SWEET EXORCIST: RetroActivity (Warp Records)


Posted on Nov 22nd 2011 01:41 am

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Sweet Exorcist: RetroActivity

Warp Records 2011
23 Tracks. 151mins24secs

 Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

‘If everything is ready from the dark side of the moon, play the five tones’. This sample from Close Encounter Of The Third Kind is a very familiar attribute to any self-respecting early British techno fan for being one of the defining features of Sweet Exorcist’s debut EP, Testone, Warp’s third EP, released in January 1990.

Two years ago, Warp celebrated its twentieth anniversary in fanfare with a rather splendid box set, a set of compilations and a string of events across the world. Although Sweet Exorcist were noticeably absent of these celebratory publications, Warp have put a double album together to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the release of Clonks Coming, the label’s very first album, originally published in early 1991. RetroActivity collects the original two EPs, Testone and Clonk, and the accompanying remix EPs which followed, the complete album and a handful of previously unreleased mixes and versions, making this a precious document of the bleepy Northern techno which defined much of the early electronica movement of the next two decade on one side, and much of Warp’s catalogue throughout the nineties.

Named after a Curtis Mayfield track, Sweet Exorcist was the project of Richard H. Kirk, who had been a prominent figure on the underground electronic scene for well over a decade as part of Cabaret Voltaire, and through his solo projects, and Richard ‘DJ Parrot’ Barratt, one of the main DJs at Sheffield’s Jive Turkey. Released shortly after Forgemasters’ Track With No Name and Nightmares On Wax’s Dextrous, Testone was an oddity even back then. The tracks were the result of experiments with studio test tones placed over minimal beats which until then had been the preserve of Detroit DJs. This minimal approach defined the Sweet Exorcist releases that followed. The Testone and Testone Remixes EPs were essentially variations on a theme, with Testthree and Testsix denoting a marginally moodier approach. This approach was also key to the Clonk and Per Clonk EPs, although the latter appear infuse with some of the afro ethic which has been part of Kirk’s work through his Sandoz or Al Jabr projects since.

Clonks Coming partially built up on this dynamic, especially with Mad Jack which opened the proceedings, but once again the music was subjected to an intense process of repetition as the pair re-used motifs and patterns through the whole album, in exactly the same way they had done with the previous EPs. Barratt and Kirk were taking minimalism to its extreme by breaking up their extensively modular compositions and placing their components in all sorts of combinations. The result may have appeared slightly lacking of scope at first, but Clonks Coming proved an incredibly varied and intriguing album, and still does so today.

Amongst the unreleased material featured here, exhumed from Kirk’s archives, are early versions of Testone and Clonks Coming, both considerably more stripped down than the released versions, with the former, build around a bass motif and a drum pattern, barely recognisable. An alternate version of Mad Jack is by contrast surprisingly meatier than anything else the pair released at the time as the organ riff which can be heard toward the end of the album mix is given much more prominence as the bleeps are pushed toward the back.

Sweet Exorcist went on to release a further album on Touch three year later, but these early Warp experiments remain seminal pieces of early electronica. These, alongside tracks by Forgemasters, Nightmares On Wax, Tricky Disco or LFO truly defined Warp’s early sound and were undeniably key to the label’s early success, but they also paved the way for the Artificial Intelligence series and the wave of artists that came with it. As a document of that period, RetroActivity is invaluable. The fact that these tracks feel as fresh and to the point now as they did twenty years ago is a testament of the durability of such music.


Richard H. Kirk talks to themilkfactory and looks back at the whole Sweet Exorcist story, from how the pair got acquainted to working with Warp and becoming part of the label’s legend.

 Richard H. Kirk | Warp Records
 Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD Boomkat: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

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