Friday, 2 November 2012

Bureau B: Andreas Dorau Reissues

Hamburg's Bureau B Records cannot be praised enough for their endeavours over recent years in reissuing a plethora of brilliantly essential and often ground breaking German electronic music from the 1970s and 1980s, a lot of which previously sat on the deleted register or came unsatisfactorily packaged, also adding to these a smattering of new material by some key players  from the period still working, such as "Programm 6" by DIN A TESTBILD ("Programm 1" was released in 1980) and the fantastically vibrant new album last year by Kurt Dahlke a.k.a. Pyrolator ( "Neuland" ). The whole thing is clearly a total labour of love, the comprehensive focus of the catalogue and the careful attention to detail, stylish packaging and thoughtful production of the accompanying booklets, often with rare photographs and informative mini-essays printed in both English and German, belying the work of a genuine enthusiast(s) who has impeccable taste. Hats off to you, whoever you are!

So, in amongst countless reissues by Roedelius, Cluster/Qluster and Moebius, either alone or with assorted collaborators, there is a little corner which reflects some of the activities of those living and working in Düsseldorf during the late seventies and early eighties, the ill-fated Riechmann's wonderful "Wunderbar" album from 1978, which seems to have had them bopping down at Billy's and The Blitz at the time, whilst concurrently blending with the likes of Bowie's "Low" and Heroes" to influence the nascent Visage sound, being one perfect example. Most exciting to these ears and eyes, though, has been the hopefully still evolving reissue programme focussed on matter originally released on the idiosyncratic and pioneering Warning / Ata Tak label. So far we've had the first two albums by label founders and acid-headed, Residents inspired, synthpop terrorists Der Plan ( "Geri Reig" from 1980 and "Normalette Surprise" from 1981 ), both complete with extra tracks, the first, pre-Mute, pre-Virgin, 1979 debut from the then highly experimental and seemingly improv Deutsch Amerikanische(n) Freundshaft and the two brilliant openers by the aforementioned Pyrolator ( 1979's "Inland" and "Ausland" from two years later ), he too, as everybody knows, having been one of the mischievous Der Plan triumvirate, as well as a participant in the initial D.A.F. experiment.  

As regular readers of this blog will know, certain names and faces keep reappearing, like Boyd Rice and Chris & Cosey, as well as early eighties teenage poster boy Andreas Dorau who is back again courtesy of the reissue people Bureau B. Several months ago his two Die Doraus und Die Marinas albums from 1981 and 1982 surfaced, "Blumen und Narzissen" having originally come out on Ata Tak and "Die Doraus und Die Marinas Geben Offenherzigen Antworten Auf Brennende Fragen" being a product of the major CBS who seemingly snapped him up after the unexpected chart success of the single "Fred Vom Jupiter". Again, the packaging is first-class so the old Captain Trip versions can now get relegated to the duplicates cupboard, and they feature carefully chosen extra tracks to fulfill the completist's dream, the b-side of the aforementioned "Fred..." single, the three tracks from his debut Zick Zack 7" from 1980 and a couple from contemporary compilation albums complementing the first CD and the stand alone follow-up single "Kleines Stubenmädchen", the dub mix b-side to single number three "Die Welt Ist Schlect" and  two more compilation tracks being added to the second. Again, the accompanying booklets are impeccable, with rare photos and sleeve reproductions, as well as informative and witty liner notes by Carsten Friedrichs, the whole shebang, for me at least, shedding some light on the previous mysteries of Dorau's early association with Palais Schaumburg's Holger Hiller, his involvement in the band Fähnlein Fieselschweif and the probable story of why Die Doraus und Die Marinas only ever had one chart hit.



Now, just a few days ago, the Andreas Dorau reissue programme progressed further with the release of his first two solo albums "Demokratie"(1988) and "Ärger Mit Der Unsterblichkeit"(1992), both of which, again, came out originally on Ata Tak before he departed for pastures new, his motives for doing so here included in Herr Friedrich's latter contribution on offer. Once again, the attention to detail is perfect with the inclusion of photographs unseen previously by these eyes and extra tracks in the form of alternative versions of a small handful of  the albums' singles and highlights, as well as the enlightening essays about which I keep harping. This time we're treated to a snippet of what he got upto as a film student in Munich in the eighties, as well as finding out about his penchant for the band The Left Banke at the time, their baroque-pop influence now sounding quite obvious on the reissue of "Demokratie", an album which, for me, represents one of the absolute pinnacles of an almost spotless recording career now extending nearly three and a half decades. Also, would you believe that Dorau travelled to Birmingham to try to persuade Roy Wood of Wizzard and The Move fame to produce his debut solo album and that the deal would have been struck but for a repulsive Phil Collins album entering the equation or that a Flying Lizards' connection led to Michael Nyman partly taking his place as arranger or that, enthused by the first cheap samplers, our hero spent a small fortune amassing records from which he could plunder? Well, that last bit is no surprise. Let's hope the Dorau reissues keep coming so more can be revealed.



Herr Dorau played a concert in Berlin last Saturday at the mesmerising fantasy venue of Kater Holzig, his performance being part of the celebrations to mark the tenth birthday of his current recording home Staatsakt and, in amongst an amazing week and a half for gigs which began in Manchester with Sparks and ended with Crime & City Solution at Berlin's C-Club, as well as Barbara Morgenstern and Gudrun Gut performing live at Tresor, myself and a couple of friends were there to see him. He was superb, belting out highlights from the "Todesmelodien" album and old favourites too numerous to begin listing, his enthusiasm for his material also leading to him falling off the stage at one point. I enjoyed him at Berlin's Hau2 last October but the intimacy and high octane set this time knocked that easily into second place. For the benefit of fellow fans, here's a clutch of photos I snapped on my telephone.

Andreas Dorau Kater Holzig 4

Andreas Dorau Kater Holzig 3

Andreas Dorau Kater Holzig 1

Andreas Dorau Kater Holzig 2

...and finally, in true Bureau B style, to complete the completist's dream, here's some videos which accompanied the singles from the latest two albums to be reissued, some of them including the wonderful artistic contributions of Moritz Reichelt and others from the Der Plan / Ata Tak crew.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Soft Riot-Hyperbolic Masses

Soft Riot have been mentioned on here a couple of times now without receiving any of the individual attention they deserve. So, it's an enormous pleasure to now say a few words about their recently released cassette album, "Hyperbolic Masses", a copy of which passed into my hands a few weeks ago. I'm mightily pleased it did, too, as it's truly wonderful.

I used the word "their" above when, in fact, I should say "his" as Soft Riot is a one-man band in the form of Canadian, but living in London, JJD (Jack Duckworth, would you believe?) who, he says on his website, has been doing band things for a decade and a half, "starting off in the mid-nineties in North America's vibrant art-punk/hardcore underground through to the revival of synth-based post punk music just over a decade or so ago." Again, cribbing from his website, it says that Soft Riot initially functioned as an occasional studio project amongst his other activities until rising to prominence early in 2011 with their first release, this soon followed by the earliest examples of the Soft Riot live experience which, unfortunately, I'm still to catch but which sounds to be rather a spectacle with him commanding no less than three synthesizers, on-stage mixing and various effects, all accompanied by what is enticingly described as "atmospheric on-stage lighting".  

