Monday, November 19, 2018

D-Generation - or, the dawn of K-Punk

Yes, that's the young Mark Fisher staring piercingly out of the picture!

As I discuss in the foreword to k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher, I had a meeting of  minds with Mark  several years before I actually met him in person, or indeed even knew of his existence. In 1994 I wrote a mini-feature on  D-Generation, an ideas-packed groop whose press-release spiels caught my fancy. They sent me a press release / letter and a demo tape for an EP titled Entropy in the UK.

 I tried the three numbers listed and got through to one of them, Simon Biddell. And it was he who I interviewed. In the piece (below) he is identified as the D-Generation's ideologue. It never occurred to ask about the other members of the group - it was a total ideas-oriented, polemic-oriented discussion. Zero factual information! Not untypical for me in those days....   

But Mark was certainly co-ideologue with Biddell - his mindprints are all over the group's self-framing, the titles, choice of samples etc etc. (I don't know what the role of Lee Thompson, the third member of D-Generation was). Prefigurings and portents of K-punkian obsessions limn the D-Generation manifesto.

Below are two pieces on D-Generation from 1994

Melody Maker, 1994
by Simon Reynolds

D-Generation are highly influenced by '60s mod and freakbeat. This Manchester trio took their name from The Eyes' "My Degeneration", a parody of The Who's anthem. D-Generation love the psychedelic/psychotic intensity of freakbeat bands like The Eyes, John's Children, The Creation, but they don't want to recreate it. Psychedelia means abusing technology, they argue, and today that means fucking with samplers and sequencers, not guitars.

Unlike These Animal Men and Blur, D-Generation haven't forgotten that mod was short for modernist. The original mods wanted to fast-forward into the future, not replay lost
golden ages. So D-Generation's "psychedelic futurism" draws on ambient and jungle--music that's absolutely NOW, absolutely BRITISH. And instead of the usual iconography of swinging London or English whimsy, D-Generation pledge allegiance to a "dark, deviant tradition"
of Englishness that includes The Fall, Syd Barrett, Wyndham Lewis, Powell/Pressburger and Michael Moorcock.

D-Generation's atmospheric dance is like a twilight-zone Ultramarine--lots of English imagery, but instead of bucolic bliss, the vibe is urban decay, dread and disassociation. On
their EP "Entropy In the UK", "73/93" rails against the "Nostalgia Conspiracy", using Dr Who samples of "no future". D-Generation call their music "techno haunted by the ghost of
punk" and on 'The Condition Of Muzak' that's literally the case, as it samples Johnny Rotten's infamous taunt: 'ever get the feeling you've been cheated?". Originally, the target was
rave culture itself, but this has widened out, says band ideologue Simon Biddell, "to implicate the entire culture of cynical irony." Then there's "Rotting Hill", a stab at "a 'Ghost Town' for the '90s"; Elgar's patriotic triumphalism is offset by samples from the movie Lucky Jim--"Merrie England? England was never merry!".

D-Generation, says Biddell, are dismayed by the way "young people are content to embrace a rock canon handed down to them, and seem unable to embrace the present, let alone
posit a future." But they're optimistic about the emergence of "a counter-scene, bands like Disco Inferno, Bark Psychosis, Pram, Insides, who are using ambient and techno ideas but
saying something about the 'real world', not withdrawing from it".

Add D-Generation to the list of this nation's saving graces.


The second piece about, or touching upon / deploying D-Generation, was a side-bar to a one-pager I contributed to  Melody Maker's "New Wave of New Wave" cover-story feature package, March 26th 1994. This was the side panel to an interview with Jon Savage about the NWofNW, groups like SMASH, These Animal Men, and Fabulous. 

Actually, now I think about it, this came out before the proper mini-feature on the group above. When this side bar to Savage piece appeared, some of my colleagues at MM simply assumed that I had made up the group to fit my polemics of the time. So the 'new band of the week' in the Advance section of MM was a kind of rejoinder, maybe - "see, they are real!".

The New Wave of New Wave versus d-generation

The great failing of the nouveau punk bands is their willful denial of the music of the last six years. The Sex Pistols had a relationship with both their era’s chartpop (glam’n’glitter like the Sweet) and its underground rock (The Stooges). Any band hoping to have the same impact today would have to take on board the innovations of sampler-based music, from rap and rave to ambient and avant-rock. A Nineties Pistols would be something like a cross between The Prodigy (this era’s Sweet), The Young Gods (this era’s Stooges) and Public Enemy (the black Clash).

