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Mark Stewart talks with Dangerous Minds about ‘Learning to Cope with Cowardice’


Illustration from the cover of the ‘Jerusalem’ 12-inch and the ‘Mark Stewart + Maffia’ compilation

Head above the heavens, feet below the hells, the singer Mark Stewart has embodied the international rebel spirit since he fronted the Pop Group as a teenager, giving voice to activist and imaginal concerns shared by punks, Rastas and b-boys. Mark Stewart and the Maffia’s moving, mind-mangling, amazing debut album, 1983’s Learning to Cope with Cowardice, whose sounds still beckon from an unrealized future, will be reissued on CD, vinyl and digital formats tomorrow, supplemented by an extra disc of recently discovered outtakes that differ radically from anything on the finished album. Sales of the double LP edition benefit Mercy Ships, an organization that provides lifesaving surgeries to people in poor and war-torn countries around the world.

I spoke with Mark Stewart last week by transatlantic telephone line. After he expressed his respect for Dangerous Minds, affably breaking my balls about the post in which I outed him as the owner of the face in Discharge’s logo, we talked underground media and mutual aid briefly before settling in for a discussion of his solo debut and the current historical moment. A lightly edited transcript follows.

Mark Stewart: I’m so pleased to be working with Mute again, and Daniel Miller has kind of rejuvenated Mute, and the independents—it’s a pleasure, you know, to work with cool people where something flows, you know? It’s really important for us that there’s those kind of columns in the underground.

Dangerous Minds: Holding it up.

Holding it up.

I wouldn’t have asked you about this, but I interviewed Adrian Sherwood the day after the Brexit vote, so it strikes me as funny that I’m talking to you now, right after the deal failed. Do you have anything to say about the situation?

I think it’s a total distraction. [laughs] I think it’s a complete smokescreen, and I’m very scared what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s like, I was watching something about Goebbels’ control of the media on some history channel, right, and how he learned from Madison Avenue. I’m not taking a position right or left on it, but I think it’s the most bizarre distraction in the last few years, and God knows what’s going on. But, you know, behind the scenes, our health [services]—there’s all sorts of things, all these laws are being passed behind the scenes, but that is the only thing journalists are looking at. Not the only thing, but do you understand what I’m saying? That isn’t a comment against whoever and whatever.

The problem is, in England, and I’m not being rude, is it is so class-ridden, it’s a problem for both sides of the spectrum. I was living in Berlin for a while, and I was talking to a very cool Japanese guy yesterday, who’s translating this friend of mine, Mark Fisher’s, this theorist’s book on capitalist realism. And in Germany, and I think until fairly recently in Japan, skilled laborers were treated with ultimate respect. The unions worked with the entrepreneurs, or the bosses, or whatever, and there was a kind of “synergy,” to use a wanky name, and so the economy was quite strong, and there was a social service system. . . you know, Germany’s quite an interesting model. But here—the craziest thing is, people are speculating, people are making big money out of these sudden changes, they’re spread-betting against these sudden changes of polarity, you know? I was reading, ‘cause I always read all sides of the spectrum, I was reading in a financial thing, suddenly sterling has got very, very strong. You know? And these politicians are being played. Do you know what I mean? They’re being played.

I can sit and talk to a Tory boy, I can sit and talk to whoever. And I’ll listen to people and try and talk to them in their language, and try and understand their point of view, right? ‘Cause being opposed to people, you don’t really get anywhere. But they think they’re doing something for whatever bizarre, medieval idea of nationalism or identity politics or whatever you call it, and there are some—there used to be this thing in England which was called “caring conservatism,” which was quite feudal, it was like how the king of the manor would give the employees some bread. [laughs] Scraps from the table or whatever. But here, the problem is, the working class are envious of the rich, and the rich want to squeeze the working class until it explodes to get every drop of blood out of them. It’s quite a strange system. And the middle ground that you’ve got in Germany, with the, whatever they’re called, Christian Democrats or something; back in the day, when people like Chomsky and everybody used to attack these middle-left kind of parties—you know, I read a lot of theory, but now, that is heaven compared to what’s happening these days! “The center cannot hold.” Everything is just. . . it’s bizarre, you know?
 

Adrian Sherwood and Mark Stewart, London, 1985 (photo by Beezer, courtesy of Mute)
 
But the problem is, again, my personal Facebook is full of loads of cool people who I really respect, so I get utterly impressed when, like, these Italian theorists start talking to me about how this album or our early work inspired people to get into different ideas about the planet. But I’m sick to death of people moaning about these non-events, which could be like—it’s like an orchestrated ballet of distraction. You know, it’s bollocks! “Never mind the bollocks” is never mind the fuckin’—it’s bollocks! And people are constantly talking about it.

