Friday, June 12, 2009

Do the Mussolini (Headkick)

In the movies machines almost never listen to music, indeed they seem to go out of their shiny way to avoid it.  So the machines in the Matrix might get some stirringly creepy soundtrack to their human-growing activities, but in the reality they would only be listening to the hum of the electricity generated.  Cybermen may have a glorified I-Pod attached to their 'ears' but it is doubtful they hear anything more than the stomp stomp of their heavy feet as they go about their deleting business.  However if machines were going to listen to music it would be tempting to consider that they would not look much further than Sheffield's Cabaret Voltaire, surely the most suitable soundtrack to any dystopian nightmare?  There is no softness in their creations, no hint of the natural world in their stark soundscapes, brittle textures and distorted vocals.  So whilst some songs recall beauty, some revel in the soppy-ness of love and human relationships.  Not the Cabs.  'The Original Sound of Sheffield '78/'82' could only be forged in the fires of Steel City, the sweat and grind of the mill, the continual threat of gory accident or death, hastened by the dilapidation and griminess of everyday existence.  It's like heading back to the Industrial Revolution in a rusting shopping trolley, as told creatively through tape cassettes and voice modulators, guitars pushed to their limits through electronic veils.  Obscure, obscuring.  So "Nag Nag Nag" worms its seedy way into your skull, un-fathomable instructions barked in bleary voices, seemingly recorded in a wind tunnel.  "Do the Mussolini (Headkick)" constructs its beat around metallic intestines, churning through the sewers of human existence to spew out only garbled messages.  Whilst the woozy clatterings of "Yashar" are imbued with traces of Eastern melody, generally this is a grim, if satisfying, trawl - satisfying in that it reminds forcefully that music does not always have to be a pleasant or uplifting experience - it can be discomforting, unsettling even.  Take the saxophone on "Wait and Shuffle" merely a discordant meandering, only here it sounds threatening, as far away from the smug tedium of jazz as can be imagined.  Then in 1983 'The Crackdown' lets us imagine how it might be if the machines decided that they liked to disco.  Only a very imaginative (and un-self-conscious) individual might attempt a shuffle to "Baader Meinhof".  Anyone might move themselves around to "24-24", still cloaked in urban tension, but far more accessible with it.   Still, even if the beats are more familiar, the dissonance only becomes greater with immediacy; imagine Britney Spears doing a cover of "Why Kill Time (When You Can Kill Yourself), imagine if pop could be this discomforting?  (Although the sight of Britney, post breakdown, continuing to gyrate on stage is pretty discomforting in itself)  Chinks of light are also beginning to appear in the darkness; "Animation" with its shiny guitars and jaunty, if jerky, rhythm effectively creates machine-funk, "Diskono" escapes the dirge that otherwise drowns its comrades, describing (perhaps) the ecstasy rush of LEDs, and, of course, "Just Fascination", the closest to a conventional song as the Cabs are willing to provide, sent askew with its claustrophobic atmosphere - the prototype of electro-Goth.  The future is bleak, (if) the future is Cabaret Voltaire; listen to it and despair.

The searing sound of Cabaret Voltaire - 'Nag Nag Nag'