David Keenan – ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’

This entry is part 14 of 14 in the series Countercultural History

David Keenan - 'England's Hidden Reverse' (2016 book) (UK • Strange Attractor Press • 2016)

This review is of the revised 2016 edition of the book ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’, an essential acquisition for those with an interest in ‘Industrial’ culture, truly independent music, and the great tradition of the British outsider.

Focusing on the interlinked stories of the sonically diverse Coil, Current 93, and Nurse With Wound, this well-presented book is a real gem. The book also touches on the work of Whitehouse, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, JG Thirlwell, Lemon Kittens, and other early contributors to what many now term ‘Industrial’ music (named after Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records label).

Relating the evolution of the Coil/C93/NWW family mainly through the memories of the participants themselves, ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’ is a pleasure to read, with an easy yet well-crafted conversational style. Meticulously researched, the stories here cover everything from the crafting of their collective discography to their colourful personal lives.

A Few Highlights from ‘England’s Hidden Reverse’:

  • The various perspectives on magick, religion, and the creative process, and how these have changed individually over time.
  • Operation Spanner – the scapegoating of several gay men (including Temple spokesperson Alan Oversby, aka body piercing pioneer Mr. Sebastian) by UK police. Coil’s Peter Christopherson and John Balance incinerating various archive material, in fear of a police raid due to their personal connections to Mr. Sebastian.
  • The notorious (and patently ridiculous) Temple ov Psychick Youth ‘ritual abortion’ witchhunt / trial by press, leading to the public vilification and legal persecution of Genesis P. Orridge and a multitude of related individuals.

Here I should confess a passion for the ‘Industrial’ area in general – though much less so than as a teenager (my first professional tattoo, at 15, was of a Psychic Cross and 23). With that declared, I heartily recommend this excellent work to all, having enjoyed it so much that I read all 464 pages in just three sittings. I’d also recommend taking a look at the rest of publisher Strange Attractor’s catalogue – definitely a press to watch!

For anybody wishing to explore this alchemical strand of experimental music and shamanic art, I would also recommend reading Simon Ford’s book ‘Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle’ (1999), and the very collectible Einstürzende Neubauten interview book by Max Dax and Robert Defcon, ‘Einstürzende Neubauten: No Beauty Without Danger’ (2005). If you can get them, the seminal and ever inspiring RE/Search’s ‘Industrial Culture Handbook’ (1983) and Charles Neal’s long out of print ‘Tape Delay: Confessions from the Eighties Underground’ (1987) are wonderful early documents of this scene too.

Strange Attractor website

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Specialist in Munkeljuck, Schpamenfrugen, and Flippy-Pip, currently learning to yodel, while teaching himself Quantum Physics, yet still finding the time to continually yearn for his lost childhood hat; not forgetting that time he donated money to an attractive 'chugger' without even being asked to...

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