Tuesday, June 17, 2008
WORLD OF TWIST, interview
Melody Maker, November 2nd, 1991
by Simon Reynolds
"When I went to see Hawkwind as a 14 year old kid," recalls Gordon King. World Of Twist's guitarist, "I was awestruck. I thought 'where the fuck do they live, what kind of people are they?!' I was fascinated. Seeing Nik Turner walking around with someone's head on a axe, behaving like a twat, or Bob Calvert narrating some of his drivel - I just thought it was a really heavy trip. 10 years later, you listen and you have a really good laugh."
That's as good an evocation of the confused drives behind 'kitschadelia' as you'll get. Kitschadelia is what happens when an aspiration to the monumentalism of pre-punk, is checked by post-punk irony. Seen through the primal gaze of the quintessential pop kid, The Sweet's plastic insurrection, Gary Glitter's barbarian bubblegum, Marc Bolan shrouded in Top Of The Pop's cheapo purple haze effects, were truly apocalyptic, genuinely alien. In retrospect, you have to laugh at the crass sensationalism, the naff, over-stated effects; at the time, your eyes were blown.
World Of Twist aren't alone in hankering for the lost innocence of what Nik Cohn called SUPERPOP. There's St Etienne, with their dreams of gold lame, limousines, and a Phil Spectoresque empire of puppet-proteges. There's Teenage Fanclub, whose Bandwagonesque is virtually a concept album about Seventies glam'n'metal. In the States, Urge Overkill's ironic-yet-awesome anthems like "The Kids Are Insane"
resurrect the stadium rock of their adolescence. Partly, bands are playing with the idea of superstardom, as a way of coming to terms with the insignificance of being a rock band in 1991. Partly, it's a genuine envy of the days when rock was titanic, hysteria-inducing, before punk demystified the process, enabled/obliged us to see through the spectacle.
"The finest age you go can through with pop is when you're thirteen," avers drummer Nick Sanderson. "It's all totally fresh, you're so obsessed."
"You can be so snobby about everything," adds Gordon. "You can be at school and everyone's into Gary Glitter and Slade - which I did like, I admit - but I'd sneer and say 'I like progressive'. I had long hair, an Afghan coat and a gas mask bag. I was three years ahead of my contemporaries, and hated by everyone. I didn't have a girlfriend til I was 18! You forget that that still goes on - there's probably some 13 year old kid with the modern equivalent of a gas mask bag with World Of Twist's logo on it, and he's sneering at the kids who like Carter".
Like Gordon, Nick was obsessed with Genesis, Bowie, Roxy Music, Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator. "If I'd known then, aged 13, that one day I'd be doing an interview with Melody Maker, the progressive paper, I'd have cried tears of absolute joy. It was my first music paper."
Gordon: "It's got the best name as well. Born in a different era. But I've got to pick you up on one thing, Simon - Melody Maker seems to have dropped the folk rock coverage. Why is that? There was some lovely, lovely bands on that scene. What happened to Gryphon?"
From their unlikely beginning as prog rock fiends, Nick and Gordon moved on to Northern Soul - all nighters, spending forty quid on rare singles. Then came punk. "When punk happened, I had to hide half my albums when people came round," remembers Gordon. "All the prog stuff."
Nick: "You had to rewrite history. It was very Stalinist. Me, I had to put all my albums at the back of the collection, make out I didn't listen to music."
Gordon: "During punk, the band that finally drove my dad into a fit of rage was XTC on So It Goes - the most innocuous of the lot. All his pent-up fury went on them".
Perhaps the most long-lasting effect of punk was irony; after the Pistols, you could never quite return to the life- and-death seriousness of imagining rock as a world-changing force. In some ways, the spirit of punk lives largest and most visible in Vic Reeves, who's as much a part of the kitschadelic sensibility as any of the bands. As it happens, Gordon's turn of phrase (lots of arch expressions like "super", "hopping mad", "slap-up nosh") is tres Vic.
Post-punk irony is both curse and blessing. Pre-punk, rock stars took themselves seriously to the point of madness.
"We recorded the album at Real World, Peter Gabriel's studio," says Gordon. "And he's a classic case of a man who's lost touch with reality. The title of the studio's so ironic. He was a childhood idol of me and Nick, and we were dead keen to meet him. But he was really shy. Worse thing is, he makes such strenous efforts to stay in contact with the real world. It's almost touching. Like he kept making cups of tea for everybody in the whole room. It's little gestures like that, where he's trying to say 'I am normal'. Yes all went mad, too."
