Mute Swan(s)


Mute Swan(s)

Michael Gira’s Swans have signed to Mute and the label will release the first fruits of this partnership in May.

At Whipsnade Zoo yesterday I caught a small exhibition of nature photographs. Seeing the words ‘Mute’ and ‘swan’ in the description of this piece made me smile.


(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Big Deal – Chair (Mute Records single, 2011)


mute artists | 7″/i mute459 | 05/09/2011

The sleeve to Big Deal‘s ‘Chair’, which was bizarrely released on the same day as the album Lights Out, features a portrait of a cat wearing a dunce’s hat. To me this looks distinctly like a sleeve that belongs in the Butthole Surfers / Blast First camp, but the hat at least serves as a decent reference point for the lyrics of this song – the bit about being put on a chair in the corner anyway. I can’t explain the cat. Unless where the lyrics refer to not being able to sit on the other person’s bed, KC Underwood and Alice Costelloe are actually singing about a cat. Who knows?

‘Chair’ sounds like a possible mid-point between thrashy punk and the classic rhythm guitar-driven rock ‘n roll of Buddy Holly. It’s quirky, confused, angsty teen-rock / pop, generally delivered in a cheerful style, although the torrents of over-amped guitar distortion threaten to destroy that mood. The generally polite way that the two voices overlap suggest a breeziness and lightness, but the lyrics seem to convey a sense of hurt, disappointment and distrust. It’s curt, intense, but rather beautiful.

Beautiful is also how I would describe the languid, pastoral blues guitars of B-side ‘Buzz Money’. ‘Does your mom still pack your lunch?‘ runs the enquiring lyric, anchoring this to hazy school days and problem-free innocence. ‘Someday I’m gonna pack your lunch for you,‘ is the retort, an odd but quintessentially youthful way of expressing love for a fellow kid. It feels like a fragment of a conversation turned into lyrics. I again feel like I’m too old to listen to this, but I get where this lovely little song is coming from. I think.


On Mothers Day 2013, I tweeted that I couldn’t think of any songs in the Mute Records back catalogue that were about mothers. Big Deal immediately tweeted back ‘you can’t get a song more about mother’s [sic] than this?’ and copied in a link to a YouTube non-video of ‘Lunch Money’, which appears to be a renamed ‘Buzz Money’. As I am re-posting this on Mothers Day 2014, I thought I’d include that. This post is for caring, lunch-preparing mothers everywhere.

Track listing:

A. / 1. Chair
B. / 2. Buzz Money

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Mute Tote Bag (2011)


Mute Tote Bag (2011)

Mute tote bag, purchased at Short Circuit in 2011.

Primary use: for carrying bagels from Brick Lane back home on the train.

Renegade Soundwave ‘Women Respond To Bass’ badge (1990)


Renegade Soundwave 'Women Respond To Bass' badge (1990)

Email from Gary Asquith (Rema-Rema, Renegade Soundwave), 27 March 2014

Hello Mat,

I noticed on your pages somewhere that you had a memorabilia section. So……..

Here’s my Women Respond To Bass Badge and my World Cup Willie badge from the 1966 World Cup. I’m not too big on badges, but I have some punk rock bands and……..?

Willie was our lucky mascot for 1966, and the Women Respond badge was a giveaway at our American tour dates in 1990.

Later. G

Photo courtesy of Gary Asquith.

Martin L. Gore – Counterfeit (Mute Records, 1989)

Martin L. Gore 'Counterfeit' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd/c stumm67 | 06/1989

Counterfeit was Martin L. Gore‘s first solo release outside of Depeche Mode. A collection of six covers ranging from The Durutti Column to Sparks, Gore’s voice is here allowed to shine through rather than being relegated to backing vocals or only appearing on the more poignant ballads of the Depeche back catalogue that were less suited to nominal frontman Dave Gahan‘s vocal style. Counterfeit was produced by Gore and Rhythm King stalwart Rico Conning, and released by Mute in 1989 while Depeche Mode were on downtime between the Music For The Masses and Violator albums. Never a band to go for cover versions (off the top of my head I can only count three, including one Beethoven piece), hearing Gore delivering other people’s songs is something of a rare, and absorbing, proposition.

