Various Artists – The Tyranny Of The Beat (The Grey Area Of Mute album, 1991)

Various Artists 'The Tyranny Of The Beat - Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area' CD artwork

the grey area of mute | cd agrey1 | 1991

The Tyranny Of The Beat – Original Soundtracks From The Grey Area was a 1991 compilation issued by Mute to showcase releases from its Grey Area sub-label. The Grey Area specialised in reissuing the back catalogues of Cabaret Voltaire (their Rough Trade releases), Can, Throbbing Gristle (plus various Industrial Records acolytes), Graeme Revell‘s SPK and many others. The label also became home to early albums by artists that had been signed to Mute, such as Nick Cave‘s pre-Birthday Party band The Boys Next Door, D.A.F., Wire and Einstürzende Neubauten.

The reissue programme conducted by Mute through The Grey Area inevitably produced a varied counterpoint to the releases issued through the main Mute imprint, through Paul Smith‘s hugely diverse Blast First (which itself, at times, also reissued plenty of older material) and NovaMute. Alongside The Fine Line, specialising predominantly in soundtracks for TV, film and theatre, The Grey Area represented a hugely interesting opportunity to hear some out-of-print releases on CD for the first time.

There days, at least nominally, The Grey Area no longer exists. Can reissues have never officially carried the logo, and whilst Mute remains the custodian of the seminal Cologne unit’s back catalogue, it is done in partnership with Can’s own Spoon imprint; Cabaret Voltaire’s latest reissue programme through Mute is done through the main label and consequently all releases now carry stumm catalogue codes, and Throbbing Gristle effectively bought back their work to reopen the doors of Industrial Records. The opportunity to reinvigorate The Grey Area upon securing the opportunity to reissue the Swans back catalogue in 2014, alongside the Cabs programme, feels like something of a missed opportunity.

The Tyranny Of The Beat then serves as a useful overview of what The Grey Area were up to at this point in the early Nineties. A small four-page flyer inside the sleeve highlighted just how comprehensive the reissue programme undertaken by Mute was through the sub-label – after all, they were effectively re-releasing whole or sizeable elements of back catalogues, not sporadic releases. The flyer also included some items that were planned for releases but which have never materialised – chief among these was the Robert Rental / The Normal live album recorded at West Runton, which Rough Trade had released in 1980 as a one-sided LP.

The sleeve also features liner notes from Biba Kopf, famed NME journalist and currently (under his real name Chris Bohn) the editor of The Wire. Kopf also wrote the copy for the Documentary Evidence brochure which inspired this site.

The breadth of music included in sampler form on The Tyranny Of The Beat is impressive, taking in the grubby pulse of TG’s live track ‘See You Are’, their Industrial signees Monte Cazazza with the truly horrible ‘Candyman’, a bit of early electro from the Cabs, the detached punk of Swell Maps‘ brilliant ‘Midget Submarines’, the similarly aquatic ‘Our Swimmer’ by Wire (still one of their best Seventies pieces), a truly ethereal piece by Wire’s Bruce Gilbert / Graham Lewis as Dome with A.C. Marias and the still-devastating Rowland S. Howard-penned ‘Shivers’ by The Boys Next Door. Can’s ‘Oh Yeah’ – one of Daniel Miller‘s personal favourite tracks – provides a rhythmic counterweight to the urgent mechanical production-line beats of Neubauten’s ‘Tanz Debil’ and Die Krupps‘s ‘Wahre Arbeit, Whare Lohn’. Dark relief comes in the form of SPK’s ‘In Flagrante Delicto’, a track which suggests Graeme Revell was always destined to compose the scores for spooky, suspense-filled films like The Craft.

Like a lot of sampler albums, The Tyranny Of The Beat can sound a little uneven, and whilst a lot of these bands were part of common scenes – industrial, punk, the terribly-named Krautrock – it would have been a pretty weird festival if this was the line-up.

Kopf’s liner notes deserve a mention, if only for the way that he positions the concept of a grey area as a place that people run to for escape or as a means of consciously assaulting musical norms, a place that both acted as a reaction against the regimentation of beats and simultaneously gave birth to the repetitive rhythms of techno. ‘In The Grey Area you get the sense of limits being pushed up against and breached,’ he says, and even now, listening to Genesis P. Orridge deliver a maniacal vocal over corruscating waves of sinister noise from a distance of thirty-five years, or Monte Cazazza’s detached multi-channel reportage of a serial killer’s victims and the nauseatingly vivid listing of the savagery he put those victims through, you can see exactly where Kopf was coming from.

