WE BE ECHO
My introduction to weirdy music - because I refuse to call it industrial - was made by agency of my best friend's big brother. His name was Martin and he was older than Graham and myself by about two years, and significantly he wasn't home much, leaving us free to raid his room at our leisure. He had all the really exciting punky records with all the swearing, all the exotic stuff we'd never heard of, amongst which were two albums and a best of tape by Throbbing Gristle. The name was funny, although it made me think of Terry Gilliam's animation on Monty Python more than anything else, which at least indicates how young, innocent, and impressionable I was. I knew I'd like Throbbing Gristle even before I heard the music, and amazingly this turned out to be the case, although I'd probably been primed to appreciate it by all those hours spent watching seventies Doctor Who with Sea Devils rising from the waves accompanied by jarring squalls of electronic sound.
A year or so passed and I took to reading Sounds, a weekly music paper, partially because I knew that was the one which Martin read, and there in the small print I discovered Flowmotion, a fanzine and tape label which had taken over distribution of the Throbbing Gristle live tapes, such as the best ofcollection Martin owned. I'd always wondered where he'd got it from.
Through Flowmotion I discovered a million other persons engaged in this thing, recording their own experimental music and distributing tapes of it through the mail. It was a revelation, not least because I'd taken to recording my own stuff. I'd noticed that most of these cottage industry tape labels had compilations showcasing work from their artists, or from their area or whatever, and so this seemed like the way to go, the way to make my mark. One such label was Cause for Concern, operated by the now legendary Larry Peterson somewhere in north-east London, and A Sudden Surge of Power, his second compilation tape, remains for me possibly the greatest of its kind.Rising from the Red Sand has since accrued a more prestigious reputation, but it was always more polished, a bit more music industry. Larry's tape, on the other hand, was our thing, and that was where I first heard Attrition, Test Department, Mex, and we be echo.
Responding to this apparently global swell of grass roots activity, Sounds had taken to giving us - because it really was us - coverage, thanks to the testimony of Dave Henderson, as related in his regular Wild Planetcolumns; and I may have remembered this wrongly, or it may have been an entirely subjective impression, but it felt that this thing, as with punk, was coming along in waves - Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and others; then Nocturnal Emissions, Konstruktivists, Test Dept, Portion Control, Muslimgauze, Whitehouse, and we be echo; and then the rest of us, I suppose. I guess I had a need to understand it as a progression.
So we be echo was a big, big name from where I happened to be stood at that specific time; and it was a thrill of absurd proportions when Kevin Thorne of we be echo first wrote to me out of the blue. I still have the letter. I'd told Larry Peterson that I was thinking of putting together a compilation tape for my own label, and I guess he'd mentioned it to Kevin who then sent me a contribution, a track called Soma Improvement. This was nice because I had previously believed myself to be too small a fish to draw such attention.
Ultimately it didn't make any of us famous, but then the Wild Planetartists - which is probably less insulting than weirdy, and still works better than industrial - were destined to influence rather than to end up sat upon mountains of cash, and to watch as less imaginative souls took our ideas and made them mainstream; at least once it became possible to do so without having to spend the entire day writing letters to persons you would never meet in obscure parts of the world, SAE or IRC included.
Thirty years later, this music still sounds electrifying to me, and despite having myself become intimately familiar with the recording process in many forms, I remain forever impressed at the kind of results Kevin was able to achieve simply through wiring a stack of boxes together, then hitting play and record on his home music centre. I feel blessed at having encountered Larry Peterson in the flesh just as he was clearing out a whole load of tapes, including some from which these tracks derive.
I still don't understand why we be echo don't appear to have been remembered so well as Nocturnal Emissions, Konstruktivists, Test Dept, Portion Control, Muslimgauze, Whitehouse, and others, although I suppose at least they are remembered by those of us who were there; and now that it's possible to poo out fourteen albums a day of material of a sophistication my generation would never even have considered possible, listening to We Be Echo tracks of nearly thirty years vintage, it occurs to me not that they sound particularly dated, but how much there is still to be learned from them.
Lawrence Burton, 2018.