Appearing in 1980 and allied with industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, Sheffield’s Clock DVA aped the sound of British white soul groups of the day on the wholly improvised White Souls in Black Suits — although the mock-soul energy is strangely vitiated by urban metal noise that distorts the songs around the edges. Eerie but captivating, with a punchy beat. (Although initially available only on cassette, White Souls was subsequently released on Italian vinyl.)
On Thirst, the band maintained an interest in dance music, but abandoned soul pretensions for electro-noise, and the album is a playground of startling, unearthly machine chants. Clock DVA’s initial lineup then collapsed, losing most of its members to the Box. But leader Adi Newtown pressed on with new sidemen.
Advantage is their strongest, most powerful LP, a funky concoction of intense dance-powered bass/drums drive with splatters of feedback, angst-ridden vocals by Newton, tape interruptions and dollops of white-noise sax and trumpet. The band also digresses into devolved bebop. Released as a British single from Advantage, “Breakdown” also formed the basis for an American EP, which added an extended remix, another great LP cut and a mesmerizing take on the Velvet Underground’s “Black Angel’s Death Song.”
After the group dissolved again, Newton formed the Anti-Group, an industrial jazz project whose 1985 debut single was produced by Cabaret Voltaire. In 1989, he revived Clock DVA as a sample-oriented electronic tool for dramatic techno-cultural commentary. Taking cues from contemporary industrial groups but aiming much higher, both the music and the non-music on The Hacker/The Act are colorful and engrossing, an imaginative, dynamic and rhythmic blend of art and reality. As opposed to the more oblique and challenging pieces (“The Hacker,” “The Connection Machine”) on the record, “The Act,” “Re/Act” and “Re/Act 2” (three slight lyrical variations on the same track) are sung in relatively traditional fashion.
If you can survive the stifling intellectual pretensions of the package, Buried Dreams — an audio essay on death, fetishism and decadence — is another entertaining nightmare on wax. Both “The Act” and “The Hacker” make repeat appearances, preceded by creations ostensibly inspired by a genocidal 16th-century countess, Albert Camus and a case history from Psychopathia Sexualis. Regardless, the slow, moody synthesizer noises and unpleasantly treated vocals give the album a potent theatrical power.