Track listing:

1. SPK ‘In Flagrante Delicto’
2. Throbbing Gristle ‘See You Are (Live, The Factory July 1979)’
3. Cabaret Voltaire ‘Automotivation’
4. Chris Carter ‘Solidit (Edit)’
5. Die Krupps ‘Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn’
6. D.A.F. ‘Co Co Pina’
7. Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Tanz Debil’
8. NON ‘Cruenta Voluptas’
9. Can ‘Oh Yeah’
10. Wire ‘Our Swimmer (Live, Notre Dame Hall July 1979)’
11. Swell Maps ‘Midget Submarines’
12. The Boys Next Door ‘Shivers’
13. Dome ‘Cruel When Complete’
14. Monte Cazazza ‘Candyman’
15. The Hafler Trio ‘A Thirsty Fish / The Dirty Fire’

(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A.C. Marias – One Of Our Girls (Mute Records album, 1989)

A.C. Marias 'One Of Our Girls' LP artwork
mute records | lp/cd/c stumm68 | 29/08/1989

A.C. Marias was the alter ego of Angela Conway, long-time Wire collaborator, artist and now video director. Although her only album for Mute, Conway previously released records on Bruce Gilbert and (Edvard) Graham Lewis‘ sadly defunct Dome imprint. This 1989 album was recorded at the ubiquitous Blackwing Studios, the location of many great Mute recording sessions, with a veritable supergroup of Mute producers – John Fryer, Paul Kendall, Gareth Jones and Bruce Gilbert.

The album is characterised by a number of distinctive elements – Conway’s echoing, haunting and ethereal vocals, Gilbert’s deft yet subtle textural guitar, and liberal helpings of electronic accompaniment. It’s one of my favourite Mute albums ever, certainly a collection of songs that I return to time after time. In truth, it is also an extremely different proposition than one would initially expect from a Gilbert collaboration, as this is often a very different proposition to the noise-scapes that Bruce has perfected on his solo releases.

The album kicks off with very atmospheric track, the quirky ‘Trilby’s Couch’, a jazz-referencing melange of walking bass, highly spare percussion and flute / pipe sounds framed by occasional, fleeting flurries of analogue-esque synths. All the while, Conway delivers a mysterious lyric that seems to suggest bizarre hypnosis and psychiatric discussions in a Freudian analysis session. The lyrics are strewn with word pictures, bizarre events and nonsensical actions. ‘Just Talk’ is an outstanding minimalist sonic adventure, with repeated, processed stereo-spanning guitars providing the rythmic undertow over which Conway delivers a floating vocal which manages to sound more textural than the guitar layers. A two-note guitar melody and an echoing, icy percussion sound offer a counterpoint, with held synth chords urging this song to an eerie close.

The mystery quota continues on ‘There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air’, which is built around a slow rhythm constructed of nothing more than either a deeply-processed cymbal or piston; a deep bass drone dominates the low end while Conway’s reedy voice phases in and out in the high end, and Gilbert provides a seasick, scratchy guitar scribble with what sounds like meditative ease. What sounds like a distorted handclap loop comes in at around the halfway mark, just as Conway’s voice begins to loop and echo upon itself. ‘Our Dust’ predates some of the beat-driven near-‘pop’ on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works, evoking the same reverb-laden bass and beat, and similar icy cool melodies. Conway’s vocal is offhand, casual, the repeated vocal of ‘I don’t care’ sounding like she couldn’t care less. The taped sound of a noisy restaurant or bar concludes the song. The sub-two minute ‘So Soon’ is driven by a quiet, tapped beat and swathes of analogue filtered guitar layers, and leads straight into the strident pop of ‘Give Me’. I first heard the track on the International compilation (and even sampled a section of Conway’s deeply processed vocal from the fading seconds of the song for one my own compositions). It’s got a heavy On-U esque beat (presumably Fryer’s creation) and an edgy Gilbert guitar loop, but it’s the randomised, processed vocal snatches – wrapped around Conway’s pretty lyric – that are the most captivating, and the stereo swirls require this to be listened to on ‘phones.

‘To Sleep’ is just a beautiful song, a carefully-crafted piece of moving electronica and euphoric guitar drifts which is mesmerising; it’s a suitably pastoral accompaniment to Conway’s poetry, which comes and goes like waves onto the shore. Entrancing and enchanting – you get the idea. ‘Looks Like’ is delivered in warped waltz time and, with its simple melodic synth pad swells could be a Vince Clarke composition were it not for the occasional intrusion of rippling guitar sounds. ‘Sometime’ is dark and edgy, a throbbing bass pulse and a ratchety sound culled straight from Wire’s ‘Advantage In Height’ offset by a pleasant strummed melody and a divine layered chorus of Conway’s voice(s). ‘One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing’, released as a single, concludes the cassette and vinyl editions, while the CD includes the warped cover of Canned Heat’s ‘Time Was’, also released as a single.

Track listing:

A1. / 1. Trilby’s Couch
A2. / 2. Just Talk
A3. / 3. There’s A Scent Of Rain In The Air
A4. / 4. Our Dust
A5. / 5. So Soon
B1. / 6. Give Me
B2. / 7. To Sleep
B3.  / 8. Looks Like
B4. / 9. Sometime
B5. / 10. One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing
11. Time Was

First published 2004; edited 2014

(c) 2004 – 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence