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Severed Heads – Big Saints Reward (88-90 Dubs)

By the tail end of the 1980s, some of the leading lights of the post-punk industrial scene were beginning to embrace the still nascent sounds of Chicago house and Detroit techno. Having influenced a whole generation of American producers, the likes of Chris and Cosey and Cabaret Voltaire were now producing synth-pop created with the same drum machines and samplers that had spawned dance music’s most exciting new genres. While there are undoubtedly hints of this exchange of influences on albums from the period (particularly 1990 Cabs LP Groovy, Laidback & Nasty, which featured contributions from various Chicago house greats), it was on the 12” singles created with clubs, rather than radios, in mind that it really came to the fore. It can be heard in the exotic, bubbling house-funk of Chris & Cosey’s “Rise” single, and in remixes of the Cabs from Francois Kevorkian, A Guy Called Gerald and Sheffield bleep pioneer Robert Gordon.

Severed Heads - Big Saints Reward (88-90 Dubs)
Severed Heads
Big Saints Reward (88-90 Dubs)
Optimo Trax
12", Digital
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The band that really nailed it, though, was Severed Heads. While the Australian group’s commercially aware 1988 set Rotund for Success boasted some of these influences – New York electro, Chicago house and EBM, in particular – it was mainly concerned with offering an experimental, sample-heavy take on synth-pop. It was on the 12” singles released to promote the album – with Sydney producer Robert Racic at the controls – that their love of contemporary dancefloor styles came to the floor. The dubs, often nestled away on the B-sides, remain the greatest examples of industrial funk’s flirtation with house.

For the uninitiated, Big Saints Reward (88-90 Dubs) should be essential listening. It gathers together Robert Racic’s dub versions from all three Rotund For Success-era Severed Heads singles, throwing in an additional re-edit from J.D Twitch. “Greater Reward” is, of course, the headline attraction. While the original album version was relatively lightweight, sounding like Tom Ellard’s take on New Order’s ecstasy-influenced hits of the period, the “Greater Dub” revision was anything but.

Blessed with arguably the most spine-tingling piano refrain in the history of house (and certainly the most recognizable), it dispels with Ellard’s vocal completely, instead focusing on undulating, never-ending synth-bass, stuttering edits, cut-up samples and the metronomic pulse of drum machine rhythms. Throw in some New Order style chords, and you have something that remains magical, some 27 years after it was initially released. Twitch’s accompanying “Greater Piano” re-edit is a smart piece of work; while suitably reverential to the original dub, it offers a groove-based intro for easier mixing before emphasizing the rush-inducing qualities of that famous piano line.

Ellard and Racic’s obsession with groove is arguably better exemplified, though, by the “Saints Dub Day” version of “All Saints Day”, nestled here on the flip. Free of the smile-inducing chords and pianos of “Greater Dub”, it re-invents a largely forgettable chunk of radio-friendly synth-pop as a club roller. Delay-laden hits, curious percussive samples, backwards cymbals and Cabs style synth stabs all used to emphasize another thrillingly funky synth bassline and handclap-heavy machine drums.

Rhythm also comes to the fore on the “Saints Dub Day” revision of “All Saints Day”. A little more laidback, but built to the same set of instructions, it benefits greatly from Ellard and Racic’s love of sample manipulation. Throughout, they twist vocal hits and synth lines into exotic melodies, with additional percussion lines emphasizing the bass-heavy groove. It lacks the straightforward dancefloor power of the other material on the EP, but is undoubtedly the most technically interesting. It is, in some ways, the most authentic of all three original dubs showcased here, and wholly in keeping with Ellard’s musical obsessions of the period.

Matt Anniss


A1. Greater Reward (Piano Power Edit)
A2. Greater Reward (Dub)
AA1. Big Car (Crash Dub)
AA2. All Saints Day (Saints Day Dub)