“Animal Liberation” Compilation (1987)

Quick disclaimer – I’m not making any kind of political statement in posting about this record, which was a partnership between PETA and Wax Trax! Records. I bought it because I like some of the artists who contributed – Chris & Cosey, Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, Nina Hagen, and Shriekback in particular. You have to admit, the lineup is pretty solid.

While contemporary articles indicate that most of the songs were written specifically for Animal Liberation, many were included by the artists on studio releases or singles prior to 1987. It makes sense that indeed they were written for this comp, which makes sense given that all thematically touch on animal rights, but clearly they weren’t intended only for this record. Others used their song sometime after 1987 – Chris & Cosey’s “Silent Cry” wasn’t put out by the duo until 1990 and Luc Van Acker included “Hunter” on an album in 1992. As near as I can tell the one track that is unique to Animal Liberation is Shriekback’s “Hanging Fire”. Note too that the UK version of the album includes some different tracks, removing Captain Sensible and adding The Smiths and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

The collection of bands is interesting, covering indie rock, new wave, electro, and industrial. While sonically enjoyable, I find that I can’t quite detach myself from the lyrics sufficiently to get into it. Again, this is in no way a comment on the message itself, but more recognizing that it’s a bit of a distraction when it comes to just trying to sit down and play a record. Oh, and the lyric insert contains a pretty gory full color photo of a dog used for animal experiments, so don’t say I didn’t warn you about that.

Muslimgauze – “From The Edge: Remixes Vol. 1” (2003)

I wrote previously about Muslimgauze and the challenge in separating the person from the art (this was in my post about his project under the name E.g Oblique Graph), something I’ve continued to grapple with. But I do like his music, and this 12″ sucked me in with it’s inclusion of a Chris and Cosey remix, so here I am, mildly conflicted yet enjoying my listening experience.

The good news is that Chris and Cosey don’t disappoint with their minimal, dreamy, otherworldly take on “From the Edge”, one that is so different from the other side A remix by The Silver Wizard that you could be forgiven for assuming the tracks have absolutely no elements in common. A shoutout as well for the version done by Spacetime Continuum, which is also excellent.

“The Elephant Table Album: A Compilation of Difficult Music” (1983)

What do we mean when we describe music as “difficult”? I know I’ve done it before here on the blog, but I suspect it means different things to different people. Is it music with unusual timing signatures? Disturbing lyrics? Experimental work with sound that doesn’t fall into any kind of recognizable pattern or framework? Genres you don’t personally care for? Something that creates an unsettled mood in the listener? Or maybe all of the above… or none… I don’t know. When I use the term difficult, I usually mean something I find musically well outside of the norm, something I can’t quite wrap my mind around. This includes non-music and noise, as well as experimental and avantgarde. It’s music that challenges my preconceptions of what actually constitutes “music”, and I find it valuable in that it expands my mind. I don’t always like it, and often I only listen to a given album once, but that doesn’t mean the listening experience wasn’t valuable.

So I was intrigued when I ran across this record yesterday over at Easy Street Records, because it says right on the cover that it’s “a compilation of difficult music”. I wondered what that meant to the label, and the first artist name my eyes fell upon was Chris and Cosey. Hmm… I don’t normally think of them as difficult. Is that because I’ve listened to them a bunch over the last few months? A little further down is Coil. OK, I sort of get that, at least some of their stuff. Nurse With Wound. Now this is making a bit more sense. I only know a few of the other 17 performers (♠), specifically SPK, Muslimgauze, and Legendary Pink Dots. That gave me enough context to know that this was an album I needed to buy.

The genesis of The Elephant Table Album was an article Dave Henderson wrote for the May 7, 1983 issue of Sounds entitled “Wild Planet!” (the text of which can be found HERE). It was a survey of the more extreme music being made at the time, a listing of dozens of bands with blurbs on each. Four months after that article appeared this double album came out. I’m not sure how it was received at the time, nor do I know how I would have reacted to it back in 1983 (probably badly), but rough 36 years later in my living room it’s tremendous. 400 Blows’ “Beat the Devil” is a high point, along with the Chris and Cosey jam.

