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Album Of The Week

The Lead Review: Harry Sword On Broken English Club's Suburban Hunting
Harry Sword , November 27th, 2015 10:46

As Oliver Ho releases the debut full-length from his Broken English Club alias on Cititrax this month, Harry Sword wanders through both his discography and the explorations of the surrealist mundanity and militaristic rhythms that litter this new body of work.

When I was 16, I had a job washing up in an industrial sized kitchen. I remember imagining what it would be like having to stay there forever. Would the appliances take on hitherto unimagined significance; would I invent strange rounds and rituals? Would the labels of the dishwasher chemicals and cleaning fluids - the tubs of rough salts - take on quasi religious meaning or strange poetry invisible to the naked eye? In the absence of artistic stimulus of any kind, could a peeling yellow dishwasher manual become some sacrosanct talisman - functional words devoid of emotion primed with the importance of religious scripture. Could transcendence be gleaned from total solitude; a cult of one, alone amongst the banality of the creaking gear?

The music Oliver Ho makes as Broken English Club evokes the surrealism, horror, beauty and boredom behind the everyday; the sense you sometimes gets in the strangest of places that proceedings are skew whiff - the oddness of an England decrepit and familiar. Peeling yellow council offices, still stained with 80s nicotine and helpline posters with two digit area dialling codes; an abandoned Little Chef covered with posters for long gone garage nights; the station pub that has no regulars and is always empty when you pass; the flickering carparks, cavernous swimming pools and crumbling municipal leisure centres that hum with occult significance if you tune in hard enough. Dark spirit pregnant in the bricks. Because while the likes of Ghost Box Records have  - often beautifully - created a leaf crackling psychic universe around notions of an imagined parallel England of battered orange Penguin spines, John Wyndham esq. pastoral dread and a mild dose of sugar cube acid, the England evoked by Broken English Club is a thornier beast.

Closer in spirit to the granular vision of Alan Clarke - a pasty and embittered vista of threat and shifting tectonic aggressions, or the clammy dread of Derek Raymond's Factory novels - the nameless detective stumbling through deserted Battersea estates and tumbling country manners that hide bizarre secrets; constantly too close to his case, breathing Scotch and Embassy Number One over the case folders he holds with a trembling hand - Broken English Club is a vision of dark romance and ever present tension amidst grubby suburbia, end of the tube line anonymity.

Started in 2014, Ho released the first Broken English Club EP on Jealous God, the label run by Regis, Silent Servant and James Ruskin that specialises in grand gesture and theatrical electronics of a mauve and blackened hue. The resulting EP was a taut exploration of queasy electric spaces that sent one spinning into the cold light of day, incessant repetitive synth lines and robotic vocals pinning it all back to the crumbling chipboard with the laxidasical authority of a Stevenage bus conductor. It was an exhilarating and explorative record that drew on the influence of fidgety post punk and bleak electronic noise, underpinned by the engineering game that Ho brought to proceedings as a long standing UK techno stalwart (in the 90s he released some of the most thrilling, pulsing, dramatic and other worldly techno about. A lot of it came out on James Ruskin's Blueprint Records - check the Duality EP for a good example).

It is this exact sense of pin drop accuracy that is brought to bear with efficiency on Suburban Hunting. Although the atmospheres evoked may be seedy and decrepit, Ho executes the sound with a kingly pout: a confidence that belies years spent grafting in the studio. 'Nursing Home' leads with a cavernous spaghetti western guitar string vamp, narcotised to cough syrup lumber through the fen, the petit mort of the chill November wind carried by subtle feedback squalls. 'Derelict' is an exercise in brute rhythmic manipulation, chiming and twanging, encumbered accuracy; the lumbering darts player draining backwash lager dregs and approaching the board with sudden shocking vigour; resolve undimmed by years of provincial boozing, momentary resolve. The champ.

'Godless', meanwhile, is marching music; a staving cleave of menace that moves around reverberating vocal chants and militaristic rhythms. In other hands this kind of forward propulsion would end up sounding like so much dungeon fodder. In Ho's expert grip, the subtle crowd noise, horns and disembodied voices crackle with vivid intensity.  

Elsewhere, there is a cover of 'Scum' by Napalm Death. Slowing the foaming intensity of the Brummie grind beserkers original - surely one of the most incendiary howls to emerge from Thatchers Britain, and one yet to dim - to a growling and resolute dub trawl of a grease bedraggled river rat dragging itself through some long abandoned waterway, it is a bleak journey. It also serves to remind that Broken English Club is very much aligned with the Mick Harris axis, that murky leyline that stretches not over field but rather down forgotten West Midland canal, from the accursed grind of Napalm Death to the stretched dub experimentation of Scorn and the facilitation of  the early experimentation of Birmingham techno absurdists Surgeon and Regis.

This is functional electronic music not closed off in the sometimes stiflingly insular environment of the club circuit, but rather open to the pastures of a lineage that moves with lithe efficiency from post punk to industrial and the rhythmic roughage of EBM. Indeed, throughout Suburban Hunting, Ho plays with churning live drum sounds to devastating effect. Take 'Tourist Zone' - the hollow drum patterns roll out and envelop with circula intensity while the driving Suicide esq. bass line churns with murderous intent. 'Knives', meanwhile, features a fascinatingly compelling single note synth stab throughout the 5 minute duration, a single sound that commands attention in it's glacial perfection.

Indeed, however tempting it is to align Suburban Hunting with hoary tropes of 'the night' or 'decadence' (both are present in spades, of course), Broken English Club is rather better placed in a land of perpetual queasy daylight; grubby memories, fetid pubs and the scorching stench of household cleaning products too liberally applied; cawing sea gulls over a grey Margate morning as a trembling hand pulls the broken blinds shut again.