Slung back and forth through an excess-free set… Everything’s played like it’s fresh out the meat locker, everything’s keen and still glowing.
At some point this week something came to my door, a replacement Super Nintendo complete with a new game thrown in. I had to wait to unwrap, unpack, plug in and play and first game that went on was Coolspot; a shameless 90s surf 7-Up tie-in with the coolest/worst 16-BIT theme tune. I hadn’t heard Wipeout properly until I heard it crammed in a half-inch thick cartridge and spat out in crushed, compressed tones.
Who’d have thought that would tie in with this, a write up of Theatre of Hate? We’ll get there I promise but first…
Orchestral strings sweep the venue, the smooth and lush and calming in contrast with the spit and the barbs coming up. Theatre of Hate hang tight to the sound of their 1981 to ’83 output; when the rash rush of punk fuelled by fury and noise had started to settle on spikes, and the clumsy and brash had been stripped to the bones and post-punk came out of the ash. What followed was just as assertive, just as pointed, alive but resigned. It was potent and just as important.
Straight away they display what set them apart; a barren sand sound of old westerns, a sax that lingers between X-Ray Spex screech and the lingering tones bugle, and guitars that sing sparse in their tawny-eyed twang, scratching and jagged and bare. The fingertips of Mick Jones are all over; first album producer, co-sculptor, 6th member and extra creator. Theatre of Hate could run alongside The Clash but there’s plenty that keeps the two separate.
Propping up and propelling this pent up aggression is a bass and drum section that scats back and forth from the round pounded full bodied Adam Ant toms, to the post-disco grooves of Joy Division’s tilt towards New Order. Almost tribal in parts, tweaked and pinched tight in others, you can work out a timeline from Theatre of Hate through to new wave, new romantic, and I’d argue right up to the thin treble Brit-pop of Suede’s early singles and Rowland S Howard’s solo albums.
It’s worth noting too that out of Theatre of Hate came Spear of Destiny and The Cult, each with their own marks to bear, but nothing here lives quite as polished. It’s happy sat dark, spat and angry.
These songs move swift through an excess-free set, we get slung back and forth from new release to first, almost 36 years stand between and there’s nothing that says which is which. Everything’s played like it’s fresh out the meat locker, everything’s keen and still glowing. A trade could have been made to cave in to temptation, to beef these tracks up to the thickness of current distortions, but here it’s preserved and the trade was turned down and each song stands intact as they were.
And each has their own separate instinct , one song gets played with the subtlest hints of flamenco guitar while the next plays just-off beat rockabilly. All these changes are small, like a flavour or hint, but they swing ’round the back of the tracks and get weaved into their signature sound.
Gun Club and X, I’m still drawing those lines and here’s where I think of the intro; an unforeseen happenstance takes the singer off stage leaving band to come quick up with something. A nod to and fro and for the second time today I hear Wipeout come out unexpected. I’m watching Theatre of Hate on stage and all I see’s Cool Spot surfing 7-up waves… I can’t go resisting the link.
It’s only the shortest of interludes, Kirk Brandon comes back to the stage, we’re thrown back into the dirt of the gig and we’re ramping our way towards the end. As I stop and look at the crowd moving forward to songs that become more familiar, I admire how the band kept a presence of menace through easy and disciplined playing; they don’t play breakneck to stay angry, they save that for slices and sections, they don’t have to howl to sing hard, Brandon maintains a poison fuelled croon… And it’s all the more sweeter when things do kick in, all rough licked and measured and mean.
We end on first single released, followed by their calling called Westworld. I swear Do You Believe in the Westworld has appeared on every punk and goth origin compilation that I’ve laid ears on over the years. And just like the rest, it’s handprints are still fresh so I head off to get me record.
Their new EP Sensou is the first of three out, keep an eye for when next two are due. In the meantime there’s plenty of tour dates to catch and a Q and A promised at some point.
Theatre of Hate played Rescue Rooms, Nottingham on Dec 13th 2018.