Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Death Magazine 52 (2011)


The second proper gig I ever saw was Whitehouse at the Mermaid in Birmingham on the 27th of August, 1983 - here defining a proper gig as anything loud in a place selling booze and which wasn't my parents taking me to see Barbara Dickson, whenever that was. Whitehouse were supported by the excellent Family Patrol Group and D. Mag 52 / SHC - as they were billed on the poster - who were interesting but not as good, just a loud wall of noise, like Family Patrol Group but somehow lacking the dynamic. I struck up a correspondence with Colin of Family Patrol Group, who told me that the name of the other band was short for Death Magazine 52, and that they sometimes played as Spontaneous Human Combustion but still hadn't decided which name they preferred.

I'm not in D. Mag 52 / SHC, but the other two are. I'll give you the D. Mag 52 / SHC potted history if you like. Originally a large band of around nine members, fluctuating line up depending on who could attend, no rehearsals, just found instruments before gigs usually. Mainly metal bashing, drums, and other percussion, like Test Dept at times. Slimmed to five, four, or six piece - then mainly metal, tapes and vocals. Then down to two hardcore members - others thrown out or dissuaded. No gigs, but still fluctuating as people replace one another. At the Mermaid, Simon was helped out by a friend. The other hardcore member - Paul - was on 'holiday'. Truth is he was a bit embarrassed at supporting Whitehouse. I think he felt it was pointless trying to compete with them, as we all did, but nevertheless we didn't bottle out. After Family Patrol Group degenerated to nothing, mainly because of my absence at Sunday afternoon jamming sessions, Mike Grant, Family Patrol Group vocalist, was looking for gigs to play as D. Mag 52 / SHC, playing alongside Simon and Paul with Greg, our tape person. They got two, one at a pub which has a regular free spot on Monday evenings, and the second was at an all day festival where Nick Lowe was the main artist. They got ₤100 to play this, but I was told they used ₤80 in preparation by going into the recording studio to record backing tapes. I think it may have been Mike Grant's idea as he had not been into a studio before and was quite keen to do so. Anyhow, I didn't go to either of the above two, mainly due to Mike Grant falling out with me. Nothing serious, just once when we were in a pub he ignored me and he's never spoken since.

So they were watchable but nothing amazing, possibly having strayed from their sonic comfort zone for fear of sounding like a Level 42 tribute act when opening for Whitehouse. They made grating electronic noises with boxes and pedals, leaving me without much reason to remember them beyond just something I'd seen at some point. All the same, I was quite excited when I heard Harbinger had put out this posthumous collection on double vinyl, a release implying hidden or previously unknown qualities because otherwise, there would be no reason for so lavish a reissue of material by a group we'd all forgotten, even those of us who'd actually heard of them in the first place.

Now, thirty or so years later, Colin's description makes a little more sense, because it didn't seem to describe the group I'd seen at the Mermaid; and I suspect some of the studio material included here may be the very same as he described above.

What we have is a fairly early noise group, certainly pioneers in that whole Birmingham noise scene which yielded the likes of Final, Con-Dom, Smear Campaign, and ultimately even Godflesh and Napalm Death - and it's certainly significant that Mike Dando of Con-Dom was in one line up of Death Magazine 52. I've a feeling that may even be a picture of him on the back cover with the Tears for Fears haircut. This is a noise group before everything got caught up in the arms race to see who could be loudest, Naziest and most pornographic, back when we were all just fucking around to see what would happen; and amazingly, although I expected this to be a complete racket, it turns out that Death Magazine 52, left to their own devices, occupied a patch of weirdy musical hinterland roughly equidistant from Einst├╝rzende Neubauten and 23 Skidoo - blowing, banging, some tapes, and plenty of rhythm. It was never anything unique, but this collection really captures the excitement of a young band trying shit out and seeing what happens, and even trying that shit out in front of paying audiences - as can be heard on the live disc which notably includes a gig at three in the afternoon at some girls' school, and then at the increasingly legendary Equinox Event with Philip Best, although I'm not sure if he was on stage or is simply the loudest voice shouting bollocks as the cops show up towards the end of the tape, yet again.

The quality is a little basic but decent for what it is, and Death Magazine 52 will never be remembered as anything particularly important or seminal, but nevertheless these two discs really capture something a lot more vital than whichever improvised feedback bore you paid fifty squid to see at the South Bank this week.

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