And what I would be doing—so many of my American friends are just constantly posting this stuff about Trump, right? And I’m like—sorry, I’ll probably lose a lot of respect for saying this, I’m sorry, but as soon as the polls were looking like that, the guy’s been democratically elected, we’d roll up our sleeves and try and organize for 10 years down the line, if not five years down the line, and try and grow some sense of hope! Spread seeds of hope, culturally, in these small towns. That’s what things like punk are about. You know, with punk, a youth center opened, or a squat opened, and little places changed a bit, you know? Now people are just tutting. Saying “Oh, he’s bad”—so what? You’re bad for not fuckin’ doing anything! Sorry to rant, but there’s this culture, this narcissistic culture of wallowing in defeat. Which is basically another way of saying “I’m not going to do anything, but I’m gonna pretend to have a conscience by tutting.”

Yeah, people are glued to their TV sets and the news constantly, and it makes them feel powerless, and they don’t do anything. I don’t know if it’s a similar thing with Brexit.

I don’t know. I think people make a choice not to care from an early age. I’m not being rude. You can blame this, you can blame something outside of yourself, but as I grow a little bit older and I get more pulled into weird, sort of Taoist sort of things, it’s to do with putting a foot forward and breaking outside of the mold, and if you get hit, you get hit. Or if somebody says you’re a nutter, like they said about us back in the day, you know, or they say you’re wrong, or whatever, at least you stepped forward, outside of the embryonic—do you understand what I’m saying? You have to do provocations. In my sense, it’s kind of art provocations. What I do is, even if I’m not sure about something, I think It’s enough of a curveball to go in that direction, or to spin against my own stupid sense of conditioning: sparks will fly. Let’s go! Let’s do it. Do you know what I mean?

It’s this sitting back—and now you’re getting people kind of reminiscing about the Cold War! Which again was a distraction. It’s just nonsense, you know? People want to live in this nostalgic bubble. And now they’re saying that the fuckin’—a journalist in an English paper was saying that the Cowardice times were more paranoid than now? What the fuck? [laughter] With Cambridge Analytica, we got fuckin’ algorithms—if there was a Night of the Long Knives overnight and somebody got control of the algorithms, thousands of people could just be rounded up for reading Dangerous Minds. Do you understand what I’m saying? And it’s all sold to the highest bidder; there isn’t even any politics involved. It’s naked capitalistic control. But, you know, now I’m moaning like I shouldn’t have done. Daniel Miller had this idea of enabling technologies, and in America, there was always like Mondo 2000 and Electronic Frontier Foundation. So I’m positive as well as being. . . it’s very interesting times. And when there’s change, there’s possibility.

One of the main reasons I wanted to interview you about this record is that “Jerusalem” is one of my favorite recordings.

This one, or another one? My one, or somebody else’s?

No, your “Jerusalem” is one of my favorite records. Part of it is, there’s the Blake poem, which has all this revolutionary, visionary significance, but then there’s so much layered on top of it—all this patriotic meaning, and it’s in the hymnal, and I don’t know if you know that story about Throbbing Gristle playing at the boys’ school and the boys singing them offstage with “And did those feet in ancient time”—

No.

—so I wonder if you could tell me about what that song means to you, and whether you were trying to recover some of the William Blake in that song.

Well, it’s a long, long, long story, and a lot of it’s got to do with an ancient tradition of kind of English, kind of Celtic mysticism, which is—I’m gonna sound like David Tibet now or something—but I’m a Stewart, right? And our family history is linked to this other family called the Sinclairs. My father died a couple of weeks ago, and he was a real, to use the word nicely, occultist. He was a Templar, and he taught remote viewing. But for me, I feel, growing up near Glastonbury—this might sound very, very hippie, this, but it’s the kind of mysticism of Blake that I really liked, right? There was a review in the Wire, when the record first came out, back in the day, and they said me and Adrian, it was a perfect alchemical marriage, or something. If you can be kinda hopefully mystical at the same time as being hopefully an activist, there’s an uplifting sense of that tune in specific.
 

