In September 1978, the NME put a band made up of youngsters who had but to launch a document on its cowl. It was the form of dramatic, impulsive transfer to which the music press was often inclined, the form of factor that invariably led to accusations of overheated hype or reckless desperation. By the autumn of 1978, punk was clearly winding down, or at the very least being co-opted by much less suave practitioners than these in its first wave – the massive new noise in that space was the terrace-chant choruses and political populism of Sham 69 – so the hunt was clearly on amongst journalists for one thing totally different, a state of affairs that always led them to make rash decisions. However The Pop Group, whose frontman Mark Stewart glowered on the NME’s cowl, have been something however a determined hype or a rash alternative. Barely out of college, they have been within the means of serving to to outline what turned generally known as post-punk: jagged guitars, funk-inspired rhythms, a daring spirit of experimentation, dub-influenced soundscapes, something however conventional rock. It’s tempting to say you can inform they have been barely out of college. For all of the obvious anguish in Stewart’s vocals, their music appeared powered by a youthful enthusiasm that was wild to the purpose of seeming deranged: it sounded prefer it was throwing every part they have been excited by at you directly. Some folks discovered it overwhelming, an off-putting, chaotic racket. Others have been fully entranced. The Pop Group, Nick Cave later claimed, “modified every part” for him: “it was so direct, so musically ingenious, so improvised”.
What The Pop Group threw at you was largely the results of Mark Stewart’s eclectic, autodidactic musical training, an training that appeared based on an insatiable curiosity, however which he at all times claimed was largely facilitated by his towering top. Already 6ft 6ins by the point he was 12, Stewart not solely absorbed what he noticed on the TV or heard on the radio (he was an enormous fan of glam rock) but in addition was capable of get into locations often off-limits for anybody his age, together with reggae-fuelled blues events in Bristol’s St Paul’s district, and soul golf equipment the place he encountered robust dancefloor funk and jazz and the curious second in 1975 when some soul followers started dressing in a mode that presaged punk – mohair jumpers, spiked hair and the pegged trousers and Fifties fits that turned The Pop Group’s preliminary onstage uniform. There was additionally an area underground bookshop, the place he took in radical political tracts, situationist texts and cultural idea, all of which coursed via The Pop Group’s lyrics and notoriously argumentative interviews: the author Simon Reynolds subsequently in contrast studying a characteristic about The Pop Group to having “your mind set on fireplace”.
So the sounds, ideas and magnificence that made up The Pop Group have been already in place earlier than punk galvanised them into forming a band. However not even punk might put together you for the shock of listening to them, notably on stage – you may get a flavour from the 9 reside tracks appended to the deluxe reissue of their debut album, Y – the place their ardour free of charge jazz improv collided with Stewart’s love for The Stooges, notably the confrontational reside album Metallic KO. “We have been all teenage Rimbauds,” the band’s bassist Gareth Sager mirrored, “devoted to creating hell on stage.” Extra prosaically, the drummer Bruce Smith famous that their gigs have been “both actually extraordinary or fairly terrible”. Whether or not you have been captivated or horrified, there was little probability of ignoring them, which accounts for his or her meteoric rise: the music press curiosity; the assist slots with Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Pere Ubu; a take care of Ubu’s label Radar, which launched The Pop Group’s debut single, She Is Past Good and Evil; a collaboration with the visionary reggae producer Dennis Bovell. If the sound of the A-side – slashing guitars that often degenerated into noise, a super-tight funk rhythm part, cavernous dubby echo, Stewart alternately singing, howling and whispering – wasn’t sufficient to face listeners on their ear, there at all times the B-side, 3:38, which provided the entire thing backwards, smothered in much more echo. Bovell returned for Y, kind of managing to corral the band’s plethora of concepts into one thing coherent on which avant-funk crashed into difficult, atonal soundscapes. It was an exciting mess that gathered lukewarm evaluations – “thrilling however exasperating”, within the phrases of the NME – but when something, The Pop Group turned much more radical in response, whipping up their sound right into a pinnacle of fury on the unbelievable 1979 single We Are All Prostitutes, and the following album For How A lot Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Homicide? Packaged in a collage of press cuttings about the specter of nuclear warfare, famine in East Timor and Pol Pot’s reign in Cambodia, their political stridency appeared to focus The Pop Group’s strategy – the lyrics apart, it’s a extra simply digestible album than their debut – however, by now, the press that had boosted them had turned towards them. It was panned as dour hectoring, whereas the band themselves began falling aside. Stewart more and more appeared extra excited by political protest than music – at one level spending three months working for CND – whereas others wished to shift in a extra jazz-oriented course. They cut up up in late 1980.