Opening with a cover of Joe Crow’s ‘Compulsion’, things start off in relatively upbeat territory. Sometime Nightingales member Crow’s solitary and pretty obscure Cherry Red 7″ is here delivered as an affirming, strident track, all upbeat pianos, pulsing percussion and melodica-style synths. I used to listen to this occasionally after disappointing events took place (usually getting dumped by a girl), the ‘got to move on sometime’ refrain and the gentle piano somehow allowing me to transcend whatever I was feeling miserable about. Nearly twenty years on from when I first bought this, it still never fails to work. ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ was originally recorded by Tuxedomoon and appeared on their Holy Wars LP. Gore’s version includes a vaguely Latin rhythm in the style of Depeche Mode’s ‘To Have And To Hold’ from Music For The Masses, underpinned by a dark synth bass pulse. ‘In A Manner Of Speaking’ is filled with a theatrical drama, and to add to the mood Gore speaks his way through the final section, its elliptical lyric about telling someone everything by saying nothing making a level of sense on an emotional level.

The cover of Factory Records’ stalwart Vini Reilly’s ‘Smile In The Crowd’ again opts for a Latin-style arrangement, a thin, pondering guitar line running throughout most of the track. This cover of the Durutti Column song is perhaps the closest Counterfeit comes to the bleak, inward-looking balladry that Gore’s own performances on record tend to lean toward. Meanwhile ‘Gone’, originally delivered by The Comsat Angels, has a cloying urgency, mining the same vibe of danger and helplessness that powered ‘A Question Of Time’, riding forth on a pulsing beat marked by thick bass notes and industrial tension.

Gore’s cover of Sparks’ ‘Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth’ finds Gore taking Ron Mael’s beguiling, simple ode to the planet we live on and maintaining that sense of grace over a fragile, gentle backdrop of acoustic guitar and shimmering percussion. Tempted to make this plaintive song a whole lot darker though you might have expected Gore to be, instead the sense of wonderment of the Sparks original is maintained, Gore even having a decent crack at Russell Mael’s falsetto, highlighting the lead Depeche Mode songwriter’s strong vocal range. Gore saves the darkness for his take on the traditional song ‘Motherless Child’, here cast as a edgy jazz number, the dark swing of Gore’s introspective vocal delivered like an unused track from Cabaret.

Counterfeit is a relatively unassuming record, considering how big Depeche Mode had become by this point. Gore’s emotional outpourings have always been popular with fans (check out the deafening cheers after one of Gore’s solo performances in the middle of a Depeche Mode stadium show), and hearing his effortless ownership of these six songs is one of the genuine highlights of his body of vocal work. A follow-up to this EP would be released by Mute in 2003 containing more unexpected reworkings of other bands’ material.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Compulsion
A2. / 2. In A Manner Of Speaking
A3. / 3. Smile In The Crowd
B1. / 4. Gone
B2. / 5. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
B3. / 6. Motherless Child

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Mick Harvey – Sketches From The Book Of The Dead (Mute Records album, 2011)

Mick Harvey 'Sketches From The Book Of The Dead' CD artwork

mute artists | lp+cd/cd stumm329 | 02/05/2011

Unbelievably, despite being in his fifth decade of making music, this is Mick Harvey‘s first album of totally self-penned songs. Time spent in the bands of Nick Cave, Simon Bonney and PJ Harvey, plus all that time devoted to poring over the Serge Gainsbourg legacy for two albums, has evidently paid off; Sketches From The Book Of The Dead is an accomplished, yet understated, collection of eleven songs, all of which ruminate on death. The album was produced by Mick, who also plays guitars, piano, organ, electric bass and percussion. Harvey was also joined by Rosie Westbrook (double bass), J.P. Shilo (accordion, violin, electric guitar) and Xanthe Waite on backing vocals.

According to my new best friend Wikipedia ‘the Book of the Dead is the modern name of an ancient Egyptian funerary text, used from the beginning of the New Kingdom (around 1550 BC) to around 50 BC.’ So now you know.