Mark Stewart and the Maffia’s first performance, CND rally in Trafalgar Square, 1980 (courtesy of Freaks R Us)
 
What happened was that the last ever Pop Group concert and the first ever Maffia concert were on the same day. Basically, I’d got sick to death of music, I’d kinda packed it all in, I thought we weren’t ever gonna get anywhere with it, and I was just bored of it, right? And I became a volunteer in the office of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in London, in Poland Street, right? And one day in the office, Monsignor Bruce Kent, who was in charge of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at the time, we were organizing what turned out to be the biggest postwar demonstration against nuclear weapons, and the center of London was brought to a standstill by 500,000 people. People came from far and wide, from Scotland, from everywhere. And he turned round and said, “It might be good to have some music,” ‘cause, you know, Tony Benn and all these amazing people were speaking, and I said, “Oh, I’ve got a band!” And I said, “I can ask some of my mates.” So I asked the Specials and Killing Joke; Specials couldn’t do it, but Killing Joke did it, and we ended up playing between the lions in Trafalgar Square. My brother and loads of my weird artist mates did this huge kind of amazing mural of this baby coming out of this atom bomb.

Basically, I was thinking to myself, What would be a classic rallying song, that people young and old—you know, ‘cause very few people would have known about the Pop Group in this demonstration—young and old, like Woody Guthrie, or Pete Seeger, or something like “We Shall Overcome,” what would be good for England? And immediately I thought of “Jerusalem.” And the Pop Group was going all sort of free-jazzy and out there and stuff, where I couldn’t get it together with the Pop Group. I was already hanging out with Adrian and starting to make some sort of reggaeish stuff, so the first version of the Maffia got up and played “Jerusalem” and a few other songs a few hours later in the day, ‘cause people sing it on marches and stuff in England.

So that was the reason for the “Jerusalem” thing. And that moment, that moment in the middle of London, you know, it was the proudest day of my life, to actually be involved in—I’m just trying to organize something just now, just before you phoned, to try and kick off a big sort of demo this year, because that’s what gets me going! It’s like when we used to do Rock Against Racism; we did stuff for Scrap SUS, when they used to just stop black kids on sight and search them, the police; Anti-Fascist League, you know, and now we’re doing this stuff for these Mercy Ships people, who build these boats—they do up these old kind of trawlers and park them out in international waters, outside war zones, and make them into little floating hospitals and operate on kids and stuff. That’s what the money from the limited vinyl’s going towards. But it’s just like—when it’s a benefit, you can get other cool bands. There’s a band here called Fat White Family and all these offshoots of them, Black MIDI or something, there’s these conscious young bands who are mates of mates, and I know in a couple of phone calls I can get an amazing bill together, and the people around me aren’t gonna ask for so much money, they’re more likely to answer the call, you know? And people remember those events for years to come.

Well, I remember you said something in an interview years ago, “The political and the mystical go hand in hand.”

[laughs] I always say the same bollocks! You’ve caught me out!

Much, much more after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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01.24.2019
10:36 am
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Punk mystery solved: the face in the Discharge logo is Mark Stewart of the Pop Group
06.07.2018
06:51 am
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One item you might have missed in the neverending news tsunami of the past couple years: the quadrisected, photocopied face in the Discharge logo belongs to the great singer Mark Stewart.

That’s him staring back at you (or so it seems; I always assumed Discharge guy’s eyes were open but hidden by shadows, not closed as Stewart’s are) on the reverse of Discharge’s first seven-inches, “Realities of War,” “Fight Back” and “Decontrol,” not to mention all those T-shirts, back patches and leather jackets. The image comes from the print ad for the Pop Group’s debut single, “She Is Beyond Good And Evil” b/w “3’38,” released in 1979, when Stewart was still a teenager.


The ad for the Pop Group’s first single in the March 31, 1979 issue of NME (via Beat Chapter)


The back cover of Discharge’s first release, ‘Realities of War’ (‘thanks to no fucker’)

The Pop Group posted one Randulf Stiglitz’s astonished discovery of the Discharge logo’s identity on Facebook last year. I assumed it would pass immediately therefrom into the common fund of human wisdom, so I did not write about it at the time. As it happened, everyone was distracted by alarming signs of the human species’ descent into barbarism, with the result that news algorithms—today’s cigar-chomping J. Jonah Jamesons—buried this fun fact on the last page of the internet. So enjoy it again, for the first time!
 

 
After the jump, video clips of Discharge and the Pop Group…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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06.07.2018
06:51 am
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Members of Crass, the Pop Group, Killing Joke, PiL, and Current 93 are the New Banalists Orchestra


 
Mark Stewart titled the 2012 solo album he made with Kenneth Anger, Richard Hell, Tessa Pollitt, Keith Levene, Gina Birch, Factory Floor, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Youth, et al. The Politics of Envy. A proper dialectician, he prepared the way by singing about the “Envy of Politics” on 2011’s Mammon, a six-track digital album by London’s New Banalists Orchestra.

