The Lost Industrial Chapter…

street culture My new book, Street Culture should be hitting the streets soon. Like all of my books, there were compromises and editorial decisions taken during its composition. In order to fit the format my publisher liked, we had to cut some material. A few chapters were truncated. Others were assimilated into earlier chapters. For example, I originally had a chapter on the Scooter Boys, Soulies and Mod Revivalists that followed in the wake of the first wave of Mod, but who were sufficiently different to qualify as a new species. Sadly, space meant condensing them into a postscript in the Mod chapter.

A couple of chapters pretty much disappeared in their entirety. Among these was the one on the Industrial subculture. This was a shame as, while I understood my publisher’s reasoning that they weren’t very well known, this also qualifies as an argument to keep them in. Certainly, in the 90s, industrial music and the accompanying aesthetic carved a significant place for itself in the no-man’s-land between Punk, Goth, Metal and Rave, having a notable impact on the scenes it touched upon. Anyhow, rather than waste the chapter, I thought I’d share it here. Please bear in mind that this is raw, unedited text, so likely contains numerous typos and mistakes. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

As with everything on this site. It’s (c) Gavin Baddeley. Do share, but show respect and professionalism and retain appropriate credits, links and suchlike please.


By many accounts, the Industrial movement is largely the result of a misunderstanding. The term was its origins with the American experimental musician and controversialist Monte Cazazza, who suggested the slogan ‘Industrial Music for Industrial People’ for the Industrial Records label, founded in the UK in 1976. The use of the term industrial in this context had several implications. In part it was an arch comment on the idea that a creative discipline like music could be an ‘industry’. In part it reflected the idea that, now most people laboured in factories rather than tilling fields, a new form of music was necessary that would address this profound change, something wholly different from Rock. Above all it was a provocative, eye-catching moniker for art designed to break down barriers. By the Eighties, Industrial was being re-interpreted as simply referring to any music made predominantly with electronic or mechanical equipment, which wasn’t what the originators had in mind at all.

coum It’s perhaps significant that the Industrial label was founded in London at the height of the Punk explosion, caught up in the same initial frenzy of press outrage. Both movements had roots in the UK’s art schools. While Punk used fashion as a springboard to national notoriety via Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex boutique on the King’s Road, Industrial’s more low profile rise to infamy took place within the art world. Coum Transmission was an avant-garde art collective formed in 1969, with Genesis P-Orridge (Neil Megson) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby) at its core. They specialised in confrontational displays featuring everything from sadomasochism and blasphemy to fireworks and live sex acts. When the prestigious ICA gallery – keen for controversy – booked them to put on a show in the autumn of 1976, the group decided to give them more controversy than they could handle. Now bored with the insular art world, this would be the Coum Transmission’s swansong, an event they entitled ‘Prostitution’.

The show centred on framed pictures of Cosey in her day job – as a pornographic model – with further unorthodox displays focusing on used tampons. ‘It went brilliantly,’ Genesis said of the opening night in Jon Savage England’s Dreaming. ‘The stripper came and stripped. I got attacked by a guy from the Evening News. He came up behind me and smashed me over the head with a beer glass without saying a word. And I looked round and there he was with this glass. Then he went mad: he kicked somebody else in the balls, and then attacked three policemen outside with a brick. He got let off with a fine and then wrote this long vehement slag which triggered all the media off.’ Members of Coum duly appeared in angry newspaper headlines alongside prominent Punks, memorably dubbed ‘wreckers of civilisation’ by an outraged MP after the show inspired debate in Parliament.

Industrialculturehandbook Satisfied that they had made an impact, the art collective transformed into the band Throbbing Gristle (northern English slang for an erection) and formed the Industrial Records label. ‘When we shifted from Coum Transmissions to TG, we were also stating that we wanted to go into popular culture, away from the art gallery context, and show that the same techniques that had been made to operate in that system could work,’ Genesis later explained. ‘We wanted to test it out in the real world, or nearer to the real world, at a more street level – with young kids who had no education in art perception, who came along and either empathized or didn’t; either liked the noise or didn’t.’ He was being interviewed in Industrial Culture a cult 1983 US book that was instrumental in transforming the outrageous antics of Throbbing Gristle and a few like-minded audio experimentalists – many of them on the Industrial Records label – into the basis of an international subculture.

