Our resident archivist picks out one of the most influential records of his musical life, Mark Stewart’s 1985 album, ‘As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade’ produced by the mighty Adrian Sherwood
‘As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade’ by Mark Stewart is one of my favourite albums of all-time. I think it’s the best record Mute ever released. I also think it’s the best thing Mark Stewart has ever done, including everything he did with The Pop Group, as good as that stuff is. From the artwork to the lyrical content and the sound, it’s aged really well. Take a look at the cover, that guy has an axe or something, he’s not messing about!
The album was released by Mute in 1985 and I was in a band called Perennial Divide at the time. When I heard it I thought, “Ah, I want to do something like this…”, so it was directly influential on the sound of Meat Beat Manifesto when I released the first single in 1987.
It was a record that sat around for a couple of years before its influence was really picked up. It was part of what created that late 1980s industrial sound. A lot of is down to Adrian Sherwood, along with Doug Wimbish, Keith LeBlanc, Skip McDonald, who were also Tackhead, it was essentially his sound.
It starts with Mark Stewart saying, “We are going to programme you to take your place in society…” through a load of disruptions and filtering, and then it develops into this collage of noise, absolutely drenched in tape delay, and then it just gets really abstract and never settles to what you might think of as a normal structure or sound. It’s very impressive, utterly fearless and completely committed to its vision.
I was told by Kevin Metcalfe, the engineer who did the cut of this record at the Townhouse, that it was mastered on VHS videotape to make it even more noisy. And then they re-copied it at the Townhouse to make it even hissier.
Around the same time, Sherwood did the amazing remix of ‘Yü-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego)’ by Einsturzende Neubaten. That’s a stellar mix, a complete blueprint for what became industrial music. There’s some banging on metal and a steady electronic beat all the way through. The vocals, with Sherwood distorting them, are amazing.
After ‘As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade’ Sherwood produced ‘Twitch’ by Ministry in 1986, which was their second album, and the one where the harder Ministry sound started. Al Jourgensen was in London and the record was produced at Southern Studios where Sherwood did a lot of his work. He showed Jourgensen the ropes while making that album and apparently he made notes on the quiet, marking down all the settings Sherwood was using.
The problem was they couldn’t make much sense of what Al wrote down during the making of ‘Big Sexy Land’, the first Revolting Cocks album, but by that time he had a Fairlight, which then became the sound of all that Wax Trax! industrial stuff that’d started to come out.
From his first release as the New Age Steppers in 1980, which was Sherwood, Mark Stewart and Ari Up of The Slits and the music journalist and singer Vivien Goldman, he had that that punk/dub mix going on. He carried it on with the On-U stuff, and African Head Charge, Dub Syndicate, and he’s still doing it now, still making great records. The guy’s a legend!