The orchestra appears to be the musical component of the New Banalists group founded by Stewart and the artist Rupert Goldsworthy. The Bandcamp page says only that the New Banalists “formed an orchestra to proclaim [their] manifesto”—which is refreshingly concise, as manifestos go, and seems to be slightly different in each iteration:

TASTE IS A FORM OF PERSONAL CENSORSHIP.
DENY THE POLITICS OF ENVY
TECHNIQUE IS A REFUGE OF THE INSECURE
SHADOW WAR

 

Rupert Goldsworthy and Mark Stewart’s beautiful logo for the New Banalists
 
On Mammon, Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine of Crass, John Sinclair of the White Panther Party and the MC5’s management, David Tibet of Current 93, and Zodiac Mindwarp (“The trick is to tough it out, sailor”) of the Love Reaction espouse a bohemian, psychedelic anticapitalism over music by Youth of Killing Joke and Michael Rendall, some of which will sound familiar to fans of Hypnopazūzu. Ex-PiL guitarist Keith Levene and the late cannabis kingpin Howard “Mr. Nice” Marks are on there, too.

After the jump, watch the ad for Mammon and then stream the whole thing…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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02.03.2017
08:40 am
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The Pop Group meet the Bomb Squad: Stream new album ‘Honeymoon on Mars’—a Dangerous Minds premiere
10.24.2016
10:53 am
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The Pop Group emerged from relatively out-of-the mix Bristol, England in 1977 with a devastating mix of noisy art-punk with straight funk and dub that underpinned strident and often just flat-out hectoring leftist lyrics. While both the music and singing were often pointedly tuneless, the band’s jagged rhythms and allegiance to dancefloor sounds set in motion a scene in Bristol that reached an apotheosis in Trip-Hop, and continues today with Grime and post-Grime. The band’s singer/polemicist/leader Mark Stewart has a kind of godfather/elder statesman status, and keeps closely engaged with those scenes’ developments, and the second new Pop Group album since their 2010 reconstitution, Honeymoon on Mars, reflects that continued engagement.

It’s DM’s pleasure today to debut the stream of that entire new album; digital and physical will be available for purchase on Friday. It shows a band completely reinvigorated by the new—contemporary underground beats and electronic experiments dominate the songs, and it’s a much more daring LP than its predecessor, their comeback Citizen Zombie. The lead-off single, “Zipperface,” has been out for a minute, and it’s already been remixed by Hanz, and an intense video was made by Bristol videographer Max Kelan Pearce. But to produce an album that pushes into new territory, the band recruited some old hands. Dub producer and Matumbi bassist Dennis Bovell, who produced the band’s first album Y, has returned to collaborate with TPG again, but perhaps the more exciting news is that they also worked with a producer for a very different band, which also combined energetic and noisy music with heavy politicking—the legendary Bomb Squad mainstay Hank Shocklee, who of course is best known for his dizzying and utterly groundbreaking work with Public Enemy. It was my extreme pleasure to talk to both Stewart and Shocklee about the collaboration’s origins and their creative process.

MARK STEWART: This is the story—the Pop Group, straight out of school, were flavor-of-the-month in New York, us and Gang of Four. We were out there all the time, playing in the No Wave scene with DNA, Bush Tetras. I was constantly trying to dig out things I was interested in in New York, and one of our roadies and I, we had these ghettoblaster radios and we were recording things, and suddenly we heard these huge piledriver noises—it was the first scratching I’d ever heard, and it completely blew my mind. It was DJ Red Alert, from Afrika Bambaataa’s Zulu Nation, doing an early hip-hop show. I’d heard rapping before—Bristol had a good import shop—but this was the first live scratching I’d ever heard by a proper DJ. We took those tapes back home—we’d recorded like 14 or 15 shows—and duplicate, duplicate, duplicate on our double-cassette machines, and that kickstarted the scene that was to become Bristol trip-hop.

For me, I was enabled by punk, but I was given a real shiver down my spine by deep roots dub music. That’s why we worked with Dennis Bovell when we were kids, and when we were trying to think of who could pull things together for us now, when we’re trying to pull in all these newer influences like post-grime, trap, Goth-Trad, The Bug—we’re getting all this kind of new rhythmic programming. And who could pull this together? And I remember what Dennis did for us when we were kids, all running off in different directions, and I thought he could help get these new songs together. Then, I thought some of the hard rhythmic stuff, was very hip-hop sort of stuff, and by chance, Dave Allen from Gang of Four was at South By Southwest when we were there and he asked if he could bring Hank Shocklee to one of our shows. I nearly wet my pants.