The sound he describes as, "drawing inspiration from synthesizer-based film soundtracks of yesteryear, drones, early EBM, minimal wave, a bit of synthpop and a heavy dose of throbbing arpeggiated rhythms," thereby creating, "a science-fiction heavy sound that narrates the listener through today's fractured post-modern world with hints of black humour," and this is a pretty good summation or distillation of what's to be found on the eight tracks which comprise "Hyperbolic Masses", four on each side, just like in the good old days. 


So, with that description, my job has been done for me already, by the look of things, although a quick trawl through some of the tracks will hopefully add to what's been said above. These start with "Another Drone In Your Head" which I believe was released as the lead track on a recent E.P. or something. I get very confused with all this MP3 download culture. Anyway, it begins, rather unsurprisingly given the title and lyrical content, with a bit of a drone before a stately, crunching rhythm starts up, this supported by a pounding, confident bassline over which a vocal, almost conspiratorial in delivery at times, and  swathes of more strident electronics slash across and weave in and out of the audial field. It rather reminds me of Cabaret Voltaire during their transitional phase in the run-up to their leaving Rough Trade and making the move to Some Bizzare/Virgin around the end of 1982. They're quite an influence I would imagine as track number two, "There Just Isn't Enough Time", an accomplished, rather funky and propulsive number with whip crack beats, bubbling  electronics and punchy, rhythmically delivered vocals sounds like it would have sat very comfortably on their 1983 album "The Crackdown". 

This isn't to say that JJD's music is totally derivative of its forebearers, though,  as it still has a very contemporary feel to it rather than sounding like it has been lifted directly out of the eighties, as well as a well-crafted poppier element which is definitely the case with the track just mentioned and the one that follows, "You Can't Please Everyone". This is probably my stand-out track and, I believe, would have made a fantastic single in the days when these things mattered. The fact that he's made a video for it probably belies an intention that it be taken this way, too. It begins quite gently but ominously with eerie, science fictiony chords, a bit like Dopplereffekt on their "Myon-Neutrino" single, but soon develops into a much more layered, sophisticated and quite wistful entity which puts me in mind of people like The Associates, Blancmange and Depeche Mode at their most thoughtful and yearning. "Write Yourself Into The Void" which ends side one, aside from a short excerpt from "Jubilee" with Jack Birkett in the role of Borgia Ginz opining about his rise to power, does so in a similar vein of highly engaging, unobvious and textured electropop. 

Turn it over and Side Two is equally impressive, "Some Abstract Terror", retaining many of the qualities of the two songs that ended the first side with the track that follows, "You've Got To Use It", being moodier, more sequencer based and reminiscent of what used to be called funky alternatives in some quarters during the early to mid eighties; people like D.A.F., Hula and Cabaret Voltaire (again!) spring to mind when listening to it, although it directly apes none of these. "Do Less" which comes next seems to have a foot in both camps as it pulses and pricks along like a kind of cinematic, dance-orientated pop number and then proceedings end with the rather dystopian soundscape of "How Can You See Them?" which again brings the starkness of Dopplereffekt back to the table, as well being reminiscent of things like Throbbing Gristle's "E-Coli", the S.P.K. track "Genetik Transmission" from their "Leichenschrei" album or German Bite favourite Fad Gadget on "Arch of the Aorta". It's a perfect, minimal palette cleanser after the richness which has preceded it.

The cassette which contains some previously released material, as well as some being outed for the first time round, is intended to act as a bridge to forthcoming new material and, maybe for this reason, comes in a hand-numbered limited edition of seventy five copies, each with an individual download code for those who haven't got a cassette player or the means to transfer from it to their Ipod, MP3 player or whatever it is they use. The download does, though, come in an impoverished form compared to the three-dimensional object, and rightly so, as it does not include the additional incidental music and film extracts which segue one track into another on the physical release. I would, therefore, strongly recommend getting one whilst they're still available from as the inlay card informs the purchaser that these tracks will never be released as this collection again. And why is it a cassette rather than a record or a CD? On his website, JJD explains all, this basically boiling down to ease and cost of reproduction, durability, physical interaction and sound quality.

I wish I'd written this piece a few days earlier now, as he's just been on a bit of a jaunt around the continent with Noi Kabat, taking in Berlin, Budapest, Vienna and Prague, plus possibly Brussels and Leipzig. However, they played their final date last night, I think, so I can't encourage anybody living in any of these places to go out to see them. I think there is another tour being lined up for later in the year, though, possibly with Lebanon Hanover whose track "Die World" has been given a rather radical Soft Riot "Ice Cave" remix.

I think we're going to hear a lot more about Jack Duckworth and Soft Riot in future. I certainly hope so as he's a real talent deserving to be recognised. He does rather brilliant surreal collages, too, which remind me a bit of John Stezaker in places and which act as a perfect visual compliment to the music. So, he gets a double thumbs-up from German Bite.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Simon Barker: Punk's Dead

I had a trip down to London for a few nights a week or so ago and, as often happens when you go somewhere with no concrete plans, there was loads of brilliant stuff going on, so much so that I was rather unhappy about having to drag myself away on the Sunday afternoon to head back up north, as one extra day would have allowed me to see one of my very top films ever, "Pierrot Le Fou", being introduced by Cerith Wyn Evans at The White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey and what promised to have been a truly memorable gig at The Macbeth up in trendy Hoxton, Dalston, Hackney or whatever, this featuring Soft Riot, Noi Kabát and Linea Aspera, none of whom I've managed to see live yet...and all on the same bill. 

On reflection, my absolute highlight was an exhibition of Simon Barker's photographs from the years 1976-7 and thereabouts which was on at the Divus Temporary Gallery on Wilkes Street in the Spitalfields area. Being a little out of touch lately and not being one of the Facebook set, I knew nothing about it until myself and my host went to meet another friend of ours who was doing some business on Brick Lane and we went into Rough Trade to kill time and have a look around prior to our rendezvous. There on the counter was an eye-catching postcard featuring the unmistakable and dolly eek of Jordan, fully made-up but posed rather casually, on the back details of the exhibition which turned out to be just a minute or two's walk away. So, once we were in our planned triumvirate state we had a wander round, finding it to be just round the corner from Gilbert & George's gaff on Fournier Street and also that of Miss Tracey Emin who we'd passed in the street just a few minutes earlier. It's such a happening area, it really has to be said!

What we found was an absolutely superb exhibition of photographs of many of the key players from the earliest days of what came to be known as punk, those often referred to as The Bromley Contingent of whom Barker was a core "member", all taken by an insider for personal rather than professional reasons and all the more fascinating and culturally significant as a consequence. So much has been written, published and broadcast about punk and this group of people in particular, all accompanied by what images and footage is available, that it seemed as though  not a stone had been left unturned in a quest to visually represent the era. However, I can safely say that I'd never previously seen any of the photographs on dispaly, and then expanded across the pages of the accompanying book, before so for that reason alone it was a completely refreshing experience, never mind enjoying the intimacy of the shots which offered a peek into somebody's private album of friends often sitting around, preparing to go out or looking as if they've not long been back from a night on the town. 

