Strange Passion - Explorations in Irish Post Punk 1980-83

by Steve Reynolds Rating:9 Release Date:2012-10-08

The fertile post-punk years (78-84) have personally affected me more than any other phase of music. The euphoria of punk was in decline and quickly became a parody of itself, we needed something else before all the energy and aggression waned and evaporated.

It was down to such artists as PiL, Gang of Four and The Pop Group to lead the way in this new and burgeoning vanguard. Yes, they used guitars but in a less belligerent, more meaningful and creative way. John Lydon vitriolic sneer became a cathartic wail. Joy Division led the raincoat brigade and dragged Echo & the Bunnymen with them. There was also the rise of dark rock/goth, spearheaded by such acts as The birthday Party and The Cure, and the new, electronic pop of Soft Cell and The Human League. The list is virtually endless.

This compilation, Strange Passion, collects music by bands from across the Irish Sea who were just as urgent and rich in sounds but maybe not so well known. Carefully put togetherby B-Music Dublin's Darren McCreesh from the Finders Keepers family, it's an illuminating and incandescent melding of Irish minds, sitting very much in the DIY ethos that was so prevalent at the time.

It all starts off with the driving drums and somber jangle of Dogmatic Element's 'Just Friends'. The production has a dull thudding ache to it but the female delivery is reminiscent of The Flatmates and Shop Assistants, so it's fair to say it probably had an indirect influence on early indie. The heavy, rumbling bass and swarming fuzz of guitar swills incessantly on The Threat's 'High Cost of Living', with the song title being the only lyric throughout, compounding a highly-charged four-plus minutes. Chant Chant Chant, meanwhile, mix the dub of Pylon, a clever slice of XTC pop and Nick Cave doom on their 'Play Safe'.

Probably the most instantly recognisable act on this CD are the Virgin Prunes who were lucky enough to be part of the goth scene. They do this compilation a great service by lavishing 'Twenty Tens' on us. The static synth and cold-hearted vocal on Operating Theatre's 'Austrian', complemented with stark shrieks and contorted, electronic swirls, are most captivating and extremely innovative.

Stano's 'Town' is all clipped, disco beats and lurching bass gloom against a remorseful and pained spoken word delivery. The Peridots keep the sound strictly synthy and brooding with a Ian Curtis-style vocal on 'No Water'. The song is rather drowned in atonal notes and a grouchy arrangement but still a morbid and clever piece of post-punk. Choice give us 'Always in Danger', the minimal percussion and Suicide-esque pulse beats gelling together nicely. PH's 'Last Days' creates a hybrid of classic Hammer horror theme music and a synth so thickly heavy you couldn't cut through it with a chainsaw. For me, it's the standout track. Elsewhere, Major Thinkers turn the whole compilation on its head with the hedonistic, bouncing, African-thumping 'Avenue B'. In parts, I can hear Hurrah! and The Go-Betweens. It's placed at just the right point on Strange Passion.

There are two additions from Strange Corporation; one is 'Accentuate', the brevity of the song making it seem a rather odd inclusion, the other is 'Fire From Above' where the smooth electronic lines are in stark contrast to the cold, sharp female vocal. Tripper Humane gives us the ironic 'Discoland', ironic in the fact that there is no way you could tap a toe to this. It's a perfect example of minimalistic keyboard drone.

Strange Passion finishes off with Operating Theatre's 'Eighties Rampwalk', and the simple trance and laidback comedown has elements which the now stellar Fuck Buttons could have hacked off. To sum up, this is a very eclectic, interesting and captivating compilation of Irish post-punk. For most of us, hearing it is a case of better late than never.

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