HANK SHOCKLEE: I saw the Pop Group at South By Southwest. I was introduced to them by Dave Allen, the bass player for Gang of Four. And it turned me on, man! They only played for like five minutes, because the sound wasn’t right, then they got cut off for cursing at the sound guy, then it got to be a fight with the sound people, and I was just like “WOW!” The energy was reminiscent of the early days of hip-hop. [laughs] The attitude was straight punk. Then I saw them another night, and they were really great musicians, it was an eclectic mix of dub, and punk, and funk, they can go into a little bit of jazz. They have that ability, like a traditional classic band from back in the days, when even though bands were into rock ’n’ roll, they’d have other disciplines like classical or jazz, so this way they could go into other variations. I thought that was interesting so I talked to Mark, and said “You know, if you guys ever want to do something, I’m interested.” And lo and behold, he reached out and said he wanted me to do something for the album.

STEWART: When Public Enemy broke in England, it was a sea change. For a place like Bristol, where it’s very multiracial, suddenly loads of people I knew, a couple years younger, had an identity. What Hank was doing with these kind of sheets of noise, when I first heard Public Enemy, I stepped back and nearly kind of gave up, because he was doing similar kind of experiments in a slightly different way that I had only dreamt of. But for this album, nobody was trying to reproduce anything from the past. This is the first time since we’ve re-formed that we’re really what we’ve wanted to be, sort of pulling on things and reacting, and feeding off the now, to try to occupy the future with my brain. Not the whole future, there’s room for other people. [laughs]

Since the beginning of the band, I’m kind of a hunter-gatherer. I just kind of collect bass lines and play with musique concrète, trying to throw loads of stuff into the pot, it’s always cut-and-paste and juxtaposition. Then things would evolve live, and then we’d twist them again. On our album Y, we suddenly started doing loads of editing, we’d have 80 pieces of tape up on the wall for these mad mushroom editing sessions. This kind of evolves again—I’m executive producer, it’s me pulling in all these things and trying to focus on different directions, but I find that you get the best out of people if you don’t tell them what to do too much. In the end, if you look at it like a prehistoric burial site, there’s bronze age things, iron age things, and I throw some dice into the procedure, then they pick up the dice and start doing something, while me and Gareth [Sager, guitarist] have always got our ears open for mistakes. If something interesting is happening, we’re not focusing too much on that. We’re aware of a machine breaking down.

SHOCKLEE: Once they got it all together, they sent me stuff they were working on where they didn’t have an idea where to put it, where it would fit, what it would be. They were ideas in development. I just said send me the stuff that you have, and it was over 40 tracks of ideas that they was trying to put together, but they couldn’t get it all together. I listened to most of the stuff, and I just said “Wow, they have something here,” so I organized it, stripped it back. I brought in my engineer Nick Sansano, who worked with me on all the Public Enemy records, and he partnered up with me in helping produce and shape the tracks and try to create a theme, try to create a story, and try to move it into an area where it becomes a little more cohesive.

I wasn’t able to be there in England to work with the band face to face, but it was very similar to the P.E. process, where I’m going through records and organizing them in terms of samples and arrangements in order to make it fit the agenda that I’m trying to get across. So I looked at the tracks like I had a bunch of samples and a bunch of records, and I just shaped them, and chopped them up, straighten out the bassline, emphasize the beats more, and arrange the tracks to they have, to me, a more consistent flow. I wanted to bridge the gap between what you would hear in electronic music and what you would hear on traditional pop records.

Listen to ‘Honeymoon on Mars’ after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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10.24.2016
10:53 am
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Never before seen live footage of the Pop Group in 1980
04.20.2016
08:57 am
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In the wake of significantly renewed activity from the politically-charged post-punk funk agitators The Pop Group, it seems like recordings of their early years, many once considered “lost,” are finding their way out of the woodwork with increasing frequency. Only a few months ago, DM shared the video for the band’s signature single, “We Are All Prostitutes,” which had been missing for decades, and which turned up in an amazingly timely manner—just before the song was released as an add-on to the reissued LP For How Much Longer do we Tolerate Mass Murder? (We expressed some cynicism about the timing of that coincidence when we posted the video, but we’ve been assured that its discovery at that time was a genuine fortuity.)

