Life In Prison

Fine double CD of music by We Be Echo from the early 1980s…Ceza Evi – Compleat Edition (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR311CD) brings together the original 1983 release of the “special edition” of the Ceza Evi cassette, along with bonus tracks from the standard edition and other unreleased cuts from around 1981 to 1983.

We Be Echo was just one fellow, Kevin Thorne, but he happened to be making his bedroom DIY music around the time of a fruitful boom period in home recordings and tape trading through the mail, now regarded by many (including myself) as a golden age of underground and independent music. Plus he happened to have a connection with Genesis P. Orridge (who even appears as a performer on Ceza Evi), and thus We Be Echo earned the right to be included in the lineage of “industrial music” as it manifested itself in the UK. As it happens, The Sound Projector magazine ran a short feature on We Be Echo as far back as 1997, not that I can take any credit for it – it was the work of Lawrence Burton, who sang the praises of these cassettes, and DIY culture generally. I think Burton may have had a connection to Kevin Thorne at some level; at any rate he had insider information, and was enthused about the way in which this strange and bleak music was recorded using a Sharp Music Centre. Indeed the press notes here do allude to this use of the built-in microphone that was a standard feature of home equipment at the time, describing the rough overdubbing method that involved playing back the first recorded “layer”, and then recording new music on top of it. This resourceful process – no mixing, no editing – allowed for few errors, but it also led to tremendous spontaneity in the music, all of which is audible on the finished results. Plus of course it created a slightly “muffled” sound, raw at the edges, which is one of the more desirable artefacts of home recording, and got our man Burton so agitated in his enthused writings at the time. (Burton also contributes liner notes to today’s CD reissue).

Besides the Throbbing Gristle connection, and the Cabaret Voltaire comparisons, there’s a back story to this project which dates from around 1979 and the formation of the duo Third Door From The Left, which was Kevin Thorne and Raye Calouri (i.e. Raymond Georgeson); what’s interesting to me is that they met up at a TG / Cabs gig in London, so evidently already shared some common ground even before they started making music together. Picture the moment as two pairs of disaffected alienated eyes made contact in the crowd. Third Door From The Left made a couple of cassettes in 1981 and 1982 – the first of these, Face The Firing Squad, has an unsettling cover image of the duo wearing hoods holding guns pointed directly at the viewer, and its aggressive track titles do not shirk from talking about alienation and death. I never heard it (although I see the whole thing is audible on YouTube now), but all that seething anger and hostility seems very redolent of underground music from the period, and not just the music of TG. One thinks of Ramleh for instance, who exhibited a sociopathic nihilistic attitude to the whole human race – not just the straights and normals, as punk rock had done in the 1970s, but everyone. At least by the time of We Be Echo, the imagery on the covers has softened a little bit and is content to remain merely ambiguous and strange, although Kevin Thorne did design his own sigil-like logo with the letters WBE inside a triangle, which I sense is a familiar trope in the “industrial” genre designed to add mystique and a sense of the impersonal.

The music of WBE and TDFTL did lie in abeyance for a few years, until the reissue label Vinyl On Demand started to pick up on it, presumably as part of that label’s general plan to hoover up every last piece of experimental electronic or industrial music released on cassette in the 1980s. The compilation Decades (VOD57) came out in 2009, with sleeve notes by Burton (under his Cindy War Arrow guise); before that, there was also a vinyl reissue of Face The Firing Squad in 2008. All of this makes today’s Cold Spring reissue quite noteworthy, and for much of the music here it’s the first time it’s being heard, and it’s all remastered by Martin Bowes from Attrition and there’s new artwork from Thorne himself. On today’s spin, I’m finding with some relief that it’s not violent or hateful music, and my love of post-punk, cassette culture, raw production and DIY aesthetic is being amply satisfied by these home-cooked hand-knitted sounds, particularly the drum machines of a vintage that you just can’t get nowadays, the clangy guitar FX, the primitive bass riffs, the listless singing…all wrapped in the miasma of nth-generation recording and re-recording. But this doesn’t account for the sheer oddness of Thorne’s vision; the music is perhaps cold, alien, and distant, but not repellent – something draws you in with a mesmerising fascination. A lot of the tracks are short and puzzling, a stranger exhibiting a blank visage that reveals little, often walking out of the room on grey plimsolls just at the moment when things start to get interesting. The use of found voices, and varispeeded voices, may seem a little dated nowadays, but they still contribute a lot to the overall twilight charm of these minimalist creepsters. And, perhaps surprisingly, there isn’t really that much use of echo chamber or delay – despite the band name.

I suppose the principal achievement of Kevin Thorne is to have achieved such striking and memorable results using relatively primitive means, and all of this is a testament to the fellow’s imagination, determination, resourcefulness, and the strength of his musical vision. Very good. From 25 July 2022.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *