Mark Stewart

Utrecht Le Guess Who 22 11 2015 by Michel Fenderwoods

Mark Stewart and his first band The Pop Group blasted out of Bristol in 1979 with the wired, avant future-funk manifesto of their We Are All Prostitutes single and Y debut album, redirecting their punk energy into the political arena, supporting campaigns such as Stop SUS. Stewart’s blood-letting vocal torrents rode disembodied funk grooves and fearsome free jazz skronking, continuing into 1980’s For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? album. As punk and its post-punk derivative got more formularised, the Pop Group struck further out, before imploding, leaving Stewart to hitch up with Adrian Sherwood’s On-U Sound, probably the most cutting edge operation of that period, Stewart immersed himself in the sonic possibilities of dub reggae and mixing desk mayhem on 1982’s Jerusalem EP [which included the unsettling but still uncannily prescient future-funk of Welcome To Liberty City] and his first solo album, the following year’s Learning To Cope With Cowardice.

Stewart was also fixated with the early hiphop he heard in the States, bringing back goldust-like tapes of New York’s groundbreaking hip radio stations, typically going to the source and procuring the Sugarhill/Tommy Boy rhythm section to join his Maffia [and also become Tackhead]. His next three albums – 1985’s As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade, 1987’s Mark Stewart album and 1990’s Metatron – are regarded as epochal future-shocks, blueprinting industrial [Ministry kingpin Al Jorgensen and NIN’s Trent Reznor citing him as a major influence] and trip-hop [‘Mark Stewart, he‘s my chaos’, says Tricky]. The latter album saw him hijacking techno for another uniquely-personal flight which, by Stewart‘s idiosyncratic in-breeding process, manifested later that decade in cyber-punk and the work of former flat-mate Tricky, proto-dubstep another creation. [“Most dubstep kids, Burial and that, they love all that stuff me and Adrian were doing”]. After 1996’s Control Data, Stewart glanced back at his past achievements with 1998’s We Are All Prostitutes Pop Group compilation and soon after his 2008’s Edit album he was the subject of Toni Schiffer’s documentary, On/Off – Mark Stewart: From the Pop Group To The Maffia.

Reflecting now on an unmatchable track record of anarchic pioneering and seismic influence he says, “I thought I was making funk music, but a track on Veneer Of Democracy supposedly inspired all the American industrialists, like Front line Assembly and Skinny Puppy, while another track supposedly inspired the Bristol kids. It happens all the time. I’ve got this nonchalance that nothing is sacred so I’ll crash a Slayer guitar line with Rotterdam gabba beats. For me, it’s like colours. I grew up doing montages; like I did this collage of Ronald Reagan’s head on this gay porno cowboy. In fact, I’ve never really grown up at all. I’m still trying to put round things into square holes.”