One of my crowd is a friend of the photographer, having known him for several decades and she was, therefore, delighted to find him and his partner, Derek Dunbar, still hanging around the gallery twenty-four hours after the exhibition's opening. This also proved to be somewhat of a bonus as he walked us around some of the images on display, reminiscing a little as he went and explaining that they were all just taken with his instamatic camera for personal reasons, just as we've all taken pictures of our own mates over the years. Quite a good number were, therefore, taken in the St. James' Hotel close to Buckingham Palace where he lived for a while with one Linda Ashby, elements of whose story and significance can be read about in the better punk books, and feature friends who used to come to visit or crash over after missing their last trains home to the suburbs. As a consequence, old school friend Steve Severin and other Bromley dwellers such as Siouxsie Sioux and Bertie Marshall (Berlin) are much in evidence, as well as the aforementioned and seemingly ubiquitous Jordan and people like Debbie Juvenile, Tracie O'Keefe, John Mackay, Nils Stevenson and Kenny Morris.

The camera wasn't just confined to home, though, and a very interesting set  of pictures are those which were taken at the premiere party for the film "Jubilee" which was held at Derek Jarman's studio/dwelling at Butler's Wharf. As well as some of the usuals, these also include others in snapshot scenes: the film's director himself, Little Nell, Jayne County, Helen Wellington-Lloyd, Adam Ant, Marco Pirroni and one Max who was in Rema Rema and The Models, I believe, with the last of the aforementioned, as well as being the voice of the single "I Confess" by Dorothy which came out on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial label in 1980; quite a favourite round here it is, too, I can tell you. Others were taken at gigs and on tour with The Banshees and, as well as featuring action shots of people like Adam and Jordan on stage with the Ants, several of Siouxsie doing her stuff and figures like Poly Styrene, Alan Vega, Wayne Barrett from Slaughter and the Dogs and even journalist Jane Suck with microphones in their hands, the scene surrounding such events off stage is  also documented. In the book, for example, there is a small section titled "Managers" which includes images such as one of Richard Boon chatting to Malcolm McLaren at the Croydon Greyhound and a rather sartiorially elegant Leee Childers and friend at The Music Machine. Elsewhere, there's a casual shot of Billy Idol at The Vortex and dressing room images from early Ants gigs, including a hilarious one of Jordan posed with teenage fans decked out in all the clobber.

As I've said at least once, one of the best aspects of this exhibition is that the photographs were not taken for any other reason than the personal and they, in places, essentially feature friends doing what friends do, albeit in a rather exciting place and time. So, a lot of the pictures have an unplanned lack of self-consciousness to them which I like. If I had to pick my very favourites they would have to include a little set entitled "Negative Jordan" where she is wearing her recognisable geometric make-up design only this time with the white parts of her face shaded in black. As she poses against the wall at the St. James' and pulls a face in one of them, she looks a bit like a collision between the Ballet Russes and the Black and White Minstrel Show, displaying an aspect of her character which I strongly suspect would never have been revealed in a more staged, public setting where a more demure, stand-offish aspect seemed to be more the order of the day. I also like one of her caught talking on the phone, made-up but with her hair unfinished or one of her lying on the floor, at the foot of a sofa, smoking a fag and looking half-asleep. There's also one of  Tracie O' Keefe caught sleeping in bed which I like, the fact that she drifted into her eternal sleep as a result of a rare form of bone cancer not long afterwards adding quite a degree of poignancy to it. She also appears in photos taken at The Vortex speaking to a young Bella Freud in one and a young Steve Strange in another, their subsequent fame making them interesting shots. Other real favourites, although they're all so brilliant, are of Jordan with the Ants wearing a long black wig and looking more like Jayne County than herself as she belts out what is presumably "Lou" on stage at The Marquee. I've never seen pictures of her is such a get-up before so another new angle emerges here, too.

Similarly, I've never seen pictures of Siouxsie Sioux wearing an eye-patch, a la Bette Davis in "The Anniversary", before but here she is looking terrific both at the St. James' Hotel and on stage at an early Banshees gig, presumably on the same night as the continuity in her outfit suggests. As he walked around with us for a bit, Herr Barker picked out the former as one of his favourites as not only does it feature his old mate posing very upright with her arms at her sides, but also, in the background, Jordan sitting on the floor leaning against the wall with a poster of Marilyn Monroe above her head. "The three women," he explained. It's a favourite of mine, too. When I'd bought the book / catalogue, Derek picked out a favourite of his, as well, one of himself and Derek Jarman talking at the "Jubilee" party where he is wearing a shirt with a photograph of Siouxsie in the clear, plastic breast pocket. As he explained, following record company wranglings, the Banshees were removed from the film's soundtrack and, as a punishment, they were not invited to the party. "I made sure she was there, though, if only in a photograph," he told us proudly.

So, I think we can agree that, if this kind of thing interests you in the slightest and you're in Londinium, a visit to the "Punk's Dead" exhibition is pretty essential. It runs until 7th July, I believe, and is open from midday until 9pm daily which is very civilised. I would also strongly recommend shelling out thirty quid on a copy of the book as it is a beautiful, hardback creation consisting mainly of photographs, a lot of which aren't in the exhibition, presumably for logistical reasons, and fascinating bits of text introducing thematic sections with titles such as St. James' Hotel, Linda, Jordan, A Jarman Party, Seditionaries, Siouxsie and Live. I also suspect that a lot of these images, once exhibited, will slip back into the realm of the private so the book will offer an invaluable, permanent record. Plus, as often happens with these things, it will no doubt sell out pretty quickly and start passing between hands for ludicrously inflated amounts on the second-hand market. Mine's autographed, "...pissing on the past, Simon Barker". Act now, whilst you can, is my advice.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Simon Spence-Just Can't Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode

Mention of James Nice's "Shadowplayers" in my last entry also makes me think of another tremendous book which I finished recently, Simon Spence's "Just Can't Get Enough: The Making of Depeche Mode" which is equally detailed and focused, written by someone with a similarly evident enthusiasm and fascination for his subject matter and, although in paperback rather than hardback, also published in very satisfying proportions so that it's a pleasure to simply hold in the hand.

As the title suggests, the book takes as its subject the nascent Depeche Mode, tracing their development upto the release of their fifth album "Black Celebration" in 1986, the point at which they were poised to meteorically transcend their opening five years of British / European stardom and become the global, stadium-sized super group which they remain until the present day, a point also before the American influence began to seep into their sound as it had so obviously done by the close of the decade. Interestingly, this was also the point at which my eye began to drift from the band, having previously been an ardent follower of their every move and someone who bought each new record during the week of its release, if not on the day. I do, however, remain a fan, I must say, and even travelled to Munich and Manchester to see them last time they toured.

