Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Strafe Für Rebellion - Santa Maria

Strafe Für Rebellion
Santa Maria

Released 1986 on Touch
Reviewed by Solist, 05/07/2008ce

First time I found out about this German obscure duo was in the early 90s from a home-made compilation tape titled 'Der Frühling' by a then-unknown individual, later revealed avant-garde music enthusiast Tom Whatever. The tape was being inspired by The Egyptian Book of the Dead. I remember being equally confused, scared and fascinated listening to this uneasy collection.

From within this scary oeuvre of natural sounds, radio-frequencies, ritual ambience and dark matters, Strafe Für Rebellion took particular attention - a piece called 'Airportfrogs' (originally from their 1992 masterpiece 'Öchsle - Bad People Have No Songs') - reffered to as simple fact frogs gather near Düsseldorf airport providing a fascinating field music soundtrack to an otherwise chaotic mixture of scratching door (which at the same time sounds like a chainsaw or an electric guitar forced through electric shock rather than a suitable amplifier), smooth airplane take-offs and soothing piano excerpt from a piece called 'Japanese Misery' (performed by Strafe Für Rebellion's occasional collaborator, Makiko Tsuchyia).

Whatever went on in the minds and ears of the duo of Bernd Kastner and Sigfried M. Syniuga along with their longtime contributors (Ka Marion Wedrich and Axel Grube) was nothing short of a total (and pure) genius; Strafe Für Rebellion's 'music' in its soundscape ranging from avantfunk groove to the amorphous, yet sustains its emotional impact, particularly demonstrated by their choice of female vocalists - for 'Santa Maria', returning Moira Kirstin Boyd with the addition of Laureen Chambers.

'Santa Maria' is most notable for re-adapting a classic evergreen ('Walking After Midnight') or traditional chant of the title song into a ready-made blend of - what the duo expressed in one of their rare interviews to be called - 'tortured' sound; the instruments being mistreated to an extent where they hardly bear relation to those in existence, often causing pleasant confusion to a listener, eager in discovering the exact source - luckily for whom, Strafe Für Rebellion kindly reveal these sources on some of their records (including bilingual translations of lyrics). This is not the first time they made a song cover - on their retrospective album 'Vögel' (1989), they also demonstrate imaginative yet simple artistic travesty of Leonard Cohen's 'Sisters of Mercy' and Patsy Kline's 'Crazy'. Of course, adding insult to injury by obscuring these songs further giving them different titles altogether ('Abendhimmel', 'Love Bees').

Opening with 'For Mao, Folk and Religion', we're exposed to buzzing insects sound stabbed by menacing low-key piano riff, flute, creepy bass and (Cambodian) violin (played by Hans Josef) and the vocal which in an orthodox priest fashion chants a bizarre vision of socio-political distress. After such an intricate message comes 'In Egypt in the Month of May' - equally strange but also humorous for its use of straightforward lyrics, the song opens up with beautifully arranged bolivian-type flute (as delivered by Delia Gee) only to crash away into a roar of thrashing cans played on a turntable or - according to the duo - additional sound of the 'gurgling geese', among other things. 'Luna', which in fact is 'Walking After Midnight' but far from a Patsy Kline standard, continues mixing in humour with obscure outrage; Spanish guitar and castanets offer a completely different rendition of 'blues'; in a flamenco fashion as duo's sharp yet affectionate comment for something called 'passion' - in typically Spanish, temperamental way; Boyd sings it with exceptional beauty of an American singer, betraying the original's bluesy feel - wrapped in strange pot clanging, additional loops of what seems to be cats caught in a fight and percussion blows in the background, 'Luna' remains one of the most bizarre examples to a 'cover song'. 'Dien Bien Phu', by the choice of title, is another dedication - to a town in North Vietnam, particular inspiration being the 1954 Indo-Chinese war, Vietminh defeating French colonialism. The atmosphere of this disturbing story is musically interpreted by a marching type percussion along with acoustic guitar in a simple, effective howling statement of tragedy and grief.

A sudden twist comes in with 'Not For Radio' - a pretty non-descript but impressive use of 'words' in terms of numbers. More of a non-decipherable, secret message or far more democratic way to use mathematics. While side one of the album informs this strange decollage of tradition and politics, 'Not For Radio' cuts off in a funk-styled conditional training frenzy of numbers. 'Niet Voor Blanckes - Afrikaans' continues apace with subversity; if I understood it properly, it is about the will to conquer and cause conflicts - one element that makes significant commentary to this whole impression (most probably on American domination) is the use of George and Ira Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' - as delivered by Delia Gee on flute; it slides in against perversely spoken words of hegemony. The closing number, 'Santa Maria', might do the soothing part due to its key element of finding peace within a prayer - however, it is a sarcastic replica of a prayer; God as a commercial icon? The church being no less different place to that of a shopping mall or the airport where masses are exposed to loudspeakers offering commercial religious announcements.

Repetitive use of the traditional chant here serves its purpose as a brutal commentary on brainwashed society lost between reality and comfort. Its line saying 'There must be a heaven but Lord, I've seen mostly hell' seems to be a hopeless, frightening statement of agony not knowing what to expect from life (or afterlife).

The most interesting thing about Strafe Für Rebellion is they successfully take things out of context, whether in sound or in printed word, and manage to write it all completely anew - in this case, facts that are no longer facts but surreal audio messages from the other side.

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