Test Dept:Redux at Amersham Arms, London

Test Dept:Redux + Feral Five

Amersham Arms - New Cross, London

September 10th 2016

Test Dept:Redux - pic @lara__bowen

Test Dept:Redux

A journey south of the river to the old stomping indie grounds of New Cross in a pub that has managed to resolutely remain grounded whilst gentrification rages around the city.

A pub too close to Goldsmiths that probably accounts for its young atmosphere but on this night, it was the old guard who congregated to witness a band who formed locally 25 years ago and have returned to express and engage with the current cultural climate.

The darkly clad legions of faithful followers of avant-hard slowly coalesced toward the tardis back room of The Amersham Arms to witness the Redux resurrection of a new live line up of Test Department.

Now this is a band that, if you happened to live north of Watford in the early 80s (and you were into the Cabs, SPK or Hula), you couldn’t help getting into especially if you were engaged in anti-Thatcher/pro-Miners sentiment. Test Department were our version of sonic industrialle-Britain whilst the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten were banging their thing in Berlin.

Steelworks closing, manufacturing reduced to a faded glory, shopping mall commercialism over industrialism. Yeah it was bad then but it all sounds all a bit familiar like a nasty rerun of an 80s grey sitcom.

Well it’s got worse than that sadly nowadays, haven’t you been keeping a close watch?

Known for their industrial fortitude and massive sonic assaults wielding the metal music remnants of a society veering towards corporate consumerism, this gig was an unusual yet discerning offering in an age when digital has become the new God, in a pub backroom that had the feel of a local political meeting of the wise and the wereful.

The gig was a warm-up ahead of bigger events in Paris and Germany and gave the chance for tightening a set and sound that probably deserved a grander setting than we found ourselves in.

Test Dept:Redux - pic @lara__bowen

Support was from Feral Five – an electropunk two piece from London with more than a degree of interest in our scientific future.

With a vocalist shimmering in sequins and sawing her axe, the unmovable bassist kept the groove on grid whilst nearby dimensions of lasers, x-ray spex and synth spatters set the pace. Sometimes boppy mostly dancey tunes.

A tight set of eight tracks managed to galvanise the gathering crowd with inference to brains, neurons, 3D printers and a killer earworm called Rule 9. Something to do with sonically sculpturing designer Francis Bitonti’s algorithms I was told afterwards. Okay gotta look that one up.

Think proto Chris n Cosey on a mountain with a time portal fuzzsynth eating philosopher’s stones.
With colourful visuals from Pitch Black protagonist Mike Hodgson this is a band to pay further attention to.

Very nu-C21st. It was a shame the sound mix was dulled out and the laptop drum sequences not as punchy as their recorded sound but that’s pub backrooms for you.

Feral Five - pic Paul Harter

“Unfinished and necessary business”

Which takes us back to the Test Dept:Redux featuring original founders Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy with a new line up and new recordings in the pipeline.

For a band born to the visceral and the dramatic, we were treated to a much more brutal black and white visual lesson of the past and the present than the support band.

A stage set flanked by a giant (yet beautifully resonant) steel spring, a spikey fly wheel and part of a ship’s hull (for all I imagined) and bathed in agit-visuals of solid industry, motifs and slogans.

With national politics still high on the agenda and South Yorkshire’s police brutality of the miners still in the headlines this all seemed like unfinished and necessary business in a zeitgeist that has forgotten what unity and strength actually means.

Lots of fucking mental banging ensued you will be pleased to read, with bouts of quiet buzzy breathe and punching keyboards which struck me as kind of amusing.

Interesting that prodding unresponsive laptops (we have all been there) doesn’t give the same effect as something more analogue.

Test Dept:Redux - pic @lara__bowen

When in full flow, it felt like odd time signatures caused sync problems for the league of mental percussionists. The discordant became phased out tribal cacophony which somehow re-synced to become elevated bliss in brief moments. It didn’t seem to concern the band who after all had enough work to do to get the message across.

Even with poor sound – how can you truly sound check lumps of metal in the maelstrom? – we all came away suitably afflicted with circuits overloaded.

The swarms of drones in an unrelenting sea of strobe over sensitized more than I imagined whilst recent post-Brexit footage of our parliamentarian fuckwits only served to layer the sense of our continuing doomy existence or was it structured rebellion?

This track was probably called Fuckhead judging by the insistent meme reminder on the back wall.

Test Dept:Redux - pic @lara__bowen

“We need more of Test Dept right now in our world”

This isn’t a band that leaves you humming tunes, but questioning your motives when you leave the tinnitus and that has always been their core strength. As an art statement par gargantuan and signifier of strife.

We need more of Test Dept right now in our world and we need to keep reassessing where we are, as they are reassessing themselves, struck with the same conflicts and political dilemmas that society has left us with. The struggle never ends.

With a BBC 6 Music session already laid down, new work in the offing, and a recent book (Total State Machine), it will be interesting to see where and how their nu-angst will take them in the next year sonically, visually and literally.

Take one agitprop redux-pill and keep on banging on. But make sure it’s not the blue one.

Test Dept:Redux - pic @lara__bowen