So the other day I wrote that you’d be in for a healthy year-end dose of Icelandic music. And that’s still true. But a couple of weeks ago we also got a surprise visit from the one-and-only Ingvar, he of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records, and that meant of course that Ingvar and I would spend some time record shopping out here in Seattle. So while today’s record was purchased in and in fact has ties to Seattle, Iceland is still a part of the Icelandic narrative arc in a weird way.
See how it all ties together? No?
The cover of this still-sealed, 1988 cutout is what caught my eye first. I looked it up on Discogs and saw it described as industrial, so that was intriguing. But perhaps even more intriguing was the address on the back jacket for the label Church of Earth Shattering Noise, because it was for a P.O. Box in Mercer Island, Washington. When I brought Machines to the counter at Silver Platters my man Eddie raised an eyebrow at it and looked at me and I said, “it’s industrial from Mercer Island”. Eddie didn’t miss a beat, “oh, of course, the infamous Mercer Island industrial scene”. Which was perfect because Mercer Island circa 1988 when Machines came out was arguably the least industrial place in the United States that wasn’t actually nestled inside a national park.
I was in high school when this record came out, going to school in neighboring Bellevue. Bellevue was a moderately affluent suburb of Seattle, but even we referred to Mercer Island as “Rich Rock”. It’s where most of the money on the Eastside was, an island nestled in the middle of Lake Washington, half way between The Eastside suburbs and Seattle proper, a way-station full of expensive homes, many with waterfront views. It’s only redeeming qualities were the fact that my buddy John’s older brother Dave worked at an espresso stand and would sometimes hook us up with free lattes, and later when I was old enough the occasional visit to the dive bar-ish Roanoke Inn. Other than that, we all looked at Mercer Island with disdain. It was many things, but none of them industrial.
Believe it or not, I found a 1988 article from the Los Angeles Times about this record which discussed the new “form of rock called Industrial Dance” and interviewed the two 20-year-old Mercer Islanders behind the label. While discussing how they connected with Statik, the project of one Airiq Anest who later went on to work with tons of unknown musicians like Prince and Tool, the guys didn’t exactly sell the product. H.B. Radke noted that his early impression was that Statik “was kind of neat, but I really sort of hated it. It doesn’t change and it’s like really repetitive and really aggressive”. Look kids, as hard as it to believe there was a time that 20-year-olds didn’t really understand guerrilla marketing and pretty much no one took them seriously unless they were good at games involving balls. We didn’t have the internet, not in any form you’d recognize. We had mall record stores like Musicland, MTV, and a handful of magazines. That’s all there was. I’m not sure how well their initial pressing of 2,000 copies sold, but I can tell you I bought a still-sealed cutout 29 years later, so…
So what about Machines? While it’s pretty rad that’s what. Statik is right in that transitional phase between what Gary Clail and Tackhead did on On-U earlier in the 1980s and the truly edgy stuff Skinny Puppy was doing right up I-5 in Vancouver. Samples and some vocals combined with flat beats and factory-like sounds combine to make up the soundtrack of the quintessential late 1980s view of the dystopian near-future, a time that involved lots of computer technology that seems laughable today and where it was always dark and raining with big electronic advertisements that make you feel you took acid in Tokyo. Statik has legitimate industrial flourishes, back when that meant metal-on-metal clanging, the grinding of gears, and when the deep electronic bass was still reserved for hip hop. Throw in some funky Miami Vice-style bass guitar and you’ve got 1988 all wrapped up in a black goth bow with some white face make-up and black eyeliner.
This is the best OG cutout I’ve bought in a very long time.