Agony Shorthand

Friday, June 18, 2004
SPK : “AUTO-DA-FE” CD.....

When I was 14/15 years old, I used to get a free pass from my grandparents when visiting them to run wild on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and spend 3-4 hours at a time at the incredible 1981-82 era record stores there like Rasputin’s, Universal, Rather Ripped and Leopold’s. At Rasputin’s in particular, I’d spend untold hours flipping through the huge “import” section, and always got a good 14-year-old guffaw out of a band called “Surgical Penis Klinik”, or SPK. What little I knew of them – and it was obvious from the horror-art covers (very much in line with the aesthetics of the RE/SEARCH crowd) – was that they were at the vanguard of clanging, harsh and angry industrial synth noise. I stayed away and chortled from a safe distance. So if you’d asked me at little as a month ago if I’d ever actually heard this Australian band, I’d have to say no, I hadn’t. I was trolling around for research on the band after getting this “Auto-Da-Fe” CD, and realized, yeah, I have heard these guys before, their new wave/electrodance mid-80s stuff like “Metal Dance” and “Machine Age Voodoo”. All memories of such have been repressed for nearly 20 years – as represented here, on this early career-spanning compilation, this later (1982-83) SPK crap is reminiscent of HEAVEN 17 or at best, early Human League.

However! I am floored by how fantastically harsh and rhythmically complex their debut 1979 singles are: “Contact” and “Mekano” in particular. These are the records that are not only mind-numbingly rare and collectable, but have been popping up on certain collectors’ lists of the world-beating best DIY 45s of that era. I’d have to agree. The 1979 version of SPK took a straight-to-the-gut punk rock approach to early industrial noise, and made a handful of tracks that you simply have got to hear if you haven’t before. I’d count them among my favorite discoveries of the many things I’ve undeservedly ignored over the years. Not to borrow too liberally from the writings of others, but hey, why not. I went over to Amazon, and here’s what a few SPK partisans had to say about this release:

“...back when Industrial culture was dangerous, cynical and determined to spread its message. Back when Industrial culture actually existed. The time of SPK when a time when Industrial was not just a style of music, but a philosophy. Not dance music, not techno-pop, not electro goth or electro metal. Industrial was cultural, social and sometimes political propaganda. It was sonic terrorism. Industrial meant clanging machinery, scrap metal, screeching analog electronics, feedback, mutated post-punk noise, primitive ethnic rhythms, and anti-musical experimentation. If you want the true Industrial experience, rather than what MTV and magazines tell you is Industrial, this cd is a perfect place to start. It has all of the above and more”

“This is the strongest release from SPK. The ear-shredding track “Slogun” is a benchmark Industrial track. Hard to believe these are the same guys who went Euro-pop a few years later. A MUST OWN for fans of industrial/noize but NOT for the faint of heart.”

“One of masterpieces of early industrial. Harsh, disturbing and violent, this album isn't meant for massive consumerism. If you appreciate sound manipulation and experiments who defy regular music norms, you'll love this album. Album centerpiece is clearly extremely noisy and abrasive "Slogun". My other favorite tracks are "Germanik" which sounds something like Hitler's speech straight from Hell, and lovely "Heart That Breaks". Buy this album, if you are like me bored by today’s pop blandness, but if you're listening to music just to have fun, then stay away from this!”

Quite honestly, I only listen to music to “have fun” and I think the first half of this CD is a stone blast. I could give a shit about Industrial Culture; back in the real world, I think it can be said that that whole pack of prattlers left behind some good weird poster art, a couple of ridiculous, dated manifestos, and a tiny smattering of great bands. This was definitely one of them, one that went electro-pop way too quickly, as this CD makes clear. Highly recommended for those insane first five tracks alone.