Another big failing is that the NWONW’s refried Who riffs lack any kind of relationship with contemporary black music. Although the influence of roots reggae and dub really came through musically in 1979, punk had a spiritual kinship with reggae: both punk and Rasta were about exile and alienation. A Nineties punk should also have at least an awareness of - if not outright alliance with -  today’s black British subcultures. And that means ragga and jungle techno, music of pre-political rage and urban paranoia. If These Animal Men are really into speedfreak music, they should be making 160 bpm ardkore jungle, which is driven by a rage-to-live that’s pure punk. THIS is the sound of youth today, whereas These Animal Men’s “This is the Sound of Youth” is the sound of youth yesterday: 1966, or worse, that year’s dismal replay in 1979, with neo-mod bands like Secret Affair and Squire.

We need real modernism, not mod revivals. So let me introduce: d-generation. As the name suggests, their music is informed by, but also a swerve away from, the music of the E Generation: “the corrupt modernism” of dark techno, jungle, ambient and ragga.

“We would have been punks in ‘77”, admit d-generation, “but today we can’t see why anyone would ignore modern music.”

They call their sound “psychedelic futurism, techno haunted by the ghost of punk”. It sounds like Ultramarine gone noir: ambient drones, lonesome dub-reggae melodica, stealthy junglist breakbeats. Like Ultramarine, d-generation deploy imagery of “Englishness”, but instead of pastoral quirkiness, the vibe is urban wasteland, influenced by “the dark, expressionist, deviant tradition” of Wyndam Lewis, The Fall and Michael Moorcock.

On their yet-to-be-released EP Entropy in the UK, ghostly allusions to punk are omnipresent. “73/93” turns around the sampled phrases “eroding structure, generating entropy… no future”. “The Condition of Muzak” (the title is from a Michael Moorcock novel) goes even further, using Johnny Rotten as a stick to beat the rave generation. A sample from the Pistols’ last performance at Winterlands is turned into a techno riff: Rotten’s famous “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” and mirthless cackle “ha ha ha”. Perfect: if this was played at a rave, it would start a virus of disaffection that would undermine the whole subculture. So many ravers have a cheated look on their faces, sometimes cos they’ve been sold dodgy E, mostly cos they’re burned out and can never get as high as they used to.

Rave is full of submerged utopian longings (“living the dream” etc). But because they aren’t articulated, the culture ultimately functions as a safety valve, releasing frustration at the weekend then returning you to workaday drudgery.

It’s not a culture of refusal, but an anti-culture that defuses. d-generation suggest one way that a true successor to punk (rather than a mere replay) could operate: as spies in the house of the loved-up, sowing seeds of discontent, making a grim dance of our national decay.

The second - but unreleased -  EP from D-Generation - Concrete Island

Although I have two pre-release cassettes with D-Generation on the spine in my possession still, in the event they only put out just the one vinyl EP . That's because they were forced to change their name on account of the existence of a fairly dreadful NY trad-rebel-raunch'n'roll outfit of the same moniker - if I recall right, they got sent one of those cease-and-desist type letters from the management or the record company. But D-Generation did continue under a different name, The Lower Depths, and released at least a couple more EPs. One of the Concrete Island tunes appears on the first Lower Depths EP. Press releases below - again, spot the proto-K-punkian elements!


ashar astref said...

Hi Simon, I'm going to do a talk and a listening session next monday at my art school in Marseille, France about Mark to introduce him and his work to the students and teachers, I'm a student there. I'm looking to the files of D-generation to play the album on quite loud speakers, do you have it and could you share it for this occasion? I'm super glad to read a new article about him, he's a strong inspiration. Thanks, Sarah


hi Sarah, I don't have the files, but you can easily strip the audio off that YouTube video, that's the whole EP right there. Use this site


Tim 'Space Debris' said...

I'm surprised at how good the EP is. It's pre-hauntological like St Etienne, Ultramarine, Position Normal, The Avalanches etc.

What could have been? A lost opportunity perhaps. Could they have competed with The Chemical Brothers? Inter-esting.


yeah it is good isn't it? not quite up to the level of the surrounding spiel, but getting there, and certainly well worth, er, encouraging.

it's a UK music press tradition to not wait until the groop fully realizes itself (unlike the cautious and "responsible" Yank rock press) but to hasten to get the ideas out there circulating in the discourse.

Unknown said...

Hello Simon - I have copies of the ep if your would like one. Andy Fisher.


hi Andy

are you Mark's brother?

i don't think we ever discussed family much so I realise with a little shock that I don't actually know if he had siblings.

well, it's goes without saying really, but i'm terribly sorry for your loss - and everybody's loss. the publication of the book has really made me painfully conscious of his absence

I am pretty certain I have a vinyl copy of the EP, from back in the day, but that's kind of you to offer.

all the best