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Mark Stewart
Vs Jeremy Allen , March 29th, 2022 09:51

The former Pop Group frontman continues to rail against the world – this time aided and abetted by Mike Watt, Eric Random, Front 242, Stephen Mallinder, and others

Speaking to The Wire magazine in 2008, Mark Stewart told Mark Fisher: “The important art of this period is the process of juxtaposition, putting something next to something that hasn’t been there before.” This has been a mark of Stewart’s work from the very beginning, and there’s something of the eternal puppy about him, always on the lookout for something to tear to pieces. The recent Y in Dub update, where legendary dub producer Dennis Bovell was invited back some forty years later to deconstruct a record he’d been brought in to deconstruct in the first place, felt like pure sonic Derridianism in action.

Stewart has been railing against the scourge of consumerism for the last forty-five years, an agitpropper whose distorted polemics have remained consistently furious as we march inexorably back to feudalism. He’s still an angry man screaming from the margins – and who doesn’t feel angry about the way the world is turning out? – but does it serve a purpose or does it feel like recycled hot air? For this album, Stewart says he was “looking for pieces / ancient futures / orphans of the storm / memefires / predictive programming, weird science / nu ritual, the uncanny or eerie, numerology coded / not slaves to the algorithm…” and that sense of fragmentation still permeates his oeuvre in the way that it did on the presciently titled As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade from 1985.

Juxtaposition is the modus operandi of VS, as Stewart interrogates sounds passed back and forth with ageing anarcho punks with machines and vice versa: Stephen Mallinder, Eric Random, Mike Watt, Consolidated and Front 242 all work in contrast to the Pop Group protagonist, with posthumous contributions from Mika Vainio and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, as well as inevitable mixing appearances from the very much alive Adrian Sherwood. VS, for all its reluctance to pass the baton to the next generation, does still crackle with dissident energy in places, augmented by the self-styled thief of fire.

The most effective tracks here are those made with Eric Random: ‘Ghost of Love’, and in particular ‘No Shadow’, also with Mallinder, which imbues some of the totalitarian nightmarishness of Cabaret Voltaire. Perhaps inevitably, the collaborations that fall short and feel most dated are with Front 242 and Consolidated, artists that helped to define, and ergo are defined by, their respective eras. When Stewart was starting out, music collage had recently gone overground and the sonic info-wars looked winnable. These mash-ups are still invigorating at times, though they feel more like representations of the discourse now than they do a means for change.