Synthpunk

Nervous Guy ‘Nerva Sky’

The year is 2037. Amid a decaying social order and broiling anger at the corrupt, corporate plutocracy, the disenfranchised masses finally revolt after the catastrophic mishandling of a global viral pandemic from an indifferent political class. Mass protests and civil war engulf the Western World, and the fascistic agents of hyper-capital come to a chilling solution: eliminate all dissent. For the compliant remainder of humanity? Nerva Sky, a VR simulator that keeps the mind in a state of opiated entertainment while the body performs hard labour for the wealth hoarding elite. Will the docile enslaved ever break free from their augmented shackles?

Philip K. Dick? Could be, but pessimistic depictions of blurred reality, tech addiction, and massive, corporate hegemony become less far-fetched as the world spins out of control into an abyss of algorithm news and dwindling faith in liberal democracy. Watching the creeping terror of fear and uncertainty grip America and beyond from various bedroom windows during lockdown is Nervous Guy, a side-project combined with members of Content, Leakage, and Mystiker who have infected their punk notoriety with a nasty malware of synth corruption and electro defect. Written and recorded across two different states and time zones amid the pandemic, Nervous Guy’s debut album is a product mutated and engineered in cyberspace, a net-ravaged concept album rendered more hideous with each digital exchange akin to the The Fly‘s bloody conclusion that crawls out of Dr. Brundle’s steaming transportation pod…

Nerva Sky (NERV-US-SK/GUY, get it?) is a glitchy brew of all manner of tech-noir synthpunk, a scrambled signal that transmits its ten tracks with ruined audio interruptions and sonic rot. The one track accompanied with a video is ‘Cyber Cruiser’, a signature song of sorts that encapsulates the many dimensions of the album, paranoid drum machines panic against atonal keyboards and warped samples fronted by guttural death metal vocals, a scabby coagulation of their hardcore stripes and affinity with the electronic end of post-punk. Their immersion in synth-soaked neon flicker is brilliantly pulled off in the cinematic ‘Prediction’, an utterly evocative mood piece awash with Michael Mann thriller guitars and sexy/edgy narration that prickles with drama, images of hologram red light districts and stripper robots are conjured in its sordid skulk. Moments of molten lo-fi channel the dehumanized art-punk heritage of Der Plan or Nervous Gender on garbled cuts like ‘Stroll With a Robot’ or ‘Mechanical Man’, but the album smoulders with acrid splendour on the punk pummelers. Album opener ‘Cyborg’s Dilemma’ beats the shit out of you with lightning guitar and buzzing bass, but the corroded garage rock rush of ‘Cybergang’ is perhaps the standout moment, a stirring and impossibly exciting hit of misshapen riffs and weird celestial chimes that twist and intertwine to a thrilling conclusion of apocalyptic choral keys.

Despite the album’s exploration of the current tumultuous zeitgeist, this is no po-faced narrative project that’s lost in its own conceptual indulgences. The bleak dystopic vision is more in the vein of William Gibson’s cyberpunk sprawl, a soundtrack to the illicit alleys and back streets of Mega-City One. Pulp sci-fi and B-movies influence Nerva Sky with vigour, from its Westworld inspired cover to Caitlin Hickey‘s frenzied video, Nervous Guy drape themselves in pop-culture aesthetic, your senses are transported to old worn VHS’s of RoboCop and The Terminator next to weathered issues of 2000 AD comics. Even their story of a herded masses imprisoned in a state of virtual sedation takes elements of The Matrix and The Time Machine, their appropriation never slipping into derivativity.

Sci-fi is at its best when it exorcises our societal anxieties and casts a cold light on our uncertain tomorrow. In an era characterised by political failure, climate catastrophe and mass alienation, Nerva Sky pops up like an unexpected download, beckoning you to join some underground cyber-resistance against the faceless edifice of authority. With one Power Glove in comic-book escapism and a T-800’s foot in social commentary, Nervous Guy has delivered an expert slice of caustic synthpunk that lifts a mirror to our putrid present while daring enough to have fun with it.

