Gordon Mackinnon aka GK Machine has been promoting and DJing at leftfield dance events in Glasgow and further afield for almost two decades, with residencies in Voodoo Rooms, Alaska, Glasgow School of Art, Basura Blanca and most recently The Berkeley Suite and Nice ‘n’ Sleazy which have both played host to his monthly “Kill Yr Idols” DIY disco parties. Gordon dug into his collection and picked up his 5 favorite records of all time.
Fetus Productions, for those who don’t know a thing about them, were more a conceptual ‘project’ than a ‘band’ and pioneered a mix of electronics, processed instruments, performance art, experimental film, multi-media art, visuals and video/photography installations. This album features one of my favourite tracks of all time “Flicker” — a dark electronic trip into a sci-fi world more futuristic than Blade Runner, colder than ice and fresh sounding even today due to the timeless, forward-thinking production techniques that Jed Town and cohorts seemed to master in every song they created. Their ground-breaking use of the studio, effects and processing technology is why they still sound so fresh today. A good starter point for the novice listener would be the Intensive Care Unit box set LPs/CD.
I’ve been following Eddie Ruscha’s music since getting hooked on his Dada Munchamonkey releases on Exist Dance way back. Eddie has always had his very own unique sound and Secret Circuit’s is no exception. With a nod to dub, italo/cosmic, techno, house, afrobeat and ambient, Secret Circuit’s own style is actually harder to pinpoint than any of his influences. With a vast array of synths, bass (courtesy of the man himself) and the frequent aid of guest musicians (lap steel and guitars feature frequently on his recordings) Secret Circuit’s sound swirls around the listener taking us into a pretty far away place that other music rarely ever does or can. Just imagine a multi-coloured beach at a fractal ocean at the edge of space, a gently blowing purple breeze and floating in a warm liquid bubble into the the light beyond the sea.
This album is mind-blowing. It’s a grower too. I didn’t like it to begin with, thinking it sounded musically lacking in something, which it turned out was precisely the case because long-time collaborator Snakefinger was meant to contribute his unique guitar playing to the record but instead ended up having a heart attack on stage before they’d started recording it! It later dawned on me that the lack of guitar didn’t matter so much because the album is as much about the story as it is the music.
It’s the archetypal ‘concept album’, requiring listening from start to finish — an opera of sorts telling the story of two siamese twins with healing powers, a ‘manager’ who sees big bucks in their abilities and an ensuing love/hate relationship between the three of them that descends into perversion and….well, I better not spoil the ending for you. The music is, of course, typically untypical of The Residents yet distinctly them. One thing is for sure, The Residents’ unparalleled imagination will leave you gob-smacked.
OK, I had to get this one in my all-time Top-5 despite only becoming familiar with the group earlier this year. It’s pretty hard doing a Top-5 when your record collection numbers several thousand, as you might imagine, so I originally decided I’d only choose records more than a year old that I’ve always really liked since first hearing them, ones that I still like to play from start to finish to this day. To make sure my choices would last the test of time I thought it best to exclude anything I’d acquired in the last year as my judgement might be biased by my obsessive need for fresh music and the novelty of something new.
But hey screw that, I thought, as I removed “The Cramps – Off The Bone” from my top 5 and replaced it with this. A very daring move. And one that probably shows my shifting taste towards subtler sounds and musical nuances as I get older.
And what makes this music good enough to merit it’s status in my top 5? Quite a lot actually. I am always impressed by ‘maverick’ producers and musicians who go off on their own slightly eccentric tangents and choose to beat a drum that only they can beat: Moondog, Adrian Sherwood, David Cunningham, Eroc, Ed Ruscha, The Residents, Captain Beefheart, Fetus Productions, Bruce Haack, David van Tieghem and so on. Juan Alberto Arteche is one such musician. Essentially a collection of very rare recordings originally released in the 1980s, rather than an album, the songs on “A Last Discovery” vary from pretty upbeat, rhythmic, organic ‘dance’ music on one hand to tonal, textured ambient music verging on the precipice of New Age. If you imagine an even more spiritual version of My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts being performed by Liquid Liquid, Iasos and Secret Circuit after they’d gone on a journey through every culture and folk tradition on earth and picked up instruments and musicians on the way then you’re getting somewhere close to the music of Finis Africae. The resultant tapestry of sound has had me so thoroughly engrossed for the last few months that I’ve been obsessively hunting down what recordings I can find. I can’t recommend the music of Arteche and fellow bandmates enough.
Music, to me, should be as creative and original as is humanly possible. After all, our minds can, at times, transcend the limitations reality often forces on us so why not push the boundaries in music? We have the gift of imagination and with it we see there is no excuse for regurgitating familiar tunes and calling it true music. I guess people with closed minds make music for people with closed minds and because there’s such a large number of both the term ‘popular’ would seem sadly accurate. Or maybe smart people make dummy music for all the dummies?
But for those wanting to taste something different from ‘pop’ music we have Adrian Sherwood and the On-U Sound crew in their various guises. Playgroup was just one of many mutations of the collective. The On-U Sound motto “Comforting The Disturbed, Disturbing The Comfortable” aptly describes the leftfield approach the collective takes.
Playgroup initially comprised of members of Rip, Rig & Panic and Crucial and was a project created to make instrumental dub versions of Judy Nylon’s “Pal Judy” LP on which Crucial were her backing band. The result was “Epic Sound Battles Chapter One”. Adrian Sherwood produced both of these LPs, of course, and both are great. However, entirely new levels were reached with this follow-up. “Epic Sound Battles Chapter Two” is, in fact, performed by an entirely different band altogether, but such was the way of On-U sound at the time: people would shift between bands, collaborate once here, once there and the band names usually were just used to reflect particular concepts rather than specify a group of individuals by name! The Beatles they were not. The Fall may be a similar comparison with Adrian Sherwood’s producer role taking over where Mark E. Smith’s songwriter would be. Musically they couldn’t be any more different though.
This album features the most psychedelic dubbed-out effects and rhythms this side of Kingston, Mars and fuses them with Hungarian violinists, Trinidadian steel pan drummers, experimental saxophonists and suddenly a whole new style of music is born for which you can’t even come up with a name. Which is probably for the best. Naming a style of music is the first step to creating pop, after all. Thankfully this album is the exact opposite and is one I can listen to again and again. As I am doing now. I thoroughly recommend you do likewise.
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Words & photos by Gordon Mackinnon