Cultural Amnesia

Cultural Amnesia (CA) are an English post-punk music group, first active between 1979 and 1983 as participants in the so-called cassette culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s in the UK. During this first period the band released three cassette albums: Video Rideo (1981), The Uncle of the Boot (1983) and Sinclair’s Luck (1983) on English and German record labels, and contributed to a number of compilation albums. Early on in his career, CA worked with the late Geff Rushton (John Balance) of Coil, who wrote a handful of songs for them and who was an important supporter and enabler due to his contacts as editor of Stabmental magazine, arranging most of their releases and providing constant encouragement. The band has become more widely known since 2000 following release of a number of compilations of their early ’80s music in which the members of the group have been fully involved. Since the late ’90s the band has also been occasionally active in the recording of new music and there have been a number of releases of new material since the early 2000s.
Working in the wake of the early industrial bands, CA’s output is diverse, ranging from ambient soundscapes to synthpop, but it can be broadly characterized as song-based electronic music, normally making use of synthesizer, drum machine and guitar. The three members of the band were occasionally joined for recording and live performance by guitarist, Alastair Murray. The bands methods of recording, as with many of those involved with the cassette/DIY scene of the post-punk period, were initially extremely primitive, growing more sophisticated as they could afford better equipment. However, CA never recorded in a professional studio of any kind. The members of the band had little interest in punk, but in addition to the inspiration of bands such as Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire they enjoyed a broad range of music of the post-punk period; they also listened a great deal to the art rock of the late ’60s and ’70s, including Krautrock and progressive rock, and had a keen interest in dance music and disco.
Cultural Amnesia stopped activity close to the completion of what was to be their first vinyl LP, Obscenity, with the German company Datenverarbeitung. John Balance’s sleeve notes for the unreleased album give a perceptive insight into CAs body of work (the blurb was published on the inner sleeve of the 2007 compilation LPs, Press My Hungry Button).
What does one say? Cultural Amnesia have never ceased to amaze me with their finely honed songs of innocence and insecticide. Each gleaming tune a button on their hair shirt. There is a raw spirit of experiment, of mis-adventure with emotions, that is almost awkward to listen to. Time shifts and personal twists reveal a complex web of older children, playing with something they know full well is not really for the general public. Using a vocabulary of myths and symbols, along with splintered shards of themselves, caricatures and alter egos weave and parade in drunken ‘night on the town’ scenarios, in crazy-glass-house confrontations with each other. All life is here. Bitter and sweet. Love, sex behind supermarkets, truth and lies, jealousy and an all-pervading earthy magick. And Death. Having lurked in the herbaceous borders of the DIY cassette scene, earning critical acclaim for their numerous releases, this record now marks the edge of that dark, tangled frustration of a country. Beyond… is another day. John Balance, the Ides of March 1983
After fifteen years of silence the band produced three new tracks in 1998, and in 2003 launched a website. Their resumption of activity coincided with renewed interest in what has become known as ‘cassette culture’ and the emergence of specialist labels, of which Vinyl on Demand is the best known, dedicated to reissuing on LP and CD material originally released on cassette in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Having launched a website in 2003, the band began to receive inquiries from labels. Enormous Savages, a compilation of material from 19811983, was released on LP in the summer of 2007, early sales accompanied by a four-track mini-CD of material recorded 19982006. Press My Hungry Button, a 30-track double-LP compilation of 19801983 material, was released November 2007, early sales accompanied by a four-track EP of further 1980s material. The CD Enormous Savages Enlarged, from April 2009, includes five tracks recorded 200409 and a further ’80s track in addition to the material that appeared on the LP. These compilations of 1980s material were well received in print and online, with Enormous Savages described in The Sound Projector as “a remarkable piece of musical archaeology and certainly one of the reissues of the year”. In November 2011 the band released This Is Not Your Shape, their first full album of new material since the early 1980s. The album was accompanied by a highly designed A4 lyrics booklet, Verbose Logging, including the songs on the album and others recorded during their second period. A special-edition CD of the album was released September 2012, with an additional track, booklet, postcards and a lapel badge. Two further albums and two EPs of new material have been released since then. A number of videos for both new and old material have been produced by John Peacock of the band. (Please see the discography below for further information and references.)
Although the 2007 compilation LPs collected many of the best of the band’s 1980s recordings, a considerable amount of material remains unreleased. The CA website is an extensive source of information on the band’s output, released and unreleased, and on the early-’80s milieu in which they were first active.
John Peacock and Ben Norland (the latter as themilgramobediencetoauthorityexperiment (sic)) are active as solo artists.


Read or listen to Cultural Amnesia

by Clive James