Ged Babey reviewed, uploaded and published a review of Dark Actors Extraordinary Renditions EP (Hacienda Records) in the time it took to listen to it once all the way through. He wanted to get the excitement, immediacy and importance of the work over as quickly as possible. Now he looks at the EP in depth and talks to the man behind the ‘band’.
“I feel exactly like I did when I first heard Sleaford Mods…” said one friend.
“It’s like Anonymous (the hacktivists) making a record with a bunch of post-punks from Manchester, I like it” said another.
“Don’t get it. It (the first track Black Maria) is just a list of things I already know..” said a third.
I think it is arguably the most important piece of music released this year. It has content. It has gravitas. It stands alongside Anarchy in the UK, Bloody Revolutions/Persons Unknown, Ghost Town or Jobseeker as an important political statement. It is probably the last great Punk Rock record in the way that it’s just music and ideas that say ‘Fuck’, fuck off or we’re fucked”…. Only it won’t sell as many copies as those, because no-one cares any more.. ‘we are all sheep’, as the final of the four co-joined songs says.
On their webpage it says;
dark actors have been in/beside/around music and manchester for years and years quietly in the background/thick of it/to the side – watching/listening/thinking/working anyhow, enough. now it’s time to speak, to shout!
dark actors are running the other way: speaking directly rather than singing in metaphors, striving for simplicity among flammery, using a limited analogue palette in a digital blank canvas of possibilities
There are four pieces.
Black Maria; a complete list of all the things which have fucked up the UK over the past twenty or more years. A List Song like These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things or Reasons To Be Cheerful Pt 3. Only these are reasons to be pissed off…
Waterboard; a song about torture, war and computer-games. Desensitization and apathy.
Questions; a punk-gothic dirge with the word ‘questions’ repeated but the actual questions remaining unasked as well as unanswered.
Sheep; of which the ‘band’ say…
possibly the most important political song of a generation for, not only does it present an effective critique on how we allowed this mess to develop, it also suggests a devastatingly simple and effective way to get out of it.
After I reviewed the EP –here– I received an email via John Robb from the band saying thanks. “And as for “Dalek Joy Division tribute band reciting Chomsky” – it hits the nail on the fucking head! Brilliant! Cheers.” Which was a relief, I was concerned they thought I was taking the piss.. I wrote back and asked for an interview. Which follows…
Question. Am I right in thinking the vocal is some kind of App/Software that converts written text to audio/ spoken word designed for use by partially sighted people?
Yes. The vocals are Microsoft Narrator – it’s part of Microsoft Windows. I prefer the term ‘Speech Synthesiser’. I needed an ego-free vocalist that would shut the fuck up when asked! I may do the vocals myself – in concert – if I can replicate/hide behind a similar vocal treatment.
The video is actually a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. I (really do) follow the Situationist critique of modern life and take great delight in using the weapons of control against the controllers themselves (detournement).
I know what detournement is you patronizing bastard I thought but replied; I do, know who you are Michael, but for the purposes of this Dark Actors piece do you mind / want to be kept anonymous?
Anonymity is the key I think – Anonymous (the hackers) anonymous – the ‘singer’ being a piece of software with no ‘personality’ – therefore the singing being totally soulless and de-personalised …. the antithesis to X-Factor Soul singers ….
On that theme , dark actors, do you/they have any other material or is this going to be it?
There are 10 dark actors tracks in all, five of which were recorded and mixed, four of these released as extraordinary renditions and remixed as extraordinary redactions. I’m currently working on the release of the fifth track – home – as a video or film and would then like to record a second four track EP – that’s if I can find someone to release it of course.
You know how TV series which do season after season and run out of ideas, repeat themselves and get worse…. the idea that this was IT, one EP appeals to me. It would mean the band have no ambition no future yet with this one EP want to ‘bring back the idea of pop and rock being a catalyst for political change’.
I like simplicity and I like anonymity. I don’t like self-glorification. All my previous work was done under a pseudonym and, though I want to see dark actors play live, I haven’t yet decided whether I will actually be in the band!
Your suggestion of a predetermined end-point to the project had never occurred to me – but I really, really like it for exactly the reasons you suggest. What a great idea! Two EPs, a tour and then bang! Sounds like a plan!
Dark Actors are on the Hacienda label which is basically Peter Hook isn’t it? There are hints that he may be part of the project….? It is the obvious question -and I know the answer- but is this EP a thoroughly political artistic statement in the absence of anything similar from ‘the kids’ (the current generation of new bands)…..
“We’re all sheep and we should, at least, start to bleat”
The world is becoming a very dark place and there is a criminal silence coming from the arts – ‘alternative music’ in particular. So I got angry and started to bleat.
I have a long list of people that I have always wanted to work with – some musicians, others not – and the music has given me a vehicle to drive through that list.
Both of these threads – collaborators and complicity – are perfectly encapsulated within the the phrase “many dark actors playing games”: people in the background doing stuff, and the fact that nobody ever bothered to say anything about Dr David Kellys use of that phrase.
Hooky was on the list – I owe him a lot – so he was the first person I played it to. Fortunately/unfortunately he immediately offered to release it (an aside – one of the positive side effects of it going out on Hacienda Records is that bootleggers are describing it as dance music on their grubby streaming/hosting sites. Imagine the surprise! hahaha). The Hacienda was my home and i’m really pleased to be on the label.