Overt reference to the Book of the Dead, or at least Harvey’s version, comes in the lyrics of the opening track, ‘October Boy’, which was made available as a free mp3 a few months before the album was released. ‘If you’re writing a song for the Book of the Dead / Then write one, write one for me,‘ sings Harvey in the voice of the October Boy of the title, while a dark, filmic, almost Morricone-esque backdrop underpins the black tale of a man anointed with a ‘sonic gun‘ who takes ‘rock ‘n roll poison’; that October Boy is almost certainly Rowland S. Howard, departed to the afterlife in recent years, and whose birth month was October. It is an unopinionated obituary to one of Howard’s earliest musical allies, the writer of the haunting ‘Shivers’ and his co-creator of amazing sounds in The Birthday Party.

‘The Ballad Of Jay Givens’ will be familiar to anyone who picked up a copy of Mute‘s Vorwärts compilation from earlier this year. This is Mick, with accompaniment from guitar, strings and organ, telling a dark tale of Givens, apparently his father’s best friend, a chap with a pretty dark and shady past. As a story set to music it’s absorbing and mysterious. ‘Two Paintings’ exists on a haunting musical tapestry of looping, often elegiac noise and mournful piano, depicting it seems, the separation from a loved one, featuring the descriptions of two paintings by Gustav Pillig. There are some truly moving moments in this song, particularly Mick’s wordless vocal harmonies at the very end. Pillig’s artwork adorns the sleeve and booklet, along with other paintings from Katy Beale.

‘Rhymeless’ is a clever, folksy piece whose verses are structured from fragments of well-known nursery rhymes. ‘All the songs that you never sang / To your little ones,‘ is a line which fills me with much regret. The song deals with children moving from being cherished to being effectively abandoned, neglected, deserted, forgotten, none of which I am remotely guilty of when it comes to my two wonderful daughters. But it does sadden me that my children seem to know the nursery rhymes that Harvey quotes from without me ever having once sung them those words. ‘Frankie T. & Frankie C.’ describes the love shared by the two characters of this song, a man and a woman both sharing the same first name; the way Harvey describes the spark shared between them reminds me of the way people of my grandparents’ generation might have described the first flushes of romance. Alas, the love of the two Frankies was to be short-lived, the death of Frankie C. leaving Frankie T. alone and mourning the loss of his beloved, finding himself spending his days longing after her and ultimately fading away in a bid to join her. While most of the backing has Harvey plucking elliptical patterns on his guitar over droning, carefully-sculpted sound, there are some fantastically heavy guitar crescendos at the end of the chorus.

In a neat play on words, ‘A Place Called Passion’ – a tale of someone lost during World War One – the front-line assault on Passchendaele and the word ‘passion’ are forced into an unhappy marriage, Harvey’s story of a relative who lost his life during the Great War evoked through the artefacts handed down to him – books bearing futile inscriptions from that relative’s parents pointing him toward a bright, but ultimately thwarted, future. This is the realities of conflict distilled into personal impact and significance. Like so many of the tracks on Sketches From The Book Of The Dead, ‘A Place Called Passion’ is extremely poignant. ‘To Each His Own’ is mysterious, a spoken-word poem of sorts over whining noise, with an intonation not unlike his former Bad Seeds bandmate Blixa Bargeld‘s spoken word pieces.

‘The Bells Never Rang’ is one of my personal favourite tracks, a ballad which takes us to Paris, rural Australia and Geneva over its three verses set to layers of strummed guitar that rise in intensity and urgency, only to drop away into a chorus of vocal harmonies and thin, reedy organ. This appears not to be a reflection on death of people per se, but on wasted opportunities, lost chances and relationships that fizzled out. ‘That’s All, Paul’ has a title that wouldn’t have gone amiss on one of Harvey’s Gainsbourg albums. Who Paul is we never know, but it would seem from the lyrics that young Paul, seemingly cut short in his prime, probably never really got to know himself either; Harvey is evidently bitter toward this pointless loss of life, which sounds as if it was caused by a single moment of recklessness. For that reason alone it reminds me of Rebel Without A Cause.

The album, fittingly, closes with the rousing single ‘Famous Last Words’, but it is preceded by one of the most evocative, moving love songs I’ve ever heard, ‘How Would I Leave You?’. Accordion, dramatic but sparse drums, piano and strummed guitars underpin Harvey reflecting on his attempts to leave somewhere (home?), his decision, or indecision, influenced by the wondrous nature he sees all around him. It all sounds idyllic, pristine, Walden-like, Harvey laconically and benevolently forced into inaction by the world he sees enveloping him.

