A belated Happy New Year from WMO, and a new address for WMO(US). As you can see the majority of this newsletter is taken up with details of the Royal Festival Hall event. Unfortunately, due to time constraints and logistics, the promised Wire interview never materialised, but we think that there's enough to be going on with in this bumper edition newsletter.
Bruce and Graham
Graham and Bruce are about to complete their contribution to Audible Light, an exhibition of sound and light at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford (23.1.2000—19.3.2000). Described as an exploration of 'how eight internationally emerging artists make use of artificially produced sound and light as a sculptural medium,' the exhibition also included contributions from Tommi Gronlund (head of Sähkö label) and Petteri Nisunen (Finland), Carl-Michael von Hausswolff (Sweden), Ann Vernoica Janssens (Belgium), Ann Lislegaard (Denmark) and Carsten Nicolai (aka Noto) (Germany).
A CD-ROM, priced £3, containing six audio tracks by each artist is available from MOMA Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, OX1 1BP. (Telephone +44 (0) 1865 722733, fax +44 (0)1865 722573, website: http://www.moma.org.uk).
DJ's Lewis and CM von Hausswolff
We have received three reports about the show. The first is from Mark McQuitty:
'Well I dragged my family down to Oxford today to check out the Audible Light exhibition. Bruce and Graham's piece was called Alarm and consisted of an illuminated red alarm bell housed in a tall metal box. A sensor seemed to trigger the bell and I think there were some electronic tones generated underneath. And that's about it. It was probably the most minimalist piece there and had the least audio content of all the exhibits. Mmm... jury's out.'
Paul Rabjohn (who also provided the photographs accompanying this report) added this:
'The show itself was quite good. The B&G exhibit is a six foot tall aluminium cabinet with and orange alarm bell visible through a window. I think the idea is that it senses you approaching and the bell rings. There were five other installations, mostly bigger scale than this, all involving electronic noise in some form.
Paul and the orange alarm bell
Graham was hanging around in the foyer... he confirmed he was going to do a DJ set as well as Bruce. Bruce then came over and they both seemed to be looking forward to the Royal Festival Hall night. Graham said he had no idea what Michael Clark would be doing.
I then headed down to the basement cafe where the DJing was happening. Bruce was first up. He did about 20 minutes of Bi Yo Yo stuff played quite quietly; very low key. Graham played next, together with a very Swedish looking guy [CM von Hausswolff—Ed]. They started with some He Said Omala type tracks and then started mashing them up with some noise. After Graham's departure his 'partner' carried on.'
Howard Spencer gave us this:
'I thought the exhibition was disappointing—though probably not seen at its best on a preview night. I'd like to see the B&G piece again before I say too much.
The live set, however, was superb... it was basically live mixes with Bruce triggering samples and Graham adding other effects to the basic tracks. Best moment was a cover of I've got you Under my Skin—made it sound like it was about scabies.
The DJ who preceded and followed them had an Eartha Kitt fetish, which made an interesting contrast.
It is worth noting that B&G seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Graham was looking very ebullient—doing a bit of lip-syncing to 'I've got you...' (wonder if he's ever considered doing drag?)'
DJ Beekeeper in da house
Adrian Searle reviewed the show for the 25th January edition of the Guardian newspaper:
'An alarm went off as I walked through the next gallery at MOMA, competing with the bells already ringing in my head. The source of the clamor, a red industrial alarm, sealed off behind glass in a tall, shiny aluminium cabinet, a sort of sentry box standing in the middle of the room. A sensor detects you as you move in close and a bell sounds.
The point of this work, surely, is to outwit the alarm. I tried going round the cabinet in a low crouch, like Groucho Marx. I tried sidling to one side, but it caught me out. I almost tried crawling, but this was an interaction too far. Bruce Gilbert and Edward Graham Lewis, authors of alarm, are members of the experimental punk group Wire. Alarm is terribly slight, an ambient interruption on your way through the gallery. I wanted it to be louder, scarier, more forceful and jarring. I wanted the earth to move me.'
And finally Graham Lewis' own report reads:
'Oxford cool, private view electro-acoustic enjoyable chaosä Bruce's samples Dr.Sample treatment from all exhibits. Hausswolff neutralising Tommi's insistence on beats with Eartha Kitt, I had 3/4 ins and outs, Carsten demoing new stuff, Scanner at the front, laugh I couldn't stop. In attendance...(friends), Finnish cultural and Swedish attachees, plus Ideal Copyists... art critics... three boxes of monkeys and enough drink tickets to make a strong man creep.'
