The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


23 Skidoo
Beyond Time Euan Andrews , May 16th, 2015 11:16

The radical may finally take refuge behind a false veneer of conservatism. When retreat from the barricades becomes inevitable, forward-thinking minds who previously demanded insurrectionist riots and bitter culls can hide themselves in a society of ideas and free-roaming artistic representation. The struggle continues, but under a façade of respectability in which progressive thought patterns can take firm root. Slowly and discreetly, new forms begin to manipulate societal and artistic spaces, until one day you may awake to find a whole different global politic has been terra-formed.

Artist and sculptor William Turnbull was one such thinker who quietly stayed true to a particular way of seeing the world throughout his life. A primitive modernist whose work seems to embody whole realms of 20th century art movements, Turnbull's sculptures carve ancient meaning and wisdom from contemporary spaces. His paintings are seemingly rudimentary maps depicting primeval landscapes (influenced by flying missions Turnbull undertook during World War II) of which intense contemplation reveals an awareness of man-made society's past and possible future. It's only when you get close to this art, consider it in all its detail, that their inconspicuous surfaces yield layers of hard-won knowledge.

Such meaning can also be found in scrutinising the music of 23 Skidoo, the post-funk hip-hop-punk collective featuring Turnbull's sons Alex and Johnny as core members. This Beyond Time package features both a DVD of the 2011 documentary directed by Alex Turnbull and Pete Stern about William's life, work and influence, as well as a CD composed of 23 Skidoo's soundtrack for the film. Beyond Time is very much a family affair celebrating the rightful importance of two generations of Turnbulls.

The film is a straightforward documentary, ably narrated by Jude Law, which focuses on Turnbull's flight from his family home in Dundee towards the central nexus of 20th century modernist art during the post-war years. Turnbull, who passed away shortly after the making of this film, casts a gruff but wry and pin-sharp intellect across his own past while talking heads such as Nicholas Serota and Antony Gormley pay homage and testament. It's a professional if occasionally functional film which pays close attention to Turnbull's work while instigating in the viewer a deep desire to witness these astonishing effigies of future Gods in the flesh.

As musical accompaniment to Turnbull's visual imagery and bronze icons, 23 Skidoo's soundtrack juxtaposes perfectly in sparking off coloured patinas and twisted moulds to their mutual benefit. Much of the featured music has been repurposed from 2000's self-titled 23 Skidoo album, at the time regarded as a retreat from the revolutionary fervour of their earlier releases in favour of renewal as a more blissed-out Massive Attack. But the material has worn well in the intervening years; 'Dawning (Version)'s smoky piano groove, vinyl crackle and hint of mixology yearns for an urban aesthete's endless Sunday afternoon of the soul, while 'Ayu (Ambient)' alchemises 'In A Silent Way''s organ phrases into translucent vapour. Only the howling ecstatic sax on 'Kendang' tips the soundtrack album into something which can’t just be art gallery ambience, Pharoah Sanders playing to the heavens in a 1971 NYC loft state-of-mind.

Away from these tracks, 'Calypso' incorporates disco minimalism with churning rhythmic loops while the remaining pieces fashion ancient tools with modern methodology into 'Urban Gamelan'. Here, once again, we hear the Turnbulls and their working partners hinting at potential new designs for living and maintaining the possibilities of transfiguration from a bagful of dust. Man the barricades, is what the music of 23 Skidoo and the visual art of William Turnbull seem to be telling us. Man your own barricades so as to create your own society and everyday reality. These ways of living and thinking are in plain sight if you can only see and use them to help yourselves and others like you. The cut-up mosaic of influences and faded structures will eventually reveal unconsidered paths and new terrains free from exploitation.