We were big on urban dystopias in the nineties. It's strange to think that we were all convinced we'd be living in a society where the corporations were in charge and would prosecute limited wars to enhance shareholder value, spotty-oik computer geeks would be the new elite, surveillance would be part of daily life and Big Black would be revered as the house band of the disaffected.
Well, close, but no cigar. Computer geeks are working at McJobs and wittering about it in a thousand weblogs, surveillance is prime-time entertainment and the disaffected are either lining up to take part in parody-culture or singing along to (c)rap-rock about how terrible it is to be a suburban jock when mom won't drive you to the mall. Which leaves Arkam Asylum's paranoid cyberpunk rantings either ignored as the jabberings of a cider-guzzling tramp outside Kentish Town station, or they are the prophets of a stealth-apocalypse that Global Corporare Headquarters preferred you didn't think about.
If there were a remake of Antonioni's Blow Up, if not the canonical documentary of Swinging London, Arkam would be the band playing in the club of zombified punters. Only this crowd would be a saucer-eyed mob with woolly dreads and Camden cyberwear, staring mystified as the band rolled around the stage and contorted themselves into a righteous frenzy... And wondering what on earth a 'Modern panther' was.
Anyway. Music. The first couple of times I viewed this lot I thought 'Bash St. Kids form an Extreme Noise Terror tribute band and play all the songs backwards for a laugh.' Then there was the announcement from the stage: "We'll sound a bit odd tonight. We threw the bass-player out of the car on the way here for being a wanker." I think on some of the tracks on this CD, they channeled the uneasy spirit of Sputnik-era Tony James, locked it in a biscuit tin and then pummeled it flat with 6lb lump hammers. The drum-machine usually sounds like Big Black, which is absolutely no bad thing at all. Sometimes the guitar reminds me of The Fall gone more rockabilly than usual, at other times it sounds like a terrible accident in a robot factory that manufactures brass cats in a variety of unfortunate sizes.
The songs have names like Panther Moder', The Video Dead, Skinjob and Smartbomb - which shows that the man in charge of the lyrics more than likely has copies of both Burning Chrome and the Mirrorshades cyberpunk anthology. All of these things are bolted together in a seemingly careless manner, but there is a purposeful momentum to the ugly lurching and spitting. Fine stuff.
Post: Wasp Factory Recordings, PO Box 270, Cheltenham, GL51 9YE, UK