throbbing The acts and individuals featured in Industrial Culture – such as Non, Cabaret Voltaire and Monte Cazazza – were a motley crew, chiefly bound together by their determination to challenge taboos and accepted concepts of what qualified as music. Music shouldn’t be simple entertainment – something to lull the listener – but a sharp shock that provoked the target into life. At least as important as any audio output was the ideological, visual and performance component of this new Industrial revolution. Imagery was drawn from the most provocative sources possible – from autopsies to Nazi death camps – while gigs were often ordeals of harrowing noise and deliberately disorientating lights and visuals. It was evolving into a giant experiment – with the audiences as guinea pigs – based upon theories drawn from everywhere from arcane occultism and avant-garde art, to Beat poetry and totalitarian propaganda. It was profoundly challenging and defiantly chaotic – too strange, obnoxious and perverse to command attention from any but determined devotees of cultural excess and the masochistically pretentious.

In 1981 Genesis P-Orridge had terminated Throbbing Gristle, founding Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, an organisation with self-conscious overtones of a deviant mystical cult, blended with elements borrowed from cult literature, most notably the work of the maverick Beat writer William S. Burroughs. (The deliberately dyslexic spelling reflected eccentric ideas about breaking down reality by breaking down language.) Determined to defy expectations, the movement’s musical arm, Psychic TV, began issuing Pop records. Among the more significant releases were the 1988 fake compilations Jack the Tab and Tekno Acid Beat (actually all composed by members of PTV under pseudonyms), born of P-Orridge’s interest in American Techno and Acid House music, and he’s been credited with introducing the sounds to the UK underground before electronic dance music became a mainstream phenomenon. As Industrial became established as a coherent subculture during the Eighties, it split in two distinct directions.

psychic tv
One faction buried further into the bowels of the underground, determined to retain the kudos of being too outrageous or oblique for popular consumption. A diverse range of obscure subgenres emerged beneath the broad banner of Industrial culture, such as Dark Ambient (sinister, synthesised soundscapes), Neofolk (Folk music with provocative imagery or lyrics), and the somewhat self-explanatory Noise music. Genesis is dismissive of many of the late arrivals to the scene. ‘Sometimes I think we’ve given birth to a monster, uncontrollable, thrashing, spewing forth mentions of Auschwitz for no reason,’ he told Savage. ‘It’s funny, because when I really think about it, the original half-dozen who started it all off are still the best ones… Whereas now they all sound like each other, and more than each other they sound like weedy fragments that they’ve honed in on, of one or the other people.’

Killing Joke While some Industrial artists were happy to keep toiling away in obscurity, endeavouring to challenge notions of good taste on bizarre limited release recordings that only reached a tiny clique of like-minded lost souls, others saw no reason the results of their audio experiments shouldn’t reach wider audiences. These acts later became known as Electro-Industrial, developing an abrasive amalgam of ominous Synth-Pop, disturbing samples and angry attitude, a sound that could work on both darker dancefloors and among more adventurous Alternative crowds. The standard-bearers for this more aurally digestible – if equally jagged, punishing and bleak – species of Industrial included Skinny Puppy from Toronto, Chicago’s Ministry, and the London pioneers Killing Joke. However the band that brought Industrial music into the album charts was Nine Inch Nails, a project founded in 1988 in Ohio by Trent Reznor, who would become one of the most influential musicians of the Nineties.

Reznor’s sceptical of claims that he’s popularised Industrial music. ‘There’s a scene that has been flourishing for the past five years or more,’ he told Axcess magazine in 1994. ‘Underground club oriented danceable music has been labelled industrial due to the lack of coming up with a new name… What was originally called industrial music was about 20 years ago Throbbing Gristle and Test Department. We have very little to do with it other than there is noise in my music and there is noise in theirs. I’m working in the context of a pop song structure whereas those bands didn’t. And because someone didn’t come up with a new name that separates those two somewhat unrelated genres, it tends to irritate all the old school fans waving their flags of alternativeness and obscurity. So, I’d say I’ve borrowed from certain styles and bands like that. Maybe I’ve made it more accessible. And maybe by making it more accessible it’s less exclusive. I just make music that I want to make, that’s interesting.’

NIN It was also music that lots of people found interesting and wanted to hear, and by the late-Nineties Nine Inch Nails were enjoying high-profile commercial and critical success, with influential voices like Time magazine singing his praises, alongside numerous plaudits, awards and endorsements from within the music industry. Reznor’s successful recipe – blending traditional musicianship with cutting-edge recording technology – had a broad appeal. The driving beats and barbed guitar hooks made it both danceable and aggressive, while Reznor’s clever, troubled, deeply personal lyrics were also a powerful draw. Crucially, he also appreciated that Nine Inch Nails had to deliver live, and while there were parallels in Reznor’s downbeat introspective subject matter with Grunge, he led the pendulum swing away from the Seattle scene’s low key, ‘natural’ live style, back towards staging bombastic spectaculars on stage. ‘I’m not trying to hide, or make up for a lack of songs, but essentially Nine Inch Nails are theatre,’ explained Reznor. ‘What we do is closer to Alice Cooper than Pearl Jam.’

Initially, Nine Inch Nails – and his high profile protégé ‘Antichrist Superstar’ Marilyn Manson – attracted a large following among the Goth crowd. Reznor’s black clothing and eyeliner image chimed with Goths, as did the thoughtful, spiky lyrics. But it was the Heavy Metal community that embraced Nine Inch Nails most enthusiastically, and as the band’s music began to chart, many Goths began to dismiss them as sell-outs, similarly disowning Manson and his building legion of fans as counterfeit Goths. Meanwhile, by the late-Nineties ‘Industrial’ had become the buzzword on the Metal scene, as even long-established artists recorded tracks in the signature, grinding inorganic sound, or started Industrial side-projects. Even Hip Hop wasn’t immune to Industrial’s caustic charms, and some even refer to a specific subgenre of Industrial Hip Hop, though in truth the crossover bore little fruit, certainly in comparison to the powerful impact Industrial had on cutting-edge Metal.

Front_242_-_Interception While the increasing intrusion of muscular guitars alienated many Goths from Nineties Industrial music, as increasingly defined in many eyes by Nine Inch Nails, they didn’t abandon the genre entirely. Parallel to the emergence of the Rock-influenced species of Industrial was a version that cross-pollinated with the vibrant dance scene emerging in the post-Disco era. The term ‘Electronic Body Music’ was coined by Kraftwerk – part of the influential Krautrock movement of German bands exploring new technology in the Seventies – and EBM became a genre in its own right in the Eighties. In particular, the Belgian band Front 242 popularised the term with a sound that fused Kraftwerk’s pounding rhythms and repetitive melodies with Throbbing Gristle’s confrontational attitude. For those drawn to the mesmeric beat of Techno, but turned off by its relentlessly up-tempo ethos and mindless mainstream image, EBM was a revelation, opening up new musical horizons.

EBM took many Goth clubs by storm in the late-Nineties, sweeping more traditional Post-Punk and Gothic Rock sounds from playlists as trend-savvy DJs noticed that it invariably filled the dancefloor. Traditionalists blamed the development on the increasing presence of ecstasy pills on the scene, and dismissed EBM as mainstream Techno in an unconvincing disguise. Yet they were fighting against the tide, and by the end of the Nineties Cybergoth was the hottest new style on the London Goth scene, a look that dispensed with the funereal Victoriana of Trad Goth in favour of an image that owed more to Rave culture and science fiction than the Gothic aesthetic. Black lace, incense and flowing gowns were yesterday’s news, in favour of PVC, luminous colours, lurid artificial hair and glow-sticks. Traditional Goth styles of dance – melodramatic and wistful – also began falling out of vogue, displaced by the more energetic moves demanded by an incessant electronic beat.

There was much cross-pollination with Rivethead subculture, which developed in parallel to Cybergoth. While Cybergoth was as camp as classic Goth, if in a futuristic fashion, Rivethead was a more masculine style adopted by aficionados of Industrial music, who stomped onto the scene in the late-Nineties. The stereotypical Industrial fan of the Eighties – inasmuch as there was one when the scene was so diverse – wore black army surplus gear and boots. A few favoured military symbols or even uniforms with incendiary nationalist overtones, though for most this was just an extension of early Industrial’s shock aesthetic. Rivetheads retained the military look, but discarded the ugly ideological baggage, adding a post-apocalyptic Mad Max-style spin that owed something to Punk and even more to the imagery of heavy industry. Think goggles (also favoured by Cybergoths), heavy boots, piercings, dreadlocks, Mohicans and nuclear or biohazard symbols – an image that embodied the original Industrial Records slogan of ‘Industrial Music for Industrial People’ – even if it’s not what was envisaged way back in 1976.

The story of Industrial music is emblematic of a question that echoes throughout this book – who gets to define a specific genre or subculture? Genesis P-Orridge and his maverick co-conspirators meant something entirely different when they coined the term, but ‘Industrial music’ captured the popular imagination when artists and fans reinterpreted it as a license to explore new musical technology. The technical innovations initially regarded with great suspicion by many Rock artists and fans are now accepted tools in the recording process. The style certainly broke down boundaries – explored new territories – but ‘Industrial’ is no longer the buzzword for innovation it once was. The shock tactics of the originators have grown stale, the technological innovations have inevitably dated. ‘Industrial culture?’ ponders Genesis. ‘There has been a phenomena; I don’t know whether it’s strong enough to be a culture. I do think what we did has had a reverberation right around the world and back.’

ISIS By Any Other Name…

I’ve found the ongoing pompous debate over what we should call ISIS (or ISIL or Daesh) simultaneously entertaining and exasperating. I instinctively bristle when anybody tries to tell me which words I should – or even can – use. Particularly because said language police are almost invariably pontificating from their posteriors.

This is mostly certainly the case in this debate.

Many Western commentators – including numerous high profile figures who presumably have squads of researchers at their beck and call – are keen we stop using ISIS because, they sagely inform us, Daesh is the correct term. ISIS contains the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘State’, and we don’t want to dignify these people with either designation. Far better Daesh, because Arabs use it on the ground, because it is an insult.

Only it isn’t. It’s simply the Arabic for exactly the same acronym as ISIS, complete with the words Islamic and State. D’oh. In fact, if anything, by insisting on this change I’d argue you’re insulting the Islamic world further by not even bothering to make even basic attempts to understand the Arabic words you’re misappropriating. (For extra pedant points, the second ‘S’ in ISIS refers to Sham, not Syria. Sham is the region containing Syria. Confusing the two is akin to thinking England and Britain are interchangable.)isisflag

More importantly, the ideas behind this posturing are at best flawed. Removing ‘Islamic’ from the acronym won’t stop ISIS being Muslims any more than rebranding a Big Mac as a lettuce sandwich will make it healthy. Similarly Islamic State isn’t a state? Maybe, but by the same lofty definitions applied in this argument – of good governance and respecting the niceties of basic human rights – neither are many of our Muslim, slave-owning allies in the region. And if they aren’t states, why are we selling them so many arms?

Hmmm. I’m reminded of those wearying historical wags who never tire of reminding us that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor an empire. Perhaps. But you try describing Renaissance European history without the term. Terminology twists and adapts to suit the subject it describes. You can’t make Islam the religion of peace simply by insisting that anybody who does anything wrong is ergo no longer a Muslim. There’s been way too much blood for that to wash.

So what’s the solution? If we abandon ISIS then has the dog from Downton Abbey died in vain? ISIL seems like a pointless compromise, and sounds like a fabric conditioner. Daesh just seems to underline Western ignorance of the situation in the Middle East, which is what got us into this shit in the first place. How about returning to ISIS’s original moniker?

If we started calling them Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad again it would surely deprive them if the oxygen of publicity, because none of us can fucking pronounce it.

A Countercultural Conversation

My publisher suggested I conduct a brief interview to promote my new book Street Culture: 50 Years of Subculture Style. So I recorded a brief conversation with the actress Natalie Boyd, in which we discuss the ideas behind the book, what I learnt writing it, and what the future might hold for the colourful world of counterculture. With thanks to the wonderful folk at Ink Blot Films for providing the expertise and equipment at such short notice.

Time to Panic…

Satanic Panic website Those with an interest in matters demonic, will be interested in this intriguing book due out later this year. Entitled Satanic Panic: Pop Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s, it features a range of insightful essays and interviews from established authors, and up-and-coming talents, including a contribution from yours truly. For more details on this exciting project from Canadian publisher Spectacular Optical, as well as how you can avail yourselves of a range of Satanic special offers via crowd-funding, check out the book’s Indiegogo page here.

No Laughing Matter…


I seldom if ever ‘lol’. Of course I do encounter things on the web that make me laugh – it’d be a pretty scary place if you couldn’t laugh at it – but the expression itself feels wrong, so I usually avoid it.

In part due to overuse. A lot of our, shall we say less cerebral friends, lol like it’s a nervous tic, appending each and every comment with a lol. If you paid attention to these, you’d get the impression that the net had canned laughter, which would never do.

