In Rip It Up and Start Again, Simon Reynolds' masterful chronicle of the post-punk years, Virgin Prunes singer Gavin Friday recounts how he once staged an art exhibition at a Dublin gallery which involved a replica vagina made of raw meat surrounded by fresh turds, and turned up the heating "until the smell was outrageous." It's almost ironic then that the iconoclastic music of Virgin Prunes and their contemporaries north and south of the Irish border should now be preserved almost as a museum piece itself. Strange Passion: Explorations In Irish Post-Punk, DIY and Electronic Music 1980-1983 comes complete with encyclopaedic liner notes via Cache Cache, an offshoot label of archivist imprint Finders Keepers, seemingly intended to get historians rubbing their hands with glee rather than choking back vomit.
Although the British and American movements of the time have been exhaustively dissected, Ireland's scene during the same era has remained largely overlooked—the focus always more on bands like U2 and My Bloody Valentine who found fame in later years. It does, however, seem that some of these bands were studying their counterparts across the Irish Sea as studiously then as musical scholars do today—the dubby bass and Lydoneseque sneers of The Threat's "High Cost Of Living" could have come off PiL's Metal Box and you'd wager that Chant! Chant! Chant! owned at least one Clash record between them.
Meanwhile, others were casting their eyes over the Atlantic instead. Whereas Irish emigrants had taken traditional folk with them to New York centuries before, bands like Dogmatic Element and Major Thinkers were influenced by that city's fresh musical exports—The Velvet Underground's jangle on the former's "Just Friends," while on "Avenue B" the latter mainline the proto-punk-funk of bands like ESG that would subsequently energise Factory artists like Section 25.
However, interesting as those artefacts are, it's the "electronic music" aspect of Strange Passion that's most fascinating. Many of the lyrics here subscribe to punk's "no future" mentality, but the synths on Tripper Humane's "Discoland" are years ahead of their time; a missing link between Suicide, DFA and even early Phuture-style acid house. This crossbreeding between punk's earthiness and electronic music's extra-terrestrial escapism is perhaps best exemplified by Stano's "Town," which sounds like The Stranglers' spittle-flecked "Peaches" being sucked up into Giorgio Moroder's spaceship. For where bands like Clannad were churning out pastoral clichés of the Emerald Isle, experimentalists like PH were turning the drab grey of council estates in Dublin or Derry into avant-garde kaleidoscopes.
Tracklist: Various Artists - Strange Passion Explorations... 01. Dogmatic Element - Just Friends
02. The Threat - High Cost Of Living
03. Chant! Chant! Chant! - Play Safe
04. Virgin Prunes - Twenty Tens (I've Been Smoking All Night Long)
05. Operating Theatre - Austrian
06. Stano - Town
07. The Peridots - No Water
08. Choice - Always In Danger
09. PH - Last Days
10. Major Thinkers - Avenue B
11. SM Corporation - Accentuate
12. SM Corporation - Fire From Above
13. Tripper Humane - Discoland
14. Operating Theatre - Eighties Rampwalk