This week we’re adding another band to the Weird List that many of you have been clamoring for: Steven Stapleton’s venerable experimental/industrial/sound collage project, Nurse With Wound. For over three decades, Stapleton and his many collaborators have been producing some of the creepiest (and, on occasion, funniest) music ever to come out of the U.K.—which, considering the Brits also gave us such influential noise mongers as Throbbing Gristle and Current 93, is saying something.
From their very first album, recorded live as a trio in 1978, NWW announced themselves as something completely different. Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella was a jarring mix of squiggly electronics, prog/psych guitar freakouts, primal howls and ominous, ambient noise. Though originally released in a run of just 500 copies, it made quite a splash in the emerging London industrial scene—and not only because of its BDSM cover art.
One of the more interesting aspects of Chance Meeting was the inclusion of the now-legendary Nurse With Wound List, an eclectic, expansive catalog of the band’s many influences, from Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire to Stockhausen and Tangerine Dream—though most of the name-checks were far more obscure than those. A handful of bands on our own Weird List appear, including American rock primitivists Cromagnon and French avant-garde accordionist Ghedalia Tazartes. But overall, I have to admit: When you do a blog like ours, reading through the NWW List is a humbling experience. Clearly we’ve got some catching up to do.
By 1981, founding NWW members John Fothergill and the excellently named Heeman Pathak had left the group, leaving Stapleton to forge ahead as a solo act. Enlisting the help of a live drummer and his friend J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus, Stapleton recorded an album called Insect and Individual Silenced that he himself has since dismissed as “terrible.” Then, after a collaboration with power electronics pioneers Whitehouse (a very bleak and atmospheric record called The 150 Murderous Passions, released with the liner note, “This record may be played at any speed”), Stapleton hit his stride with 1982′s Homotopy to Marie, the album he has since referred to as the first “real” NWW release. Full of tape manipulations and dread, Homotopy became the blueprint for what remains Nurse With Wound’s signature style: abstract, slow-moving, cinematic, occasionally abrasive and even more occasionally terrifying. Depending on your disposition, it’s either music that should only be listened to in the dark—or it’s music you should never listen to in the dark.
As weird as eerie noise epics like “The Schmürz (Unsullied by Suckling)” can get, what really makes Steven Stapleton a world-class weirdo are his twisted and often hilarious spins on mainstream music and pop culture. Take, for example, 1985′s The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion, an early experiment in sampling, NWW-style. Yes, that’s really the cover art on the YouTube clip. And yes, this track really is called “You Walrus Hurt the One You Love.”
Over the decades, Stapleton has released more than 40 albums and countless collaborations (with everyone from Current 93 to Sun 0))) to Stereolab), singles, EPs and compilation tracks, all exhaustively cataloged on the Nurse With Wound website and much of it now available via Bandcamp. More recently, he’s brought back a touring version of the band, with a rotating supporting cast that includes longtime collaborators Colin Potter and Diana Rogerson (Stapleton’s wife) along with newer cohorts like sound collage artists Matt Waldron and Andrew Liles.
It would be asinine to try to summarize a career like Stapleton’s with a single video—all the more so because he hasn’t released any “official” Nurse With Wound music videos. (A few short films have used NWW music, including this one, but they’re not music videos in any traditional sense.) But this fan-made clip for the 2008 track “The Bottom Feeder,” using the stop-motion art of Czech filmmaker Jiří Barta, actually does a pretty great job of encapsulating all that is spooky and brilliant about Nurse With Wound’s best work.
Well, it’s apparently official: bent pop sound collage artists The Books are no more. Their label, Temporary Residence, is billing a new Books box set as a “perfectly fitting conclusion to one of underground music’s most vital players.” We’ll miss you, guys! Although Nick Zammuto’s first post-Books project has definitely taken some of the sting out of your demise.
Now about that box set: It features The Books’ entire recorded output on seven vinyl records, including a double album’s worth of previously unreleased material; a two-hour DVD of all their videos; a 56-page picture book; and their entire catalog on a cassette-shaped USB flash drive. Oh and there will only be 1,000 copies made. You can pre-order it now from The Books’ label, Temporary Residence, for a mere $150. It’s due to ship “on or around July 15.” You know indie labels, they’re casual like that.
Let’s play this post out with The Books’ take on two of our favorite things: golf and guns. (Although despite watching this video like 59 times, my backswing is still a mess.)
