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Forward Strategy Group – Labour Division review

Will industrial suffer the same fate in 2012 as minimal did in 2006-7 and become synonymous with imagination-free bandwagon jumpers? Certainly the growth in the number of producers and outlets – including labels and media – who cite everything from Downwards to Throbbing Gristle as key influences is startling, especially in light of the fact that these converts include established names.

Really, many of them should know better. Yet despite this oftentimes cynical redrawing of allegiances, there has been some stunning industrial-themed techno music in recent years, and Forward Strategy Group aka Patrick Walker and Al ‘Smear’ Matthews have been among the key contributors. Listen back to their Applied Generics release from 2009 on their own FSG label or their Retail & Leisure side-project in case you still harbour any suspicions that they are johnny come too latelys. While their EPs have showcased a primal interpretation of harder edged techno, Labour Division is Walker and Matthews’s definitive statement so far and its natural home is Perc Trax (although this writer must take some credit as Ali ‘Perc’ Wells originally came across FSG and their music on my now defunct Test Industries blog).

That Labour Division takes inspiration from industrial culture is evident in both its title – surely a contender for a great, missing Swans LP? – and on the detached, fuzzy synths of “Ident” and the menacing tones of “TTH”, or the eerie textures and understated percussive hiss of the Regis-in-experimental-mode that is “Metal Image”. But what is more interesting about this album is not its re-activation and presentation of existing narratives as they were, but its wholesale attempt to redefine their own vision for techno. It’s a mightily ambitious objective and whether intentional or not, Walker and Matthews achieve this in places. “Mandate” is a relatively standard broken beat track, but is delivered with a rubbery bass and layers of grungy upbuilds, the sonic equivalent of a sack of soot and grime emptied over a glass table.

“Elegant Mistakes” is anything but, a flailing, fractured rhythm shot through with the solder iron percussive stomp of Perc or Surgeon, and a barely controlled sense of edginess that threatens to take control and unleash chaos without ever getting to that point. The title track is the album’s most intense moment; a runaway juggernaut of a rhythm, it bears down on the listener like a duckling in the crosshairs of a crystal meth-fucked survivalist’s semi-automatic. The sense of terror it emits intensifies in direct relation to the climax of FSG’s metal drums and evil trance riffs.

Of more importance however is the fact that Labour Division proves that FSG don’t preach sonic austerity because they have nothing else to say. “Nihil Novi” is a stripped back, crackling metallic groove combining  the accessibility of Factory Floor with Ben Klock’s rhythmic dexterity, “TTH” fuses the atmospheric textures that were audible on “Metal Image” with lithe back beats and “Cultivar”, though set against a darker sonic backdrop, relies on similarly agile rhythms. At a time when all around them are marching to the death paced drums of Gothno, Labour Division sees FSG tease new ghosts and fresh horrors from their machines –  as the eerie soundscapes and clinking chains on the supernatural “Fading Centres” so ably demonstrates.

Richard Brophy


1. Ident
2. Mandate
3. Elegant Mistakes
4. Industry & Empire
5. Labour Division
6. Fading Centres
7. Nihil Novi
8. Metal Image
9. TTH
10. Cultivar