In the initial stages of the book, Spence is at great pains to explain the band's originating from Basildon as being of enormous significance to their sound and outlook, their adoption of synthesizers and electronic technology being a mirror to the post-war new town whose brand new houses, shopping precincts and purpose built industrial estates offered a similar freshness and split from the past to those families who initially moved there from areas in the east of London as did this sparkling new ultrapop to almost everything that had gone before when first heard in 1980-81. On the back cover, singer Dave Gahan is quoted as having once described DM as " a new sort of band from a new sort of town".  

The first hundred pages or so, therefore, provide a kind of potted history of the town, as well as tracing the developments of Vince Clark, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher and Dave Gahan upto their first performance together - under the name of Composition of Sound - in June 1980, their set around this time still including a number of cover versions such as "Mouldy Old Dough", "I Like It", "Then I Kissed Her" and "The Price of Love", as well their own early compositions, some of which, "Ice Machine", "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Big Muff", turned up on those initial releases. Gore was also playing in a band called French Look at the time, often on the same bill, which included Robert Marlow who released some of the songs from their set as a solo artist a few years later on Clarke's short-lived Reset Records, consideration of which is always a rather interesting diversion. Through interviewing people like the aforementioned Marlow and Alison Moyet, as well as other key players from Basildon at the time, Spence manages to provide a fascinating and essential keyhole into the town during this era, this including the importance of Christian youth groups on the teenage Clarke and Fletcher, and to a lesser extent Gore, the area's punk, soul and eventual "futurist"scenes, as well as some of the early bands therein such as sixth-former Gore's Norman and the Worms and Moyet's The Vandals.

By the end of 1980, Depeche Mode were playing regularly at venues such as Croc's nightclub in Rayleigh and in London at The Bridgehouse in Canning Town, balancing their synths on beer crates and this, as we know, is where Mute Records boss Daniel Miller saw them supporting Fad Gadget, thus kick-starting a relationship which still continues over thirty years down the line. In fact, this part of the book is particularly interesting as it charts the band's decision to go with the relatively new independent label and retain artistic freedom rather than sign up for the huge advances being offered by the major labels also chasing them at the time but keen to mould them into something which would no doubt have been much more ephemeral - quite canny decision making, especially considering their tender ages. All were still under twenty, I think, or at least thereabouts. Fletch, as they call him and whose input into the band is often rather nastily played down, seems to have been the prematurely sage factor at the time. Clarke's then girlfriend, Deb Danahay, who I remember running the Yazoo Information Service when I was a schoolboy, also seems to have been keen to influence the decision towards Mute, being quite a fan of "Warm Leatherette", "Back to Nature" and "Ricky's Hand" like the best of us. 

At this stage, whilst also explaining the deals made to distribute Depeche Mode in various international territories, artwork decisions, Clarke's departure just prior to the release of their debut album and with their first few "Top of the Pops" appearances just under their belts, Gore's switch to the role of main songwriter and the addition, initially on a temporary and jobbing basis, of Alan Wilder, Spence begins to peddle a parallel narrative in telling the story of the early years of the Mute label and its limited roster at the time, something I have to say has obsessed moi since the day I received a label biography from them in very early 1983. So, whilst the focus stays primarily on the band, other voices such as that of Boyd Rice and DAF's Robert Görl weave into the picture, offering new information and perspectives regarding the period, and peripheral stories are told regarding early Mute artists such as Robert Rental and The Silicon Teens, as well as Rice's NON and the first incarnation of DAF over in Düsseldorf. Linked in to the latter, the beginnings of the German connection, so important to Depeche Mode during the first part of the eighties, is also introduced through the voice of Moritz Reichelt of Der Plan and Warning / Ata Tak records, he also having designed the sleeves for 1982's "See You" and "Meaning of Love" singles

The years 1982-84 saw Depeche Mode maturing away from their initial teenybop, pop sound and, through singles like "Leave in Silence", "Get The Balance Right" and "Everything Counts", as well as their second and third albums "A Broken Frame" and "Construction Time Again", towards becoming a darker, more experimental entity than would have first been envisaged and whose insistence on remaining on an independent label and to not pander to corporate expectations began their drift into near invisibility in the eyes of the British media, in spite of being one of the most successful bands the country has ever produced. It's always struck me as strange how nauseating tosh such as U2, Blur and a hundred others always receive these lifetime achievement awards and so on yet the much more internationally successful and genuinely influential Depeche Mode, who have also consistently been appearing in the British charts for over three decades, remain a name practically unspoken. I am rather glad, though, as it has led to them retaining a good degree of their cutting edge and integrity. I said a while ago that they remind me of The Horrors and Siouxsie and the Banshees and here, again, I say it as one always feels/felt with these three bands that they are primarily fans of music themselves, with pretty impeccable tastes, too, prior to making their own which almost serves as a necessary by-product. 

Anyway, I digress so let's jump to Berlin, always a good idea, where Depeche Mode were recording and, Martin Gore with his A-level in German especially, were spending a great deal of time around the middle of the 1980s, Spence providing another invaluable insight, this time into life in the city during the period and the band's place in it, the voices of people like Gareth Jones who recorded them at Hansa Tonstudios, Gudrun Gut and Beate Bartel adding to the tale which now also references clubs like Dschungel and bands like Palais Schaumburg, Liaisons Dangereuses (whose Chrislo Haas is, once again, heralded as the unrealised genius of the period) and Einstürzende Neubauten whose influence on the Depeche Mode sound at the time and since cannot be overstated and who, indirectly, brought metal bashing onto prime-time television in Britain and elsewhere around the world. To me, it's all fascinating and brings new information to the table, even though I thought I'd read almost everything there could be to read about this kind of thing before. 

At this time, Gore's dress sense deviated into leather butchers aprons and skirts, studded leather torso harnesses, black nail varnish and seethrough black silky tops, probably another reason the conservative British media took against the band, although single titles like "Shake the Disease", "Blasphemous Rumours" and "Stripped" won't have helped either - let's hear The Saturdays cover one these, hey!  - and  his presence at the mid-week fetish night "Skin Two" around the time is detailed by none other Genesis P-Orridge-Breyer - all the German Bite favourites are cropping up here in the Depeche Mode story, it seems. Here, anyway, the pair would hang out together, with the likes of Soft Cell's Dave Ball and journalist Betty Page (yes, her again - see SALT piece) and would, it seems, whip the occasional bottom before heading home of a night. Again, a short peek into another, as yet, undocumented area of pop culture is unveiled by Spence.

Which brings us more or less to the point where the book closes with a very definite sense of the end of an era as their "Black Celebration" tour grossed $100 million dollars with a 40% or thereabouts profit and, in spite of us being told that some band members still lived in Basildon and, to this day, have retained very "feet on the ground" links with old friends there, they certainly, as a fan, began to be feel more and more distant with every release. Mute had also moved to much bigger premises on Harrow Road and their release schedule increased and diversified year by year so that the cottage industry feel, albeit with international success, seemed finally to be over, too.

