scottish voices chatting in the background, coughing, attempting repeatedly to light cigarettes, excerpts of the TV - all encompassed in a womb of hypnotic loops - side 2 as a whole contains some of my favourite electronic insrumental pieces - music made in life - truly ambient!
The back cover of The Bridge shows the dominating presence of the tape-loop decks
Robert (left) and Thomas (right)
Robert (left) and Thomas (right)
Robert Rental and the Normal live
Robert did play live a few times with Daniel Miller (as Robert Rental and the Normal) during a typically perverse Rough Trade tour in which they were support act for Stiff Little Fingers in 1979.Fortunately one gig was recorded and released as a single-sided LP by Rough Trade: Live at the West Runton Pavilion - a smallish venue on the North Norfolk coast (which now no longer exists but did host everyone from Chuck Berry to T-Rex, Sex Pistols, the Clash and Joy Division). Some great footage of Robert and Daniel playing live to the somewhat bemused would-be-punk audience also exists (see below)
Before setting off on the tour Robert and Daniel played a single night at the Cryptic One Club under Trinity Church, Bishops Bridge Road, Paddington, along with Metabolist, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. This was one of many great nights organised in unusual venues by the gig promoters 'Final Solution' - or Colin Faver (who worked in Small Wonder Records in Walthamstow, London) and Kevin Millins - who deserve credit for the role they played. Colin subsequently became a DJ on the rave scene. By the way Colin, if you ever read this, you still have my copy of the 1st Annual Report by Throbbing Gristle (on cassette) - 30 years is a long loan!
NME journalist, and now culture commentator, Paul Morley's description of the Cryptic Club evening resonates closely with my memories:
A youth club under a church. A cramped cellar, lots of arches. The "stage" is 15 feet deep and six feet wide. Twenty at most of the audience can see it. A few more can see part of it. In a corner lager is being sold for 50 pence a can. The writing on the wall doesn't say "a culture never falls to pieces, it just gives birth", but that's only 'cos I'd forgotten my chalk.It was hot, crowded, murky, NOISY now and then, silent but mostly decadent. Paul MorleyAlso Cosey Fanni Tutti of Throbbing Gristle recalled that night:
"It was an electric night, very alive and thumping energy from wall to wall and from roof to well below ground. A great shift and a great surge forward happened that night.... Suffice it to say it was special in MANY many ways to all the people who attended" - Cosey
Cryptic One Club 11th November 1978 (the remainder of my Ticket stub)
International (a completely new song about the mundane life of an international heroin-trader)
...carrying across the world and selling it to boys and girls, delivered from the company, packaged by international
International (top) and Chasing the Dragon (bottom)