NON, a.k.a. Boyd Rice has been part of the underground scene since ‘70s, when he began composing and performing what he describes as “noise music.” Along with artists such as Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Cabaret Voltaire and others, NON was featured in the groundbreaking book Industrial Culture Handbook (1983) from RE/Search. The “industrial culture” authors V. Vale and Andrea Juno were referring to always had a basis in art, no matter how it sounded. In 1977, the mainstream media thought punk bands were turning music into anarchy. Artists such as NON ate the Sex Pistols for breakfast.
Mute Records founder Daniel Miller was an early champion, and has released a number of albums by NON, including the new Back to Mono. As Rice mentions in his liner notes, Back to Mono “Represents a return to my roots.“ Over the course of the past 35 years, Rice as NON has recorded in many different stylistic formats, but the art of noise is where he began.
As for Back to Mono, I was sold by the title alone. Convicted murderer Phil Spector coined that term when stereo replaced his beloved mono in the mid ‘60s. With mono, Spector was able to achieve his fabled “Wall of Sound” on classic songs such as “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Be My Baby.” If there is one thing that NON is familiar with, it is how to build a wall of sound.
A perverse sense of humor was always a part of the original industrial bands, and NON offers a fine example on the opening track. The song is titled “Turn Me On Dead Man,” which references one of the famous clues in the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory. The phrase is uttered by John Lennon during the most NON-like Beatles song ever, “Revolution #9.” This was supposedly positive proof that Paul McCartney was dead.
Z’ev is a percussionist (also featured in the ICH) who has collaborated with Rice in NON many times over the years. His appearance on “Turn Me On Dead Man” bodes well for the album. The tune features feedback, drums, and pure noise. It is a welcome return to the territory NON defined from the very beginning. The song works so well that there is a “Turn Me On Dead Man (Reprise)” included. In the liner notes, Rice calls this second edition “More of the same, more or less.”
“Watusi” is an unreleased studio recording from 1978, which was re-recorded in 2009, and remixed in 2010 for Back to Mono. Once again, Rice’s one-liner in the song notes is hilariously descriptive, “Remixed in 2010 for (believe it or not) noise reduction.”
“Seven Sermons to the Dead” was recorded live in New York City in 2009. It is a loud, rhythmic beast, boasting “Words by Carl Jung.” Although this is apparently a relatively recent composition, it reminds me in part of the classic 1982 debut album from Psychic TV, Force the Hand of Chance.
“Scream” hails from a 1979 performance at the Whiskey a Go-Go in Los Angeles. This is vintage NON, as abrasive and noisy as it gets, and the audience eats it up. It was always a hit or miss situation with a NON performance, as Rice was violently attacked more than once during his appearances back then. Closing out this nostalgic look back is a version of “Warm Leatherette.” Interestingly enough, Daniel Miller wrote this song, and it was a hit for Grace Jones back in 1980. It is a classic of the early electronica era, and NON plays it straight. His respect for Miller, and the tune itself is made clear in his notes, where he refers to “Warm Leatherette” as “The best electronic pop song ever recorded, bar none.”
There is something about that whole post-punk, original industrial scene that continues to fascinate me, and NON was a charter member. I find it extremely cool that he chose to look back at those years with Back to Mono. For fans of noise, this is an excellent album.