Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Fire Engines – (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang

When indie label boss Bob Last played one of his roster the forthcoming debut single by his latest charges, the high-concept studio gloss and anti-fascist sentiments of the song impressed the four young men gathered on Last's sofa. It was 1981, and with Margaret Thatcher forming an unholy alliance with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Heaven 17's slap-bass driven '(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang' sounded like a very necessary anthem.

No-one in the room expected the four young men, who, as Fire Engines, had just released an LP of so-called aural wallpaper called Lubricate Your Living Room on Last's Pop Aural label, to cover the song before the original was even released. Especially as the raw, rudimentary and highly-charged angularity of Fire Engines was as far away from Heaven 17's studied construction of style and substance as it could be.

When Fire Engines ran out of time recording their first John Peel session, however, and opted to record a final track in a manic two hour stint back in Edinburgh, that's exactly what happened. The end result of Fire Engines' take on '(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang' sounded scratchier, scrappier and more urgent than Heaven 17's glossy slice of Nu-funk entryism. It was as if the song was on the run from forces unknown and threatening to collapse any second. The fact that Heaven 17's version was already being trailed by the time the Fire Engines session was broadcast gave both recordings a frisson of subversive zeal.

When Radio 1 went on to ban Heaven 17's single due to its political content, 'Fascist Groove Thang' stalled at number 45 in the singles chart. If the BBC's draconian censoriousness gave the record a sheen of underground cool, Fire Engines' deconstruction was even more samizdat, and was only officially released in 1992 on Creation Records' Fire Engines compilation, Fond. As the 1980s ushered in a new era of pop protest, however, it was just what Thatcher's children needed.

The Quietus, June 2016, as part of a multiple-authored Top 40 of Anti-Fascist Anthems. This made it to number 11.

ends

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