However the unhealthy evaluations and the band’s temporary lifespan didn’t matter: they proved vastly influential. If Nick Cave locked on to their extra confrontational points – his edge-of-panic vocals in The Birthday Get together have been audibly impressed by Stewart’s – others took one thing totally different from them: you can hear echoes of their stew of funk, dub, jazz and experimentation in numerous music that subsequently emerged from their residence metropolis. Their influence on Bristol’s music scene was compounded additional once they returned from taking part in reveals in New York bearing cassettes they’d recorded of Kool DJ Pink Alert’s Kiss FM present. The Pop Group’s tapes of nascent rap have been copied samizdat type and distributed across the metropolis: Nellee Hooper, who would finally go on to provide everybody from Soul II Soul to Madonna to U2, was one of many recipients; so was Huge Assault’s Grant Marshall; one other Huge Assault member, Robert “3D” Del Naja, drew covers for the cassettes.
Stewart, in the meantime, briefly joined The New Age Steppers, an eclectic collective of musicians centredon producer Adrian Sherwood, earlier than forming Mark Stewart and the Maffia with a few of its different alumni. Their 1983 debut album, Studying To Cope With Cowardice, provided a mix of electro-influenced rhythms, dub reggae, radical politics and electronics simply as radical and thrilling as The Pop Group’s – its nearer was an astonishing deconstruction of William Blake’s Jerusalem – however its follow-up, 1985’s Because the Veneer of Democracy Begins to Fade, made with the previous disco session gamers who turned Tackhead, was even higher. From the beginning, Stewart had been drawn to rap’s aggression and its avant garde points – he in contrast the beats he heard Kool DJ Pink Alert taking part in to a “jackhammer” and to Lou Reed’s Metallic Machine Music – and Because the Veneer …’s tackle hip-hop was each punishingly heavy and left-field. Strafed with noise, coated in distortion, the album turned an affect on industrial music: one fan, Trent Reznor, subsequently sampled Stewart’s The Mistaken Identify and the Mistaken Quantity on 9 Inch Nails’ Head Like a Gap.
Stewart continued ploughing his personal, idiosyncratic musical furrow. He was generally dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theorist: the worldview he continued to espouse on subsequent solo albums Metatron and Management Knowledge meant questions have been often even raised concerning the state of his psychological well being. However, if he was a conspiracy theorist, he was an unfailingly beneficiant one, notably when it got here to fellow Bristol artists: he assisted Gary Clail’s rise from roofer to High of the Pops; inspired Martina Topley-Chook to sing, and paired her with Difficult, on whose debut solo album, Maxinquaye, Stewart additionally labored. In actual fact, Stewart was a serial collaborator, whose alternative of musical companions was wildly eclectic: he appeared as comfortable working with Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine of Crass, or David Tibet of Present 93, as he did with Huge Assault or chill-out duo Couch Surfers; on one Stewart album alone, 2012’s The Politics of Envy, the supporting forged featured Lee “Scratch” Perry, Primal Scream, Richard Hell, the film-maker Kenneth Anger, PiL’s Keith Levene and Manufacturing unit Ground. It was matched by the sheer breadth of his affect, which spanned every part from dance music producers to the denizens of the post-punk revival – by the mid-00s, The Pop Group have been someplace within the DNA of umpteen alt-rock bands – and sometimes cropped up in some unlikely locations. When the band reformed in 2010, Stewart tweeted the producer Paul Epworth, contemporary from working with Paul McCartney, Adele and Coldplay, and requested him to provide their subsequent album: Epworth instantly agreed, calling it “an honour”.
The ensuing album, 2015’s Citizen Zombie, was as fiery, uncompromising and difficult as something The Pop Group had made of their teenagers – take heed to the title observe or St Outrageous if you would like affirmation that their chaotic model of fury was undimmed, or to the digital Nations if you would like proof that their willingness to chuck the surprising at their viewers was nonetheless current and proper. However then, you fairly obtained the sensation that Mark Stewart hadn’t modified that a lot both. When he appeared on the Guardian’s Music podcast across the time of its launch, it was like a whirlwind with a West Nation accent had blown into the room. Speaking nineteen to the dozen, he was completely charming, extremely humorous, argumentative, stuffed with concepts, insatiably inquisitive about an enormous array of music. His dialog saved going off on surprising, fascinating tangents: you often couldn’t get a phrase in edgeways. He nonetheless appeared powered by a wild, youthful enthusiasm, nonetheless appeared intent on throwing every part he was excited by at you directly.
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