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SOFT RIOT

Slightly Off Track

SLIGHTLY OFF TRACK 002

12 March 2012
SUBPOENA THE PAST : TWO EPs

Subpoena The Past were a post-punk project that existed from 1997 to around 2001, in which time they were sporadically active from various urban centres in California such as San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. They released two EPs: 1998’s “This Year’s Eclipse” and 2000’s “Conjure Itch”, both of which contain different line-ups and have notably different sounds in instrumentation. All incarnations of this project featured Sonny Kay, who was the main mover and shaker of Gold Standard Labs (GSL), a label that captured the zeitgeist of the post-hardcore scene of the late nineties and early naughties. It was one of those go-to labels and one of the first to feature bands interpreting classic darker post-punk sounds with bands such as Beautiful Skin, The Faint, Get Hustle, Chromatics, etc. – all a number of years before that sort of thing was more common place. READ MORE

There was that sort of rolling mechanical tribal drumfill that triggered by interest to relisten to something I hadn’t listened to in a number of years. It was a track by the new-ish ethereal post-punk band called The Soft Moon. There were rolling tom fills; the type that Martin Hannett would have engineered late at night cranked on caffeine and an obsession of isolated sounds. It’s interesting hearing these sounds become more and more frequent in the musical landscape in this observed resurgence of all music “dark” and “cold” in the modern musical landscape. It’s of course always been there but I guess there’s some sort of obvious shift or slow arrival of a new wave of different styles.

I could easily steer this into a discussion about music journalism and then quickly run out of gas in a haze mired, indirect thesis but that’s not really I popped into the shop to write this. It’s about once upon a timeā€¦

Once upon a time, somewhat long ago in some time right in the last bit of the 1990s a guy by the name of Julian was releasing 7″s and 12″ on a label called Hymnal Sound out of San Francisco; a catalog of music for the cognoscenti in that time period. Notable releases for that time were the first 7″ by The Rapture, The Audience “Das Audience” album, and the Subpoena The Past which were arguably – especially the latter two – a distant pre-echo to a lot of the art-styled cold post-punk amplifying on the landscape over the last five years.

My first time in San Francisco was playing some bar on across the street from Amoeba Records in 1999. I think Julian put on the show. I don’t remember. The show I don’t really remember as well. I do remember some discussion about the band Crispy Ambulance and a Thai restaurant the next day up the hill from the Mission District. Julian was a nice fellow and we kept in touch.

Over the next year or two there was correspondence back and forth. Julian had started a band called Ghost Orchids (previously known as Shivers) and had some recordings they were looking to release. I referred him to the Vancouver label Global Symphonic. An EP was put out in the summer of 2001 and was called Architecture. It had a melancholy Factory Records feel but unlike many of the indie bands doing that sound at the time, there was more experimentation with acoustic/electronic drums, subtly dissonant sound design and complex rhythms that can be heard in current bands like Factory Floor or, as mentioned before, The Soft Moon. They, like New Yorkers Beautiful Skin and a handful of others, started bringing out a more experimental early 80s synth/cold sound in the early naughties that may have had better timing coming out a few years later.

This record is still available online but has not had the archaeological flashlight of music blogging shine light on it so it’s somewhat if a lost gem if you will. My copy is long gone and I only recently re-bought the thing online.

Ghost Orchids went on tour; a leg along with the band I was playing in at the time. Vague memories of drinking with the band (Julian, Keith, Bonnie and Christian) in a van in the wee hours of the morning up the I-5 in a rented van and a few badly attended shows.

After this Ghost Orchids shifted to a far more electronic dance sound; their own take on 80s EBM and new beat and put out an album called “The King Is Dead” on Princehouse Records. This also is a tough one to find. After this record Ghost Orchids called it a day. I kept in touch with Julian but like a lot of people over the years the spans of time become greater and then eventually correspondence strikes dead at a wall.

Here’s a few tracks off of the “Architecture EP”:

BREATHE IN, BLACK OUT
[audio:GO_BreatheInBlackOut.mp3]
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TIME LAPSE SEQUENCE
[audio:GO_TimeLapseSequence.mp3]
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ARCHITECTURE IN SURGERY
[audio:GO_ArchitectureInSurgery.mp3]
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I’d never seen many of Derek Jarman’s films until recently I’ve starting picking them off one by one from a local video library boasting what seems to be most of this influencial director’s output. “Jubilee” had been a favourite film of mine for a good number years; an infectious mix of post-apocalyptic chaos, late 70s English punk fashion, memorable lines and interesting cinematography and sets. After watching “The Tempest”, released a year or two later, it’s also interesting that his casting choices carry over. The most notably, and definitely the most camp, would be Jack Birkettwho played the brilliantly flamboyant Borgia Ginz in “Jubilee”. Ginz is possibly one of my favourite film villians. Apparently Birkett had a lot of experience working in the theatre; often playing a number of characters in drag which would have been an amazing site to see. Here’s one of my favourite Jack Birkett scenes from “Jubilee”: