Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Vice Versa - 8 Aspects Of

Vice Versa
8 Aspects Of


Released 1980 on Private edition cassette
Reviewed by Solist, 24/07/2009ce


The infamy surrounding Vice Versa's entire back catalogue is that of unfortunate loss of the original master tapes. Couple of years ago, a label called Ninthwave Records expressed interest in releasing the trio's obscure collection of songs - previously available on tiny 7" records (via the group's own Neutron label and Rotterdam's Backstreet/Backlash) with this - the '8 Aspects Of' cassette - being their final output from those early days of synth-pop.

Cassette as a medium has never been that grateful - barely practical regarding sound reproduction on standard players, the tape rarely preserves the recording's worth. So nowadays, we are panically saving it all onto hard disks to keep as memory, hoping maybe someday these master tapes will appear after all...

Despite the charm (and the aesthetic) of its own, compact cassettes' main characteristic is unreliability - tape hiss to start with and tape chewed up to end it. Copy-to-copy recording is another problem - loss of sound quality might add to the charm of such analogue treatment but once we discover great stuff that never made it onto vinyl or CD for our personal listening pleasure, the obsession (not to mention frustration) becomes greater.

Vice Versa's cassette release to me became such - call it sacred - object of both, obsession and frustration. Since I first heard it, I became obsessed - adding to this obsession my endless attempts at trying to master it more properly in hope of saving this superb collection of edgy electronic pop songs from their tape obscurity; '8 Aspects' ultimate appeal lies in its restlessness. Part-'work in progress', part-mini album that didn't reach beyond its demo potential. In his excellent article on the group from 1980, Andrew Darlington covered their tour dates with Clock DVA, mentioning the mysterious song 'Modern As In Mary Quant' - as being performed live but (probably) never recorded.

The cassette's opening track 'Democratic Dancebeat' is immediate, mercilessly improvised percussive track, announcing slow departure from the trio's earlier EP work. The sound is warmer but don't be fooled by the suggestion - here, warmer means explosive. Also notable is the line-up change; by the time of this release, original synthesist David Sydenham had already left, being replaced by Martin Fry, adding to the more consistent personnel, with the two original founder members - Mark White and Stephen Singleton. Although cannot tell for sure, I believe the backing vocals on '8 Aspects' are actually Martin's - despite the fact Mark and Stephen in some of their interviews during Vice Versa days stated Martin never sang until testing his pipes when the trio did that famous Rotterdam studio jam session of theirs.

Dirtier, sparser sound adds to the effect, now complimented by Mark White's impressively full frontal, more brutal singing.; 'Industrial music back to back!' is quite characteristic a phrase for many such bands at the time - Vice Versa were no exception; equally, a celebratory 'call to arms' just as being an ironic take on matters 'industrial', who is it for or against, and a yearn for change. Here the group were more frustrated with their manifesto - it was no longer relevant, it served a purpose - rumbling random percussion marks the revolutionary nature of the song in the form of a merciless march towards the dancefloor (in similar pace comes 'Eyes of Christ', a frightening-by-title piece mixing surrealist lyrics with a hint at religious fanaticism, or so it seems).

'Stilyagi' (some cassette copies also note the song as 'Stilyargi') is a stunning 'stop-start' killer track, a stripped down rebellious ode to the Russian underground fashion circuit from the 50s ('Dissident faction, secret stylists, youth movement, rebel gang!'). Music wise, 'Stilyagi' analyses disco from its overexposed and appealing points of view; its threatening synthdrum subverts the likes of Amii Stewart (think of 'Knock on Wood'). In slightly remixed form the song survived, ending up on vinyl (paired with 'Eyes of Christ' on the flipside).

Fashion and identity crisis continue to inspire - the excellent 'Artists At War' deals with repetition, according to Mark White, the issue of fashions' cyclical comebacks. The song is a combination of sinister manic screams (Vice-Versa's most effective TG-esque moment, Wreckers of Civilisation would have killed for) and confronting, if abstract, social messages - 'slash your wrists!', 'always forward!', 'anti-age', 'be dynamic!'...

'Jazz Drugs' sarcastically ticks off everything marked as 'jazz' being ultimately 'cool'; 'jazz drugs, jazz look, jazz age, jazz mambo, jazz waltz, jazz damn thing to love...' - a comment against any such self-declared 'elite' insisting their definition of good taste being the only norm. The phrases repeat themselves over and over, sliding into a rhythmically brutal, disciplined noise, thus echoing the violence culture itself.

'Body Sculpture', addresses the idea of exhibitionism and self-importance. Musically more hermetic and restrained than the rest of the material, the song's perverse melody creeps up and grows on the listener; the drone-ish bass line is accompanied by a tiny synthetic hiss which distracts and intimidates all along. The vocals are dramatic yet quite distant and fractured, a hopeless plea as if lamenting over a broken art piece glorified in the very title ('... there's nothing you can do...').

In terms of 'pop', 'Trapped In Celluloid' is the most accessible piece here - more emotional, atmospheric and catchy, although lyrically no less disturbing, telling a story from the first person angle - the story teller is "the fall guy" character stuck in the elevator of a burning skyscraper - the song echoing the deadly scenario from John Guillermin's disaster movie 'The Towering Inferno'.

'Idol' (somewhere also refered to as 'My Idol') is a tour-de-force assault on the cult of personality ('What if it's six million dollars? What if it looks like Che Guevarra?), a minimal grand finale bringing '8 Aspects' to a close.

From a time distance that seems like eons now, Vice Versa were somewhat alone (and lost) in Sheffield's industrial sea of bliss. Unlike The Human League, Vice Versa weren't trying to be a "rock band" with synths - combining teenage enthusiasm and punk attitude with a sinister electronic bleep, they were openly proud to be that sterile. Listening to it now, it is amazing that such nihilism transformed into (equally respectful) pop music of ABC (not long after this tape was originally released).

Of course, they admitted to exhaust their electronic pattern - punk and post-punk brought its fair share of ambition, competition and commercial appeal. Vice Versa were fighting in their tiny field using a strict audio-visual aesthetic. Observing their Neutron Records' releases, they knew exactly where to go with it; intriguing fold-out sleeves, additional correspondence cards and a manifesto, worked perfect for such and enthusiastic group of youths, confident enough to shape up their own identity - in Vice Versa's case, all of these were more focused on corporate image. Here the obvious reference was Throbbing Gristle. Their Industrial Records blueprint provided a true pattern.


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