Styles mix on this album, though there’s still a general cohesion. The Elephant Table Album opens with an industrial dance track, Portion Control’s “Chew You to Bits”, then takes a sharp left turn to Chris and Cosey, though their “Raining Tears of Love” is less poppy than their later sound, a methodical electro dystopian dream sequence. From there we take another sudden swerve and find ourselves listening to horns and synths and piano and disconnectedly haunting vocals in the very avantgarde “Musak from Hawthorne Court” by Metamorphosis. And it just keeps going on like that, song after song, surprise after surprise.

I can’t say enough good things about The Elephant Table Album. It was re-released on vinyl in 1989 with a different set of liner notes, and that same year a CD version came out, though the CD only has 17 tracks. It also sounds like the CD version was actually recorded directly from a vinyl copy and not from the masters, so buyer beware.

(♠) The track listing on the reverse of the record goes up to 21. However, Muslimgauze is listed twice, both times numbered 9. So what’s the deal? Looking at the grooves on that side it looks like the record only has five tracks, which would mean that despite Muslimgauze being listed twice there is in fact only one track devoted to him on the record.

Record Shopping, London UK Style (2019)

Ok, first thing first. Clearly London’s vinyl scene is right up there with anyones – it’s probably one of the Top 3 Vinyl Shopping Cities In The World©®™∞, so it would be quite easy for me to act like a nouveau riche (♠) guy (♣) at a bachelor party, make it rain, and fill my entire DJ bag full of vinyl during our four days here. But we’re headed to Reykjavik later not his trip for our 10th Iceland Airwaves, and after missing the festival in 2018 for the first time in a decade I have some unfinished business in the city’s record stores, so I need to save some room. That being said, we made it a point of at least hitting up a bunch of London’s record stores, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you in case you find yourself here.

Stores are listed in the order in which we visited them, at least to the best of my memory, so no ranking is implied.

Music and Video Exchange
38 Notting Hill Gate, Kensignton

Our first stop, so it would have taken something pretty epic to get me to buy anything. Plus it was raining a bit. That being said, I was quite tempted. The inventory leaned heavily towards used and there were some very interesting titles in the punk/new wave/industrial sections. I was tempted to roll the vinyl dice on a couple of unknowns, but showed some restrain. The prices looked quite reasonable. Had they just opened with that inventory in Seattle, I would have probably walked out of there having spent $300 or more. If I still have space on our last day, I’ll be heading back out here for sure.

Rough Trade West
130 Talbot Road, Notting Hill

Rough Trade is, of course, well, Rough Trade. It’s an institution. The Rough Trade East store (see below) seems to get most of the attention due to its size and live space, but make no mistake – if you’re looking for used vinyl, get your ass over to Rough Trade West. We barely spent any time at all on the main floor, which is given over to new releases, and instead went straight to the basement used vinyl nirvana. Is there a ton in the basement? No. is it sleeved and labeled and awesome? Yes.

This is where I got my first true taste of the UK experience, because even their row or two of reggae was lightyears better than anything I’ve ever seen at home, and there were a few early 1980s dub records that I mentally marked for possible purchase. At least, that is, until I got to the industrial section and ran across what appeared to be about half the Chris & Cosey catalog, all first pressings and all in great shape. I told Holly before we left that Chris & Cosey and 4AD stuff was top of my list, so the reggae records had to stay and I brought copies of Trance (1982) and Songs of Love & Lust (1984) (both originally released on Rough Trade…) to the counter, which elicited a raised eyebrow from the guy working there who had just been dealing with an American who had just bought a turntable and who was complaining about the cost of early Ramones albums (to which the Rough Trade guy rightly observed, “Look, if you really just want the music buy a re-release”). So I paid with my credit card and got my first interesting UK experience – they absolutely want to match your signature to the back of your card. And instead of a signature, the back of mine says “See ID” because I want people to make sure my card isn’t stolen. So he asked if I had ID and I was pulling out my passport he said, “No, I don’t need to really see your ID. There aren’t a lot of American blokes who have been holding onto their stolen credit cards so they can buy Chris & Cosey records.” Which frankly is more astute than any VISA fraud algorithm yet designed.

