Spotlight: Bow Before Bauhaus



What could be more fitting than a tour from the post-punk originators of goth-rock right before Hallowe’en? Happily, the hugely influential Bauhaus are back together and obliging and are said to be starting work on a new studio album for release in 2006. But it’s been a long and winding road for the “grandfathers of goth” who created Bela Lugosi’s Dead and spawned a movement…

Bauhaus are one of the most innovative bands to emerge from the post-punk era but, like many pioneers, it was only a long time after they broke up that their impact was recognised.

From 1979-83, this Northampton-based four piece explored magnetic rock ‘n’ roll, surreal songwriting and stark imagery in a series of brilliant singles, four albums (In The Flatfield, Mask, The Sky’s Gone Out and Burning From The Inside) and through their legendary live shows. A 2005 tour of the United Stayes, including, of course, a Hallowe’en gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco, precedes a 14 date European tour in January 2006 which includes five UK shows.

Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins are together again at a point where their influence is finally acknowledged – they played a pivotal role in the history of alternative rock by rejecting punk’s nihilism and experimenting with everything from dub and electronics to Krautrock and glam: the fact that they broke-up as an under-rated cult act in 1983 meant that it took nearly a decade for their vision to ‘cross-over’ through the bands they inspired including The Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Nirvana, Korn, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and most of all, Jane’s Addiction who are arguably closest in spirit.

Named after the Weimar art movement, the origins of Bauhaus date back to various early punk bands in Northampton kick-started by two brothers Kevin and David J Haskins who were later joined by fellow local music fan, Daniel Ash. They didn’t become Bauhaus until Ash’s former school friend Peter Murphy completed the line-up in 1979.

The ‘chemistry’ was immediate and spontaneous – a collision of Iggy Pop and Catholicism (both Ash and Murphy had been raised on potent images of ‘mortality, Heaven, Hell, angels, saints and purgatory’); Gary Glitter and dub, the latter inspiring David J to take up bass guitar – “it was so exciting because it was my first exposure to this other world really. Something subterranean, dark, sexually charged, violent and completely compelling.”

“There was a heckler in the audience about 30 yards away. I loved that.” – Peter Murphy

As a case study of instant inspiration, their first single Bela Lugosi’s Dead (put out on a tiny indie, Small Wonder) is hard to beat: a nine-minute classic recorded in one take which inadvertently created “Goth-rock” on its release in August 1979, thanks primarily to Peter Murphy’s sonorous croon and the deliberately stylised lyric about an ‘undead’ silent movie actor.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead immediately attracted the attention of Radio 1 DJ John Peel who broadcast a session by the band in early 1980, featuring the massive sounding Double Dare – a juggernaut of sonar blips and distorted guitars.

After signing to 4AD, their punked-up second single, Dark Entries unleashed their pent-up energy. On stage, while Murphy has often been compared to Bowie (pincer-sharp cheekbones, theatrical voice, snow white tan), his exuberance was closer in spirit to Iggy Pop.

Coincidentally Bauhaus bumped into The Stooges front man in a New York hotel at the end of 1980. “Before departing Mr Pop was assailed by an over-awed and excited Murphy who proceeded to tickle him whilst suggesting that he should visit his room,” laughs David J. “That’s some fresh kid you’ve got there,” was Iggy’s astonished response.

A collision of Iggy Pop and Catholicism

According to Peter Murphy their gig the following night was “very intense. I was really going for the audience. There was a heckler in the audience about 30 yards away. I loved that. I thought, ‘Right! I’m going to get this guy.’ I focussed on him for about 10 minutes, performing at him, to him and he was really taking it all up and there was this battle between us, this psychic battle. I was pushing all my energy at him and it was Iggy Pop and he was loving it. Feeding on it. He came backstage after the show.”

Another early fan of the band was Joy Division‘s Ian Curtis. “He was with Tony Wilson [head of Factory Records] who left halfway through our set because he apparently disapproved of bands who wore make-up,” recalls David J. “Ian stayed and came backstage afterwards and was really into it and that meant a lot to us because we had a lot of respect for Joy Division.”

Meanwhile Bauhaus’s third single, Terror Couple Kills Colonel was another style switch, this time creating a Germanic, icy narrative inspired by a newspaper headline. The atmospheric riff and motorik beat centred the band in the New Musick territory, alongside the likes of Neu!, Magazine and The Cure.

They also produced their debut album In The Flatfield, released in October 1980. Opening with Double Dare, the LP is questioning, always inventive and typically diverse – the title track is an anthemic mix of stream-of-conscious lyrics and tribal beats; Spy In The Cab shows a growing grasp of electronics and new textures, and in contrast to the throwaway Dive, the last two songs Nerves and Stigmartyr Martyr are as intense as anything the band has ever done.

Bauhaus’s influence began to quietly spread, initially underground

Bauhaus’s last release on 4AD was a fantastic chrome-plated version of T.Rex‘s Telegram Sam, adding a darker edge to the original. They also made their first promo video, featuring Ash, Haskins and David J playing in an abandoned factory while Peter Murphy throws shadows on a wall and stalks the camera in white-faced Buster Keaton make-up. It’s striking stuff recorded at a time when Bauhaus were increasingly experimenting with the visual side of their live shows: Murphy would open a light-filled mock coffin during Bela Lugosi’s Dead as well as creating cape-like shadows with his long black coat. Off-stage the band started to drive around in a clapped-out hearse.

Bauhaus’s first release on Beggars Banquet was the sinuous art-funk of Kick In The Eye in March 1981, followed by Passion Of Lovers in June (written and recorded in one day) and a new album, Mask that autumn. Again self-produced, Mask is a more cohesive album than their debut, built around melodic basslines, visual lyrics, feed backing, transistor-like guitars, paranoid sax sounds, child-like piano strikes, metronomic drums and sci-fi synthesizers. Twenty-five years later, the album still sounds unique – an hallucinogenic but very personal record.

After trying out a producer on their sixth single Spirit (they never made that mistake again), the band’s next move was initially a sardonic answer to the critics who dubbed them as Bowie copyists – they recorded their own version of Ziggy Stardust. In late 1982, it became their first Top 20 hit after being released in a picture sleeve which cheekily super-imposed Bowie’s Aladdin Sane ‘lightning flash’ on top of their own logo.

Oddly enough both The Thin White Duke and Bauhaus appeared in a vampire movie, The Hunger, during 1982. Set in New York, this updating of the ancient bloodsucking myth opens with Bauhaus performing Bela Lugosi’s Dead in a club, although such is the camera’s focus on the singer it would be easy to be fooled into thinking the band were essentially a solo act. This impression was underlined by Murphy’s growing fame at the time as ‘the-man-in-the-Maxell-tape-advert’.

Spy In The Cab shows a growing grasp of electronics and new textures…

Bauhaus are all about collaboration, spontaneity and chemistry so not only was this hugely misleading, it also led to discontent amongst the other band members. Nevertheless, the combination of Ziggy Stardust and Bauhaus’s charismatic TV performances in its wake helped their next album, The Sky’s Gone Out, debut at Number 4 in the UK chart.

A follow-up single didn’t arrive – and by then it was too late – until January 1983 with Lagartija Nick failing to reach the Top 40. Worse was to follow when the singer fell seriously ill with viral pneumonia, just as the band started work on their fourth album. Full of ideas, Ash and the Haskins brothers started working together and had actually completed a lot of material by the time Murphy returned to the fray. The writing was on the wall and the band effectively broke up on 5 July, 1983 after playing at the Hammersmith Palais in London. A week later the new album arrived with Murphy conspicuously absent from some of the tracks – only four of the songs are genuine collaborations between all of the band members.

Odd to report then that not only did Burning From The Inside reached the UK Top 20, it was also lavished with critical acclaim. Opening with the dub-infected art pop of She’s In Parties (a Top 30 single in the UK and the accompanying video was filmed by Howard Guard, the man responsible for the stylish Maxell adverts), the album’s schizophrenic style changes are strangely compelling. There’s an Acid-tinted warmth to tracks such as Kingdom’s Coming, Slice Of Life, Hope and King Volcano that glows alongside the aggression of Antonin Artaud, a song that the band sometimes improvised into a half hour, hypnotic thrash.

As Murphy embarked on a solo career and the other three evolved into Love And Rockets, Bauhaus’s influence began to quietly spread, initially underground via a back catalogue that went on to sell over a million copies after the band had split but then more overtly as America’s hugely influential alternative acts began to break through – nearly all of them self-confessed fans of the band. As a way of acknowledging this, Bauhaus reformed in 1998 to play four shows at the Hollywood Palladium in LA which sold out in a few minutes, followed by a hugely successful 50-date Resurrection world tour.

The band disbanded again until this summer’s Coachella festival in California where Murphy made a characteristically memorable entrance by hanging upside down like a vampire bat for the opening number, Bela Lugosi’s Dead. They’ve also announced that they’ll be recording a new album at a time when ‘post-punk’ is being pillaged by a whole new wave of American and British acts. As singer Peter Murphy concludes, “Bauhaus is like no other band that I know and can only exist with all four original members present – and god bless them all.”

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Spotlight: Bow Before Bauhaus