Monday, April 13, 2015

hardcore heroes (#3 of....) - Holy Ghost Inc.

Also known as Gary Griffith and Leon Thomson.

What the figures in this series have in common is mystery...   A shroud of non-knowledge envelops these operators. Visually and biographically, the archive is depleted, nearly devoid of information. Such that for the most part you couldn't even say these entities possess "mystique", since that would require an aura of some sort,  substantive qualities upon which fascination and intrigue could be based. There's just the records.

Compared with Holy Ghost Inc., someone like Marc Acardipane is a veritable public figure, a well-documented known quantity. I have seen four interviews with Acardipane or with PCP (but where he's clearly the label spokesman, if unidentified). Two featurettes from 1993 in iD and NME,  an in-depth Q/A in Alien Underground, a substantial feature in gabbazine Thunder. There's probably other pieces in German and Dutch. Even chatted with Acardipane on the phone once, would you believe! Did an impromptu interview too I think (certainly a quote or two made it into this piece) but didn't glean that much, being completely unprepared.

But Holy Ghost Inc....  as far as I know, the only substantial bit of writing about them is Matthew Ingram's thing for one of his blogs, as now gathered in The Big Book of Woe. And Matt didn't have much to go on beyond the music itself: no quotes, zero biographical info. The mystery remained intact.

As it happens, I once spoke to Holy Ghost Inc. on the phone too. Very briefly. Blown away by "Nice One Boy," which was getting a lot of play on the pirates in '92 and also hearing the even more amazing  "Jihad" on the Give Peace A Dance comp, I'd rushed out to buy the EP (where "Jihad" reappeared under the name "Psycho Missus") . Rang the number on the label and spoke to - I think - Gary. Who kindly sent me a bunch of their releases, including the cult classic "Mad Monks On Zinc" and things they'd done under the aliases The Saucer Crew and The Ouija Board.

Now I probably would have got round to doing a piece on them, except the very next thing they did was on Blunted, a subsidiary of Island, and it was a complete switch in direction. I was so hyped to review it when it came to my next turn to do the Singles Page at Melody Maker. But from the title Megawatt Messiah to the EP's sonic contents themselves, it was as disconcerting as it was disappointing . Nothing like the sample-lashed storm of "Psycho Missus" or the mournful ragga-laced darkcore of "Nice One Boy"....  closer to an outfit like Fluke, or Sabres of Paradise, maybe.  The nonhardcore continuum - i.e. the sort of "techno" outfits that played well with the weekly music papers, that were favored by Lime Lizard or Volume.

This in fact is what I wrote for the March 1994 Singles Page, although I have feeling the column over-ran and this bit got cut out. Other artists that got reviewed, incidentally, were Omni Trio, DJ Nut Nut and Pure Science, Grooverider, DJ Crystl, X Project... and Pulp.

Megawatt Messiah (Blunted Vinyl) 

Doyens of "intelligent hardcore", The Holy Ghost have released some wonderfully daft and demented trax like "Jihad", "Nice One Boy" and "Mad Monks On Zinc". But now that they've signed to Island sub-label Blunted Vinyl, they've dropped the "hardcore" and are just "intelligent", in a yupwardly-mobile prog-house stylee. The titles--"Heavy Water", "Ion Horse" and "Isotopia"--are still wacky, but the music's cleanly produced, tasteful and smoothly grooving. Squelchy bass, exotic samples (including ethno-techno pioneer
Jon Hassell if I'm not mistaken), trancey beats--but like Fluke, it never quite amounts to the sum of its parts. Shame.

After this trauma, Holy Ghost Inc's name evacuated itself from my brain for a good few years -- things were moving so fast in those days too - and the next time I came across  them was in 1996 with the first of their albums on Tresor. By this point they were more or less situated in the minimal techno zone, making tracks not unlike the more linear dancefloor-oriented things by Monolake.

The strange fluctuations and swerves of their career / discography brings up the question of what Holy Ghost Inc. are doing in a pantheon of hardcore heroes in the first place.

Well, for the duration of  "Nice One Boy", "Psycho Missus", and the third track on the EP, the banging "Magnet" (with its irresistible chant "ya pulla me in -  ya pulla me in  - ya pulla me in LIKE A MAGNET") they intersected with the hyper 'n' helter breakbeats + samples uproar of ninety-two (mate).

"A whoosh like a brain inundated with serotonin, a bassline as agitated as a shrew on the brink of a coronary, French gibberish, tons more weirdness" - me on "Jihad" a/k/a "Psycho Missus"

But even at Holy Ghost Inc.'s most mental and headstrong, it is artcore, suffused with a "oneiric trance-like" quality (as Matt Woebot put it).

Other Holy Ghost Inc. tracks have a breakbeat element, but the vibe is closer to The Black Dog - ethereal, eldtritch, unbodied to the point of translucence - than Urban Shakedown or  2 Bad Mice.

The artwork and labels and titles often hint at hermetic, esoterrorist inclinations

A Holy Ghost Inc. hallmark is the use of vocals - "chopped-up", "stroboscopic", as Matt put it - but the mood is different than your usual rave-fodder hypergasm divas ... hark at the plaintive beseeching almost sombre way way the diva asks "are you ruuuuuushing?" in this beaut below... Although it's quite possible she's asking "Are you Ruuuuuuuussian?".