I’m also unsure of the effect you’re supposed to have in your head when you encounter a lol. I suspect that those that use them a lot think it’s a wry, winsome smile. For me, however, it reflexively translates as a daft gurgle. This may well reflect more on me than the rest of the world…

But the lol is useful – a necessary evil?

Some have attempted to replace the lol with hahaha. It makes me feel like a character in a Batman comic. I suppose there are worse things. Hehehe turns the whole thread into a Beano strip. Or it could be a cartoon witch.

Don’t get me started in rofl. If you really were… Let me put it like this. It reminds me of a doctor I had many years back. A no-nonsense Northern Irish GP, he told it how it was. He prescribed me with some strong pills, which as one potential side effect had seizures. “So what do I do if I’m having a fit?” I asked. “Oh, I should phone the hospital…”

I guess, like my Irish doctor, we all find our laughs where we can…

The Castle of Indolence Beseiged (an electoral broadcast…)

Indolence The Castle hight of Indolence,
And its false Luxury;
Where for a little Time, alas!
We liv’d right jollity.

O mortal Man, who livest here by Toil,
Do not complain of this thy hard Estate;
That like an Emmet thou must ever moil,
Is a sad Sentence of an ancient Date:

And, certes, there is for it Reason great;
For, though sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
And curse thy Star, and early drudge and late,
Withouten That would come an heavier Bale,
Loose Life, unruly Passions, and Diseases pale.

‘The Castle of Indolence’
James Thomson

With the election now mere hours away, my thoughts have turned to matters political. It is very difficult to know who to vote for, as each party in turn has committed themselves to policies I find quite impossible to endorse. Yet I feel I should put my cross somewhere, and some time back developed a foolproof process of elimination. Any party that employed my least favourite political cliché was immediately out of the running in my books. The odious cliché I refer to?

“Hard Working fucking Families…”

But what could any reasonable person find objectionable about such a phrase, embodying as it does the moral and economic backbone of our proud nation? Allow me to explain…

Conservative Party Annual Conference, Manchester, Britain - 02 Oct 2013 Taking the first part of the phrase, I have no time for anyone who thinks that hard work is a virtue unto itself. I think I’m pretty well qualified to comment, as I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. I’ve worked hard on occasion. Typed away until the screen began to blur and the sun crept around the edges of the curtains when a fierce deadline loomed. I’ve also had my share of hard graft in the past, walking home like a wound-down clockwork toy due to exhaustion, falling asleep with a beer in my hand in front of the TV. I’ve also experienced idleness. Doing nothing for the sake of it, or simply because there was nothing much to do.

I’m not a fan of either. Idleness gets dull pretty fast if you have a lively mind. Work too hard and you make mistakes, and ultimately forget why on earth you’re doing what you’re doing. The sensible route is a compromise. Work hard enough to get the job done, but build in period for reflection and to recharge your batteries. The idea that we are just here to work is a pernicious lie. Many people are fulfilled by their jobs, but if you’re not, then it is a means to an end, not some sacred calling.

There are many myths about the nobility of labour perpetuated by those who benefit most from the sweat of others. Working hard is not a selfless act – quite the reverse – it is more often the hallmark of a selfish soul. Perhaps you are working hard because you enjoy it? If so, you scarcely deserve a round of applause. Maybe you hope to earn enough to obtain something? While you may deserve whatever material rewards you achieve, a medal does not come with it. The fact is, the people who earn most from working, are usually those making the world a more miserable place to live.

We should no more laud the hard work of, say, bankers, than we should be praising Jack the Ripper for his tenacity and devotion to his chosen vocation.

Leaving work aside for a second, what of the family? Surely everybody approves of this institution, the very embodiment of affection and selfless devotion. I am blessed to be part of a small, but loving family, and think the world of all of them. Yet I’ve no intention of creating another family of my own at present. Some people charge that those who choose to live child-free are selfish. Once again, I’d suggest that is the very reverse of the true situation, because I put it to you that people seldom, if ever have children for truly altruistic reasons.

There are many motives for starting a family. Perhaps you want to stabilise a fragile relationship? Maybe you like the idealised family life you’ve seen on the TV in adverts and sit-coms? Perhaps you want to rerun your own unhappy childhood, with a happy ending to this one? Perhaps the idea of somebody wholly dependent on you, who’ll love you unconditionally appeals? I suspect the most common motivation is to achieve a kind of immortality, to inflict another version of yourself upon the world.

soylent It could be any one of these, a mixture, or something else entirely. Whichever, almost every instinct to begin a family has a large selfish component. So, my hats off to you for taking on a tough, demanding commitment. But don’t try and pretend you’re doing the world a favour by reproducing. Even with modern contraception, avoiding pregnancy can be more of a challenge than yielding to the biological imperative. In the modern world, just about the only resource not running low is idiots. Creating more isn’t a service to humanity. You’d do more good keeping an allotment.

