Saturday, 14 January 2023

Simon Strange. Blank Canvas: Art School Creativity From Punk To New Wave.


According to Intellect Books,
Simon Strange is a musician and producer engaged in ‘Ph.D. research into the connections’ and interactions between art colleges and popular music. He lectures on the socio-cultural context of popular music and creative collaborations at Bath Spa University having been ‘head of music at Bath College’ (1). I didn’t know any of this when I met him at the Punk Scholars Conference in London last December and can happily report that he is also a really nice, humorous bloke. At the conference he did a presentation/interview around his very recent book Blank Canvas: Art School Creativity From Punk To New Wave. There have been a few books recently around the tie up between art colleges and 1960s/70s music, exploring the effect of art college education and experience on specific bands and scenes, Michael Bracewell’s Roxy: The Band That Invented an Era and Gavin Butt’s No Machos Or Pop Stars: When the Leeds Art Experiment Went Punk focus on this relationship and it’s included in Rebecca Binns’ Gee Vaucher: Beyond Punk, Feminism and the Avant-Garde and John Roberts’ Red Days: Popular Music and the English Counterculture 1965-75. There are probably more but they’re the ones I’ve read!

So, Blank Canvas: Art School Creativity From Punk To New Wave, what’s it all about and how does it do it? The book’s focus is an exploration of radical art school education and its influence and effects on (predominantly) punk, post punk and new wave.

The book ‘connect(s) art education to the development of popular musicians in the genres of punk, post punk and new wave through a conceptual framework called Blank Canvas…the idea of a blank, pure space, or position…a redefining of artistic concepts’ (p. 5), arguing that ‘(a)rt college education mainframed conceptually driven and culturally connected elements, which informed some key bands through the mid to late 70s, where philosophy, politics, culture and science, for example, interfaced with artistic development’ the lack of emphasis on technical ability opening up a space for ‘increasingly experimental, radical and multi-genre music’ (p. xiii). If that sounds a bit daunting it isn’t as Simon’s writing is accessible, unpretentious and at times playful (his inclusion of lyrics within the text).

The book is divided into three parts tracing the seismic shift in art education and (therefore) wider culture from modernism to post modernism in the 1970s. Postmodernism being beautifully defined (p. 62-70) and utilised as a key concept throughout the book (p.73). 

Running through the book are four themes; hierarchies, process, experimentation and relationships (p. 6). The dismantling of traditional hierarchies between high and low art, between people, between technical accomplishment and ideas, within bands and music. The increased importance of artistic process over product, a more process orientated mindset within art and music, which in turn led to increased experimentation and innovation. The interconnections between people and scenes (p. 238-250). Eno’s concept of ‘scenius’, the postmodern dismantling of the modernist/Romantic idea of the lone, often male, genius and instead the recognition of the importance of ‘collective interaction’ in bringing ’great work to the fore’ (p. 250). 

The book is populated by a fantastic and fascinating array of characters and entities as Simon traces the interconnections between avant garde art, UK radical art colleges/tutors and popular music of the 70s; Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten, BAUHAUS, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Dada, BRIAN ENO, Rita Donagh, Roxy Music, Richard Hamilton, the Situationists, Art and Language, Black Mountain College, Bill Drummond, Rhodes and Mclaren, Pauline Black, Gina Birch, Barry Adamson, Roy Ascott, Victor Pasmore, Mark Fisher, Newcastle, Leeds, Hornsey and Ipswich art colleges/schools jostle and crowd the pages in a celebration of the dismantling of the artificial dichotomy of life and art (p. 263). (The reason Bauhaus and Eno are in capitals is to remind me what significance roles they have in the book, the importance and wide spread effect of Bauhaus pedagogical model in UK radical art colleges and therefore on art student/musicians, the centrality of Eno as a pivotal figure in the transposition of avant garde and experimental ideas into UK popular culture in the 1970s.)   

In the final section, Simon considers the similarities between punk and hip hop, both urban, anti establishment, DIY, utilising avant garde techniques (p. 254-55). He also draws attention to the presence of women within punk, post punk and new wave, despite the overt patriarchy of the time, and the importance of the 2 Tone scene (p. 259). Agreeing with Mark Fisher, Simon concludes that ‘(c)ulture is decelerating, juddering to a halt (p. 256), reflecting that the 1960s/70s was a period that enabled working class kids access to art colleges and the time to develop concepts/ideas/craft through education grants, the dole and music industry investment (p. 256-258). Current lack of cheap accommodation, education funding and the dismantling of the welfare system has ensured that art education and the music industry is (again) dominated by the bourgeoisie (p. 257-8).

However the author sees some room for hope for a new Renaissance in art and music with the wider deployment of AI/automation, the consequential increased importance of leisure time and the possibility of the introduction of universal basic income, these factors giving those currently excluded from art and music renewed opportunity to participate (p. 254, 258).

Blank Canvas: Art School Creativity From Punk To New Wave is a superb relook at the importance of the avant garde and radical arts pedagogy in an important period in UK arts, art education and music. A fascinating book for anyone interested in the arts and music of the 1970s particularly but more widely for anyone interested in the interconnections and influences that effect, encourage and shape culture.

 

Blank Canvas: Art School Creativity From Punk To New Wave is available at https://www.intellectbooks.com/blank-canvas and lots of other places!



Bibliography.

  1. https://www.intellectbooks.com/simon-strange

Thursday, 10 November 2022

Interview: Marie Arleth Skov


From the very beginning punk has been as much a visual art movement as an aural one, an early example being Vivien Westwood’s associated clothing bearing a bricolage of historical symbols and phrases (1). Despite its claims to binning musical history and starting afresh punk had its musical roots in earlier rock from Iggy Pop to Hawkwind, likewise its visual art drew on past art movements and artists. Designer of early Sex Pistols’ covers for ‘God Save the Queen’ and the album Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols, Jamie Reid, drew on the collage/photo montage techniques of Dadaist Hannah Hoch and the appropriation and detournement practices of the Letterists and Situationists. Likewise Crass visual artist Gee Vaucher also drew on the techniques of Hoch and anti-Nazi artist John Heartfield (2). The DIY aesthetic of punk zines like ‘Sniffin’ Glue’ evidenced the dynamic process of design and production rather than attempting to obscure them, incidentally echoing ideas around the non capitalist object in Russian Constructivism/Productivism (3). This appropriation and redeploying of cultural and art history continued in post punk visuals with Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett raiding Pioneers of Modern Typography by Herbert Spencer (4). 

Marie Arleth Skov is a Danish art historian living in Berlin. She works at the Kunstbibliothek at Kulturforum, where most recently she co-curated the exhibition Claudia Skoda. Dressed to Thrill (2021) together with Britta Bommert. Much of her work is at the intersection of art, sexuality, and music, with a historical focus on surrealism and the punk movement of the 1970s-1980s. She has written several articles, including  for Punk & Post-Punk, the RIHA Journal and Spunkt Art Now and book chapters on punk and art in the edited collections Radical Dreams: Surrealism, Counterculture, Resistance (Penn State University Press, 2022) and A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1975 and After (Brill, 2022). In Spring 2023 her book, Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation, will be published by Intellect Books in collaboration with the Punk Scholars Network (5).

Alerted and intrigued by the interplay of avant garde visual art movements and punk/post punk ever since going to a Q & A with Test Dept where they cited Russian Constructivism as a major influence and also through reading Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, where he joins the dots between Dada, the Situationists and punk (6), I contacted Marie for an interview to find out more about punk art and the themes explored in Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation.  She kindly agreed.   

Q. A book on European Punk Art History sounds really interesting! How did your interest in the overlap of punk and visual art - or punk being expressed through visual art - come about?

M. Thank you, it is really interesting! So, since I was a teenager in Copenhagen in the 1990s, I have loved the punk style and punk music. I was into grunge and many of those bands were referencing punk, so that led me on, for example to Black Flag and the artwork of Raymond Pettibon. There is also a Danish punk poet, Michael Strunge, whom I loved growing up. Language, I think, is very important in punk. Then, when I was 19 years old, I moved to Berlin, where I studied art history—and, over time, it became obvious to me just how much punk was connected to art, especially radical and avant-garde art movements of the twentieth century! However, the research I could find was quite superficial: many coffee-table books or exhibitions that did not really go into depth with these connections. So, I set out to do just that!

Q. Would it be fair to say you view punk as a grass roots, DIY, artistic expression of progressive politics or is that missing some important aspects?

M. Good question. Punk is notoriously ambiguous: There is a side to punk that is dark and hedonistic and negative; there is another side that is more like you describe – creative, DIY, politically engaged. Especially the very first years of punk were born out of “NO FUTURE”, a dance on the volcano, poetic, shocking, destructive, often deliberately nonsensical, and antithetical. It was a moment in time. A brief moment in time. I mean, Crass wrote “Punk Is Dead” already in 1978. But it was like “Punk is dead. Long live Punk!”—a myriad of different ways to embody punk came out of that.

