Goths Love Affair with the Chameleons
~by Blu with commentary by Sarah Elizabeth, James Babbo and Greg Fasolino
...there is something uniquely haunting about Mark Burgess's lyrics and vocal melodies, the way they surge bittersweetly against the guitar tapestries... It is magically humanistic. Most importantly, Burgess offers a hint of solace and peace deeper down within the sadness. It is a voice full of reason and passion, one the listener can trust and believe in without shame or selfconsciousness. ~Greg Fasolino
This fall The Chameleons will embark on what may be their biggest U.S. tour to date - at least since their reformation in 2001 - from Atlanta, GA to Long Beach, CA. This remarkable tour was not booked by any booking agency or label, but by the band itself with help from their dedicated fans, perpetuated in part by the internet. Watching updates on the official site and being on the mailing list, I watched the whole thing take shape magically. The band asked people to get in contact with venues and promoters who might entertain booking the Chameleons. Suggestions, tips, emails, names of friends of friends all came flooding in. Although rough going on the East Coast for a bit (some promoters in NY quipped, "The Chameleons who?"), eventually a nationwide tour was confirmed to the extreme delight of many. This feat of booking a cross-country tour from the UK via your fans is a testament to the power and appeal of this band.
I am still committed to getting the band over to the States to play some gigs there and am in discussions with one or two people to check out the feasibility.. I'm hopeful I can set something up for October this year. If there are people out there that can help put me in touch with suitable venues that would be a big help...
~ Mark Burgess in an open letter, May 2002.
No doubt the openness and and personable ways of vocalist Mark Burgess is one reason for the loyal devotion of The Chameleons fans. Nearly every fan I've talked to has had some kind of personal interaction with Mark be it a personal email or chance encounter at a live show. These moments have made a huge impression on the people that meet him. Booking this tour was no different. Courteous as always, vocalist Mark Burgess kept in constant touch with updates on what venues confirmed and always signed his emails, "with love and light and respect." And this got me thinking - undoubtedly Chameleon fans come from all walks of life - but certainly there is also a group of people who align themselves with the goth sub genre that make up part of their fan base. The Chameleons have always been one of those "bands that goths like" (as opposed to a "goth" band). How has such a  humble band who talks about "light and love"  managed to etch itself so deeply upon the hearts and souls of a darker generation? Just what is behind goth's love affair with the Chameleons?

Certainly at Goth clubs and more so at Deathrock clubs in the US, The Chameleon's music is a familiar staple. It's a sure floor filler and as many times as "Swamp Thing" or "Soul in Isolation" gets played, no one seems to ever tire of hearing them. It almost seems ironic to watch mohawked punks - beautifully fierce in their appearance - dance to the soothing sounds of The Chameleons. And yet it works peferctly.

Taken from my own online journal after a night at Release the Bats:

And then - best part of the night - near the end Shane was spinning and he played "Swamp Thing" and oh my god I didn't think that dance floor could hold so many people. People actually RAN to the dance floor ...The energy was just incredible. Everyone was singing and moving - all kinds of people - mohawked punks, vintage gypsies ..., rockabilly, goths, rivetheads, normal looking people, old people, young people, just everyone. It crossed boundaries and everyone was doing their own thing - -- REALLY into it - not worrying about what they look like or who's watching. There was no posturing, nothing fake -- people were dancing because they ***loved the song***. It really got to me. I had tears in my eyes.
The deathrock/goth email lists were abuzz with their impending tour when I decided to send out an email asking for people's comments on the Chameleons and why goth subcultures are so attracted to it. Mark Splatter ( Alive) replied; "here's my two cents on love and light - if he's encouraging it, then that would suggest that there is an absence of it. And we all need a little love and light in our lives, no matter how dark and gloomy we may have once thought we were!"

Peter from the LA based band Wailing Wall chimed in; "Isn't that all any of us want, to breathe? And to be able to express ourselves, even when we are expressing how difficult it is to breathe and how suffocating life itself can be. To me the best thing about the most down, sad, or nihilistic songs is that sometimes after they're over, it's like getting off the scariest rollercoaster you've ever had the courage to ride...The Chameleons are wonderful and embraced by so many, (including us in the Goth scene), because they realize that though it is necessary to embrace our mortality, isolation, doubt, and fear, they realize that this embracing is only in order to more fully partake of the light."

For myself I've always been most attracted by the darker, more intense work, both lyrically and sonically...
~ Mark Burgess

Examining some of the lyrics it's certainly easier to see the appeal. There are shreds of hope piled in amongst gloomier tones and bitter sweet memories from happier times that listeners no doubt connect to with real-life experience. From "Tears" off the Strange Times CD:

Dreams are what you live for
Waiting for the light to turn green
Carry me home
To the kindest eyes that I've ever seen
Carry me home
Can you tell me how will it be now
How will it be?
Well we were younger then
And the days were long and slow
But were we wiser then
I couldn't say
I wouldn't know
But I wasn't worried at all
I had someone to run to
No I wasn't worried at all
I knew which way the wind blew
Kicking out the chaos and gloom
Carry me home
The simplest chorus from "Soul in Isolation" can bring me to tears:
Oh, when you think on it | We're all | Souls in isolation | Alive in here | I'm alive in here
Is is no surprise then, when I asked for comments, that instead of a paragraph or two, I got inspired essays on this band and how it's impacted people's lives. I was going to recount The Chameleon's history here, but it's touched on in these following passages in a sufficient matter. Besides, it's not so much the history, but the passion that has propelled them through the years that is important. So here are three perspectives on The Chameleons and what they mean to us...


People still seek out the records and still approach me, give me a hug or shake my hand, their eyes moistening (I eat a lot of garlic), to ask if we'll ever play again. I didn't think so, but it goes to prove that you never know! ~Mark Burgess

~by Sarah Elizabeth (DJ Lady Lazarus)

Sadly, my relationship with the music of The Chameleons is still new and in its awkward stages.  I may talk like we’ve been a pair for years, but it’s certainly not the case.  I flirted with a few songs via Goth Rock comps and the Goth Box video, but never really made a move until the summer of 2000.

I actually saw a video of “In Shreds” before I heard anything else.  I was 17 at the time and wasn’t too impressed with the post-punk jangle and crunch of bands like Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and the like (I have since made a drastic turn around!).  If you have seen the Goth Box video, you know how intense “In Shreds” is.  It burst onto the screen with punching drums and howling vocals.  The hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  I was smitten.

Although The Chameleons immediately struck a chord in me, I figured them to be among those other Goth Rock pioneers that had long ago fallen by the wayside and disappeared.  I never bothered really pursuing the issue, as I saw it fruitless and ultimately heartbreaking.  That is, until the summer of 2000, when William Faith (of Faith & The Muse) dared a whole new generation of Goths to rediscover The Chameleons.  I took the bait, of course, and within two weeks had tracked down a used copy of the album Strange Times.  I was so excited by my discovery that I almost forgot to breathe.  “Soul In Isolation” was on the album, which made me happy because that’s the one that William sang, but nothing else was familiar.  Although, with track names like “Tears” and “Swamp Thing,” I suspected I wouldn’t be disappointed.

The car ride home was like a nervous blind date.  The CD sat lifelessly on the seat next to me.  I looked at it sideways and suspicious-like.  What if I did end up being disappointed, after all the wonderful things I’d been told?  Would we really get along well with each other?  Would we grow to be good friends?  It was maddening.  I ran into my room when I got home and quickly turned on the stereo.  I skipped to track five,  “Swamp Thing,” as the name intrigued me the most.  I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.  It was beginning.

Jangling tendrils crept out of the speakers, slithering across the floor and up onto my bed, making me shiver.  Then came the ticking of drums and the heartbeat thud of the bass.  The sound made me think of moths beating against a windowpane, or anxious, sweaty-palmed Poe characters.  There was an eerily soft, watery screech behind it all.  Just as I began to feel very claustrophobic, a beautiful voice came to my rescue, cutting away the creeping tendrils and blowing away the misty fog that had clouded my brain.  It was brilliant.

Now, I’m sure you’re reading this and marveling at how I’ve completely romanticized this whole series of events, but it’s all the truth.  I may not know everything about the band, and I certainly am not familiar with all of their work, but I do know how I feel every time I hear them.  It’s like I said before, our relationship is a work in progress, but I do believe we’re on the right track.

James Babbo
(one part of Middle Pillar and the founder of the band The Mirror Reveals )

I'll never forget the first time I heard the Chameleons. I was driving into NYC to go club hopping when "Swamp Thing" came on the radio. The hypnotic guitar riff and driving kick drum mesmerized me. At the end of the tune, the DJ announced an appearance by the band at the Ritz (now Webster Hall). I went to the concert and only knew the opening song (Swamp Thing) but loved  the band. Little did I know that I would become obsessed with them not realizing that I witnessed their final performance (well final tour anyway). The show was Feb 28th, 1987.

Immediately I tracked down whatever vinyl I could find of the band. Then later, CD's, bootlegs, live video, etc. My first punk band learned a bunch of Chameleons covers that we'd sneak into our set. I painted a few denim jackets with their cover art. In 1991 when my band played England, I wore my "What Does Anything Mean, Basically" denim jacket which got a lot of compliments on the streets of London. I even got a tattoo of the Strange Times cover on my arm.

"Swamp Thing", of course, is a goth club dance floor hit that most DJ's have in their staple of must-haves. I never get tired of hearing it. But to me, this '80's band is more than just one song. They are a conglomeration of talent, more than the sum of their parts, that created music that moved people emotionally. It was a melding of 4 artists: Mark Burgess' poetry was brilliantly brought to life through the guitars of Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies as well as John Lever's intricate rhythms. To top it all off, their albums covers painted by Reg, were otherwordly, very fantasy-driven and another element to the overall package.

I eventually learned that the band broke up (in those pre-internet days). This bummed me out. Why weren't these poets packing stadiums and making millions? But I digress.

Then in 1994 I read that Mark Burgress was doing a solo tour of the States. I went to see him perform at CBGB's and Maxwell's. And this time I knew every song backwards and forwards. At the CB's show, due to a scheduling mix up, the band didn't go on until 2am and after 2 encores, Mark came out to say he lost his voice but couldn't believe the outpouring of love from the audience. That night, while talking to other people in attendance I learned that those that become involved with the Chameleons become fanatical. Most of us there at 4am were all talking about which Chameleons covers we knew how to play.

I believe it's the passion of the band that made them stand out amidst the other '80's bands. Their words stood for something more than just an excuse to dance. And the multi-layered guitar sound was distinct in a mostly synth scene.

My biggest thrill was meeting Mark Burgess and John Lever in '94. Seven years after hearing "Swamp Thing" I finally got to ask Mark what the hell "the king of spivs' was. (someone unemployed who lives by their wits).

Well, now that they're back and touring again hopefully I'll get Dave and Reg to sign my "Tony Flethcher Walked on Water" EP as well as show Reg my Strange Times tattoo. (he'll probably call me a wanker!)


For me it was just something to do a few nights a week while waiting for life to happen. I expected nothing from it whatsoever, except perhaps a few laughs in good company. ~ Mark Burgess

Greg Fasolino
(Guitarist for The Naked and the Dead, and music journalist/collector)

I've adored The Chameleons since I first heard them in March 1982, when "In Shreds" came out and was a smash hit on WNYU. I bought the 7-inch that month, and continued following them passionately, throughout the Eighties and through all the musical genres and stages I went through, though the band got hardly any press back then (even, especially, in the British papers) and sans internet, you had to rely on records for information. To this day Script of the Bridge is my favorite album of that decade, bar none, and I am sure it always will be.

I was lucky enough to see them on their final American tour (pre-reformation) in early 1987 (they only did one other American tour in their initial incarnation, in summer 1984, but I got sick the day of the show and sadly missed it), and I can still get an inner tingle remembering the electric joy that suffused me when they played "In Shreds" and "Second Skin," how myself and everyone else there jumped up and down and sang all the words along with them. Which brings us to your question: Why are their fans so passionate? I think it's because of two main reasons.

Firstly, there is something uniquely haunting about Mark Burgess's lyrics and vocal melodies, the way they surge bittersweetly against the guitar tapestries. Burgess has a unique tone and vision---it's sad, but not as far over the edge into despair and desolation as Ian Curtis. It's dark but not so contrived like an Andrew Eldritch. It's not as impenetrable and thorny as Mark E. Smith of The Fall, one of Burgess's main influences. It is magically humanistic. Most importantly, Burgess offers a hint of solace and peace deeper down within the sadness. It is a voice full of reason and passion, one the listener can trust and believe in without shame or selfconsciousness.

Secondly, the interplay between Reg and Dave's contrasting guitars is not only the bedrock of the Chameleons trademark sound, but something truly unique in all of alt-rock. Nobody, NOBODY else gets the same sound as they do, their uncanny tension and synchronization and swells of grandeur (so imposing and soliciting of emotion one could compare them to a Debussy masterpiece or a John Coltrane "sheet of sound"). One guitar playing dark, crunching, staccato riffs. The second teasing along the angularities of the first, laying in echoed, fluttering filigrees of ethereal melody. None of their contemporaries or modern-day musicianly devotees have ever come close to duplicating this sound.

Otherwise, there are other factors. I would say word-of-mouth is unusually important in explaining their cultdom. As I mentioned, they never got a lot of press even back in their Eighties heyday. Their home country England practically ignored them. They were barely shown on MTV at all (I can dimly recall seeing an animated advertisement on there for "Strange Times," but that's it), and even college radio didn't play them nearly as much as you'd imagine. But pockets of fandom blossomed. A local FM new-wave station here on Long Island, WLIR, used to play "Up the Down Escalator" every day, and I think that turned quite a few people on to them. The well-known NYC rock journalist Jack Rabid, probably their #1 fan of all time, is no doubt solely responsible for turning thousands of fans into Chameleonheads; for years he preached the Chameleons gospel from the pulpit of his famous fanzine "The Big Takeover," to great success (in a nice touch, Jack's reformed Chameleonsish band, Springhouse, are opening for the recent Chameleons shows in New York). They are definitely a band that people passed on to their friends, and so on.

As for their unexpected popularity among gothic/death-rock fans, I myself admit it is somewhat puzzling. It wasn't so much so back in the old days; most Chameleons fans back then were more new-wave/alternative type of fans, people who liked the Bunnymen and Cure and New Order; the more gothic people tended to think they weren't spooky enough. But why The Chameleons? I don't know. I mean, there's little difference in many ways, broadly speaking, between the Chameleons and a bunch of other English bands who were much more commercially successful in the Eighties---like Echo and the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Julian Cope/Teardrop Explodes, etc. That's really where I think they fit, in terms of genre. For whatever reason these bands don't seem to have the same current cachet with the goth crowd as Chameleons do; perhaps it's the slightly darker shading and feeling of sadness Chameleons possess, compared to the others, that translates for the more mopey modern listeners.

One thing that does strike me as odd is that while The Chameleons themselves have a huge cult of fans today, many of whom never knew about them back in the Eighties, these fans tend to stop there. Other small bands in a very, very similar style, from the same era as the Chameleons, don't seem to get much attention from latter-day listeners. Here I'm thinking mainly of Comsat Angels, The Sound, Sad Lovers and Giants, etc. Personally, though I'll agree The Chameleons are the pinnacle of their genre, I think anyone who's a real Chameleons nut, owes it to themselves to check out the first three Comsat Angels albums (reissued a few years ago on CD); they are amazing and a wonderful complement to Burgess and Co. It also couldn't hurt to check out some of Chameleons' main influences, such as Magazine, Alternative TV, and the magnificence that is The Fall.

So there you have it. A small slice of Chameleon passion that carries on today. And in case you're of the uninitiated, since their reformation, The Chameleons have continued to put out quality CDs and you owe it to yourself to check them out. Their newest release in the US, Why Call It Anything?, is one of my favorites with the blissful sounds of "Music In the Womb" never far from my ear.  I intend to go to three of their California shows in October yet something tells me that won't be nearly enough. Most certainly, I will be with the many mouthing the words to this song:

Swamp Thing
I can already hear your tune
Calling me across the room
When the world and his wife
Are on my back again
Not enough pleasure
Too much pain
When the world is too much with me
Please leave, just go away
Before I lose my mind completely
Please leave, just go now
In the sidestreet something's moving
Look around, look around
All around you
Walls are tumbling down
Stop staring at the ground
I can practically see your face
And another revolutionary falls from grace
Hear the thunder in your brain
Not enough sunshine
Too much rain...
The Chameleons Official Webpage:

U.S. Tour - Final Confirmed Dates
September 28th Atlanta Echo Lounge CONFIRMED-
September 29th Atlanta (semi-acoustic) CONFIRMED
October 1st Washington DC The Black Cat - CONFIRMED,
October 2nd New York Knitting Factory 8:00 p.m (semi-acoustic) CONFIRMED
October 2nd New York Knitting Factory 11.00 p.m. Full show CONFIRMED
October 4th Brooklyn - South Paw CONFIRMED
October 5th Maxwell's New Jersey CONFIRMED
October 6th Boston - Middle East Cafe CONFIRMED
October 7th Montreal Club Soda CONFIRMED
October 8th Montreal Club Soda CONFIRMED
October 9th Toronto Phoenix CONFIRMED
October 12th Buffalo The Continental CONFIRMED
October 13th Rochester - Water Street Music Hall CONFIRMED
October 14th Chicago Metro - CONFIRMED
October 15th Seattle The Showbox CONFIRMED
October 16th SF Great American Music Hall (semi-acoustic set) CONFIRMED
October 18th Great American Music Hall - CONFIRMED
October 20th Santa Ana Galaxy CONFIRMED -
October 21st LA The Knitting Factory - CONFIRMED
October 22nd LA The Knitting Factory - CONFIRMED
October 23rd San Diego Canes CONFIRMED
October 24th Long Beach Que Sera (semi acoustic set) CONFIRMED

The Empire Prepares for a West Coast Takeover...

At the end of October, The Empire Hideous will return to the West Coast for the first time in years propelled by a partial new lineup,  brand new material, a book on the horizon and growing interest in a band that by all rights should have been legend by now.  Long time fans that witnessed their recent concert opening for The Mission say that the Empire is better than its ever been, the new songs are incredible and the band is in top form putting on a mesmerizing performance. Originally having said EH was back to do only a handful of one-off shows; Myke Hideous has been bombarded with fans begging them to move forward with the band. It's a request he couldn't refuse as he finds himself once again, the charismatic frontman of a dark and grim horror show. To everyone's delight what was meant to be just a few shows for old times sake has turned into an honest comeback.  Add to the musical buzz, Myke's autobiography, KING OF AN EMPIRE TO THE SHOES OF A MISFIT will be available through at the beginning of November 2002. He's also appeared in two new books  documenting the underground goth scene this year - first in Mick Mercer's 21st Century Goth and then in Gavin Braddeley's Goth Chic complete with a full page photo and several paragraphs about the band.

Joining The Empire Hideous in California will be Belisha - the UK's newest darlings on the goth scene with an old school punk attitude to fit. Vocalist Dan comments he is “inspired more by what people do with their music as opposed to styles.  I am really inspired by ...the Sex Pistols in the ways that they started saying ‘fuck you all’ and started saying some truths especially about the monarchy. I suppose, people who have made through adversity." With a new CD, People of the Dark, that points an accusatory finger at everything from religious abuses to government cover ups, the boys are prepared to feel right at home in California's underground scene.