Cuir ‘Album’

The new frontier forged by the cataclysmic upheaval of punk was a good thing, right? Post-punk, art-punk, industrial, synthpop, etc etc were supposed to be the exciting new possibilities of punk’s meteoric impact, the D.I.Y. ethos harnessed by the new wave of belligerent iconoclasts ready to broaden punk’s horizons. “…Trendy university people using long words, trying to be artistic…and losing touch.” scoffed The Business guitarist Steve Kent. Cabaret Voltaire’s Dadaist tape experiments or the literary rigour of Magazine meant nothing to the scores of disaffected kids from an increasingly insecure working class who sought belonging, too broke in the malaise of seventies Britain to indulge in intellectual fancy. The reaction from the streets and a million miles away from the students’ unions was Oi!, a hard-nosed rebellion of blue collar revolt spearheaded by Sham 69 and Cockney Rejects, offering kinship to the angry and alienated and preaching unity in a climate of racial tension stoked by the National Front that lurked on the movement’s fringes.

Oi!’s bawdy spirit courses throughout Doug Zilla’s various band projects. A member of French punk groups Sordid Ship and Coup George, each band delivers a tight and direct rock and roll assault that’s solely concerned with impact and stirring passions. Now looking for a piece of the bondage-hooded punk market (to be shared with Canadian revolutionaries DBOY), Zilla has concocted an alter-ego of sorts, a pink gimp sporting an impeccable Schott jacket called Cuir, French for leather. A one man band handling all instruments, Cuir throws in a cheap keyboard to add a unique synth twist to the Oi! stomp.

“It’s synthpunk Jim (Pursey), but not as we know it”. Cuir’s debut LP Album is a strictly traditionalist statement, honouring Oi!’s brute energy and wielding the synth not as some instrument evoking unease or bleak, dystopic visions, but to add powerful melodic leads that shine brightly not too dissimilar to, dare one say, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. First track ‘Maniac’ establishes the entire drive of the record: fast, hooky, and hardcore. Ramones strut with urgent sequencers that sparks with sheer energy with lightning riffs which never lets up across the record’s 20 minutes. The ephemeral potency is reflected in the lyrics and song titles, pared down shout alongs to be sung covered in sweat and beer in some grotty underground venue, and punchy titles like ‘Black Leather’ or ‘Cut Cut’ that embraces itself in unpretentious appeals to attitude. There’s little variation across the 11 tracks, but who cares when each cut is so prime and vital, Oi! was never concerned with artistic detours, and thankfully neither is Cuir.

In an uncertain time of lockdowns and the stifling isolation it’s brought, escapism is more needed then ever. Cuir wisely and expertly has unleashed an electrifying debut that ignites desperately sought fervour and excites the soul, and honours the original Oi! ambitions by providing an outlet of fury that could trigger any mosh pit, but bears a positive, uplifting heart like an arm that reaches in to pick you up after falling into its synthpunk whirlpool.

Silicone Prairie ‘My Life on the Silicone Prairie’

For years, the term ‘plastic soul’ was an insult, dished out by the genre’s true devotees toward the crude imitators of the Motown and Stax roster of artists, condemned for their perceived kitschy and inauthentic hijacking of the soul sound. It took a restless and audacious David Bowie, fuelled by cocaine blitzed hubris and glam rock’s descent into self-parody firmly in his bloodshot sight, to embrace his ersatz mimicry of soul, stating ’75’s Young Americans as “the final report of plastic soul. Its squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak, written and sung by a white limey.” With classic cuts like the title track and ‘Fame’, in addition to being invited to perform on the seminal Soul Train, Bowie’s synthetic interpretation of soul proved to be commercially successful and lauded in the African-American community he was purporting to emulate.

What would a ‘silicone prairie’ sound like? The juxtaposition of polymer artifice and rustic pastures perhaps has already been given a soundtrack by the litany of art-punk subversives that exploded across Ohio in the mid seventies, acts like early Devo, Bizarros and Pere Ubu scoring a particularly agitated and acrid experimental noise informed by the barren dust storms of the Mid-West rather than the urban decay of the burgeoning New York scene. The special Great Plain post-punk spirit has rubbed off on Kansan artist Ian Teeple. COVID forcing time away from band duties in Warm Bodies and The Natural Man Band, his lone project Silicone Prairie is a lo-fi bedroom retreat of four-track punk stretched and elasticated into impressive contortions of rubbery branches into psych-rock and sunny, indie jangles.

