FROM SHEFFIELD -
AND CLOCK DVA
I’d interviewed Genesis P Orridge for the ‘Styng’ underground
newspaper, defended Marc Bolan’s up-switch to electric guitar in
‘Melody Maker’, and done a scattering of music-related features for
various fanzines. But encountering ‘NEUTRON RECORDS’ and the
Sheffield bands VICE VERSA and CLOCK DVA was a revelation
that shocked me around and altered the trajectory of my writing.
This is what I consider my first real piece of Music Journalism.
This is what started it all for me.
Everything that followed, had its origins here…
When the nukes start to fall, and the evening (of civilisation) is high, we will celebrate this way…!
It’s a strange night. Earlier, Genesis P Orridge, in military fatigues, supervised setting up Monte Cazazza’s equipment, synching the tapes, triggering soundcheck reverb careening over packed heads and poking holes in the smoke. Now, theirs is a two-piece fifteen-minutes of musique concrète white noise. A girl, who is probably Cosey Fanni Tutti in leather, sits engrossed in evoking discord from a guitar, while a guy with a synthesiser howls incomprehensible “Sperm Song” lyrics through voice distortion, then another about child-strangler “Mary Bell”. It’s cut-ups of sound like Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen used to construct in Paris arts-labs in the late-fifties, the kind of thing usually aimed at elitist modern classical audiences and critically deconstructed in ultra-serious arts magazines. A little more aggressive now perhaps, but here in Leeds, kids are bouncing up and down like it’s Blondie or something. Spontaneous reactions striking intuitively deep at unprepared brain-centres.
Lights around the stage event horizon drill upwards. As it gets hotter and the air gets more congested the lights get buried beneath mounds of discarded leather jackets. Internal combustion results in columns of toxic smoke drifting hazily across the snaking wires and control boxes. People stand around, watching like it’s Special-FX, Queen’s Dry-Ice or something. I’m watching, lager in hand – but at fifty-pence a pint I’m not about to offer to extinguish the imminent conflagration. Sound grates on. From the back of the stage Genesis P watches plumes of smoke gather and dissolve, and starts gesticulating like a refugee from Martha Graham’s Modern Dance, until Roadies slam to the front hurtling smouldering leather jackets – with button-badges of Throbbing Gristle/ Police/ Toyah, at odd trajectories into the crowd. A strange night.
Let’s take a CRUISE to oblivion, this time we’ll REALLY get high…!
Vice Versa spout the regulation New Austerity spiel, their ‘product’, their ‘advertisers perception of truth’. Yet behind such cutesy relentless modernity they have the intellectual intensity to give it content, making it more than just a this-year’s-model stance. This is Rock with the appliance of science. They make all the correct cultural connections and write a mean Manifesto that arch-Futurist Filippo T Marinetti would smile on. When you buy Neutron, you buy a conceptual package deal. You buy the full corporate image, the whole shrink-wrapped, date-stamped philosophy. The music is not necessarily the product. It is the vehicle, the weapons-strike delivery system through which the product is targeted, channelled, and communicated.
“Modern As In Mary Quant” is an as-yet unrecorded song, their paean to consumerism. ‘Mary makes the most of your trash aesthetic, Mary is messiah of the trash aesthetic.’ It is contagious, it irradiates the stage with lethal hook-lines. I hear it once, and I can’t get it out of my head.
In the corner of a Sheffield pub some time before the gig, Mark White talks in fast humorous epithets. He is around twenty-one, and intends staying there, has freshly shorn dark hair he keeps irrigating obsessively with the fingers of both hands. He disclaims my tentative analogies with other synthesiser bands. ‘All the clichés are there now. It’s all become so stereotyped. You’re either Gary Numan or the Human League.’
Martin Fry speaks more carefully, as though calculating effect. On stage he will later lead a between-numbers ‘Ommmm’ chant that will perplex the nouveau trendy, and rekindle memories of the Fugs and Allen Ginsberg in those who – like me, have been around long enough to remember. The most recent addition to Vice Versa, his effect on the trio’s direction has already been considerable. ‘I was always interested in synthesisers. It was such a stylistic revelation. We were into that kind of feeling. But we’ve already exhausted that form of synthesis.’
I suggest that the rigidity of the drum-machine works counter to improvisation, straight-jacketing (pun intended) spontaneity. ‘Yes, it does in a way, but that’s good because the improvisation then comes out vocally. We don’t stick religiously to it because then you’re just static. We are developing towards a kind of Funk Vision.’
Speed-reading their biographical-data print-out/ Manifesto – ‘Our methods involve seduction by cheap sexual fantasy, lies, appealing to the consumer’s greed and the implications of romantic blackness and modernity. The effect is of shrink-wrap beef burgers.
From them, I piece together genealogies. The band coalescing around 1977, drawing inspiration from Punk, but resisting the cliché of falling into the three-chord thrash, channelling it rather into more unorthodox forms. I list other possible influences for reaction.
David Bowie? ‘He’s offered a lot of blueprints.’
The Dada anti-art movement? ‘The thing about Dada is that – whether they call it Dada or not, it’s a permanent force, a perpetual revolution. It’s a substitute word for Punk, I suppose. The original Cabaret Voltaire connection. Hugo Ball. Tristan Tzara.’
Chic, Giorgio Morodor? ‘Disco is an excellent vehicle.’
Acid Punk? ‘The Standells. Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The Electric Prunes “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night”. I bought Lenny Kaye’s excellent ‘Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era’ (1972) double-album, ‘cos I was desperate to get hold of first statements.’
Martin Fry originally came round to interview the band for his ‘Modern Drugs’ fanzine, and he never left.
So there’s still a chance for me? ‘We’re sizing you up!’
Martin redirects conversation to Neutron’s current preoccupations. ‘What interests us now is the speed of operation. Shelf-life for everything. Everything is marked ‘Sell by…’ Records should have a sticker on, ‘this will be out of fashion in three-and-a-half minutes’.’
Mark concurs. ‘And the way things are burning themselves up. We did a song – “Artists At War”, exposing the cyclical nature of fashion. Mods coming back – you didn’t think it had gone away, but it’s back! Gradually speeded up. A snowball effect. You can’t even see them they’re going so fast. Now you get one-hit Disco wonders, which is a true Andy Warhol fifteen minutes.’
Fry admits to ‘walking in a dead man’s shoes’ through his first months with Vice Versa (replacing founder-member David Sydenham). They toured with Cowboys International, treading the line between energy and experimentation, meeting and subduing-deflecting skinhead opposition at the Middlesborough ‘Rock Gardens’. They recorded “Genetic Warfare” for the ‘1980: The First Fifteen Minutes’ EP compilation (Neutron NT003), alongside Clock DVA, “Beautiful People” by the Stunt Kites, and “I Don’t Know” by I’m So Hollow, lovingly wrapped into a six-sided fold-out sleeve. Organisation of the record was done along democratic lines, each of the four bands allotted four minutes vinyl time and thirty-six square inches of art area within its lavish sleeve. Neutron pressed it up in successive tranches of one-thousand. It was voted ‘Best Package Of The Week’ by ‘Melody Maker’, and scored heavily on various alternative charts.
But now it is 1980 – the next fifteen minutes…
‘The next THIRTY minutes’ asserts Martin Fry confidently.
The material that’s become manifest since he joined the trio provides evidence of a remarkable evolution. Three numbers – in particular, stand out. The aforementioned “Modern As In Mary Quant” and “Artists At War” – urging ‘slash your wrists!’, ‘always forward!’, ‘anti-age’, ‘be dynamic!’, plus “Jazz Drugs, Jazz Violence” – ‘jazz drugs, jazz look, jazz age, jazz mambo, jazz waltz, jazz damn thing to love...’ – the latter two available in cassette form as part of their Neutron C60 ‘Eight Aspects Of April ‘80’ (later retrospected – quoting this feature, at Julian Cope’s http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/2026/ ).
Will this product be placed on vinyl? ‘At the moment we’re a bit disillusioned with the independent market. It’s just saturated with rubbish. We appreciate the Punk ethic – ‘do what you want, anybody can do it’. But it’s got no commitment. It’s manifesting itself in Rough Trade’s attitude. They are becoming more and more selective. With the independents you’re reaching a certain market. A certain ideology. We don’t want that, we want populism. You’ve probably heard this line before from bands. It’s a dangerous line between populism and crass commercialism. You tend to sacrifice one for the other’ (in fact, the full Vice Versa catalogue would not be re-mastered and issued on vinyl until November 2014 with the brilliant 4-LP Box Set ‘Vice Versa: Electrogenesis 1978-1980’, http://www.vinyl-on-demand.com/-1-402-507.htm ).
