A public service announcement

‘It’s got to fly at 400 miles per hour, turn on a sixpence, climb 10,000 feet in a few minutes, dive at 500 without the wings coming off and carry eight machine guns.’

For the past week or so, I’ve gradually been becoming aware of a remarkable musical project. I realise this isn’t the usual stuff of this blog, but I think this is outstanding and I’d like to share it.

There has been a revivalist trend in electronic music – of which I’m quite a fan – in recent years. The genre is loosely coupled to the ‘Hauntology’ movement and is the appreciation and interpretation of incidental music to TV and radio Public Service films, adverts, and general soundtracks, particularly from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We’re talking here particularly of library music and the stuff of the long lost BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which was often technologically sophisticated and complex, and made on experimental equipment. The idea of this odd musical Hauntology is that musicians celebrate this lost art by making music in a similar style, often accompanied by graphics and film that would be appropriate for the era.

Ghostbox, the major label associated with hauntology, have created a town – Belbury – that evokes the science fiction and public information film atmosphere of the 1970’s. Very John Wyndham. English, summery and bright, yet somewhere, in the background, something is very, very wrong…

The point of all this is that when done properly, there’s excellent music, but one is often haunted by the feeling that you’ve heard it before long ago, as if it’s just dropped out of a half-forgotten memory. I’m particularly fond of the Advisory Circle, Belbury Poly and The Moon Wiring Club. Some of this stuff can be oddly disconcerting, and even nightmarish at times.

On the fringes of this scene are bands that cross over into other areas. The sublime Epic45 make music to remember times past. Highly irreverent studio mischief-maker Broadcaster used Pete Seeger’s iconic ‘Radio Ballads’ [Edit the following morning: I meant Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. It was late. Thanks to the reader that pointed that out! – Bob] and made dance music, remarkably preserving the dignity and beauty of the original pieces.

‘London raises her head, shakes off the debris of the night from her hair, and takes stock of the damage done. The sign of a great fighter in the ring is can he get up from a fall after being knocked down… London does this every morning.’

Now, along come a new act Public Service Broadcast with something so utterly remarkable I must share it here. The two-peice, who’re clearly informed by Hauntology, have made a five-track EP called the War Room, whose theme is the early stages of World War II. They take BFI and other films, including Pathe and propaganda, and cut it up over some great music. Their videos set off the music wonderfully. All this and David Niven, too.

Public Service Broadcast have been played on BBC 6 Music for a couple of weeks now, and I first picked up on ‘Spitfire’, a visceral tribute to the plane and engineer that saved us. Today, the E.P. was issued, and I found the other tracks of similar quality. I particularly like ‘London Can Take It’ featuring some remarkable wartime commentary on the air raids that did so much damage. Credits and an explanation can be found at the project’s site.

I realise that this may well leave many readers cold, but it’s a long time since I’ve heard music that’s been this effective at conveying it’s message. If you’d like to get a copy, it’s available on iTunes if you’re an Apple user, Play.com or Amazon. At a shade under £2.50 I think it’s well worth supporting the duo, if only to see where they go next.

The last track appears on Public Service Broadcast’s YouTube Channel, but not the War Room EP. It’s great, and I think it’s absence is regrettable. Keep listening, because it builds.

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5 Responses to A public service announcement

  1. Pedro says:

    Hi Bob,

    Interesting! I like the idea behind Public Service Broadcasting, and the music. I would like to say it was novel, but you now have me in search of “hauntology”.

    Not sure if I have got it right, would this qualify?

    Twilight Zone…


    Regards Pedro

  2. jim says:

    I’ve always been drawn to this kind of stuff from an early age I could often be found overlaying samples from audio books etc over various instrumental tracks using a trio of old tape decks and a birds nest of audio cables. Much more creative possibilities today with the virtual studio technology software and vast amount of material available on the internet.

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