Given the increased interest in the reactivated band, the worthy material culled from all those basement tapes has naturally been compiled for releases—in 2014, Cabinet of Curiosities assembled unreleased live tracks, Peel sessions and alternate takes. This year, The Boys Whose Head Exploded will feature live tracks, mostly from 1980, recorded in Cologne, Milan, Sheffield, and Helsinki, with a video adjunct—footage shot by no less a notable punk archivist than filmmaker Don Letts of The Punk Rock Movie and Big Audio Dynamite fame. Letts shot segments of the band in performance at the Beat the Blues Festival, held on June 15, 1980 at London’s Alexandra Palace. A sound recording of that performance was released as part of the Japan-only live 2xCD comp Idealists In Distress From Bristol, but the video has never been seen before.
 
Keep reading after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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04.20.2016
08:57 am
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‘We Are All Prostitutes’: Lost Pop Group vid discovered days before the song’s reissue. Coincidence?
02.11.2016
11:21 am
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When it was released in 1980, Bristol funk terrorists the Pop Group’s second studio album For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? was pretty widely panned. Though the band’s disorientingly noisy No-Wave/punk/funk musical attack had become significantly tighter than on their debut LP Y, singer Mark Stewart cut the brake cables on his lyrical politicking, adopting an uncompromisingly agit-prop “no one is innocent” ethos that was really, REALLY easy to hear as self-righteous finger-pointing. And I get it—one could get ballpark-similar musical kicks from the Contortions or the Birthday Party without feeling like one was being scolded for merely having been born in the First World.

That album has been extremely difficult to obtain legitimately since its first issue in 1980, (further editions do exist, but they’re few, and were released only in Japan) but despite its scarcity, it’s gone on to become the band’s definitive work, along with its contemporary single, “We Are All Prostitutes.” That single had everything that was essential to a Pop Group song—Stewart’s accusations chanted in a terrifying warble, rubber-band bass that sounded like a blind-drunk Larry Graham, guitars so sharp they could cut your throat, and drumming that threatened to shove the rest of the band down a flight of stairs.
 

 
On February 19th, both Mass Murder and the “Prostitutes” single will finally be re-released, after 36 years. The LP is a straightforward re-issue with no bonus goodies save for the addition of “Prostitutes,” and the single contains a non-album track. (The band’s best unreleased material was already compiled on 2014’s Cabinet of Curiosities.) The album’s reputation has significantly grown, in part because the band’s influence has reverberated through the decades despite the difficulties encountered in actually procuring its work, and in part because oh my fucking god we’re seriously still struggling against everything Stewart was yelling about 35 years ago. An edifying exchange between Stewart and Simon Reynolds appears in the latter’s indispensable book Totally Wired:

Reynolds: After Y came “We Are All Prostitutes” and For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder… The lyrics went from being abstract-expressionist to propagandist. Pretty direct protest.

Stewart: The first album was written when I was sixteen or seventeen. But on Y there’s “Don’t Call Me Pain,” about torture, and “The Boys From Brazil,” about Nazis hiding out in South America. So yes, the first one is more mystical, but there’s songs about issues. “Don’t Sell Your Dreams” is one of my favorites of that period—it is poetic but it’s incredibly idealistic and it’s really out there, as pure as you can get.

Reynolds: Still, there was a period around that time…where it seemed like the Pop Group had decided that there was no room any more for music as sheer entertainment or art for art’s sake. That the political imperatives of the time were to urgent to allow for such decadence. In one interview [Pop Group guitarist] Gareth Sager even says it’s trivial to use interview time to talk about the music when they could be talking about serious political issues.

Stewart: It wasn’t really conscious, but there was a fire in our belly. The idea was that if there was a space to use in any kind of media, you had to use it to get out what you really wanted to talk about. It was connected to hanging out with all these radical groups, like People United in Southall, and Race Today. That was a really good magazine run by Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe, based out of Brixton, and it was going on about the “Sus” laws—stop and search—which I sang about in “Justice” and “Forces of Oppression” on How Much Longer. Loads of black people were dying in custody. Demonstrations were getting broken up. Race Today was the only thing putting out that information at that time. For us, it was all part of the same thing—the fire, the music and the desire to get these things across. Nobody was talking about it really. It wasn’t party political; there was just this fire about different injustices. It wasn’t this worthy thing, you know. It wasn’t really preaching. The things that excite me—be it a musical form or a lyrical form—often the singing is buried inside the music. So it’s not like giving a fucking speech.