Clock DVA-tions? ‘From the very beginning our aim was to provoke, to gain adverse response, to create the perfect, pornographic, electronic violence. A wall sound that sweeps.’ It’s a devastating multi-purpose concept that they’re capable of translating into an all-encompassing sensory event, encapsulating on vinyl, or placing on film. Their movie ‘Genitals And Genosis’ features ‘pornographic surrealism’, splicing news-film of the Myra Hindley and Ian Brady trial with domestic scenes of Genesis P Orridge at home.
It provides the demarcation line between the two units. For Vice Versa there is no such deliberate obscurantism. Their lyrics may be staccato, cut-up, and prevocational, but they’re also well-structured, and their importance to the band is not to be underestimated. I will remember this fistful of nights…
Shift of location. Shift of form. To misquote Chuck Berry, I look at Clock DVA, it’s a quarter past 1981, and THIS is the next fifteen minutes! The Genesis P Orridge connection has reached maturation in the Fetish-label album ‘Thirst’ (Fetish FR2002). You know the rest, you’ve read the reviews, been seduced by the superlatives, seen the Indie chart submit to the inevitable force of the year’s most ponderously hypnotic and intense album.
The new ID is ABC, a radical dance faction aimed at the world’s first swaying elite. They mean business. It is very much in your interest to stay tuned…
This piece was picked up by ‘Hot Press’ – the Dublin-based
fortnightly paper which was then expanding its circulation
into England. Unfortunately, by then, Vice Versa
were in the process of rebranding themselves into ABC,
and they made it quite clear to me that they no longer
wanted an interview about Vice Versa to appear! I was
in a desperate quandary. This was my chance to get a
major feature published in a wide-circulation
newsstand music paper, I didn’t want to lose that opportunity.
So I was on the phone to ‘Hot Press’ then I was on the
phone to Vice Versa. I hastily rewrote the last two
paragraphs to update it, reading the amendments out
aloud on the phone to Dublin. And eventually the
group agreed to the interview going ahead, on the
understanding that I’d then do a follow-up feature on ABC.
Which duly happened. My twenty-year stint with ‘Hot Press’
was up and running. Incidentally, ‘New Musical Express’
had turned this interview down, but within months they
were falling over themselves to get interviews with both ABC
and the amazing Clock DVA…!
‘WOOL CITY ROCKERS no.12’ (February 1981 – UK)
‘HOT PRESS Vol.5 No.4’ (Eire – March 1981)
‘ROCKERILLA no.9’ (January 1981 – Italy)
Accidentally bumped into this while searching for Clock DVA interviews online. Essential reading - brilliant scans!
Thank you very much for sharing.
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Great writeup. I travelled up to Sheffield twice in 1979/1980 to do an article about the Sheffield music scene. Martin Fry was kind enough to let me stay in his flat (Jud Turner had a room next door) and I spent a few days getting to know all the characters on the scene, including watching I'm So Hollow rehearse, hanging out at Clock DVA's rehearsal space, and having various meals at Stephen Singleton's and Jud Turner's mum's houses. I was also lucky enough on the first trip to see Vice Versa play at the George IV (the Screaming Abdabs had pulled out and they were asked to step in at the last moment).
Sadly my article didn't get published (Zigzag magazine, who I initially pitched it to got cold feet and NME and MM didn't want to publish a feature from an unknown writer). By the second trip there was a suspicion that I was only really there for Clock DVA (I sense there was a lot of dope fuelled suspicion operating) and I was made to feel less welcome.Vice Versa were coming to the end of their road - I remember seeing them at the City Hall gig and Mark White ceremonially tore him raincoat in half. Stephen played me a few tapes of some stuff they'd be doing which sounded to me like a bad Clock DVA tribute band. But then I think on the last day I saw Martin Fry standing in front of a mirror, crooning into a hairbrush (true!) and it was fairly obvious what was going to happen next.
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