23 Skidoo were one of the many british industrial bands that formed at the tail end of the 70's punk explosion, the original members being friends Fritz Catlin, Johnny Turnbull and Sam Mills, later to be joined by Alex Turnbull and Tom Heslop. This small ka-tet shared a number of common interests that contributed to their relatively unique musical philosophy (resulting in a sound not all that dissimilar to peers such as A Certain Ratio, The Pop Group and This Heat), ranging from the discipline of martial arts, ethnic percussion styles such Burundi, Gamelan and Kodo, The Last Poets, esoteric mysticism, afrobeat, and the typical namedropping of iconic counterculture authors such as William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard that seems to be the norm amongst the DIY music crowd they happened to have been in the right place at the right time to have found themselves lumped in with.
After the 7" Ethics
in 1980 and landing an early Peel Sessions record in 1981 (featuring contributions by Richard H. Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire), the groups full length debut first saw light in 1982. Seven Songs
is a prime example of the fruitful creativity that can be found buried in the landscape of the glut of bands that belong to the realms of the early industrial/post punk overlap. The entire album could be described in terms of free flowing, dynamic noise and curious sounds interweaving between repetitive themes based around brooding lo-fi electronic dark ambient and percussive clanging, only to move into expressive bursts of ethnic flavoured nods to jazz/funk on tracks such as Vegas El Bandito
. These cuts are technically the only "real songs" here for listeners not accustomed to early industrial, but are completely legit with exuberant basslines, slick rhythm guitar and rollicking drums that make for an infectious combination.
The contrast between the upbeat and the dissonant is a common theme on Seven Songs
, the transitions that fuel this making this album quite a trip to listen to all the way through on headphones. 23 Skidoo bring across a kind of raw enthusiasm that makes this distinctive from later, lesser works such as The Culling is Coming
, something of an earnest desire to both try hard and to look cool not trying to impress anyone. Though this sounds like a veiled criticism, this strangely works in their favour here where I would point this out as the greatest flaw in some of their other work. Unfortunately points are detracted somewhat due to a short length, the longwinded sample of infamous morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse that goes nowhere in Porno Bass
and the weak Martin Denny homage Quiet Pillage
closing this affair. All up, this album is a gem though.