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Thought Broadcast - Emergency Stairway

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Artist: Thought Broadcast

Album: Emergency Stairway

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: Sep. 19, 2012

With his eyes and ears apparently fixed on a brief moment in the history of European post-punk, namely the 1977-’81 period of industrial music, Ravi Binning brings us his Thought Broadcast project, although perhaps “vomits out” may be a more suitable term to use. Binning doesn’t overtly court the grisly and controversial imagery and subject matters that brought such notoriety to the shoulders of Throbbing Gristle and SPK during that period, Emergency Stairway nonetheless inhabits a sinister netherworld of shadows, machinery and menace. “Thought Broadcast,” after all, is a term used in the study of schizophrenia.

It’s easy, when exploring the various -- and varied -- bands of the early industrial scene, to focus solely on the homemade synths, provocative imagery/lyrics, or the harsh, strident vocals of the Genesis P-Orridges and Blixa Barggelds of this world. But equally important was the way many of those bands approached the tinny, minimal sound of drum machine rhythm. Rather than be put off by the finger-click-like lo-fi beats, the industrial bands (bar Einstürzende Neubauten and Test Dept.) followed Suicide’s lead in embracing them, imbuing their compositions with brittle rhythmic spines that only furthered the machine-like nature of the music through their artificial-sounding jerks and bounces.

Ravi Binning is no different, and his rhythm tracks are a diverse wander through the various archetypes of industrial percussion. Emergency Stairway‘s opener is called “Conflict Dub,” and, whilst its grim tone and faltering synth melody would make King Tubby run a mile, it does share dub’s focus on repetition and slovenly rhythm, with a hypnotic pulsation wheezing away like a broken accordion underneath chilly electronic fuzz. “Orgone Theater,” however, canters along at pace, with a basic, circular, rhythm that sounds like it’s being played by an old Casio or Yamaha synth (as was probably the case). With Binning’s synths crackling and fizzing over the top, “Orgone Theater” and later tracks such as “Breaking Test” and “Portrait Heads” descend directly from the Cabaret Voltaire school of propulsive industrial, particularly classic tracks like “Nag Nag Nag” and “The Setup,” although, with creepy retro-futuristic synths running across it, “Portrait Head” is more tailored for an alien invasion scene from the 1950s than the political dancefloor ethos of the Cabs. Indeed, Thought Broadcast’s music may nod frequently in the direction of CV and SPK, in particular, but it’s also evident that Binning has one ear trained on the sounds emanating from the U.S. synth underground, with Greh Holger’s Hive Mind and Nate Young never more than a subsonic burble away.

Emergency Stairway succeeds because its retro ethos is countered by the crumbled-sounding production. Originally recorded on cassette tape, these 10 tracks have become zombified by the digitization process, with every synth line and bass groove sounding washed out and calcified, leaving only the skeleton beats to falteringly drag each track forward. As post-industrialization and modernization leave most western cities dotted with the husks of abandoned factories and converted warehouses, music like Thought Broadcast’s takes on a new resonance: It may be less political than the screeds of Cabaret Voltaire or 23 Skiddoo and less overtly provocative than SPK or Whitehouse, but it carries a sharp undercurrent of unease that fits perfectly with these inchoately troubled times and proves that referential needn’t mean derivative.

By Joseph Burnett

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