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You Don't Have To Rob A Bank: The Roots Of Peter Rehberg
John Eden , July 26th, 2021 10:40

By the time the late Peter Rehberg was at secondary school, his appetite for noisy mischief-making was already well established. John Eden, who was in the year below, remembers his youthful guide into far-out sounds

Peter Rehberg and I met at school in the mid-1980s. He was born exactly a year and a day before me, and was in the year above me Verulam School, the single sex comprehensive we endured in commuter belt Hertfordshire.

My musical tastes had matured from the stadium synthpop of Howard Jones to Soft Cell, Bauhaus and, erm, New Model Army. My mates and I were mainlining John Peel's Radio 1 shows and one day after school, two of us ended up in a conversation about all this with Peter. He offered to do us some tapes. With characteristic efficiency, the next day my friend received a C90 stuffed with Jim Thirlwell's Foetus productions, which blew our teenage minds with its symphonic cartoon nihilism.

My tape was Psychic TV's Dreams Less Sweet album, which Peter suggested was best listened to on headphones in the dark. This simple act of generosity would prove to be a major turning point in my life. The sounds and music on Dreams Less Sweet were like nothing I had ever heard before and I was terrified and fascinated in equal measure. It would be my first initiation of many that took place in darkened rooms late at night...

Peter's enthusiasm and evangelism about music was equalled by his inability to fit in with our school's stifling regime. He was banned from using the stereo in the sixth form common room after several incidents with Swans albums and some turntablism with a Captain Scarlet sound effects record.

One day us older pupils were subjected to a “business workshop” to focus our minds on future wage-slavery. It included a lecture from an invited speaker about what “industry” meant to us (not a lot). This was followed by some group work, where we had to produce a visual representation of our impressions. Obviously this was a load of bollocks and the outputs were instantly forgettable. Except one: Sunday supplement magazines had been cut up as source material for a large collage featuring factory chimneys, smoke and barbed wire - emblazoned with the slogan “YOU DON'T HAVE TO ROB A BANK”. It looked like the cover of a Throbbing Gristle bootleg. The group's spokesman displayed the artwork to the teachers and about two hundred bemused kids. He muttered apologetically: “I'm really sorry, Peter took charge of this one”.

Peter kept a watchful eye and was always happy to provide suggestions as I hoovered up the Some Bizzare back catalogue and boldly snaffled the weirdest records the local Our Price had to offer. One time I visited him at home, talking two to the dozen about the Butthole Surfers' Locust Abortion Technician LP. My mentor proceeded to pull out the band's entire back catalogue from his floor-to-ceiling record shelves. We watched his copy of their insane Blind Eye Sees All video and made a pact to see them live.

I finally got to a Psychic TV “disconcert” in 1987, marvelling at the array of freaks in the audience. I hid behind Peter in awe as he casually struck up a conversation with the goddess Paula P-Orridge. That summer was a lot of fun. Peter's beaten up blue Volkswagen Beetle ferried us to the Rough Trade shop in Ladbroke Grove, or to incredible gigs like Big Black's final show and an ecstatically deranged performance by the Butthole Surfers at the Clarendon. Starting the car involved fiddling about with some wiring under the back seat and there was no stereo, so we'd chat nonstop about music up and down the motorway.

Our record and gig habit was funded by doing dead end jobs. We both briefly had weekend shifts at Tesco. I vividly remember Peter getting bollocked when it emerged that he had spent about an hour dropping Marmite jars on the concrete floor of the storeroom. He liked how they sounded. Neither of us lasted long stacking shelves, temping jobs in the school holidays were better paid and more varied anyway. Early one morning a group of us was being inducted into the tedium of order picking at some warehouse and I noticed the manager becoming increasingly distracted. His eyes were drawn to Peter's T-shirt, bearing the bold proclamation: “SWANS: PUBLIC CASTRATION IS A GOOD IDEA”.

We both reacted badly to authority figures and were too easily distracted by music so unsurprisingly we both completely fucked up our 'A' Levels. Peter cashed in the dual-nationality he had from his father and headed to Vienna. I spent a miserable year doing retakes while my friends regaled me with their university adventures. I eventually scraped into college in London. Peter and I stayed in touch. Being “from London” and possessing sheer drive was enough for him to blag some DJ slots and insert himself into music journalism in Vienna. On his next trip to the UK we interviewed Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder together and visited the offices of Mute Records, where Peter grinned at Daniel Miller and told him that he blamed the label boss for the way his life had turned out. I had to pinch myself.

Peter's next phase was already in train. He insisted that I buy a copy of LFO's debut album. There was vague talk of an ambient project. But I wasn't ready for the off-kilter inventiveness of the early Editions Mego releases. Nobody was. By the time I got to Vienna in 1997, Pita was an established artist and there was a buzz about “the Vienna scene” he was at the heart of. I was one of the speakers at the Association of Autonomous Astronauts' first Intergalactic Conference, which had been organised by Konrad Becker and Marie Ringler of seminal arts and culture venue Public Netbase.

Konrad's 1980s recordings as Monoton meant he had a natural affinity with Peter's work, so I assume that is how Pita was given the role of DJ at the children's party that was part of the event's eclectic programme. He did not compromise one iota with his set and it was a joy to watch the kids run around like maniacs and pogo to the drones, glitches and walls of noise. It ended abruptly. Peter later told me that some of the parents had been shocked and had complained, but he was characteristically amused by this and exasperated that the kids' enjoyment had been curtailed.

I found it hard to keep up with him after this. We'd meet up in London occasionally for a drink or a gig and he'd stuff armfuls of Editions Mego product in my hands or email me a bunch of download codes. I know I'm biased, but I never saw him do a bad performance.

Peter's love for music also extended to the people who made it. In 2012 we got the train from London down to Bexhill for the We Can Elude Control festival at the De La Warr Pavilion. Our travelling companions included Russell Haswell, Nick Edwards (Ekoplekz) and EVOL. Peter joked that he'd made the journey to the event “to check on my investments” (i.e. “his” artists), but his taciturn emails belied a deep affection for the people he signed to his label and collaborated with. I watched him talking to younger fans after gigs and taking the time to find out about their projects. To their delight, the more persistent ones would be inveigled into shifting his gear out of the venue.

I last saw Peter in 2018 when he played a modular set at Sutton House, Hackney's oak-panelled stately home. His excitement about forthcoming projects and his infectious humour about his escapades were unabated. Peter's life's work was music. And he spent his time doing exactly what I believe he was supposed to do. Whenever I spoke to him, the thrill of discovery that we shared as teenagers was always there. It physically hurts me that we will never meet again. But those conversations, his music, the countless people he inspired, the hundreds of incredible releases Peter was involved with – all of these are an abiding and monumental legacy.

Farewell Peter, we were lucky to have you.