Dokument + Ten Highlights

Like a bottle on the ocean with an old map in, this is a document from another space and time. On breaking the seal and inspecting the contents, some parts are recognisable some are mystifying and not readily understandable.

(Suburban Records)

Dokument is a well named LP; as adocument's role is - I suppose -a vehicle providing a concise and clear map for an earlier action or a record. We deal in this case with the ULTRA movement, which was based in Holland but had tentacles that reached over the English channel and the German border. This is a rerelease, (with the inevitable but in this specific case welcome extra tracks) and benefitting from clear and precise notes from Vinyl magazine’s Oscar Smit.

Like a bottle on the ocean with an old map in, this is a document from another space and time. On breaking the seal and inspecting the contents, some parts are recognisable some are mystifying and not readily understandable: seemingly destined never to escape the confines of the earlier period when they were sealed up. I can only inspect it in the now, of course, otherwise it’s a history lesson and to be honest, there’s far too much of that about at present. It’s an uncompromising start: Eyeless in Gaza, Schleimer K’s and Minioon’s tracks are stark and flinty pieces, the bands acting up their parts like characters in silent films – there is a distinct whiff of the Mirror of Doctor Caligari that runs throughout the whole LP if I’m honest. The feeling of open paranoia about the way the world and technology was going at the time is very strong, and of course this paranoia was used as an affectation that somehow mutated into an international style all of its own round 79-81, and not just in Holland. Die Partei highlight a different concern of the era, their Eno-esque track Strahlsund is very reminiscent of a time where people looked to Eno, Bowie and the Velvets: this could be a bedroom tape by Will Sergeant or a Simple Minds outtake circa Reel to Reel Cacophony. Tox Modell comes across as a witty mess, Paris St Lazare and Electric Intermission radiating the vibes from another, messier and more flamboyant era. You can almost smell the cold vibe of the squats, plastered in Dr Rat graffiti.

Some tracks could have been cut yesterday: Cabaret Voltaire is represented here with Over and Over and they need no explanation from us. There’s also the steaming dance stew of Plus Instruments. Bodies highlights Truus de Groot’s brilliant ability to mix the downright weird into a snappy and simple pop sensibility. It’s a shame de Groot’s music isn’t more widely celebrated, a lot of her “speaking from another planet” attitudes were later made mainstream by bands like Pixies and in that light, her closest contemporary could be seen to be Talking Heads. In such a male dominated world her breezy, strong muse deserves more credit. Mekanik Kommando, one of the great bands of the era, are here too: their simple sound predates the things that occasionally appear on labels like Erased Tapes, Monica and Karaoke Kalk by a good 30 years. Their quiet, circuit-board vibe – shown here by the brilliantly unfussy Connection-Disconnection and the bonus track Radio Mekanik (and, to be fair, also shown with Nexda’s Untitled)- literally synthesises the human and machine in the manner that can be heard in things created by Toulouse Low Trax or Guido Moebius in present day Berlin. The same can be said of Virgin Prunes; a band much talked about but rarely heard. Still, now Cluster have effectively been rehabilitated into the Rock Canon this ethereal alien music now doesn’t seem so outlandish as in fact there are labels churning out this kind of stuff, Gizeh, or No Fire Recordings over in Italy spring to mind.

The extra tracks seem to look to fill the gaps in the original record, with music that again either sinks or floats on the swells and currents of our modern sensibilities. Minny Pops – agent provocateurs of the scene and the veritable standard bearers of ULTRA into the UK - are present by virtue of the extra track, the typically uncompromising Night Out (I wonder why they weren’t on the original LP). It’s funny to see the 'Pops now rehabilitated in the UK as part of the “scene” of bands to name drop... We also get occasionally brilliant pieces Vice, Nasmak, Das Wesen and Bazooka, all important "drivers" of the time – all bands with attitudes that somehow have feet in the now whilst being indisputably part of then. While people know of  the likes of Nasmak, I’d hope this reappraisal also happens to Dirk Polak, a real pioneer and mover and shaker in underground Holland for over 40 years. He’s represented here with Valori Plastici, a collaboration piece that sounds like it’s been beamed down from a lost Goran Bregovic / Deliah Derbyshire jam.

So, a record that is well worth your time, but don’t get sucked into the past. To quote Robert Bruce, “look about ye” and keep your heads in the now.