The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reissue Of The Week

Reissue Of The Week: Young Limbs Rise Again: The Story of the Batcave
Richard Rodriguez , March 17th, 2023 09:03

Growing up loving goth music in America in the mid-80s, author Richard T. Rodríguez, had a different perspective on the movement to most. Here he looks at an extensive compilation celebrating London's notorious Batcave club

In 1983, London Records released the compilation Batcave: Young Limbs And Numb Hymns to spotlight the musicians whose notoriety arose from and propagated in the eponymously titled nightclub that lured many with the promise of dark delights. Although this nine-track LP properly provided the opportunity to either imagine one’s attendance at the famed Batcave or provoke recollection of their nightclub presence whilst witnessing groups like Specimen (the club’s house band) and Alien Sex Fiend perform live, the album hardly begins to fully capture the dazzling aura shaped by the carefully curated soundscape consisting of the varied musical styles and genres sonically characterising the scene.

The newly released Edsel/Demon boxset Young Limbs Rise Again: The Story of the Batcave Nightclub, 1982-1985, however, assists in rounding out the soundtrack for the historic one-night-a-week hotspot originating in central London at 69 Dean Street. Widely regarded the birthplace (or, alternatively, the site for the rise of the fashionably undead) of a gothic subcultural style equally defined by music, makeup, clothing, and a general aesthetic sensibility culled from films and fiction whose content decidedly broached both horror and the macabre. This elegantly packaged five CD collection consisting of ninety songs offers its listener a generous sampling of music which, although not intentionally originating under the sign “goth,” nevertheless fittingly exists under its capacious banner. For although bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, The Cramps, and The Cure may not have regarded themselves as “goth”, their musical offerings possess the appropriate attributes that ultimately made the Batcave not unlike a cavernous flat shared by Bela Lugosi and Batman. That is, the songs featured on this compilation – straight from the Batcave’s alternating turntable administered by the likes of DJs Tasty Tim, Hamish McDonald, and Annie Hogan – could very well set the tone for both a vampire’s dramatic entrance and the escapades featured in the 1960s camp live-action superhero television series.

Included in the boxset is a stunningly designed and comprehensively informational eighty-page hardcover book that contains an invaluable oral history of key players in the formation of the Batcave who detail the nightclub’s initial days in Soho at the Gargoyle and its movement to locations such as the Subway in Leicester Square, as well as its subsequent migration across the Atlantic and throughout the United States. Yet another commendable feature of the book is its reprinting of photographs, flyers, and record sleeves with considerable attention rightly paid to Specimen and the band’s late lead singer Olli Wisdom. Of these reprints is an early Batcave flyer that, we’re told in the image’s caption, also expresses Specimen’s manifesto. Listed under the club’s name which is encased in the outline of a bat, whose shape is nearly identical to the Batman television series title card, are declarations of what the Batcave is not: “Not a discoteque. Not a funk club. Not a rap club. Not a punk club. Not a strip club.” The Batcave,” listed last, on the heels of what it’s not, and printed in much larger letters, conjures an ellipsis for concluding with the proclamation “Being is believing.”

To my mind, by pointedly identifying what the Batcave is not allows the nightclub to fashion the space of liberation it desires away and apart from the restrictive, macho posturing of those music scenes that conventionally upheld normative expressions of gender presentation and sexual identity, particularly through the music played in these nightlife milieus. This is not unlike the earlier new romantic scene as exemplified by spaces like Billy’s and Blitz. And fittingly, new romantic musician and DJ Rusty Egan early on took to Specimen, signing them to his publishing company, Metropolis. The range of musical genres and styles featured on Young Limbs Rise Again therefore point up the ways the Batcave promised a much-needed alternative to the restrictive disco or funk club all the while clearing the way for an alternative space open to an equally expansive range – from fashion to fetishes – of self-expressions.

Understanding the Batcave in such a way sheds light on the titular significance of each of the boxset’s five CDs. The first three discs, respectively titled “The Hop,” “Slowdive,” and “Adolescent Sex” and each with the subtitle “A Night on the Dancefloor,” boast a selection of tracks that encompass the songs after which the discs are named (Theatre of Hate’s 'The Hop', Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 'Slowdive' and Japan’s 'Adolescent Sex') and others that bridge the ominously dark and deliciously danceable. In the former category is the catastrophically amorous 'Temple Of Love' by Sisters of Mercy, the aggressively catalytic 'Follow The Leaders' by Killing Joke, and The Virgin Prunes’ morbid account of unrequited love of a different kind, 'Baby Turns Blue' (an ideal song that perfectly flows from or into Killing Joke’s, at least to this DJ’s ear). The Cure’s 'Let’s Go to Bed', the frequently acknowledged antidote to the band’s 1982 despair ridden album Pornography released the same year, Nightmares in Wax’s naughty praise song to the leather daddy, 'Black Leather', complete with Pete Burns' unforgettable, pre-Dead or Alive eros-inflected, characteristically roaring vocal style, and a striking version of New Order’s 'Temptation' that registers as part Joy Division and part emergent electro band, all neatly fit into the latter category. Additional stand-out tracks, particularly those that complement the accompanying book, include The Virgin Prunes’ sinister yet sleek 'Pagan Love Song', Magazine’s lyrically and musically bold 'The Light Pours Out Of Me' (later covered by Bauhaus’ lead singer Peter Murphy), and the frenetically pulsating anthemic 'Release The Bats' by The Birthday Party. These songs aid in defining the Batcave, or at least how I wish to imagine it.

The other two discs are equally as important as the other three. The fourth CD, titled "Sexbeat: The Bands Who Played,” features the artists who graced the Batcave with their stage presence. They include Specimen and Sexbeat (whose tracks 'Dead Man’s Autochop' and 'Sexbeat', respectively, are also included on 1983’s Batcave: Young Limbs and Numb Hymns) along with Alien Sex Fiend, Flesh for Lulu, Lords of the New Church, Christian Death, and Marc and the Mambas, Marc Almond’s woefully underappreciated Soft Cell offshoot project. The fifth CD, “Hell Raiser!: The Glam Rock Roots”, may at first blush seem out of character for the collection yet its inclusion is, in my opinion, crucial for not only spotlighting the musical precursors to the aforementioned artists (Japan and The Cramps quickly come to mind) but also to index how glam rock, in all its glittery glory and adamant refusal of gender and sexual norms (think Velvet Goldmine), is a formidable force in contouring the Batcave scene and an attendant subcultural phenomenon identifiable as goth, even well before it was named as such. Simply put, it is impossible to imagine the Batcave and goth without, to name only a few, T.Rex, Sparks, Roxy Music, New York Dolls, Brian Eno, and The Sweet.

What Young Limbs Rise Again does so well is simultaneously offer a detailed history of the Batcave alongside providing an expansive soundtrack to give one the feel of being at the storied nightclub once again or, for younger generations moved by the sense of style it cultivated and inspired, through the memories it provides for all to access beyond its physical existence. In a recent conversation, my friend Javier, whose black eyeliner, crimped hair over one eye, and all-black clothing during our mid-1980s teenage years provoked a deep admiration from outsiders like me, noted that the widow goth chic apparel for boys he adorned in high school was largely made possible by, for example, The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Young Limbs Rise Again not only serves to tell a story of an otherwise forgotten past but it functions as a compendium for how to let darkness and desire be one’s twin guides, particularly for those young limbs poised to rise again – and again – to stand undead and be counted.

Young Limbs Rise Again is out today. Richard T. Rodríguez's A Kiss Across The Ocean explores the relationship between British post punk musicians and their Latinx audiences in the US