MORE ELECTRIC SHADOWS
Have you heard the ‘Murmur’?
HULA exist for those emotionally ready to consider
the alternatives. Are YOU hip to the jive?
investigates Sheffield’s electro-iconoclasts
Which has nothing whatever to do with the subject of this interview.
HULA-WHOOP? HULA-BALLOO? HULA! Why Hula?
‘I should invent a REALLY good story for this’ grins Ron Wright. He tends to grin a lot, and talks in a slow loping North-East-tainted drawl that often collapses into hacking disintegrations of laughter. ‘No – it’s just the name of a house where we all used to live. The house had a good ‘pedigree’, if you like, a character! It was the oldest house in Sheffield, dating back to sixteen-hundred-and-something, it used to belong to the Earl of Devonshire. And, well – it had a reputation through the years for things like drug busts, and it was a Gay house. It seemed to cater for all the more deviant elements of society. It was a VERY ODD HOUSE. And… it’s just an interesting name as well. I quite like the sound. It’s evocative, nice vowel sounds. It’s very ambiguous. Around the time of the Punk period, it was incredibly vogue to have heavy and serious-sounding names. We didn’t want to do that, and I’m glad we didn’t, because the name Hula’s more durable.’
So you associate Hula with ‘the more deviant elements of society’? ‘Well – yes!’, like he’s stating the bleeding obvious. And do drug-busts figure as a part of the Hula story? ‘Naw – aniseed balls. That’s about the extent of it…’
HULA: Hawaiian woman’s dance (also hula-hula) native word
(‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’)
The Crucible Theatre is crawling with school-parties, thousands of kids in milling massy throngs. Out the panoramic wrap-around lounge-windows more of them arrive in fleets of air-conditioned coaches. They’re here for ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’. I’m here for Hula. Mark Albrow retrieves a mug of tea from the hatch and carefully measures four sachets of sugar into it. ‘I thought the Teachers Union were on Industrial Action’ I comment morosely, ‘whatever happened to solidarity?’ ‘We ALL know what happened to solidarity’ sez Mark stirring his tea anti-clockwise, backhanding accurately to the Miner’s dispute… or maybe Lech Wałęsa, a sharp guy. Mark wears a battered off-colour leather jacket, an anti-style quiff, and a lazy cynical smile.
John sits beside him in a peaked pvc cap. He’s the newest Hula. ‘John…? John Avery.’ Is that spelt as in the Kinks? ‘The Kinks drummer was Mick AVORY. This is A-v-e-r-y.’ Perhaps I’d best not mention the Kinks connection – bad image associations for an upwardly mobile Industrial-Funk Sheffield unit, right? ‘No – I quite like the Kinks – the way each song is a narrative, a story-line.’
Own-up time. I’ve come callithumping across slow-glimmering Sheffield chasing the movers and shakers of sound-ceremonies that pulse upness and dance in spirit – and we wind up talking… Kinks?!?! From immortality to immorality Hula create the perfect contradictions.
In the studio Ron Wright also wears a peaked pvc cap. Can this be an attempt at image projection? Naw – just something they picked up in Holland on that Sheffield-package tour, with Artery, Leitmotiv and In The Nursery. Ron was the original Hula. ‘S’right.’ So when did it all begin? ‘Well – really, I’m trying to think. I can never answer this one, y’know. When was the first gig? It’s about 1981. Before 1981. Mark was in the group when we first played under the name Hula. But before that, before Mark, there was me, Alan Fish (drummer on Cabaret Voltaire’s 1983 ‘Crackdown’ LP) and a lad called Alan Watt. We were rehearsing and trying to develop some form of idea of what we wanted, and we did actually play a gig before we met Mark. We drafted in two girls to sing, they were basically just girlfriends. And that was the first-ever gig we did. Hula hadn’t stuck as a name then. After that we got Mark in, and we played a gig with him, that’s when we first used the name Hula. And that’s it really…’
But that’s not it really, in fact that’s just the beginning. Out of that loose grouping, with participants like Paul Widger (of Box), Pete Care (movie/ video-maker of ‘Johnny YesNo’, 1982) and Mark Brydon (of Chakk/ Moloko), emerged the first Hula line-up responsible for their twelve-inch “Black Pop Workout”. There was Albrow, Watt and Wright, with Fish drumming and Cab’s Stephen Mallinder producing, bass-heavy, extreme howls, distorted sample-bites, dissonant guitar on full gush. The monumental, oft-formless, but never dull debut album ‘Cut From Inside’ (1983) followed – titles like “Dirt Talk” and “Flesh Metal” setting the tone and tuning the attitude. There was also one track on the compilation EP ‘Four From The Floor’ (1983). It featured They Must Be Russians. It also featured Surface Mutants who featured a drummer called Nort. Nort crossed the floor and joined Hula in time to record their finest work yet – the 1984 album ‘Murmur’ and the single “Fever Car” – an Indie charts ‘NME’ Single Of The Week.