Track listing:

lp+cd / cd:
1. October Boy
2. The Ballad Of Jay Givens
3. Two Paintings
4. Rhymeless
5. Frankie T. & Frankie C.
6. A Place Called Passion
7. To Each His Own
8. The Bells Never Rang
9. That’s All, Paul
10. How Do I Leave You?
11. Famous Last Words

First published 2011; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Sun Ra – Out There A Minute (Blast First album, 1989)

Sun Ra 'Out There A Minute' LP artwork

blast first / mute records | lp/cd bffp42 | 1989

Surely the best thing about running a record label must be the opportunity to release music that you love. Such is the case with Blast First head Paul Smith‘s release of three Sun Ra records via his label in the late Eighties and Nineties. That trio of releases – the CD/VHS set Cosmic Visions (which includes the legendary Space Is The Place film), a live album of Ra and his Myth Science Arkestra recorded in London and the compilation Out There A Minute – were all made possible, first and foremost, by Smith being a fan of Sun Ra’s body of work. The other reason was a sense of exasperation and disbelief that there were people out there who bought all the prior Blast First releases. His aversion to being seen as some sort of Factory-style ‘cult’ label, or even being regarded as a record label at all, again led to a focus on bands and artists that Smith was personally interested in.

‘Hence the Sun Ra and Glenn Branca releases,’ explains Smith by email. ‘Both have a connection and influence on, say, the music of Sonic Youth, but both were maybe not so obvious to people at the time. Thurston [Moore, Sonic Youth guitarist] was, even then, a big collector of Ra, and I’d seen the Arkestra play years before in London. They made a real impact on me – and who would not want to meet an Angel, and one from Saturn to boot? Anyway we had about twenty people send these two records back asking for a refund, which we happily gave them. Mission accomplished.’

Sun Ra’s legacy as an outsider jazzman, band-leader, synth pioneer and visitor from another planet is huge, as is his body of work across a multitude of labels. Collecting Ra records can be a daunting and extremely expensive task, which is why compilations like Out There A Minute are useful introductions to Sun Ra’s complex body of music. If you believe the official biography, Sun Ra was born Herman Poole ‘Sonny’ Blount in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1914 and by his early teens was an impressive pianist, able to transcribe full works by ear after witnessing performances of the many jazz legends that performed in Birmingham on the US jazz touring circuit. By the mid-Thirties, Blount was leading his own band, insisting on rigorous practice and creating a disciplined, Calvinistic, work ethic that allowed his band to adapt to a number of jazz styles with ease.

The ‘other’ biography is much more interesting, and likely of much greater influence on the music that was issued by Sun Ra. After a couple of years of limited success with his band, Blount claimed to have been surrounded by a white light, which he followed, and which magically transported him to Saturn where a form of Angel spoke to him of impending chaos on Earth, encouraging him to preach peace through music, and replacing his corporeal form with that of a Saturnine Angel. During the course of his onward career, Sun Ra – as he became known from 1952 having legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra – would focus on a form of Afrofuturism, his Arkestra would wear Egyptian costumes on stage and his music would take on an astral dimension.

Whilst liner notes are absent (something jazz fans are pretty intolerant of generally), we know that the tracks that form Out There A Minute were recorded in New York at the Arkestra’s base near 42nd Street, a communal living and performance space that the band were forced to adopt because of Manhattan’s sky-high rents. The band were residents in New York from 1961 through to 1968, during which time they adopted more of a free improv style, currying favour with the beat poets and fans of psychedelia, but also getting frustrated by hecklers and a more universal concern that Sun Ra and his band were a bit too ‘far out’ for the jazz fraternity.