The scope of influences belies the Sci-Fi maths cover of My Life on the Silicone Prairie, although album opener ‘PD2TB’ conforms with the geometric alien artwork, a taut fizz of nervous bass and sinewy guitar that hits with a dose of alienated menace typical of his eggpunk brethren. Elsewhere flashes of distorted synthpunk spits on tracks like ‘Open Module’, a gloriously infectious garage-rock number soaked in atonal synth defects, while the feverish ‘Dance to the Beat’ injects a shot of Talking Heads gritty, neurotic rhythms circa Fear of Music. An intriguing detour into spacey instrumentals crops up on the trippy ‘Song for Patrick Cowley’, a homage to the titular producer of Sylvester’s ’78 disco classic ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real’ and a plethora of gay porn soundtracks, borne out of a noodling session on an old Behringer synthesizer, Teeple’s own imitation of Hi-NRG disco.

The secret weapon to My Life…‘s distinct character is Teeple’s affection for the sunlit folk rock of The Byrds or Buffalo Springfield fed through the avant-garde psychedelia of The United States of America, a unique palette of sounds for the weirdo punk scene Teeple is associated with. ‘Lay in the Flowers’ fuses Violent Femmes indie with heady flutes that roll along with pleasing, rootsy country rock testifying to Teeple’s deft bounce between disparate tones and styles. Expert acid rock erupts effervescently on the thrilling ‘Born into Trouble’, a fantastic demonstration of electric fretwork and a killer solo, and warped, layered vocals just about harmonise on ‘Song for the Eagles to Sing’, even a minor foray into soft rock must be bent and misshapen in true, Mid-West punk fashion.

By the time My Life…‘s final track ‘Come Away’ ends with a hissing tape erosion, we come to understand exactly what a silicone prairie would sound like. The ‘plastic folk rock’ that is conjured from the queasy rubber landscape of synthetic plains and polystyrene expanse is impeccably realised in Silicone Prairie’s debut effort, retaining enough of the jagged bite to thrust Teeple to the fore of the synthpunk vanguard, but exceptionally infuses the weird with an affecting heart of melodic light and breezy hues that instils a much needed sense of uplifting affirmation in our upside-down world.

Headlice ‘Vol. 1’

There aren’t many releases that trigger a neurotic, sensory creep of itches and bodily invasion fears. If the very band name and titles like ‘Bacteria’ and ‘Nit Comb’ weren’t enough to set off a frantic flurry of frenzied scratching, then Russell Taysom‘s comix front cover depicting the crawling turmoil of a nest of lice gnawing through a punk rockers skull is sure to get you furiously scraping your scalp till there’s blood and skin under your fingernails.

A thoroughly mutant and septic variant of synthpunk has been making a nuisance of itself Down Under. Across Sydney and Melbourne, miscreants such as Research Reactor Corp, Gee Tee, and the litany of aliases from Billiam have been spewing a uniquely alien-fried mule of acrid garage rock. Long ensconced in Brisbane’s irritated flesh, the self-described criminal organisation known as Headlice have wormed their way to the front of the weirdo revolution and spat out their debut EP via Bargain Bin Records, a six track pestilence of expert, slime-soaked rock ‘n omeprazole.

The four Lice’s (being Ed, Red, Shred, and Fred) tear through Vol. 1 like an Amazonian candiru shredding your urethra. Half a dozen rancid eggpunk numbers spiked with venereal disease that manages to hook you with a guileful catchiness amid the scuzzy thrash. Each component of Headlice meshes with sinewy potency, Ed’s snotty vocals fluctuating between bratty sneer and feverish howl, Shred’s rubbery keyboards congealing with Red’s swaggering bass and all held together by Fred’s merciless drumming fury, there’s not a trace of fat or fucking about across the EP’s eight minutes.

Like all good infections, Headlice will hopefully only spread further and lay many more tapes and 7″s onto an unsuspecting populace, Vol. 2 being diagnosed by a doctor before being released by any label. A wholly welcome synthpunk contamination, Headlice are Top of the Pox!

Sistema de Entretenimiento ‘Sistema de Entretenimiento’

“I think they prefer to see us die” is a statement that feels lifted straight out of some sci-fi, B-movie thriller. Are ‘they’ the evil, faceless corporate giant that rules over the future fascist state, marvelling at their profit margins as the citizens breathe in the polluted fumes of its mega-factory? Perhaps it’s the roaring crowd of a dystopian gladiatorial arena where contestants fight to the death for a cash prize? A lesser, more blunt line would simply have been “we’re all gonna die!”, but the subtle twist of evocation adds an infinitely more mysterious dynamism.

