True Braves: Southern Death Cult, Moonlight Club, London.
Southern Death Cult are causing a stir; four young braves from Bradford with their finger right on the pulse of the growing disenchantment with a cowardly pop scene. If times are hard; then most pop has never been so facile: the music is gonna get a lot HARDER.
Tonight West Hampstead echoes to the sound of Northern accents and heavy duty fashion, as the Cult’s cult following pack the Moonlight and leave plenty outside and locked out.
Southern Death Cult; the attitude is right – questioning, demanding, smashing at complacency. And the music… tonight’s show left one or two doubts for me.
The Cult bass and drum sound has the power, but lacks the flexibility and subtlety to use it; too often that power becomes just monotonous. Yet… soaring above this, is the most fluent and cutting use of aggressive guitar that I’ve seen in a long time. The Cult’s guitarist simply understands time, space and control, he uses this precious knowledge to great benefit.
And at the front is one very passionate young singer; a Yorkshire Red Indian, wearing war paint and ranting against war. That war paint isn’t fake; this is one vocalist whose colour is true: you want fake Red Indians? Look elsewhere.
Southern Death Cult come from the same stable as Theatre of Hate, the spirit is the same, the attack is quite different. Southern Death Cult haven’t got it right yet; but they’ll get there: don’t wait around, go and see them.
Jim Reid in Sounds, March 5, 1983
Ian: This looks like the Southern Death Cult at the Hammersmith Palais about February ‘83. Billy: That must have been about two weeks after I was fired. Ian: I remember this as one of the very first shows where we had a lot of fans come along to see us. It’s just over three years ago, but it was a definitive turning point cos I knew then that we were starting to go places. My hair looks a bit wet so it must have been a good show!
Gig review: Southern Death Cult at Heaven, London, February 21, 1983
An event rather than just another gig, the hundreds packed around the arches at Charing Cross clamouring to be let into the gates of Heaven signified that the “new positive punk” (to quote a rather naive cover story a rival paper ran a few weeks ago) is becoming a powerful force.
Heralded by fervent devotees as the start of something new and invigorating, bands like Danse Society, Sex Gang Children (stop sniggering) and Southern Death Cult, the apparent leaders of this ‘movement’, have been clasped to the disillusioned bosom of those hoping to recreate the spirit of ’76.
All this, and SDC’s rare London appearances, made this an occasion; the atmosphere was one of repressed excitement, the individualism and tribalism evident in the weird and wonderful garb of their followers. Ranging from the slightly odd to the downright outrageous, they presented a bizarre spectacle, a riot of colours and styles worn with pride.
The adventurous spirit of the fans was not reflected in SDC’s music, though. Maybe it was just me, but their dark, layered sound was ultimately more monotonous than mysterious. The heavy pounding drumbeat and dense guitar varied little, while the wild whoops and cries of vocalist Ian were repeated so often they lost any instinctive or uplifting quality.
The atmosphere at the front however, was wildly enthusiastic. Even when Southern Death Cult lapsed into dirge-like anthems more reminiscent of Deep Purple on downers, the crowd flung themselves about with sweaty fanaticism.
The spectacle was admittedly an exciting one as the band war-danced across the stage, fringes, beads, and ponytails flying, but the music failed to live up to this visual promise.
The dedication of their followers seems to stem more from the feeling of unity, of being part of something, than from the band themselves. There was no sense of vision or purpose in songs like ‘Apache’ or ‘Fat Man’, and claims that this is a no-drink, no-drugs celebration of life seemed slightly hollow in the face of the many kids slumped unconscious in doorways and on chairs.
That something is happening is indisputable, but this was an empty ritualism. If the ‘new positivism’ refers to attitudes and ideas then fair enough, but to herald SDC and their ilk as saviours is misleading. If the ‘new positivism’ refers to attitudes and ideas then fair enough, but to herald SDC and their ilk as saviours is misleading. Right now the theory is a lot more dangerous than the music.
FROM Post punk comes the last tribe, SOUTHERN DEATH CULT, a Bradford group who attack the centralisation of media and political power in London. Paul Morley discovers their anger and aggression in only inspiration – not a way of life.
IAN says: “We’re not an aggressive protest band. We don’t want to be any sort of Gods. Stimulating thought, bringing people together, entertaining people, creating an atmosphere of sheer exhilaration and enjoyment. These are the main things. It has to be a way of breaking through all the cliques, break it down. I’ve got people writing to me who are into Toya, The Associates and ABC. I think that’s fucking excellent. Cos we want to break down all the fucking barriers. This is how it should be, a coming together.”
SOUTHERN DEATH CULT are not to be taken as ragged, haughty, even sordid, despite their name and the way they’ve been slotted onto the outside of the pop mess. Don’t read here what to read into them. Don’t be misdirected when I say they are a group of romantic expectations and vagrant energies, that there’s not a lot of morbid suspicion, that there’s a disquieting fragilitymixed in with the severe inventiveness. Such words are written in the mist on a window.
So; blood-puffed, parched throat, a rush of spirit into the world, a novel awareness of danger and light… the words, the claims, become bland. Only ‘action’ can prove that something special is forming, something as relevant to the times as a fine poem or a lonely girl, something that isn’t too angry, too distraught, too concerned, something that doesn’t feel that to be harsh is enough, that the ‘action’ has to be prefaced with a snarl and accompanied by a fist. The action is something that works despite ‘the things that get in the way’. Things – bias, business, cynicism, that are put there, or things that just materialise.
Southern Death Cult know a lot about the things that get in the way, that interfere with and scratch at the natural dash that exists pure and simple at the start. As soon as the group were written about there were tags and labels and comparisons – never just an abstract emotional response! – and pretty soon it seemed as if it was all going to be sucked into the black hole of big business and small minds.
All those busy bodies with the sticky labels, date stamps, and boxes for the new toys, turning a new energy into just another name. Record labels moved forward with their brat traps, but SDC are not brats; they scoffed at these companies careless attitudes towards what has to be very special to the group.
It’s an ancient dream that the type of energy generated by SDC – back to Banshees, Associates, J D and back beyond and round and through – will remain uninfected. But nothing can stop it coming.
Already with SDC the labels and comparisons sprout like hair.
Ian says: “The group is just an extension of ourselves, our experiences, what the four of us are interested in. We’ve looked like this for years, not just because here’s a group and some kind of new wave we want to lead or anything. When we started people were calling it redskin rock, and I just felt sick. My interest in North American Indians is nothing so superficial and it doesn’t speak for the rest of the group. That was the first cult tag that we had to steer clear of, and we got past that, and we were chugging along and now there’s some new ones coming at us and you think, Oh Christ!”
Barry brings to the group a sly hardness, a neat watchfulness. When he mentions that Bauhaus – “especially the slow songs” – have had quite an impact on him, he pauses and then adds “I make no apologies for that.”
For him it is certainly the music papers who, in their endless quest for diversion, create the division, the fences; who miss the point. For him it is dreadful that inexperienced writers suddenly have an audience of thousands. He talks carefully, listens with a distant interest, and he always looks very sure of himself even when he’s expressing doubts or admitting to a contradiction.
Barry says: “We respect what Sex Gang Children and Danse Society and those other groups we are being attached to are doing for what it is, but we’re not a part of it, we don’t feel that it’s the same.”
Ian says: I don’t think they feel what were about, it’s just some guy’s been sat at a typewriter and he’s decided there’s a new wave.”
Perhaps it’s enough to indicate; there’s an audience falling about waiting for something that is solid and directly related to their experience, something that comes in at an angle, inside out, all skin and nerves, and (here it comes…) I suggest, blandly, to Barry that what ‘it’ is could be the most logical, the purest extension or fulfillment of the energy The Sex Pistols unleashed and he will say, in his way: “Possibly… but that might well be a high thing to lay claim to…”
Ian says: “O god, they might think of some shit name for whatever it’s supposed to be…”
It’s inevitable, and SDC know it. They scratch their heads; but carefully. Have to watch the wonderful hair. I would say – a label, disposable - that SDC play music ‘for God’s sake’.
BARRY Says: “Sitting here and talking about it, it can seem pretentious. We’re trying to intellectualize things that.... that we just do! It just comes naturally. We go on stage and play songs that we wrote and it just comes natural, we just do it. Trying to rationalize it and its direction, its motivation, and the force that comes behind it, er, doesn’t sit right. We just do it.”
BARRY Says: “Look at TOTP (Top of the Pops) now… I think to myself, where’s the progression I thought there was two years ago?” Aky says: “Have you seen TOTP lately? It’s like it was in ’73, ’74, it’s all come back, the pop star thing.”
Barry says: “It’s slipping back into its traditional roles.”
Do you not see any value in subtlety or a kind of literacy and comparative adventure surviving amidst the Crass flash?
Barry says: “Well, it would be an important thing if it was happening, but I don’t see that it is. You might think of some examples to set me wrong, but I don’t think so.”
The bland thing for groups to say is right when we get through there it will be different, and the day comes and nothing happens; as in the Joke getting on TOTP and being as menacing as the theme tune – are groups that claim to be outside the identifiable pop tradition more controllable then they’d like to think?
Aky says: “It depends how you do it, what kind of band you are. I mean, The Exploited have been on and they haven’t lost the hard core punk following.”
Exactly… surely you have to align yourself to some extent with the gloss of the format, its sophistication - in such a context The Exploited ‘alternative’ is laughable, it doesn’t relate to the experience of those who haven’t chosen punk of who are outside, nothing is particularly dislodged, no defences beaten.
I suppose we’re talking about an impact that transcends everything. If you could go on and translate your faith with fierce impact it would ‘work’, a communication outside what you would expect anyway. An impact like Bowie and ‘Starman’ on TOTP, and the Pistols on So It Goes.
Barry says: “It would revolve around faith in ourselves and whether we have it or not. If we had that complete faith we could come across on TOTP and make such an impact, achieve that transcendence and break the barriers…”
Ian says: “People shit in their pants when they see examples like you’ve given. That had to come across. Whether we’ve got that much faith in ourselves… At this point in time I don’t think that we have. It’s happened so quickly. We haven’t had a chance to totally assess everything.”
Such an impact would enable you to wriggle free of any kind of controlling labels.
Ian says: “I don’t think that we’re ready yet.”
So it this sudden exposure harmful?
Barry says: “Certainly when it first happened. We haven’t explored all the possibilities adequately to see how far it can go, so how can we have that complete faith in ourselves?”
Ian says: “We haven’t even found the perfect form for writing our songs yet. Right now we’ve got 11 songs, with four waiting to spring out. I feel that the material we’re beginning to do makes me think, All fucking right, instead of thinking, Oh, well maybe we’ll be able to do it next week, the new stuff makes me think, Well, I’m just going to go and shit in someone’s face. I’m getting that confidence…
“I keep talking about shitting myself, but that’s just how I felt when I saw the Sex Pistols, I just couldn’t believe it. That’s the impact you’re talking about. I dunno whether we’re all too modest to fully explain what the band means to each one of us, it’s hard to look down on... If we were to get all the confidence possible and make that impact it may filter out after that and reach through to all kinds of people, but we’ve got to wait for the right time and when, and if it happens we’ll be able to get past it and just keep going.
Paul Morley in New Musical Express, 2nd October 1982.