When I was at University things were easy. I did music, but more than that I specialised in performance which meant much of my week was given over to practise. Technically that is, because in reality almost all my week was given over to sitting in bars, playing football, going in the students union, going record shopping/clubbing in Manchester or Leeds (a train ride away from Huddersfield, where I ‘attended’), watching bands, sitting in Jacks Cafe, in fact pretty much anything other than practising.
Now and then though, I did have to write an essay. One of my teachers while I was doing A-level music said (or maybe I read it in a book, I forget now) ‘Mendelssohn just wanted to be Mendelssohn’ when talking about the Romantic German composer. I liked it so much, I included it in my a-level essay (randomly on his French contemporary Hector Berlioz, but still) and, encouraged by the result (an a, but don’t get excited, it was the only thing I was any good at apart from Art, and I wasn’t allowed to do both) I set about including it in every essay I wrote at University, a mammoth 5 essays over 3 years,but not so easy when one of them was on European avant-garde composers since 1945, but nevertheless, manageable.
The reason I mention that is because over in Sheffield there was a lot of music being created at the end of the 1970’s and beginning of the 1980’s, most of it electronic based. And while some wanted to be like Roxy Music, and some wanted to be like Cabaret Voltaire/Joy Division, it seems to me that (hald my hand and we can make this leap of literary faith together) ‘Clock DVA just wanted to be Clock DVA.’
Formed by Adolphus “Adi” Newton and Steven “Judd” Turner in 1978 out of the bones of both The Studs, which had included members of Cabaret Voltaire, and The Future which included Martin Ware and Ian Craig Marsh who went on to form The Human League. Like their Sheffield contemporaries Heaven 17, they showed a healthy obsession with the film A CLockwork Orange, and its fantastic soundtrack by Wendy (Walter) Carlos, which influenced many people around the time of its release with its primitive electronic soundtrack. Whereas Heaven 17 nabbed the name of the fictitious band in the film, Newton and Judd named themselves after the mock Russian that was spoken by the characters, Dva being Russian for two.
Beginning by making experimental music with tape loops and electronic sounds, and their first release was ‘brigade’ on Sheffield compilation EP ‘1980: The First Fifteen Minutes’, which also included tracks from Vice Versa, I’m so hollow and The Stunt Kites. Their brooding almost goth/industrial track is the stand out song on the ep, and the band went on to sign for legendary industrial/experimental band Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial label. The result of this was a cassette only album, White souls in Black Suits which again showed development down the road of an electronic/industrial sound. DAve McCulloch of Sounds described it as:
1980 Northern Industrial Soul
ClockDVA release their first official album WHITE SOULS IN BLACK SUITS via an invitation from Throbbing Gristle to be released on their Industrial Records label as a cassette release only. The album itself is a raw pre-amble prior to the Formation of Thirst. Taken from fifteen hours of improvisational sessions a five member version of DVA recorded the sessions via a mobile recording unit. The album was mixed and produced at Cabaret Voltaires Western Works studio. The album includes a tape chance montage sequence in collaboration with Chris Watson.Richard H Kirk and Stephen Mallider & Chris Watson. Engineered and co-produced in collaboration with DVA.
A move to fetish records led to more tangible success in the shape of their next album, Thirst, which knocked Adam and the Ants off the top of the NME Indie charts. The band had become more experimental in their use of tapes and electronics again, in conjunction with more traditional band instrumentation. Paul Morley in the NME gushed ‘Thirst is the first brilliant LP of 1981 and one of the great records of the ’80s’. All was not well in the band though, and they split the same year – the other band members not sharing Newtons vision of willful experimentation. It also coincided with the death of co-founder Stephen Turner from a heroin overdose. The re-released versions of the White Souls In Black Suits album, along with the ‘Passions Still Aflame’ 12″, are dedicated to the memory of “Judd” Turner. A later song, “The Voice That Speaks From Within,” contains a reference to the circumstances of Turner’s death.
[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMU_qRf_5Ts] Clock DVA – Blue Tone, from Thirst
Two years later, after a couple of singles under the name DVA an album (Advantage) appeared under the more familiar moniker, possibly surprisingly on the Polydor label A group had been reconvened by Adi Newton, but after a European Tour, they split once again. This possibly cost the group in their subsequent forms as clearly they’d been dropped by Polydor, and any other major label would be loath to touch them, especially as they didn’t seem able to stay together.
Indeterred, 1987 saw the group back with Newton at the head of it, with Dean Dennis and Paul Browse (later replaced by R.E. Baker) and an album was released two years later, Buried Dreams. This probably saw the group at the height of their creative powers, producing a largely electronic album, cited by many as an influential work. If this had been the album on the major label, maybe Clock DVA wouldn’t be the largely forgotten band they are today. But then, there are millions of bands you could say that about, aren’t there?
Two further electronic albums followed – Man-amplified (1991) and the instrumental Digital Soundtracks a tear later. Dean Dennis then left, leaving Newton and Baker to carry on as a duo (at least creatively) and produce 1993’s Sign. The band continued to play live into 1994, but all was quiet from that point onwards right up until Newton again resurrected Clock DVA (along with his creative partner Jane Radion Newton) in 2008 and, for the first time since 1994, performed live in June 2011 at Wave-Gotik-Treffen festival in Germany.
Into 2013, and there were plans by Mute records for a box set, although Vinyl on Demand produced a 6LP set with a book (the first three albums plus outtakes and unreleased stuff) last year, and Clock DVA continue to defy genres and listeners alike, influence people and artists and make (or made) uncompromising music that is still fondly thought of.
I don’t know, but I’d like to think Mendelssohn would have approved.