- Written by Cindy War Arrow
[reproduced from "The Sound Projector2" with permission]
The Horror and Mundanity of WE BE ECHO
By Cindy War Arrow
Someone once remarked to me that they considered 'Industrial' music to be evil. Not through any religious motivation, but rather from the tendency of artists tarnished with that brush to concentrate on the morbid. I disagreed then as I do now with such a subjective judgement. A soundtrack of relentlessly oppressive noise kept me sane during my teenage years spent in small-town, redneck, chicken-shagging England. 'Industrial'? Who comes up with these spurious categorisations?
For the sake of clarification, 'Industrial' as a generalisation is commonly applied to that part of the experimental 'scene' (man) which sprung fully-formed from the wake of Throbbing Gristle at the end of the 1970s. Cabaret Voltaire and 23 Skidoo are amongst those who achieved wide recognition, but there were loads of the buggers, holed up in broom cupboards across the country, churning out cassettes or records of occasionally dreary but often innovative and exciting music. Dave Henderson, writing for Sounds music paper, attempted to cover this phenomenon in his 'Wild Planet' columns, which ultimately served to show that whatever this was, it wasn't a scene. There was no coherent 'Industrial' sound. All that unified the individuals concerned was their diversity, and only a fool could've attempted to shoehorn them into any teen fad of the day. One common factor however seemed to be a certain sense of nihilism, also present I'd argue in any half-decent punque roque ditty of the time, which separated this wave from its immediate musical - if not conceptual - forefathers: Faust, Can, Neu!, and those other crazy hairy dudes. And by the way, is it just me or are Stereolab, much as I love them, really just the Showaddywaddy of the 90s? 'Yes', I hear you cry in unison,'but who de fuck are We Be Echo?' I'll get to the point.
Kevin Thorne (KT) and Raye Calouri (RC, named as Raymond Georgeson on credits) are names known to any industrial trainspotter worth his (or her, but probably his) salt, conversant with catalogue numbers and playing times of obscure import singles by 'Swedish Nature' (for pedantic example). KT [is] mentioned on the cover of Throbbing Gristle's Heathen Earth album (which is like, a classic, dude) as members of the specially invited audience present at the recording. Duly inspired, the duo paired up to record and perform as Third Door From The Left (TDFTL) [this is not accurate - click here for the actual story], staying together for a little over a year [?], after which Kevin went solo as We Be Echo. The differences between these two groups are negligible, so I'll discuss them simply as components of a single body of work. The combined influences of Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and to an extent Joy Division are apparent to greater or lesser degrees throughout Kevin Thorne's criminally obscure musical career, which apparently was used as a negative criticism in fanzines of the day. What such reviewers overlook is that a lot else was going on in there as well.
The sleeve notes penned by Iham (of Nanavesh mag, fact fans) for the special edition Cesa Evi cassette mention Kevin's frustration at his own limitations, and this is understandable given the modest recording set-up at his disposal. Youngsters today (who, by the way, don't know they're born) may moan about the poor bass response of their 8-tracks or their sampler's inability to store more than half an hour of sound! We Be Echo recorded most of their output on a Sharp Music Centre ! As part of his diminutive sonic arsenal, Kevin held a few cheap synths and cranky old drum machines of the kind which certain people will now pay thousands of pounds for, having spent ten years taking the piss out of you for hanging onto 'that antique'. Add a few bog-standard effects pedals and a rickety guitar and one might, with good reason, suspect this to be a recipe for prolonged and uninteresting listening. Not at all. In spite of such an impoverished range of tools and by the intervention of a remarkable instinct for inventiveness, We Be Echo produced a small but daunting catalogue of work of consistently high quality. Tracks such as 'Under Attack' and 'Witches Burn' still scare the living shit out of me ten years on, in a way that Ministry (to name one of many groups of contemporary comedians dubbed 'Industrial' by clueless whippersnappers) never could.
Kevin's work fell into three distinct phases, the first of which is represented by the two cassettes issued by Third Door From The Left. The music here is largely driven by drum machine, with guitar, bass, synthesizer and tapes of found noise or speech contributing to a quite overwhelming sound, undiminished in its disturbing impact by its extremely poor quality (sounding like it was mastered on one of those cassettes available in packs of 20 for a quid at car boot sales). The mumbled monotone delivered by Raye Calouri in lieu of actual vocals should have elevated TDFTL to legendary status. There was nothing half-assed about this group. Even the lyrics (in particular 'Tear Out My Heart' and 'It's Not Us') work as poetry in their own right, unlike that tedious toss churned out by yer average rock star. John Lennon is but one of many names that spring to mind here. Songs, fine. Poetry, my fucking ringpiece! Oh, while I'm on the subject...can we all please stop banging on about The Beatles now? It's getting boring. TDFTL succeeded in producing truly dark Gothic music, with great innovation and none of the laughable pantomime which one justifiably associates with that term.