Honest Jon’s Records
278 Portobello Road

If you want reggae or dub, drop what you’re doing right now, head to the airport, and take a cab straight to Honest Jon’s. The selection was deep, with strong helpings of Northern Soul, soundtracks, and various kinds of electronica. It was simply my pure ignorance regarding these genres that kept me from walking out of the store with anything and I’m still kicking myself for, at the very least, not picking up a bunch of dub CDs since I don’t have any dub on my iPod.

Like Rough Trade, Honest Jon’s is also a label, and I probably actually first heard of them because they put out Ghostigital’s “Not Clean” 7″, which is ridiculous because they’ve been doing it for almost 20 years. Definitely a worthwhile stop.

Blue Groove Soundz
8 Portobello Green Designers, 281 Portobello Road

We ran across this joint by accident, part of one of those weird little shopping “malls” that have a wide range of stores. The small space felt extremely DJ-centric, a blend of electronica, funk, soundtracks, library music and the like. You’re not going to find Revolver or Never Mind the Bollocks here, but you’ll probably find some stuff you’ve never heard of and maybe an Ice-T record or two in the hip hop section, so if you’re in the area you should check them out.

Vintage Vinyl
Vintage Market, 85 Brick Lane

Our first stop on Day 2 of our London adventure (excluding coffee and pastry, of course) was the Brick Lane Vintage Market, which would be well worth the stop even if Vintage Vinyl didn’t have a booth in the basement. But fortunately it does. Vintage Vinyl has a good assortment of genres given the limited space, and prices seemed pretty good. The whole market was packed and the stall was nearly full of punters, some of who were searching for treasures while others made the obligatory comments like, “oh look, vinyl records”, “I used to have a record player”, and, of course, “I can’t believe this record is twenty quid”. I didn’t buy anything during our visit, but I could have easily walked out with a dozen or so titles and felt good about doing so.

Rough Trade East
Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane

A short walk from Vintage Vinyl is one of London’s most famous record stores, Rough Trade East. In addition to coffee the location hosts live performances and even appears to have a small recording area. If there’s a down side, it’s that this location only traffics in new (sealed) releases – so if you’re a used junkie you’ll want to hit up the Rough Trade West location instead. Regardless, we did quite well here, as the shop carries a wide range of genres and is surprisingly deep in some areas. We continued with the Chris & Cosey theme we’d established on Day 1, picking up a vinyl re-release of their 1987 album Exotika, as well as two of Chris Carter’s solo efforts, re-releases of Mondo Beat (1985) and Small Moon (1999). And just to prove I’m not a (total) vinyl snob, we also snagged a handful of CDs, most notably Japanese import versions of the first two This Mortal Coil albums, the new one from Test Dept, and yes, more Chris Carter in the form of CCCL Volume One. While I’d have loved for them to carry used stuff, there was plenty here to keep me busy in just about every musical format plus a large selection of books.

Love Vinyl
5 Pearson Street

This store is aptly named, because I loved our brief visit. A small but well curated shop specializing in DJ vinyl, it offered up four listening stations and an inventory that was about half new and half used with emphasis on various electronic genres, hip hop, and reggae. As often I the case when I go into electronica-focused stores I felt totally lost because my knowledge of the various genres, sub-genres, and sub-sub-genres is so anemic. That didn’t stop me, though, from picking up the new one from Paranoid London, PL, and as an added bonus it’s the clear version. If you’re into electronic music, add Love Vinyl to your short list of shops to visit.

Sister Ray
75 Berwick Street

Day 3 in London started at one of the city’s most famous shops, Sister Ray. And it lived up to the hype. The vinyl is housed down in the basement, and while not massive in surface area there was plenty of room to move around and lots of great records. For whatever reason our Chris & Cosey direction took a hard left into the world of On-U, and we walked out of there with three titles that I’m excited about. We kind of bookended Adrian Sherwood and On-U with Singles & Players’ Revenge of the Underdog (1982) and Sherwood & Pinch’s more recent Late Night Endless (2015), but the pièce de résistance was Sensational’s debut LP Loaded with Power (1997). I love the Brooklyn rapper, and we’ve had way more success finding his stuff in Europe than we have in the US.

