Compilation Of The Week: House Of God – Brum As Fuck

Jared Dix ponders 30 years of legendary Birmingham 'techno' club, House Of God, on the release of a celebratory box set, Brum As Fuck

Legendary Birmingham club night House Of God is celebrating thirty years of deviant dance mayhem by releasing a weighty box set of tunes from its residents and regular guests. A powerful totem for its hardcore of willing sinners but also a rough and ready selection for the curious, it rejoices in the perfect gnomic title Brum As Fuck.

Thirty years is a long old time in the ever changing landscape of club land. These maniacs have been ruining our hearing for over half their lives, although the crowd now balances out the creaking knees of the old faithful with younger clubbers who weren’t even born in 93. People have started bringing their grown up kids. Old ravers tend to have a club that was the big one for them, a transformational place, most of which have now long fallen by the wayside. For many of us House Of God is that club and we’re lucky not only that it is still going but that its flame seems scarcely to have dimmed (even if our aching bones are grateful for the longer breaks between events). So this isn’t entirely a nostalgic ‘back in the day’ doorstop.

As uncompromising and unpretentious as the club it celebrates the box invites you in but doesn’t organise your response for you. Nor does it engage with the inevitable drift of club culture into the cold stasis of the museum. It is not mixed, micro-managed or fussily curated. It would laugh with derision at the very idea. There are twelve artists here and, in keeping with the club’s general ‘no rules’ approach, each was asked to provide one old tune and one unreleased one as they saw fit, and that’s what you get. The result is pleasingly consistent but varied, nothing jars, it makes just as much sense however you shuffle the tunes and it doesn’t drag even while running to nearly two and half hours. The trick is in trusting who you ask I guess.

History is always partial and twenty four tunes is precious few to tell a story of thirty years so it doesn’t really try. It’s a blurry snapshot, a conflated memory of a long and messy night. As I mentally shuffle those memories the music playing is something like the second track here, Paul Damage’s Battery Girl’, thumping, growling, relentless but still uplifting. House Of God is a far more musically eclectic night than its reputation as a dark and fiery sweat pit might have you believe. You can hear D&B, house, dub, lounge music, industrial, krautrock, garage punk, hip hop, Black Sabbath and even the occasional bit of Russ Abbott if someone is feeling sufficiently impish but it’s fair to say that the selections here lean towards the club’s crunchy centre of dark, underground techno. The tempo is brisk, hi-hats tick and hiss, bass lines pulse, electronic textures drape and distort in beguiling ways. There’s an irresistible propulsion that’ll have you moving ’round the house.

Regardless of the assorted random musical potentials elsewhere, the main room is programmed carefully for a steady warm up and build in intensity through the night with guests slotted around residents to make this work. Of the club’s original three residents, Surgeon, Sir Real and Paul ‘Damage’ Bailey, Damage is usually the hardest and nastiest of the bunch and very often the last to play. So it’s a typically perverse move to have him kick things off here with the throat punching bass and sickly scrape of ‘Consequence’. For contrast more bizarro impulses are let loose on Jerome Hill’s ‘Goatwerk’, a quite demented stomp of rinky dink loops, manic cackling and burbling nonsense. Like a Eurovision smash from an even more twisted timeline it’s a shining example of the club’s pervasive sense of mischief. Hill’s Don’t label comrades, Tobias Schmidt and Neil Landstrumm also bring some chewy day-glo weirdness to proceedings.

House Of God’s earliest stirrings were in Birmingham University’s Punk and New Wave club. Like all the best musical enterprises it was born of enthusiasts, fans, a curiosity for new sounds. Connections were made, music shared, plans hatched. They went raving together in Holland and the Midlands. Pretty soon the guy running the club decided he should be promoting a rave party. Along with the three core residents and taking its name from DHS’s immortal, preacher sampling, classic ‘The House Of God’, they set about creating a place to play the harder, rougher, tunes they loved but couldn’t hear anywhere locally, if they could even get in. There would be no dress code, everyone was welcome, free party crusties mixed with hardcore clubbers and punks drifting towards something new. They developed a twisted visual sense with a vein of pitch black humour on the fliers. The club channelled a patchwork underground sensibility and carried on some of the chaotic energy of the warehouse and free party scenes rejecting notions of propriety or good taste and embracing a spirit of misrule.

