Bagio II/Fristlos CD (Fidel Bastro)
von Michel Chevalier
Bagio is a guitar/percussion duo that has been playing since 2005. This is their second release on Fidel Bastro which, like their first, clocks in at around 20 mn and is therefore more like (for those of us who remember the vinyl days) an EP. At 4 Eur + metal box + extras, it's a steal, and these two releases, following Bagio's development snapshot-wise, remind me of the first two Big Black EPs, in a way.
Like the Chicagoans, Bagio proceeds by a process of reduction of sonic means. Big Black did this in '82 when they replaced the drum kit by a roland beat-box while maintaining a front line of punk guitar. Bagio does it by elimitating the P/A, feeding the signal of the roland drum pads (1) and the guitar into whatever home stereo or radio transmitter is available. When they bring their box of cordless headphones (as they did at the Astra Stube and the Unterm Durchschnitt shop), this means that you will hear the unamplified fretting of Uwe Bastiansen and the frantic pad-bashing of Muck Giovanett creating a volume-level of, say, three cats running around a room. Put on the cordless headphones, and you'll hear a saturated, bombastic roller coaster, not unlike, if physics allowed this, the coating of a film-noir soundtrack (compete w/ attention-grabbing time-signature changes) by a thick layer of toxic 1970's spray-paint (tracks 1 and 5, especially).
One wonders: in the r'n'r world where, often, means=firepower (cf. Lightning Bolt), what measure did Bagio take first: work up their aesthetic, and then resort to amputation—or the other way around? It's easy to think that medical experimentation is underway, indeed. Uwe and Muck wear some kind of medical face masks, along with goggles (there are no vocals). The aseptic digital cymbal crashes from the roland sound like a respirator machine, at times. As when you find yourself stuck on a traffic island, the implicit is grafted on the pressingly spatial (just who are these gesticulating guys dissecting rock-sonics?).
"Jod" (track 2) starts with what you'd hear on a department store escalator, all disconnected shoppers, misdressed mannequins, and other subliminal pom-pom action. This mutates at short notice into euro-wave apocalypticism (Killing Joke?) creating an Oxes tailwind. Would the video to this (have, ca. 1983) feature(d) video-of-TV-decay footage of El Salvador & Reagan (following the typical '80s "abolish the present by bonfiring the proxy" image politics)?
No, because bagio are not a retro operation. Uwe's heavily-processed guitar may revive some leads, but with an entirely negative component, too: an injunction to steer clear of those two dominant influences on the instrument that were never good ideas to begin with, namely Thurston Moore's jangle and Kurt Kobain's Sabbath-meets-Beatles-isms.
Like it or not, Bagio are part and parcel of this era of diminishing expectations (and, incidentally, the laptop '90s proved that "getting rid of the band" did not necessarily free up musical possiblilities, since it also meant subscribing to the technological rat-race). The CD's title track mixes a surreptitious phone-recording of an employee's "immediate dismissal" (fristlose Kündigung) with a sinister tom-tom crescendo. Perhaps their aseptcism is the counterpart of a certain bacterial reality which is less easy to mobilize against than Reagan (or Bush jr.). Clinical smoothness, or euphoria? In fine form here, bagio try to span both.
(1) For those not versed in intrument arcana: drum-pad kits substitute conventional membrane drums by plastic disks equipped with sensors. The drummer hears a synthetic drum sound via headphone or amp. This allows apartment-dwellers to discretely practice, at home, at any hour of the day or night.