23 Skidoo: Urban Wastelands

THE THOUGHT was: as a concise introduction into the idea of 23 Skidoo I would write a short piece about Fritz Hamaan.

Around about 1979/1980 Fritz used to work in the Honky Tonk record shop which was situated in the Kentish Town Road. I occasionally hung out there and we were on nodding/hello-how’s-it-going terms. Fritz intrigued me, he’d say very very little but there was an aura and intrigue around him that attracted a small crowd of admirers. Of course, Fritz went on to form 23 Skidoo, their music being a surprisingly obvious extention of his personality. Subliminal to say the least.

The actuality is; Fritz Hamaan has left the band to live and work in Egypt. 23 Skidoo’s music is now reaching sublime peaks of open-ness.

Alex: “It was fitting that he left, he was the last of the founder members.”

Hello world. Hello 23 Skidoo.

The first part of my conversation with two members of Skidoo, Alex Lim and Sketch, takes place around a white metal patio table in the garden of Alex’s house. The first two floors of this old, large, Islington sub-mansion are owned by himself and his brother Johnny.

Alex is affable, well-spoken, obviously well educated with an inner confidence and natural command that may or may not be a result of the security of an upper-middle class upbringing. Sketch is more ‘everyday’.

We drink herb-tinted tea, smoke and talk out ideas and ideals, why’s and why not’s.

The musical accompaniment is from a tape of (real) Gamelan music.

The second part of this conversation is held sitting on the basement floor. Alex has converted this section of the house into a medium sized gymnasium with bags suspended from the ceiling to be kicked and punched. It is here that he and Johnny practice a combination of Tai Chi, Wing Chung and Modern Combat System. Something that they have been doing for three years. In one corner there is a desk and a drawing board scattered with papers. In another, a powerful stereo unit.

We talk, idle chatter.

The musical accompaniment is from a record of heavy electro-funk.

Remark: The latest 23 Skidoo LP, Urban Gametan, is a mixture of old and new; a continuation of their semi-vague search in the mind centre of esoteric subconciousness, crossed severely with two slices of overtly hot dance activation.

When we talk about the old we must take into account a heritage of Skidoo records/attitudes from ‘Ethics’ onwards…and…

…THE MYSTERY…

Alex: “All the people that meet us say, ‘I’m quite surprised that you’re really quite friendly.’ It’s the way we’ve projected ourselves in the past, they think we’re going to be strange, totally incomprehensible and unapproachable.”

…THE SECOND SIDE OF THE URBAN GAMELAN RECORD…

Alex: “Gamelan music comes from Indonesia which is Java, Sumatra and Bali. The original instruments are all made from pure gold – we modify by using bits of old metal. However we’re passed the idea of using metal as other groups use it – as a trademark. We started off at the point where many bands are finding themselves now – in a total freak out. We worked ourselves into a frenzy, except where we used drums they use metal. We could have gone on smashing things around indefinitely, but we actually took something like Gamelan – the rhythm, not the pretty sounds – and worked it into a soundtrack of city life. The noises are harsh, abrasive and continuous. The tracks are spliced bang into each other, relentlessly. The idea of using metal gives it that feel – Urban noise. To a large extent we’re finished with all anyway.”

Remark: It seems a trifle incongruous for us to be talking about rusty reflections of urban existence whilst sitting amongst the ramblings of a very English (in the old sense) suburbia. We are deep in this bunker. I sense a little bit of fakery, enough to realise that 23 Skidoo will not make great artists. This they know.

So, onwards to the bold-heart statements of ‘Coup’, ‘Language’, and ‘G.I.’, in order to appreciate the new we will take into reckoning…

Sketch: “Yeah, I’ve found myself a long way from Linx, the further the better actually. The music was OK but the subsequent direction wasn’t my way. At first the music was trivial but it still meant ‘a bit’, but by the third LP the songs were just product – no spontaneity.”

Remark: Sketch has joined 23 Skidoo because they are an enthusiastic, honest, musical unit. Although their ideas are becoming understandable, the meaning has not turned soft.

Alex: “The name 23 Skidoo comes from chapter 23 of The Book Of Lies by Alaister Crowley. I used to read a lot of his stuff, but on re-reading, well, I think that he smoked too much black. You can see this man who was a total heroin addict preaching about strength of will…”

…THE INDEPENDENT WASTELAND…

Alex: “It doesn’t serve any purpose. Playing to the same people all the time – it’s no challenge in any way.”

…THE INDUSTRY…

Alex: “We never haven’t been a part of the music biz in that we’ve always been aware of where we stand, and in that respect we’ve played along with it although at the same time we’ve tried to avoid it.

“The music biz allows for the existence of variables which no one knows about, we probably saw ourselves as one of those. The industry throws certain things up which it can’t account for on its own but which are very necessary to its existence.”

…A LANGUAGE, CLEARER…

Alex: “‘Coup’ and ‘Language’ weren’t conscious grabs at any market although I can see that they were presented in a certain way to get ideas over more affectively. It’s a dodgy fine line to walk along.

“The up and coming 12″ ‘Ooze’ is sweeter. It will be played on Radio One.”

Question: It will be perverse to hear 23 Skidoo on Radio One?

Alex: “Not at all…”

…INSTANT PLEASURE…

Alex: “There’s fun behind the group, I’m really enjoying it.”

Remark: Me too.

© Richard KickZigZag, October 1984

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