The use of torture is clearly far from a settled matter if you’ve suffered even one GOP presidential debate, and who could fail to see screamingly obvious parallels to the Black Lives Matter movement in that last response? Oh, how far Western Civilization hasn’t come. Stewart may have protested that singing a song is “not like giving a fucking speech,” but when his lyrics are clear, as in the pensively dubby j’accuse “There Are No Spectators,” and the completely fucking groovy indictment of authoritarian corruption “Justice,” um, yeah, it kind of IS like giving a speech.
 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Ron Kretsch
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02.11.2016
11:21 am
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‘Citizen Zombie’: After 35 years, the Pop Group return in fine form
03.13.2015
09:41 am
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Gang of Four’s terminal descent into hitherto unexplored depths of laughable badness prompts questions about the meaning and value of “authenticity,” some of which that band’s stalwart guitarist Andy Gill addresses himself in this essay (caveat: while it contains some ideas seriously worth discussing, the post at that link is uncomfortably closer than I hoped I’d ever get to watching a 60-ish year old man jack off to his own reflection in a full-length mirror). And it raises eternally familiar questions about what it means to age as a rebellious or difficult artist, especially in as youth-obsessed a milieu as rock music. There’s hardly a shortage of exemplars in Go4’s cohort—Michael Gira is 61, and Swans are making their best music ever. Genesis P-Orridge, at 65, has lately released a wonderful LP called Snakes under the Psychic TV banner. And WIRE? That band seems to be completely unstoppable. And while a few of their edges are sanded over on their recent reunion album Citizen Zombie, the Pop Group have successfully contemporized their sound without even slightly debasing it.

Sample Citizen Zombie after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
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03.13.2015
09:41 am
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‘Mad Truth’: Asia Argento directs new Pop Group video, their first single in 35 years
01.29.2015
03:25 pm
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Behold the new video for “Mad Truth,” the first single in 35 years from the reformed Pop Group, directed by Dangerous Minds pal Asia Argento. There’s a warning for all the stroboscopic effects, so beware of that before you press play.

The Pop Group’s new album, Citizen Zombie comes out on February 23rd. Argento’s most recent film, the autobiographical coming of age story Incompresa (Misunderstood in English) was the single best movie I saw last year.

See the Pop Group on their US tour:

March 11th San Francisco CA – Great American Music Hall
March 12th Seattle WA – Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room
March 13th Chicago IL – Levitation Festival, Thalia Hall
March 17th New York NY – Bowery Ballroom
March 10th Los Angeles CA – Echoplex
March 14th Toronto ON – Lee’s Palace
March 16th Brooklyn NY – Rough Trade
March 19th – 22nd Austin TX – SXSW
 

 

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Beyond Good & Evil: The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, the Dangerous Minds interview

Posted by Richard Metzger
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01.29.2015
03:25 pm
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Beyond Good & Evil: The Pop Group’s Mark Stewart, the Dangerous Minds interview
09.12.2014
12:54 pm
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The Pop Group is unequivocally back. After reuniting four years ago for festival shows and limited UK and European tours, the band’s singer Mark Stewart has told Dangerous Minds that their long-promised album of new material is at last being recorded this month, and that wider tours are in the works. This news comes fairly quickly on the heels of the announcement that the band is reissuing their 1980 album We Are Time and a rarities collection called Cabinet of Curiosities this autumn.

The Pop Group began in Bristol, UK, in 1978, and established a niche all to themselves with an unabashedly abrasive ruckus of No Wave and free jazz noise, punk’s ethos of confrontation, and a rhythm section devoted to dub and straight-up funk. Atop all that, singer Stewart chanted far-left declamations in a voice that lurched without warning from warble to shriek. The effect of this melee could be caustic, disorienting, and exhilarating. The band became influential despite its volatility, and in 1981, it fractured, jettisoning its members into the bands Rip Rig + Panic, Glaxo Babies/Maximum Joy, Pigbag, and the Slits. For his part, Stewart has recorded solo and with his band the Maffia. The Pop Group’s albums Y, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder, and We Are Time have, in the USA, at least, been only intermittently available and sometimes ridiculously expensive to obtain, so the news of impending reissues is most welcome. Because it’s 2014 and this is how it’s done now, there’s a pledge drive afoot for the releases, and some of the premiums are mighty cool. (I’m pretty sorely tempted by the Signed Ultimate Boxset Bundle.)

Earlier this week, Mark Stewart was kind enough to talk to DM at length about the band’s origins and future plans.
 

 
DM: Just this morning, I came across a news item that references The Pop Group, and I was wondering if you were aware of it— the Washington Post was reporting on a corrupt politician, and they posted a video of “We Are All Prostitutes.”

Mark Stewart: Yeah. I haven’t had a chance to check out all the details of the story yet, but a very important confidante of mine, who writes books about conspiracies in politics, says it’s the most important story the Washington Post has run since Watergate, is that true?