Phase Two: working solo as We Be Echo, Kevin began to reach a larger audience, relatively speaking (I'm unaware of any appearance he may have made in the top ten). His cassettes sold probably a few hundred, rather than in tens; he made it onto vinyl; received fleeting recognition in national music papers; and was played on college radio stations as far afield as America and New Zealand. His distinctive graphic design work graced a number of record sleeves, notably [several] by Chris and Cosey; at one point he was chalked in to play bass with them, though sadly this never came about. We Be Echo, as represented on the bed-wettingly fine Cesa Evi cassette, were a musical refinement of the organised chaos of TDFTL. The rhythm programming shows an increased complexity, lending tension to the bass and keyboard components. In place of vocals there are deftly-manipulated speech recordings, providing a thematically provocative narrative to the tracks. Speech and sounds are juxtaposed, edited and repeated, in or out of context, to great effect. Many others have tried similar things (often with access to superior equipment) but few succeed so well as We Be Echo. Perhaps being forced to work that little bit harder, given the austerity of Kevin's 'studio', produced something far greater than the sum of its parts. Much of Kevin's work from this period, owing largely to a refined use of speech tapes, has a documentary nature; as though the music itself is providing evidence of some event, without comment, or even human intervention. Tracks such as 'Survivalist', 'Sex Slaves', and 'I'm a Gambler' (not, I must stress, to be confused with Madonna's hit single) are good examples of this. The music races on, heavy with implied emotional undercurrents, whilst the vocal track meanders casually onwards, curiously blending the horror and mundanity of the narrative into an ultimately dispassionate dialogue.
The final phase of Kevin's musical output began in 1984, when [he brought in a vocalist]. Happily the Linda MacCartney effect is not too much in evidence here (though I do have problems with the theory that Linda had a detrimental effect upon Paul's songwriting, which was quite frankly shite at the best of times, with or without the influence of her indoors). With the emphasis now on vocals, the music was stripped down to little more than basic rhythm and sequencer patterns, with a few atmospheric effects thrown in for good measure. Personally I find this period the least interesting of Kevin's career. The music, even taking into account its increased minimalism, somehow seems less finished, less carefully considered than before. [The vocals are] not always up to the requirements of the tracks. Having said that, this line up thankfully avoided pursuing the obvious course of becoming a verse-chorus orientated pop synth type thang and some of the work, 'Housewife's Choice' or the especially beautiful 'Witches Burn' for example, still stand up as masterpieces to this day.
Despite a slow but steady increase of interest in We Be Echo, Kevin threw in the musical towel in late 1986. Was he disillusioned with his own limitations, the lack of support for the musically esoteric, who knows? I was personally saddened, having become irritated by the vast wealth of piss-poor derivative crap flooding the experimental cassette scene. We Be Echo were one of the few name bands who could be relied on to provide consistently worthwhile listening. Before concluding I wish to stress that I anticipate criticism for this article along the usual lines, ie some tosser banging on about a band no-one's ever heard of and probably didn't even exist, in a vain attempt to demonstrate superiority through obscurity. Please don't bother. I'm long past the stage of apologising for my listening proclivities, whether esoteric (Morris Dolby and the Bouncy Lobster Band, anyone?) or otherwise (Iron Maiden - cos they ROCK, dude!) and by the fiery staff of Huitzilopochtli I declare We Be Echo were an important band. It grieves me that a combo of such high calibre floundered and petered out without so much as a whimper, considering the unconditional praise squirted towards any old wanker with a sampler and a Tortoise T-shirt by Melody Maker - toilet paper with delusions of grandeur that has on more than one occasion proclaimed itself to be our chief proponent of the avant-garde ... er ... run that one by me again?
I'm not going to proclaim We Be Echo as the saviours of the human race, but if you have an inquiring mind and a discriminating ear they are worthy of your attention. In particular the quality and sophistication of this music, recorded as I have said on a Sharp Music centre with very little equipment, is a fine illustration of what effort and invention can produce. The number of bands today with a vast NASA-style studio set up is alarming, and in spite of all this wonderful technology there's so little new music one could truly call inspired. To be frank most of it's a load of poop, produced by people not worthy of stirring Kevin Thorne's tea.
Reprinted from "the soundprojector" and commented where inaccurate.