1997 - The Beauty of Pollution:
A Night out with NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS
Having worked under the name Nocturnal Emissions for 15 years, Nigel Ayers has carved out a unique reputation on the experimental music scene. His name has been dropped by everyone from Bjork to Tricky. Ripped off by many but equalled by none, the fact that it is virtually impossible to obtain Nocturnal Emissions releases in record shops only adds to the cult status enjoyed by Ayers. Back in the 80s when other industrial acts were working references to Charles Manson and the Moors Murders into their repertoire, Nocturnal Emissions used suitably treated tapes of revolutionary speeches on their uncompromising albums. When Ayers relocated to Cornwall five years ago, he stopped performing in public. So when I heard Nocturnal Emissions were doing a one-off show, I leapt at the chance to see a band I'd not seen live for nearly a decade.
Somehow it didn't surprise me that those wanting to see this rare Nocturnal Emissions live action were instructed to go to Bromley-by-Bow tube station from where they'd be redirected to the concert. A girl in a Beast of Bodmin Moor sweatshirt told me to make my way under the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach Road. The gig was scheduled to take place in a squatted flat on a derelict housing estate. The Queen Victoria pub had closed since I was there last. The 30s blocks were rotting away with broken and boarded up windows, decay proceeding apace. Given the roar and fumes from the snarled-up traffic that was crawling past the estate, it had been doomed since the present six-lane feeder system was constructed way back in the 60s. I took in the graffiti as I waded through broken glass. 'HANG BLAIR. LARRY IS A CHILD MOLESTER, BOYCOTT CULTURE.' It was an appropriate setting for Ayers to promote his two most recent releases: The Beauty of Pollution and Sunspot Activity.
After I'd flashed a ticket, a bloke wearing a Glossalalia T-shirt ushered me into a ground floor flat. There were fifty or sixty people standing around waiting for something to happen. The water had been cut off two years before and you had to go outside if you wanted to piss. Familiar faces swam into view like so many nightmares. Bruce Gilbert, Robin 'Scanner' Rimbaud, Christoph from Praxis, most of Zion Train, Jake Black, Paul Smith, Susan Stenger, Bill Drummond. Someone handed me a bottle of Kingfisher. There wasn't a lot of light, the electricity for the PA coming from a mobile generator parked outside the flat with wires looped in through the windows. When I arrived, a tape of one-minute Coca-Cola commercials from the late sixties was blasting out. The artists featured on these corporate cuts included the likes of the Supremes, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, the Box Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Aretha Franklin, The Moody Blues, Roy Orbison, The Troggs and least likely of all, Vanilla Fudge.
Eventually these jingles were replaced by the jarring sounds of power electronics. Slides of Princess Di flashed across a screen. Not long after, a couple beside me were swapping jokes, all of which I'd heard before. "What do Diana and Pink Floyd have in common?" They both had a hit with The Wall." Standing solemnly over his keyboards, Ayers announced: "The Diana funeral was a sad psychedelic remix of state propaganda and Reclaim The Streets strategies. Major roads temporarily pedestrianised and festooned with flowers. Pop music pumped out from Westminster Abbey. The M1 motorway brought to a standstill from London to Northampton. However, it needs to be emphasised that car culture was celebrated in the iconography of the Diana death crash. The Mercedes was Diana's means of escape from the evil eye of the paparazzi. The patent contradictions of her public image made her seem a bit more 'human' than the rest of the Windsor gang. Unfortunately, she never gave up her designated role in perpetrating the class system?"
The couple beside me remained studiously unimpressed and continued swapping jokes: "What's the difference between a Lada and a Mercedes? Di wouldn't be seen dead in a Lada." The persistence of this banter left me with the impression that humour was the only way in which this pair could deal with being confronted by something they felt was taboo. Ayers has an ability to touch raw nerves. The harsh commentary wasn't sung and the way in which it was electronically treated made it hard to follow at times. Fortunately the audience had been supplied with Xeroxed transcripts. "Bickering among members of the ruling class is a means of consolidating their power. This is the trick black magicians use to conceal the obvious, to maintain the illusion of power. A chattering circle is created to distract attention away from the fact that wealth is created by the workers and then appropriated by bosses?"
While Ayers proceeded with this meditation on the capitalist social system, the performance artist John Fare was led blindfolded onto the stage. Fare cuts an eccentric figure. He wears trousers made from zips and has a diagram of a brain tattooed onto his shaven scalp. The performance artist paced his left hand on a chopping board with the fingers spread. Fare's assistant Jill Orr is partially sighted and she slammed an axe between her boyfriend's pinkies with increasing speed. Eventually the axe severed Fare's little finger. This was the end of the performance art element within the evening's entertainment.
Fare was rushed across the road to St Andrews hospital where a doctor dealt with his wound. By this time Nocturnal Emissions had finished with Diana and Ayers was performing a new piece entitled Futurist Antiquarianism. The audience was too shocked to take it in. People began to drift away. They'd had enough live action for one night. Ayers was happy enough at this turn of events, his reputation for alienating admirers and emptying concert halls convincingly preserved.
Home in D>Tour magazine, December 1997.
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