Nort enters on cue, direct from signing-on at the Dole Office. He’s chomping a tongue-sandwich. Nort – you played on the Cab’s ‘2X45’ (1982), which specific tracks did you contribute to? ‘I’ve forgot the names.’ Did you play on “Yashar”? ‘No. There were two twelve-inches in the package, and I played on all one side. That’s three tracks.’ How long did the sessions you played with them take? ‘Just a day. Really – just that one day. We rehearsed a day beforehand, then just laid it down.’ He’s now into the second course of his lunch – strawberry yoghurt. You didn’t play live with the Cab’s? ‘No, just the benefit thing – The Pressure Company, I did that.’ A live album came out of that legendary gig – a benefit for (Poland’s) Solidarity movement. Pax-records svengali Marcus Featherby released it. ‘Yeah’ – a leer from Mark. ‘When we find him we’ll break his neck. Marcus Featherby – the invisible man!’
‘The dissonance adds to the psychic effect’
Propped-up against the wall of the rehearsal studio are some of Mark’s paintings. A large-canvas of mounds and mounds and mounds of naked Auschwitz-like corpses with Munchesque-disfigurement on their hollow faces – ‘I just wanted to paint something… striking.’ And an attempted family group in pale-wash that’s stormed over in a blizzard of jack-the-dripper pointillism – ‘you could call it a balance between representational and abstract styles’ – jokily. He now restricts his visual-artwork to Hula record sleeves and occasional magazine layout, pure art being ‘too… solitary.’ But Ron Wright also contributes art-crit in the form of a learned dissertation (in ‘Overground’ magazine) on zerox-artist Simon Crump – a man who occasionally guest-saxes on Hula recording dates.
I suggest that Hula’s ideas, methods and motives seem closer to those of ‘artists’ than they are to what we’ll call – for sake of argument, ‘Rock’ music. ‘Yes, I agree’ agrees Mark, ‘I would never call us a Rock group.’ ‘‘Rock’ has horrible overtones now, doesn’t it?’ agrees Ron, ‘it stands for something long ago that should have been put to rest…’ ‘…long ago and far away.’ ‘No – I’d hate to think of us as ‘Rock’’ concludes Ron.
It’s a bad time for Rock, first Elvis Presley dies, Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis – now the Singing Nun suicides! I mean – a time when NUNS off themselves!! (Sister Sœur Sourire, who had a global hit with “Dominique” in 1963, died of a barbiturates overdose 29 March 1985). But – if Hula aren’t Rock, do you see yourselves working in any particular musical tradition or discipline? Mark was talking about John Cage while we are the Crucible?
‘It was YOU talking about tradition and John Cage’ Mark corrects pleasantly. ‘But there IS a tradition, and it goes way back. I mean, no matter who you quote as being your reference point you can always go back and find another one and another one and another one. Ideas that Cage was throwing out in 1954 were similar to ideas that the Futurists were using in 1912 or 1914, and of course, the Dada-ists. Most probably those ideas were floating around in the nineteenth-century too – not in music perhaps, but in related fields.’ So an idea can be taken from one field and used in another? ‘Oh yes.’
