Mark Stewart + The Tango Rhums
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It’s a stunning work of gladiatorial proportions, a seething arena of sonic mischief, stellar collaborations and deceivingly dislocated backdrops, shot throughout with Stewart’s twistedly eloquent observations and manifestos. After spending the last three decades watching his innovations plundered and turned into gold by both friends and foes, Stewart is back with his most high profile album to date, re-establishing him as one of the most volcanic creative minds this country has produced.
Over two years, material was recorded in Berlin, Lisbon, New York, Vancouver and old mucker Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound, before being knocked into shape with Mark’s co-producer Youth in London. Stewart takes the art of collaboration to a different level in his never-ending quest for the perfect beat and fresh aural vistas. Like a lightning conductor, he channels the verbal insurrection racing through his brain at light-speed, and he casts bolts of sonic uproar, carried or embellished by names including Kenneth Anger, Richard Hell, Primal Scream, Lee Perry, Gina Birch, Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt, Massive Attack’s Daddy G. and Factory Floor.
He has also performed something of a miracle by getting Clash founder and original PiL guitarist Keith Levene involved with often startling consequences, along with original Jesus And Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart.
“The whole thing grew out of something I was trying to do with Kenneth Anger,” explains Mark. “I was living in Berlin and these mates of mine were connected to this kind of Dada art group in Portugal called Mechanosphere. First of all, I organised this week-long symposium in Portugal for some art funding about magic and art. It was such a pleasure to do that. I was then going to do some weird thing with Kenneth as some kind of avatar…It’s passing it on but also paying homage. Kenneth Anger’s spirit kind of hangs over the whole thing.”
The Anger connection: renowned as one of the most influential independent filmmakers in cinema history, he is notorious for injecting surreally unsettling works such as 1964’s Scorpio Rising, 1969’s Invocation of My Demon Brother and 1972’s Lucifer Rising with elements of homoerotica, gay culture and his abiding fascination with the occult (or unknown).
“I feed off things (like Kenneth’s stuff) like a nutrient. ‘Little Johnny Jewel’ by Television when we were kids, gave us an amazing energy, Richard [Hell] was crucial to my history. Daddy G casts a different shadow, but then people like Massive say that I feed them. Then there’s this generation next, like Factory Floor, Kahn the Bristol Bass kid and Crookers. It’s a pleasure to give something back and also help kids who are starting off…I’ve never really collaborated with people before. I’ve always been a real loner, on my own doing weird experiments and not giving a fuck what anybody thought about it. I just wanted to hear a backwards noise; that’s how I got my pleasure.”
The Pop Group blasted out of Bristol in 1979 with the wired, avant future-funk manifesto of their ‘We Are All Prostitutes’ single and Y debut album, redirecting their punk energy into the political arena, supporting campaigns such as Stop SUS. Stewart’s blood-letting vocal torrents rode disembodied funk grooves and fearsome free jazz skronking, continuing into 1980’s For How Much Longer Must We Tolerate Mass Murder? Album. Stewart then hitched up with Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound, probably the most cutting edge operation of that period. As punk and its post-punk derivative got more formularised, the Pop Group struck further out, before imploding, leaving Stewart immersed in the sonic possibilities of dub reggae and mixing desk mayhem on 1982’s Jerusalem EP (which included the unsettling but still uncannily prescient future-funk of 1982’s ‘Welcome To Liberty City’) and his first solo album, the following year’s Learning to Cope With Cowardice. “Mark Stewart is my hero,” declared Massive Attack’s Daddy G.
Stewart was also fixated with the early hiphop he heard in the States, bringing back gold dust-like tapes of New York’s groundbreaking hip radio stations, typically going to the source and procuring the Sugarhill/Tommy Boy rhythm section to join his Maffia. His next three albums - 1985’s As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade, 1987’s Mark Stewart album and 1990’s Metatron - are regarded as epochal future-shocks, blueprinting industrial (Ministry kingpin Al Jorgensen and NIN’s Trent Reznor citing him as a major influence) and trip-hop (“Mark Stewart, he’s my chaos”, says Tricky). The latter album saw him hijacking techno for another uniquely-personal flight which, by Stewart’s idiosyncratic in-breeding process, manifested later that decade in cyber-punk and the work of former flat-mate Tricky, proto-dubstep being another creation. (“Most dubstep kids, Burial and that, they love all that stuff me and Adrian were doing”).
After 1996’s Data Control, Stewart glanced back at his past achievements with 1998’s We Are All Prostitutes Pop Group compilation. Following 2008’s Edit album. Stewart was the subject of Toni Schiffer’s documentary movie, On/Off - Mark Stewart: From the Pop Group to the Maffia.
This unmatchable track record of anarchic pioneering and seismic influence prompted Nick Cave to declare, “Mark Stewart changed everything”. Looking back, Mark says, “I thought I was making dance music, but a track on Veneer of Democracy supposedly inspired all the American industrialists, like Front line Assembly and Skinny Puppy, while another track supposedly inspired the Bristol kids. It happens all the time. I’ve got this nonchalance that nothing is sacred so I’ll crash a Slayer guitar line with Rotterdam gabba beats. For me, it’s like colours. I grew up doing montages; like I did this collage of Ronald Reagan’s head on this gay porno cowboy. In fact, I’ve never really grown up at all. I’m still trying to put round things into square holes.”