Possibly. The ex-governor of Virginia and his wife have been convicted of fraud and selling access. It’s pretty huge. He was a presidential hopeful once, and now this blatant corruption comes to light. But I wondered if you were aware of the Post using your song in that context, and whether you think that speaks to the Pop Group’s continued relevance?

The lyrics to that song are timeless. The second real album that we made, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, was a bit more time-sensitive. It was talking about things that were happening in real time in Indonesia, and coups that were happening with ITT and Allende in Chile, things that were happening in Cambodia. That was more a real time, newspapery kind of album. But the other stuff, like “We Are All Prostitutes” and Y and the stuff we’re re-releasing now, it’s weird, because for me, I’m looking at it that way as much as you, because it’s like listening to something that’s out there now.

It’s quite bizarre. Me and [Pop Group guitarist] Gareth Sager, we spent two years going through, trying to find the best stuff from that period—and I’m a fan, I’ve realized recently, with all the music I’ve made, I’m making it for myself because I have an idea of what I’d like to hear. Like mashing up a free-jazz saxophone against a funk beat with Arabic wailing or something, I’m doing it for myself, because I’m only hearing those things in my head, and making things up like a little kid, and I just want to make those things. I’m having to analyze this stuff and see it again and it’s weird. But the We Are Time album sounds like new bands I’m hearing out of London now.
 

 

 
Well in terms of the songs’ political content, over the last thirty years, I’m not sure so much has changed or gotten better…

Hold on! You’re like my girlfriend! I think a lot has got better! Are you a pessimist?

Ha, maybe! Some things have gotten better on the social front, sure, but in terms of the oligarchs’ takeover? At least in the United States, oh my GOD, they are winning.

Yes. And, as far as I can see some of the battles in the Middle East are between different factions in America, like an American proxy war going on there, oil companies acting like medieval dynasties, it’s bizarre. And they’re backing jealous militias.

So are you an optimist, then? What do you see getting better?

Generally I think people across the world are genuinely more aware. Right now I’m in this fishing village, and the guy who lives in a shed at the bottom of the garden knows as much about the world as I did in 1979. There’s access to more media, and people, as far as I can see, are seeing through the illusion. Back in the day they used to think politicians were correct, and they’d tip their caps in a kind of regal way. People are kind of owning and feeling the responsibility and making the connections, that the things that are happening aren’t so far away. There’s blowback, and the actions we make in everyday life are a result of these actions across the world, funding our avarice.

It’s easier to put these ideas into songs!

More with Mark Stewart after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Ron Kretsch
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09.12.2014
12:54 pm
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The Pop Group: Beyond Good And Evil
06.28.2010
06:06 pm
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It feels like a Pop Group sort of day, so here we have a couple of vintage promo clips I’ve never stumbled upon before. Having long loved the records, the clips are a bit of shock. Such wholesome looking kids in their nice new wave gear making all that racket ! I never managed to see the doc that Mr Novicoff posted about here nearly a year ago and it doesn’t appear to be available anywhere. I both snooze and lose. Still, the shriek of vocalist Mark Stewart is a true force of nature, a sound like no other !

 

Posted by Brad Laner
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06.28.2010
06:06 pm
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On/Off: Mark Stewart from The Pop Group to The Maffia

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If not tomorrow night in Los Angeles, here’s a documentary I still very much plan on catching.  From Cinefamily:

This one’s a must for all post-punk junkies!  The name of singer/industrial hip-hop pioneer Mark Stewart may not be instantly familiar, but his influence is felt the world over.  From his early days with confrontational post-punk pioneers The Pop Group to his myriad collaborations with acts like Trent Reznor, Massive Attack and Primal Scream, Stewart has provided ghostly beats and haunting vocals for over thirty years, and shows no signs of stopping.  German filmmaker T?ɬ?ni Schifer, who followed Stewart with a camera for three years, has crafted a detailed, intimate portrait of the artist, supplemented by interviews with Stewart himself, his Pop Group co-horts Dan Catsis, Gareth Sager and John Waddington, Keith Levine (P.I.L.), Janine Rainforth (Maximum Joy), Douglas Hart (The Jesus & Mary Chain), Fritz Catlin (23 Skidoo), Daniel Miller (Mute Records), Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Massive Attack and many others, plus some terrific never-before-seen vintage performance footage.

Well, as post-punk authority Simon Reynolds says, reading an interview with The Pop Group was like “having your brain set on fire.”  And If that’s not enough enticement, here’s the trailer for ON/OFF:

 
More On Mark Stewart/On-U Sound

Director T?ɬ?ni Schifer on MySpace

Posted by Bradley Novicoff
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08.19.2009
03:40 pm
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