I don’t hate families, or children, any more than I abhor work. I just reject the absurd ideology that sanctifies them. In place of hard working, how about praising the clever? Or kind? Or even amusing? Virtues far less ambivalent than the blind belief in the moral superiority of hard labour. Similarly, while some of us are in happy families, others aren’t, whether by circumstance or design. But we’re all individuals, who should be equally deserving of the attention and approval of our political masters.

Unless, of course, they’re only really interested in the amount of work we can do to make their obscenely wealthy economic masters even wealthier. And the amount of work our children can do once we’ve dropped from exhaustion. I’m reminded of an old Yorkshire proverb…

‘Ear all, see all, say nowt;
Eyt all, sup all, pay nowt;
And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt –
Allus do it fer thissen.

A Surprise New Addition to the Library…

bookcover This book has been in the works so long I was kind of taken aback when a copy finally landed on my front door mat. But here it is… It’s an attempt to chart the history of counterculture, getting under the skin of every major style cult fromn the teddy boys to cybergoth and beyond. I’ll reveal some more details and share a few reviews (assuming they’re not too unkind) presently. But for now I think I’ll just sit back and recover from the shock that it’s actually here!…

The Dreary New Game of Thrones

A curious notion struck me earlier, spawned by pre-election bickering over inheritance tax here in Britain, and recent political events Stateside…
With the current incumbent of the White House an African American, and one of the front-runners for the next leader of the most powerful nation on earth a woman, are sexism and racism really the chief barriers to equality these days, at least in the West?

Clorox Might nepotism be the elephant in the room, the real enemy of opportunity, neglected as we become focused on issues of race, gender and sexuality to an absurdly acute degree? I could use the current furore over a tweet from a bleach company which the usual suspects have branded racists, as if a bathroom product PR team would really deliberately advocate white supremacism as a marketing strategy. It’s mindless noise for the sake of it – and I could’ve picked a different stupid non-story from the net pretty much any day of the week – but is this moronic sanctimonious din distracting attention from the real story?

Clintons The female candidate I referred to above is of course Hillary Clinton, making this surely the first time we may have a husband and wife as presidents of the US. Considering America’s population, what in Hell are the odds of that? One of Hillary’s most vocal opponents is rival candidate Jeb Bush. If he wins he’ll be following in the footsteps of his brother and father. Again, remember how many fucking people there are in America, then contemplate some stats. This is nothing new of course – consider the legendary Kennedys – but is it getting worse?

Bullingdon Naturally we are hardly immune here in Blighty. The leadership of the Labour Party was effectively contested between two brothers. Inevitably, in Britain, class rears its ancient head, and another obvious, less hereditary establishment clique is Oxford University’s infamous Bullingdon Club. I don’t want to get judgemental on their riotous behaviour – I’m not here to play the puritan right now – just draw attention to how one tiny club contains so much of the future elite. Our prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer, and Mayor of London (and possible future prime minister) all members of this exclusive set. Again, considering the UK population, what are the odds?

You could argue that cliques are inevitable – that we all naturally employ and trust those we already know -but the extent to which the influential and powerful are all drawn from people who know each other from across the breakfast table seems to be reaching newly incestuous levels.

It isn’t confined to politics of course. Everything from music and acting, to architecture and advertising – every desirable career path – is now suffocating beneath a culture of nepotism. If you ever wonder how so many folk of little evident ability or talent keep cropping up on your screen, in the news, in positions of power, check out who their parents – or at most god parents – are. Way more often than not, you’ll recognise the name.

