Next week, the London-based activist industrial group Test Dept, forgers of the “Stakhanovite sound,” will release their first new album in over 20 years: a merciless piece of work called Disturbance.
Though Test Dept’s first records included collaborations with Cabaret Voltaire, FM Einheit and Genesis P-Orridge, in that milieu, their left politics stuck out like red flannel underwear. Their second album, Shoulder to Shoulder, was a split release with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir on which the two groups combined to perform a track called “Comrades.” I have a hard time picturing this moving gesture of solidarity coming from, say, Blixa Bargeld or Adi Newton.
We’ve got the premiere of the brand new Test Dept video “Landlord” below, and founding members Paul Jamrozy and Graham Cunnington were kind enough to answer a few questions by email.
Courtesy One Little Indian
There’s a very funny contribution from Laibach in [the excellent Test Dept book] Total State Machine enumerating the industrial groups active in 1984 and dismissing all but one: “only Test Dept were somehow made of (industrial) flesh and blood, only they were actively involved within concrete political and social space.” What is Test Dept’s political orientation? Is it true that Test Dept was the only industrial group of the left?
Paul Jamrozy: I am not entirely sure of that but certainly many groups that were linked to industrial music flirted with right wing iconography or were overtly apolitical, some with a snooty attitude as if politics were something beneath them. There came a point where that kind of trendy indifference became untenable, or you could say part of the unacceptable face of freedom.
Graham Cunnington: Orientation? Left. Socialist with somewhat anarchist tendencies.
Are there any plans to reissue the Test Dept catalog? Are there any plans to tour?
Graham: We are looking to release the back catalogue with One Little Indian in the near future. We have the album launch live show in London on 26th April with Manchester on 18th and Portsmouth on 25th. There are plans to tour UK and mainland Europe later in the year.
From my perspective, Test Dept’s return helps me make out the continuity of historical developments in the UK and US over the last four decades. For instance, Brexit and Grenfell appear on the news as illustrations of our strange, uncertain times, in which shocking events come out of nowhere and nothing is connected to anything else; but if I put on The Unacceptable Face of Freedom or Disturbance, a very clear story about the neoliberal period emerges. How does it look from your point of view?
Graham: The material on Disturbance has as its DNA our earlier work. The Unacceptable Face of Freedom was about the days of the Thatcher-Reagan axis driving forward the inception of the neoliberal period and the effects that had on society at the time; and Disturbance is about the effect that the development of that is having now. We are in the end-game of that whole arc and the system, quite obviously unsustainable, is collapsing, shored up by those with vested interests in its ongoing implementation who continue to tighten their grip; leading to austerity, the fragmentation of the welfare state, a return to Victorian levels of inequality and the rise of darker forces, as profit is extracted in ever more inventive ways and surveillance capitalism attempts to hook every aspect of our lives into the raw material for further gain and control.
Courtesy One Little Indian
I wish I could have attended the Assembly of Disturbance festival marking the centenary of the October Revolution. Please tell me about it. Was it the debut of the new material on Disturbance?
Graham: Assembly of Disturbance incorporated a platform for discussion and artistic expression, with live music, film, sound-art, installation, performance, DJs and talks on various forms of artistic, political and philosophical thinking. In its early days, the October Revolution gave rise to a huge explosion of creativity and radical new forms of art that expressed the visionary possibility of a new age and a different path for society, even though the society that spawned it was soon crushed by the dictates of Stalin’s despotic regime. That kind of visionary thinking, not for a communist state but for a radical systematic change with a global perspective, is something that the world is crying out for now – a disturbance in the present order. That’s what we were marking with the event.
The new material on Disturbance had been developing in a live format over a few years, from electronic remix work to a full live presentation, but it was certainly a coming together of many of the ideas we had been working on.
Collaboration with dancers, visual artists, and performance artists has long been part of your practice. How did you hook up with Kris Canavan for the “Landlord” video?
Graham: We met Kris while working with Rebecca Shatwell and the AV Festival in Newcastle (the DS30 installation/film and An Unprecedented Campaign live film soundtrack). We were looking towards doing a large-scale show for the AV Festival in 2018 and Kris was a possible collaborator on that. Unfortunately, in that year, the AV’s funding was cut and their final iteration had to be scaled back.
The video is a recording of Canavan performing his piece “Yes, it’s Fucking Political”, against a wall to wall video installation by our visual director David Altweger, which displays a stream of chopped up and manipulated broadcasts including the events around Grenfell – a tapestry of media fragments and surveillance footage that encompasses Kanavan’s body from all sides.
“Yes, it’s Fucking Political” was conceived in 2010 & originally designed to be a rallying cry or call for direct action against the betrayal of the electorate by the Liberal Democrats and a forthcoming Conservative agenda of austerity, which would predictably see the poorest suffer and shoulder the burden of responsibility.
One Little Indian will release Test Dept’s new album, Disturbance, on March 1. Below, Kris Canavan performs in the video for the new song “Landlord.”