It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the explosion of post-industrial culture in Thatcherian Britain. This was the time when Sheffield had already become a moribund shadow of “the steel city on the move”. And within several years Arthur Scargill’s coal unions would be hoisted out of the shaft and shelved onto rarely visited shelves of communal libraries. Only the Falkland War distracted from the monochrome character of the pre-reform UK.
But it was precisely during this period of the reluctant social and economic transformation that a whole generation of British musicians launched their projects emboldened, rather than hampered by the punk revolution several years before. Among the styles which benefited from the flourishing of independent labels, post-industrialism created the most lasting of musical documents.
Glenn Michael Wallis was an active member of the scene, associated with such luminaries as Whitehouse and Throbbing Gristle. Between 1982-85, under the moniker Konstruktivists, he created dark electronic visions that somehow reconciled the technical and stylistic limits of the era with excellent sense of sonic perspective. David Kenny who engineered Konstruktivists’ early records also deserves the credit for a healthy, selective approach to analog and tape effects.
Using a limited armature of tools, Wallis successfully generated illusion (but illusion only) of depth and complexity. His manipulation of reverb density was always tasteful and his novel, particulate textures prefigured later recordings of esoteric underground. On several occasions, he also betrayed familiarity with electronic rock of the previous decade, a potentially dangerous faux pas in the proud years of post-industrial nihilism.
Miles away from the harsh experiments that dominated the center stage of post-industrialism, Konstruktivists’ records are a charming, though never infantile, testimony to the style of an era that is rarely celebrated these days.
Initially monolithic, semi-stationary waves of analog synthesizer expand their mildly polyphonic reach. The static plane is construed entirely from high frequency sounds, nearly emulating the unnerving tension that György Ligeti had achieved in his multi-strings compositions. Although Wallis eschews such direct quotations, the resulting tension is a far scream from the “Nostalgia” alluded to in the title. Yes, some light-bodied melody does roam somewhere, but it is buried deeply in the downmix. The synthesizer screen slowly begins to flow in and out. When it ebbs away, no residuals are left behind.
The Crimson Path
Dressed in short reverb, a surf guitar (Nick Clark) promenades to the passé grin of a simple rhythm box. A second guitar, specializing in nickel-clear tremolos, is strongly reminiscent of contemporaneous DDAA. So is the post-partum wailing of cross-breeding “feminine” voices. The track zigzags in a directionless fashion with vocal tracks treated by varying doses of delay and contrasted against the tremolo guitar. Sunnily independent, the surf guitar improvises freely.
Shadows of White Sand
Synthesizer shales give way to deeply atmospheric, underdefined ill-bience, indirectly evocative of Attrition’s best LP and the less spacey Zoviet France. Subterranean, larval echoes emerge slowly in waveforms determined at source by no more than three chords. Woozy matte is spilling out gently. There is no sense of ominous imminence here, but rather an aura of mystery and irrealization. What could be dismissed as a case of mere illustrative electronics, bestows on the willing listener just enough freedom to fill this aural framework with liberating numinosum.
This repetitive rhythm-box and guitar motif, so stiffly grounded within the aesthetic of the early 1980s, is worthy of an early Cabaret Voltaire or Clock DVA record. But instead of saxophones, the simple set of guitar figures is coupled here with oud-sounding string tunings and addictive vocal echoes (Pilar Pinillos and Elena Colvée). The tempo is leisurely, despite the notional fill-ins programmed in the rhythm machine.
The sequencer flies into the limelight with an amplitude of a machine-gun. There is a competition between the several synthesizer sources. On the one hand, we distinguish classicizing arpeggios, on the other, repetitive chord renewals, chiming in with the rotor-aping sequencer. The overall climate is closer to Richard Pinhas’ work than to his German contemporaries.
Simple repetitive electro-glorping, suffused with bleeps and destabilized by processed male vocal. Indeterminate organ clusters, metronomic machine drumming and guitar hooks determined by the simplistic structure of electro-beat recall the simplicity of the long-forgotten artists of the era – Eric Random and Bill Nelson.
Red October Black September
The most memorable moment on the record is the track built around a pulsing, yet melodic bass skeleton. Throughout this passacaglia après la lettre, illusory verbalizations adopt an almost ingressive mantle due to ingeniously mixed synthesized hyperplanes. The voices are slotted in with dynamic jumps, and alarmingly so. They recede at various stages of decomposure – fading, wilting or transmogrifying into metallic reverberation. A patchy cobweb of guitars and synthesizers embroiders a denitrified tapestry, underscoring the critical role of the electric bass ostinato. The effect is intoxicating. It all ends too soon.
For those willing to explore the dark corners of analog atmospherics, any of the first three recordings are recommended. There were also many cassette issues.
KONSTRUKTIVISTS: “A Dissembly” (1982)
KONSTRUKTIVISTS: “Psycho-Genetika” (1983)
KONSTRUKTIVISTS: “Black December” (1983)
KONSTRUKTIVISTS: “Glennascaul” (1985)
Many unique pieces can also be found on compilations, e.g. “The Elephant Table Album” and “Four Years in 30 Seconds”. We owe the latter to the fact that Wallis resuscitated Konstruktivists in the 1990s.