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DAMAGE MANUAL - Birmingham Foundry - 05 June 2000   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Punk. TSK. it's not as simple as that...

"Thank you for putting up with us, its difficult when you don't know any of the songs I know" , are the last words Martin Atkins (drums) says tonight. Playing a 15 song set comprised totally unheard, totally new material, (save one encore) and still doesn't include all their material - for the first ever gig Damage Manual are one of the most unholy noises ever heard to mankind. They simply have no right to be this damn good. Uncompromising, aggressive, noisy as fuck. A Barrage of sound emanating from the speakers with no concern for airplay, commercial restraints, or pop music. Aural images flit into mind when hearing the band, a pure wall of aggression from the rhythm section even before the wall of noise guitars come in.

Given the current resurgence in so-called "punk", Damage Manual comprise of musicians who have been making raw aggressive sound for longer than some of their new contemporaries have been alive. You'd really expect a band comprised of 40 year old session hacks to be mellow, chilled out, pub rock musicians. You'd be wrong. This band simply don't give a flying fuck for airplay. Comprised of five of the most influential musicians on the industrial and punk scene; Geordie Walker (killing Joke, Murder Inc), Chris Connelly (Finitribe, Ministry, Revolting Cocks), Martin Atkins (Pigface, Ministry. Nine Inch Nails, PiL) , Lee Fraser (Sheep On Drugs) and Jah Wobble (PiL), put together an unholy noisefest that is as challenging as it is uncompromising. If that is your aim, then it doesn't disappoint.

Chris Connelly - now shorthaired, RevCo tattoo on his arm, whose chronic heroin addiction has passed into near mythical status - is seemingly possessed. He's perfected the thousand yard stare into the void, looking through the back wall to the ugly world outside. I never thought a man in black trousers and white t-shirt could be so otherwordly, but that's where his eyes seem to live. Geordie riffs away on his guitar, eyes closed seemingly lost in a state of nirvana -but hearing the noises from hell that emanate from his speakers, the shrieking wall of feedback like Jesus and the Mary Chain meets Merzbow dispels that image. Jah Wobble looks like a bank manager in a suit, but bank managers never played the dub bassline to "public Image" or collaborated with the Orb and Brian Eno. Recent output from Jah Wobble seems to indicate an interest in dub and ambient, but this gig shatters that illusion. His head is still fixed in the confrontationalism that led him, when he worked for the London underground and resigned by stating over the PA to the passengers "Listen I used to be a popstar, and now all I do is watch you mindless fuckheads go to work everyday without questioning what you do or why , so fuck you all, I'm off" ; and for Pil to play behind a white screen for an entire gig in New York. Between them they conjure up an sound of overwhelming heaviosity. Martin Atkins' -creator behind the loose industrial collective Pigface - has applied the same collective idea to Damage Manual and brought in a contingent of musicians whose credentials and playing are established and - more significantly - obtuse and ones for artisitic rather than commercial reasons.

3/4s' of this band - Chris Connelly,Geordie and Martin Atkins - were the core of Murder Inc., and it is this band which Damage Manual most closely resemble in terms of atmosphere and tempo, a doomy, gloomy, oppressive sludgy noise. However, the blatant aggression of the band owe more the 90s' era Killing Joke ("Extremities,Dirt and Various Other repressed emotions "springs to mind.. in particular) and Pantera than Murder Inc. The aggressiveness is there, and the heaviness is there; admittably slower than most people would expect from the current scene of Fear Factory et al, and the keyboards from lee Fraser (ex-Sheep on Drugs) give a distinctly eerie underpinning to the bands overall sound, being more useful as an additional texture to the sound. The impression the keyboards give is a an
additional rhythm instrument under the bass rather than domineering the sound, being more similar in use to some to the trancey tracks Sheep On Drugs experimented with - like the outro to Suzy Q on "greatest Hits". However, Lee Fraser currently resembles Dexter Holland with his barnet than anyone else.

Highlights of the set...The opening "King Mob" is a maelstrom of sound, as is "Damage Addict". However "Blame and Demand" (with the refrain "the song is never finished") is a standout, as is "Top 10 severed". The set careers past in a whirlwind of sound and is left with almost too much to take in: an overall impression rather than individual songs is left, an experience whereby the novice listener is more likely to be pummelled by sound than whistling the tune on bus home. However the closing songs leave the most impression - "Expand/Careering" is astounding, and then the cover of PiL's "Poptunes" is as unexpected as it is welcome. Very few bands do 4 song encores, especially when they have solely new material to offer, but Damage Manual continue on with new material. "Stateless" is one of the most overbearing yet fastest songs of the night, and probably the highlight of the show.

Damage Manual may never sell millions of records, may never get in the top 40, may never voted one of the Top 50 albums of the year in Q magazine. They might get one page in Q as a band to look out for due to Jah Wobble and then they'll be ignored for another Oasis/ Radiohead /Chemical Brothers /Generic Indie flavour of the month band that sells papers for the front cover rather than being based on artistic merit. But of course, what sells records, what is commercially valid and what is artistically valid are rarely the same thing. Damage Manual evoke an emotional response from the listener - hate, love, curiosity maybe - which is the ultimate purpose of music. To challenge what you know, maybe to show that art doesn't have to be safe, doesn't have to conform to commercial expectations. It might be an unholy noise, it might be ugly, it might be whatever you read into it - but as long as they keep on challenging peoples expectations, as long as they keep on ploughing through the realms of making music that they want to make with no concern to commercial or critical expectations, they Damage manual will be doing it for the right reasons. And they will ultimately more vital, more challenging, more contemporary than anyone of the thousands of derivative Green Day copy bands like Blink 182, who provide a pleasant noise to the Happy Shopper: which is far far less than Damage Manual have to offer, which a thorn in the side of commercial acceptance to make the music they want to make, whether you - or anyone else - likes it or not.



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