New releases in February were a new CD from Symptoms and a new compilation Swim Team #1. The track listing for the latter is:
Malka Spigel—Tall Grey Buildings*, Silo—Templates (radio mix), dol-lop—Phase, Ronnie & Clyde—Mikki Maus*, Lobe—Red Spaces, Symptoms—Burn*, Newman/Izzo—The Narrativ, Steve Gears—First Person*, Bumpy—Pizza, Malka Spigel—The Fishes & the Shining Sea, Colin Newman—Blank Canvas*, Legion of Green Men—Constellation, Immersion—Walkabout (Mick Harris remix), Immersion—Dahab, Symptoms—Versus*, Colin Newman & Malka Spigel—Strumgliding, Silo—Bulk*
The press release from Swim states:
'Swim team #1 melts the boundaries of atmospheric, mood-shifting electronica and guitar-based rock. A diving board to launch label debutantes Symptoms, Steve Gears and child prodigy Bumpy (he's 11!)—all of whom have debut CDs slated for release this year—the compilation contains highlights from the recent past and splashy new tunes from respected outfits like Ronnie & Clyde and Silo.
Both Colin and Malka contribute previously unreleased songs individually and together under the guise of Immersion, while the ultra-rare Newman/Corrado Izzo track The Narrativ makes its way back from 500 copies only and-sold-out-in-a-day obscurity on the German i220 label.
The asterisked tracks will be 'new' at the time of release. The number of tracks on a single album is achieved by the fact that where necessary edits or fades have been used to take the tracks at or below 4'20. This really makes it move along and gives us a lot of radio potential. The other and rather special point is that we are aiming at a low UK retail price. We want to try to reach the widest possible audience with this one.'
We are going into pre-production stages for the release of the gilbertpossstenger manchesterlondon CD. We hope for a May release. Watch this space.
Prior to the Royal Festval Hall 'It's all in the Brochure' gig the following article appeared on the nme.com website:
Wire give new year presence!
Legendary art punk pioneers Wire will offer brand new material on a limited edition CD when they play their first show for ten years at London's south bank Royal Festival Hall on February 26. The CD will contain recordings from recent rehearsal sessions where the band ran through old material and jammed on some new songs. It's likely Wire will offer three new tracks in all, but it's unlikely they'll appear as a commercial release through a record company.
Explaining the decision to reform after ten years, Wire guitarist Bruce Gilbert said 'we were offered a night by the south bank people and after a discussion everybody was sufficiently fascinated to look into it.'
'We've had a bit of a 'kick-about' rehearsal for three days just to check that the spirit was still there—if not the ability. There definitely was which made us all more confident about it. Maybe three brand new things which will come out of the rehearsals. The rest of it will be some very old stuff. This is a retrospective view and it's something that we've never done before, which is a good enough reason for us to do it. We've never really played our back catalogue.'
During the Wire gig, friend and collaborator of the band Michael Clark will stage a new choreographed 'dance' performance to two old Wire tracks. The title and details of the performance are still to be finalised but Gilbert revealed: 'I think it will involve two tracks, one will collapse at his intervention and another one will emerge from the debris. It's all about collapse and then re-emergence.'
Gilbert also spoke of the 1995 dispute between Wire and Elastica which ended up with Justine Frischmann and co settling out of court with the band over the similarities between Wire's Three Girl Rhumba and Elastica's Connection. The guitarist said: 'that was a business thing; it's do with publishing companies and they had to protect certain things over that.'
'Personally I have absolutely no problems with Justine or the Elastica project and I like the music. It's fascinating to some degree—it has to be flattering, really it's quite curious. But if Wire did have an influence I'd rather it be from an attitude point of view rather than from a musical point of view.'
Wire have also launched their own official website at www.pinkflag.com. The aim of the site, to quote Paul Smith (Wire manager), is:
'To provide a steady flow of items through www.pinkflag.com and direct sales at shows and mail order that will satisfy all but the most obsessive completist of Wire fans. Each new stage will be documented and we will offer up only the best quality recordings, sanctioned by the band.'
The site also provided news of live dates to which end Wire performed two warm-up gigs in Dublin, at the HQ club on 20th February and Nottingham at the Heavenly Social Club on 23rd February.
