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Current 93’s Swastikas for Noddy

2,254 words

Current 93 is a neofolk group fronted by David Tibet. Its name is derived from Aleister Crowley’s numerological manipulation of the words Thelema and agape, the “93 Current” of the present age.

If that’s not weird enough for you, it gets better!

Tibet’s collaborators include Douglas Pearce of Death in June, the defining neofolk group; Boyd Rice, or NON, a noise musician who once made a record out of Lesley Gore saying “cry” in a loop; John Balance of Coil, a group that claims every one of their recorded works features magical properties; and most frequently, Steven Stapleton of musique concrete outfit Nurse with Wound. Tibet is also the one who introduced Genesis P-Orridge to the kangling, an instrument made out of a human femur. In short, Tibet was eccentric, to put it lightly. His attitudes towards death, symbolism, and lived experiences would become an important fixture of his work as he transitioned away from the harsh industrial sounds that defined his early output towards the softer, but no less strange, arenas of neofolk and psychedelia.

The album Swastikas for Noddy — later changed to Goddy to avoid litigation — was composed in early 1988 after David Tibet took LSD on the roof of frequent collaborator Rose McDowall’s house. Tibet claims to have hallucinated a vivid sight of the Enid Blyton children’s book character, Noddy, being crucified before him in the sky. Tibet, who was also using copious amounts of amphetamine at the time, became obsessive over the character; he purchased just about any item he found with Noddy on it, and began setting his ruminations on the character and his vision’s symbolism to music, the final product being Noddy.

“So it’s an album about a children’s book character’s crucifixion made by a tweaked-out, psychotic hoarder,” you might say.

Well, yes. But it’s a remarkably good album by a tweaked-out psychotic hoarder, and one that — intentionally or not — paints a vivid picture of what schizophrenic heights modern society and its assault on the senses can bring a man to. Tibet and the Dissident Right would likely disagree on the root causes of these neuroses, but we both acknowledge they exist and seek to shift culture away from what caused them, whatever those are and however nebulous such things may be. Regardless of persuasion, European-styled neofolk music inevitably drifts towards a shared set of aesthetics and tones, and Noddy is proof. Themes of decay, an unnamed enemy, and divine punishment for our crimes dominate the genre; put to music by Tibet, an undeniably talented vocalist and composer, these preoccupations became distinctly Occidental lamentations. Noddy holds a magnifying glass up to the obscure and painful things that run amuck in the European psyche, and it does this job quite well.

It would be foolish to attempt to explain much of the music contained within Noddy, though there are several tracks worthy of discussion for their more obscure elements, if only to help foster a better understanding of them. This aside, Noddy — and most of Tibet’s work — is best listened to with your own highly attentive ears for your own interpretations to be made. What may seem like nonsense or garish attempts at shock on the first listen may give you chills the second time around.

The a cappella opening track, “Benediction,” is the album’s most transparent. Ian Read, the track’s vocalist, does not name names, but suggests that there is someone out there responsible for the state of affairs plaguing England:

Now cursèd be thee that would ruin our fair land
And cursèd be thee that would seal up the wells
And cursèd be thee that’s abandoned the God’s lands
And built a strange place for our people to dwell

“Blessing” makes use of the human voice — Freya Aswynn’s — as an instrument in the form of a wordless, meandering vocalization. It serves as an excellent introduction to “North,” the short track that follows, also featuring Aswynn. In it, she summons the Norse god Odin forth to bring her to victory in an unnamed conflict. It’s implied that the battle at question may be the same one as Tibet describes in the sub-one-minute track that follows, “Black Sun Bloody Moon.” In “Moon,” Tibet describes a Biblical brawl, likening man to mere pawns begging God or some other power for justification for their degeneracy and bloodshed. Great stuff! The narrative presented in the album’s first few tracks helps set the stage for the real drama that will take place later on. Tibet is simply trying to describe man to us; oblivious, lawless, yet angry man. All this aside, Tibet aims to portray such scenes as those of beauty and disturbing order. Every man and woman being a star, they don’t do well to get too close to one another.

You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here.

“Oh Coal Black Smith” is a frenetic tale of romantic pursuit turned abusive torment. Two characters, a man “black as silk” and a woman “white as milk,” meet in the woman’s windowsill. The pure maiden, unimpressed by the dark man, states that she would rather die a miss than be with him for the rest of her life. The coal-black smith takes this to heart; the maiden and the man are described as prey and predator, respectively, for several verses. Finally, the coal-black smith kills the woman in the form of a spider, then smothers her corpse underground as the clay of the Earth. “Smith” seems to be an allegory for the smothering black plumes of smoke that marked the Industrial Revolution and the milk-white maiden the citizenry who were forced to go along with it; a turned-on-head Two Magicians. Their meeting came from the maiden’s observation of smokestacks billowing away as she gazed out the window; rejecting such a sight, and turning to nature, the maiden was inevitably murdered despite her best efforts, much in the same way that poisonous pollution made its way into the European woods when the first factories went up. And, like the smothering smog that descended upon Manchester and London, ravaging the lungs of the city’s occupants, “Smith” smothers the maiden in gray as she lays down to rest beneath the soil.

“Panzer Rune” is equally, if not more so apocalyptic than “Smith.” Over gloomy taped sounds and spineless, martial percussion, Tibet moans furiously of death’s impending arrival. Bubbling to the surface, occasionally, are operatics from Freya Aswynn. “Panzer Rune” is a kind of syncretic funeral march; the vitality of the opera and the lifeless groans of Tibet sit right at home together, almost as if life and death were never wholly separate to begin with.

“Black Flowers Please” is a blackened nursery rhyme. Rose McDowall features on the track’s first half, singing sweetly of dying flowers and darkness over music box sounds. The second half of “Flowers” features an aggressive Tibet describing the conflicts that take place on a split Earth. “Flowers” makes liberal use of the numbers seven and four, as in seven scars and four corners. Both numbers are prominent features of Thelema — in mere reference and as part of Thelemic numerology as well — and their specific permutations as mentioned in this song are references to concepts found in religion and the occult. For example, Tibet sings of three sevens, decreasing in bloodiness. The sequence 777 can be taken as a reference to the Holy Trinity, as it is used in Orthodox Christianity. Within the context of the track, we can take:

  • Seven red as blood to be the slain son, Jesus Christ
  • Seven “not so red” to be the Father
  • Seven like whitish smoke to be the Holy Spirit

And in the verse preceding, seven scars, seven seals, and seven years to be references to the Book of Revelation and its end-time predictions. While one doesn’t usually think of a nursery rhyme being suitable material to transform into an apocalyptic vision quest, Tibet helps to open our minds.

The apocalyptic vision set forth in “Flowers” presages the twisted world inhabited by “The Final Church,” a repetitive and chanting track. Much of the track is a description of the fallen world as man now knows it, but the meat of the track comes toward the end: with all humans dead, Tibet can now preach his sermon. Humans deserved God’s wrath for their endless machinations of efficiency and the destruction wrought by it; while we’ve grown accustomed to taking what we will, great misfortune is merely the decree that nature repossesses what we took from it. Tibet avoids philosophizing about his premise to any extent that is more than simply necessary; in his own words, it is but the realization of the decree of Providence. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

“The Summer of Love” follows, a loosely parodic track. Tibet lifts a guitar riff loosely inspired by 60s pop music, using it as a backdrop to declare that “this ain’t the summer of love” for lack of angels in the sky. Knowing Tibet, we can assume this is the fault of the hippies.

“(Hey Ho) The Noddy (Oh)” is sung to the tune and verse structure of “A-Hunting We Will Go,” a folk song with the melody of “The Farmer in the Dell” in its contemporary English version. It is a narrative of a girl meeting a stranger, who then rapes and kills her. It ends with the line “as I sowed I reaped,” a play on words.

“Beausoleil” is named for and devoted to the murderer Bobby Beausoleil, who killed Gary Hinman in a dispute over property under the direction of Charles Manson. Forceful and erratic in composition, Tibet addresses multiple esoteric elements that relate to the Manson Family broadly and to the Hinman murder specifically. It is the album’s longest track at 8 minutes, 35 seconds. It is also the apex incidence of multiple examples of conflict that Tibet explored over the album’s length; fights between esoteric order and material comfort, the friction created between men of different social status, and the personal turmoil tearing both men apart inside condensed into Hinman’s murder. Part of the enduring mystique and replay value of Noddy is a lack of a clear lesson in many of the more philosophical tracks. It’s never suggested to us that Hinman’s murder could have been avoided had the conditions been different. Tibet simply wanted to enshrine the things that made it happen. “Beausoleil” can be, then, many different things: an endorsement of Might making Right, a cautionary tale to those playing with esoteric forces that can drive them to sin, or simply a bit of revelry to be had in the face of men who so easily come apart at the seams.

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“Scarlet Woman” is an a cappella track from the two women in 93, where they repeat:

One, two, three, four
Scarlet woman we call the whore
Rearing up on hooves of evening

This blends into “The Stair Song,” suggesting that a man watched the same scarlet woman fall down a flight of stairs and die from her injuries. (Maybe she deserved it.)

“Angel” follows, featuring Douglas Pearce and his distinctively reedy vocal and guitar style. “Angel” is also very short, clocking in at one minute long. Lyrically, “Angel” is somewhat incoherent; imagery of playing children and angels tied to posts give the impression that the fabric of the universe has torn, and fallen angels are now a regular sight.

Where the more esoteric themes that Tibet teased out in the album were mostly addressed on “Beausoleil,” the philosophical and political topics — such as the rumination on industrialization in “Oh Coal Black Smith,” or the jab at hippies on “Summer of Love” — that found a thread within Noddy are addressed by Boyd Rice in a passage of spoken word:

The end of the world doesn’t come suddenly and without warning. To imagine that it does is to be fooled by popular misconception and thus fail to recognize the larger picture. The end of the world is an ongoing process, that starts slowly, imperceptibly and blossoms unnoticed in our very midst until it has engulfed all there is, and none is free from its spell. Hear now my words and heed them well! All that you think is great and mighty is but a disease upon life, and must be made to perish if life is to continue. That which seems grand and noble is but an affliction. All that appears to grant freedom to mankind has, in fact, ordained its enslavement, impairing and crippling from within while outwardly bearing the banner of liberty. The body of humanity has been poisoned and even as it strives for new horizons and constant advancement, rigor mortis has preceded the approach of death.

Noddy is concluded by “Valediction” and “Malediction.” “Valediction” is a hissed reading of runes, and “Malediction” is an echoed, delayed reprisal of the lamentations of the very first track, “Benediction.” This bit of circular tracking makes Noddy into a sort of sigil, a self-contained work chock-full of potential both artistic and esoteric in nature. What it means to the listener, and what it means to the world, are up for interpretation. As far as suggestions on possibilities to ponder, I offer you this observation: Noddy opens with a blessing, benediction. It is brought to a conclusion with a farewell, valediction. And it is end-capped with a curse, malediction.

It just so happens that the blessing and the curse are made up of the same words.

 

7 Comments

  1. Petronius
    Posted April 3, 2020 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    For accuracy it should be mentioned that Tibet’s collaboration with Douglas P., Boyd Rice, Tony Wakeford and others from the early naughty Neofolk gang has ceased in the early 90s, and there were also personal fall-outs. Ever since then Tibet has worked with a huge variety of collaborators, too many to name, some very prominent such as Nick Cave or Antony Hegarty. John Balance died in 2004. Stapleton was involved in almost every Current 93 release until very recently.

  2. Dennis
    Posted April 4, 2020 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Strange that the “frequent collaborators” mentioned all mostly ceased to be long ago, while the man who has probably been his most frequent collaborator in fact, Michael Cashmore, goes unmentioned. There are also five Tibet-voiced songs on Cashmore’s 1994 Nature and Organisation album (which for all intents and purposes may as well be a C93 album). Cashmore’s solo instrumental albums, Sleep England and Death in a Snow Leopard Winter, are also well worth checking out.

    Regarding the other comment above: In 25 years Cave has contributed guest vocals to 2 C93 tracks, and Antony has contributed a couple backing vocals and one lead vocal one of the many “Idumea” versions on Black Ships Ate the Sky. Neither is really “frequent” or contributes in any way to the creation of C93 work in any deep and continuing fashion.

  3. Benjamin
    Posted April 4, 2020 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    Despite being a Thelemite I’ve never listened to Current 93 before.

    Now I feel like I’m obligated to.

    May as well, lots of free time during the Coronavirus lockdown

  4. Noddy Nauthiz
    Posted April 5, 2020 at 3:50 am | Permalink

    Blessing is Freya Aswynn peforming galdr: runic chanting.
    Black Sun Bloody Moon: the lyrics are taken from the Voluspa (in the Poetic Edda). I think the translation is Tibet’s own as I’m not familiar with it from anywhere else.
    Oh Coal Black Smith is an old folk song. The line, “oh what is your silly song?” probably derives from the Old English silig, meaning holy. Therefore, holy song. This information comes from Penelope Shuttle and Peter Redgrove’s book The Wise Wound (about menstruation) which was no doubt a big influence on Tibet.
    Panzer Rune: Again, Freya chanting rune names.
    The Summer of Love is a cover version of the song by Blue Oyster Cult (uncredited).

  5. James J Omeara
    Posted April 5, 2020 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see any need to harsh on Antony as a “collaborator” with Tibet. I suppose, to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on how you define “frequent” or significant” or even “collaborate.” His relations with Tibet are far more extensive than “a couple backing vocals and one lead vocal.” Tibet heard the demo for Antony’s first album and put it out on his own label, Durtro, along with several later releases. They performed together at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London in 2001, some of which was released on the EP Some Soft Black Stars Seen Over London. Antony did not just record a few backing vocals for Black Ships but toured with Tibet in support of the album; the band included several other Johnsons including Baby Dee on harp, who also had a number of releases on Durtro. Antony’s legendary lineup at London’s 2012 Meltdown festival included Tibet (again, admittedly a side project of his, Myrninerest, not Current 93) and Marc Almond, who told a reporter that he first heard Antony’s music at the insistence of David Tibet. That’s a fairly full resume for some who “contributed” a few “back up vocals”.

  6. Lee Brubaker
    Posted April 7, 2020 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    We all have problems. We try to solve them rationally, through logical analysis and careful steps.

    What we don’t do is set them to music and mount them on stage.

    • Scott Weisswald
      Posted April 7, 2020 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      This must be the worst take on art I have seen in my life. I shudder to imagine a world in which men didn’t meditate on their sorrows on canvas, wax, or the stage.

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