Sci-fi at its best works when holding a mirror up to society and revealing our collective anxieties and fears for the future. “I think they prefer to see us die” could just as easily be speaking to the crumbling economic order which would sooner ferment fascism than risk its capital, and the increasing sense of a civilization nearing collapse is potent to anyone paying attention. El Prat artist Victor Echeverri seems to know well enough. Opening his latest EP for Spanish synthpunk outfit Sistema de Entretenimiento with the track ‘Creo que Prefieren Vernos Morir’, the arcade electro trio (including Guixi and Anna Bananna) have beamed a pulpy, comic book of an EP depicting tales of virtual suicide, lunar warriors and robots.

The self-titled EP takes cues from the rich heritage of synthpunk from Aviador Dro to Sigue Sigue Sputnik (the sleeve striking similarities with their ’86 debut Flaunt It) but inject the pacing of hardcore to create a frenzied, ticking bomb of fizzy keyboards and stinging drum machines. Errechevi’s (or to give his alias, Spiker) snotty vocals against the chewed bubble-gum production ensures that the tech-noir doesn’t teeter into total nihilism, and its choppy eleven minute length means the electro-snot whizzes past with ephemeral urgency, never outstaying its welcome. Lean, sinewy, and glowing with radiation, Sistema de Entretenimiento is a feverish and gloriously trashy little piece which wields a sci-fi front to channel the uncertainty of tomorrow.

Liquid Face “Crumbling Structure”

“…Indulgence, anger, impending doom, confusion, finding your place in the world…” lists Aussie weirdo rocker Cal Donald as to his recurring themes. Easily cataloguing the arduous struggle universally felt by humanity wading through a quagmire of rampant authoritarianism and societal implosion, Donald’s casual ticking off of motifs touches a natural and perhaps accidental profundity that belies his irreverent front.

Originally in garage-pysch band Draggs along with fellow scuzz thrasher Kel Mason, Donald has been cutting a similarly warped slice of lo-fi synthpunk with new project Liquid Face, unleashing a string of fuzzed-out minimal dreg choked with rubbery keyboards, murky vocals and acerbic snot. Dropping new EP off the back of pandemic turmoil and isolated rumination via trusty Italian label Goodbye Boozy Records, Crumbling Structure, as the title suggests, soundtracks the rotting orthodoxy that’s inching towards collapse.

“Is this the Police? Fuck you!!!” yelps a cartoon Adolf Hitler from martial arts comedy Kung Fury, opening the album on first track ‘Power Trip’, a seething diatribe against fascistic police and the tiny little men intoxicated with their unearned authority, Donald’s lyrical spits of SS door knocks and WWIII giving disorientating charge with fizzy drum machines and warbling synthlines. The polluted congeal of abrasive guitar attack and acrid sonics doesn’t let up across any of its four songs, buzzing its way violently through ‘Lobotomy’ and ‘Impending Doom’ before the final poisoned invective against the apathetic wealth hoarders in ‘2083’, Donald’s tirade puncturing through the fetid, lo-fi broth with the repeated split-lip of “money, power, less by the hour” stinging with queasy familiarity to any overworked and underpaid millennial/Gen Z.

Saturated with all the punk swagger and derisive humour one expects from the distinct Aussie eggpunk scene, Liquid Face hides an affecting and personal exposure beneath the grime which sets him apart from his freaky contemporaries singing about mutant rats and alien game shows (as great as it is). Crumbling Structure is a gloriously corroded ten minutes of caustic feculence smouldering with radiation burns that perfectly scores the current disintegration of Western Civilisation.

RRS ‘Tonight’

Cardboard is not immediately what comes to mind when seeking inspiration. Perhaps the heavy-duty, paper-based material is unfairly forgotten, a major resource for many budding creative, be it a primary school nativity play to the avant-garde peaks of Hugo Ball’s Cubist costume worn while delivering his Dadaist poem ‘Karawane’.

It’s also a perennially a recurring motif for Bristol artist Robert Ridley-Shackleton. Spending the last decade releasing an exhausting amount of tapes under Cardboard Club and the now-defunct Hissing Frames, RRS has been unleashing a deeply offbeat mesh of idiosyncratic performance art, surreal stand-up and lo-fi tape experiments. Describing himself as “the cardboard simulacrum of the artist formerly alive and known as Prince”, RRS takes the brittle and primitive minimalism of Suicide but infuses the frangible vibe with warped humour and a thoroughly weird take on pop.