Q. Do you have a working definition of punk art? I was reading an article in the Guardian this morning about a Ukrainian photographer, Boris Mikhailov, in it was the observation by Aron Morel that “I see Boris as a kind of proto-punk…He has this instinctively independent attitude and way of looking at things as well as a resolutely DIY approach. The poetic possibilities of the lo-fi aesthetic are much more interesting to him than our received notions of formal craft and beauty.” (7) Independence, DIY, lo-fi aesthetic, would they be hallmarks of punk art?

M. A definition of punk art would be ludicrous. Being undefinable is intrinsic to punk. But of course, we can make out core characteristics, DIY being one of them. For my book, I interviewed artists, who were involved with the punk movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and the autonomy, which doing-it-yourself brings, was key to all of them. Punk is very much an attitude, a way of seeing things, even a way of living. That attitude is more significant than a specific aesthetic. In that way, “punk art” is like “feminist art”—the visual manifestations can vary, but the underlying stance stays. What I also try to do in the book is make out specific topics that are significant in punk art: the childish, the trashy, themes of failure, fatalism as well as resistance strategies, punk propaganda, punk travesty. All of these put together give us an idea of punk art.

Q. In your essays you explore the position of punk visual art in relation to social-economic context and wider art history. You wrote a piece on ‘Surrealism and Punk’ focusing on COUM Transmissions/Throbbing Gristle (8). What historic art movements have had the most impact on punk and punk art?

M. I argue that punk is an expression of a kind of fin-de-siecle, decadent and dying modernism, at the end of the long 20th century. Punk as a movement was borrowing and stealing concepts from Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, but doing so in a very conscious way—punks were making these concepts their own. What has not been looked into quite as much is the link to art movements like Pop Art, Neo-Dada, and Fluxus which are of course closer in time to punk in that transition from the 1960s to the 1970s. Likewise, the contemporaneous art scene, specifically Body Art and Performance Art in the 1970s, intersect with what is going on at the same time in the punk movement.

Q. In ‘Between surrealism and politics: An exploration of subversive body arts in 1980s East German underground cinema’, Schulz comments that ‘the cinematic underground was influenced by the wider punk scene in the GDR and vice versa. Not only were artists such as Cornelia Schleime and Gabriele Stotzer punk musicians themselves, the experimental cinema and the general punk scene shared the same subversive underground space’ (9). Were those overlaps a common occurrence in your research into European punk art?

M. Yes! Of course, in East Germany, because alternative spaces were so limited, these overlaps might have been even more pronounced. But it is an evident feature in all of the cases I have been working with, too: Making music, film, art, fashion, theater, writing poetry, making zines, all of these are intertwined. That DIY and de-skilled punk ethos also mean you can just give different fields a go. In my research, I very often found artists making music and musicians making art, cinemas used as art spaces, clothing stores used as concert venues, and so on.

Q. In ‘The Copenhagen Punk Years - Art with No Future?’ you observe that the punks and the art scene that aligned itself with punk sensibilities, like Unge Vilde, had an ambivalent relationship with the avant-garde, influenced by it but, due to a NO FUTURE mindset, objecting to its perceived elitism and vision of social progress (10). Can you tell us more about those tensions?

M. Actually, there was a small group of punks in Copenhagen who called themselves the “rear-guard” in opposition to the “avant-garde” label—this was a counter reaction to the avant-gardist mantra of progress, of “leading the way”. Punks would rather identify with those last in line. This anti-avant-garde stance in European punk has several facets: As a NO FUTURE movement, punks perceived Western societies not to be moving forwards, but rather to being in downfall—and this was rather celebrated with glee, than found to be regrettable. The criticism of the avant-garde always craving the new, as a mirrored image of consumer society always craving something new, was another aspect, which had for example also been formulated in political critical theory of the 1960s. At the same time, it was obvious that punks were indeed implementing many avant-gardist strategies and artists associated with punk were heavily quoting modern art, but they were aware of the musealization of formerly radical movements. So, they were attempting to avoid becoming just another ism, trying to avoid that artworld game of subversive artistic movements being at first misunderstood, scandalized, and then at the end always coopted.

Q. You also identify continuities of form between punk rock as music and the visual art of Unge Vilde..?

M. Yes, so I was working with this notion that sometimes, art is punk and sometimes, punk is art. One of the easiest ways of showing the first case—art that is punk—are these correspondences in form, like the so-called ‘bad painting’ or neo-expressive painting in the early 1980s, among others the Unge Vilde, the Danish ‘young wild ones’ named after the German Junge Wilde. Many of these young painters were trying to recreate the immediacy, the rawness, the urgency of punk rock in their painting, so they used cheap materials, untreated cotton instead of canvas, latex paint instead of oil. They made no sketches, painted without restraint, quickly, carelessly, with paint splatters, crude brushstrokes, and in kitschy colors. The canvases were mostly very large, giving the act of painting this physical quality. So, there are continuities there. But I often end up finding those cases that are about punk content, rather than form, even more interesting…

Q. In the fascinating essay ‘The 1979 American Punk Art dispute’ you compared and contrasted American and Dutch punk of the late 1970s through the conflict around an exhibition mounted in Amsterdam and how that highlighted their different influences, attitudes and backgrounds; one apolitical, influenced by Pop Art and Warhol and the other coming out of the anarchist, squatter movement and influenced by the Provos and CoBrA art movements. But you point out that running alongside those differences there were also similarities, a DIY approach, an enthusiasm for street graffiti, a desire for ‘artistic’ and ‘personal freedom’ (11). Have these struggles over self definition continued to be a contested area for punk art? In your opinion are both takes valid?

M. Well, thank you that you liked it! The case of the American Punk Art exhibition coming from New York to Amsterdam in 1979 is fascinating, because it highlights so many of those conflicts that are at the heart of punk culture. And also, as you say, what is nonetheless common ground. Punk in general became more political in Europe, and in Amsterdam especially, punk was deeply intertwined with the squatter movement and a social art and counterculture tradition. The curators of American Punk Art were just looking for trouble, provoking, teasing, having fun with the sensationalist media. But the artwork they put together in the show was much deeper than that, so a big part of that culture clash was really about communication. To try to answer your question, I think there are many ways to do things, then as now, so yes, for sure both valid takes.

Q. You have a book coming out in Spring 2023, ’Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation’, can you tell us a little about it? What themes and ideas are you exploring in it?

M. In the book, I examine punk as an art movement. A large part of my research was personal interviews with artists and research in their private archives, as well as in public archives. And then the art historical analysis of artworks: paintings, drawings, bricolages, collages, booklets, posters, zines, installations, sculptures, Super 8 films, documentation of performances and happenings, body art, and street art. Many of these are depicted in the book too, I have over 100 images in it! I also discuss the display of those artworks; the American Punk Art exhibition in Amsterdam in 1979 you just mentioned, as well as the PROSTITUTION exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1976, and Die Große Untergangsshow (Engl: The Grand Downfall Show) in West Berlin in 1981. I have synthesized all of that material into ten thematic chapters in Punk Art History, so for example ‘SEX’ is one chapter, which dives into topics of S&M, the role of the Marquis de Sade, libertarianism and pornography in art history, queer punk art, punk feminism, sex as a vehicle for revolution, and so on. Another example is the chapter ‘Work vs. Play’ which is about dilettantism and the refusal to work, which was an essential concept from the Surrealists and Lettrists through the Situationists to punk, where it got mixed with a very real backdrop of youth unemployment. The book will be published in the Global Punk series, which is a collaboration between Intellect Books and the Punk Scholars Network—so many great titles in that series—so I am quite proud of that!

Q. How did you decide what to include/exclude as ‘Punk Art’?

M. Oh man, again good question. That was not easy! Early on, I decided to limit the book to the late 1970s to early 1980s. I also had a special focus on artists groups, because to a certain degree they are like the artworld equivalent to the band. And I wanted to go outside of that very familiar US-UK axis, but I also wanted to write what I know about, so I ended up with London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Berlin. You’re just bound to leave out stuff you would like to include! It was an exploration, an inductive process: Looking at artworks by protagonists who were connected to the punk scene, or identified with the punk movement, interviewing them, if possible, and then curating their work into these key topoi. I wasn’t trying to establish ‘punk art’ as a term, by the way, that is not my reason to write the book. I was interested in finding out just what punk had to do with art, and with art history. A whole lot!

Q. Did you find that UK or American punk art had been influential in mainland Europe, or (as in the Dutch example) did different national/regional scenes create their own culturally specific versions due to art histories and contemporary circumstances?

M. Both. I worked with the thesis that punk manifested differently, but consistently in different cultural spheres. Punk was very regional, even local, in that way: to each scene its own kind of punk, and thus its own kind of punk art. So, punk in Amsterdam was different than in Rotterdam, Copenhagen different than Aarhus, Berlin different than Düsseldorf. Nonetheless, there are crucial continuities, like DIY, autonomy, certain themes, styles. Both US and UK punk were hugely influential all over mainland Europe, but even so, Berlin had a special connection to New York in the 1980s, whereas Amsterdam leaned more towards the UK.

Q. How did punk art take shape in West Germany, for example?

M. With regard to punk and art, there were two places that were especially important in West Germany in the late 1970s and early 1980s: Düsseldorf and West Berlin. In Düsseldorf, there was the Ratinger Hof, which was this pub, where artists and punks crossed paths, and the scenes mixed. Like, Joseph Beuys meets Tote Hosen. West Berlin, meanwhile, was a unique space at this time: it was so cut-off from everything, lying in the middle of the GDR, due to its special political status, you could avoid military conscription there, and legendarily there was no curfew. So West Berlin became this habitat for conscientious objectors, students, Turkish migrant workers, war widows, and underground artists. All in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. That shaped how punk sounded and looked in West Berlin. Throughout the FRG, to generalize a bit, punk arrived with a slight delay, so before the movement really broke through, it was already mixed up in Neue Deutsche Welle. In German punk—whether film, music, or art—the German language was often used to convey something at once awkward and realistic and harsh-sounding; a counterreaction to the international, glamorous, sleek ABBA-style-English.

Q. Were there any surprising discoveries or did you reach any unforeseen conclusions when you were researching!?

M. I guess it should not have surprised me, but it kind of did anyway: The Sex Pistols were the main frame of reference for artists too, and unequivocally so. From Andy Warhol to Die Tödliche Doris (Engl: The Deadly Doris) to the Kipper Kids to COUM Transmissions to, twenty years later, the so-called YBAs (Young British Artists). Not that everybody loved the Sex Pistols (that would be weird), but they stirred. They pierced right into that place between sensationalism and hurt, excess and apocalypse, pop and art, sex and poetry, innocence and cynicism. One of the last segments in the book is called ‘Broken heroes, aces of failure’. I think that is what they were, and that speaks to all punks, whether artists or musicians or filmmakers or street kids.

Punk Art History: Artworks from the European No Future Generation can be preordered here; https://www.intellectbooks.com/punk-art-history


Book design by Russ Bestley.

 

Bibliography.


  1. Bestley, R. (2016) ‘Big A Little A: The Graphic Language of Anarchy in Mike Dines and Matthew Worley (eds) The Aesthetics of Our Anger, (Minor Composition: Colchester, New York Port Watson).

  2. Solomons, D. (2016) ‘A Blue Tomato and a Packet of Gauloises’ in Mike Dines and Matthew Worley (eds) The Aesthetics of Our Anger, (Minor Composition: Colchester, New York Port Watson).

  3. Kiaer, C. (2005) Imagine No Possessions. The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism, (The MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, USA)

  4. K-Punk, (2009) Interview: Peter Saville https://www.factmag.com/2009/01/01/interview-peter-saville/

  5. https://www.punkscholarsnetwork.com/marie-arleth-skov

  6. Marcus, G. (2011) ‘Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century’, Faber and Faber, London.


  1.   O’Hagan, Sean (2022) ‘Photographer Boris Mikhailov’s Ukrainian Diary: ‘He is a kind of proto-punk’, theguardian.com

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/aug/28/boris-mikhailov-photography-ukrainian-diary-exhibition-book-blaue-horse-now-days accessed via google 29-8-22.

  1.  Skov, Marie Arleth (2022) ‘Surrealism and Punk: The Case of COUM Transmissions’ in Radical Dreams: Surrealism, Counterculture, Resistance, eds Elliott H. King and Abigail Susik, (Penn State University Press: Pennsylvania) Courtesy of the author.

  2. Schulz, Cynthia (2022) ‘Between surrealism and politics: An exploration of subversive body arts in 1980s East German underground cinema’, Punk & Post-Punk 11.2, (Intellect Books: Bristol).

  3. Skov, Marie Arleth (2022) ‘The Copenhagen Punk Years - Art with No Future?’ in A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries Since 1975, eds Benedikt Hjartarson, Tania Ørum, Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, and Laura Luise Schultz (Brill: Leiden, Netherlands), Courtesy of the author.

  4. Skov, Marie Arleth (2020) ‘The 1979 American Punk Art dispute: Visions of punk art between sensationalism, street art and social practice’, Punk & Post-Punk 9.3, (Intellect Books: Bristol). Courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Essential Logic: Logically Yours.