Punk's more immediate effect, though, was to discredit the idea of spectacle, of the performer as superhuman or otherworldly. Apart from a few shamanic, glam-influenced figures like Siouxsie and Adam Ant, the main thrust of punk was demystificatory, icon-oclastic. The first group to break ranks and reinstate the idea of spectacle was The Human League - a big influence on WoT.
"The best gig I've ever seen was Human League at the Lyceum, just before the girls joined. It was just so strange. I used to go all the big, progressive shows - Hawkwind, Genesis, all the dinosaur groups - so I wasn't aware of the irony involved in the League. I just thought, after four years of sweaty pogoing and ordinary blokes onstage, that this was the kind of SHOW I'd secretly always wanted."
In fact, Human League were the first kitschadelic group, the first to go back to yesterday's idea of the future. They even covered Glitter's "Rock'N'Roll". WoT hate "politically motivated pop", bemoan the recent overdose of drab realism, lament the fact that TOTP is a barren zone, devoid of aliens and freaks. Acid house, great as it was/is, has only contributed to the new facelessness. Like the League back in '79, World Of Twist stand almost alone against the resurgence of "ordinary geezer-ism" (Carter, drongo bands, knob-twiddling rave technicians). WoT want to bring back awe, fascination, a gulf between audience and band.
"We're trying to do something a bit larger than what everyone else does. But it's not like we're really arrogant. It's just that, from when I used to go and see bands as a kid, the ones I remember are the really massive groups."
Quality Street, World Of Twist's debut album, sounds larger than life. At the risk of labouring the Human League analogy, I'd say it's a Dare for the Nineties.
"It's the only pop album available, isn't it?" says Nick.
World Of Twist dwell on a most peculiar planet of sound. The album ranges from monumental moog-mantras like "Sons Of The Stage", "The Lights" and "On The Scene", to glutinously saccharine love devotionals like "Jellybaby" and "Speed Wine". The stand-out track, "The Spring", cuts between mock- orchestral lavishness and seriously cosmic trance-rock, while cryptic lyrics conjure an Ecstasy-addled vision of pop utopia. Bubblegum sitar, corny horn flourishes, Northern soul beats, Dave Gilmour/Loop guitar curlicues, mucoid spurts of synth, aciiied frenzy - it ought to be a mess, but the absurdly motley inputs come together like a dream.
"We're all fired up by such different things, we're too old for that unity thing," says Nick. They're an absurdly motley crew. Visual technician and Catweazle-lookalike Adge's ideal night, says Gordon, would be a rave; "my ideal night would be a Northern Soul all-nighter." Nick's would be a weeekend in pre-glasnost East Germany. He used to be morbidly obessed with the late, unlamented DDR - with the dimly lit drabness, the all-pervading misery, the surly restaurant service. "Everybody wore crap versions of Western clothes, Finnish jeans - they all looked like Mark E. Smith. I went so many times, they wouldn't let me in anymore."
And then there's crooner Tony Ogden, who (according to Gordon) listened to things like MC5 "way back when they weren't cool like they are now", but who is now more enamoured of mid-Sixties pop cabaret like The Honeycombs. "They had very peculiar sound for the time, the vocals were recorded on ten tracks, sped up and slowed down". A jittery, cagey fellow, Tony's contributions to the interview are coded and evasive. Asked where the obsession with sweets (Quality Street, "Sweets", "Jellybaby") comes from, he replies "it's a purely accidental, confectionery connection." Nick adds "'cos, personally, I'm more of a savouries man."
A lot of songs about are the exhiliration of pop, the thrill of neon-blitzed Saturday Nite, being "on the scene". Does World Of Twist music come out of your life or out of a love of pop?
Tony: "We're a celebration of pop, no doubt about it. We're a celebration of everything - except life! It's a celebration of celebration as well. There's so much celebrating going on, you wouldn't credit it. Serious!"
What's your ambition for World Of Twist, your dream state of total achievement?
"We want to make both the best and the worst record of our time."