Are you familiar with the Spectacular Times pocketbook series from the late seventies and early eighties?
They have always been an immense influence on me (I sleep with them by my bed):
…just had a quick look for my SI books – only found THE REVOLUTION OF EVERYDAY LIFE by Raoul Vaneigem ( 2nd edition Rising Free Collective 1979) The introduction says this; We decided to publish this book as it has been unavailable for years …. We would like to point out or warn that it can very easily become another commodity, a kind of coffee table book, a ‘classic situationist text’, or a measure of the owner’s radical and intellectual superiority. Doesn’t the same apply to Extraordinary Renditions EP ?
Absolutely. My daughter asked permission (?) for her band to do a cover version of black maria (itself a wonderful thing). I said yes of course, but on condition that the words were changed to be her/their particular list of badness. Everybody should have a go. It’s very therapeutic!
Actually, this needs further explanation.
One of the principals I have always worked to is the concept on which Factory Records was based, which they (incorrectly) termed ‘Praxis’: do what you have the urge to do, work out the reasons why you did it afterwards.
When it came to writing the lyrics for black maria – I just wanted to call a track black maria and this became the one – I decided just to write a long list of stuff that had really, really pissed me off over the years. Then came self-doubt – what a daft idea for a lyric – then came steely resolve: why the fuck not? I am free to write anything I want and call it a lyric. So I did. Only afterwards did the two become linked and the black maria turn into – “the perfect vehicle for the perps of the acts highlighted in this stream of invective” (as described in the notes on bandcamp). And only now has it become “why don’t you list all the things that have pissed you off!”
I’m just opening myself up and letting this stuff out on its own.
If a group of musicians and a non-musician, could replicate the EP would they have your blessing to play it live under the name dark actors (copy1) say, so that the songs gain wider recognition?
I’d be really interested in that. I have been considering that exact idea just so that I could hear it live without going through the aggravation of putting a band together – mainly because my own version of dark actors would consist of band members chosen specifically to wind each other up so that I could sit back and watch the fireworks.
Although, if i’m not mistaken, as long as the correct PRS notifications are made, anyone is free to perform/record any piece of published work, anywhere, anytime, without asking permission.
When I initially wrote about the EP I hadn’t heard it loud on a stereo. My Sleaford Mods reference was way off …. I listened to it very quietly on PC speakers as wife was trying to sleep. It has a similar minimalism and startling in-yer-face-ness but musically it’s nice, old-school, Factory Gothic. I see that your old band played with one of Hookys favourites and mine Playdead ?
Ah Play Dead. The Sin of Sins.
My old band supported The Smiths and The Gun Club at the Hacienda too, both of which were video’d by IKON – the in-house Factory video company. I think I have tracked down a copy of one or both videos, just haven’t got my hands on it yet.
The particular items on the Black Maria list that resonated with me personally are ” Mapeley fucking Steps ” and “bus deregulation” -things which affect me daily (still) …. has it been a list you’ve been mentally compiling for years? – or was a ten minute brainstorm?
There is a common thread running through Extraordinary Renditions: acts are done in our name – by all parties (so called democracy-under-capitalism) – that we should question, but we don’t.
“We have not been paying attention”:
Black Maria is a long-time list of stuff democracy-under-capitalism has got away with that citizens should be angry about.
“The least happens to the ones that do most”:
Waterboard takes this to a higher level. It doesn’t get any more fundamental than democracy-under-capitalism kidnapping, imprisoning, torturing and, now, executing people without any kind of legal or judicial oversight whatsoever – but nobody says anything. It’s not just accepted practice, it’s business as usual!
“Find the one question and keep asking it over and over again!”:
Questions originally included an actual list of questions but I scaled it back – everything that has come before questions is already a question. So ask it.
“We could, at least, start to bleat”:
If we don’t get answers, then, as Sheep says, we should take (in)action. We complicitly legitimise all of the above every five years through “free and fair” general elections but, “whichever way you vote, the governments always win”. So. The final question: “what if we stop taking part?”.
I’m enjoying this.
A couple of friends who I played the tracks have had the complete opposite reaction to myself and others in that…”this is the most depressing record ever made”… “it just makes me want to kill myself”
My theory is that all to often music is used as an anesthetic / distraction from the real-world …. and that is its neccesary function …. Music too, has become a branch of the Light Entertainment world of showbiz (just watch bits of the Brits).?
Two thoughts – from a music perspective this is actually really pleasing. It’s that punk ideal of extreme emotions: “love it”, “hate it” = success. “It’s OK”, “It’s not bad” = failure. Second, from a situationist perspective this is interesting – “I can live with state-sponsored kidnap torture and murder, just don’t talk about it!”. And, yes. I agree. Music has gone back to being purely light entertainment. It’s like (and I often say this out loud) the Pistols, Crass, Dead Kennedys et al never happened. But it’s not just music – it’s almost all art. Do you know what I consider to be the most subversive piece of mainstream artwork of the 21st Century thus far? The film Wall-E. Walt Disney. How fucking sad is that?
Well, now there is a more subversive, albeit less mainstream, piece of art. Extraordinary Renditions. The title says it all.
All words Ged Babey whose author profile is here.