The tour kicks off in San Francisco at The Dive Bar on Devil's Night (Oct 30th) with awesome guest DJ's Rick A Mortis and Sage spinning tunes before and after the show. Look for the bands out and about in Hollywood on Halloween night then, on Friday November 1st they'll be playing at Buried Alive sponsored in part by and Release the Bats with DJ's Mark Splatter and guests. This show is 18+ for all you youngsters out there! The finale will be Saturday November 2nd at The Gig in Hollywood. We'll be doing a live recording of this show that will hopefully find its way to CD soon there after. Be there and be part of history!  For more details and to buy tickets in advance - click HERE.

The Mission UK with
The Empire Hideous
Sept 28, 2002
Connections (NJ)
~by Kim Mercil
Empire Hideous photos by Janet N. Zappasodi

The first time I witnessed an Empire Hideous show was at "A Night of Misanthropy 111". After seeing them live you would be insane if you weren't impressed with their stage choreography and props.  Even if you didn't like the music all eyes were glued to the stage to see what Mr. Hideous had in store for us next. Some past props that they have used included animal heads on stands, television sets showing different scenes of torture and death, Myke getting physically pierced in the face with hypodermic needles or whipped by some of his very willing friends to a cover of "The 39 Lashes". After their demise in 98', I was elated when I received the news that they were to perform on 9-28-02 with the Mission UK at Connections in New Jersey.

So here we are; it's about 9:30pm and two steady white lights appear from the back as the smoke machine fills the stage and everyone in the crowd. Slowly eerie horror movie style music creeps in and the packed house awaits the arrival of the Hideous one himself. Each member hits the stage one by one the last to enter is Myke and at this point the crowd goes ballistic. The energy pours off of them before they even start their first song "You Follow". Throughout the set they performed a bunch of new unreleased tracks that were nothing short of extraordinary, but that is what we have come to expect from the perfectionist Myke Hideous. For what they lacked in stage props that night Myke made up for it in his amazing stage presence. His aura filled the room and his message for the audience was "Fuck Religion"!!! He enforced this message by performing the tracks  "God And I" and ending with the classic Empire Hideous track "Parasite's Bible". After an hour long performance we hated to see them leave the stage, but another exceptional band Mission UK was to perform after them. For those that missed this phenomenal band, The Empire Hideous will be performing 10-26-02 at Albion-Batcave in NYC.

Onto the Mission UK. The only original  member of this line up was the legendary Wayne Hussey. His three new member  line up supported him well. They performed a lot of the new material from  the album Aura along with their popular older tracks such as  "Deliverance", "Severina", and "Garden of Delight". The show lasted well  over two hours when we refused from moving away from the stairs to let them  off stage, a very polite reply from Hussey was "We don't want to leave but  we only have a few more songs we can perform for you."  Our reply, "So redo  some of the songs you played before!" Wayne looked fabulous even with his  short cropped hair from the long locks he had years ago. They did two sets  of encores and in between sets as Wayne drank from a bottle of wine eager  fans came to the stage with paraphernalia for him to autograph and he did so  with a huge smile and several handshakes. The finale was "Wasteland" and we  knew they could not leave the stage with performing this track. They even  extended it, somewhere in the middle of they song they broke into Depeche  Mode's "Never Let Me Down" and then went into Sisters of Mercy's "Marian" then a 360 back into "Wasteland". What a night it was everyone left completely satisfied at everything they had witnessed. This was one for the history books!

The Empire Hideous:
The Mission UK:

When Andi met Andi: a conversation with Andi Sex Gang
~interview by Andi Jarrett
(images courtesy of the Andi Sex Gang site, Pete Scathe's site and Uncle Nemesis)

Ian Astbury of The Cult, quoted in Alternative Press:

"One of the groups coming up at the same time as us was Sex Gang Children, and Andi - he used to dress like a Banshees fan, and I used to call him the Gothic Goblin because he was a little guy, and he's dark. He used to likeEdith Piaf and this macabre music, and he lived in a building in Brixton called Visigoth Towers. So he was the little Gothic Goblin, and his followers were Goths. That's where goth came from."

Andi Sex Gang was in on the ground floor of Goth. His band, the Sex Gang Children (a name originally invented by Boy George, as it happens) emerged in 1982, at precisely the time a strange, arty, glammy tangent which would eventually mutate into the goth scene began to diverge from punk. The Sex Gang Children became an important force in this new evolution: their music tapped into the energy of punk, but filtered in a weird glam-art aesthetic which made the band a unique proposition at the time. Now, those early recordings sound like they've come from another planet. Certainly, anyone who thinks of 'old goth' stuff in terms of Sisters, Mission, and the Nephilim would find the Sex Gang Children very hard going. But things were different then.

Fast-forward to 2002, and Andi Sex Gang is still forging ahead with a career that has touched all manner of bases in twenty years. He's recorded over 20 albums, both as himself and under various permutations of the band name. He's worked with collaborators as diverse as Mick Ronson, David Bowie's Ziggy-period guitarist, and the Italian horror movie maestro, Dario Argento. His influence can be heard in the most unlikely areas, as anyone who's ever listened to Cinema Strange will acknowledge. His latest release, the album 'Bastard Art' is a wide-screen sweep through a twenty-first century glam landscape - and sees the return of the Sex Gang Children identity. A good time, then, to catch up with the man himself. Andi Jarrett met him in the cafe in the crypt of St. Martin's In The Fields church in Trafalgar Square, London, and what followed was a conversation which ranged far and wide over many subjects - except one...

AJ:  I was wondering if we could start with one of the more typical questions...what made you decide to use the name Sex Gang Children again, instead of being Andi Sex Gang?

ASG:  That's a typical question! A very mathematical question. I'd rather talk about art and influences...other artists...the influences I have, that I find inspiring.

AJ:  Oh. OK. Well, because of your presence on stage - it's very theatrical - I was wondering if you had any background in acting?

ASG:  No, except for an appreciation of all incredible art forms that are good, that are done well. No, I've had no training whatsoever, in anything. Never had the money to, and apart from that my life was kind of different anyway. It didn't really lend itself to that, to those circles. You know, when I first started going on tour, many years ago, I used to walk down Oxford Street on Saturday...the traffic would flow one way, and I'd go the other way - I would go against the grain, dodging people, walking without slowing down and getting in their way. That was good practice. And it was free, as well! Good practice for a sense of movement and balance. That was a long time ago.

AJ:  It seems like a lot of actors take on roles that are an aspect of themselves, even though it may not be a typical aspect. It's still something they can draw upon, you know?

ASG:  There are those that have that 'something else', and those are the ones - I *believe* them, what they do, they stand out as far as actors go. Same as people who do painting as a form of expression. You can look at a picture and see into the life of the artist. Otto Dix, for example - the German expressionist painter. He painted hundreds of anti-war pictures and yet he'd spent all four years of the First World War as a machine gunner in the German trenches - an enthusiastic machine gunner as well, by all accounts. But he understood the real horror of war. He didn't sit around in a coffee house! He was *in* the war, and he understood it first hand - the carnage, what it's really like. And all his contemporaries, good as they are, don't have that...pathos, that understanding of the horror that Dix had. I've always believed that it's how you live your life that counts, it's who you are, how you feel.

AJ:  What are your first-hand experiences that have affected your art?

ASG:  Everything. Every experience is useful to me. I would say that I'm very, very conscious of what I write, but at times, on reflection afterwards, sometimes a long time afterwards, it makes more sense. It's almost like I can close my eyes and feel some sense of myself as I stride through life. That sounds really pretentious, but it's not!

AJ:  So anything that happens during the day, you write about the feelings you get from that?

ASG:  That's an example. But I don't mean in a first-hand sense - that would be too personal, too self-involved. In my own way I mirror things. I reflect things that affect all of us. I could never stand the typical poetry of student-types getting up and saying 'My girlfriend left me, and she was a bitch anyway!' Get a life, don't waste my time! You've got to look at the bigger features in your life, and you're living this life: it's in the politics of the world, the disasters of the world, the great achievements of the world. You can reflect personal anguish or personal dilemmas, but it can be reflected in a way that's not so siphoned off.

AJ:  It's interesting how some things that artists do, whatever the original subject of the work, can make you think of something else. On your new album 'Bastard Art', in the song 'The Bormann Chain' you say, 'I took you for a killer/Did you take me out of kindness?' You know who I thought of? Harold Shipman. [The Manchester doctor who was recently revealed as the UK's worst-ever serial killer]. Now there was a bastard who malpracticed his art!

ASG:  Yeah, that would make sense. That's a good point. That's a good example of how any words, any music, any pictures - whatever the medium is - should be. Art should be ambiguous.

AJ:  So that it can apply to many things?

ASG:  So it can apply to all things. Art should stand up on its own - it shouldn't be without force, but it should be ambiguous. It's not about whinging 'She was a bitch, why does nobody like me?' Keep it in your fucking head!

AJ:  I guess a lot of people think the whole gothic thing is about whinging. So they whinge.

ASG:  It doesn't have to be; it shouldn't be, really. I've actually come to terms with the word 'gothic'. I used to hate it because I just felt it was an excuse for marketing, an excuse for bandwagon-jumping. The whole beauty of it was that it was *such* an alternative. It was an art form! The first time I ever went to the Leipzig festival - the Wave Gotik Treffen - it was an incredible, the things that were going on. A city of burlesque. It really did encompass the avant garde.

AJ:  Did you feel it was multi-media, too?

ASG:  The last time I was over there - this year - it was definitely multi-media. Yeah, it's always had spoken-word things, poetry, films, theatre. It had all that stuff. A wonderful mix of all these different art forms, and I thought it was great. Some people exhibited their paintings. There were twenty different things going on at once. And I think that's what it's about. Gothic is not supposed to be just another style of pop music!

AJ:  It's like people just apply the trappings, it's not really thought about.

