Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

23 Skidoo
The Culling is Coming

Released 1982 on Operation Twilight
Reviewed by Lugia, 30/01/2004ce

As opposed to "Seven Songs", this is a much more difficult release from 23 Skidoo...more related to avant-garde or pure industrial music than the funk-tinged workouts of the previous release. This isn't to say that it doesn't satisfy, though...it simply pitches to an audience more in a Current 93 or NWW-type vein than the CabVolt/later TG crowd.

Basically, there's two works here. One is a live concert recording, the other is apparently studio. And in both cases, the sources are more ethnomusicological than what one might expect; "A Summer Rite" seems to draw heavily simultaneously from Tibetian and avant-garde sources, among others, and the tracks of side two are definitely sourced from Javanese and Balinese concepts.

"A Summer Rite" actually sounds like an ultra-raw Psychic TV...it dates from around that time, in fact. Here, the Turnbull brothers and Häaman are joined by David Tibet for some often-noisy free improv work. Lots of hyperdistortion, loops of Aleister Crowley, primitive tape-scramblage, thigh-bone trumpeting, metal percussion, processor abuse, and chaos in the first parts from "Banishing" through "Flashing". Then you have to get up and move the needle to the last part because you get dropped into a lockgroove of white-noise spuzz. We then jump from this concert recording to...some very interesting record mastering, as there's a dead band in the MIDDLE of this side with a lockgroove in the middle of it that keeps repeating "The culling is coming...the culling is coming..." Up to this point, what we have sounds like a weird cross between primitive shamanic ritual and a performance by AMM or Musica Elettronica Viva c. 1970 or so. Difficult? You bet! But pretty damn cool in its proto-TOPY-like rackety way, too.

Then we get past the creative disc mastering and into the next part. Which is a rather different thing. "Stifling" sounds like a very malevolent version of some of what Alvin Curran was up to in "Songs and Views of the Magnetic Garden". In fact, I'm not too sure that they didn't chop parts of that up and tamper with it extensively to get this. It's not as noisy as the first parts, but neither is it an easy listen. Lots of processor tampering and such here. In a sense, this has a feel related to TG's Martin Denny-influenced bits, but it's more disordered and disjointed. Then tapes of Tibetian music start up, and we're apparently heading into "Healing (for the Strong)" as these sounds get tumbled into processor alteration, tape manipulation and other disruptive procedures. This is definitely 'for the strong', alright, as it's NOT easy listening...it's very dissonant, raucous, and sounds very VERY old, despite the apparent electronics involved. At the end, it just stops...there's no concrete 'finish' to this, just the end of the side.

Now, if this was too noisy and difficult for you, there's the second side. Over here, we lose Mr. Tibet and find the remaining threesome doing a workout on Indonesian instruments. Yep...gamelan-type stuff. And the interesting thing here is that, if one knows anything about this type of music, it becomes apparent that the 23 Skidoo folks ALSO know how it's done. While this isn't 'orthodox' Javanese or Balinese music by a long shot, it definitely carries the 'flavor' of it by using certain elements you would find in compositions of these cultures and merging this with an improv-related direction and some interesting studio tricks. Technically, there's five tracks here, but they flow together in a long single cut. "G-2 Contemplation" is more like a typical cyclical Javanese thing with some jazz flavoring added, but "S-Matrix" which follows is like some complex polyrhythmic drum circle workout, sort of like what might happen if you dropped Ronald Shannon Jackson into the middle of one of those things. "G-3 Insemination" takes us back to the metal percussion again, but with the addition of a little repeating synth-drone sequencer bit that underpins things as they ping and plong along and some faster rhythms here and there. "Shrine" is just gongs, very soft, slow, and low...a low-key Thomas Köner thing, perhaps. Then "Mahakala" is more amorphous still...big bass Balinese gongs, occasional tamtam strokes, and virtually no forward movement at all. Total metallic ambience. The only problem here is that occasionally, these big bass gongs did play hell with the record cutting phasing a bit, so there's the occasional distortion that results from this...but it's forgiveable, I think.

As opposed to the first side, the second side of this will definitely appeal to those looking for ambient music, as that's very much the vein these five tracks are in. Instead of the chaos and racket of "A Summer Rite", these works are much quieter and contemplative, and a definite yin to side 1's yang. No, no funk...we'd get back to that later on in the 80s...but you can't say this isn't interesting stuff, if not a serious listening challenge in parts. Not sure if this one's been reissued, as opposed to "Seven Songs", but it ought to be, as there's planty here that would appeal to the United Dairies/World Serpent-type fan base.

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