Conceived in the certainty commercial and critical indifference would be the inevitable outcome of their enterprise, Cleveland’s Pere Ubu knew they had nothing to lose when they recorded the four singles that led up to The Modern Dance in 1977.
This consequence-free environment spawned an exhilarating confidence that thought nothing of whisking atonal electronica and garage-band naiveté against the thrumming industry of the local steel mills and body-shops from which they drew rhythmic inspiration.
When originally released in January 1978, The Modern Dance entered a market still shivering beneath punk’s nuclear winter. With plenty of prickly deadbeat attitude to spare, they appeared to have a lot in common with punk’s nihilist creed. Yet as Thomas makes abundantly clear in the video interview on this DualDisc, Pere Ubu regarded the movement that embraced them as something of a Luddite force.
Looking worryingly like the rotund 1970s television detective, Frank Cannon, and speaking with an autistic intensity that shuns all but the most fleeting eye-contact with his interviewer, Thomas argues punk’s anti-intellectual reductionism was the very opposite of what Ubu was all about.
The noise-laden semiology carefully encoded into the text and test-tones that form the backbone of this record demanded to be taken seriously rather than something to be dashed off in the rush of a two minute, safety-pinned sneer. Wearing its art-heart unashamedly on its sleeve, The Modern Dance threaded several cross-cultural fragments into a collage that was simultaneously precious and precocious.
In Simon Reynolds’ authoritative survey of the post-punk music scene Rip It Up And Start Again, the author memorably describes David Thomas’ vocal bleat as sounding 'like Beefheart if his balls had never dropped.' Listening to the frantic rant of “Life Stinks” or the astringent musicality of “Chinese Radiation” and “Real World,” you’d be hard pressed to disagree.