Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Test Dept

Next up in the roll call of great South East London bands is Test Dept. To quote from Deptford Fun City: 'Test Department were formed in 1981 from a group of people living at 8 Nettleton Road [New Cross]. They broke new ground with their ‘metal bashing’ industrial sound, using scrap metal for percussion. Their support for the Miners' Strike is documented in their 1984 LP, ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’, recorded with the South Wales Striking Miners Choir'.

In his book 'Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth Century Music' (Cassell, 1995), John Gill describes the experience of an early Test Dept performance:

"One sunny Saturday afternoon early in the 1980s, a colleague and I found ourselves wandering the streets of south of Blackfriars Bridge, on a caper that was straight out of Thomas Pynchon. A band who had given us a tape of their music, crashing industrial gamelan music battered out of steel springs, oil drums, sheets of metal, vast tanks, drills and buzzsaws, had invited us to one of their performances. The precise address of the concert had to be kept secret. They hired industrial premises – railway arches, warehouses, industrial depots – under the guise of anonymous charities… We were told to keep an eye out for their initials – TD, for Test Dept, a collective from New Cross in South London…

It was probably the only concert I’ve attended where I wondered if I was going to die. Test Dept were (and remain) stunning, breathtakingly noisy and quite terrifying… As they drummed up metal thunder on an adventure playground’s worth of industrial detritus, violent electronic noise was bled into the mix and grainy Russian revolutionary films were projected on to band and stage… The smell of oil was everywhere, and when they began applying cutting machinery to their instruments, producing volcanic spurts of sparks 20 feet across, people stubbed out cigarettes and backed towards the door". At a similar event nearby some time later, Test Dept were arrested before starting.

I saw Test Dept much later, at the last big night at Brixton squat venue Cool Tan in 1995.

Watch Test Dept - Compulsion (1984) at YouTube

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