ASG:  Well, even in the early days of the movement - I don't like the term 'movement' but I suppose it *was* a movement - it had a lot of bandwagon-jumping, and then those people just jumped on to the next thing that came along. I think you're always going to have the people who are bandwagon jumpers, and people who are prime movers. Or they try to push the boundaries, and sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they might not quite get there but it's a process of finding out - you've got to be not afraid to try things out and go on upward, so to speak.

AJ:  As for the scene as it is - what would you like to see happen? Your launch gig for the 'Veil' album had all sorts of performances, everything from belly-dancing to snake-charming - would you like to incorporate that sort of thing into future shows, create that sense of atmosphere?

ASG:  Why not? I thought all that was right for the time, that gig and that album. Expanding on that, doing something different - yeah, why not? The reason why I think music is the most potent, powerful, art medium is because it encompasses performance, recordings, it encompasses all sorts of other work. Artwork, whatever. Photography, films, books. Music encompasses it all. So make it bigger, build on it! Nothing really hits you like a piece of music that really affects you. Bach's cello concerto, fucking brilliant! I've been decorating my apartment with it turned up really high - fantastic, fantastic piece! I never get tired of it. And how many years ago was that composed? 400 years ago!

AJ:  So how did you decorate your house...while listening to Bach?

ASG:  I had to redecorate because I had some builders in, doing the roof, and they just took everything apart. I've used the colour blue, midnight blue.

AJ:  Blue is an emotive colour.

ASG:  One of my favourites!

AJ:  It's funny how certain sounds, or words, or moods, bring up colours in your head.

ASG:  I think a sense of colour is important. You know, sometimes you go through an area and it just looks great - like the City of London. I just love that area. Not that I have any cash money at all!

AJ:  Since we're talking about did a song, a piece called 'The Naked And The Dead' for Dario Argento's film 'Phenomena'. He's very chromatic. You know, he uses reds at certain points in his movies...blues, yellows. It all means something.

ASG:  I never noticed that!

AJ:  In 'Suspiria' it's particularly marked.

ASG:  'Suspiria', my God, I saw that in 1981 or something, maybe earlier.

AJ:  It's a strange movie. I love his stuff. Would you like to do any more music for films?

ASG:  Depends...

AJ:  What made you chose 'Phenomena'?

ASG:  I didn't. They chose me. It just landed in my lap. I was working with a producer at the time, Simon Boswell, and he played me this mix of something he was working on. He was doing music for the film...and Dario came into the studio to see him, and said, 'Who is this?' And Simon said, 'That's the singer with the Sex Gang Children!' and that's how Dario and I were introduced. And Dario said, 'Can you get him to do something?' And I obliged. I'd seen 'Suspiria' and I'd loved it, so I said yes. That's how I worked with Dario Argento. He wore these really ill-fitting clothes, like he just went in to Marks & Spencer and grabbed the first thing he saw!

AJ:  A lot of people who are really into what they do don't think of anything else, so they'll just wear whatever...

ASG:  I know, it's funny, and he's exactly like that. A character.

AJ:  So, who would you say are the bastards of art, and why?

ASG:  I called the album 'Bastard Art' because it *is* bastard art. It's art, but it's not trying to be anything, it's not trying to be there, because it is there. By default or by purpose, it's there.

AJ:  So what if its parents weren't married, it's there!

ASG:  There is that, too! Art without sanction.

AJ:  On the sleeve of 'Bastard Art' there's a little insect man, and he has a lot of resemblance to you - not in a bad way! He's got these skull eyes and a sharp proboscis. What's he preying on? Or is he preying? Or is he gazing really strongly at something?

ASG:  On the back of the CD?

AJ:  And he's got the eyebrows, too!

ASG:  I need to take a closer look! I did that painting when I was 15 or 16 or so. It probably took me about half an hour, or 40 minutes, tops.

AJ:  Who are your favourite films, actors?

ASG:  I always thought Robert de Niro was phenomenal. When I was little, really little, I saw a film on TV called 'Walkabout' That really knocked me for six. I thought that was such a great movie!

AJ:  The Aboriginal film, right?

ASG:  Yeah, I thought it was great. And 'The Harder They Come' - Jimmy Cliff. That was on TV recently, late at night. I caught a bit of it and I'd forgotten just how good a film it was. It had been so long since I'd seen it.

AJ:  I love John Waters, all of John Waters.

ASG:  'Pink Flamingos', that has a special place inside me!

AJ:  "Look, mama, a turd, mama!"

ASG:  It's great! It's fucking great! So poignant, so beautiful!

AJ:  And I love how, in 'Polyester', he cast Stiv Bators as Bo-Bo.

ASG:  I have to see that again. I saw these things so long ago. I think when you're drained of culture your soul, the common universal soul of the people, becomes sick. They descend into McDonalds, they descend into Big Brother. All these things which are really needless.

AJ:  So, who are your favourite authors?