The early years of Lora Logic have been well documented, given a tenor sax at thirteen by her Dad she answered an ad in the music press and in 1976 joined X-Ray Spex while only fifteen. She played on the debut single ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ and the Live at the Roxy album (from what I remember one of the highpoints) and arranges all the sax parts for X-Ray Spex first album, Germ Free Adolescents, before being ejected from the band.
Disillusioned with the music industry Lora entered St Martins Art College to study photography, while there she recorded ‘Aerosol Burns’ and ‘World Friction’ and formed Essential Logic. Their first single was released in 1978 with an EP, ‘Wake Up’ released the following year along with the first album Beat Rhythm News. In 1980 the band released four singles alongside extensive gigging.

Alongside Essential Logic Lora worked with The Stranglers, Red Crayola, The Raincoats, Scritti Politti, Swell Maps and Dennis Bovell and acted in, and composed music for, the film Crystal Gazing released in 1982, the same year her solo album Pedigree Charm was released.

Around 1980 Lora encountered an old friend who has become involved with the Hare Krishna movement and found the teachings answered questions she 'had buried’. She moved into the Soho Street Temple, Bhaktivedant Manor and Chaitanya College in Worcestershire for several years. In 1984 Lora started recording again and in 1995 teamed up again with Poly Styrene for a short lived X-Ray Spex reunion which produced the acclaimed album Conscious Consumer.

Lora continued to record and in 2003 Kill Rock Stars released a 2 CD compilation Fanfare in the Garden. I bought Fanfare in the Garden having heard a few Essential Logic and Lora Logic tracks and was completely amazed by the innovation and imagination. Park up all your reference points Essential Logic truly were original, one of the best examples of the bringing of avant-garde experimentation into pop culture that Gavin Butt identifies as a hallmark of post punk (1).

In the last couple of years Lora has been working on a new album and then a few weeks ago released a lead single/video, ‘Alien Boys’ from her new album Land of Kali and announced the November release of a 5 vinyl album box collection Logically Yours on Hiss and Shake Records which will include Beat Rhythm News, Pedigree Charm, two compilation albums (Aerosol Burns and Other Misdemeanors and No More Fiction) plus the new album. Listening to it is a reminder of just how surprising Essential Logic/Lora Logic were, I hadn’t heard the 1980 single ‘Eugene’ before, amazing! ‘Music is a Better Noise’, ‘Moontown’ ‘Fanfare in the Garden’, superb, soaring marvels. Hopefully at some point there may be a CD release?

The new album Land of Kali is a grower, it has a different sound to her early work of course and lyrically reflects Lora’s Vaishnava cosmology and faith. The first track is a new version of ‘Prayer for Peace’, a track originally recorded on Conscious Consumer, the song features Lora’s sax playing which really lifts the track; mellow and very beautiful.

Next track up is the lead single ‘Alien Boys’, Lora comments in the press release ‘A fun song with unnerving undertones. On planet lock down, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that normal people are being threatened by different kinds of alien boys with alien toys, propelling us into a dystopian future’ (2), great track.

The next three tracks. ‘Mother Earth’, ‘Never Know’ and ‘Charming Every Cupid’ are mellower, quite ethereal with elements of the latter track ‘Charming Every Cupid’ linking the new album back to Lora’s older material. 

Side 2 starts with ‘Sky Rocket’ co-written with her daughter Malini, reflects on ‘the fairground of life’ (2).

Next track ‘Serious’ is a bit of a rocker, again those Essential Logic vocals and sax are present, drawing you in. Good news is Lora’s voice has held up, her sax playing is still transcendent. My favourite track.

Title track, ‘Land of Kali’ starts with Lora’s sax and is cleverly juxtapositioned with the previous mellower track ‘Fallible Soldiers’ as this accentuates the driving rhythm and sax of ‘Land of Kali’. Again Lora’s voice sounds great.

‘Beyond’ starts with a bit of a disco thing going on and is basically a worship song (I think) and again features Lora’s sax playing.

You need to reorientate yourself a little when listening to Land of Kali, if you are hoping for Beat Rhythm News Part 2 this isn’t it because people move on, change, evolve but interestingly the more you listen to it the more there are certainly elements of continuity between Lora’s earlier work and this new album. Approach it on its own terms and you can appreciate it as a fine body of work from an artist who can still deliver.

Intrigued and enthralled by Lora’s early Essential Logic and solo work and with the news of a new release I contacted her and the ensuing interview is fascinating.  

