Thursday, 12 April 2012

Foetal Remnants

Quadruplets of prime Foetal matter.
A brood of Thirlwell e.p.s from the eighties for aural delight.

As his first adopted persona: 'Foetus', J.G.Thirlwelll really did bring something new to life during that horrible dour period of the mid-eighties. Full of drama, overt machismo, threatened violence, sadism, misogyny, black-vaudeville-type [ironic?] humour and musical theatrics equal to the grandest of grand opera, here was an artist who although quickly labelled as a member of the 'no wave', was unique. Incomparable then: greatly emulated since; you can hear his influence throughout so many sub-genres; and this e.p. from 85, a You've Got Foetus On Your Breath production, shows how Thirlwell was already having big fun with rap and dance music. Accompanying it with what was already becoming his own familiar style of art work, adopting stark red, white and black cover designs, which often incorporated comic book and iconographic styles; in this case obvious Socialist imagery, but doing a bit of an Escher with it.

And why not?

Sometimes it seemed as if Thirlwell existed years ahead of his time. I could imagine, at the time of listening to this on release, this is what the music of the future will sound like; and on listening to this e.p. now, 'Slog' especially sounds very relevant; and if it wasn't for the crackles on my recording (just imagine it as a DJ Shadow mix) it wouldn't sound that out of place amongst what is going on now, twenty-five or so years later, in the 'alternative indie dance scene'.

Cem, on first hearing Foetus described it as sounding like Trent Reznor speeded-up; like NIN, but more jolly, and a lot more fun.

And this recording is definitely fun; not yet the darker Foetus that would soon expose its depravity, but a bouncy, danceable and singalongable-to Foetus.

But things were about to change: for as the decade moved on, selfishness, greed and smack were all becoming the fads and flavours of the day, and Thirlwell was to be our mirror, our own little no wave Caliban.

You've Got Foetus on Your Breath (1985)

Wash It All Off
Today I Started Slogging Again

A couple of releases later and Thirlwell was becoming just as much a composer as he was a radical artist and musician. This e.p. from 87, indicates how much he had progressed musically: the Stravinsky-like stringed outro on the track 'Ramrod' is stunningly arranged and executed; full of foreboding, darkness and power: a truly incredible piece of music.

The flip side adopts a more industrial edge, with the track 'Boxhead' sounding a little like an Al Jorgenson production; but due to its idiosyncratic soundscaping and theatricality, Thirlwell's sound allowed him to retain individuality: Ministry-like, perhaps, but a very dark vaudeville version.

Along with the previous album Nail, Thirlwell had established a place in the music scene akin to a cult film director working in Hollywood; a Lynch-like character.
This e.p. is Thirlwell's Eraserhead.

Scraping Foetus Off the Wheel (1987)


Thirlwell was always big on collaborations, and one of his best joint projects was Wiseblood: a collaboration with the Swiss' Prince of Darkness: Roli Mosimann.

And apart from the obvious percussive elements, Mosimann brought a lot of production value to Thirlwell's sound. This is most notable on the Dirtdish album, featuring songs such as the comic monster blaster 'Stumbo' and the wistful 'Someone Drowned in my Pool', both of which were later released as singles.

Motorslug, 1985, was the first Wiseblood e.p. release. Petrol-head's delight: strap yourself in and GO:
"Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel"

 Minimalist is too busy a term to describe 'Death Rape 2000'.

With just three notes, Thirlwell attempts to conjure up a demonic state with a blast of Musica Diabolica: an assault on the senses from a tritone sequence repeated for seven and a half minutes.

"Death Rape 2000.
An Instrument.
An Instrument of Torture/An Instrument of Music

Maximum Volume and Minimum Distraction is Suggested.

Playable At Most High Speeds.

Recommended Listening Environment:

Under Fast Strobe And/Or At High Speed"

Using the tritone, or Devil's Interval is not uncommon in dissonant music; and since the Middle Ages has always been considered to be audio code for evil or the Devil; so much so, that the Catholic Church censored and banned any piece of music that included the diabolical musical interval: any sequence of notes spanning three whole tones.

It has become most familiar now through Tony Iommi stumbling across it and choosing it as the riff to open the theme track 'Black Sabbath'. He claimed to know nothing about the diabolical connection with the augmented fourth (probably the most diabolical of all tritone sequences), he claimed to be just searching for "something that sounded right... something that sounded really evil and doomy".

And I believe him, serendipity is an amazing thing; and who knows, maybe the devil took his prosthetic fingertips and guided the digits through the sequence. Well you never know.

More conscious uses of the Devil's Interval pop up in Sibelius and Wagner; Britten uses it in his War Requiem; Hendrix used it in 'Purple Haze'; Metallica in 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', and Danny Elfman used it to open his theme for The Simpsons!
Go on, sing it to yourself.

On seeing Foetus around this time, I was expecting to walk out on stage (remember this was years before the net, when an image is merely a click away, and Foetus didn't appear on BBC television that often) some dude with a bone through his nose, draped in shrunken heads, carrying a spear in one hand and the Bible in the other; but no, he was just a real regular looking guy. In fact, someone commented at the time, that he looked a little like Rick Astley...

Rick Astley

Wiseblood - Motorslug (1985)

Death Rape 2000

Long before Nick Cave and Polly Harvey became the darlings of the hip-goth set, or Dita got it together with Brian, Thirlwell got it on, both romantically and creatively, with musician and all-round vamp, Lydia Lunch.

One of the results of their creative entanglement was the release of the e.p. Stinkfist in 1987, with Thirlwell adopting his favoured collaborating moniker: Clint Ruin.

A vast amount of percussion and 'metal' was used in this recording, with Thirlwell even drafting in extra skin and metal thumpers - Cliff Martinez amongst them - to add some professionalism to the cacophony.

Very tribal and dancy, Thirlwell created a ritualistic sound; again foreseeing future trends, and anticipating the fusion of the industrial sound with dance, and much of the thematic thrash and hardcore that was soon to follow in its wake.

The percussion and beats are highly textured and massive on this piece and it really builds as the track progresses. Accompanied with vocal group chants and moans and groans from Lunch, it almost becomes reminiscent of White Noise's 'Black Mass in Hell', but essentially it has Love at its heart:


I like to play along with the spoons.

The flip side allows Lunch to take the reigns, and we hear her creepy, seductive, femme fatale voice utter, spit and shout the words of her 'Meltdown' poem. Thirlwell provides a fitting dockland soundscape, with the sounds of distant heavy machinery and fog horns [!].

As her final "I'm terminally fucked up" is decaying, it is met with an enormous barrage of explosive percussion, squeals of feedback, and ending with erotic sounds that could have been taped from a sex-line.

At very nearly eleven minutes long, this may well be the true heart of this e.p. and in many ways is the most collaborative of the three tracks, as it is just Lunch and Thirlwell providing all the sounds.

'Son of Stink' sounds to me like some diabolical tap-number from a warped-out horror movie that nobody has been quite warped-out enough to have made yet. I'm sure its time will come.

Again, another good one for the spoons. Well, while you've got them out...

Clint Ruin & Lydia Lunch - Stinkfist (1987)

Meltdown Oratorio
Son of Stink

All Foetal Remnants @320 here


Anonymous said...

Thanks very much!

Nyal said...

Thanks! For Wiseblood, too.