What ways are there to find hope in a post-Trump world? It can be difficult even knowing where to stand, what’s seen as implausible one day becomes a devastating reality the next. Nothing seems to logically correlate, we find ourselves entangled within a comforting social media web, tricked into believing that the voices of intolerance are rapidly eroding from public discourse. Then a rupture like Trump’s presidential victory will occur, the most paranoid among us beginning to sound more like gritty realists.
Despite offering little in terms of actual solutions, what art can do is provide a powerful articulation of rage, melancholy, and desperation. Though This Heat were referring to the global politics of their own era, the music’s sense of shear disappointment with humanity cant help but feel pertinent, its ghostly shadow hanging over us, gazing unflinchingly.
“All possible processes. All channels open. Twenty four hour alert”
Carrying with them this vital and timeless mantra, This Heat came into full fluidity during the late 70s post-punk scene – but were active for years prior. Sonically assimilating the wildest aspects of pre-punk underground music (Can, Robert Wyatt, Henry Cow, Lee Scratch Perry, Pierre Schaeffer) they were able spit back out this glut of influences in a reconfigured, wholly original form. They were also able to spot the drawbacks of both punk and prog, emphasising texture (over progs wanko virtuosity) and experimentation (over punks boorish conservatism).
In 1981 the group released their sophomore and final LP. Deceit is a caustic record. An agitated, paranoid, frantic reaction to a world they perceived on the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Frequently the instrumentation’s tempo will escalate wildly, like its undergoing a cold sweat or bodily spasm. Carnal screeches are emitted not as mere shock tactics, but frenzied attempts to find some meaningful form of catharsis, whilst witnessing what they perceived to be mutually ensured destruction.
I mentioned earlier that the album refers to the issues of its own era, but to be perfectly honest those issues can be seen as equally applicable to our own. A fascistic demagogue tasked with the job title of: ‘leader of the free world”. Check. Western imperialism causing seemingly unsolvable problems in the middle east. Check. A tense relationship with Russia that brings with it threat of imminent nuclear war. Well, you get the idea, as a line on this very album reminds us, “history repeats itself.”
Opener Sleep – with lyrics supposedly cut-up from television commercials – blurs punch-drunk singalong with deranged lullaby, the sleep they’re no doubt referring to being that of the public’s. An aim of the group being to disrupt channels of vapid information, to stir a nation trapped within a lucid dream-state, fixated upon deception and miscommunication. This nation must inevitably accept partial responsibility for its own compliance. “A life of ease, a life cocooned in a routine of food” does not come without dire global consequences.
Now this could all come across as misjudged, “wake up sheeple” style ranting, but This Heat’s shear air of volatile urgency meant their restless desire to alert was endowed with an agonising and melancholic sense of longing. A longing for change which was strongly rooted in compassion; despite it’s simultaneous feeling that the public – as well as the government – had let the world down.
To put focus on the albums musical side, despite boasting a renewed fascination on songwriting, avant-garde techniques were still put to good use on tracks like Makeshift Swhalli. Revealing the group at their most deranged, this wrathful song is propelled by nightmarish yelps, lyrics decrying the sins of colonialism and the ‘collapse of language’ (“White man speak with forked tongue“). Unhinged wailing permeates the song, paired with something closer to grotesque retching than actual singing. Vocals that feel like they could feasibly have been unearthed in the midst of a frantic convulsion, or perhaps an out-take from The Excorcist/Posession.
Always one for contrast, Deceit contains possibly the groups most rousing song: S.P.Q.R. Considering that their worldview has the potential to slide towards nihilistic defeatism, a spirit of defiance manages to erupt from the rubble. The song boasts a belligerent determination in the face of an apparently hopeless reality. A refusal to accept the futile, which could very well be a key facet behind the bands timelessness – I for one have been playing Deceit repeatedly whilst coming to terms with the ominous election results.
Though never replicated, the album – as well as the rest of the bands catalogue – can be seen as a vivid premonition. Much of the post-rock released in the 90s feels attached like an umbilical chord to the groups sonic meddlings. Techno similarly reverberates like a distant echo of their seminal 24 Track Loop (seriously LISTEN TO THIS TRACK, how it was made in 1979 I will never know) Even if not directly influenced, traces of what the group accomplished can be dissected amongst vast swathes of contemporary experimentation – the great Bowie himself was an admirer of the cult trio.
Amidst a cultural period a boundless creativity, This Heat were capable of making their maverick peers look comparatively stale, even hopelessly nostalgic. A harrowing crystallisation of cold war dread, with a form defying musical backing; one which employed avant-garde techniques whilst void of its stuffy connotations. Hyperbole aside, the band can be seen as both a thrilling manifestation of its immediate surroundings, whilst also setting the template for a plethora of musical styles yet to take a recognisable shape.
Words by Eden Tizard