Out There A Minute comprises thirteen tracks from the end of the Arkestra’s New York period, personally compiled by Sun Ra from an archive of rare recordings. The recordings range from straight-up big band bop like ‘Dark Clouds With Silver Linings’ or ‘Lights Of A Satellite’, which showed that Sun Ra was still prepared to tap into more traditional (and more popular) jazz forms, through to some of the more intensely alien pieces. The Sun Ra Moog sound is here not quite developed, though some of the tracks have some distinctive and inventive early synth musings; predominantly Sun Ra deploys piano or organ lines here, nestled among John Gilmour‘s tenor sax and Marshall Allen‘s alto. In the jazz genre, it perhaps doesn’t feel quite so adventurous as the idea itself today, but these pieces undoubtedly have an otherworldly quality when compared with other music being wrought at the time. Tracks veer from polite, romantic musings such as the genteel but noisy ‘When Angels Speak Of Love’ to the scratchy whine of ‘Cosmo Enticement’ or ‘Next Stop Mars’. The playful, wobbly echoes of ‘Song Of Tree And Forest’ sounds like something that wouldn’t have gone amiss on the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey if Kubrick hadn’t decided to go all highbrow with his use of Ligeti. ‘Other Worlds’ is cloying, manic skronking, hammered pianos and wild percussion, truly out there playing with a playful, expansive reach.

Smith recalls meeting Ra and his band several times. ‘I even got to visit them in their commune in Philly, and once took him shopping on London’s Denmark Street where he picked up a “Heavy Metal” guitar pedal. Sunny had no idea about the musical genre, he just liked the name and started talking about the different physics on the home planet.’

‘I organised some dates, especially in the UK where he’d sort of lost his place with the jazz fraternity at that time,’ Smith recalls. ‘Sun Ra playing at The Mean Fiddler is what showed Vince Power that Camden Jazz Cafe could work! Sunny was a truly lovely soul. A fantastic and mischievous twinkle in his eyes all the time, and a lovely giggle. He was very anti-drug, and very strict with his band members. I remember introducing Thurston Moore to Sunny at the Bottom Line jazz club in New York – it was one of the few times I’ve seen him look freaked out at meeting someone.’

Sun Ra rejoined his Saturnine people in 1993, handing the baton to Marshall Allen, who leads the Arkestra to this day. Only a few of the original members survive, and Allen himself will turn ninety in a couple of years, but the unique band that Ra created continue to tour, the perfect living tribute to one of jazz music’s most celebrated but misunderstood geniuses.

On a personal level, there were two things that formed my still-developing interest and love of jazz. The first was a guy called Brian, a friend of the middle-aged couple that I lived with during my final year at university in Colchester in 1998. Brian was a big man, who I forever imagine now to look like Peter Brötzmann, and he absolutely loved jazz. Every summer he’d take himself off to european jazz festivals, and the few times he and I spoke, he enthused about the genre so much that it cemented in me a need to explore jazz much as I’d been drawn into punk two years earlier. Sadly Brian passed away that year and never managed to give me the recommendations he’d always intended to. The other influence was seeing this Sun Ra compilation listed in the Documentary Evidence pamphlet that ultimately inspired this site. At the time (1991), I had no idea who or what Ra was, and it wasn’t until I read a review of John F. Szwed’s book in The Wire around a year after Brian’s death that I began to appreciate his importance and also the sheer eclecticism of Smith’s label. It took me a few years to build up to delving into Ra’s back catalogue, but it didn’t disappoint when I finally did.

Thanks to Paul Smith.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Love In Outer Space
A2. / 2. Somewhere In Space
A3. / 3. Dark Clouds With Silver Linings
A4. / 4. Jazz And Romantic Sounds
A5. / 5. When Angels Speak Of Love
A6. / 6. Cosmo Enticement
B1. / 7. Song Of Tree And Forest
B2. / 8. Other Worlds
B3. / 9. Journey Outward
B4. / 10. Lights Of A Satellite
B5. / 11. Starships And Solar Boats
B6. / 12. Out There A Minute
13. Next Stop Mars (CD bonus track)

First published 2012; edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Jeremy Deller & Nicholas Abrahams – Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode / The Posters Came From The Walls (Mute Film, 2007 – unreleased)

Jeremy Deller & Nick Abrahams 'Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode' artwork

‘I love Martin’s hair.’ – a tweet posted during the live stream of Depeche Mode’s tour announcement, Paris 23 October 2012

With a new Depeche Mode album and mega-tour just around the corner, and with fans evidently getting excited on social media sites like Twitter, it feels like an appropriate moment to write about Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller and director Nicholas Abrahams‘ film, Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode. The film, also known as The Posters Came From The Walls, was commissioned by Mute MD Daniel Miller and focusses its lens on the fans of the band, rather than acting as a strict biography of the group.