We sneer loftily at those less developed nations ruled by corrupt dynasties, royalty in name or effect, while our own ‘democracy’ drifts ever further into a sticky web gummed together by blood. People rail against our own royal family as if this were the worst, or even a significant example of unearnt power and privilege, yet the Windsors are surely among the most impotent, least pernicious of the family firms currently carving up our world. I suspect we are approaching an era that will make the dynastic tyrannies of our medieval forebears look egalitarian and meritocratic by comparison…

Another Nasty Episode in Wales…

Part II

[Better late than never as the tired old adage has it. After my site’s long hiatus due to ‘technical difficulties’, I thought I’d finally post the second part of my coverage of last year’s excellent Abertoir festival (part one can be found here). While now more than a little tardy, several of the films previewed there are now seeing general release. Plus, I had such a good time, it’d seem criminal not to scribble down the rest of my fervid thoughts on the matter. So, without further ado, more rum doings in Wales…]


The weekend kicked off with another of those cross-disciplinary horror events that Abertoir does so well. In this case, film scholars Mark McKenna and Johnny Walker presented an illustrated talk entitled From Video Collecting to Contemporary Cinema, continuing the festival’s focus on the 1980s ‘Video Nasties’ panic. While both gents are academics, they’re also clearly dedicated horror enthusiasts, and the engaging presentation successfully walked the line of taking an oft-condemned field seriously, while never losing sight of the fact that these films were always supposed to be fun. It was still a slightly odd feeling to see all of those films I’d watched through a fug of booze and smoke in my teen years being subjected to serious scholastic scrutiny.

the-pool-poster-dutch Next up, after lunch on Friday, was the UK premier of Dutch chiller The Pool. Two families go on a camping holiday in the woods. But things do not go according to plan, and job issues, family stress and sexual tension conspire to make an idyllic, bucolic setting feeling increasingly oppressive and malign. Meanwhile, something ancient and seductively malevolent lurks beneath the murky surface of the pool they have camped beside. Frequently creepy and, on occasion, nightmarish, The Pool is a darkly refreshing change from the usual, predictable Hollywood product, that will please fans of atmospheric horror cinema that doesn’t pander to Hollywood cliches.

canalreview0003 Continuing the watery theme, Friday’s following feature was The Canal, an Irish film that also felt fresh compared to much of what you might see at your local multiplex. While superficially it sounds like wearyingly familiar fare – a ghost story that uses haunted audiovisual technology to update the scares – The Canal attacks its subject with much more skill and originality than the glut of formulaic ghost movies being pumped out by major studios right now. Seeing the indies do it right like this is a reminder why it’s so rewarding to attend festivals like Abertoir, that screen superior, low profile material you might never otherwise see.

Sabbaton Next up was a one-man play, an adaptation of The Temple, a short story by cult horror author H.P. Lovecraft. I’m somewhat sceptical of experimental theatre, and The Temple isn’t one of Lovecraft’s better stories, but I needn’t have worried. Performed by Michael Sabbaton, an actor who specialises in such productions, it tells the story of a German U-boat captain, the last surviving crew member of a submarine that has lost power and is inexorably sinking into the ocean’s stygian depths, as his sanity steadily dwindles. Hypnotic, effective and tense, and a true treat for Cthulhu mythos devotees, I shall certainly be trying to catch Mr Sabbaton’s next tour.

Friday night concluded with a crowd-pleasing screening of Gremlins followed by an 80s themed disco. We ducked out of the former to get a pint, then concentrated exploring the Abertoir themed beers and cocktails through the disco as, to be honest, strutting our stuff was not my company’s strong suit. And so to bed, in preparation for a full programme on Saturday…


Faults Opening Saturday’s programme was Faults, a film that deserves plaudits for tackling a difficult and important, yet not overtly commercial subject, with courage and intelligence. Clearly low budget, the film rests squarely on the performances of the leads, playing a disgraced cult-buster (Leland Orser), and the young girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) he’s been hired to de-programme from the new age cult she’s joined. Both deliver powerhouse performances in a clever film that keeps you guessing till the final scene, while deftly exploring concepts like brainwashing and religion. Faults is, in the best sense of the term, a subtle mind-fuck.

TuskPart II Next up was Tusk, the new film from cult director Kevin Smith. Smith alienated much of his core audience with his previous, oddball, provocative thriller Red State (and accompanying media outbursts) and I doubt Tusk will change that. It’s likely too goofball and quirky for most horror audiences, and too unabashedly dark and macabre for his former fans. But I really liked it. It’s a pitch-black, absurdist comedy about social media and serial murder that pays little heed to modern taste or cinematic convention, featuring Johnny Depp in one of his most unconventional roles, and I howled and gagged throughout in all the right places.

Contaminationposter We went retro next with Contamination (aka Alien Contamination), an Italian Alien rip-off from 1980 that got caught up in the Video Nasties panic. It’s director Luigi Cozzi and star Ian McCulloch were on hand to explain matters in person after the screening, though even they could shed little light on a wildly lurid, irresistibly silly plot about exploding extraterrestrial eggs, drunk astronauts and space cyclopses. It was, of course, sublime fun, and the Q&A afterwards a treat, as McCulloch talked about fighting midgets and Cozzi revealed that the film was only funded as part of a drug smuggling caper.

horrorexpresscover Abertoir always go the extra mile to offer something different, and Saturday concluded with a moonlit ride through the haunted Welsh countryside on a vintage steam train, followed by a screening of the 1972 shocker Horror Express on the station platform. Bringing together the peerless cast of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas, Horror Express explores what happens when a brain-sucking alien encounters two Edwardian British gents on the Trans-Siberian Express. Our train journey was less eventful, but just as wonderful (and similarly chilly) and even though I’ve seen Horror Express numerous times, I shall never forget watching this toothsome slice of Euro-horror in such a perfect setting!


Starry_Poster27x40.indd Sunday’s opener Starry Eyes has been enjoying some praise among horror devotees as an underrated gem, but I’m afraid I wasn’t so taken with it. It felt too much like hipster filmmakers making a film about hipster filmmakers trying to make films. The lead is convincing as a highly-strung ambitious actress, but I’ve known enough neurotic narcissists in my time, and didn’t relish spending too much time in her company. I don’t believe a film needs sympathetic characters, but if the characters don’t engage, the plot has to, and the whole ‘Hollywood is wicked’ schtick felt pretty tired here. Starry Eyes isn’t a disaster, but I thought it fell rather short of its building reputation.

Next up was pianist Paul Shallcross, who’s become something of an Abertoir institution with his live soundtracks for silent horror films. Like last year, Paul chose a selection of short films, which works very well, as movies that are sometimes over a century old can challenge modern attention spans. This time he accompanied a quintet of subjects of a more whimsical tone, though the 1927 British short about premature burial, inspired by Rachmaninov’s famous Prelude in C sharp minor, was pleasingly dark. Paul’s compositions really brought the films to life, as did his informative, amusing introductions, making for a splendid programme that comes highly recommended.

ratscast It was now time for another Abertoir institution, in the shape of the Bad Film Club, hosted by comedians Nicko and Joe. Every year the identity of the turkey concerned is kept top secret until the day, with this year seeing the audience subjected to the 1984 stinker Rats: Night of Terror. A disarmingly inept Italian Mad Max rip-off, which tries – and fails – to up the post-apocalyptic ante by introducing sentient rats, Nicko and Joe mercilessly mock the film’s countless shortcomings, while encouraging the audience to join in the fun. It’s a winning formula, that contributes yet more variety to Abertoir’s commendably varied programme of horror themed entertainment.

How do you top something like that? Well, with an evening with Ian McCulloch, fresh from his engaging Contamination Q&A the previous night. Ian was a popular, accomplished actor who happened to stumble into roles in a number of the most notorious banned horror films of the Video Nasty era. Only nominally horror related – you suspected his popularity in the genre somewhat bemused him – Ian’s presentation at Abertoir was akin to an accomplished after-dinner golf club speech, replete with theatrical anecdotes and blue jokes, alongside some eccentric musical interludes. Only at Abertoir could you find yourself in an auditorium full of horror fans, singing a children’s song about dinosaurs, led by the star of Zombie Flesh Eaters on guitar…

Dead-Snow-2 The week’s finale came all too soon, a preview screening of the sequel to the popular 2009 Norwegian Nazi zombie romp Dead Snow. I have to say I felt that the original was a bit too self-aware – nudging the audience in the ribs a little too often – and that Dead Snow: Red vs Dead was worse in that department. It’s received some pretty good notices, but I found the introduction of the nerdy American ‘Zombie Squad’ – evidently introduced to appeal to US fans – nearly ruined the film for me with their grating ‘geek chic’. Happily, every time this infuriating trio made me want to abandon the film, the director fired off another bad taste sight gag – a Nazi tank shelling a woman pushing a pram or suchlike – so I’d give Red vs Dead a mitigated thumbs up.

[This year will be Abertoir's tenth anniversary, and I have little doubt that the crew will pull out all the stops yet again. It's a very special event. Sadly, Afan ab Alun, a regular attendee, died last year. He left money in his will to contribute towards the 2014 event. That's the kind of festival it is, and I wouldn't miss the 2015 Aber for the world. See you there!]