‘We also have things like film-loops as well. So yes – it works on every level.’
But, to ludicrously over-extend the analogy, artists who work in any medium have to become progressively more extreme to maintain the same initial level of innovation. Art is subject to the laws of diminishing returns, in the same way that pornography must become increasingly extreme to excite the same reactions. ‘I don’t know,’ Ron looks a little perplexed. ‘With pornography, if you go more extreme then you HAVE to be more subtle. By ONLY becoming more extreme you just cater to a more jaded appetite. So – I’m not quite sure where we stand on that one.’ But Hula are working in an area where there are vaguely defined industrial/ experimental precedents, and what Cabaret Voltaire or Throbbing Gristle were doing five years ago no longer shocks or outrages, so you have to develop further from their groundwork, right? ‘Well, I think you’ve got a point. We’ve set our targets on a sort of form for the music we want to do, and obviously we’re gonna get more extreme out of frustration, or just pure inquisitiveness. Just for our own purposes of searching, you know, going down the avenue even further.’
Do you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve? Or are you making it up as you go along?
‘Making it up as we go along’ from Mark.
‘Yeah’ from Ron.
MURMUR: subdued continuous sound,
subdued expression of discontent
(‘Concise Oxford Dictionary’)
Outlawing sex in a brothel might be an easier task than stopping musical experiment in Sheffield. There might be an established database of bands, personnel, musical and stylistic peccadillo’s – but is the love affair commercially over? ABC, Heaven 17 and market-leaders Human League have all been turning in disappointing sales figures of late. Is there life out beyond Cabaret Voltaire’s slipstream? Hula exist for those emotionally ready to consider the alternatives. ‘Murmur’ is Hula at its most definitive. It has all the diseased beauty and all the attractions of an image-intensified JG Ballard auto-wreck, so compulsive you just HAVE to take notice, just have to look and listen. Are YOU hip to the jive?
‘Murmur’ – Mark, are you satisfied with the way it turned out? ‘Yes and no.’ Ron? ‘Not particularly. But there’s certain tracks on it that I get great pleasure from. You always come away from the studio and think ‘if only’ and ‘that could’ve been better’, and you’ll always do that, which is perhaps good. It’s not a good thing to be satisfied with what you’re doing.’
And the track “Pleasure Hates Language” – ‘a rip-roaring piece’ sez Mark, the title says to me ‘emotion is more important than intellect’, ‘instinct over rationalism’. Would that be an accurate conclusion to draw? The reaction:
Mark: ‘Yes, basically. That’s how we operate. By intuition as opposed to… what was the word you used? – preconceived.’
Ron: ‘OH ANDY – you ask some REALLY DEEP questions!!!’
Andrew: ‘I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to be deep, just an observation.’
Ron: ‘No – I think it’s good. It’s just that I’m REALLY trying to think.’
Andrew: ‘In that case, I’ll ask a less deep question. What kind of Groupies does Hula attract?’
Mark: ‘Germ-free ones, I hope!’
Ron (laughter): ‘Hang on – I’m still working on an answer to the previous question…’
‘PAGES: December 1985’
(BACK PAGES no.6)
(UK – December 1985)
BRAIN CAPER FROM
THE TERMINAL ZONE
‘What Hula play disturbs me,
so it must fucking hurt some people’ – Nort
(‘New Musical Express’ 15 December 1984)
High-tech don’t really come into it.
John Avery makes the tea, but can’t quite get the hang of doing it right without bursting the teabag. While Ron Wright attacks the TV-sets. ‘There’s this video of the Holland tour.’ A small Sony portable shows rows of front-loading washing machines and contented housewives in blurred red-shift colour. While a large 26” screen with a vandalised button-panel refuses to divulge anything more than relentlessly monochrome static. It’s like some freak wearing laser-wire gloves has been rummaging around inside my head.