       

Q. Essential Logic were a post punk Henry Cow, a prequel to Bjork; beautiful, innovative, avant garde art with vocals and structures that force you to reimagine what music can be. Artists who make music a bigger thing. Was that how it felt at the time, were you aware of how imaginative Essential Logic were?

 

L. My first experience of being in a band was with X Ray Spex and my first gig was at the Roxy Club in early 1977. So being surrounded by individuals who expressed themselves unrestrictively in such a variety of ways, not caring for genre or boundaries, set the creative norm for me. Going on to form Essential Logic I expressed myself as I heard the ideas in my head without thinking too much about it. It was quite spontaneous. I didn't feel the need to channel the early songs into a conventional verse/chorus/middle eight type structure, they just flowed from lyrics, sax and vocal melodies. 

 

In the early 1980s you joined the Hare Krishna movement, could you explain the context and reasons around that decision? You stayed at the Hare Krishna centre for a few years, didn’t you? How did faith help you at the time. Did it give you a new environment, codes of conduct, focus, community at a time when you needed those things? A structure for living so you could heal? How about now? Had you had a spiritual awareness as you travelled through punk and post punk? Was that disregard for the status quo an expression of searching for something deeper, a discontent with the superficial? Or did your encounter with faith surprise you? 


In the early eighties I started a totally new chapter! It was a culmination of a few things which led to a personal meltdown. I was feeling jaded by the years of so-called rock and roll lifestyle. Living in a Stoke Newington squat without a kitchen or bathroom for an extended period of time didn't help. We used to go to an old Victorian public bath house to wash. You could spend as long as you wanted in a massive bathtub for 50 pence, which we thought was costly. My physical health wasn't great and there was no-one around me who did not use drugs.

 

There was some kind of seeker in me since childhood which was buried. At the age of twelve I remember saying a prayer every night before I went to sleep; 'Oh God, if you really do exist then please always guide me to do the right thing'. I don't know why I did that, because I did not grow up in a God conscious family. 

 

In 1980 an old school friend and hardcore punk-ess moved into the Soho Krishna temple and I bumped into her gleefully singing and dancing with the Hare Krishnas on the Portobello Road . She was dressed in a sari and had yellow tilak (river ganges clay) on her forehead. I was surprised and worried about her, and so decided to visit the temple to rescue her, but found myself happily overwhelmed by the experience. The strong peace and zest for life which radiated from the Krishnadevotees and the delicious free vegetarian feast. I'd never experienced such an exquisite variety of tastes. I soon started to visit at lunch times which included an introductory talk on the Bhagavad Gita, which bowled me over as this ancient knowledge seemed to have perfect answers to the questions which I had buried. These teachings have been my compass since 1981 when i was first handed 'The Science of Self-realisation' by Srila Prabhupada. Not only my best school friend, but Poly Styrene's closest friend, Mary, had also moved into the temple and she was soon to invite me to Bhaktivedanta Manor, ( a rural country estate and temple) which George Harrison had gifted to Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the Hare Krishna Movement in the Western World. 

 

While recording Pedigree Charm I also had a life changing, out of body experience. Having smoked something way too strong in a Brixton den, it triggered an intense epileptic fit, which left me shaking uncontrollably. I remember being placed on a stark wooden bed and rising dramatically above my trembling body, looking down on it in terror. I thought everything was over. Time stood still, and instinctively I started talking in earnest to Krishna, because, from reading the Bhagavad Gita I knew that He had to be the Supreme Person, who controls everything, including my fate.

 

The song 'Serious' on the new 'Land of Kali' album is about this near death experience. 

 

'I'll be more serious if you let me stay,

I'll be more serious no more floating away.'

 

A few months later I left my squat home and moved into the Soho Street temple. I've never regretted that decision, spending time also at Bhaktivedant Manor and Chaitanya College in Worcestershire for about three and a half years. 

 

Meditative mornings started early at 4.30 am which took a little readjustment! But I soon learnt to love the special quality and inspiration found in the early morning hours, and this is still my favourite time of day. At school I'd never been so interested in reading books, and took any opposite direction to escape enforced academics, being more artistically inclined by nature. However, while living in the temple, I developed a taste for reading and group discussion of the timeless knowledge of the Vedas (the literal meaning of this sanskrit word is knowledge), of which the Bhagavad Gita is the essence and most well known,  since it was sung by Krishna Himself  and goes to the root of the meaning of existence. Alongside this, we would chant the Hare Krishna mantra on a string of 108 wooden japa beads. In Sanskrit 'Man' means mind, and 'tra' means to free. The purpose of this mantra is to reconnect with the Supreme, and a side effect is to free the mind from anxiety. 

 

When Poly and I lived in the temple together she wrote a song called 'musical medicine' about the healing, transformative power of the Hare Krishna mantra. It was a nourishing time to be linked to the powerhouse of ancient spiritual practices, with a culture based on equality and respect, which was refreshing after the shallow posturing of fame, and the obsession with superficial identity.

 

The new album is steeped in Hinduism which for those of us from a non Hindu background makes it a little difficult to navigate at times, could you explain what Kali represents on the album and what ‘Land of Kali’ means. Is it a Dystopian idea?

 

'Kali' is the name of the age we are currently living in, described in the Vedas (which are also the oldest wisdom texts known to man). It is explained that the universe goes through four cycles, like the seasons, over billions of years. The age of Kali is the final, and most problematic era, characterised by quarrel and hypocrisy, which I think everyone can relate to. You only have to listen to the news headlines for five minutes! The symptoms and effects of this Kali age, described in vivid detail, are becoming increasingly pervasive. It is also explained that the root cause of our problems is disconnection from the Divine source, lacking awareness of our eternal identity as part and parcel of the Supreme whole. According to the Vedas, the darkness of Kali can be counteracted by the simple and sublime process of mantra (chanting or singing the names of the Supreme Person, as they are invested with inconceivable power). Mantra appears on three tracks on the new album.

 

Forty years since your last album and twenty five years since your last recordings (released on Fanfare in the Garden), do you feel the new album has a sense of continuity with your earlier work or is it better approached as the work of a very different person? Do the lyrical preoccupations of original Essential Logic recordings re-emerge on the new album even if expressed in a different way for a different time? 

 

I guess I have always been a questioning punk, wanting to break out of the box of conformity and blind acceptance. I would say that this questioning of the prevailing mythos which surfaces in early songs like 'Wake Up', 'Martian Man' and 'Brute Fury' carries over into new album songs like 'Land of Kali', 'Fallible Soldiers' and 'Sky Rocket'. More esoteric tracks like 'Love eternal', 'Stay High' and 'Soul' resonate with 'Beyond' and 'Charming Every Cupid' from the new album. Over the decades I think you can find threads of continuity, even though the most recent music, co-produced with Youth, may initially sound strikingly different. When I listen to the boxset, as the singer, I hear the stepping stones and emotional journey of the person I have now become.

 

Could you expand on lead single ‘Alien Boys’, it came out of a sense of lockdown being used by some politicians to advance their own agendas, didn’t it?

 

'Alien Boys' is a scenario exploring the idea of being asked to surrender the technology, gadgets and life style we've become accustomed to- 'the end of my world is coming now'. Portrayed comically in the video, directed by Kavi Karnapurna Das, the alien boys are a bit hypocritical as they themselves make full use of technology for running their spacecraft, and are not exactly peace loving. The same elite class of individuals telling us we should give all this up, are themselves flying around the world, attending conventions, in gas guzzling private jets. Similarly during lockdown, in the UK, we found out that the same politicians and their advisers who had created stringent lockdown rules, were themselves not following them.

 

There is great footage of you playing sax with The Raincoats in 2019, can we look forward to more Lora Logic appearances?

 

Yes, I am currently forming a new band incarnation of Essential Logic and hoping this will lead to future appearances …


Much thanks to Lora for time taken.



Logically Yours a limited edition, 5 x LP boxset of 50 essential recordings from Essential Logic/Lora Logic is released on 25th November via Hiss and Shake Records and is available here https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/products/essential-logic-logically-yours


Land of Kali is also out 25th November and is available here https://cargorecordsdirect.co.uk/products/essential-logic-land-of-kali

 




Bibliography.

(1) Butt, Gavin. 2016b. Being in a Band: Art-school Experiment and the Post-Punk Commons - a Lecture by Gavin Butt (16/10/14) in Gavin Butt, Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher, eds, Post-Punk: Then and Now, (London: Repeater Books), pp. 57-83.

(2) 9PR press release for Logically Yours/Land of Kali


Referenced.

Gross, Jason (2003) ‘Essential Logic, Interview by Jason Gross, (July 2003)’, https://www.furious.com/perfect/essentiallogic.html


https://www.essential-logic.co.uk/bio


https://www.essential-logic.co.uk/music


9PR press release for Logically Yours/Land of Kali


Greil Marcus’ liner notes to Fanfare in the Garden.


Crystal Gazing (1982) https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0083773/


Marcus, Griel (2003) ‘Are You Ready To Fly?’, https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/may/09/artsfeatures