When I first saw clips of Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode on the BBC documentary about Deller in 2012, I was prepared to think of the film as ridiculing devoted fans of the band; people I’ve spoken to over the past year or so, generally hard-core followers of the band, have all told me that the film is universally disliked by most fans as it casually mocks what for many people is a huge obsession. Whilst there are a couple of segments that feel a little too devoted, such as German couple Claudia and Ronny dressing their young son in home-made costumes from Depeche Mode videos like ‘Enjoy The Silence’ or Muscovites Ruslan, Marta, Margo and Elena delivering awful versions of DM songs complete with home-made videos, Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode is in reality a very sympathetic and sensitive portrait that shows just how much a band can influence, help and shape peoples’ lives.

Throughout interviews with fans in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Bucharest, California, New York, Berlin, Iran and Canada, Depeche Mode emerge as a band that appealed to people who just didn’t fit in. Alex, a fan from Bucharest, explains that in the early Nineties the long-haired guys were into metal, the ugly guys were into folk, and the sensitive, clean-shaven, good-looking guys who wanted to know about the best clothes and fragrances were all into Depeche Mode; Orlando, a young fan from California dancing in the car park of the Pasadena Rose Bowl where the band played the 101 concert before he was even born, explains how Depeche Mode’s music helped him through the darkest days of his teenage years, saying ‘Martin Gore’s lyrics speak for me’; a Russian pirate TV performance sees a fan grabbing the microphone and stating that ‘it’s music for the lonely’; celebrity fan and self-confessed outsider nerd Trent Reznor says that for him Depeche Mode played ‘music for someone who felt like they didn’t fit in’; Andy, an Iranian fan now living in Canada explains that if you were caught listening to, or dressing like, Depeche Mode in Iran you would be beaten by authorities, and that for many in Iran Depeche Mode represented an outlet from an oppressive society. Even Marta, with her dreadful but heartfelt singing over Depeche Mode’s own songs, nails the message home when she says that the band’s music helped her to find her friends.

If seeing obsessed Russian fans dressing like members of the band on ‘Dave Day’ – 9th May, Russia’s Military Day and Dave Gahan‘s birthday – seems a bit too much, English fans will probably never appreciate how important Depeche Mode’s music was to people whose democratic rights were managed entirely by the state. Albert, a hairy-backed melancholy chap with a huge tattoo of Gahan from his shoulders to his waist, explains that for many Russians, ‘this new music coincided with the fall of the Soviet Union so I see it as having been the music of freedom.’ For Alex, the well-groomed fan from Bucharest, Depeche Mode’s music was synonymous with freedom, with Violator arriving just three months after the bloody fall of Ceaucescu and becoming the music of a generation of young people whose cultural exposures had been dictated to them before. A trio of East Berliners speak about the seismic impact Depeche had in the East when they played the Free German Youth Concert in 1988. In contrast, Peter Burton from Basildon explains that even now Depeche Mode aren’t well known in the town they came from whilst offering a pretty colourless picture of the Essex new town back in the late Seventies.

Taking the ‘back home they just don’t get it’ notion frequently attached to Depeche Mode one major step forward, the emphatic Francisca explains that Martin Gore‘s lyrics have a natural sense of tragedy and despair, something that she feels is central to Russian fans’ adoption of the band. She then goes on to brusquely tell the translator that English fans couldn’t understand or appreciate the lyrics in the same way as a Russian could. I perhaps don’t fully appreciate what she describes as the ‘transcendent nature’ of the Russian psyche, but I’ve read enough translations of Chekhov, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn in my time to see more or less where she’s coming from.

One of the most powerful stories comes from Mark, filmed at Hammersmith Bridge, under which he would sleep as a homeless resident of London. Mark’s story perhaps punctures a large hole in Francisca’s logic about English fans – here is an individual who spent most of his homeless years listening to 101, scraping together enough cash to buy a ticket to see one of the band’s watershed concert at Crystal Palace on the Songs Of Faith And Devotion tour and drawing so much inspiration from the powerful feeling of togetherness that he experienced at the show to get himself off the streets.

