How to Wreck a Nice Beach

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Something To That Effect

Dr. Quatermass, The Hole Is To Dig

By Dave Tompkins at 7:26pm ET

(SIGSALY Vocoder terminal “X-Ray” at Selfridge Department store in London, after a German V-2 rocket attack. Dec. 1944. Photograph by Stephen Geis)

During my first night in the seaside town of Whitstable, a man tossed a radiator—and himself—through his motel window and landed on the balcony below. Broken glass, everywhere. Prior to defenestration, Ken Hollings, author of Welcome To Mars, described the motel as “a new mathematical dimension.” (His harrowing account lives here. Fortunately, the man survived.) I’d just DJed a Cornhole tournament in Vegas over Super Bowl weekend. All I wanted was some grey beach. No blade of grass.

I was in Whitstable to do a vocoder slideshow for Off the Page, a literary festival co-produced by Sound & Music and The Wire.

You know you’re in the right place when you walk into a conversation about “an attic full of weeping mutants.” (Apparently, everybody’s seen Doomwatch.) And how the Electro-Larynx had made several appearances in Southpark, buzzing against the maligned throat of Vietnam vet Ned Gerblanski. (Gerblanski’s version of “Feel Like Makin’ Love” is here.)

I did three presentations while in the UK: Off the Page, Café Oto, and at Goldsmith’s (University of London, hosted by Kodwo Eshun and Mark Fisher).

(Peachoid at Whitstable, Off the Page Festival. Photo by Ken Hollings)

Off the Page took place in an old theater populated by headless manikins in wedding dresses and Victorian drape. It was fun hearing “Pack Jam” swallow those old stage ghosts. Hollings: “’Pack Jam’ made me want to write, because I knew I would never make anything as cool as that. I heard it and knew I was doomed.”

I forgot to tell them that Bell Labs was surrounded by barbed wire turned inwards (nobody gets out) and how one BTL engineer described the vocoder as a “book with seven seals.”

Steve Beresford and David Toop, who produced that Frank Chickens song with the vocoder doing the Tan-Tan-Tanuki chant, were in the house. Also in attendance were Green Gartside (Scritti Politti) and Stanley Kubrick’s assistant, Tony Frewin. We talked about Zardoz and Lolita, and feeding Peter Seller’s back-porch jitters to a speech psychologist. “I get sort of carried away, being so normal and everything.” The word normal—which appears with the frequency of brains in Critical Beatdown—never sounded weirder. We are discomforted by its frequency, its insistence. If you’re compelled to say everything is normal, then most likely it is not. The familiar is a Quilty perversion.

Jonny Trunk presented rare Tristram Cary shorts. Trunk, who issued the “deadly dangerous” soundtrack for Blood On Satan’s Claw on his excellent label Trunk Records, also collects underwater music, aptly described as “people making music for a place without sound.” At some point in the evening, a few hours before our neighbor attempted to fly his radiator out to sea, yet after discussing the “increasing nightmare of not remembering who people are,” Mr. Trunk identified my pupil’s echo. “You have keyhole eye.” (It’s the left one.)

Ken Hollings’ “Cage Post-Cage” talk was enhanced by a smoke machine.

My left leg fell dead-ass asleep during Kodwo Eshun’s talk on his favorite music writing. Tried stomping it back to life in the aisle and failed. Made a wounded galumph for the exit. More stomping ensued in the theater basement. Leg regained consciousness upon discovering that the merch table had sold out of How to Wreck a Nice Beaches. (And that I was still having way too much fun.)

It’s alive!

This dead limb thing was no reflection on Kodwo’s presentation since he, uh, included an excerpt from my vocoder book: PAGE 227*—the part about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where a freshly podded Donald Sutherland emits a clone drone in Golden Gate Park, in broad daylight, in front of god and bagpipes. According to IBS, one can only be cloned (or duped) while asleep. My leg nodding off was a good start. Let the dub version of “Biters in the City” finish the job.

Three nights later at the Café Oto talk, someone asked if I was aware that I had been cloned. (I wasn’t.) He then told me to “look up Gordon Darcy.”

(Cafe Oto, Wire Salon Series, London. Photo by Cailin Deery)

(Cafe Oto and “The Foghorn.” Photo by Cailin Deery)

A few notes:

During the Q&A at Oto, a guy in the back said I had to make a choice: The Time Machine or Quatermass & The Pit. Any loyalty to HG—thanks for that funk epigraph—was compromised by the Quatermass scene involving a construction crane being smashed into a giant locust from Mars. All topped off by a facemelt. The choice is yours.

Goldsmith’s (a University of London offshoot) had my favorite batch of students yet. Said one: “Don’t tone it down and don’t stop cussing.”

That night ended at Steve Goodman/Kode9’s apt where we listened to “Purple Beats” and Burial remixing Massive Attack’s entire album, and watched vintage ghost army footage of Signal Corp officers mixing with three turntables inside a truck.

It turns out that 19th century naturalist and conchology books are mad expensive in Edinburgh. I was tempted by The Inmates of My Garden, which included the chapter “Eyes and No Eyes Is a Tale to Be Found at Home.” (Not to be confused with Cold War in A Country Garden by Lindsay Gutteridge.)

The Stone Tape is dope.

Is it tourist-y to visit the wine bar where they used to burn witches?

(Not the first edition and slightly warped.)

The cover of the first—and unaffordable—edition of A Hole Is To Dig (illustrated by Maurice Sendak) has the subhead: “The First Book of First Definitions.”

“A face is so you can make faces.”

“A face is something to have on the front of your head.”

And of course…

“A seashell is to hear the sea.”

Rondo Hatten played the role of Hoxton Creeper in Sherlock Holmes and the Pearl of Death.

Missed the chance to see the place where JFK’s brother’s plane blew up during Operation Aphrodite and the 16th century town that fell into the sea and is now being exhumed by sonic mapping.

Speaking of Operations, here’s Churchill’s list of prohibited Ops that “came up” during the Q&A at Café Oto:


Famous racehorses and constellations are permitted.

*p. 227. I am only jocking myself to reach a far more alarming truth.

Thanks to Cecilia Wee, Mary Liles, Tony Herrington, George Mahood, Derek Walmsley and Gordon Darcy.

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