I recall hearing an interview with Gruff Rhys of the Super Furry Animals once who commented that one of the most difficult gigs he’d ever been a part of with the group was when they had had to follow the band Suicide on stage to play live (I had no idea who they were at that point) – but it always left an impression on me that Gruff described the difficulty as being that during their show, Suicide had set themselves on fire.
As such, I’m still not sure how it took so long to discover some of the utterly beguiling and wonderful work of Martin Rev, who along with Alan Vega, was one half of the elctro-psyche out crew; Suicide.
Probably like a lot of people, when I first heard 1977’s Ghostrider (or probably any track from the first album and many others) there was that sense of hearing something break through. At this point behind the thudding triplet riff, its the funnel of the Marvel character’s avatar, a spirit power driving a motorbike, invoked while Vega decries the American state’s destruction of the vision and energy of youth (where does that vision and energy go? Largely but not exclusievly into the conservative formation of the next bedrock of conservative assimilation).
‘America, America is killing its youth.’
In 1977, when this song was made, Suicide were still able to draw upon the attitude of the Rock ethos’ defense and championing of the freedom, way and vision of ‘Youth’ as something with connections running outside the capacity of state-social power and its inherent conservativism to either see or understand. Suicide were among the first to begin using the term punk for their music/methodology, where a remaining rebellious spirit of rock could be simplified into an attitude and sound as a more militant form of rebellion against society and power and the image of that rebellion.
Here in an alliance with the imagery of the Marvel character. A flaming warrior spirit on a motorcycle, at that time, a product of children’s culture and nerdism derided in vectors of the serious worlds of the adult. Tied in with the electronic music, anathema to the time and the venues in which they played, a real edge is revealed, charged multiply – not only were Suicide a reaction against the state as deep social conservative power, but also in a mode which antagonised (even) the rebel imbued self image of the rock band scene at the time (where they would play at CBGB’s and other NY venues with the likes of New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith).
And yet even with all of that savage energy of the bite, empowered with the youthful energy-wind of rebellious spirit, one could almost not notice how good the Rev side of the equation is. Vega snarls, growls, proclaims, but the motor (clearly also in syncopation with some of the motorik coming out of Germany) is with Rev.
Hearing the song Mari the other day really brought home what a stunning ear for melody and sound is in play, a joy in the simplicity of interlocking refrains (not too dissimilar in terms of methodology to the minimalists of modern classical). But its also possible now to hear Mari and immediately note how the melodic sensibility (the abstract machine) has been taken up again in bands like the Strokes (always more comfortable drawing on the rebellious image of the past in their message to youth).
Hearing Mari in fact, brought to mind a feeling of a kind of pure melodic quality in the form of the electronic. It feels like a pop sensibility, the effective interaction of melodies to transport one in a more or less instantaneous manner (i.e. not requiring exploration to be impacted) and through the manner of melodic hooks. In terms of the lightness of melodic motion involved, I was reminded of this beautiful track by German electronic pioneers Cluster from their 1974 album Zuckerzeit.
Or this lovely standout from 1975 Terry Riley (himself considered one of the minimalist pioneers). which takes his truncated micro-cell refrain method right into a lamentation for summer in the rock/pop mode of the ballad.
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