UNIT – Musik as Globale Waffe / Untied and United Volume 2

http://www.unit-united.co.uk http://www.activedistributionshop.org/shop/9-compact-disc?p=7

There’s this band from London, called UNIT. UNIT sent me 6 LPs, some of them double ones, to review. The lad who sent them said some of them were shit, which is honest if nothing else. Six CDs at one sitting is a lot, rather than do a huge piece I thought I’d pick out two at random, and see where we got. I like UNIT, I enjoyed their stuff on the tremendous Godspunk compilations on Pumf records, even though they have “problems” in stopping and starting (or once started, keeping) together, and even though sometimes their music - is well, just hare-brained…*

Musik as Globale Waffe is kicked off with In All Honesty; a vibraphone –led, disorganised charge of considerable charm and a cod-Scottish rant of sorts.  Perrier Road is a pretty dreadful blues parody about the middle class and Matthew Leonard Goes to Hackney is a charming instrumental given that little bit extra by the vibraphone. Under all the shambolic and confrontational nature of UNIT, there’s a pop band crying out to be heard. It’s almost like something off Postcard. The band is pretty great at bedroom laments – it’s their staple wellspring, really. On tracks like Checkmate or No More Heart Aches, imagine a very unholy mix of Marc Almond, John Shuttleworth and the most underpowered organ-based pop imaginable, a two watt Seeds or Inspirals. They’re also pretty funny, Employment Enjoyment and Popular Capitalism are as sharp as you can get whilst still sounding like the band have never met let alone played together before.

Before you think everything is grooving along nicely there are things like Die Tränen Meiner Brüder (the tears of my brother), Krieg Den Gegen Terror and Music of the Spheres, (these tracks clock up 45 miserable, confused and discordant minutes between them) and the “progressive rock with bagpipes” (their words not mine) of The Phoenix to throw a spanner in the works.


The other LP from UNIT that has been pressed into service for this review is called Untied and United. This LP is a collection of Scottish folk song covers that have to be heard to be believed. We get classics such as Sunday Double Time, Aberdeen Beach and the Works Outing pulled to pieces and then wrongly rearranged in a manner that is breath taking in its incompetence. Some of the worst attempts to imitate Scottish outside of some 1950s New Year’s Eve parodies are in evidence, too.  Quite what is done to the Works Outing beggars belief. And about time. This is possibly the most enjoyable folk LP outside of the Lief and Liège, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter or The Pentangle. What makes it truly great is that this is not a pisstake, it’s the best they can do and they really bloody go for it (The Weekend Song is proof of that).

After the folk, we get four covers from the obscure post punk band Five or Six, which are nice, straightforward, and (outside of Rushes) pretty soothing after what went before.  Just so things don’t get too grooving we have a full session from Resonance FM that somehow manages to dispel any notion of a pleasant ending, though Dance of the Drunken Weasel is pretty great.
I’m not sure I can recommend UNIT; really, it’s going to be you on your own for this band. But, suffice to say, I play them a lot.

*We don’t often do this but we thought this merited your attention as to who UNIT are.

UNIT is currently a trio of musicians, artists and film makers who consist of Luc Tran (that’s me), U-J and Andy Martin. We’ve just released our 13th CD but the spine on it says it’s our 10th album. No, I haven’t quite sussed that out yet either. I don’t like all the music we’ve done – but I can’t think of a single track that isn’t interesting or unusual.

The first phase of our career saw Lawrence Burton, Nathan Coles and Peter Williams join forces with Andy Martin and Dave Fanning, both of whom had previously been in an unsuccessful performance art group called The Apostles in the 1980s. The intention was not only to venture into the avant garde territory that Andy and Dave had investigated during the early years of the 1990s but also to record again, properly and with professional production values, nearly all the works previously committed to old fashioned vinyl by The Apostles. However, much of the decade was spent producing Smile magazine with music definitely taking a subservient role at this time.

From 1994 to 1997, UNIT released their records under the name Academy 23 to avoid confusion with a fairly successful German avant garde group who were also called UNIT. This outfit disbanded early in 1997 so we reverted to our original name with the 7″ EP Richard Dawkins Is Together With Us. After 2000, we elected to concentrate mainly on writing, performing and recording new music in as many different styles and genres as we could manage, given the technical limitations of certain group members. Our only tenuous link with the previous format of the group (and The Apostles before that) was our deliberate hostility toward capitalism and the commercial music industry and our support for Class War, the paper and the idea.

Most people understandably think of UNIT as ‘that group with all the Chinese lads in it’ but this only applies to the second phase of our career which commenced in 1999 when Ngo Achoi, Lang Kin Tung and Gieng San Man joined Andy Martin and Dave Fanning to form what was really a new group. It is this group with which most people are familiar, thanks to the tireless promotion and distribution of our work undertaken first by Achoi and then by U-J, who set up our e-mail account and website. When ‘Sons Of The Dragon’ was released it heralded our intention to put Chinese people on the independent music map. We wanted to prove to the world there was more to us than cooking and kung fu. Rap music had Jin Au Yeung in America and LMF in Hong Kong but in the sphere of pop music, the avant garde and punk rock, the demographic remained resolutely white…so we decided to change all that, despite the open hostility directed at us by certain people in the UK such as Fracture, Idwal Fissure and Head Wound who clearly didn’t want a bunch of Chinkies spoiling their scene.

Two other group members deserve a shout out: Chinese guitarist and vocalist Garlen Lo and Vietnamese saxophonist Thanh Trung Nguyen. Garlen stayed for just over a year but left the group because he wanted to play only twee little pop songs – nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not what we’re about. Trung, like Garlen, comes from a wealthy background and so, also like Garlen, found our struggle to save up enough money to pay for studio time and release CDs, inexplicable and strange. His musical origins are in jazz, especially the big band jazz of the 1930s – very odd for a 16 year old! He managed to stay with us long enough to appear on all four Rock In Opposition albums and he played at most of our prestigious concerts in 2006 and 2007 but his parents objected to him being in a pop group and they most definitely objected to Andy (many people do) so by the end of 2007 we became a trio.

If it had not been for Hackney Chinese Youth Club in Ellingfort Road (which, sadly, closed in 2006), UNIT would not exist, at least not in its present state. That was where I met U-J and Andy and that was how I came to join UNIT as a drummer and keyboard player. Garlen Lo is in fact the only member of UNIT who doesn’t originate from HCYC. The famous Birmingham poet Andy Nunn introduced us to the Kill Your Pet Puppy chat room. Through that I discovered the history behind the UK punk scene and I learned about the whole Crass / Class War divide, the miners strike, Margaret Thatcher, Greenham Common, the Poll Tax riots and all the rest of it. To think there was a time when people my age used to go on demonstrations and start riots when the government gave us shabby treatment. Now we just turn on our laptops, plug in our I-pods and download another programme to keep us amused.
Luc 2008