Mimicking the machines: the first Industrial music

Photo: Julie Travis

Photo: Julie Travis

By chance I saw a few minutes of a tv programme on dance and found out that some types of English clog dancing was invented by the women working the mechanised looms to relieve the tedium of the job. Many steps mimicked the sounds and movement of the machines. I’ve watched programmes on clog dancing before – and seen it executed wonderfully, most notably by Rachel and Becky Unthank – but had not heard how the steps came about. The original Industrial Music then, I thought – pre-dating by around a century (if my social history is right) the term coined by Peter Christopherson, then of Throbbing Gristle, to describe the sounds/noise of TG. I’ve read many interviews with him and other members of the group but have found no reference to clog dance steps so perhaps he was not aware of it but it certainly seems to reflect his own ideas about how to use sound and noise. When I was researching whether anyone in the 1970s/80s Industrial ‘scene’ had talked about mill workers in Northern England I found no reference to it, either, although contemporary sound artist Sarah Angliss had made the connection several years ago, and had written about it in 2009, even mentioning Kraftwerk and Coil. Of course, between these two eras came industrial music from the Midlands from the likes of Black Sabbath, which was labelled Heavy Metal, since the music reflected the heavy industry of the area and the lives that it dominated, but the later Industrial Music, like the clog dance steps before it, sought to mimic industrial noise more closely.

My forays onto social media are having mixed results. On the plus side, I’ve managed to connect with more writers and have made contact with a few people I’d lost touch with. On the negative side, too many people, I think, consider that clicking the ‘Like’ button on someone’s posts is a decent replacement for emailing friends. It isn’t. It may take time for me to respond to emails sometimes – or write a letter – but that’s because to do so requires the effort that my friends are worth. A few rushed words on social media is not communication. The other main problem is that Facebook feels like being in a room where so many people are shouting that my voice is either not heard or is just ignored. Not having a Smartphone means that taking photos, loading them onto the computer and then posting them anywhere again requires a lot of effort, so my posts on FB have to be considered. So I’m spending less and less time there. Some personal and professional issues of late are also making me consider whether to delete my account completely, along with this website, and retreat into the complete reclusiveness that was necessary when I first left London. A person can only be ripped off, fucked over and taken for granted so many times before they give up and walk away from it all.

On the writing front – I’ve just completed the first draft of Dark Fire. At present it’s just over 6,000 words, which is quite short for me, but is likely to grow a bit when re-drafted. I’m very pleased with it, but I may put it to one side for the time being to press on with another new story.

 

All images and text ©Julie Travis

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Ian Johnstone

Artist Ian Johnstone has died at his home in Spain, aged just 47 years. He collaborated with Coil on live performances and the artwork for several of their albums (Remote Viewer, Black Antlers, …And The Ambulance Died In His Arms, Ape of Naples) and latterly with Ulver and Mothlite as well as producing some powerful performance pieces (see the clip above of him as ‘Ark Todd’, performing with Ulver). He was a farmer, a bee keeper. He was also a good friend of mine and one of the wisest, kindest souls I ever met. I could write at length about this extraordinary man and his extraordinary life, but I’m devastated at this news. Please spare a thought for his loved ones.

 

Rising from the dread

Harris 4

Things are somewhat in limbo regarding publishing and acceptance news – my collection in Storylandia has suffered various delays; proofs are currently being shipped to me for checking a few editorial decisions, so I’m not expecting the journal to see the light of day before April. However, the cover photo’s been chosen – it will be one of my photographs, taken at Highgate Cemetery in the mid 1980s (and not included in the shots published in Night Mail, as mentioned in my last post). I miss these cities within cities, which were one of the few interesting things left about London when I escaped. I was slightly concerned that such a photograph might be a cliché for a collection of horror stories, but the content of the photo – the cemetery’s mausoleums – are unique and should avoid the charge. Meanwhile, Dark Regions Press have launched an Indiegogo fund to raise enough cash to extend their Dreams From The Witch House anthology and to commission the cover artist to provide an illustration for each of the stories included, so it’s likely to be a couple of months before I hear whether or not The Man Who Builds The Ruins has made it into the book, which won’t be published until December 2015. I’m still working on two stories – with a list of ideas for the next several – Pig Iron is progressing well and In Holes And Corners, now definately titled The Hidden, is finally nearly complete. It’s taken a year, with several changes of title, to knock this one into shape. Sometimes it just does.

