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Primitive Ignorant
Sikh Punk Brian Coney , November 26th, 2020 09:29

Former 80s Matchbox B-Line Disaster bassist Sym Gharial assembles a cast of collaborators for a fierce slab of electro-punk

“Pop is transgressive and gives the finger to social norms. But British Asians were largely left out of that equation for so long.”

Taken from his recent Black Sky Thinking piece for tQ, these words by Sym Gharial warrant special attention. Written ahead of the release of his debut solo album as Primitive Ignorant, Sikh Punk, the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster bassist was proposing a recognition long overdue. By giving form to his struggles to reconcile his Sikh upbringing with his rock ‘n’ roll calling, it’s an album that succeeds in casting out the spectre of that exile.

Having assembled a host of singers to voice these autobiographical tales, Gharial posits collaborations as alter-egos to his musical id. From Mick Jones and Leonore Wheatley of International Teachers Of Pop, to Daisy Coburn and LE JUNK, guests are conduits for his externalisation of memory and becoming, from growing up as a Sikh in Ladbroke Grove, to playing no small role in one of the best British punk bands of modern times. By entrusting vocalists of varied privilege with words that openly trace such uniquely personal cognitive dissonance, the span of Gharial’s life experience – namely committing to becoming who he is – feels doubly potent.

Unsurprisingly, for a musician who lent sturdy Rickenbacker low-end to Eighties Matchbox’s psychobilly craft, the peaks here land a considerable punch. Lead single ‘Ballad of Markland Estate’ sets the scene via a slab of squalid electro-punk, the likes of which ‘Beautiful Scum’ and ‘Psychic Armageddon’ round off with finesse. By embracing pure-cut pop, and inviting it into an underbelly where bombast clearly reigns supreme, Gharial does his bit in furthering a lineage that can be traced from Tubeway Army to Goldfrapp and far beyond. And yet, for all its mangling of darkly punk and pop traditions, Sikh Punk feels like something else. Conjuring the mottled darkly pop of Chromatics, Fat White Family, Health, and others, the sheer expulsion on display can only truly be called rock ‘n’ roll.

Divvied by fleeting mirages of found sound from Portobello Market, warped right out of shape, the episodic nature of Sikh Punk lends it a tripped-out storybook quality. True to life, it carries with it a rare kind of purgative vim that runs parallel to its long gestation in the corners of Gharial’s mind. As he put it himself: “Sikh Punk isn’t about being a victim. If anything, it’s trying to eradicate that idea. Using suffering as a means to share experience – that’s where the power lies.” By teaming up with others to drive that point of innate homogeneity home, Gharial’s brand of transgressive pop gives a finger all its own.