ASG:  Authors, I don't really have favourite authors. George Orwell, maybe. '1984' , 'Animal Farm'. '1984' was the book that really...I don't think any other book really hit me as much as '1984' when I first read it. The writing is fantastic.

AJ:  What about 'Brave New World'?

ASG:  Yeah. I started to read it afterwards, and there's this whole thing of how 'Brave New World' was written before '1984', but, I mean, '1984' was better. It gets the point across much better, it really does. It's a far superior telling of the nightmare.

AJ:  What do you think of this whole cellphone craze? I mean, talk about over-stimulation and not having time for undirected thought, you know?

ASG:  I would say it's unhealthy. It's very unhealthy. But I think that's the way things are meant to be now - or that's the way things are because it's all being encouraged. It's an unhealthy balance, and you have to have balance.

AJ:  What d'you think of Buddhist philosophy?

ASG:  I don't really know much about Buddhist philosophy at all.

AJ:  You just sort of go with an idea of balance?

ASG:  I think you are born with everything you need to know. I don't think anyone has to go looking for anything. People travel to find themselves - they go somewhere, they go to a religion, to see some Swami, whatever. Some devout martyr. And you know, you don't need to do this. Everything that happens, happens on your own doorstep. It happens within your own life. All the things you need to know, all these things are given to you to apply yourself in order to help yourself.

AJ:  So you need to learn how to accept it and use it?

ASG:  No, no, no. I think you accept or like what you like and you should live within that once you're there. And I think one should also live with what you don't like, and what you can't accept. And know where the line is. You've got to have a sense of...morals? I don't know the appropriate word, but that sense of values in life.

AJ:  Yeah, 'cause right and wrong are such vague terms.

ASG:  There's no such things as right or wrong, there's just things that *are*. I live my life by my rules without compromise, and I don't hurt others because of it. Not willingly, anyway. That's my choice. I've always really liked people who do direct action - the Greenpeace people - I think it's great! Instead of, you know, the Church saying, let's pray, everybody, let's pray for those poor souls - it's like, don't fucking *pray*! Get out and *do* something! Help those people who are starving!

AJ:  Do all religions piss you off, or is it just the Christian religion?

ASG:  I see no difference. If Jesus was around now, the Church would be the first to crucify him. They would! When Christ was crucified, he was killed by the Church. If you were to place it in a hierarchy, he was not crucified by the Romans.

AJ:  By the institution?

ASG:  The institution, the Church. They were the ones baying for his blood. They felt he was a threat, he had a revolutionary heart. I think Jesus was a revolutionary - he was, of course he was. He reached out and touched the people, as did Joan of Arc, as did Che Guevara. Religion is a man-made thing. Not a *human*-made thing, man-made. I think the Church became an abused institution, because it is run by men and men are very insecure. Men have fucked-up egos, basically. I think the true religion is a religion of life. How *you* are. The Bible is obsolete! It became obsolete as soon as humans started really expressing themselves in art - and music, which is the most evolved of all the art forms. The Bible is obsolete because music touches you. It's a great power. The Clash, they were a great example of telling it fucking straight.

AJ:  Do you still listen to the Clash?

ASG:  I've not got rid of all my old vinyl and tapes, but these days I find it difficult to listen to rock-based music.

AJ:  From your performances, though, you would think you had a lot of glam influence?

ASG:  Well, when I was a kid, I liked Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Roxy Music, but when I listen to rock music now...If I listen to T Rex, there are certain songs that will never leave me, they're so beautiful. I think Marc Bolan and David Bowie are the only two from that period that still bear music naturally. There's a perfect pathos, humanism. It's a perfect harmony of what it was all about at that time.

AJ:  Have you ever heard of a band called Cinema Strange?

ASG:  I have heard the name. Are they Americans?

AJ:  They are, they're from Los Angeles, in the Deathrock scene. They're very surreal on stage and I think you've definitely influenced them. They don't sound *like* you, but they sound like you've influenced them.

ASG:  That's good, 'cause no-one should sound like anyone else.

AJ:  Yeah, there's a difference between hearing an influence and hearing a carbon copy. There were so many goth bands that all sounded like the Sisters of Mercy...

ASG:  You see, some people would say that arrogance is a sin, but I would say, it depends. I think a dose of arrogance is absolutely necessary. Stand up and say, 'I am me!' You take in other things, it's like an evolutionary process, but no-one should sound like anyone else. No-one's existence should be a pale comparison to something else. You've got to be arrogant to a point. 'I am fucking ME!' That's why I think my life has been different. I just have different things that made me this way.

Andi Sex Gang's website:

The Sex Gang Children's part in the early evolution of the goth scene is chronicled in Pete Scathe's History Of Goth site:

Follow-ups to references in the interview:
Oxford Street:
The Wave Gotik Treffen, Leipzig:
Simon Boswell, film music composer and sometime Sex Gang Children producer:
'The Harder They Come':
'Pink Flamingos':
George Orwell:
The Clash:
Marc Bolan:
David Bowie:
Cinema Strange:

Interview by Andi Jarrett: