Mark Stewart

Utrecht Le Guess Who 22 11 2015 by Michel Fenderwoods

 

Mark Stewart is an artist, vocalist, producer and songwriter from Bristol. As a founding member of The Pop Group and as a soloist, Stewart has been an anarchic and pioneering figure since the punk era, a constant source of discordance amongst the frontiers of post-punk, dub, industrial and electronic music.

Throughout an expansive pursuit of intensity and experimentation Stewart has remained an indisputably ground-breaking and seditious voice, fearlessly cultivating a revelatory collision of ideas, ideals and influences. Central to this has been Stewart’s combustible and principled lyricism, a form of searing invective inspired by radical politics, protest movements, theory, philosophy, technology, art and poetry.

Empowered by the DIY incentives of punk Stewart initiated The Pop Group in 1977 subsequently producing some of the most seminal, innovative and combative music of both the post-punk and contemporary era. From 1977 until 1980 Stewart led the charge in a group that completely eschewed punk’s formalism for something far greater, forging an early brace of epiphanic, irrepressible anthems (She’s Beyond Good & Evil, We Are All Prostitutes) and maintaining an abstract yet tenacious power on both their 1979 debut LP Y and the more directly confrontational sequel For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?, released in 1980. The impact of this first incarnation left an immensely significant legacy, ultimately leading to the group’s reformation in 2010. More recorded material followed with 2015’s refined return Citizen Zombie and 2016’s audacious left-turn Honeymoon On Mars, records which emphatically renewed the group’s relevance. With this body of work The Pop Group ignited the revolutionary aesthetic potential of post-punk whilst prevailing in a new era, as incendiary as ever. In this Stewart has contributed to a run of exceptional, challenging and historic material that stands unsurpassed and he continues to operate as a crucial impetus in the bands ongoing mission.

In 1980 Stewart embarked on his solo career inspired by the sounds he had heard during a visit to New York the same year. The virtuosic scratching and early hip hop propagated by Kiss FM’s DJ Red Alert, coupled with the impact of a pile driver at a construction site Stewart happened to encounter there, was enough to encourage his visionary next step. In 1982 Stewart consolidated these encounters into coherent possibilities, forming a group called The Maffia and linking up with producer Adrian Sherwood and his cutting edge label On-U Sound. Alongside Doug Wimbish, Keith LeBlanc and Skip McDonald (the erstwhile rhythm section of The Sugarhill Gang) Stewart & The Maffia unveiled a scorching dubwise demolition on the Jerusalem EP – headed by a fractured rendition of William Blake’s titular ancient poem – and the 1983 LP Learning To Cope With Cowardice. Fashioning an abrasive, dissentious confection of dub reggae, early hip hop and industrial noise that was shattering, seismic, and completely ahead of its time Stewart later moved to Mute Records in 1985 for the ferocious proto-industrial militancy of As The Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade. Successive appearances on the label continued to break untold new ground, from 1987’s Mark Stewart to 1990’s Metatron and 1995’s Control Data

Stewart has continued to plot an utterly uncompromising and individual course into the 2000s, with an invincible streak of solo material that has included Edit, The Politics of Envy, The Exorcism of Envy and Experiments. Preserving his vociferous energy and defiant stance whilst advancing, as always, into unfamiliar territories, this work bears all the traces of Stewart’s exhilarating severity and enduring modernism, an exploratory power reinforced by a host of legendary collaborators and artistic descendants including the likes of Primal Scream, Keith Levene (Public Image Ltd / The Clash), Richard Hell, Kenneth Anger, Daddy G (Massive Attack), Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, The Bug, Kahn (Kahn & Neek, Young Echo) and Factory Floor.

Stewart continues to exert an inestimable impact on a disparate range of ensuing artists and scenes. His work has been acknowledged and celebrated as a vital inspiration by the likes of Nick Cave, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Tricky, Massive Attack, St Vincent and countless others, while his eye for unorthodox extremity has instigated myriad new evolutions, blueprinting industrial, trip-hop, noise-hop, dance-punk and many other subsequent conceptions.

Through a staunch, unrelenting desire to confront, deconstruct and make anew, Stewart has established a signature of resistant ingenuity that has made him one of the most influential and forward-looking luminaries of post-punk, or indeed, any other form of music. An artist often imitated but never bettered.

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