This is Hula. No zippy-glitzy death-mask of cosmetics, no rehearsed photogenics for the fan-mags, no Fairlight, no videos either. Just a bleak Sheffield rehearsal studio a few doors down from ABC’s Neutron HQ, and a sound that stomps the accelerator through a dead-man’s curve of invention. An intense sound played at demento volume sufficient to blast all opposition to quarks.
Hula have moved on a tad since then, mind. You probably picked up on the buzz emanating from the massive “Black Pop Workout”, their 1982 debut vinyl. Then there was a contribution to the ‘Four From The Floor’ (1983) EP sampler, and the ‘Cut From Inside’ (1983) album – an exercise in the art of darkness programming the compulsively repetitive “Murder In The Clean States”. Experiments in the manipulation of rhythm-bases treated and submerged in hyper-active electronics, vocal chants, and cut-tape trickery that culminates in their most fully realised work – the ‘Murmur’ (1984) album issued through Red Rhino. An evolution shoved further and climaxed with “Fever Car”, a single that drove Hula clear up the Indie charts and ‘opened up new avenues to us. The fact that you can get played on the radio – it starts to make you think, but not a lot. I consider we enjoy what we do too much to think about it in too mercenary a way.’
Chart success, Ron? Just how market-sensitive in Hula? Can studiocraft and soundsmanship alone erode sales resistance? He grins, like the idea’s a novelty he’s not really considered, he’s got no angst to grind – ‘I’d be a very bitter and frustrated man if those were my expectations…’
The same ethos is applied to recording, where they frisk the studio for whatever techniques they can loot. ‘The thing for us is to keep it OPEN’ emphasises Ron. ‘A lot of groups have a pure image of what they want and they just go straight in and do it, it’s like having a colouring book and they just supply the right colours to what’s already there.’ But in the studio, where outsiders are involved – producers and engineers, reaction can be more varied. ‘That lad in Holland was alright though, wasn’t he’ says John, pondering the kettle in puzzled bemusement.
‘We did the Dutch equivalent of the John Peel session (only there you get a little bit more time than at the BBC!)’ explains Ron. ‘The bloke who did our session was used to doing Folk music and stuff…’
‘…symphony orchestras’ from Mark.
‘I don’t think he’d ever worked so hard in his life as he did with us, and he REALLY appreciated it. He got VERY involved in what we were doing. It’s really funny, they start taking over your ideas. They start thinking in YOUR terms. Like if you start laying down a series of loops they start thinking that EVERYTHING must be loops. It’s like trying to do mixes of stuff – say a keyboard piece, and he says ‘I think if we just do it as a loop…?’ Ron doubles up in laughter. ‘He’d never done a backward reverb before in his life until we came’ adds Mark.
‘…it takes up a lot of channels…’
‘…to do it well, yes. But we just took a ‘horses for courses’ attitude. Vibrasound HAVE very good equipment and they’re flexible in the way they work. The engineer we use (Mark Estdale) is good and he’s into what we do – ‘cos he also does our live sound!’
‘But I don’t think we’ve had any trouble with engineers, they’ve always been pretty good. We’ve given them things that have tested their capabilities, and they respond to that. If you treat them with respect, with politeness, they’ll respond in kind.’
So – nuts and bolts, what keyboards were used on ‘Murmur’?
Mark: ‘A Casio MT41. An £80 Casio! And a Wasp – he said with pride!’
Ron: ‘We also used a Roland 60 which belonged to the studio. There’s a grand piano in there as well – Vibrasound have a piano. They took it out onto the top of the stairs and we did some stuff with that. But often stuff like piano we’ll record ourselves. We’ll take tape recorders around to someone’s house where there’s a piano – and take a hammer round as well! – and when they’ve gone to the toilet we’ll record some sounds. And all the sax pieces on the album were done in our cellar, round my ‘ouse, we borrowed some recording equipment, the sax pieces were done by us, and then taken into the studio. We store them and just feed them in where or when we’re recording. So a lot of stuff like that is actually prepared by us beforehand, or done by us prior to even entering the studio.’
It’s a mix of spontaneity and preparation, some of it worked out through Hula’s four-track mixer which came through their Red Rhino link-up. And it’s become an important part of their producing a high-quality product with a low-cash investment. Trevor Horne-style high-tech don’t really come into it. ‘You can never get fed up with the potential of tape,’ from Mark. ‘You can use tape to do those things. That’s one thing you can NEVER exhaust.’
High-tech don’t really come into it. That should be borne in mind.
Vol.3 no.7’ (August) (UK – July 1985)
THE HOOPS AND THE LOOPS
Hula was founded in Sheffield in 1981. Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder had a villa named Hula Kula. Three members of Hula used to live there as well – Mark Albrow, Alan Fish and Ron Wright, as well as an endless list of guests including Paul Widger (They must be Russians, Clock DVA, the Box). Naming themselves Hula after the house, they tried bass players Alan Watt, the notorious Chris Brain (Tense, NOS) and Mark Brydon (Chakk, Moloko), then, after the replacement of Alan Fish by Nort (both drummed for the Cabs), they recorded the impressive album ‘Murmur’. Ingredients like cut-ups, steady rhythms, and paranoia vocals were blended together into a unique white funky sound.
Hula recruited John Avery as a bass player, adding lots of video material (Peter Care), and continued to bring out danceable 12” and more experimental albums. With this line-up Hula became more or less stable, for international tours. Radio sessions recorded for VPRO and John Peel were broadcast. Being a support act for Depeche Mode led to performing live in Wembley Arena for huge crowds.
After Nort left the band in 1986 the music changed, but remained interesting. Later Mark Albrow quit as well. When Red Rhino went bankrupt they moved to Wax Trax, and released the last Hula record – a Jimi Hendrix cover of ‘Voodoo Chile’. Jo Cammack joined officially and they made new songs in 1991, but the material remains in the studio vaults. Eventually Hula broke up. (Cut and pasted from www.soureden.com)
1982 – “Black Pop Workout” (Red Rhino RED 18) 12” with ‘Feeding The Animal’, ‘Ignoring The Famine’, ‘Sacred Serials (Circuits On Full Gush)’, recorded at Western Works with Stephen Mallinder, ‘Junshi’ at Hula Kula. Alan Fish, Mark Albrow (art), Ron Wright (lyrics), Alan Watt
1983 – ‘FOUR FROM THE FLOOR’ (Office Box Records EBO1) Sampler EP with They Must Be Russians, Surface Mutants, Bass Tone Trap and Hula track ‘Skin Illustrations’ recorded at Sheffield Input Studio, art by Peter Care
1984 – ‘MURMUR’ (Red Rhino RED 53) with ‘Ghost Rattle’, ‘Invisible’, ‘Delirium’, ‘Pleasure Hates Language’, ‘Tear-Up’, ‘Hour By Hour’, ‘Jump The Gun’, ‘Red Mirror’, ‘Cold Kiss’. Features Ron Wright, Mark Albrow, Nort (drums), sleeve-notes by Amrik Rai, recorded at Vibrasound (engineer Mark Estdale) and Amazon studios (Pete Colman)
1985 – “Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass” (Red Rhino RED T62) 12” c/w ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (version)’. Neil Taylor writes ‘this is probably the worst record in the world EVER… music for art-school zeros’ (‘NME’ 14 December 1985). Enters ‘NME’ Indie chart for one week at no.28, 23 November
1986 – “Freeze Out” (Red Rhino RED T64) 12” with ‘Freeze Out (Club + Radio cuts)’ plus ‘Not A Second Glance’ radio cut from Radio One John Peel Show. ‘Hula find the contagious beat and stamp it out, slice it with synth shards, deadly sidewipes. Voices wander, admonish, fade and return wailing, exasperated while sirens whir and while… the Hula heartbeat is slavering and slippery’ (Gavin Martin, ‘NME’ 12 April 1986)
May 1986 – ‘ABSTRACT issue 6’: Audio Visual’ (Sweatbox SAM006), compilation LP compiled by and issued with magazine, features Chakk, The Anti-Group, A Certain Ratio, In The Nursery plus exclusive Hula track ‘Motor City Nightmare’ engineered by La Comte at Vibrasound
May 1986 – ‘IMMINENT TWO’ (food Bite Two) compilation with UV Pop, 400 Blows, Biting Tongues and Hula track ‘Bad Blood’ from ‘Get The Habit’
October 1986 – “Black Wall Blue” (Red Rhino RED T72) 12” with ‘Black Wall Blue’, ‘Stocky’, ‘2am’. Recorded and mixed at Fon Studios. Also makes ‘NME’ Indie chart for one week at no.28, 25 October
1987 – “Poison” (Red Rhino RED T74) 12” c/w ‘Poison (Club Mix)’. Directed by Daniel Miller. ‘A Pop mix that’s likely to stimulate interest and a club mix that’s as hard as you’ll get. Stalwarts will be obsessed, new converts won’t be disappointed’ (‘Underground no.1’, June 1987). Makes ‘NME’ Indie charts for two weeks from 28 March, peaking at no.17
1987 – ‘VOICE’ (Red Rhino RED LP75) with ‘Give Me Money (Till It’s Crawling Out Of My Face)’, ‘See You Tomorrow’, ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Bush no.2’, ‘Cold Stare’, ‘Clear Water’, ‘Torn Silk’, ‘Seven Sleepers’, ‘Poison’. With John Avery, Mark Albrow, Ron Wright, with Nort, Alan Fisch (drums), Robert Gordon engineer at Fon Studio, Daniel Miller producer on three tracks. ‘The first Hula album to be graced by songs and, as such, it’s their greatest achievement yet’ (‘Melody Maker’ 16 May 1987)
1987 – “Cut Me Loose” (Red Rhino RED T80) 12” with ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Cut Me Up’, ‘Burn It Out’, ‘Invisible (Live)’, ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (Live)’ title track lifted from ‘Voice’ LP recorded at Fon, plus live cuts from Wembley Arena
November 1987 – ‘THRESHOLD’ (Red Rhino RED LP83) compilation, ‘Fever Car’, ‘Get The Habit’, ‘Freeze Out (Club Mix)’, ‘Black Wall Blue’, ‘Big Heat’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Walk On Stalks Of Shattered Glass (Version)’, ‘Tear Up’, ‘Junshi’
May 1988 – “VC1” (US Wax Trax! Records WAX 046) 12” with ‘VC1 (arrangement of Jimi Hendrix ‘Voodoo Chile (very) Slight Return)’, ‘VC7 (radio version)’, ‘Clock Don’t Stop The Heart’. Recorded at Vibrasound and The Forge, with John Avery, Ron Wright, Jo Cammack (voice), Darrel D’Silva (sax), Alan Fisch (producer/ engineer)
1994 – ‘HULA: THE BEST OF’ (Anagram Records CDMGRAM 81) compilation, as ‘Threshold’ plus ‘Ghost Rattle’, ‘Hard Stripes’, ‘Poison (Club Mix)’, ‘Give Me Money’, ‘Cut Me Loose’, ‘Seven Sleepers’
2014 – ‘TENEMENT NOISE’ as Kula (Stephen Mallinder and Ron Wright) limited edition CD album of 1000 copies Klanggalerie gg188. Ron Wright and Mal of the Cabs recorded a piece of music together titled ‘Tenement Noise’ back in 1981, a rough, abstract piece of dark ambient/Industrial soundscapes. Until this release, it has never seen the light of day. While, as bonus tracks, Ron and Mal have made new versions of the track in 2013/4 – ‘Beat Mix’, ‘Reims Cathedral Mix, ‘Beatless Mix’
June 2016 – ‘LIVE AT THE LEADMILL 11 June 1983’ (Sheffield Tape Archive, 8xFile, FLAC) with ‘Flesh Metal’, ‘Mother Courage’, ‘Release The Grip’, ‘Scared Series’, ‘Murder In The Clean States (Baby Doll)’, ‘Unknown’, ‘Subliminal’, ‘Jump The Gun’. Alan Fish, Mark Albrow, Mark Brydon, Ron Wright