Adi Newton

This month, our resident archivist fixes on Adi Newton, his work as The Anti-Group, Clock DVA and the primordial Sheffield electronic soup which produced The Human League

Photo: Gabriel Edvy

Adi Newton was a member of The Future with Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware, before they went on to become The Human League with Phil Oakey. He was part of that art school scene which was responsible for so much great music that came out of Sheffield. In 1986 I went on a pilgrimage to Sheffield. One of the most personally influential tracks for me was ‘Dancevision’ from The Human League’s ‘Holiday ‘80’ EP, which was released in 1980 and was actually a track by The Future. Newton released a longer version of it on a compilation album a few years ago called ‘Horology 2’.

After leaving The Future, he started Clock DVA, their first official release was on Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial label in 1980. He was doing all kinds of projects throughout the 1980s, including ‘Digitaria’, which is one of my favourite records of the 1980s . It’s the best album Sweatbox Records [the label that signed Jack/Meat Beat Manifesto] ever released. It’s surrounded in mystery with all these arcane symbols and strange iconography.

It mixes electronic and jazz, some of it is what you might call ambient, but I think of them as sound structures.

It really is some of the best music like that I’ve ever heard.

Another of his projects was The Anti-Group, also known as TAGC – the C stand for Communications. He did a couple of albums that he called Meontological Research Recordings, ‘Record 1’ and ‘Teste Tones’. I’ve always loved the cover of ‘Record 1’, which looks like some kind of sinister sound experiment being carried out on a human subject. I asked Rob Deacon [Sweatbox label owner] what it was, and he said they’d shot it themselves, and the headgear was actually taken from the inside of a safety helmet.

I mentioned Adi Newton before, in the column about noise music [Issue 25] and his Fabricata Illumunata performance at the ICA in 1986. It’s still the strangest show I’ve ever seen. Even the invitations were intense; cards with a ribbon hanging off them, and dead flies embedded in drops of wax. The show itself was in the round, no stage, and the audience was huddled in the middle of the space not knowing what to expect. It started with ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’ showing on screens. After about 40 minutes of this, a few brave souls started shouting, “Is this it?! I paid to see this crap?!”, then all of a sudden a curtain opened where a guy was playing a huge kick drum with a mirror attached to it, which sent out reflections of light every time he played it, then all hell broke loose, it was sheer noise. I don’t know how long it lasted, time stood still.

They released CS gas and the band were burning their hair, people were escaping. It was extraordinary.

There’s a big Clock DVA boxset coming that he’s been working on for some time, and new Clock DVA and TAGC albums are in the pipeline, as well as TAGC retrospectives. He’s been around as long as the greats like Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League. I think he’s a bit overlooked, but is as good as any of them.

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