Friday, December 27, 2019

Steel pulse

Anyone who, like myself, enjoyed the Sheffield-centred chapter of Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again should have a read of Daniel Dylan Wray's Guardian article on the city's fertile late-1970s/early-1980s music scene. Prompted by Cherry Red's release of a new box set, Dreams To Fill The Vacuum: The Sound Of Sheffield 1977-1988, the piece finds a host of significant players reflecting on that vibrant decade-and-a-bit and what made the Steel City so special.

As it turns out, the decline of its major industry was critical - and not just in a vague, metaphorical, non-specific way. I'm So Hollow's Jane Antcliff-Wilson notes that "the environmental influences were very strong" - "Industrial and austere - steeped in working-class history. Imagination and vision were left to run wild in this bleak landscape" - and Richard Hawley talks of "beauty [coming] out of some very difficult situations". But the collapse of the cutlery industry in fact created precisely the sort of physical environment in which underground music could flourish: a wealth of cheap post-industrial buildings ripe for conversion into studios and performance and rehearsal spaces. Sheffield artists not only looked east to Germany (Kraftwerk and Can) and west to New York (The Factory) for inspiration, but crucially had the means at their disposal to make those visions a reality.

The article is full of great detail - Cabaret Voltaire's Richard H Kirk declaring "We went out of our way to pour petrol on the fire", for instance, and Martyn Ware talking about the Perspex shield behind which The Human League used to perform: "Paul Morley wrote it was some extemporisation around alienation in contemporary society. No, it was to stop skinhead gobbing on the synthesisers." Perhaps most remarkable, personally speaking, was the revelation that Pulp formed as long ago as 1978. For Jarvis Cocker and company, the success they deserved was a very long time in coming.

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