What does it sound like?:
Section 25 might be the best band you’ve heard of, but never heard. For a long time S25 were criminally ignored, or at best unfairly written off as a 4th Division Factory Act, forever to be lower down the bill to higher profile friends Joy Division, ACR and The Durutti Column. Lately they now seem to be getting a lot more recognition and have even been sampled by Kanye West.
This sumptuous 5LP box set from Factory Benelux at first glance appears to be a Super Deluxe edition of their debut ‘Always Now’ but in fact comprises a whole load more – also in the box are the follow-up album ‘The Key of Dreams’, a collection of contemporary singles and b-sides, a live album and the impossible to find 1982 cassette-only release ‘Illuminous Illuminae’. These are all on coloured vinyl (of course) and you get a nice booklet of images and quotes. The sleeve artwork is gorgeous – some of Peter Saville’s best work was with these and everything looks suitably arty and intriguing.
‘Always Now’ suffered at the time somewhat for the misfortune of being recorded and released pretty much at the same time as PiL’s ‘Metal Box’ and having a track called ‘Dirty Disco’. Both bands, by chance. explore similar territory – insistent rhythms, thundering low-end bass and amorphous guitar parts. The most PiL like track here is the serrated, relentless ‘Knew Noise’. The record now stands quite clearly apart, and is rightly heralded as a post-punk classic and one of the best Factory Records. It has aged incredibly well. Larry Cassidy’s voice may put some off, and resembles more closely the blank, chilling sound of Genesis P.Orridge, but the combination of his half-buried vocal, the propulsive rhythms and the insistent bass is exhilarating. Martin Hannett is on production but stamps his signature far less than he did on ‘Unknown Pleasures’ and you get a sense of him being more integrated into the band (he plays on some of the tracks) rather than trying to mould the raw material into something else entirely. I think he liked the musicians a lot more than the ones in Joy Division (Ian Curtis excepted).
If you’re familiar with the debut, the rest of this set is a revelation. ‘The Key of Dreams’ was released quite soon after the debut (on Factory’s Belgian offshoot which seems to be the home of all the stuff Tony Wilson wasn’t entirely sold on such as Crispy Ambulance). S25 were at heart, an improv band and the songs here are less ‘song based’ but in fact this record surpasses the debut and is quite astonishing. If you do nothing else go and give the standalone version a spin on Spotify. ‘Visitation’ is a magnificent slab of Krautrock, with quietly billowing guitar in the background. This sort of semi-improvised psychedelic weirdness would have been very unfashionable in 1982 but sounds magnificent now. ‘Regions’ adds tinkling piano and almost jazzy, bucolic sax to a languid dub bass. ‘Once Before’ predates post-rock bands like Bark Psychosis and Disco Inferno. The startling, tribal ‘There was a Time’ beats This Heat at their own game. The 15 minute, synth drone led ‘Sutra’ closes out the album in mesmerising style – we’re a 1,000 light years away from ‘Joy Division Copyists’ here.
The singles disc gathers together several non-album singles from 1980 and 1981. Here you’re more in the expected post punk territory, the stand out tracks here being the scything ‘Girls Don’t Count’ (produced by Ian Curtis and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton) and ‘Charnel Ground’ which is stunning. What is striking is you can imagine an alternative universe where Ian Curtis grew up in Blackpool and this was his band- a lot of the music here is on a par with Joy Division at their most visceral.
The live album captures the band live in the Netherlands in 1980 in front of a typically modest sized crowd. It’s a good quality recording, albeit marred by the vocals being too high in the mix at times but you get to hear the band take flight.
‘Illuminous Illuminae’ comprises tracks from an obscure self-released cassette so this is a looser, more trippy companion to ‘Key of Dreams’. More exploratory, motorik music completely out of sorts with the era it was recorded in which makes more sense listening back today .It ends with a sprawling live ‘jam’ with New Order recorded at a gig in 1981 which is interesting, albeit not particularly enjoyable listening (New Order audibly struggling to improvise) but might hook a few more unsuspecting listeners in.
What does it all *mean*?
Section 25 are basically Can, relocated to the drizzle and rusty fairground rides of early 80s Blackpool. Several times across this fascinating set of recordings S25 hit upon a colossal, metronomic groove that will take your breath away, add in the proto-shoegaze guitar of the unsung Paul Wiggin and you have a heady brew indeed. This music isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve read this far much a good chunk of the contents this box set is on Spotify so give it a spin.
In spite of numerous setbacks, not least the untimely death of members Larry Cassidy and Jenny Ross the band have morphed into a sprightly electro-rock combo fronted by Larry and Jenny’s daughter Bethany who are keeping the rhythm alive to this day and well worth catching live.
Always Now is available from Factory Benelux direct or via Burning Shed mail order.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Can, PiL