Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Burn Burn Satellite: The Sperm Festival Fascination

The early '80s.  I was exposed to Sigue Sigue Sputnik by People of all things.  The look of the band is what caught my eye.  The description of its music let me know I was on the right track.

The band's name was supposedly taken from a Russian youth gang and was said to translate to "Burn Burn Satellite."  This has been disputed.  Other names the band had toyed with were Sperm Festival and, one I really like for reasons clear to anyone who knows me well, Nazi Occult Bureau.  The band was described by founding member Tony James as "hi-tech sex and designer violence."  The music was rock with a liberal dose of sampling and electronic mayhem.  Commercial space was sold on the albums, and the look always mattered more than the sounds the band produced.  It was the 2000s before we knew what was possible.  All style.  All sex.  All violence.  Girls.  Rockets.  Voodoo.

In a word: cool.

I've always been interested in bands that have an interesting look.  (Hence part of my obsession with Death in June.)  Marilyn Manson and company are not eye catching enough for me.  In fact, the lads seem to fit a stereotype more than anything else.  Sputnik, however, was all high hair in an explosion of color, torn fishnets, and cod pieces.  Sperm festival, indeed.

When I eventually found the first album, Flaunt It, on cassette in a music store located in the Leigh Valley Mall, I raced home and played it as soon as I could.  It was ... amazing.  Crazy.  Frantic.  Chaotic.  Ripsaw guitars.  It conjured up images of neon-lit human sacrifices in Times Square on New Year's Eve.  If drug-fueled group sex had a sound, this was it, and I was hooked.

The band eventually split and reunited several times.  (Interestingly, the original vocalist, Martin Degville is reported to have made "specialist porn films" after the first break up.  I can see that, and it isn't pretty.)  That seems to be the way for many bands.  Sputnik, however, never seemed to click like that first round. The world it had helped usher in, was beyond them now.  As a culture, we left irony behind because we thought were above it.  We were, however, knee deep in it, but we became so distracted with technology and consumerism that we missed the signposts.  2008 gave fans a compilation and nothing more since.  The satellite burned.  The designer violence wasn't as cool in a world where school shootings and 9/11 were fresh in people's short-lived memories.  Hi-tech sex had been replaced by Internet masturbation to videos of two girls sharing a cup.  Sputnik, once cutting-edge, seemed quaint and, yes, ridiculous.

I still listen to the band.  I still crave those strange Japanese influences and fascination with A Clockwork Orange.  The world may have changed.  Bands that were influenced by Sputnik have gone on to have some great careers.  I still have the memories, though.

And it would have been so much cooler if the boys had stuck to Nazi Occult Bureau.

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