Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Pop Cultic

We went to see Current 93's eschatological vaudeville at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week. Like the other Hidden Reverse types - Nurse with Wound, Coil - they mine a strange but potent seam of eldritch and whimsy: though David Tibet lists among his influences both the usual Magickal forebears - Crowley, Osman Spare - he also nods to, erm, Noddy .

This emphasis on both popular and cultic elements of the pop cultural equation was evident in various ways on the night. The band came on to the frothy pastoral of the Starland Vocal Band's Afternoon Delight , which was then progressively undermined by ominously roiling industrial noise. Tibet introduced one slab of catatonic riffage and prog mewling as a cover of Sweet Caroline by Status Quo . It wasn't. Even when Anthony and Marc Almond came on to sing their respective versions of the sublime Idumae,, they were folowed by another guy (whose name I didn't catch/ recognise), who sang this narrative of spiritual yearning and dispossession as a kitsch-camp cabaret turn. The whole night was like a cross between a feral bacchanal and a morris dancing exhibition on Blue Peter. The upshot being that I came away from the evening with exactly the same feeling I did on seeing the late, lamented Coil a few years ago, where the eerie drones and sidereal sonic affects were undermined by the fact that they were generated by what looked to be hairy Teletubbies .

A formal relation between the authentic and the inauthentic, the rockist and the popist, is nothing new of course. Its one of the key dialectics at work in left-field music and takes many forms. Laibach, The Fall, Sun Ra and Black Metal all trade in it to different degrees and in various different ways. Sometimes, however, I think there is a peculiarly English strain of this Pop Cultic sensibility. Its there in Blake for example, a connection that Derek Jarman makes in his early Bankside Super 8 films (and Jarman was of course linked to this whole Hidden Reverse scene too).

But now mention of Jarman makes me think that the most obvious source is Kenneth Anger, especially those films like Invocation of My Demon Brother where he speeds up footage of occult rituals and you're sitting there half hoping half fearing that the Benny Hill theme is going to kick in. Which reminds me in turn that Coil, when they weren't busy trying to immanentize the eschaton, famously covered the theme tune to Are You Being Served?.

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