Reckless Records
30 Berwick Street

 

Because I’d just picked up a bunch of stuff at Sister Ray, I didn’t spend too much time in nearby Reckless Records. Don’t take that as a snub, though – I only have so much space to bring stuff home. Reckless had a decent selection of used CDs, but also a healthy stock of used vinyl across a range of genres – they even had a section devoted specifically to black metal, if that says anything. Certainly some good potential here, and it’s basically across the street from Sister Ray, offering a good two-for if your digging time is limited.

Phonica Records
51 Poland Street

We almost didn’t go to Phonica, since we’d already done pretty well on the trip and had just wrapped up at Sister Ray. But Phonica wasn’t too far away and Holly is a big fan of dance music, so off we went. And I’m glad we did, because this still KILLS. Once again I was left felling like I was tossed into the deep end wearing concrete boots, but we rallied hard and turned our focus to the relatively small but very intriguing selection of CDs, including yet another Chris & Cosey title (technically Carter Tutti Void…) Triumvirate and also a label comp (Phonica is also a label) from 2014 called Ten Years of Phonica. We picked a few more for good measure and came away very satisfied. The team there was very cool, and there are multiple listening stations set up for DJs.

 

London is awash in record stores. In addition to those above, we tried to stop by two others but they were closed despite being scheduled to be open. We also walked by at least a half a dozen more that I didn’t wander into, both due to space constraints and, frankly, because this trip isn’t all about record shopping. I’ll be brining nine records and about a dozen CDs to Iceland with me tomorrow for the start of Iceland Airwaves 2019, and I expect both my DJ back and suitcase will be bursting at the seams on the flight home to Seattle. And then begins the long process of cleaning and mentally preparing myself to go back to work. Fifty two weeks until Iceland Airwaves 2020…

(♠) Of course, as the character of Jim Williams says in Midnight of the Garden of Good and Evil, “It’s the riche that counts”…

(♣) Or the ass clown who was tearing up and down the residential streets up where we’re staying in his yellow Lamborghini, never managing to get it out of second great, running it up and down the same street, and backfiring on the shift like a toolshed (♥). You know. “That guy”.

(♥) This guy was more like a SnapOn Tool Truck than a toolshed.

 

Chris & Cosey – “Technø Primitiv” (1985)

I’m clearly becoming infatuated with Cosey Fanni Tutti. Whether it’s part of Chris & Cosey, or Carter Tutti, or any of the other permutations, I find the blend of Chris Carter’s soundscapes and the dreaminess of her voice to be perfect companions, both to one another as well as to me as I sit and listen. In fact I’m dangerously close to going down a Cosey rabbit hole and buying up all of her stuff that I can get my hands on, which could be a dangerous proposition given that I’ll be in London in a few weeks time.

Technø Primitiv was the duo’s fourth full-length album (♠), a somewhat somber dance record, a languid sonic dream sequence that turns the listener back into themselves, Cosey’s voice like a guru’s mantra allowing you to slowly slide into another state of consciousness. The oddest twist on the album comes at the end of side A. The second-to-last song is “Haunted Heroes”, a serious ambient number that replaces her vocals with what I believe to be a war veteran describing some of his experiences, his voice distant but clear. That’s immediately followed by the sugary “Stolen Kisses”, the closest thing on Technø Primitiv to a true pop song. The contrast between the two is palpable and a bit startling when “Stolen Kisses” first begins.

Technø Primitiv is the kind of good that can cause a paradigm shift in how you think about music. I’ve been flirting with more and more electronic and dance music recently, and this may just be the gentle shove I needed to jump into the deep end of the pool.

(♠) As near as I can tell, at least… sometimes with artists that constantly put out albums with name variations it can be difficult to tell.