Possibly never more so than on the new album, as body-slamming beats grind and collide into rabble-rousing street carnage, contagious melodies are sometimes allowed to rear like 60s energy jazz before Stewart lets loose another hellfire narrative. Contributing to much of the maelstrom in his inimitable fashion is Keith Levene, a little-heard figure in recent years, who helped Mark bust open the dimensional sound. “Keith is counter intuitive he was one of the few people that I got on with from the London punk scene when I used to come up to the Roxy and stuff. I think we were playing one of our first Pop Group shows in London supporting the Cortinas at the Marquee; the day that Elvis died. I was talking to somebody outside, and didn’t even know what Keith did then. We were talking about UFOs and it was like talking to a mate outside a pub. I love the bloke.”
Having recording a surfeit of material (which will eventually surface), including collaborations with Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard Kirk, Crass, the Bug and Judy Nylon, Stewart deliberated painstakingly over the track sequence. Listened to as a whole, this salivating beast of an album is an evocative, force-ten wall of sound, often breathtaking in its emotional and musical scope, but making perfect, if twisted, sense…
Although featuring Kenneth Anger on theremin and Richard Hell (Neon Boys, Television, Heartbreakers, Voidoids) on vox, Stewart starts the album by reaffirming the fact that, decades ago, when working with Adrian Sherwood, the UK’s foremost sonic scientist, he defined what is now called dubstep. Except here, the grainy, throbbing undertow was created with Bristol new blood Khan, according to Stewart, “like the new generation of Bristol bass after Joker and Pincher. I call it future bass.”
“That Primal Scream track ended up on there because I wanted something noisy,” explains Mark. Coming in on the Sherwood connection, they don’t disappoint, firing up an agit-protest superfunk monster with sirens and Bobby Gillespie’s frenetic “keeping the dream alive” call-and-response chant with Stewart. The song was originally written about Carlo Giuliani, killed at the 2001 G8 demonstrations in Genoa.
Crackpot reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry as rarely heard before, “spitting diamonds” over a nerve-gouging central motif with Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt blanketing the dense, heavyweight urban dubscape.
Slo-mo coldwave, with shadowy extra-terrestrial rhythm-loops and grainy hell-drive dynamics, ending unexpectedly on haunted strings and Stewart’s muted reflections.
Floor-shaking bass mechanic Youth and Kirsten Reynolds (Project Dark), transmitting her light sensitive diodes, pulse and crash on this track, whilst grindcore guitars stoke the feeling of encroaching paranoia. Created with Factory Floor, and new school of Bristol basshead Kahn contributing a foetid slab of aural malevolence.
A shivering sheet metal romp, riding a rhythm somewhat redolent of the Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’ (but actually German electronic legends Der Plan), dipped in an steaming acid bath on one of the best examples of the album’s trademark 21st-century schizoid wall of sound.
Cool electro-glide in blue mating synthetique flurries with a sick stinging put-down song: classic Stewart confrontationalism, railing against “corporate cocksuckers” and declaring “sanity sucks”.
Method to the Madness
A huge, seething synth-crawl provides one of the album’s atmospheric highlights, gouging beyond industrial or dubstep to create a frightening new take on modern mood music.
Stewart and the Bristol-based individuals who went on to form Massive Attack go back to the punk era. When it came to constructing this bleak, heaving whale of a tune, Daddy G’s unmistakable deep-throat intonations made the perfect garnish.
Letter to Hermione
Possibly the most unimaginable cover version, but this is indeed the song off David Bowie’s eponymous 1969 album (aka Space Oddity), David and Mark being fans of each other’s work. Originally, the song was a wispy lament for girlfriend Hermione Farthingale (who jilted him in 1968), now it’s a spookily-orchestrated, beatless lament, maybe harking back to Bowie’s ominously dense Outside period.
It’s almost as if, having undergone the sensory roller-coaster of the previous ten tracks, Stewart turns on the light, presses the button marked Hit Single and even lets Levene unleash some of his inimitable metal guitar jangle on a slice of gorgeously melancholic brilliance. Joined by Factory Floor and Gina Birch of the Raincoats’ effectively-fragile counterpoint, ‘Stereotype’ is an effortless modern pop classic, catchy in the extreme and the perfect end to this intoxicatingly provocative set of songs.
If Kenneth Anger described his Scorpio Rising as “a death mirror to American culture”, Stewart has managed to pull off a similar feat for both British music and subterranean jungles of the world. Still vandalising his larynx and lyrical flow to the outer limits, this time he also focuses on making sure he gets heard by more than the devoted and eager plagiarists, even willing to play the media game, “to be an explosion in the heart of the commodity”. In safe 2011, we need Mark Stewart’s hot-wired danger train more than ever, except this time he’s steering a collision course through musical fields long riddled with his legacy to take his long-awaited place among the great subversive musical minds to emerge in the last century.
More info at http://www.markstewartmusic.com
“Kelly, you ate the last Scotch Pie whilst listening to Joy Division.
Why did you do it baby “ ? ( The Tango Rhums, Kelly)
Formed in November 2008 the original line up remains in tact.
Andrew Meikle (Ex- Beat Necessity) Guitar / Vocal
Andrew Loughrey (Ex- Good and Gone) Bass / Vocal
Gavin Bonnar Guitar
Lee McPhail Drums
Alan Bruce Keyboards
Their new album, Roundabouts, is available now through http://www.newtownproducts.com/
More info at www.tangorhums.com
From 7.30pm in The Ballroom. Advance tickets £13.50 stbf available from The Voodoo Rooms, Ripping Records, Tickets Scotland (Edinburgh). Buy online here. Over 18 only