‘Seven Songs’

Resident archivist Jack Dangers reaches for an old favourite – the foundational industrial output of 23 Skidoo from their 1982 album, ‘Seven Songs’

‘Seven Songs’ is a very important record for me. Without 23 Skidoo and Cabaret Voltaire, there would be no Meat Beat Manifesto. 

23 Skidoo formed in London in 1979, and their first single, ‘Ethics’, was released in 1980. They then signed to Fetish Records, by which time the band was centred around brothers Johnny and Alex Turnbull. 

Fetish was the label that released Throbbing Gristle, Clock DVA, Bush Tetras and Stephen Mallinder’s first solo records, and 23 Skidoo became part of that early 80s “industrial” underground scene. They started using loops, samples and some amazing drumming. Their use of percussion really stood out, with weird and offbeat patterns. The band’s 1981 single, ‘The Gospel Comes To New Guinea’, was recorded at Cabaret Voltaire’s Western Works studio and Stephen Mallinder, Richard H Kirk and Chris Watson are all credited with production and engineering. 

‘Seven Songs’ was produced by “Tony, Terry & David” aka Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, and renowned engineer Ken Thomas. The track ‘Quiet Pillage’ is named after ‘Quiet Village’, a 1950s exotica/easy listening track by Martin Denny. By referencing a kind of lounge music sound and imagery that couldn’t be further from what they were doing, I suppose they were making an art joke. It was lost on me at the time, and I always find easy listening very scary anyway – it fills me with a sense of impending doom.

The band later signed to Illuminated Records, and Peter “Sketch” Martin, the bass player from Linx, joined them for the album ‘Urban Gamelan’. I can remember going to London to try to give demo tapes to labels back in the 1980s, and I went to the Illuminated office on Fulham Road. There was no one there – just piles of boxes of records, and pots and pans all over the place to collect water dripping from the leaking roof. It was depressing.

The Turnbull brothers later got into breakbeat and hip hop and signed to Virgin Records in the 1990s. In 2012, Alex Turnbull wrote and co-directed ‘Beyond Time – William Turnbull’, a documentary about their famous artist father which was narrated by Jude Law and scored by 23 Skidoo.

They’re still active from time to time, and ‘Seven Songs’ has been re-released by LTM along with the rest of their back catalogue. The digital version of the album is great, with extra tracks that weren’t on the original vinyl release, like ‘The Gospel Comes To New Guinea’. Their records aren’t difficult to find, and they are brilliant.

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