Monday, January 21, 2008

Stroszek - Welcome to the Next Great Chapter in Scottish Music

Scotland has often been the site of a rich music culture. Many of the bands I love hail from north of the English border - Cocteau Twins, Orange Juice, The Associates, Josef K, The Skids, Simple Minds, Camera Obscura, The Jesus and Mary Chain, etc. And when you glance over the list, there's a fair amount from the post-punk period (especially when you think of the Postcard label), arguably the richest musical era ever. MySpace helped me discover the next chapter in this incredible history: the Glasgow-based band, Stroszek.

Named after the Werner Herzog film (often famous in music circles as the film Ian Curtis watched before topping himself), Stroszek stood out from the glut of unsigned bands that fills the MySpace universe and caught my attention. Not only is their music going against the tide of the post-Libertines vanguard, but they write intelligent, political and confrontational lyrics of the type I haven't heard from any recent band. Stroszek is: Richey James Robertson (vocals/synth), Doug Daniel (bass/synth) and Les Willox (guitar/synth/programming). A self-described "post-punk-electro-shoegaze" band, they produce a glacial, moody post-punk sound reminiscent of Joy Division, Josef K, the David Bowie Berlin trilogy, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but with hints of gloomy synth-pop akin to The Cure and Depeche Mode and a textured melodic soundscape like Cocteau Twins. At the same time, the basslines recall the driving feel of Killing Joke and the groove of early Simple Minds. Richey's vocals fall between the Ian Curtis tonality popularized of late by bands like Interpol and Editors and the low tremble of Richard Butler from Psychedelic Furs. Unlike their potential reference point Interpol, their melodies soar rather than drone (admittedly, Interpol's last album appears to be taking a more melodic turn).

Because I'm a big fan of well-written lyrics, their lyrical content really impressed me. Their lyrics sit within the realm of the The Clash, Manic Street Preachers, McCarthy, and Gang of Four, placing them far above their peers in my eyes. Their MySpace page is littered with quotes from the likes of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Bertrand Russell, and Edward Said. Not since the Manics has there been such brilliant use of political and philosophical intertextuality. Stroszek often references Scottish issues in addition to more general statements about world politics, the role of the media, and history (the song Railway of Bones refers to the construction of the Siberian railway, a project of the Stalin era that remains unfinished, but was under construction for four years at the cost of ten people's lives a day). It's refreshing to hear meaningful poetry in lyrics which actually challenge you.

Last summer I was lucky enough to see Stroszek perform live in Manchester, and even though they were limited to a five song set, I was truly happy that I had been there to witness it. I wrote the following about the gig back in June 2007:

Because there were five bands playing that night, Stroszek only got to play a five-song set, but I was honoured to see it. They played three songs I already knew ("The Saltire," "You've Only Got Yourself to Blame," and "Dancing on the Motorway") and two I had only read the lyrics to ("Burning Libraries" and "Let the Chaos Begin"). The true test of a band for me is whether I enjoy songs I've never heard before as much as the songs I already know, and Stroszek aced this test. They are simply a great live band, one that doesn't need anything other than the music to blow you away. Richey sang with intensity, honesty and anguish reminiscent of Ian Curtis and James Dean Bradfield; Les's guitar deftly danced through the pulsing rhythms of the programmed drums, weaving haunting melodies; Doug drove each song along in true Jah Wobble and/or Killing Joke fashion; and they all took turns playing the synth in a seamless, but intricately layered, wall of sound. And of course the lyrics gave me that triumphant feeling similar to the one I got watching the Manics - call me weird, but songs that mention Chomsky make my heart swell.

The rest of the bands that night didn't really compare to Stroszek -Stroszek seemed to be at a more professional, fully-realized level. Probably one of the worst bands was the one immediately following Stroszek. They attempted to play some uninspired punk music with equally uninspired lyrics. Sadly, they seemed to provoke quite a positive reaction (which I can only attribute to either the masses' stupidity or the fact they had a lot of friends in the audience). One song went thusly: "He's a bastard (5X), he's a wanker (5X), he's a dickhead (5X)." They followed this vapid tripe with a song simply called, "Binge Drinking." It was definitely our cue to leave the club when the final band came on with props: a chair and an electric fan (as Doug quipped, "their only fan"). The singer seemed like a drama student as she pulled horrific faces and dramatically lurched around the chair, her hair blowing in her portable wind tunnel.

For those in the UK, I definitely recommend seeing Stroszek live. I would be attending their gigs all the time if I lived over there, but alas, I cannot; however, I intend to see them again sooner than later. Their songs careen from atmospheric (ie: Dialysis) to propulsive (ie: You've Only Got Yourself to Blame) to danceable (ie: Dancing on the Motorway), and their intensity moves you.

Stroszek's self-produced EP Demonstration includes the songs You've Only Got Yourself to Blame, The Saltire, Railway of Bones, and Dialysis, and it is available via their MySpace page. Now that Stroszek are on the roster of Flowers in the Dustbin, a Glaswegian multimedia collective, I hope that they will get more of the promotion they deserve. There are promises of a new release this year, and I'm quite excited about getting some new music that I know I'll enjoy.

Unlike Scottish contemporaries like The Acute, who have been touted as the next Manic Street Preachers based purely on glamour and attitude, Stroszek have the talent, and more importantly, the intelligence, not only to fill the Manics' shoes, but to take strides in different, meaningful directions.

Stroszek's Web site (currently under construction):
Flowers in the Dustbin's MySpace:

The Saltire - Stroszek

Appealing to the Senseless - Stroszek

No comments: