The images used on this page are property of John Foxx ©metamatic.com and may not be copied, downloaded or reproduced without permission
I used to be a machine…
By the summer of 1981, two years since the future began, it stopped raining. Just when you thought everything was fixed, it turned into a liquid. You are at the end of the beginning.
The burning car has turned to stone, corroded metal slowly becoming dust and soil. See how Virginia creeper and ivy clings to the wall of that tower block in W10? And look, the blurred girl has become Ophelia in that boat, on a lake adrift somewhere in 1852.
The pseudo-cyberpunk they called “John Foxx” has dissolved a little and defrosted. He has become healthy and splendored, drifting free. A Florentine state in which he considers that he will one day accomplish something that the elect will deem most worthy, and which will join the dimmest with the brightest stars. It shall be revealed by scratching away the surface and pulling away the sheets.
The post-apocalyptic Europe into which Foxx has emerged is inhabited by poets and lovers, furnished with Renaissance paintings, technicolour patterns and swirly bits of intricate and intimate things, coloured by the sound of laughter and guitars, and populated with memories and decadence. There is more birdsong than engines. Green is the new grey, and there is a freshness of smell. More peppermint than petrol. It has always been there, growing, forming. ‘Happening’, if you will. There are layers in the cities, and tides. Strata of which a snapshot in time can only reveal the uppermost. Within and below, things grow, evolve, form and decay – time disappears, drifts, flickers and changes.
If you look carefully at 2010’s Metatronic in a mirror you will see traces of gold leaf and delicate filigree at the edges. Scratch gently at these as if restoring an important artwork, and faces will appear. You become aware that it is a book cover. Listen as you work and you will hear voices. Slowly separate the pages, exposing each surface. Brush off the dust and you will reveal the genetic history of a realm inhabited by the ghosts of what we now call ‘electricity’. They have lain down for years in the walls, among the stones, permeating the air with gentle sound. They live on water and sunshine, often balancing precariously over the edge of the world. Full of dreams and substances. Loving and dancing to mind-altering music with complex orchestration. Watching giant close-ups and flashback movies with no apparent structure.
Except that John Foxx’s quiet, subtle achievement is not a ‘thing’ at all, nor is it a particular moment. It is not ‘car crash music’ whether tailored by Burton’s or Savile Row, and neither does it lay ruined on a station somewhere in Kent. It is not clinical or minimal. It’s underneath all these things. It is ‘other’. It’s neither ‘here’ nor is it ‘now’, but ever present and without chronology. Heaven forbid, some of it has been described as ‘ecclesiastical disco music’. Nonsense, of course?
It is, well, it’s the man in the bowler hat and the quasi-kabuki make-up travelling by telephone, running across the car park having recognised the voice of Dennis Severs on the other end of the line. It’s long prosaic narratives and neo-romantic art. It’s tape loops, samples, and sunsets.
This is ‘metadelic’ (adj). The ‘other story’ :
“a sub-modern interpretation of a psychedelic hauntological retro-future…”
“I love motorways and I love technology and all the excitement that that implies. And I also like walking out onto the hills and getting lost that way as well. Two ways of getting lost.”
(Zivel magazine, February 2011)
John Foxx has described this style of his work as a sort of “Formal Anglo-European Psychedelic Electropunk”, explaining that it “emerged from European and British 1950’s trash pop, 60’s Psychedelia, Punk and from very early electronic music, before Acid and House and all the other genres developed.”
In his words what you’re hearing on Metadelic is actually “an alternative, parallel evolution using DNA which everyone else has since appropriated. The video would be made by Alain Resnais, David Lynch and Chris Cunningham.”
What you are also hearing, especially on Disc Two, is a gallery of portraits accumulated during the mid-1980s, many of which lay undiscovered for years. Live session recordings of beautifully structured, post-classical songs from that mysterious fourth album that present John Foxx at his most seductive and mesmerizing. Witness the quirky harmonics and delicate instrumentation on Twilight’s Last Gleaming, for example. These glittering fragments of a tangerine dream recur in the extended mixes of the high-profile singles, all of which exhibit intoxicating spirit and depth, hitherto condemned to a dusty shelf, confined within a format long-forgotten. Look closer, read just a little more. What’s that hanging in the air? Something is about to appear…
No-one else has ever done this kind of thing with such underplayed audacity before – a genuinely adroit fusion of experimentation, psychedelia and electronic dance music, beguiled and bewitching us with the subtle interplay of clipped, perfectly structured pop songs like A Kind Of Wave and Vapour Trails.
