Sight UnseenFOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE GREAT UNDERGROUND UNDERGROUND BANDS OF '88, THE TELESCOPES ARE IMPRESSING AUDIENCES WITH THEIR OWN STARTLING VISIONS. ON THE EVE OF THE RELEASE OF THEIR DEBUT LP, SIMON REYNOLDS CASTS AN EYE OVER THEIR HORIZONS. PICS: JOE DILWORTH
AS an upshot The Telescopes are both heartening and faintly worring. Heartening, because they fulfill Christmas prediction of a "sixth or seventh wave" of new recruits to the "emergent underground". Worrying, because the newcomers haYe yet to take '88's state-of-art any further out. Maybe things got so ultimate in '87/'88 that the only way to apprentice bands to differ now is to step back a little from the brink (like the Kitchens of Distinction, with their delicious indiepop take on A.R. Kane).
What's certain is that it's been hard for new bands to emerge from the giant shadow cast by last year. Hence The Telescopes, who are - let's make no bones - exactly what we might have expected from o British indie band in -899. Fuzzed-up trance-rock; Faintly astral name; static stage presence; song titles like "The Perfect Needle", "Suffercation" and even "Suicide" - it's all a little consensual, a bit deja vu.
But if there's something received and slighty hollow about their imagery, muscially everything's hunky-dory. "Authenticity" doesn't matter when the physical dimensions of this rock are so impressive (and oppressive). The Telescopes' fleet-of-foot, kickout-the-jams, tearaway numbers are ballistically effective but ultimately rather minor ("Anticipating Nowhere" is quaintly Saints-y, "Suffercation" is Dinosaur Jr-ish). But when they drag their heels and drag us under, they can end the world as effectively as Loop orthe Spacemen. Listening to 'Violence", "Silent Water", "Please Before You Go", you feel literally laden with doom, lead-limbed and concrete-socked. How long can it be before barbiturates return as everybody's abuse-substance of choice?
There's radicalism on the debut album "Taste" too, in the shape of "Oil Seed Rape" an almost indescribable schizo-song. The verses are intoned against the susurration of distant breakers, the liquid nitrogen seas of Saturn's moons; the chorus is a lunging outburst of psychopathic butchery. Also impressive are the bafladsTMAnd Let Me Drift Away" and "The Perfed Needle" (the new single), colossal cenotaphs of sound.
THE Telescopes are very young (around 20), from Burton-on-Trent and bursting with self-belief. For the first half of the interview - in which they manage to be simultaneously outspoken and defensive, forthright and evasive - they wheel out some hardy perennials: claims that they are totally original, have no influences, that their music cannot be categorised. (They also spend a Iooooong time rubbishing hip hypsters like The Stone Roses, The Darling Buds, The Primitives, Birdland, House Of Love). Whatever their creative trajectory, surely they must concede that they've managed to coincide with the times pretty throughly?
Stephen Lawrie (singer and principal writer): "But we didn't know '89 was gonna be like that and really I can't see anything that's happened this year that's shaped us."
David Fitzgerald (guitar): "My Bloody Valentine, Loop and Spacemen 3 are what we get compared to - but I personally, and the others-too, have never been particularly into those bands."
This is preposterous and frankly mendacious (I have my secret sources, who relate tales of the 'Scopes hanging around after Loop gigs asking how they get certain effects, of Spacemen posters on bedroom walls). Me thinks the group doth protest too much.
There's a lot of violent imagery in the lyrics, and references to the seedier side of life ... suicide, drugs ... How first hand is all this?
Stephen: "It's not violence as in physical violence. It's more being afraid of having violence inflicted on you. The song 'Violence' was written walking home late at night along this long road with woods at either side, and I was getting freaked out by this wood pigeon or cuckoo making calls in the undergrowth. I started imagining it was secret signals between people intent on harming me, people who were gonna drag me into the wood."
What were you on?!
"I was on nothing! Just fear."
So you've written the world's first cuckoo-based rock song.
Joanna Doran (guitar and French horn): "The thing is you don't need to be on drugs cos your mind plays tricks on you anyway. People think the songs are pretty druggy, but they're not it's just normal emotions at an extreme."
So you're clean living types?
"No, but we don't wanna talk about it particularly."
Dave: "Everybody knows all about drugs anyway, and it's nothing to do with the music particularly. If you wanna talk about drugs, you're better off going down the f***ing chemist. All we can tell you is what anyone can tell you about the effects."
So what's with the image of the "Perfect Needle"?
Stephen: "I thought you'd be asking about that it's quite worrying - a lot of people have asked whether it's about heroin. But it's not, it's about a release of tension. When I sing, 'I've got the perfect needle for you', it's more like l've got the perfect solution for you: it's more spiteful. It could be heroin. It could be someone's so f***ed up, they'll take heroin out of spite. Even if it's just against themselves."
One of the things you must admit you share with the noise pioneers of last year is that your music isn't based around chords so much as blocks of noise, effects, sonorities, things you can't write down on a score.
Stephen: 'We start with chords, but there's a hell of a lot that happens to them. No song is played the same twice, we improvise a lot. It' that old idea of having an eIement of free jazz improvisation within a structure. The structure's the same but the veneer is always different. It'd be so boring if we played a set the same. Like apparently John Lennon got so bored playing the same set perfectly when nobody could him for the screaming that he played one song backward right the way through at Shea Stadium.
"We're not interested in applause, ourselves. If we were, we wouldn't leave our amps ringing at the end until everyone's buggered off. That's why we end the album with 'Suicide' (which was written a long time before Spacemen 3's song by the way) and it goes into a long feedback jam that turns into a locked groove.
Jo: "So we leave it up to the listener to decide when the record's over. In a way we've made the longest record ever. You could listen to it for six weeks if you wanted. I like to do the washing up listening to it."
Is your life ever as intense as your music?
Stephen: "Oh yeah. I think everybody's life is intense - there's love, hate, desire, repulsion. I refuse to believe everybody isn't as intense about themselves as I am. If I wasn't obsessed with my life, there'd be no point in living. A lot of the songs, like 'Suicide,' are about living for and living through somebody else, where your whole dependency is on that one person or thing, and it kinda sucks your life force away."
Some people find addiction or obsession attractive, though, perhaps because it makes life very simple...
Jo: "That's why people like to read about people with compulsions, like addicts or rapists, cos they're motivated."
And what's "Oil Seed Rape" about?
Stephen: "It's just an image, it sets the scene, it's about nothing really. The words just fitted the song. I thought about it for a long time, cos I knew people would make a fuss about it being exploitative - but in the end I left it there cos it fitted and cos it fulfilled the sensationalism that people expect and are into. In fact, it's the name of a plant: you know those really bright yellow fields you see from motorways. That's oil seed rape. We were just driving along and I said, 'What's that crop?' and Jo said, 'Oil seed rape - isn't it a horrible name for a flower?'. And it's really bad for asthma sufferers like Jo, cos it releases a lot of pollen."
ONE thing The Telescopes have in their favour is the Spacemen 3 seal of approval: Sonic reckons they get unfairly maligned for being derivative, and recently the 'Scopes supported the 'Men on tour.
"Sonic came up to me after one show and said:
"'Kick The Wall" -that's the best f***~~g cold turkey song ever.' Course, it wasn't about that at all but if that's what he saw in it great.
"It would have been good if you could have seen us playing with them. Everybody compared us with them - but if you'd seen the two groups playing in succession, you'd see that we're totally different."
But you have a lot in common, surely: at the very least a common interest in oblivion ...
"Nah, you've missed the boat completely. It's not about oblivion, our music. It's just about life. Maybe you mean the music takes you to oblivion. But that's not where we want to send it"
When drummer Dominic Dylan vents his rage at the press attention given to Tracy Prim's recent change of hair colour, he generates so many expletives - the classic being "for f***k's f***ing sake" - that we end up having adebate about the accursed asterisks. I'm explaining about the Christian groups who lobby W. H. Smiths and cause us all this grief, when Jo Pipes up - "Well, I'm a Christian, and I'm not bothered."
You're a Christian? Aren't there problems with relating that to The Stooges and the whole "searching to destroy"/life on the edge ethos?
"I believe in God but that's nothing to do with approving of Iggy Pop or whatever. Afterall, God made Iggy Pop. I don't have any problems in reconciling the two. As the great Cliff Richard said: 'Why should the devil have all the good tunes'?" Finally, tell me about "Anticipating Nowhere" (great title, but more than a little reminiscent of "Isn't Anything").
Stephen: "It's a song of contradictions, a kind of solution for myself. The first verse is about Manson, which might sound obvious. The song's about people who get obsessed and deeply into something, a belief or whatever, and they think they're on a journey, but really it's talking them nowhere. 'Anticipating Nowhere': it really means that everything's nothing. That if you try for something you'll get nowhere. If you try to make something happen, then it's nothing, because you're wearing yourself out with all the striving. If it just happens, then maybe it's something."
So it's a manifesto of mystical aimlessness: the belief that joy or serenity can never be worked for, can only arrive as a heaven-sent bolt from the blue (what the ancients called "serendipity" and "satori"). Very '89. At their utter-most The Telescopes leave you disorientated, off the map, nowhere. And when you realise that the literal meaning of utopia is 'no-place', then it's clear that to be nowhere is to be in heaven.
Where can it go from here?
"I don't know, you just can't anticipate. You can't anticipate anything in life. This guy..." - Dilworth ..... could turn round and stab me. You just don't know. And that's the beauty of life. You can worry about it but what's the point you might as well go home and build Lego cos at least you know you'll end up with a building, if you follow the instructions."
Dave: "Let's be honest you never got instructions with beauty of Lego..."
"Well that's the beauty with lego."
Originally appeared in Melody Maker August 12, 1989. Copyright © Melody Maker