London’s fervent Sex Gang Children were all the rage of the English underground in 1982-’83, spearheading the positive-punk movement which mixed the raw energy and commitment of punk rock with the dark theatrics of goth. Sex Gang’s individual parts resemble a mélange of the Banshees, T. Rex, Bowie, UK Decay, Sex Pistols and Adam and the Ants, yet the whole really resembles none of the above. Dave Roberts’ droning, spiny bass work is the music’s dominant feature of the music (practically a lead instrument), battling with Andi Sex-Gang’s androgynous, high-pitched vocals, Terry Macleay’s scratchy/chiming guitar overlays and Rob Stroud’s tribal drum patterns. Like many enthralling substances, their music — with its breathtaking shifts in tempo and mood — can be hard to digest at first, but there’s addiction in its opulent din.
The Beasts EP, weakly produced by UK Subs guitarist Nicky Garratt, still manages to engrave the band’s doomy energy on wax through such anthems as “Sense of Elation” and “Cannibal Queen.” The LP of the same name is a compilation, adding several later singles, B-sides (including the entire Sebastiane EP) and dub mixes.
Song and Legend is a landmark in gothic/post-punk, holding forth with an unequalled baroque fury. While the title epic and “Shout and Scream” epitomize the band’s out-of-the-galaxy song structures, “Sebastiane”‘s swooping strings flirt with classical motifs and the tom-tom mantra “Draconian Dream” has the aura of ancient folk musics. Andi’s unique lyrics jumble up obscure historical references, political anomie, sexual/religious imagery and more. Producer Tony James smothers everything (especially a remake of “Cannibal Queen”) in tons of echo, giving the album a haunting, catacomb sheen. (James also explored the band’s taste for dub, creating spacey B-side remixes and ambient/experimental flotsam used as segues and codas.)
Sex Gang Children’s well-deserved rep as a killer live band spurred the release of numerous live albums and tapes. Naked is one rare cassette worth searching out. Though the sound quality is mediocre, the buzzed performance is from the band’s very early pre-Beasts days, and two otherwise-unreleased tracks (“Soldier” and “People with Dirty Faces”) are well worth a listen. The eponymous live album, also released on the band’s label, is a slightly muddy set recorded at London’s Lyceum (plus several tracks from a gig in Glasgow) during a spring ’83 tour.
Ecstasy and Vendetta over New York, a cassette recorded at the Peppermint Lounge in December ’83, documents the Sex Gang’s overture to America. The sound is loud and crisp, capturing the regal excitement of the group at their musical and popular peak. Nightland is also from the same tour (though not the same gigs). The two albums are fairly interchangeable, with the cassette offering more songs and better audio quality. Both boast terrific performances of Edith Piaf’s “Les Amants d’un Jour,” the haunting single, “Mauritia Mayer,” and three new tunes, not to mention acrobatic drum work by Raymondo, late of the Death Cult. (The two bands had swapped drummers.)
Dave Roberts left shortly thereafter (later performing with Christian Death and recording as Car Crash International), replaced by the even more talented Cam Campbell. Subsequent record releases used Andi’s name, with the band credited as the Quick Gas Gang. Their first issue was a studio 45 of “Les Amants,” followed by an album. Blind! is the most fully realized Sex Gang work, dominated by Campbell’s gliding, intricate bass lines and Andi’s heightened sense of ornate melody. From excellent studio versions of songs debuted on Ecstasy through the funky burlesque of “Ida-Ho” and two touching ballads (“Last Chants for the Slow Dance” and a rendition of the Poison Girls’ “I’ve Done It All Before”), Blind! is brilliant, lushly layered and grandiose. Highly recommended.
The Quick Gas Gang soon evaporated, leaving Andi in limbo. Re-Enter the Abyss, a shoddy piece of hack work, didn’t help matters. A selection of the Sex Gang’s best material is subjected to totally unnecessary — and for the most part, ludicrously out of balance — remixes. Skip it.
A holiday in Italy spawned Dirty Roseanne; the four-song EP finds Andi and keyboardist Piero Ballegi experimenting with more offbeat styles, from classic Elton John/Marc Bolan-style British pop with soul strings on “Search Your Soul” to the deft balladry of “Nebulous Canaan.” In 1987 Andi issued a three-song EP (“The Naked & the Dead”) from the soundtrack to ’85 horror flick Phenomena (released in America as Creepers, minus the Andi tracks).
Andi’s impressive comeback, Arco Valley, was produced by onetime guitar hero Mick Ronson (who also plays on it). Even if he hasn’t messed with makeup in fifteen years, the former Spider from Mars adds (at least spiritually) to the glam feel that pervades this diverse album. The bopping numbers that sound uncannily like prime T. Rex (“7 Ways to Kill a Man”) are loads of fun. While some of the attempts at dance-pop (“Rock Revolution”) are too cloying, measured, melodic creations (“Belgique Blue”) in the Blind! mold are to be savored. And what would a Sexgang album be without another version of “Les Amants”?