Good enough to avoid the charts.
Metadelic itself has taken many years to develop tangible form, for the timing, weather and its own perspectives to align. Its content and themes defy any kind of order or place, and yet have always been there, overlooked and understated through a career in music now spanning almost 40 years.
Through floors of apartments; through Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire; with the avant gardists in Orto Botanico; between Alexander Palace and il Duomo in Milan; then with the Dadaists and Surrealists through the forest primeval. Walking with Ballard, Burroughs and Blake. From Paris in 1923, to Christmas On Earth in 1967 when John Foxx and agent Gordon abandoned the automobiles and burst into Alexander Palace through the psychedelic haze of hippydom and plugged in the synths buried under the heaps of kaftans and three-button suits. Armed with a sound collector, they successfully gathered the echoes of an era and transduced them. Sideways through the audio-hedge that grew up between the 14-hour Festival, the Floyd, the Velvets and the Third Millennium.
Then back again to Shoreditch, London, England. Scribbled notebooks have become older – and then younger – irregular experimentation has become the norm, and dreams have become reality.
It doesn’t have to be loud of course, but they prefer it that way…
If you don’t look too closely in all these places, paying little attention to time and situation, you will see evidence of a John Foxx presence. A glance here, and a whisper there as he drifts by your window. A shadow, a sign. An angle, a line. You might hear the snapping of a dry leaf, or the squeak in a shoe. But search for clues, study the scenes and you will find nothing. Only in the corner of your eye, when you are momentarily distracted and looking backwards, will you see a man just passing through.
You cannot see The Quiet Man by looking… it is as if he has never been here before.
And by his side there’s always a shape. The tender touch of a peripheral character. The shadow of another’s hand. Dressed in wonder, ‘she’ will be at times an angel, at other times a loud, demonic thing. A melody, or a chord sequence. Smouldering, unbroken and lovely. Happy is he that might catch a glimpse of her among the verdant hours, and feel the brush of her garment against his arm.
And when she whispers “turn out the lights”, her voice is shaky and the words are without form.
“I want to see you.”
She may snap briefly into focus, when her eyes are suddenly full of a horse’s tears and she is drunk with fear. Around her, pillars collapse and disorder is prevalent. Donkey heads hang suspended over broken pianos. She moves quickly down the staircase, free from her suitors’ gaze. A sliver of cloud passes across the moon, and, as the TV chimes midnight, she descends into the lake. Luminous in the darkness. Familiar, and gone. More film sequences, edited with dream grammar and comics.
And through it all we stand beside him, among ferns and fields of grass, walking by rivers, pulling our ‘friends’ around us. Spinning and laughing as the factory skyline melts into the distant hills. Brilliant, and knowing. Instead of separating things, or stripping them apart, we should juxtapose them. Merge them. And as we drink, perhaps too much, from saucers brimming with mystery, we shall dance in the manner of weaponry and take off our clothes. Invisible lovers chroma keyed against a green screen.
Thus have John Foxx evenings passed for centuries since that first, detached chapter. Sailing on sunshine miles away, or sitting in an English garden waiting for new daylight to stream in through old windows. Painting, cutting, pasting (with glue and scissors) until the sun is warmer and the stars are brighter, lighting the moon and swelling the cascading coda of a breathable ocean.
Suppose we know too much for our talent to express?
Suppose Monet and Turner had no colour, only sounds?
Suppose we cannot follow you at all, into the tunnel, under the Spitalfields church?
Shall we instead send Ackroyd, or Longfellow?
Someone has to wait behind the door.
Sanctificetur nomen tuum
That is believing.
Sleevenotes translated from birdsong by Martin Smith, February 2013.