In Dublin they were interviewed for Internet radio station XFM broadcast on 26th February. In addition Wire presented XFM with an exclusive copy of five new recordings, including one new track. Excerpts from the interview and some of the tracks can be heard in real audio on www.isis.ie/xfm.
In addition, with Wire's blessing, XFM's Planetary Sitin were the first ever radio broadcast of some of these tracks on 23rd February.
The following article appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post on 19th February and is also available on line at: www.thisisnottingham.co.uk:
Hire Wire by Mark Patterson
Punk veterans are playing a warm up gig in Nottingham next week before their London one.
Punk veterans Wire play two gigs over the next few days. One, a week tomorrow, is at the Royal Festival Hall in London: capacity 3,000 people. The other, on Wednesday, is at Nottingham's social bar in Pelham street, capacity: 190.
This fairly obvious disparity in crowd and stage size is explained by the fact that the Nottingham gig is a warm up for the London concert. And how lucky Nottingham is to get Wire—for one, because it's their first gig in their original format in ten years and, secondly, because of all the bands which emerged from the musical maelstrom of the late 1970s the London quartet were the most angular, most witty, most intelligent and among the most pop-orientated. They could write great huggable tunes with huge harmonies but weren't afraid to turn their guitars up to burn level when it mattered. Like Blur, minus the cod love hangups.
Of course, there are those who will say that the words 'punk' and 'veterans' are contradictory. But Wire, who have officially split up at least twice since 1976, don't appear to care very much about punk ideology.
'We weren't a punk band,' says singer Colin Newman, 'although we were viewed like that in retrospect in America. But to me we were not considered a punk band in Britain. We weren't a part of that social thing. Punk was about a number of people who knew each other and it was all very different from what we've always done. We used the energy of the period but we wanted to do something else with it.'
Although posters adverting the social gig state that Wire will be devoting their set to tracks off their first three albums, the classic trio of Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, all recorded between 1977 and 1979, Newman insists that they will be performing material from all periods of the Wire story. That will presumably take in such flirtations with commercial success as the 1989 single Eardrum Buzz and the period when drummer Robert Gotobed went off to become an organic farmer and the remaining three cleverly renamed themselves Wir. Well, they were art students when they started.
But why play in Nottingham? The answer is that the social gig was suggested by manager Paul Smith, who comes from Kirkby-in-Ashfield and who started the Blast First label at an address in New Basford, issuing albums by such key '80s noise bands as Big Black and Sonic Youth... but that's another untold story of Nottingham's place in the tableau of rock.
Although Wire's set will (hopefully) include such early material as the rather wonderful Map Ref 41n93w and shouty 12XU as well as the later sleek song structures created by bass player Graham Lewis and guitarist Bruce Gilbert, Newman is clearly irritated by the suggestion that what Wire are doing is in any way a 'revival' of a former period. He hates the word 'retro' too.
'The point is that until the year 2000 we never played anything that wasn't from the latest incarnation of Wire. Even in the '70s we never played anything that was more than two or three months old. The reason is that it was felt that we wouldn't be able to bring the appropriate energy. What we're saying is that we think we can bring the appropriate energy of now rather than some other time.'
Very good. So how do they feel about the fact that they're booked to play the Royal Festival Hall as part of something called 'living legends'? It smells suspiciously like a purposeful revival.
'You've got to take it with a pinch of salt,' says Newman, who was taking time out from rehearsals. 'I mean, you've got to go to the supermarket every day. But here's Robert reading the paper, so he's obviously tired of being a living legend today. But there's always tomorrow.'
The final line up for the Royal Festival Hall was:
Wire video from 'Rockpalast', 1978
Immersion (with video backgrounds)
Universal Body film by Susanah Akerland and Gunilla Leander, soundtrack by Edvard Graham Lewis (UK premiere)
He Said:2bgvm3 (EGL—bass/vox, Susan Stenger—bass, Andreas Karperyd—Mac laptop) (with video backgrounds)
DJ x DJ (Daniel Miller/Seth Hodder)
Wire with special guest Michael Clark and company
Drill video, Susanne Sommers late show, Los Angeles, 1st July 1987
Wire (part 2)
The Immersion set was:
Expanded Now, Days Under the Sun, Les Iles Flottantes ('not arriving' version), Dahab, Blank Canvas.