Two things aren’t featured in the film – first and foremost, the band themselves. They’re clearly a current that runs through the documentary, their music runs through the film throughout and their images are plain as day on posters, t-shirts, sketches and all manner of personal tributes in the bedrooms of the profiled fans, but there’s no interview footage here. Their absence makes the enthusiasm of the fans all the more powerful in many senses. The other thing that’s missing are the fans who collect each and every format of every record the band have released, from every country they’re released in. By focussing on the impact of Depeche’s live shows, it highlights the powerful way that concerts – or even fans dancing to concert footage in nightclubs – can bring people together, reminding me of something I once heard about fans being more interested in going to Depeche concerts to sing along rather than hear the band play.

Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode has never been officially released, though it is screened occasionally. The precise reason why Mute have never issued it remains something of a mystery to Deller and Abrahams, though I have heard a rumour that despite the band liking it, there was some pressure behind the scenes to prevent it from being released. The pair even compiled a whole series of extra interviews with artists who were influenced by Depeche Mode, including techno pioneers Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson, the idea being that these would appear as bonus features on a DVD release. It remains a real shame, almost a tragedy of Russian proportions, that such a vivid and affectionate overview of what this band means to many people won’t get seen or appreciated by more fans, many of whom will find reflections of their own reasons for being attracted to the band mirrored in the stories here.

DVDr review copy and signed photograph. Thanks to Nicholas Abrahams.

Thanks to Jeremy and Nick for the DVD copy of the film for this review.

First published 2013; edited 2014.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Anita Lane – Dirty Pearl (Mute Records album, 1993)

Anita Lane 'Dirty Pearl' LP artwork

mute records | lp/cd stumm81 | 10/1993

Dirty Pearl is a rag-bag collection of newly-recorded Anita Lane tracks produced by Mick Harvey as well as older material, the entire Dirty Sings EP and collaborations with Die Haut, Einstürzende Neubauten, Barry Adamson and The Birthday Party. The album is as much a collection of Lane’s work as it is a showcase for the seemingly unlikely cross-pollination of scenes that emerged when The Birthday Party moved from Australia to the UK, followed by a brief and fortuitous sojourn in Berlin; that productive Kreuzberg stop-over was responsible for Nick Cave‘s Bad Seeds being swelled by the likes of Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld and Die Haut’s Thomas Wydler, as well as some of Cave’s most inventive and inspired early musical work.

The collection covers the period 1982 to 1993 and presents the tracks in reverse chronological order. Overall, the compilation shows just how integral Lane was to the whole scene that formed between London and Berlin in the mid-Eighties, with characters such as Chrislo Haas and Adamson appearing on various tracks. As Nick Cave’s girlfriend and muse, Lane co-wrote a number of The Birthday Party’s songs, including the likes of ‘Dead Joe’, and was credited as a founding member of Cave’s subsequent Bad Seeds though her participation in the group was never exactly clear. What’s also immediately apparent from this collection is just how little music Lane has herself released – over half of Dirty Pearl was already released by the time this compilation was released, and Lane would only come to release her first (and to date only) ‘proper’ LP in 2002 with Sex O’Clock. Whilst Dirty Pearl provides a comprehensive overview of Lane’s music, one notable omission is 1991’s collaboration with Adamson on the excellent cover of Lee Hazlewood’s ‘These Boots Were Made For Walking’ which Adamson crafted for his Delusion soundtrack.

Opening track (and therefore most recent) ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ is a countrified, Triffids-esque song of drunkenness, cruel love and regret, beautifully carried forward on Harvey’s sensitive drumming and ‘Evil’ Graham Lee’s genteel slide guitar. Immersed in the background are spirals of grainy feedback and some lovely vocal harmonies from Harvey. ‘Jesus Almost Got Me’ has a tired, resigned quality to it. In contrast, ‘The Groovy Guru’ is a funky, psychedelic trip, filled with wild face-melting guitar and wayward organ creating a vibe that felt about twenty-five years old too late, the lyrics describing a sort of pervy Cassanova character with a number of Satanic traits.

The cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing’ was produced by Mick Harvey with artist Johannes Beck and Sven Röhrig, finding Lane cooing girlishly over a sick, phasing breakbeat, shimmering vibes from Barry Adamson and some leaden (and less-than-romantic) backing vocals from Beck and Moritz Wolpert. At times Lane sings with a strained needfulness that can feel quite uncomfortable at times, but it’s quite hard to think of this as being too serious. Both ‘Blume’ (from Neubauten’s Tabula Rasa LP) and ‘Subterranean World (How Long…?)’ (from Die Haut’s Head On) highlight how well Lane’s voice matches Blixa Bargeld’s distinctive own. Bargeld’s transition from the howling, shredded vocal style displayed on Neubaten’s earliest material to the sensitive, half-spoken, almost Scott Walker-esque voice of their later material is continually surprising, and that softer side shines through on these two songs. ‘Subterranean World’, with its duet chorus of ‘How long have we known each other now?‘ brings to mind those clips in romantic films where couples explain to camera how long they have been together, except that by the end of this darkly humorous song Lane and Bargeld decide that they’ve never actually met before.

‘Picture Of Mary’ is an atmospheric piece written with Bargeld, dominated by Lane’s ghostly singing and a backdrop of dramatic piano, mournful violin and jangly Latin guitars (from Blixa) which threaten to swell up in the mix but never quite do. The only thing that lets this track down is Lane’s vaguely tuneless musings which bring to mind some of Nico’s material, but that is more than made up for by the intricate backdrop. Latin guitars and strings also colour the maudlin ‘Stories Of Your Dreams’, which possesses a strong narrative and theatrical mood. The song was co-written with Neubuaten’s Alexander Hacke, who also plays guitars on the song, while Crime And The City Solution founding member Bronwyn Adams plays violin.

The CD release of Dirty Pearl also includes ‘A Prison In The Desert’ by Nick Cave, Mick Harvey and Bargeld, taken from their soundtrack to Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead. The piece sees Lane mostly wordlessly singing over a backdrop of droning strings, industrial sounds and high-pitched noises, her voice providing a gentle counterpoint to what is otherwise a reasonably harrowing piece of music, a bit like a Graeme Revell soundtrack.

Eschewing all the released tracks from The Birthday Party canon that Lane contributed to, Dirty Pearl instead offers ‘The Fullness Of His Coming’, an unreleased track which features Lane on lead vocals, serving as strong reminder of why The Birthday Party were a musical force to be reckoned with at the start of the Eighties. The song is dominated by grinding guitar riffs from Rowland S. Howard that sounds like they might have been fed through an organ, Tracy Pew‘s ludicrously prominent bass and insistent and quickening drums from Mick Harvey. Lane murmurs and squirms provocatively through the track, particularly as the pace begins to quicken, the assembled Party members providing a nasty mantra of the track’s title while Lane writhes rapturously in the foreground.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Jesus Almost Got Me
A2. / 2. The Groovy Guru
A3. / 3. Sexual Healing
A4. / 4. Blume (Einstürzende Neubauten feat. Anita Lane)
B1. / 5. Subterranean World (How Long…?) (Die Haut feat. Anita Lane)
B2 / 6. Picture Of Mary
B3. / 7. The World’s A Girl
B4. / 8. Stories Of Your Dreams
9. A Prison In The Desert (Nick Cave / Mick Harvey / Blixa Bargeld feat. Anita Lane) – CD bonus track
10. If I Should Die – CD bonus track
11. I’m A Believer – CD bonus track
12. Lost In Music – CD bonus track
13. Sugar In A Hurricane – CD bonus track
B5. / 14. The Fullness Of His Coming (The Birthday Party feat. Anita Lane)

First published 2012; edited 2014

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Cold Specks – A Short History Of The High Rise: Part 3 – Glass

Director: Katerina Cizek, 2013 / Narrator: Cold Specks

Al Spx narrated the third part of this National Film Board of Canada series on the development of vertical living, tracing its origins from mud-built Roman apartment blocks, through slum-clearing social housing projects and finally through to the modern glass-clad luxury condos. Spx’s episode on modern apartment living has a cautionary tone, enhanced by some stirring music from Zoe Keating (‘Optimist’). The series was created in conjunction with the New York Times photo archive. More detail on the project can be found here while this episode can be viewed above.

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence