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© 2010 shamshack. All rights reserved. Ut Press Photo, 1988

Feral Epiphanies (from Plan B #13)

Ut, In Gut’s House
Griller (Blast First/Mute)

Ut: music: the syllable used in the fixed system of solmization for the note C.

White Columns Noise Fest Flyer, 1981

Noise Fest Flyer, 1981

This is where music ended.

Every gig these three New York ladies played between migrating to London in 1981 and splitting in 1990 felt like it could be their last, such was the force of their emotion, their unwillingness to compromise. Guitar strings were coerced, battered, detuned, retuned – and maybe only then returned, bruised and bewildered, to their original state. Vocals were spat out, mumbled, suddenly roared: Jacqui Ham and Nina Canal and Sally Young taking an eternity to switch between instruments (the band was truly democratic) and mic duties, seemingly unaware of the restrictions usually placed upon a band by its attendant audience (ie, to actually perform).

First time we saw Ut at a Birthday Party gig, me and my mate Geoff sat studiously on the edge of the stage with our backs towards the trio, such was our hatred for their lack of presence and seeming reliance on crap guitar tuners. A few years later, we had bottles thrown at us by Fall fans – Fall fans, for fuck’s sake – for dancing to Ut’s jagged, post-No Wave rhythms. We went on to see Ut about 45 times: sure, we were aware of Sonic Youth’s turbulent guitar-storms, of Live Skull’s almost narcoleptic haze, of the Butthole Surfers’ depraved pyrotechnics and The Membranes’ shimmering fury – but no one could touch these women for sheer intransigence and confrontation.

The deeper into themselves Ut dug, the more the audiences seemed to hate them: the gaps between songs would often became longer than the songs themselves as bickering took hold, but still they persisted, heedless yet acutely focused.

It was hard to tell where the roots of this music lay – perhaps in Nina’s previous band, Robin Crutchfield’s rackety Dark Day, or in the relentless surge of Lydia Lunch’s Teenage Jesus, or in John Cale’s howling viola – but Ut were always something separate, something apart. When I first experienced Babes In Toyland, I tried to explain their dissonant surge in terms of Ut – but soon realised that beyond the two bands’ beautiful, scaly noise there really weren’t that many parallels to be drawn.

Ut, Griller

Griller, 1989

Ut’s reluctance to pander was matched only by their hatred of the studio – or so it seemed. A cassette, Ut Live, was released on Out in 1981, and a 12-inch followed, both of which captured Ut in their brutal, uncompromising rawness. But it took eight years after their conception in December 1978 for the band to be accorded a full-length release, 1986’s Conviction wherein the band finally documented some of their torturous unease, their fractured individuality shaped through bloody-mindedness into a coherent whole. It was excellent, as was 1987’s long overdue retrospective Early Live Life, both records as dense and emotional and fragile as you’d expect from a band who’d made a career out of onstage deliberation. It wasn’t until Ut released their final brace of records, however – the double 12-inch In Gut’s House (1988) and Griller (1989) – that they managed to truly capture the intensity of their live shows on vinyl.

Even 18 years on, In Gut’s House is astonishing: 10 songs that scrape and scour away until they reach that elusive core at the very heart of music, the core so very few bands reach (maybe The Velvet Underground on ‘Venus On Furs,’ perhaps Sonic Youth on ‘Death Valley ‘69’).

On In Gut’s House, Ut transcended their origins, their surroundings – everything and anything – most especially on the two middle songs, the violin-scarred ‘Shut Fog’ and ‘Homebled.’ The entire album is a series of epiphanies and denouements, bursts of impassioned vocals offset by clattering drumbeats and needling guitar. Lyrics were dark utterances, part Patti Smith, part something altogether more feral and vulnerable.

Griller is damn fine, too, but it pales in comparison. Maybe Ut realised they couldn’t hope to repeat the moment. The 11 songs present still shredded; deep, malicious, urgent and intricately layered. (You can tell now where its producer Steve Albini discovered the sound he later used to such devastating effect on PJ Harvey’s Rid Of Me.) Brief guest member Charlie D pounded up a welter of intent on the drums: relentless, heavy, frantic and … just … blam blam blam blam blam blam blam

Everett True interviews Ut
Motivation: “Compulsion.”
Inspiration: “Contempt.”
Confrontation: “Revelation.”
Realisation: “The goalie’s anxiety at the penalty kick.

— Everett True

Reposted from the Plan B Archives, Issue 13.