Well, teary-eyed nostalgia aside, I want to thoroughly recommend "Just Can't Get Enough" to anybody with an interest in the band and the period and, even though it deals with the poppier end of the experimental / electronic/ industrial music crowd from the period, like I say, in providing a context for Depeche Mode, Spence has gone some way towards writing a biography of the early period of Mute, as well as offering quite broad insights into the late seventies/early eighties "futurist" scene, early to mid-eighties Berlin and a whole lot more besides. It's a superb book which brought so much back to me and provided even more which was new besides.

Here's Depeche Mode doing "Photographic" and "Puppets" on BBC television during that golden period.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

SALT : Issue 10

When I got back from Germany last weekend, I was very pleased to find that the new issue of SALT was waiting for me on my doormat. Being approximately as old in years as it is now in number, I believe, SALT is produced by one Kevin McCaighy whose enthusiasm for all that he writes about, both thoughtfully and in depth, is extremely infectious and always an absolute joy to cast the old peepers across. Keen to scour the darker, often unexplored corners of popular culture, Kevin draws his subject matter from all areas of his far reaching and highly individual tastes, each issue reflecting what's turning him on from the current crop, as well as unearthing histories long buried in the ever expanding morass which is popular culture, winkling out some fascinating and highly engaging interviewees in the process. Drawn towards the obscure, experimental and compendious, regardless of trends, SALT is the expression of a genuine and tireless investigator who has a compulsion to share his enthusiasms with an audience no matter how small that may be. He's a good friend of German Bite, too, and most definitely a kindred spirit.

For me, this issue has as its centrepiece eleven pages of A4 devoted to an interview with Steve Parry who talks of his early influences, move down to London from the north in the late seventies and the milieu into which he fell, this including the young Matt Johnson then laying the foundations for The The. He also tells the story of his band Neu Electric / Neu Electrikk who released two 7" singles - "Lust of Berlin"(1979) and "Cover Girl"(1980) - but remain most famous for their contribution of a track to Stevo's "Some Bizzare Album" released at the dawn of 1981 and which, as we are repeatedly made aware, gave very early exposure to Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Blancmange and the aforementioned The The, as well as other more experimental artists like Eric Random, almost rans like B-Movie and Naked Lunch and assorted nutcases such as Blah, Blah, Blah. Keen to drain every drop of info as he possibly can through his questioning, Kevin has managed to produce an essential, unique and detailed insight into the period which would otherwise most definitely have remained unearthed.

Elsewhere, he interviews James Nice of LTM Recordings who also wrote the fantastically comprehensive labour of love about Factory Records that is "Shadowplayers" a few years ago, this being one of the very best music books ever in my view and so beautifully packaged, too. Another kindred spirit, methinks. Other interviews include a vintage piece from 2001 with The Minders who, I must confess, were a new name to me until now but such is Kevin's enthusiasm that I shall going off to do some researching very shortly, as well as a few questions answered by my very self about German Bite and its origins. This is also coupled with pieces about Maher Shalal Hash Baz and an extremely heartfelt piece about how Kevin fell in love with Royal Trux and why they remain his favourite band to this very day. It ends with a short obituary of the abstract painter John Hoyland RA, who died last year, written by Katharine Simpson, one of whose paintings is reproduced, albeit, unfortunately, not in colour within this issue. Overall, it's a totally superb read and one I keep picking up and browsing through again and again, even though I have read the majority of its contents at least three times already.

It costs £2.50 or $5 and Kevin can be contacted by email at . I don't think he gets a tremendous number printed up, though, so it may be worth dropping him a line sooner rather than later and, whilst you're at it, may I suggest asking him if he's got any copies of Issue 9 left which contained a fantastic piece about the aforementioned "Some Bizzare Album" for which he interviewed one Beverley Glick, she once called Betty Page and a champion of all things electronic through her writing in "Sounds" and the short-lived grown-ups alternative to "Smash Hits" called "Noise", this alongside interviews with Pyha, Carla Speed McNeil, 13 and Korperschwache, as well as pieces on Jason Lytle, Grandaddy b-sides and "A Guide to Great (Fairly Inexpensive) Vodka. Getting the picture? Zum Wohl, Kevin!

Triadic Ballet

I was in Stuttgart a week or so ago and, in addition to seeing the amazing collection of works by Otto Dix which are housed in the impressive Kunstmuseum Stuttgart, which wasn't there last time I went ten years ago, visiting the Mercedes and Porsche museums and having tram rides out to both Stammheim Prison and the Weissenhofsiedlung housing estate from the 1920s, a  trip to the superb Staatsgalerie was also an absolute essential. Foregoing the current temporary exhibition, which juxtaposes later works by Turner, Monet and Cy Twombly, I took advantage of the Saturday free entrance charge to the permanent collection which took over three hours to work through, so brilliant it is. My absolute highlight, though, as on other visits, was Oskar Schlemmer's costumes for his "Triadisches Ballett" which was first performed in the city in 1922, shortly prior to his move to The Bauhaus. These are some of the photographs I took which make a nice companion, I feel, to the article from my magazine which I put on here last summer. 


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Minny Pops-Leeds Brudenell Social Club: 20th January 2012

I also took some photographs of Wally Middendorp when Minny Pops played in Leeds in January, some of which are probbaly worth sharing. They were dead good, too, even though they didn't play "Island" which had apparently gone wrong the night before in Sheffield.



Wishful Thinking: In Remembrance of Peter Christopherson - Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle: 17th March 2012

Sticking with the north east of England, myself and a friend were up in Newcastle a couple of weekends ago for an event at The Tyneside Cinema - "Wishful Thinking: In Remembrance of Peter Christopherson" - which was an evening of music, performance and film centred around aspects of the work of  he who was ex-Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Coil, SoiSong etc. etc. who passed on in November 2010.

The evening began a little confusingly with three pieces called "Evocatio (Air & Metal, Muscle & Spit)", "Re-Man Unkind" and "Wishful Thinking Redux" which, I believe, consisted partly of sketches from an unfinished work commissioned of Christopherson and producer Paul Smith by The AV International Festival of Art, Technology and Music and Film and which was based on and intended to be staged at Durham Cathedral to mark the Spring 2012 Equinox, his father having been Vice-Chancellor and Warden at the city's university throughout the sixties and seventies and the environment, therefore, having had quite a significant effect upon shaping the young "Sleazy". Interwoven with this was recordings made at the cathedral by Chris Watson, as well as a live vocal contribution by Attila Csihar who was seated at a table strewn with candles, as well as the obligatory laptop, and who provided something rather like a more abstract and electronically treated Gregorian chant from somewhere deep down inside his rather sizeable torso. Behind him, projected onto the screen, was a stream of mesmerising imagery by Alex Rose and, at one point, a creature with features covered by a head-dress and draped in fairy lights shuffled around the room delivering a repeated recorded message, stopping rather sinisterly every few steps along the periphery of the audience. It was all very atmospheric and evocative, I must say, especially the bells which opened and closed the procedings and which hopefully evoked the spirit of the man in whose honour we were all assembled.