Perhaps the easiest and most common misconception about House Of God is that it’ll be a stark brutalist bunker playing ‘Birmingham Techno’ all night. This troublesome little phrase, which somehow came to signify so much less than either of it’s two component words, gained currency with regards to the early releases Surgeon and Regis put out on Downwards in the 90’s. Marrying a love of Jeff Mills and Throbbing Gristle to a dark industrial aesthetic it was influential on subsequent developments in Berlin but scarcely covers the breadth of music either of them has made or Downwards has released. In a Brum as fuck musical moment the pair were introduced by Napalm Death’s Mick Harris who loved Surgeon’s sets at HOG and knew Regis was getting a label started. I suppose it’s bleakly ironic that such a narrow designation was born of such musical cross pollination, in a club with no time for the hair splitting of micro genre weakeners.

They are both here of course, Surgeon’s classic ‘Badger Bite’ and an unreleased version of ‘Keep Planning’ from Regis’ Gymnastics bringing that cold, "all rhythm no funk" machine menace. ‘Blood Witness’, among Regis’s best is perhaps the most well known thing in the whole set. Surgeon’s new tune here seems pointedly made, or at least titled, to mark the occasion. We all ‘Should Really Know Better By Now’. It’s a steady bump decorated with a fistful of evocatively dated sounds like he’s been let loose at it with a sheet of stickers. The recurring, distorted, vocal loop muttering "house, house, house, house" can’t help feeling like a rebuff to the image of him as a sombre or studious techno ascetic. Fellow traveller Neil Landstrumm’s ‘This Is What I Want’ operates in similar territory but in a more banging register.

Putting in the hours to assemble this set Sir Real also delivers an absolute belter in ‘Bitter and Twisted’. Opening on a pitched down Willy Wonka sample it’s possessed by a sense of vertiginous acceleration towards the ceiling as if we’re hoping the glass elevator will break through. It’d be easy to miss him, asking us to make a wish, but he’s a perfect figure to set the tone. Unpredictable, untrustworthy, Wonka is a trickster inviting us to a world of pure imagination. The idea of rave as a temporary autonomous zone still resonates here, House Of God is a carnivalesque space, normal rules are suspended, it wants you dancing to exhaustion and screaming your head off. The club has it’s own personification of this spirit in MC Zit, popping up on the mic with surreal outbursts and exhorting the assembled to submit to the madness, "On Your Knees Sinners."

Other people’s misty eyed reveries about going raving have a couple of familiar elements, there’s the small details that set them apart and the larger truth that connects them all. It’s a spiritual rather than structural link. Fine gradations of music policy, production, venue, even dress codes, have their place but if what we’re talking about is ultimately rooted in Chicago house and Detroit Techno then the magic is in a central experience of collective euphoria on the dancefloor. That ecstatic, extended, dancefloor moment is transcendent, it’s a loss of self so it has no time for any of your bullshit. It has no time at all just a heightened universal now. Time is a flat circle. Which might explain why the old and new sit side by side so easily, how this collection is neither nostalgic or futurist. Dave Tarrida’s ‘Oh No Future’ finds liberation in that nihilism, bristling with energy and motion. Why not? A last dance at the end of the world because all we have is now. House Of God persists through a keen dedication to this core value of Dionysian revelry. It has always been a dirty rave. No dress code, no bullshit, Brum as Fuck.

House Of God: Brum As Fuck, a fundraiser for homeless & mental health charities, is out now on vinyl and digital

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today