Home Music Bourbonese Qualk: The Spike

Bourbonese Qualk: The Spike

The definition of an underground band, UK anarchists Bourbonese Qualk were around for over 20 years, released an array of albums and EPs, but rarely, if ever, grazed the public consciousness. This was undoubtedly by choice, at least partially; fiercely protective of their music, they shunned record labels, preferring to keep everything on a DIY level and remaining more committed to radical politics than to musical trends or styles. But it was also due to the nature of their music itself; though ideologically allied to the crustier end of the punk spectrum, the music the band recorded bears little resemblance to the kind of punk played by bands like Crass, or the hardcore that evolved into grindcore, or even to the more accessible alternative pop-rock of Chumbawamba. Although they have sometimes been classified as an industrial group too, that term is hardly a satisfactory description of most of the music that makes up The Spike, their third album, originally released in 1985.

There is a kind of industrial, 23 Skidoo influence to a lot of the music, notably the album’s opening track, “Shutdown,” which has a Killing Joke-like bark to the vocals as well as some harshly atonal elements, but despite these comparisons, the strange, skeletal, almost funk-like music is as much like (and unlike) the percussive experimental new wave of Shriekback as it is the heavier/bleaker end of industrial rock. The electronic/dance – though it’s never quite that – element is also present on “Suburb City,” a shimmering, atmospheric track where the reverberating, hypnotic beat is enhanced by some eastern-sounding violin and an odd, chanted vocal. The band may have been explicitly political in their outlook and aims, but if there’s a specific message to songs like “Suburb City” it’s not usually audible. The same is true of the short, pretty “About This,” which unexpectedly anticipates the UK indie-dance sound of c.1990 (albeit without an actual drumbeat) with its laid-back mood and rhythmic guitar that becomes distorted almost beyond recognition during the song’s short span.

The relative shortness of the songs is one of the strengths of The Spike. An album of moods and atmospheres as much as it is songs, it has a kind of organic flow so that somehow there’s no jarring transition between the almost tribal percussion of “New England” and the piano-led, dub-flavoured “Preparing for Power,” or that song and the following “Pogrom”, one of the album’s best tracks. A short, strident piece of music, “Pogrom” contrasts an insistent, electronic sounding beat with another haunting violin part. If “Pogrom” is Bourbonese Qualk at their most otherworldly-but-accessible though, the following 4 minutes 43 seconds of “Call to Arms” – mostly just incoherent shouting with some percussive elements coming in half way through – is the band at its most confrontational and forbidding. By another contrast, “Call to Arms” is followed by the mellow guitars and unearthly high organ of “Frontline”, an attractive, mysterious piece of music with some indecipherable spoken elements buried in the mix. All of these extremes are typical of Bourbonese Qualk and it’s hard to say what – aside from its variety – really defines the album. There are almost abstract songs, pretty instrumentals and propulsive, dance-inflected tracks throughout The Spike and tellingly, parts of it – although it’s hard to say exactly which – were originally recorded to accompany a dance/film theatre performance.

Recorded in Berlin and originally released by the German Dossier label, this reissue is the first ever CD release of The Spike and it adds two new tracks to the original 11 song running time. One of those, “Papal Order 1 & 2” is, at 7 minutes 22 seconds, by far the longest piece on the album, but although more noisy and chaotic than the other tracks, it doesn’t disturb the album’s flow. Beginning as a kind of ominous, throbbing industrial piece, it segues into a more mellow, limpid sound not unlike the album’s prettier pieces such as “Frontline”. The closing track, “Drex,” places a low-key, not unmelodic guitar part against what sounds like the sound of a sawmill or sheet metal cutting plant. The contrast of music and noise works well and reinforces the sense of the album as more an experiment with sound and texture than a collection of songs. As such, The Spike is about as far from the usual perception of “‘80s music” as it’s possible to get, but it remains a fascinating and surprisingly listenable piece of work 30+ years after its original release.

Summary
Bourbonese Qualk’s radical politics informed their music, but they aren’t audible on The Spike, an almost unclassifiable collection of DIY music drawing on various strands of post-punk/industrial and ambient music.
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Sound Collage
  • Bourbonese Qualk: Preparing for Power

    Preparing for Power isn’t open to just anyone — Bourbonese Qualk don’t want poseurs. They …

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