WORLD OF TWIST
Melody Maker, April 6th 1991
by Simon Reynolds
World Of Twist are fascinated by yesteryear's quaint ideas of the futuristic: Tomorrow People typography, obsolete synthesisers and man-made fabrics, astro-lamps, fiber optic ornaments and other long-lost fads - all the drek
that Victor Lewis-Smith's Buygones used to rake up. This kind of penchant usually leads to negligible whimsy of the Half Man Half Biscuit ilk. But World Of Twist have somehow evaded the belittling gaze normally associated with camp'n'kitsch, the odious trait of looking down on pop culture's preposterous excesses from a position of superiority. World Of Twist's music is of a different order of magnitude: it seems to look down on you.
Their songs are monumentally absurd, ziggurats of tinsel and tack. World Of
Twist are sublime (original meaning: an experience so vast and unmanageable it inspires speechless, humbled awe) and ridiculous.
Let the bubblegum apocalypse unfurl... A bedlam of flanged bass, phased cymbals, dry ice and stroboscope mayhem, then it's straight into the single, "Sons Of The Stage".
Those obscenely fartacious moogs spurt like spume from a whale's blowhole, then percolate in sensurround like a man-made sargasso sea. Tentacles of dralon, rayon and orlon enfold your limbs; the chorus "the floor's an ocean/And this
wave is breaking/Your head is gone and your body's shaking/There's nothing you can do and there is no solution/Gotta get down to the noise and confusion" is
Dionysian doggerel to ignite teenybop bacchanalia. The closing pseudo-orchestral coda is like a symphony for perspex instruments.
The folk responsible for this kitsch-adelic fantasia are a motley bunch: singer Tony Ogden looks like a malnourished Bryan Ferry, a cut-price fetishist in that hideously
inorganic, black gloss shirt; wizened techno-wizzard Adge really does seem to come from some 1971 timewarp; guitarist Gordon King looks and plays like a fugitive from Loop; blowsy Julia Vesuvius is a bird and no mistake. But this is fine:
they have the blemished and decidedly mortal look that pop groups had before the video age. And World Of Twist are not rock'n'roll, not soul, not even "dance" (although they partake of elements from all the above), but pop in the
purest and most bygone sense of the word. Their domain should
really be the discotheque, if such places still existed, rather than the nightclub or the rock venue. World Of Twist's "roots" are those phases when pop has been most rootless and inauthentic (glam, Northern Soul, Hawkwind), when subcultural
styles have been co-opted and travestied by bubblegum mimicry. It's so right that they should cover "She's A Rainbow", from that period when The Stones shamelessly jilted authentic R&B to hitch a ride on flower power's coat tails. And their version of MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" reveals the counter culture anthem to be pretty much on the same level as The Sweet's "Teenage Rampage": a gloriously vacant blast of
insurrectionary hot air.
"The Storm" is a neon kaleidoscope, a planetarium fallen into the hands of acid freaks. One mesmering miasmic mantra (possibly entitled "On The Scene") makes me momentarily imagine them as The Velcro Underground. "Life And Death" has
the most epic, life-and-death bassline since "Keep Feeling Fascination" (the Human League are a righteous reference point for WoT); future schlock-waves of glutinous moog engulf us in plastic bliss. The kitsch-quake cometh, and it'll blow your
WORLD OF TWIST
"Sons of the Stage"
singles review column, Melody Maker, March 23rd 1991
by Simon Reynolds
Camp is all about a belittling delight in the quaint artificiality and over-stylisation of bygone pop culture; an aesthetic response wherein affection is mingled with contempt. Camp in pop has meant--Pet Shop Boys, Transvision Vamp, all that sorry school of shite.
But now here come World Twist, with an astonishing single that reconciles these opposites and offers the dizzying possibility of a “camp sublime”.
“Sons of the Stage” is a bugger to describe, which is always a good sign. Imagine a sound somewhere between Can and Vic Reeves, oceanic rock and a lava lamp. It’s camp and it’s cosmic. Kitsch-adelia is the best term I can find to evoke the flatulent fanfares of symphonic Moog, the spirograph curlicues of acid rock guitar, the monstrous, stomping beat. Yet underneath the arched eyebrows and laconic Northern irony, World of Twist are obviously fired up by an ardour for the imposing idiocy of pop, its vacant menace and preposterous splendour, as manifested by bubblegum barbarians like Glitter, the Sweet, David Essex. The lyrics set up a fantastical scenario of communal freak-out, joining the dots that run from acid rock through Northern Soul to Hawkwind and “Teenage Rampage” right up to rave culture. After this camp bacchanalia, the final coda--a fake orchestral fantasia of phased guitars and babbling Moogs--is a plastic apocalypse worthy of Prince, at once tacky and sacramental.