It was quite a journey for a gig, but then you don’t get the chance to see heroic legends of post punk, Test Dept, above a pub very often. North Suffolk to St Leonards (Hastings) takes about four-and-a-half hours by train – that’s quite a lot of Ian Rankin’s new book.
Forty years of neoliberalism and especially the last twelve years of top-down overt class war is starting to show in the material infrastructure and faces of England. Visually, England now resembles its economy. Inequality, poverty, large gaps in wealth; haves, have-nots and the nervous, looking over their shoulders hoping they’re not next. Enclaves of wealth surrounded by deprivation and desperation(1).
Coincidentally, the Lucy Bell Gallery has an exhibition I Wanna Be Me: Celebrating Music’s Greatest Punks, Rebels and Renegades opening the same night as the gig (2). Photos from the late 70s/early 80s: The Pistols, The Clash, The Ruts, Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, RAR. Nice people, nice atmosphere. Moral panic for sale? ‘Cash from chaos’ or archival artefacts of an important art movement? Both? I don’t know.
Just along the road was The Piper.
Support came from Slug Sonics, electronica and projections. I hadn’t heard anything by him before but it was visually and aurally mesmerising. With titles like ‘Complete Control’ and ‘Greed is Good’ his set was a perfect match for Test Dept and a welcome critique of contemporary UK (and wider) society,
How do you describe a Test Dept gig?
The sound of ten thousand protests.
The sound of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping towards us.
The sound of the watchman.
The sound of hope and horror,
of love and anger.
and Call to Arms.
Made up mainly of a mix of tracks from Disturbance and material for a new album (I think) the band was on for about an hour and a half with long term members Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy on percussion, brass, vocals and electronics, a guy doing all sorts of important things on an electronic box of tricks, and a drummer so powerful that at times he reminded me of Gnod’s twin drummers at gigs a few years ago!
This was one of the most intense, important, relevant multimedia performance art installations you will ever see. The musicians as both aural creators and canvas for a stream of projections. Visual art, sonic sculptures, nuanced intelligent interrogations of neoliberal capitalism and its baleful effects. An alarm call for a soporific society. A destruction of the Ideological State Apparatus (3).
The most important art/music/political event this year.
If you can see them, see them.
- Althusser, Louis. n.d. On Ideology (London and New York NY: Verso Press).