Chris & Cosey followed, performing some mixes from the final Throbbing Gristle album, a cover of Nico's "Desertshore", which Christopherson was working on when he died and the completion of which, I believe, has now passed into their hands, and a real thrill this turned out to be, the original album being one of my very favourites, anyway, but now being given a new life by this lot. Again, seated at a pair of laptops - miming were they? - who knows or cares? - and backed by an image projected behind them - this time a film made with a static camera of a beach near their home where, Cosey told us, they used to take Sleazy on his visits and where he would eat a bag of seaside chips which he so missed, living out in Thailand - they began by playing a version of "Abschied" on which the vocals were provided by none other than  Blixa Bargeld in the absence of Ms. Breyer-Orridge, this grinding along eerily and in a very stately fashion, retaining some of the tone of Nico's original whilst having the TG stamp all over it. Next was a superbly elongated version of "Le Petit Chevalier" which I felt was verging on the disco, although sounding as though refracted through a factory floor, and which had a number a people visibly twitching in their seats. Here, little Ari's vocals were replaced by the rather trollish rasp of Argentinian filmmaker Gaspar Noe which worked wonderfully. I should add, however, that none of these vocalists were actually present, performing live - that would have been really something! - but were emanating out of the aforementioned duo's laptops. Cosey did, though, provide live vocals next on "All That Is My Own" which was superb and perfectly suited to her unique echoing timbre which here was almost choirboy-like. She also provided live cornet, which is always a treat, on the fourth extract "Janitor of Lunacy" where the voice was this time provided by Antony Hegarty, suggesting that this album will contain all of the promise of Vince Clarke's, unfortunately, never fully realised The Assembly project of 1983 with its host of guest vocalists, several of whom must be still to be revealed. They then finished with a non-cover where a collage of the voices of those Christopherson held dear to him drift in and out repeating the words "meet me on a desert shore" over a simple, echoey piano riff. It all promises to be extremely good when it gets completed and released later this year.

The evening then moved into its second half, beginning with a very rare showing of "La Cicatrice Interieure" in which Nico appeared wandering around with assorted men in various states of undress, whilst screaming, wailing and moaning a  great deal, also throwing herself on the ground on several occasions in childish exasperation. It's all very poetically shot, though, in an almost lunar, desert landscape so was worth every second spent watching it. It also features a number of songs from the original "Desertshore" album and a still from it graced the record's sleeve, as anyone who knows anything about Nico could readily tell you. Events then finished with two Derek Jarman films, each with a soundtrack provided wholly or partly by Coil, "A Journey to Avebury" and "The Angelic Conversation", neither of which I'd previously seen on a big screen and which were, again, well worth the trip up north for alone. When it all finished at midnight, there weren't many people left in the cinema, as it did take rather a lot of staying power I imagine if you're not a fully committed fan, especially for a Saturday night. The whole event was completely amazing, in my view, and also that of my travelling companion.

Here are some photographs I took of Chris & Cosey which aren't brilliant but give a flavour of what it was like.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Lebanon Hanover-The World Is Getting Colder

Lebanon Hanover are an interesting duo who contacted me recently with word of and then a promo copy of their debut album - "The World Is Getting Colder" -  which they released as a limited edition of 300 copies on 12" vinyl just over a month ago.

Hailing from both Sunderland and Berlin, they consist of Larissa Iceglass, the German connection, and William Maybelline who are both in their early twenties and have been together since July 2010 which must be around the time I first heard them, around the fag-end of the My Space era, when  a friend of mine put them on at The Star and Shadow in Newcastle and sent down glowing reports, if that's the right choice of adjective given the sub-zero temperatures they conjure up.


I'm very glad they got in touch, too, because I love them, playing their album on an almost daily basis and enjoying it more and more with each go. By their own admission, they're influenced by eighties Cold Wave, the like of which seems to be perpetually popular on the continent and is in vogue over in America with bands like Led Er Est, Sleep Museum, Staccato Du Mal and the Weird Records lot at the moment. So, there's no prizes for originality, unfortunately, as likely influences, either direct or second-hand, are strongly in evidence throughout but, this aside, practically every one of the eleven tracks featured is a winner, being as accomplished and certainly more memorable than most others in this vein and each being possessed of a quite catchy energy in spite of their inherent gloom.

So, let's pick a few tracks out. The set begins with "Die World" which sets the tone with similarly descending notes to "Bela Lugosi's Dead" before a drum machine kicks in, the bassline picks up momentum and glacial keyboards and occasional guitar create a perfect foundation for vocals reminiscent of the ladies of the NDW era which here mix between German ("Die Welt, die Welt") and English ( " as cold as an iceberg) to very appealing effect. This is then followed by "Ice Cave" where it's now the turn of a deeper but no more cheerful male voice singing of being claustrophobically "trapped in the ice cave", unable to find a way out, all this backed by a gloriously dated sounding drum machine, plinky keyboards, a doom-laden bass line and occasional scratches of guitar which put me slightly in mind of a more subtle Joy Division or The Cure on their "Faith" album, as well as circling sequenced synth which conjures up a sound very much akin to Malaria! who, I would say, are the omnipresent influence throughout - and welcomely so! This is certainly the case, too, with one of my stand out tracks "Totally Tot" which has a simple, repetitive keyboard line, driving rhythm and vocal intensity which make for highly infectious listening and which wouldn't sound at all out of place on a dancefloor like the one mentioned in the lyrics. "Kunst" which follows is another favourite with a rhythm and sequenced electronics which bring P1/E's "49 Second Romance" to mind, although the sensitively delivered vocals and yearning keyboard line in the background add greater humanity, all this embellished by occasional synthetic zaps which flash across the speakers to superb sonic effect. Things then intensify with the last three tracks, "Canibal"(their spelling, not mine), "Einhorn" and "Sunderland", the first of which begins a little like Suicide with Farris Badwen on the mike singing of "bones, lovely bones" before the vocals swap from William to Larissa, although with none of the menace lost in the process. "Einhorn" then sounds a bit like the song you'd wish The Banshees had produced somewhere between "Kaleidoscope" and "Juju", whilst on the somewhat apocalyptic closing track they really vent their spleens about their home town and its inhabitants who clearly do nothing whatsoever to feed this pair's sensibilities.

I think you're getting the picture now, although I don't want to make this sound too laden down by its influences or gothic germanic cliches as it really is extremely good quality stuff which would have confidently stood shoulder to shoulder with the very best of those of the early eighties were it released then and is certainly an extremely welcome diversion in 2012 - in an ideal world with a lot more readily available money, I'd be straight on to asking them to do a single for my German Bite label at the drop of a hat. It seems, actually, that there might be a little something bubbling up at the moment with bands like Soft Riot, who, I'm told, have just released a single, and the brilliant New Matrix who will, no doubt, have something released before the end of the year. Then, of course, there's Cyberbeatnix over in Berlin who've yet to get anything out on vinyl but should do at some point.

Anyway, to have a listen to some of the tracks from the album and to maybe contact them and buy a copy whilst they're still available, here's a link for you to click:

Here's some stuff off You Tube, too.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Gerhard Richter: October 18, 1977(1988) - Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

As well as those who had turned out to flaunt their wares at the film festival, another name hot on people's lips when I was in Berlin was Gerhard Richter whose retrospective show "Panorama", staged to commemorate his eightieth birthday, opened at the Neue Nationalgalerie that week. It's the same one that finished recently at Tate Modern in London and, I believe, is moving on next to The Pompidou in Paris for the summer months. I'm quite a fan but had been unable to get down to London for it so was very pleased to spot it listed in Zitty magazine, deciding to go along and have a neb - as had half the city by the looks of the queues at the kiosk and the people milling around with carrier bags containing the catalogue. 

I had quite high expectations as I waited to pay my eight euros to get in but, when I left an hour or so later, I felt rather disappointed with what I had seen, this partly being down to the crowds but also to the show itself. Over the years, I think I've probably been a bit spoilt by seeing more concentrated groupings of his work, smaller in number but more focussed in certain periods or genres, at places like The Lenbachhaus in Munich, The Museum-Ludwig in Cologne and, a few summers ago, at The National Portrait Gallery in London, and for this reason the panoramic nature of the Berlin show, as belied by its title, failed to click with me really. Richter's is a large and varied output compared to a lot of other artists and "Panorama", I suppose understandably, offers a flavour of this multi-facetedness, providing various smatterings rather than anything much to get your teeth into - early pop inspired works; the smudgy black and white works from the sixties which were seemingly directly replicated from photographs and postcards in order to solve the problem of having to find a subject matter; the large, often multi-coloured abstracts, the production of which has often involved dragging the paint around with a squeegee and which can sometimes look like the works of a less controlled Bridget Riley; sculptures made out of glass and mirrors,  which I must admit to almost walking past as though they were part of the furniture; endless paintings consisting of charts of little squares of colour; and the hyper-realistic, almost photographic paintings from the eighties and nineties such as the oft replicated "Betty"(1988) and the candle which appeared on Sonic Youth's cover for "Daydream Nation". I don't want to sound too critical of this exhibition. There was something there to please everybody, I guess, but I came away a little bit bored, feeling as though someone who can ordinarily arrest my attention had been presented in a rather anodyne, highly palatable manner, geared towards mass consumption for the polymathic, newspaper devouring classes and sales at the gift shop, which as mentioned appeared to be doing a roaring trade. 

To counteract my slight dejection, I was delighted, therefore, to find out that his cycle of paintings "October 18, 1977" was showing across town at The Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island, these being amongst my favourite works by any artist ever and, ordinarily housed at MOMA in New York, usually feeling a little too out of reach, except for books and the internet.

For anyone not familiar with them, the fifteen canvases, painted just over a decade after the occurence of the events that provide their subject matter, concern themselves with events surrounding the morning on which Red Army Faction members Andreas Baader and Gudrun Ensslin were found dead in their prison cells at Stammheim Prison, Stuttgart, and two further members, Jan-Carl Raspe and Irmgard Moeller, were also found dying or injured in their rooms, this having been explained by the authorities as a kind of suicide pact, although anyone reading around the events will see that many people believe that they were, in fact, murdered by the state they had dared to confront.

They're an extremely interesting group of paitings, in my view, not least because, like his work from the mid-sixties, which Richter seemed to have left behind by this point, they are copied from existing images, these related to the morning in question and events surrounding it, some of which would have been taken in the cells by prison staff and most of which, if not all, the German public will have been familair with through their appearance in the media. They also fall into interesting sub-groupings, with some of the canvases, in some cases practically reproductions of partners or in others more individual elements, forming clusters attached to different particpants in the drama. So, along one wall, there is a kind of triptych of portraits of Gudrun Ensslin, entitled "Confrontation 1" through to "Confrontation 3", cropped from photographs taken of her as she went to attend an identity parade at Essen Prison shortly after her arrest in 1972. She then appears again in a solo image, this one much more blurry and almost abstract on a first glance, as she was found hanging from the bars of her cell window.


Another group of three almost identical images, all called "Dead", take as their subject matter the head and shoulders of Ulrike Meinhof, as she had been cut down by prison staff a year or so earlier, the rope which brought about her demise still being visible round her neck. As with many of the other images, Richter has done away with any extraneous detail and has focussed in unequivocably on his subject matter for maximum impact. Another image of Meinhof, entitled "Youth Portrait" and based on what looks like a school or college portrait, sits on its own near one of the entrances to the space in which the paintings are exhibited. Similar to Meinhof, Andreas Baader is depicted in two almost identical canvases, "Man Shot Down 1" and "Man Shot Down 2", these showing him lying dead on the floor, having shot himself in the head, a dark shadow around his head presumably being the escaped blood. Two accompanying images, "Cell" and "Record Player" give a silent record of how he passed his time incarcerated in Stammheim and the room in which he died. The latter would definitely appear in my very top paintings were I ever asked to draw up a list. Apparently, as well as providing entertainment, the record player also allegedly provided a hiding place for the gun used in bringing about his death. The final, less intimate and almost almost indistinguishable images depict outdoor scenes, two showing Holger Meins being arrested and made to undress in front of an armoured military vehicle and another equally blurred scene showing the massively attended funeral of those mentioned above, footage of which appears in the Fassbinder related film "Germany in Autumn".

Another aspect which proves both fascinating and appealing about these paintings is their ambiguity, as they seemingly refuse to comment one way or another on what they depict, the individuals and associated scenes appearing objectively and unsentimentally as faded, blurred ghosts from German history, the already familiar nature of most of the images further adding to their confused purpose. The feathery lack of clarity in their presentation also raises unanswered questions, too, with regard to Richter's intentions. Is it a comment on the lack of certainty regarding the perpetrators of the deaths, something which will presumably never truly be known but will remain contested, or maybe a manifestation of the lack of commonality and certainty in people's attitudes towards The Red Army Faction, their intentions and actions? Also, why are some images more blurred than others?

As far as I know, Richter has never commented on his intentions but the paintings seem to have a lot in common with other earlier works such as "Uncle Rudi"(1965) which factually, but similarly blurredly, reproduces  a full-length photograph of a presumably beloved relative in Nazi uniform, "Aunt Marianne" which reproduces a family snapshot of a relative who was murdered as part of the Nazi's eugenics programme or paintings from the same period of allied and German bombers, which re-present unsettling, almost taboo aspects of national history back to the viewer whilst refusing to overtly comment. A group of smudgy, simplistic yearbook portraits of student nurses who were murdered in their dormitory, also from the sixties, seems to do a similar job and draw parallels with some of Warhol's grittier works such as his race riots, electric chairs and car accidents. In this respect, too, the exhibition's placing, in a space within the old national gallery usually populated with scenes of national heroism, packs a similar ambiguous and ironic punch.

