Review Summary: Proto-Industrial II
Vaudeville, major league baseball, horse races, Henry Miller mocking Charles Dickens, skipping rope chants, Death Valley drunks, loaded dice and the spiralling wind lifting women’s skirts around the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street in New York have all been considered, at one point in time or another, to be the origin of the phrase ’23 Skidoo.’ Whatever the true jumping-off point for the expression, which is essentially an old timey way of telling someone to *** off, the London outfit bearing its name could never really settle on the exact prongs of their inspirations either. Culling the best and darkest parts of industrial, punk, breakbeat, dub and a gallery of others, the band assembled singular composites, as grinding and punishing as they were danceable, as angry as they were yearning, music for omnivores who just wanted to hear sound filtered through as many prisms as possible. On “The Gospel Comes to New Guinea,” they built their first masterpiece.
The industrial strands of Gospel are slight, but omnipresent, felt through the metallic clang that imbues both the swarming percussion and guitar work. Regardless of the fact that a dense meld of post-punk and world music is the primary driving force of the piece, 23 Skidoo’s bona fides as proto-industrial colonists are never in question here. In Gospel, the band build their first monolith, a dubby nightmarish scape sitting somewhere between Fela Kuti’s propulsive afrobeat and the atmospheric scrape of This Heat. Over its hypnotic 10 minute relay, the piece never lets up its intensive pace, with the wail of Tibetan dungchens, echoing taiko drums and looped field recordings of unintelligible groaning adding more and more texture as it goes on. Underpinned by crisp otherworldly production from Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo shape perhaps the best long-form song of the genre. B-Side “Last Words” is a stellar track in its own right, a swirling electro-punk number, full of vigour and PiL-esque wobble. Tensely romantic-sounding, it still has little choice to but to pale in comparison to Gospel’s intractable heft.
As the 80’s wound down, 23 Skidoo evolved from a band to a collective, shifting mostly into producing others, building their own studio and giving voice to new artists that were plying tracts in anything from electronica to hip-hop, slowly fading out as time went. Their last studio output, featuring recently passed spiritual jazz pioneer Pharoah Sanders is now 23 years-old. Their last live performance is closing in on a decade. The body of work and experimental ethos persist. “The Gospel Comes to New Guinea” is still here and sounding as danceable and evil as ever.