Scraping Foetus off the Wheel
Broadcast on Dutch TV’s Videoline program in 1988, the forward-looking documentary The Sound of Progress combines interview and performance footage of some of the period’s most thoughtful and articulate musical extremists. If you have any interest in what Coil, Current 93, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel or Test Dept thought about, sounded like, or ate for lunch three decades ago, these 40 minutes will whiz by. And if you don’t have any interest in these four artists, might I recommend, as your personal medical adviser, that you remove the shit from your ears?
Let the anger, despair and hatred of these musicians, who all recognize the total emptiness of their cultural moment, stand as a corrective to ‘80s nostalgia. Their diagnosis still applies because the whiny, sedative, garbage-ass clown music saturating everyday life was just as bad then, though it might be twice as pervasive now. Here’s David Tibet’s take on the hot sounds of 1988, which he concludes by prescribing “a good kicking” for the anesthetized pop audience:
People listen to pop music for an easy way out, just for enjoyment of the most shallow and tedious type, really. The problem with Western music—contemporary Western music—is that it offers nothing except shallow pleasure, petty enjoyment, and the promise of dancing the night away and drinking, fucking, picking people up, all completely pointless things to do. Western music used to have something important in it if we look back at the classical composers, but even the classical music of the West now can’t offer anything to people, because it exists in its own sphere. It’s a finished sort of music.
“Maldoror Is Dead”: Current 93
As you might expect, Tibet speaks for C93 and JG Thirlwell for Foetus, while everyone in Test Dept—the most explicitly left-wing of the industrial groups—gets an equal say. John Balance and Stephen Thrower do most of the talking for Coil, though you’ll catch glimpses of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson sticking his fingers in Balance’s mouth over a champagne lunch and playing a Fairlight in the studio. Everyone looks really young.
Sleazy pops the cork
Aside from their shared disgust with the popular music of the time, the four groups don’t necessarily agree on much. Coil’s insistence on the primacy of mystical experience is met by Test Dept’s stark social realism; Tibet’s conviction that Western civilization is stone dead is balanced by Thirlwell’s professed love for cultural trash. Nor do the occultists in the bunch agree on what is to be done: as the members of Coil turn inward, Tibet prepares to abandon the moldering corpse of Western civilization and seek truth in India. (It’s worth sticking around until the end of the doc to learn what he found there.)
Some of Test Dept’s instruments
For years, the only version of this documentary on YouTube was of fucking ghastly quality. I salute user vortexeyes for uploading this sharp copy in December 2014.