Secret Knowledge

Our invaluable columnist trawls his weird mind palace and turns in yet another tale you couldn’t make up if you tried.

Life was getting very busy around this time 25 years ago. Since returning from New York three years earlier, somewhat battered and astounded to witness the acid house phenomenon that had transpired while I was away, myself and a singer from Cleveland, Ohio, called Wonder had renewed the relationship that had started when she helped safely return me to the UK following a subway mugging. 

As ever, I went to the source of this major cultural revolution that had erupted at the same time I was getting into house and techno in New York. Writing for NME and Echoes, I discovered that old muckers Youth and Alex Paterson were in the thick of it all, starting the WAU! label and forming The Orb. They opened several doors, which led to a dark corridor harbouring Andrew Weatherall, whose DJing and remixes immediately struck a massive chord, confirming this was punk rock all over again just with drum machines. 

After dabbling with making tunes for Rising High and Creation’s Infonet techno offshoot, Secret Knowledge was born from an obscure B-side made by me and Wonder that Weatherall played. He even invited us to record for his new Sabres Of Paradise label so, working with Ben “Juno Reactor” Watkins and with Jah Wobble, another old mucker, on bass, we came up with the Suicide-sampling electro-sex groove of ‘Ooh Baby’. 

By now, I’d fallen deep into the acid house shenanigans trough and knew what it took to blow the roof off a club and the collective mind of a mad club crowd. One night at our place in Aylesbury, Wonder started singing a Billie Holiday-style broken ballad about a mean mistreating ex-boyfriend. The song, already called ‘Sugar Daddy’, started taking shape out of our mutual love of Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder. 

The next day in Orinoco Studios, where Weatherall did his remixes, his astonishingly talented studio team of Jagz Kooner and Gary Burns took the map I’d drawn of the track, complete with Wonder’s soaring “Whooooo” and a D-Train sample, translated it into machine language and enabled us to make an 11-minute club monster. 

Weatherall was impressed enough to try it out at Brighton’s Zap Club, knowing he was onto something when grown men held onto each other in tears and ladies swooned at their brand new voice. 

David Holmes was in that crowd and phoned up begging to remix ‘Sugar Daddy’, working with Jagz, Gary and fellow Disco Evangelist Ashley Beedle to create the aptly-titled ‘Out Of Our Brains On The 5.15 Mix’. With our own ‘Sugar Caned’ acid blowout and ‘Sugar Daddy Blue’ after hours nightclub version, we had enough for two 12-inch releases that did quite well.

This led to Leftfield asking if we fancied doing something for their Hard Hands label, which turned into a team-up on ‘Anything You Want’, another Wonder anthem that we released as Delta Lady to avoid confusion (named after the Joe Cocker song!). Working with relentless perfectionists Neil Barnes and Paul Daley was quite an experience, everything machine-tooled for maximum mayhem down to the tiniest hi-hat hiss. 

That did well too and led to us taking the two tracks to the stage on the then-brilliant club circuit, making friends for life at nutter infernos including Back To Basics, Slam, Bugged Out, Full Circle, Ministry Of Sound and Sabresonic. Then we went on to the usual route signing with a major, making an album called ‘So Hard’ that explored the ‘Sugar Daddy’ story (complete with Dan Zamani acid fry-up) before splitting up for various reasons. 

‘Sugar Daddy’ and ‘Anything You Want’ have returned to haunt me over the years, but it’s still unbelievable they’re a quarter century old. The story could be even stranger that, as I write, Secret Knowledge are poised to return, initially with a track inspired by the passing of my beloved Helen in June; music by the amazing Sendelica and words by Wonder. It’s called ‘The Windmill’, after the beautiful spot in Essex where Helen is buried, but it’s charged with a different kind of emotion this time. I would love to remix it with Alex Paterson. Stranger things have happened. 

Talking of Sendelica, the ferociously-prolific band have released ‘Cromlech Re-Imagined Vol 1’ on the FRG label, featuring remixes of four tracks from the highly-acclaimed ‘Cromlech Chronicles’ series, which is now up to a third volume (with a fourth already in the pipeline). Flying their love of Neu!-style krautrock and deep space electronics in general, it’s a stunning set that fulfills the requirements of a remix set to the hilt, taking tracks to new plateau of catharsis and liquid emotion.

The first three tracks are reworked by ancillary band member Colin Consterdine; ‘The Return Of The Elohim’ (from the first ‘Cromlech Chronicles’) setting the tone with sepulchral keyboards before the epic ‘Slow Burner’ (’Cromlech Chronicles III’) soars from a vaguely Floyd-ian start into a shimmering wall of guitars and electronics before freefalling into a swirling black hole maelstrom, oddly recalling earliest Tangerine Dream. 

‘Even Though My Mouth Is Silent’, from ‘Cromlech Chronicles II’, is the album’s peak, an ethereal masterpiece of spatial Heliocentric World dynamics that can feel soft as a goose feather, ancient as the monument that names the sets and spiritually uplifting. It’s bolstered by subtly-deployed motorik pulses, Kate Riaz’s star-sailing violin and Cheryl Beer’s luminescent, in-your-cranium vocals. And then, midway, the track dissolves into opiated vapour trails left behind by its original earthly form. 

Leader/guitarist Pete Bingham turns ‘12 Shades Revisited’ from ‘Cromlech Chronicles III’ into a translucent higher plane drifter garnished with Lee Relfe’s sax and Glenda Pescado’s bottomless bass before this remarkable set closes with rewired out-take ‘Theme From An Imaginary Victorian Ghost Hunter’, Relfe floating in space to bring down the curtain in cinematic reverie.

There simply is no other band operating near the orbit Sendelica currently traverse. Like I said, I always tend to go to the source of the next revolution. As John Lydon told me when he hooked up with Leftfield after me for ‘Open Up’, “If they’re good, work with ‘em!”. But it’s a lot more than that with Sendelica; this is special on any level. 

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