The He Said:2bgvm3 set was:
Universal Body Soundtrack : Bing Before Bang etc. apres ski, Vis-a-vis Viscera, Star Switch On, I.C.E.P.I.T.M.O.M. (Informal Cigarette Exchange In The Museum Of Munich), TAKLAMAKAN (New Ancient Chineese Arrangement), Minging, A Frequency (to Life), To Whom...
The Wire sets were:
(1) Pink Flag, Silk Skin Paws, 40 Versions, Boiling Boy, Art of Persistence, Lowdown, Madman's Honey, Advantage in Height, Heartbeat (with Michael Clark).
(2) Heartbeat (continued), He Knows, Being Sucked in Again, Strange, Serious of Snakes, Another the Letter, Mercy, Two People in a Room, 12XU.
On sale in foyer of the RFH were most of the Mute label CD's along with the new merchandise: a T-shirt with an embroidered pink flag, a small limited edition pink flag in a miniature specimen dome and the five track Third Day CD: 1. Pink Flag (rh1), 2. Blessed State, 3. Mercy, 4. Art of Persistence (1st draft), 5. Pink Flag (rh2).
Further Wire gigs have been announced:
9 April—'All Tomorrow's Parties' festival, Camber Sands
2 May—Great American Hall, San Francisco
3 May—Filmore, San Francisco
4 May—El Rey, Los Angeles
6 May—Showbox, Seattle
10 May—Metro, Chicago
12 May—The Roxy, Boston
13 May—9.30 Club, Washington
15 May—Irving Plaza, New York
26—The Garage, London
27—The Garage, London
28—The Garage, London
In the meantime EMI have seen fit to reissue the On Returning CD. The bandwagon continues to roll on.
As explained above, owing to time constraints and logistics, WMO could not hold the interview with Wire as hoped. However, we recommend the march edition of 'The Wire' (with Wire on the cover) for an excellent interview and overview.
'The Independent' also published this article on 25 February:
Plugged into the art of noise By Chris Darke
Wire began as art-school punks but became a template for bands with a spirit of adventure. And their passion is undiminished.
The four middle-aged men onstage in the small Dublin club are unlikely looking punk survivors. The guitarist, greying and professorial, shakes little more than a strumming right hand. The drummer's eyes are shut, his head tilted back, zenned out on the distinctive motorik rhythm. The singer and bassist are trading call-and-response vocals. 'Being sucked...', Colin Newman sings airily. 'Oohh being sucked...' Graham Lewis bawls lasciviously, 'being sucked in again'. It's a comic moment of high camp that ignites the audience, most of whom are far too young to have been around when Wire last performed this number live.
I'd met the band in a Shoreditch pub on the night before they started rehearsing for tomorrow's Royal Festival Hall date for which Dublin was a warm-up. 'We're in this peculiarly pregnant moment of getting together to play again,' Newman observes. 'It's been 10 years,' adds Lewis. 'But it's been 21 years since any of that material [from 1977-1979] was played live.'
Earlier, I'd talked about Wire 'reforming' and was politely but firmly corrected by guitarist Bruce Gilbert. Wire, I was told, don't 'reform'. It is, rather, a project from which they take breaks and to which they come back to. Of Wire's 24-year history, at least 15 years have been made up of such breaks. A reserved figure, less loquacious than Newman or Lewis, Gilbert's aesthetics and ideas are central to Wire. It was Gilbert, after all, who came up with the band's name and saved them from the fate worse than eternal obscurity that their original ur-punk name, The Geezers, promised.
'This wasn't a showbiz move,' Gilbert says of the decision to reinterpret old Wire material. 'It suddenly seemed very obvious to re-examine material that we hadn't looked at for a long time.'
The posters for the Dublin show billed them as 'The Legendary Wire', a designation greeted wryly by Newman. 'At least it's not 'Living Legends' this time.' So what's in the legend? It's informed by Wire having been a bona fide British punk band, of having been there with The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Damned, and then having mutated into a defiantly strange and original art-pop outfit. But it's equally informed by their bailing out after three ground-breaking albums. Pink Flag, released in 1977, featured 21 tracks, most less than two minutes in length. The album, a set of experimental gags on rock history and executed in punk vernacular by a group that was learning to play its instruments as it made the record, contains the classic 12XU, the track they spent their second incarnation in the 1980s studiously avoiding performing.
'We had our problems—how to make a coherent noise with limited skills,' Lewis recalls. 'But that's what Pink Flag is all about. I think it's a very British record, but our European-ness came out.'
Wire followed that album with Chairs Missing in 1978 and 154 in 1979. With the sympathetic collaboration of their producer, Mike Thorne, the band began to explore the textural possibilities afforded by studio technology: the songs combined absurdity, ambiguity and attack, art-derived strategies with intuitive pop sensibilities. After ugly experiences with their label of the time, EMI, and an insight into the stultifying nature of the rock-music machine gained while touring with Roxy Music, in 1980 they put what they refer to as 'the Wire project' on hold.
The array of solo projects that followed continues to inform the Wire ethos. It included avant-garde sound experiments by Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, along with Newman's barbed but melodic pop and individual work in performance art, installations and scores for ballet and films. Important creative connections were forged in this period, including an alliance with the dancer, Michael Clark, who performs with them at the Royal Festival Hall.
Wire was always unashamedly conceptual in their attitude towards the elements of song structure and their execution in performance. 'My view is that it's not one idea but four totally different approaches,' Gilbert says of the group. 'From my point of view it's a bit of sculpture. Colin has a much more musical background than me. Graham is a mixture of all these things.'
Wire were about pop as an idea and in that respect, and as the gaps between their albums grew ever more lengthy, they took on an influential afterlife that their jealously guarded low profile only served to encourage. Groups as disparate in style as Sonic Youth and U2, Blur and Elastica, each locked into elements of Wire's flexible pop-conceptual example.
And that's just the famous names. Lewis tells an instructive story about how he and Newman visited the USA when the group resumed operations in the mid-1980s. They were spending three days in hotel rooms doing phone interviews to prepare the audience for the fact that the band would not be playing material from the first three albums. During this exercise in disembodied promotion, a journalist told Lewis that he was in a band that played Pink Flag. Intrigued, Lewis posed the definitive Wire question: 'do you play the gaps?'. It turned out that, yes, they did perform the gaps between the songs, giving this tribute band exercise the requisite conceptual edge. Wire were duly accompanied on their 1987 us tour by the Ex-Lion Tamers—named after a song on Pink Flag. Then there's the additional ironic pleasure in recalling that the album being toured was called The Ideal Copy. And as Lewis says, 'the ideal copy makes itself'.
'Do you play the gaps?' is by no means as arch as it sounds. The staccato phrases of Pink Flag revealed a fascination with the moment when vocal repetition becomes a chant, musical repetition a drone and when literal meaning turns abstract. 'If you keep on repeating, repeating a word, it becomes increasing, increasingly absurd', Newman proposed on 1978's Options R. It was a statement of intent and an acknowledgement of absurdity as a viable option. 'You do need a wry humour to deal with the material,' Newman explains. 'We're aware of our inherent absurdity. Which is to be a group of grown-up people.' The 'gaps' became part of the Wire sound; they were built into the songs. And the way the guitars are hit in the seventies' albums gives the sensation of amped-up morse code, of telegraphed exclamation marks punctuating Newman's mockney sneer. In Elastica's Connection, when the crunching stop-start, dot-dash chords of Wire's Three Girl Rhumba are reproduced, they sound less like exclamations than quotation marks, guitar chords as double-inverted commas around the song.
Elastica's 1995 pastiche homage to Wire indicated how widely influential the group had become. It was only Wire themselves who had a problem with their history. 'We were very harsh on ourselves in the eighties. We decided that it was 'year zero'. We would start from nothing,' Newman says of the highly productive phase when Wire produced five albums of increasingly electronic work. More gaps ensued, taking up the best part of the 1990s, during which time Lewis moved to Sweden, Newman set up his own record label, Swim, Robert Grey (formerly Gotobed, the band's drummer) settled into life as an organic farmer, and Gilbert continued working as a sound artist.
'One of the things that's worth saying is that we believe in making our music creatively honest. I know that's a terrible word,' says Lewis, 'but it's a full-time job.'
'You've made four old men very happy,' Lewis told the Dublin audience on Sunday. The songs from those classic seventies albums, revisited with muscularity and complete conviction, don't simply sound fresh but, like the albums themselves, they evidently haven't dated. And, yes, they do play 12XU. Welcome back Wire.
Well, isn't that enough to be going on with? Remember that monthly bulletins are available directly from the Wireviews website and with the arrival of www.pinkflag.com there's no excuse for not knowing what Wire and its members are up to.
See you all in June with a roundup of the other live dates and other news.
This newsletter © 2000 WMO limited, except excerpts from other publications which remain the copyright of the original copyright holders.