I have been able to get hold of some ‘musick’ that I’ve been after for a while. X-TG’s Desertshore/Final Report is wonderfully mind expanding and a lovely tribute to Peter Christopherson, despite my reservations about Genesis P-Orridge not appearing on it. I’ve also managed to get a few of the extra download tracks, Faet Narok, even more dreamlike versions of Desertshore than the main album. I’m currently listening in full, for the first time, to the Coil ANS triple cd set (over three hours long), which I bought for a reasonable price after several years of patiently looking at prices. The experiment – the band gaining access to the huge Russian ANS synthesiser, worked by etching diagrams into a glass plate and the machine ‘playing’ the pictures – gives me the sensation of flying through space, something I’ve dreamt of many times. I’m aware that more or less the only cds I’ve bought over the last several years have been ones that can be used to put me in a certain frame of mind which helps me write. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them for their own sake – or that I can’t write without them – but they need to have a ‘higher’ purpose than just entertainment. And after seeing The Punk SingerSini Anderson’s documentary on Kathleen Hannah, which includes some wonderful footage of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, I’m feeling super-inspired in entirely different ways. I met Anderson at the Dirtybird Queercore Festival and Sister Spit open-mic nights in San Francisco in 1996. She was a force to be reckoned with back then and, it seems, still is.

I’ve begun reading Jeremy Reed and Karolina Urbaniak’s book Altered Balance, which documents Reed’s friendship with Jhonn Balance of Coil. It’s raw and honest and sad. I didn’t expect anything else. Stories about when Balance and Sleazy lived in Chiswick reminded me of the late 1980s; driving through the area one day, I wondered which road the pair’s flat was in (my obsession has indeed been going on for decades); ironically I now believe I was in Beverley Road a number of times to visit friends who lived in the street.

*The photo at the top of this piece is of a female Harris Hawk, visiting the Eden Project with her owner when I was there recently. I have, of course, sent all the shots of the bird I took to Andy Martin of UNIT for possible inclusion in future UNIT releases.

Death is the beginning of something

Brentor Church Sign

The Ferocious Night: In January of 2011, I was walking on the beach at Marazion in West Cornwall and came across the body of a decapitated seal pup. After I’d got over the initial gruesomeness of the find, I was interested to see how, in death, the body appeared to be transforming into something else entirely. It was a strange time: two friends were diagnosed with cancer. Death seemed to be hovering nearby. I listened to Coil’s Horse Rotorvator album and paid particular attention to the track The Golden Section. How would a person approach Death? And how would Death approach a person? A local procession band – the Montol or Turkey Rhubarb Band – would appear at Penzance’s Winter Solstice celebration, dressed in black rags and masks, playing a dirge of a tune. They were perfect for the story and so were included (although, sadly, their musicianship has improved since I first saw them – it takes the edge off their performance). The story was originally called The Moth And The Flame, but The Ferocious Night seemed more suitable. After all, I don’t believe that Death is a passive Nothingness. And we don’t all die quietly.

The two stories published in Storylandia both begin with a question. These are (probably) the only stories I’ve ever begun in this way, and as far as I’m aware it’s purely coincidental (if such a thing exists) that this has occurred; the JT issue due for publication next year should have four or five new stories/novellas in it and none of them begin in this way. Perhaps I should edit them so that they do!

 

The Ferocious Night is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Molly Marie Haynes (1940 – 2013).

Never forget the dream element

UNIT Rock In Opposition Front

UNIT have just released a new album, Rock In Opposition Phase 5, and the booklet includes some more of my bird photography. I was not expecting this, so was very happy to get a copy at the weekend. Now the weather is more settled, I am trying to get more photographs for the band’s future releases (and just this morning have had a photoshoot with a bold jackdaw just outside my window). I’m proud to be associated with UNIT.

The article on Ellyott Ben Ezzer is now finished and Curve magazine will be publishing the article in their June issue. Ellyott’s answers to my questions were well worth waiting for and make her album (5772) even more moving. She’s as much a force to be reckoned with as she ever was, and I’m glad that a Western magazine will feature someone with such a high profile in a different culture.

Chapel Carn Brea House

The Man Who Builds The Ruins has now been drafted and I’m in the process of re-writing it. The end of the story, which I was having difficulty ‘seeing’, came to me after repeated plays of the Electric Sewer Age album. I found that there was, of course, only one ending for the story, or rather, one place in which to leave it. It often feels to me that a story is not so much ‘made up’ as the writer having tuned in to something happening Elsewhere and it’s a matter of writing it down accurately. Thanks to Danny Hyde and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson for inspiration.

I am a ghost in my own life: Balance, Ballard and Michell

Lands End Airport

Prompted by the sad death of ‘slipstream’/horror writer Joel Lane late last year, I’ve been determined to read more fiction. I was always aware of how well regarded Lane was, both as a writer of horror in realistic/urban/working-class settings and as a person but am not familiar with his work. I should be, as well as others who are in my peer group, but who all have a higher profile than myself. For the last decade or so, I’ve been very involved in non-fiction writings: local and national archaeology and sacred sites, reference books on demonology and suchlike… Should I be reading more fiction, if nothing else, to keep in touch, both with the writers and with the art form? Following my own path is fine, I think, but I don’t want to go so far down it that my writing becomes inaccessible and ceases to do what I want it to do. So, a couple of forays into local Oxfam bookshops have been useful: I hadn’t read High-Rise by J G Ballard for decades, so was glad of a chance to re-familiarise myself with it. I like Ballard. His characters all seem to have their own personal madness going on, often while they try to survive in the Hell of suburbia. [NB: the ICA in London once organised an event with Ballard being interviewed by the then fresh faced Clive Barker. It must have been in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled, with no explanation or rescheduling taking place. A bitter disappointment! It was around the same time that Kathy Acker interviewed William Gibson at the same venue, a fantastic and inspirational event.]  I’m several chapters in to High-Rise and I’ve had to stop reading it: perhaps it’s my frame of mind, but the story is just making me laugh. It feels odd to do so, a little disrespectful, but I was a very different person when I read the book first time round. Another time, perhaps. To complete the failure, I went into Oxfam a few days ago and found a copy of Michellany: A John Michell Reader. I don’t know nearly enough about Michell (to my shame: he was a real authority on sacred sites and Earth energies) and the book – hardcover, signed and numbered by the authors – has a number of previously unpublished essays in it, together with writings on Michell by a number of people. No fiction here! I need to be careful while I browse it: financial pressures mean I need to sell it on as soon as possible, which is a shame, as it’s a beautiful looking book, but such is life. I hope to learn something before I let it go.

After years of missing local record fairs, I went to one last Saturday. I had a feeling there was something there for me, so I went in as soon as it opened, looked around the roomful of cds and records and let my instinct take me to one of the boxes of albums. There, about halfway through, was a copy of the first pressing of Current 93/Sickness of Snakes’ mini-album, Murder Culture (1985). On the back was a dedication, signature and date (1986) by John (as he was known then) Balance. It was the real deal, so I got it – £28 well spent, I think. This one I’m not selling on, unless times get absolutely desperate. I have an item that belonged to Balance, and perhaps it’s his writing on the Zos Kia test pressing I have, but the album’s another connection which I could not walk away from.

Music has always been more of an inspiration/springboard for my writing than other people’s fiction (which may be another reason that I don’t feel the need to read that much), and that continues, with the acquisition, finally, of the first Electric Sewer Age album, Peter Christopherson’s final musical work. It has not been a disappointment, indeed, it has the feel, perhaps the magick, of Coil, something I thought would not be possible without Balance’s (physical) presence.

And as for writing, the two stories I had been working on have had to be put on hold again. For good reason: in the space of a day or so, I’ve sketched out a whole new short story. It’s one of those that has just dropped on to my notebook and I had to get the general idea down as quickly as it appeared. A bit of research and it’ll be all systems go. I would say it’s a subtle, psychological horror story, with a (probably male) Spanish architect as its centre.

“Shaken by glimpses of another world”

Urban Occult arrives

Above: Urban Occult arrives, and is pictured next to the now completed first draft of From The Bones.

My contribution to the anthology, Pieces, is dedicated to the memories of Jhonn Balance and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson.