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Consumer Electronics
Estuary English Luke Turner , October 31st, 2014 19:55

The 100 Club, 23rd October 2014. Consumer Electronics are supporting Sleaford Mods and things are going very interestingly indeed. Philip Best and Sarah Froelich (on electronics, stage right) have been joined by Russell Haswell, (stage left in his baseball cap). Best (parading up and down, gut out, tweaking his nipples, screaming) has already had a glass of wine in the eye, and the trio are refusing to get off the stage, which is not going down well with the majority of the crowd. Best starts playing a keyboard melody that sounds as if its straight from the music hall. Someone spits at Haswell, Haswell spits back. I've not seen a gig this divisive in years. "You're fucking ru..." begins one shout, before its silenced by a grenade pulse of noise.

Which is interesting, because if Sleaford Mods' great strength is their ability to bring a snide appraisal of the state of Britain today into the ears of old punks, Oasis beer boys, fashion sorts and, one imagines, before long a far more mainstream audience, then Consumer Electronics are this rage taken to a pure, logical extreme, the sound of repulsion and disgust at the last 30 years. It's not a diss to Sleaford Mods at all to say that following Consumer Electronics they sound like a three chord agit-punk band - the two groups have different missions to undertake. With the Thames estuary now rising as a potential UKIP heartland, this record sounds timely.

Much of the trouble with post-TG, post-Whitehouse 'noise' music is just how moronic much of its politicising is. I've lost count of the number times I've seen some wally yelling in front of Nasty Pictures Of Bad Things Happening. At best it's hopeless and parochial, at worst dangerous, open to all sorts of unpleasant interpretation. What seems to be a frustration with the noise scene is even addressed in 'Affirmation', with its references to speed and a Blackest Ever Black label night. Estuary English (released on the Dirter Label), on the other hand, delivers its message of rage with an unsettling directness of approach in both lyrics, sound design, and even a kind of bleak and saucy wit - "can't talk - cock in mouth situation" is one of my favourite lines of the year.

No, this isn't a pleasant record. It's a horrible one, a malevolent, noisy, collection of squealing electronics, high pressure explosive noise, the occasional shattering bone punch, teasing patters of rhythms and Philip Best's distraught, high speed yapping. His vocals are quite remarkable - for anyone unfamiliar, imagine the "gettinthebackofthevan" policeman from Withnail & I to the nth degree. It's unrelenting and perhaps rather cathartic, but represents more than anything else the vicious outpouring of a man who looks at the scum and the lies and the hypocrisy of nearly every aspect of British life, and is utterly repelled by it.  The "cunt" count is high, the "fuck" count is higher still, and yes, there's a song called 'Sex Offender Boyfriend', but why does this matter now? Why does it feel more than cartoon retread of ground well trodden by Throbbing Gristle thirty-odd years ago?

They matter because nobody ever listened. Everything Throbbing Gristle did was about throwing up a mirror to the society that hated them - oh the grim irony that Sir Nicholas Fairburn, the man who branded them "wreckers of civilisation" in Parliament has now been fingered as a child rapist. TG were squeaky clean compared to the society that hated them - just as the affable academic Philip Best is when put against the contemporary horror of wheedled out telly sex offenders, pre-teen Playboy outfits and stripper heels, rape joking undergraduates and Dapper Laughs, a nation that, as Best screams in 'Teknon' is the "crooked colonial cringe... deathbred Britannia kettled / finally spinning out of control". 

The savagery of disgust is in hard balance with the music. In producer Russell Haswell Best and Froelich have found a perfect creative foil. He controls and refines their Brutalist framework, a constantly evolving shower of metal and electricity that knows exactly where to sit in support of Best's hectoring scream. Haswell has arguably never been given the credit he deserves, with many preferring to focus on the chaos that frequently surrounds him, rather than the attention with which he seems to lavish what he does. Trying to produce and contribute to a racket like this is no mean feat, and it's perhaps as a collaborator that Haswell best finds his voice - this was, after all, a man who was asked to engineer Laibach's magnificent Kapital while still a teenager. 

'Co-Opted By Cunts' has a piston rhythm beneath Best's jolly refrain, expulsions of high pressure fizz, a melody and crescendo in there somewhere, sing-a-long heart attack techno. 'Come Clean' a Cylon raider kicking off in a shit pub that only sells one lager, 'Estuary English' itself is the gorgeous squeal of metal on glass, 'Affirmation' a dentist drill sliding off tooth enamel, through your tongue, and into skull plating. Most snarly of all is 'Sex Offender Boyfriend', an almost jazzy patter backing Bests' finest performance on the record, tactile and yabbering lyrics that conflate sexual exploitation and the mass media's prurient obsession with child abuse with the mundanity of the culture that surrounds it: "third world calculations / substitute details for substance / and information for feeling".

Yet when it comes down to it, there's a reading of Estuary English that doesn't take it as nihilistic, or even despairing. It's a sour taste that's only ever going to be acquired, but it's one that tastes of England, and yet again one is forced to ask, why are more artists not forcing us to suck in a necessary rage? The Kate Tempests of this world are all well and good, but are they not a little too easily absorbed into the Loose Ends Formerly With Ned Sherrin Latitude Festival world of patting yourself on that back about being all right on without actually feeling anything? Perhaps the key line on this brilliant and uncompromising, strangely poetic record is one of the simplest, and comes in opener 'Teknon'. Best screams at us: "What do you think you're fucking doing / what do you fucking think you're doing". If there was ever a time to be disgusted, surely this is it. 

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