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Riding The Black Maria Its Attrition Week in Outsideleft (part one)

Riding The Black Maria

Its Attrition Week in Outsideleft (part one)

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: March, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

Attrition has always been as much a composition of elements than a traditional band, with Martin Bowes as conductor and conjurer, blending elements of opera, electro, ambient, punk together to create the unique Attrition sound

Attrition Week LogoAttrition have been around since 1980, played five continents and released 40 albums, including live albums. Their 17th full studio album is coming out now and shows are planned across the globe. To celebrate this fact we have a whole week of Attrition for you, starting today.

To describe Attrition just as a band feels like a lazy description. Martin Bowes may have been the epicentre and driving force behind Attrition since he formed the act back in 1980 in Coventry, but it is far from being just a solo act either. They have cycled through numerous line up changes down the years before coming full circle last year and settling back into the original line up. Sort of. I say sort of because Attrition has always been as much a composition of elements than a traditional band, with Martin as conductor and conjurer, blending elements of opera, electro, ambient, punk together to create the unique Attrition sound. That they have been going 40 years is impressive, but there are other acts that have lasted the course too. That they have tallied up a large back catalogue is impressive too, yet other acts are also prolific. That’s not what sets them apart. What sets them apart is the ability to evolve through and shed multiple skins meaning they have morphed from their scrappy punk beginnings into a hugely influential cult act, feted across the globe, yet one that has always set its own direction and been fiercely independent. Not for them the rock posturing or ‘same again?’ approaches offered by some of their contemporaries. With Attrition, every turn is a subtle surprise, yet is also recognisably them. To paraphrase the title of one of their many albums, they are wrapped in the guise of a friend, familiar, yet always different. Attrition are a unique proposition for sure, and are very definitely the sort of left field, original, and independent act we love to champion here at Outsideleft. ‘Dark Wave’ could be a description invented specifically for them (and they probably actually helped coin that term too).

Attrition of ReasonLet’s delve into their history. They’ve certainly travelled far from their basic beginnings in 1980’s Coventry, both in miles and artistically. From the first gig in December 1980 in the Coventry Belgrade Theatre’s studio venue, to event filled tours of Russia, USA, South America, Europe, Asia, Scandanavia, even Transylvania, they’ve covered a lot of ground. Record appearances began hesitantly. From a flexidisc single and a handful of cassette albums released on my own underground label Adventures in Reality they graduated swiftly to an influential appearance on a ‘difficult music’ vinyl compilation LP, The Elephant Table’ and a shared 12” single with a Swiss band. Tours of Holland and Switzerland quickly followed, as did signing to indie label Third Mind Records and releasing their debut album, The Attrition of Reason. That was 1984. By 1986 they had released singles, EPs, and a second album and played a lot more shows. A move from Third Mind to Belgium’s Antler/Subway followed via the ‘Take Five’ EP on Italian label Supporti Fonografic, starting a process of gradually spiralling up the record label tree whilst touring relentlessly. Further vinyl appeared in the form of the ‘At The Fiftieth Gate’ album but by 1989 they break away from Antler/Subway and move their attention to US label Projekt. 1991 sees another album and single for Italian label Contempo. By 1993 Contempo had collapsed, so it’s on to Hyperium Records in Germany. Tours and festival appearances run in parallel throughout. Projekt are still in the picture, re-releasing Third Mind material in the US. They would continue that label relationship beyond their stint with Hyperium, which ended in 1996. Their first North American tour followed and the US continues to embrace them to the present day. 1997 sees the release of ‘Etude’ an album of classical reworkings of earlier material in collaboration with a member of the orchestra of the Paris opera. A second US tour takes place. By the end of the decade they release one of their seminal albums ‘The Jeopardy Maze’ on Projekt and play yet another eventful US tour, which includes playing CBGBs in its final days, armed attackers, broken legs and other assorted craziness. You just couldn’t make it up.

By the turn of the century, they are releasing a collection of ambient works culled from previous releases & rarities on Russian label Brudenia, and signing in the US to Martin Atkins’ Invisible records after Projekt downsizes. We still have over 20 years to go, remember, so let’s fast forward to 2004 and the Dante’s Kitchen album. Take it for granted a lot of shows, festivals, collaborations and so on took place in the meantime. There is another US tour in 2005 to promote the album. By 2006 they have founded their own label, Two Gods’, which continues to this day. An iconic video is released for the track ‘A Girl Called Harmony’. Another US tour follows! Ditto for 2007, along with more reissues on Two Gods. 2008 sees the first Russian tour plus (yes, you guessed it) more US dates, plus the ‘All Mine Enemy’s Whispers’ album is used as the soundtrack to a UK TV documentary on Victorian serial killer Mary Ann Cotton. In 2009 ‘Kill The Buddah’ the 25th Anniversary Tour live album is released. A return visit to Russia (unlikely to be repeated now!) takes place in 2010 plus more reissues of the back catalogue. 2011 sees Canada, Finland and Brazil also fall under the live spell and The Cage studio opens for business. 2012 and ‘Invocation’ the soundtrack for the film G.H.O.S.T is released, followed by the album ‘The Unraveller of Angels’ and supporting dates in Europe and Canada in 2013. By 2015 there have been a swathe of further releases including a collaboration with The Advert’s TV Smith to re-record their punk classic ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes’, and the WW1 themed album ‘Millions of The Mouthless Dead’, recorded with Annie Hogan (who has worked with Marc Almond, Paul Weller and others) and Wolfgang Flur (ex Kraftwerk) guesting. That was the last full Attrition studio album to be released until now, but there have been numerous side projects, exhibitions, and shows in a plethora of countries, including New Zealand and Hawaii. Singles taken from the new album, festival and gig slots, guest appearances on other bands albums, collaborations, plus commercial studio work for others follow, bringing us up to today, 2024, 44 years on from that first show and the release in March of ‘The Black Maria’ album, their 17th full studio album.

Martin

Breathless though that canter through Attrition history is, it’s still very abbreviated (a fuller story can be found here) but amply illustrates why a new Attrition album is an event and why it is well worth our taking the week to find out more. There will be a two-part interview, a track-by-track, and of course, a review of the album itself to follow, all of which we hope will serve as an intro into the intriguing world of Attrition. In an exclusive offer from the band for Outsideleft readers, for the next fortnight (until April 9th, 2024) you can download for free a copy of their 30 track album ‘In Dark Dreams 1980-2015’ collecting together 30 tracks from the first 35 years of their career along with an accompanying PDF booklet. Just click on the link right here: Free Attrition LP+Booklet 


Essentials
1. Attrition Week is Coming to Outsideleft→
2. It's Attrition Week in Outsideleft: Riding the Black Maria→
3. Attrition Week: Alan Rider reviews The Black Maria LP→
4. Attrition Week: Part 1 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
5. Attrition Week: Part 2 of Martin Bowes conversation with Alan Rider→
6. Attrition Week: Martin Bowes provides The Black Maria Track by Track→

Order ‘The Black Maria’ in all formats from Bandcamp 
here→ 

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


about Alan Rider »»

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