 And their earliest tunes are coming from somewhere completely different altogether - the peripheries of the chill out and ambient house moment circa 89/90, seemingly.

"Walk On Air (sunandmoon Mix)" was a David Mancuso favorite for the latter days of The Loft and appeared on one of the Nuphonic compilations based around his / its aesthetic.

And then there's this, which is sort of post-acieeed maximalist, like Bassomatic swirling down the K-hole.

Wouldn't know how to classify this... except to say that I could imagine one or other of the Hardkiss bros working it into a set.

Heading towards trance....

Holy Ghost Inc. belong to a protean moment in rave when the strands that would separate out into hardcore, hard techno, trance, and electronic listening music / IDM were all entwined in a single pulsating ball of protozoan possibility. "Mad Monks On Zinc" was an across-the-board cult favoritek beloved by deejays that would very soon be operating in completely divergent scenes, heading in directions away from each other.

It got around that track, lingered in hearts and memories. Indeed  in 2007 it would be reissued and remixed by a German label, Flying Circus,  who had this to say about it:

“From a time when there were few “rules” in the production of dance music, this track combines all sorts of elements that were heard in the music of the time. Subtle use of a sampled breakbeat, layered over the deep pulsing kick, give the track an irresistible energy on the dancefloor. This carries the listener while the gorgeous heavy atmospherics completely entrance them. The use of a simplistic single hit piano line at a couple of points could put the integrity of the track in jeopardy, but it‘s not so cheesy and lasts for a short enough time that once the deepness kicks back in it just forms a strange memory, like passing lights leaving a fading trace on the retina. At the track‘s climax the “drainpipe“ sounds rise up again, and for a few seconds you’re enveloped in one of the most intensely beautiful synth washes I‘ve ever heard. You want that moment to last forever, but as quickly as you have been lifted up, you are dropped straight back into the beat, and that snappy break sample sets you off again.“

The track "Mad Monks On Zinc" has been in Tobias Lampe‘s memory since a glorious clubnight in the very early 90‘s at the legendary "Planet" in Berlin. When Sven Väth played out this track he was freaking out on the dancefloor, but asking Sven for the track's name didn't lead to success, as Sven only pointed to the record with a big grin: the 12" had nothing but a big question mark on it!

Finally Tobias got a copy of the record during one of his regular record-hunting sessions in Soho, but it wasn‘t until 1999 when he finally discovered the actual artist & title. At this time Holy Ghost Inc. were better known for making really strong Techno with releases on Berlin‘s Tresor label and not for their early 90‘s releases. Mixmaster Morris was quoted in Mixmag in 1992 saying “cutting edge DJs like Andrew Weatherall were pioneering the Holy Ghost Inc.‘s "Mad Monks On Zinc", the fourth and best in a series of deeply underground, eclectic EPs“.

Now, almost 16 years after the original release on their own "Holy Ghost Inc." imprint "Mad Monks On Zinc" is reborn in the company of two fantastic interpretations by Adultnapper and Martin Buttrich.... just at the right time!

The Tresor stuff from the late Nineties still has a trace, an inkling, of the astral elevation Matt Ingram detected in their earlier releases: "their extremely unusual feel for space time... more blank-eyed, more focussed on the infinite horizon than any other electronic music of their era.

Listening again, I do wonder whether I should have picked up The Mind Control of Candy Jones and  The Art Lukm Suite  in whatever NYC store it was, as opposed to checking them out on the turntables and briskly moving on through that week's pile of platters.

A track from what appears to be the last release as Holy Ghost Inc - The Jesus Nut EP

That was 2000.

What have they been doing for the last 15 years?


Matt Woebot said...

Nice one boy :-)

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! Nice to see HG getting props - and a couple of my uploads of their tunes in your list too :)

Woebot's HG feature a while back was cracking - he really nailed the strange quality that runs through nearly all of Holy Ghost's early releases. There was something otherworldly and yet also earthly about it, an almost pagan quality... ancient, and maybe a bit terrifying. Unlike most rave music, HG didn't seem to care what I (i.e. the listener) thought of it - which made it all the more fascinating. It made no concession to form or style or trends.

Plus, despite the breakbeats, it sounded anything but urban - in fact myself and a mate jokingly coined the term 'Farm Techno' to describe it - but think less Emmerdale and maybe more the Wicker Man...


Mike S said...

I interviewed them for Wax magazine, around the time of the Art Lukm LP. Nice guys, very down to Earth. Gary was from Wallasey, just down the road from where I grew up in Birkenhead. Their studio set-up was very basic. Very old 16-track desk and an old S-900 sampler, which would work for those early releases but I don't know how they got something as clean and precise as Zombie Assassin out of it. I think they had a sideline in soundtracks back then, maybe they just got into that more?

kevintsuba said...

Fantastic piece. I'm trying to get in touch with either Gary or Leon with a license request, do you happen to know their whereabouts or have an email?

kevintsuba said...

Fantastic piece. I'm trying to get in touch with either Gary or Leon with a license request, do you happen to know their whereabouts or have an email?


I don't, I'm afraid - they remain mysterious and elusive!