In 1984, I was fortunate to be present for something called the “Program For Progress,” a large-scale site-specific performance by the influential early industrial group Test Dept at the Cannon Street Railway Station in London. Test Dept were a group that were signed to Some Bizarre at the time and had a real buzz about them and the extravagant post-punk political pageantry of their live events. The band’s mainstay members were Angus Farquhar, Graham Cunnington, Paul Jamrozy, Paul Hines and Toby Burdon. (According to Wikipedia, comedian Vic Reeves also played bass in an early version of the group.)
Walking into this epic event was quite something. I recall there being performers jumping on trampolines and “Socialist Realism” imagery projected via slides and film projectors onto huge sail-like swaths of white cloth hung from the high ceilings of the railway station. If memory serves, there were also a few bekilted bagpipers walking around and tables set up for various organizations, including efforts to aid the striking miners. Although the event had the ostensible veneer of an “outlaw” event, there was obviously no way that a huge “happening” like this one could have taken place without the express consent of British Rail. The centerpiece attraction for all assembled was the pounding, uncompromising, militaristic sound of Test Dept.
I know this will probably make some people groan, but I experienced Test Dept’s audio-visual assault as something akin to Einstürzende Neubauten meets Laibach (if they were easier to pin down politically) meets “Stomp.” Perhaps that makes what they did that night sound uncool, but that’s not my intention. It was an amazing theatrical spectacle to witness, full of savage, precise teamwork. It was a massive metal—and mental—pounding assault, but frankly the sort of thing I’d rather experience live in a concert setting than listen to at home.
The striking political content of the group’s ethos was summed up in one of their songs, “Voice of Reason,” in a text written by radical English playwright Jonathan Moore:
” ... A government that closes hospitals and opens nuclear air bases, that conspicuously favours its wealthy, its corrupt, its immoral citizens, while denying basic human rights to the majority. Extreme conditions demand extreme responses.”
Those extreme conditions were just beginning in 1984. The influential Test Dept broke up in 1993, but reformed again last year for a show in Belgium.
“Fuckhead” from The Unacceptable Face of Freedom album is a real stunner from their catalog.
“Kick to Kill” from 1984’s Beating the Retreat
“Shockwork” from 1983.
Below, a clip from the very Cannon Street Station performance described above, as seen on the South of Watford television program: