13 June 2010

John Foxx - Burning Car Mini-LP

Armed with stacks of vintage electronic gear, from Boss Flangers and Dr. Rhythm drum machines to Arp Odyssey synthesizers, John Foxx played an all-analogue set at The Roundhouse, London, on June 5th, 2010. Gary Numan and Ade Fenton worked the turn tables and the evening began with a panel discussion featuring author Iain Sinclair, and the leading lights of the Ghost Box label, Jim Jupp and Julian House. The Second Chameleon and I were there on behalf of TSM to report.

If you don't know Ghost Box, you should. They're responsible for what has become known as "hauntology," a concept associated with artists such as The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly, and The Moon Wiring Club who mix seventies instructional films and the sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to imagine an alternate past, one where parish churches sang hymns to oscillators and school children learned the gospel of video tape. The panel discussion, called Moving Through Old Daylight, was a thoughtful exchange on the ways in which mass media shapes our conception of the past, and featured some especially fascinating short films by both Sinclair and Jupp. Check out their new web site here.

Following a quick dinner in Camden Town, we made our way into the fabled space of The Roundhouse. Pink Floyd and The Soft Machine launched The International Times here, The Doors played their only UK show, and of course Hawkwind recorded the legendary "Silver Machine." A former railway shed, its circular structure was used to house the massive turntable on which Victorian locomotives were turned around. Today it fully lives up to its reputation, its dome ceiling billowing like a canopy above the punters gathered below. Jori Hulkkonnen played a tasteful opening DJ set, but his follow up, Gary Numan, got stuck in traffic, leaving us in the hands of some preening jester in a leopard print coat who saw fit to play minimal synth standards, from The Normal to Fad Gadget. Oh, and plenty of bass feedback from the over worked sound system.

A short break, and the screen behind the stage flickered with Steve D'Agostino's brilliant remix of "Film One", an early Foxx b-side. As the strangely animated images of Alex Proyas's video sputtered and jerked in the night, Foxx's band assembled on stage, coaxing the ancient circuitry gathered on the stage into life. The twin tape reels of a Revox began to slowly revolve and the opening beats of "Plaza" boomed into the vaulted space of The Roundhouse. Expectations were running high on such a strong opening, and as Foxx himself came to centre stage a huge cheer went up from the crowd. He looks great for a man in his fifties, still a compelling figure behind the microphone. Too bad, then, that the mix was so murky, as if the sound system was not really up to the task of meeting the challenges of the cavernous venue. Foxx's vocals, bathed in a variety of harmonizers and filters, didn't really help matters, simply contributing to the indistinct and hazy sound.

The gig was billed as a celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Metamatic, Foxx's groundbreaking debut, but the set list was more wide ranging then this would suggest. After five tracks from the Metamatic era, we were treated, if that's the right word, to three songs featuring Louis Gordon, with whom Foxx has recorded several albums since his return to music in the late 1990s. With his fist pumping in the air as he twisted the beleaguered VCF knob on his CS1X, Gordon's risible antics stood in marked contrast to the aloofness and diffidence of Foxx's sense of modernity. As The Second Chameleon noted above the din, "He just doesn't get it, does he?"

More promising was the clutch of songs from Foxx's forthcoming collaboration with a young group of analogue fetishists called The Maths. Where the techno-tinged beats of Louis Gordon seemed well past their best before date, the new material had both a freshness and edginess that has been largely missing from Foxx's most recent work. The album, which is due in October, will be worth seeking out.

The crowning glory of the evening, however, was the appearance of Robin Simon, whose psychedelic fretwork helped lift Ultravox's third lp, Systems of Romance, to such empyrean heights. As a ticking synth set the stage for "Dislocation," Simon appeared to rapturous applause. Foxx too seemed well pleased to have his erstwhile guitarist at his side again, and we were treated to several Ultravox-era faves, including a rare outing of "The Man Who Dies Everyday," a track dating back to the band's second lp, Ha! Ha! Ha! Simon leaned into the proto-punk riff with gusto, Foxx ditched the harmonizers, the crowd went mad, and, for a moment, the great dome of The Roundhouse seemed to levitate into the air.

To commemorate this one-off gig, we are including here one of the rarest items in the Foxx canon (the sole copy for sale on discogs is listed at $229). The "Burning Car Mini-LP" was a Japanese-only release, gathering together two post-Metamatic singles: "Burning Car" b/w "20th Century" and "Miles Away" b/w "A Long Time." Two older b-sides filled out the release: "This City" and "Mr. No." These tracks have all been reissued as bonus tracks on the various cd reissues and compilations in recent years, but never sequenced together again in this way. And they never sounded so good as on this sublime slab of Japanese vinyl, with its over-sized picture label and superb mastering at the disc cutting stage. Here's to thirty years of the Quiet Man!

-- Crash the Driver


John Foxx - Burning Car Mini-LP

01 Burning Car
02 20th Century
03 This City
04 Miles Away
05 A Long Time
06 Mr. No

Japan Mini-LP: Victor Musical Industries [VIP 5903] 1981