(Photo swiped from BoingBoing.net)
Anticipation really seems to be building for the debut album from Zammuto, the new band/solo project from Nick Zammuto, one-half of sound collage mavericks The Books. Just today, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Track” shout-out to “F U C-3PO,” an almost proggy jam with robot vocals and distortion pedals set to stun. And last week, director Matthew Day debuted a short documentary called “A Day With Nick Zammuto” that shows the musician hard at work on his new music and chilling in his amazing self-built house with his wife and ridiculously cute children. We’ve embedded the YouTube version of the film below, or you can watch the original on Day’s website, Naked Musicians.
Zammuto will be making their live debut on Feb. 3 at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts. If anyone goes, give us a report!
Not many bands can claim to have invented an entire genre of music, but Negativland actually goes one better than that: They invented an entire art form, a technique called culture jamming, that is now such an accepted part of consumerist, mass media culture that it’s hard to imagine anyone having to invent it. From Adbusters to Banksy to self-aware Sprite commercials to fake BP Twitter accounts, the basic concepts of culture jamming are part of our everyday vernacular at this point. But yep, Negativland coined the term back in 1984. Before that, it was hard to know what to call the band’s mix of intercepted CB-radio conversations, sampled radio announcers and commercial jingles, krautrock, processed guitars, and ambient noise. Except really, really weird.
Negativland was started all the way back in 1979 by Mark Hosler and Richard Lyons, who were then still going to high school in the East Bay. Early on, they recruited a reclusive cable TV repairman named David “The Weatherman” Wills to join the group; his homemade devices, like cellphone scanners and a sampler/oscillator called The Booper, really helped the group perfect their sound collage approach to making music.
The group’s 1987 album Escape From Noise got them a little attention, but what really put Negativland on the map was their 1991 U2 EP, which most famously featured a spoof of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” accompanied by a profanity-laced, anti-U2 rant by Top 40 radio DJ Casey Kasem. The track earned Negativland its first lawsuit, from U2′s label, Island Records. After a four-year legal battle, chronicled in a book called Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, the two parties settled—Island dropped their suit, and Negativland stopped distributing the U2 EP (although they later reissued it as a “bootleg” under the fairly awesome title—quoted from part of Kasem’s anti-U2 rant—These Guys Are From England and Who Gives a Shit).
Thirty years later, Negativland are still at it: They’ve got a new project called It’s All in Your Head FM v2.0 due out later this year, along with a handful of reissues, and band member Don Joyce continues to host a public radio “audio collage” show called Over the Edge on Berkeley’s KPFA. And hey, kids—you can book one of two totally different Negativland shows in your local planetarium, art gallery, or high school auditorium! Take your choice between either a “two-hour-long, action-packed look at monotheism” or “a wordless wall of electronic sound.” Either way, you’re bound to impress all your snooty art friends and vastly increase your chances of scoring with girls whose panties drop at words like “semiotics” and “Noam Chomsky.” [Update: That link is now dead, so apparently they're not playing planetariums anymore. Sorry.]
We’ll leave you with a classic Negativland video from their 1989 opus No Other Possibility. The cigarettes are probably a metaphor for something, but we prefer not to dig too deep on this one and just appreciate it for its delightfully Pythonesque silliness.
There’s certainly no shortage of artists known for building their music around found sounds, field recordings, manipulated bits of conversation and the like. But something about the way The Books do it is definitely unique and, we think, weird enough to deserve a shout-out.
Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong have been making their special flavor of sound collage music for nearly a decade, but they still manage to fly pretty far under the radar—maybe because they didn’t start touring until 2005, maybe because their name is virtually un-Google-able, or maybe because their music lacks the beats and synthesizers of more hipster-friendly sample-happy acts like Lemon Jelly and Boards of Canada. That might change, however, with the release of the duo’s fourth full-length album, The Way Out, later this year (2010). Early tracks “Beautiful People” and “A Cold Freezin’ Night” are as good or better than anything they’ve ever done, and “Freezin’ Night” has what Zammuto himself calls a “pseudo-techno-dance” beat to it. By Books standards, it’s a jam for the ladies!
The even cooler part of “A Cold Freezin’ Night” is how Zammuto and de Jong assembled the sampled children’s voices that, more than the pseudo-techno beat, are the track’s main attraction. Always on the lookout for new sources of obscure recordings to add to their vast library, The Books have been scouring the thrift stores in search of Talkboys, an oddball recording device introduced in the early ’90s as a tie-in with Home Alone 2. (Macaulay Culkin used one in the movie apparently, although we’re not sure how—we’ve never been able to sit through more than five minutes of that celluloid turkey.) And, well—just check out the video for “Freezin’ Night” below, which was spliced together from old home movie clips also collected by the Books boys. Kids are dark.
By the way, in case you need any further proof that The Books are in fact Weirdest Band material, consider the following: They once created music specifically to be played inside an elevator for the French Ministry of Culture, and one of them plays the cello. We rest our case!