Tonight, being the soundtrack to his titular film exhibited at Tusk Virtual Festival, is another fuzzy collection of atonal synths, crude drum machines and stream of consciousness lyrical oddities. RRS’s affection for funk plays out on the title track and EP opener, a skewed and muffled murk of ‘Being Boiled’ style basslines and preset beats which sputters along to the Cardboard Prince’s proclamations of looming stardom, his repeated line “tonight I’m going to be” like a particularly warped episode of Stars in Their Eyes. This congealed slop of bedroom DIY production and RRS’s jocular incongruity never lets up, the roiled pop twisting and turning throughout save album centrepiece ‘Dusty Feeling Vs TJ Laser Face’, a commentary on a wrestling match between the two aforementioned prizefighters strewn with witty musings. RRS is smart enough to keep the EP at a lean length, never allowing the unorthodox nature of the music and delivery ever becoming stretched or testing to the listener.

With RRS being an ‘outsider’ artist in the truest sense of the word, Tonight further cements his reputation as one of Bristol’s most radical and hilarious dilettantes, a gloriously misshapen and absurd piece of work that enthralls with its precarious improvisation, hissing decrepitude and upside-down humour.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #18

“我爱北京天安门, 天安门上太阳升!”

Everyone’s favourite synthpunk invasion smashed into the 1020 Radio studio like Deng Xiaoping’s disembodied head today, another acrid hour of garbled alien interference glitched out with 16bit HappySoft viruses!! ☭ 🎮 📡 👽 👌

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #17

“Rats mutated from the acid rain, feel that radiation going into my brain!”

6̷9̷4̷1̷0̷ ̷6̷9̷4̷1̷0̷ ̷0̷3̷9̷3̷2̷ ̷0̷3̷9̷3̷2̷ ̷4̷2̷1̷7̷5̷ ̷4̷2̷1̷7̷5̷ ̷7̷2̷9̷6̷4̷ ̷7̷2̷9̷6̷4̷ ̷7̷9̷3̷8̷3̷ ̷7̷9̷3̷8̷3̷ ̷3̷2̷6̷4̷4̷ ̷3̷2̷6̷4̷4̷ ̷4̷1̷9̷6̷8̷ ̷4̷1̷9̷6̷8̷ ̷8̷1̷6̷0̷0̷ ̷8̷1̷6̷0̷0̷ ̷2̷7̷6̷4̷5̷ ̷2̷7̷6̷4̷5̷ ̷0̷1̷6̷6̷8̷ ̷0̷1̷6̷6̷8̷… 1020 Radio picked up some shortwave intelligence today, the Spit ‘n’ Static! signal beaming the usual synthpunk sludge with queasy interference from the mysterious numbers at 4625 kHz! E̷͈͗̊̆̔̈̔̀̌͠n̸̘̥̠̠͔̑́̓d̶̟̥͖͈̆̓̄̿̍̅́͘ ̸̯͙̖̞̳͕͚̂̀̀̒̃͑̈́ŏ̴̧̢̡̠͔̠͖f̵̢̢͖̜̬̘̞̽̓̓͜ ̴̳͈̥̑̀ẗ̴̛͈̮̙́́͒̃̑̕r̴̨̩̺͖̆̍͗̓̇́͝ä̸̛̛̙́̈́̋̒͌n̸̨̨̛̛̛͍̥̓́̍̇͠͝s̸̡̻͙̩̭͚̦͖̋̏̋̂̀̅̅̃̕m̵͙̜̿̄ǐ̶͕͗͜s̴̟̺̦̮̀̄͊̔̕s̷̨͕̿̓̑̈́̃̾̊̓i̸̡̛̗̺̲͒͘͝ȏ̸̧̡̰͉̖̪̯̞̋͋͒̈́͐͐͝ņ̷͍̲͇̳͍͒́̎̂̀͋̈́ͅ

TV nightmares by Haydiroket

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #16

‘I’m wired up! I’m wired up! I’m wired up!I’m wired up! I’m wired up! I’m wired up! I’m wired up! They got Stelazine, Thorazine, and Largactil!’

“That’s not reggae, it’s imitation” to misquote Dr. Blair. There’s a giant carnival shaped hole that was filled with Spit ‘n’ Static! sludge over at 1020 Radio today, the synthpunk intrusion garbling with weird reggae, alien dub, and the noxious fumes of The Thin Blue Slime in flames! 🐖 ☢️ 📡 👽 👌

Purple fuzzy void by Roberto Malano