Saturday, November 16, 2013
The Wire 1992 (?)
by Simon Reynolds
These reissues are mementoes of an unimaginably different
Brit-rock era than ours. Today's indie bliss-rock aims to engulf us
in 'dreamtime', simulates the effects of drugs; back then (1979-81)
the goal was to wake us from our mass culture sleep, rouse us from
addiction to TV and pop. Demystification was the goal; alienation
was both aesthetic strategy and subject matter.
Along with Cabaret Voltaire, Scritti Politti, Pop Group,
Throbbing Gristle et al, This Heat forged the syntax of the
post-punk avant-garde: synth-drones and squelches; hissing,
programmed percussion; tape-loops and found sounds; effects-ridden
guitar; creepy vocals. Rhythms had a ciphered relation to reggae or
disco rather than rock'n'roll, vocals recalled the lugubrious
Englishness of Robert Wyatt; American rockism was stoutly resisted.
Both "This Heat" and "Deceit" are haunted by the standard-issue
spectres of the 1979 worldview: fear and disgust at the amnesiac,
anaesthetic comfort of domesticity; anti-consumerism; dread of
nuclear annihilation. What This Heat and co feared most was sleep:
every element of their music was designed to put you on edge.
Groove was mostly foregone in favour of brittle, fractured tempos;
when it did appear, funk had a foreboding compulsion. Elsewhere,
This Heat made ambient music, but without the flow, without the
repose. "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback to arid,
timebomb tick-tock dub to an abrasive funk-scrabble. "Not Waving"
sounds like Robert Wyatt languishing in a dungeon while mice scamper
over Ivor Cutler's harmonium. "Independence" is a mirage of
Oriental reggae, gorgeous and deadly like a jewelled cobra.
In 1979, this music was meant to be the dawning of a brave,
all-new frontier. In truth, the post-punk avant-garde was really a
resumption of the techniques of the pre-1977 experimental fringe
(Henry Cow, Art Bears, Faust, Can, Soft Machine, Residents etc) with
a different agenda and more apprehensive aura. With the world scene
getting more apocalyptic by the day, This Heat's unsettled and
unsettling music seems more timely than it has for a long while.
review of This Heat's debut album reissued for
This Heatemusic 2006
by Simon Reynolds
This Heat are regarded as one of the archetypal post-punk vanguard outfits. Which they were, but the fact is that this South London trio were just as much a post-psychedelic band, with audible roots in the UK's progressive underground of the early '70s. In 1975, even as Patti Smith and the Ramones released their debuts, This Heat's drummer/vocalist Charles Hayward was playing in Quiet Sun, a jazz-rock combo led by Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera. This Heat's slogan was "All possible processes. All channels open. 24 hours alert," and those first two sentiments could easily have been endorsed by proggy weirdos like Van Der Graaf Generator, Gong, or Can. But the third plank of that mini-manifesto marked This Heat as true contemporaries of Scritti Politti and the Pop Group, its totally-wired tone of paranoid vigilance tapping into the atmosphere of tension and dread that suffused the late '70s.
Political anguish — fears of nuclear armageddon, of a right-wing backlash reversing the gains of the '60s, of an emerging police state — suffused This Heat's music, creating a vibe a world away from the whimsical meander of pre-punk noodlers like Soft Machine. Nonetheless, you can still hear This Heat's proggy past come through on their self-titled 1979 debut in the Robert Wyatt-like plaintiveness and Englishness of Hayward's vocals and the undisguised virtuosity of his drumming, as well as in the group's tell-tale penchant for disjointed structures. More post-punk DIY-noisy in spirit and sound are the contributions of Gareth Williams, a non-musican who supplied jarring blurts and abstract smears using broken-down instruments, effects-pedals, and a primitive form of sampling involving tape loops.
This Heat could be propulsively, even convulsively rhythmic: the eerie percussive timbres and frenetic beats of "24 Track Loop" offers an astonishing audio-prophecy of '90s drum 'n' bass, while "Horizontal Hold" cuts from blistering feedback, to a time-bomb tick-tock of Cold War skank, to an abrasive funk-scrabble, But the group were equally effective making a kind of ambient music, albeit of a decidedly non-tranquilizing sort. "Not Waving" sounds like Wyatt languishing in a dungeon where the rats scuttle morosely over the keys of a decrepit harmonium. "Late-prog," "post-punk" — either way you slice it, This Heat is a category-collapsing classic.
transcript of interview with Charles Hayward -- an out-take from Totally Wired - as published at the Quietus