This Heat

This Heat/Deceit/Health And Efficiency EP

It’s hard to imagine the practicalities of using a converted meat storeroom as a recording studio. But for This Heat, whose unconventionality was a full-time affair, Cold Storage was venue of choice for their experimentations. A cursory Google search will find you photos of the band flailing in a time-lapse effect across its grimy boxrooms, complete with the kind of Eraserhead-esque basins that you’d expect to find within. By 1976, This Heat had already a sense for what their music would sound like, with no conception that this would be at all associated with punk or what apparently followed from it. Though in parallel This Heat were too reacting against bands like Yes or the Edgar Winter Group, whose screamingly ornate audio-visual approach was as appetising as a wedding cake in the later stages of decay. But instead of using 50s rock & roll as a reference point, This Heat went over to their 70s contemporaries like Can, the Canterbury Scene and dub influence Lee "Scratch" Perry. It is an explorative attitude that they have absorbed here; they did not attempt to replicate the sound of Krautrock in its original form. Something that, confusingly against what made Krautrock interesting, in recent years has trickled down into a pastiche of the Neu! motorik drum pattern.

It could well be economical move for This Heat reissue their work; it revitalises and reinforces the significance of these releases to listeners today, who are now arguably on the whole more used to being subjected to strange noises at venues like Cafe OTO. Now their 1979 debut This Heat is being released again, on the musician David Cunningham’s tiny, under-known label Piano, alongside Deceit, originally released on Rough Trade and now remastered, as well as their EP Health And Efficiency.

This Heat did not grow into their experimentation as they became more comfortable as a unit. Although each piece on their debut self-titled This Heat sounds spontaneous, it’s the kind of work developed when a group of musicians become so synchronised with each others’ playing that they do not even need the familiarity of melody or time signature to have a sense for how the piece should sound as a whole. When played at a decent volume, the transition from the innocent white-noise of ‘Testcard’ into ‘Horizontal Hold’ is hugely disorientating no matter what your ears are used to. This succeeding track, This Heat at their heaviest, shows what you can do to the sound of a guitar if you bend, pluck and scratch guitar strings with controlled force. There is nothing loose or ‘thrashy’ about their noise-making though; held together with a drumming style lifted from Can these tracks all sound remarkably tight.

As it is far more easy to do with modern audio interfaces, This Heat did not ‘showcase’ the textures that they were able to make through a 2-D Jenga stack of Ableton or Logic loops. For This Heat, experimentation would have been a far more hands-on exercise, involving the physical manipulation of tape. This cutting and reassembling of tape harks back to early film-editing and music concrete, and This Heat also created a cinematic experience with distinct scenes or shots that make sense as part of one whole improvisational piece. Despite this music concrete influence, this debut is no less human sounding. The mechanisation of human activity is, in the conscious sense, a human concern. This Heat have understood this and manipulate the fear and curiosity that results from hearing the sounds of machinery and large scale industrialisation. Though ultimately this album is not an obvious precursor to future UK industrial music in terms of theme. Its track titles ‘Diet Of Worms’, ‘Rainforest’ and ‘Fall Of Saigon’ nudge at an overarching reference to the Vietnam War which ended the year prior to the release of the band’s self titled debut. As artists from the Western world, the conjurations of this war would have been mostly conceived from film, news or literature. With two ‘Testcards’ astride its track-listing, the album is presented like a faux-documentary; a kind of basic footage absent of organised narrative, sometimes even filmed spontaneously during the mundane or quiet moments across ongoing conflict.

Still without letting go to their original locale Cold Storage, This Heat made the EP ‘Health And Efficiency’ that provides a neat link between their debut with final release Deceit. ‘Graphic Varispeed’ is a subdued Radiophonic Workshop style take that shows This Heat experimenting with longer tracks.

What was less explicit on their debut and EP becomes underlined twice and circled around on their second and final album, Deceit. "History repeats itself", for example, is droned to no clear end on ‘Cenotaph’. Moving from their original label Piano and onto Rough Trade, Deceit shows the band as responding to and reacting against their previous approach, returning with their urgent and tinny drums perfected, sickly guitar arpeggios and greater use of dub influenced groove. The album’s opener ‘Sleep’ even verges on having a commercial melody. Though the lines "you are now/in a deep sleep" are undeniably sinister despite the light, reverse-tape piano that carries it. Deceit‘s closer ‘Hibakushyo’ carries the greatest mood and anxiety of war; the title comes from the Japanese "hi baku shyo," which is expressible in English as "suffer bomb disease". This album has more of a Rough Trade identity than their debut album does, in its more explicit anti-nuclear weapons, CND stance. Although the band were already drawing on similar themes as an influence on their debut, Deceit involves less the building of a vague picture or instance, woven into a set of scenes, and instead concerns itself with verbalising the anti-war feeling that This Heat suggested to.

Deceit was always better mastered than This Heat’s debut. It remains as such, but the remastering has had a greater impact on the debut, where This Heat play with a wider variety of sound engineering techniques and electronics. These have been pried out of their original murkiness, presumably revealing This Heat’s ambitions to create an overwhelming experience for their listeners. This album slips past any direct reference point; more so than other bands at the same time This Heat are slick despite their lo-fi production, grim yet controlled and deliberate in their recording and composition. These reissues also allow us to see how their output in retrospect makes the label "post-punk" seem meaninglessly broad, or at the very most a collection of sometimes interacting artists from the same time period rather than a group of bands with a unified attitude. After band members Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward held residency at Cafe OTO as This Is Not This Heat this weekend (these artists chose not to reform after the death of member Gareth Williams), one can hope this is a tentative move towards resurgence in their artistic collaboration.

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