This exhibition runs, I believe, until May and comes very highly recommended. I walked round and round in a small circle for quite a while breathing it all in and then felt quite odd as I drew myself away to have a quick look round other highlights of the gallery ( Arnold Boecklin, Lovis Corinth, Max Slevogt, Max Liebermann et al) before going to meet a friend.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Querelle-Photographed by Roger Fritz (VeneKlasen Werner, Berlin)

My most recent visit to Berlin also tied in with the city hosting its annual film festival, which is always a bit of a bonus. Apparently, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were in town, although our paths never crossed, just as I never bumped into Madonna, Joe Dallesandro and a host of others on previous coincidental sojourns. Maybe I'm going to the right places - well, possibly not with regard to the latter. Anyway, to get to the point, one highlight and probably tied in with The Berlinale was an exhibtion at the VeneKlasen Werner gallery (Rudi-Duschke-Strasse 26) of photographs taken on the set of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's cinematic adaptation of Jean Genet's novel "Querelle" which had been completed but remained unedited upon the director's untimely and sudden death in June 1982. Now, anyone familiar with myself or German Bite magazine will know that Fassbinder rates extremely highly in the pantheon so not calling in was never an option.

Well worth the visit it was, too, as along the very lengthy walls of the three galleries ranged an enormous number of colour drenched photographs, uniform in size, although not always in dimension, many offering stills from the film, so many that its narrative could probably be retraced quite comprehensively by anyone familar with it and who had the time to be bothered, these also being peppered with occasional images not so directly recognisable from the final product. Superb they are, every single one I'd have quite happily brought away and hung on one my own walls, instantly bringing to life Fassbinder's unique, dark, fantasy vision of Genet's Brest, where the young, attractive Querelle has arrived by ship with a stash of opium, thus entering into a corrupting environment of perpetually smouldering male sexuality (and a tiny bit of female, too, in the shape of Jean Moreau whose cock obsession more than matches the men's at times), duplicity and betrayal, whispered intrigue and murder, all this played out on a wholly studio constructed set, complete with a plethora of phallic imagery, including bell-ended quayside masonry and walls smattered with cottage-style drawings and messages - one piece which made me chuckle read "Kilroy was here" or some such; maybe you need to be British to appreciate the joke. All this is then fantastically filtered through saturated tangerine and pinky blue hues, the stylised, artificial splendour of which I can only, off the top of my head, find parallels with in some of Kenneth Anger's oeuvre or maybe "Pink Narcissus", certainly nothing before or since which has had  such far-reaching ambitions and a wide, international audience in mind.

To almost top it all off and for those with a bit of time on their hands, in an equally capacious fourth space - quite fittingly a dark room at the rear of the whole shebang - they had constructed a small cinema where the film in its entirety was showing daily at 1400h. My travelling companions and I, being lucky like that, arrived just in time to catch the majority of it, even though we'd all seen it loads of times before but still enjoying the opportunity to relive favourite and familair elements: the iconic (I hate this word) image of Brad Davis in his pompommed sailor's cap,  taut, scoop necked vest and matching white bell-bottoms; the game of dice he plays with man mountain bar owner Nono (played by Fassbinder stalwart Günther Kaufmann), the losing of which leads to him having to take it in the tradesman's as a "forfeit"; Jeanne Moreau at her finest, seemingly confined to the aforementioned smoked-glassed bar/brothel with its anachronistic space invader machines, singing lines from Oscar Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" and reading her tarot cards, her final insight suggesting the whole film has been a figment of hers, somebody's, everybody's imagination; the very handsome, gentlemanly Franco Nero pacing around the decks of his ship, The Vengeur, privately recording his repressed attraction for the socially inferior Querelle into a tape recorder, whilst around him his queeny crew - including the late,great Frank Ripploh of "Taxi Zum Klo" fame, to keep the Berlin thread going - rather balletically pull on ropes or diagonal through the shot carrying out what look like pointlessly essential tasks; Hanno Pöshl in the dual roles of Querelle's brother Robert, with whom he shares an unstated sexual connection, and the helmetted, side-burned Gil with whom he identifies because he has similarly committed a murder and who he says he will help to escapefrom the clutches of the police, because he fancies him, but ends up betraying with a Judas kiss; and Burkhard Driest (who also co-wrote the screenplay with RWF) in the role of Mario, the pock-marked police officer who looks more like something out of an early eighties New York S&M bar like The Anvil than someone from down the local cop shop with his leather cap and waistcoat. All of this is beautifully coupled with Peer Raben's perfect soundtrack, his contribution nearly always being an essential ingredient of a good Fassbinder film in my book.

Even better, though, at 1600h daily, they were also showing the rarely screened feature length documentary "The Wizard of Babylon", directed by Fassbinder's producer Dieter Schidor and featuring a lot of footage filmed on the set of "Querelle", as well as insightful interviews shedding light on the working relationships on set, a seemingly contented or possibly diplomatic Ms. Moreau who says she was enjoyed the whole experience, Brad Davis who surprised me with his campy, primadonna-ish attention seeking and Burkhard Driest who holds back nothing in expressing his displeasure at the way he has been treated by the director. Perhaps most interestingly, it also includes footage from Fassbinder's last ever interview, filmed just hours before he breathed his last and, as he lights one cigarette after another and speaks in a slurred manner which suggests that the dying process may have already begun, some of his words seem spookily prophetic, as he admits to seeing parallels between himself and his protagonist who has made a pact with the devil - as we know, Fassbinder made forty-three films in not much over a decade so that one of his repertory, Peter Märtesheimer, I believe, once said, "he turned out movies like other people roll cigarettes." As is often the case, he died right on the cusp of major international fame, having received his first Golden Bear with "Veronika Voss" and enjoying the first tastes of having begun to break the American market, such as partying with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jackie Onassis, an imminent appearance of his fizzog on the cover of "Time" magazine and a developing chance of winning best director at the 1983 Oscars. I once read something where the writer drew parallels between Pasolini, who was murdered before "Salo" was premiered, and Fassbinder, the conclusion being that both directors had taken themselves to places of such intensity that careers beyond these points seem unimaginable. It's a very convincing argument.

Finally, by way of a souvenir, visitors could take away a little, almost pocket-sized booklet including a number of reproductions of photographs from the film and its set, as well as the rather fascinating facsimiles of correspondence dating back to 1978 between Dieter Schidor and other directors, Sam Peckinpah, John Schlesinger and Roman Polanski, which indicate that Fassbinder was in no way initially favoured for the role, even though I'd always thought that Genet's novel, along with Döblin’s "Berlin Alexanderplatz" and Fontane's "Effi Briest", represented a kind of holy trinity of texts which had obsessed him as a youngster and he saw himself as destined to adapt. The former very nearly took the bait, it appears, which would have made for a very different world, methinks.

Now, I was going to encourage anybody who reads this and is able to visit the exhibition to do so. However, I've just looked and seen that its rather short run finished yesterday which is a bit disappointing. Maybe it will crop up again somewhere else. If it does, I recommend it most highly. I got an awful lot out of my visit, including a desire to dust down a couple of my Genet novels.