Weird at My School: 23 Skidoo

I don’t know why anyone trusts my judgment on musical matters. Sometimes, it takes me eons to make up my mind. Case in point: British group 23 Skidoo. When I first heard of them, in the early/mid- ’80s, I mistakenly assumed they were one of those ersatz funk-salsa-swing bands running around the UK, like Blue Rondo A La Turk and Modern Romance. So I failed to investigate their sinister grooves. My mistake.

Fate has been pushing me closer and closer towards 23 Skidoo for years now. Yet, stubbornly, I resisted. One of my favorite DJs, Andrew Weatherall, included two of their songs, “Coup” and “Vegas El Bandito,” on his brilliant 2000 compilation album Nine O’Clock Drop. I was briefly smitten with the post-punk Afro-beat style of the latter, noted the tremendous similarities between the former and the Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin’ Beats” (the bass riffs are identical)… and then failed to investigate further. A year later, when Skidoo members Alex and Johnny Turnball reissued the albums Seven Songs and Urban Gamelan on their own Ronin Records imprint, I was sufficiently impressed by the reviews at Other Music to pick them up. And, in short order, file them away in the stacks without a proper listen.

Well, here it is nearly 2009, and LTM Recordings in the UK has not only reissued Seven Songs and Urban Gamelan again, complete with bonus cuts and new liner notes, but also two other 23 Skidoo full-lengths, Just Like Everybody and The Culling Is Coming. And after reading the glowing review of Seven Songs penned by Siouxsie and the Banshees biographer Mark Paytress in the new issue of MOJO, I finally spent some time with an album I’ve ignored — even when I owned a copy, consarnit — for practically three decades.

Better late that never. Seven Songs is an amazing slab of post-punk fused with sounds from Africa and Asia, plus a hefty dollop of William S. Burroughs/Bryon Gysin-style cut-and-paste techniques. (In fact, the band lifted its misleading name not from the slang of the Roaring ’20s, but rather the influential cult books of the Illuminati trilogy.) Listen to “Quiet Pillage” — these guys’ idea of exotica sounds more like Throbbing Gristle than Martin Denny. Which makes perfect sense, since the TG crew — as well as members of Cabaret Voltaire — worked closely with Skidoo. The bonus cuts are just as impressive, particularly the percussive earworm “Last Words” (featured here in its 7″ single edit) and the epic “The Gospel Comes To New Guinea.”

I am embarrassed it took repeated endorsements from colleagues I hold in high regard before I finally embraced 23 Skidoo. If you like to play !!! albums at the wrong speed or are still wishing the new Brian Eno & David Byrne album sounded more like My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, check out these reissues pronto. And if not… well, I understand. Sometimes even the most enthusiastic recommendations go unheeded.

DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog.

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