Test Department website
An evening of emotive and powerful films from a time when music and politics were trying to march hand in hand was a stark reminder of the grinding inevitability of the machine as it crushes any revolt and spirit and also inspirational in what can be done in defiance.
The sadness at the miners defeat in the eighties is combined with an empowerment to take the battle on into the 21st century even if Andy Farqhur from Test Dept points out that subversion was actually easier in the Thatcher days than it is now.
Test Department were a South London based tribal rhythm and metal precision based industrial collective whose music was powerful and imaginative – tribal rhythms, powerful precision and clanking metal combined with Welsh voice choirs, later day electronics and neo classical pieces to create stunning musical vistas that sound even better now than when they were first released.
Somehow they took their underground let field music into the heart of mining communities that were under the cosh in the Miners trike and made sense of it all and were welcomed by the miners in a great moment in pop culture history that proved that everything that could be possible.
Test Dept’s DS30 is their acclaimed film that premiered at AV Festival 2014 within the monumental structure of Dunston Staiths, built on the River Tyne in 1893 to ship coal from the Durham coalfields to the world. Marking 30 years since the 1984–85 miners’ strike, DS30 is a political collage of sound and image. Featuring film footage of mining communities with material from Test Dept’s own archive relating to the strike, DS30 reflects the group’s nationwide Fuel to Fight Tour in support of the miners – a unique contribution to the underground culture of the 1980s and 1990s, operating at the front line of struggles that are still playing out in the present day.
The films showcase various periods in Test Departments history and how intertwined with the politics of the miners strike they became in a piece of musical and cultural history that leaves you misty eyed at the pure emotion pouring off the screen. A real high point is the Welsh choir singing their powerful songs from decades ago with tears in their eyes, full of pride at the their stunning voices and their tight knit communities that were about to be destroyed by the Thatcher Reich.
The films reflect the eighties tour where Test Dept collaborated with mining communities, encouraging local people to find their own creative voice as another weapon in the fight to maintain their culture and livelihoods.
These bonds lay the foundation of The South Wales Striking Miners Choir, with whom they recorded the album Shoulder to Shoulder to raise money for the Miners’ Hardship Fund. Radicalised miners such as Alan Sutcliffe from the Kent coalfields took to the stage (performing tracks with Test Dept on three albums) to voice their disaffection in a collaborative voice of protest
The UK screenings of DS30 also celebrate the launch of Total State Machine, a 385-page PC-Press publication documenting Test Dept from 1981 to the present, capturing the wider history of British music, culture and politics in the 1980s and 1990s. The book contains original artwork, photography and film stills including reflections from Test Dept founding members Graham Cunnington, Angus Farquhar, Paul Jamrozy and Brett Turnbull; Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire); Robin Rimbaud (Scanner); Marek Kohn; Malcolm Poynter; Ivan Novak (Laibach); Alan Sutcliffe (Kent miner) with an introduction by Alexei Monroe and Peter Webb.
The violence of the times when people made a stand for their lives that were being tossed away by big money is stark, the emotions are real and the films are a reminder of the wholesale and heartless destruction of communities with no though to what was going to be left for the people that lived there.