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Fingering a fad gadget

June 11, 2009

I’m surprised at how rarely Fad Gadget is spoken of. What I mean to say is that I’m surprised at how rarely Fad Gadget is spoken of in my presence. What the world speaks about when my back is turned is something that I’d rather not dwell upon.

Fads pass. Someone first spoke to me about Fad Gadget when I was studying for my A-levels. The man who taught me English and art history also instructed me in off-curriculum subjects such as Neue Deutsche Welle groups, J.-K. Huysmans novels, films by Fassbinder, and (here’s where Fad Gadget comes in) the history of Mute Records. His enthusiasm for these things was such that contradictory modes of art were categorically banned from his personal cultural canon. I decided to do away with casual listening, lifestyle choices, Sunday shopping. I may not have learnt dialectical thinking, but I did learn that the serious appreciation of art requires a certain level of discipline. And I was serious, at that stage in my life – about everything.

Teacher, that was a strange guild that you inducted me into. I still make a point of checking myself annually in the hope that I haven’t erred so much as to forfeit my membership.

The last thing I want to do is to start writing a personal music history, like a better, more German Nick Hornby or something. It’s no-one’s business than my own that one winter I came home from a night class on the paintings of Gwen John (I’m hazarding a guess) with the first four Einsturzende Neubauten albums on copied cassettes. My enjoyment of the Birthday Party was what qualified me to receive this gift. I didn’t begin using the internet until a year or two later. I’d thank you not to ask.

fadgadget1

In the same course of instruction I also learned about DAF, Boyd Rice, the Associates, Cabaret Voltaire, Marc and the Mambas, Chris and Cosey. I refer merely to the order in which these things reached me, in that period when knowing about music was a slightly slower discipline. At the end of this line came Fad Gadget, otherwise called Frank Tovey.

Blixa Bargeld having thistles pulled out of his soul while I waited for the bus home from Leeds was all very well, but Fad Gadget’s records sounded truly alien to me. As I waited for the bus. Home. From Bradford Interchange. They restructured the station a couple of years later while I was away at Oxford, acting the fool.

    In a box

fadgadget2

I don’t know where I heard it said that Fad Gadget’s first record, Back To Nature, was recorded in a cupboard. I don’t know where I used to get any of my information from, for that matter. It’s said that Daniel Miller – responsible for recording Warm Leatherette, and for founding Mute Records – was in or around the same cupboard, or at least in close enough proximity to get insect synthesizer sounds on the record. It has never been said that Jacques du Vauconson, Buckminster Fuller and Karel Capek were also in the same cupboard, but neither have I heard evidence to the contrary. For a following trick Fad Gadget recorded a song called Make Room. And another called The Box. The party was evidently a claustrophobic one. Perhaps this is the quality that made Fad Gadget seem a step stranger to me than all the other electronic or industrial changelings I was meeting at the time. He was acting out, in mime and in music, an unnerving impotence. Blixa Bargeld could collapse new buildings; Fad Gadget could even collapse the door of the cupboard in which he was stuck. Blixa was the last beast in the heavens; Fad Gadget was the last beast – the only beast – trapped inside a little box, collecting things he won’t need in a room he’ll never use.

I don’t suppose one writes about a gadget. A gadget is more correctly something that you finger with the filthy fingers of your filthy hands as you go along with the rest of humankind, on its inevitable and filthy progress towards enlightenment.

MoralityFigurespunch

    On the box


I don’t know if there are bands on the television nowadays. On the last occasions that I passed over MTV – as one passes by a train accident – the programming seemed mostly to feature wealthy celebrities showing off their enormous walk-in baseball cap closets, idiotically delighted at their triumph over claustrophobia.

The pop group TV appearance ought really to have blossomed into a distinct artistic form, with its own visual grammar and teasingly breakable aesthetic conventions. I’m thinking chiefly of how a musician (and this applies all the more to electronic musicians) deals with the potential embarrassment of miming through a performance. I’m imagining this embarrassment confronted head on and warped into a grotesque little spectacle like a rewritten antimasque, or some abstraction from the Noh theatre. Sadly pop music, inherently weakened by its origins in two principle mistaken notions – “coolness” and “authenticity” – has proved to be largely incapable of making the necessary leap in this direction, and has remained acutely embarrassed by the taboo of miming. The fact that no-one really cares to see pop groups on TV any more is probably a great relief to the more easily embarrassed (that’s what “alternative” tends to mean nowadays) pop musicians.

With all this in mind, Fad Gadget’s television appearances – mostly on European stations, as far as I tell – appear almost other-worldly. Taking the requirement of “miming” quite literally, he puts on sinister pantos and dumb shows; he switches between the roles of Pierrot, Harlequin, Mr Punch; the sprite and the harpy, Everyman and Death. For Ricky’s Hand he appears with a Black and Decker; for Collapsing New People he is tarred and feathered.
If these appearances are part puppet show, they also contain some of the certainty of the morality play. Like Brecht, perhaps, Fad Gadget was at times direct and didactic in a way that probably seemed irrelevant ten years ago, but that now has a profound relevance to our current state of affairs. Take his song Under The Flag: “The story begins on the Isle of Dogs, in a time of world recession – ”… and the morality play (or interlude, as a medieval audience would have known it) goes on, its end not in sight. Fad Gadget came increasingly to stage pageants against bad government, his career growing up during the early years of Thatcherism. He eventually reincarnated himself as a kind of folk singer, with an aptness that I only now fully appreciate, before dying prematurely in 2002, shortly after re-adopting the Fad Gadget role. Perhaps someone new will make morality-mimes in the shadow of Britain’s next Conservative government.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Wayne permalink
    June 18, 2009 7:46 pm

    Hi Ross

    good to see you back in the land of …

    Did you complete the dissertation? What was it about..?

    Wayne

    • June 20, 2009 1:39 am

      Thank you! No, that won’t be finished for quite a while. No worry though, because I’m teaching myself to be busy in many directions at once.
      Oh yeah, and dissertation is modernist literary responses to sound recording / audio technology, 1910-1960. And that sort of thing.

  2. Wayne permalink
    June 20, 2009 6:04 pm

    OK – that didn’t figure in my literary education, but I assume that Krapp’s last tape must be in there somewhere. And a lot of Jazz….?

  3. June 22, 2010 5:15 am

    iPhone 4 will come soon, can you do some review for the new iPhone 4 generation.
    Thanks

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