In a recent interview, Mute Records boss Daniel Miller made a point that “electronic music was more punk than punk rock”, and Powell’s Diagonal label is hammering this point home.
Diagonal acts like Consumer Electronics, Not Waving, $HIT AND $HINE and Powell himself share a smug disregard for heart-sign festival choons and big room techno, knocking out off-the-grid industrial no-wave pile-ups, with lurid artwork that would make Peter Saville blush.
Diagonal’s latest release, Another Exhibition at the Modern Institute, is maybe closer to Miller’s vision of punk than anything else on the label – channelling the deadpan industrial threat of Miller’s own cult 1978 single T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette as The Normal.
The Modern Institute is a Glasgow gallery and art collective, and three of its members have taken on the name to crowbar themselves into electronic music circles, while self-consciously taking the piss out of wanky art-speak. On this second EP, de facto frontman Stephen Wright shrugs lines like “I stole a tooth from work today”, “would you like some signed charcoal” and “the pound went down today”, like a junked-up Phil Oakey or one of Dan Ashcroft’s Idiots in Nathan Barley.
With no real basslines or kicks there’s nothing easy to hang on to, but every one of these six tracks over 21 minutes fizzles with jittery menace – with hints of Cabaret Voltaire, clinical Dopplereffekt electro, nano-processed blips and a general sneer hanging over everything.
The digital hailstones on Limitless Light and the hive-mind cockroach scuttling on Quicksilver Lips might have you scratching your arms with the nerves, but Another Exhibition is generally a sonic thrill. It’s like everything’s been dunked in some future solvent – industrial music free of the oil, dust and general gak of the last 40 years.
There are a few concessions – Quicksilver Lips has a hint of a single-stab grime bassline and Molten Lips has a twangy sawtooth hardcore riff that could hit the dancefloor, maybe until Wright starts chanting, “the void… the void… the void… the void…”
The EP closes with Dozen Cocktails, a wiry track that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Jeff Mills or Robert Hood set, with its minimal loops offset by lightsaber slices and a creeping kickdrum that eventually ruptures into taps-aff techno that ends in a headbutt. Industrial art-punks not dead.