At a mere 16 years old, Annie Bandez headed from Yonkers, NY to the Gramercy Park region of Manhattan to play a series of stints at the legendary Max’s Kansas City club as Annie and the Asexuals, often hitting the stage and collaborating with other acts like the Epileptics and the late Alan Vega of Suicide. No studio recordings from this period, the prime of punk, escaped the era, but in name alone Bandez seemed to be staking out her claim as being a kind of Anti-Runaways piston, as against exploitation and glamour as she was pro-revolution, fiercely wearing her anti-capitalist politics on her teenage sleeve.
It was perhaps this that allowed her to fortuitously cross paths with Steve Ignorant of the band Crass, themselves the epicenter of anarcho-punk in the UK. Bandez accepted an invite to visit the group for two weeks at the infamous Dial House space in Essex, where artists and bohemians had gathered for decades to live communally and plot their countercultural revolts. Instead of just visiting, she moved in, sharing space with Crass’s Penny Rimbaud and Eve Libertine, who would go on to become frequent collaborators. Renaming herself “Annie Anxiety”, Bandez’s music instantly took on a far more experimental and risky sonic aesthetic than many of her ideological peers, who remained mired in an alternation between hardcore punk’s loud-fast dynamic and folk’s plaintive social realism.
By contrast, Annie Anxiety’s debut single, released on Crass’s own imprint in 1981, features two fairly lengthy sides employing musique concrete techniques to espouse a radical critique of the postmodern landscape. The A-side, “Hello Horror” is composed of a series of radio dial snippets pulsating in and out as Bandez spasms an IV drip of word fragments and incomplete phrases, producing a nauseatingly disjointed collage of utterances. This single, and likely her early live shows from what little has been written about them, paints her in the avant-garde lineage of her Fluxus forebears from Dial House and musically in the peer group of Throbbing Gristle (she’d later contribute an evocative guest vocal on Coil’s “Things Happen”, a centerpiece of their 1991 album Love’s Secret Domain). Though scribed as a poem, “Hello Horror” is more theatrical performance than anything else, her various vocal cracks and emotive gasps less melodic songwriting flair than surrealist atonal histrionics.
The punk-poet tradition has not endured a healthy shelf-life. Though the florid confessionals of Patti Smith and the beatific nihilism of Vega’s Suicide remain canon, few these days recognize as essential Henry Rollins’ late stage career on the spoken word circuit or Jim Caroll’s crossover appearance in the ridiculous James Spader and Robert Downey Jr. vehicle Tuff Turf. Other names like John Cooper Clarke and Attila the Stockbroker have nearly faded entirely from view. As spoken lyrics gradually became the exclusive terrain of the hip-hop artists, those peddling in not-quite def poetry jamming soon fell by the wayside as a historical punch line.
Annie Anxiety, in both her early singles and on her debut LP Soul Possession, should be considered both inside and outside of this tradition. Each of the eight tracks on Soul Possession represent a single contained performance piece, a poem set to music, but it’s in her musical vanguardism, indebted equally to post-punk, industrial, and especially dub, that she frees herself from the musty preconceptions of what punk poetry has to sound or feel like. She adopts a perfectly suited voice for each piece, giving her license to explore a broad terrain while pinning herself to a broad ideological thread and a series of unsettling luxated dub riddim and grooves.
On “Turkey Girl”, she intones a hillbilly drag, sounding like a greasy Tom Waits whose debased objet d’objectification begins autoerotically merging in his mind with his automobile. “Want to cut my cock on your pop top, oh gin mint julep / Want to crush cold steel in my bare hands, cold bitch metallic whore / …Rub against your cylinder hips up my aluminum side,” she huffs in a brutal, misogynistic snit, the smell of skoal and WD-40 practically seeping out of the speakers. Elsewhere on “Burnt Offerings”, her narrative fluctuates between clinical monotone and desolate moaning as she deconstructs the pharmacological indifference of psychiatrists attempting to normalize a friend for the sake of wellness, resembling Genesis P-Orridge at the bleeding edge of sanity. If there are some wan, didactic strains that feel clunky, as she argues that psychiatrists “Inject poison logic / In lethal quantities / Enforcing their sickness with physical brutality / To make people conform to their code of normality”, it’s because the rest of the album realizes its critiques much more effortlessly.
Much of this can be owed the assortment of collaborators she’d assembled. 1984’s Soul Possession was produced by Adrian Sherwood, whose British label On-U Sound had been turning post-punk and dub music on its head for several years by with unique and unusual psychedelic experiments. An assortment of On-U players also appeared, along with Rimbaud on drums and Derek Birkett on bass. Birkett was in a fellow anarcho-punk outfit called A Flux of Pink Indians and would go on to found One Little Indian, one of the most important indie labels of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s (releasing early singles by The Shamen and A.R. Kane and following the career trajectory of Björk, who had once released on Crass Records as a member of KUKL).
There’s a playful sense of ingenuity about between Sherwood’s professional players and Bandez, Rimbaud, and Birkett, who were admittedly more amateur. That wonky, stumbling spirit, lends itself well to the séance-like atmosphere, which feels like deliberate disorder carefully staked to unsettle the listener. As Bandez admitted to Dangerous Minds last year, “If I had learned to write music, I wouldn’t have come up with those sounds… It’s a blessing in a strange way.”
On “Third Gear”, the title itself an allusion to a liminal, transitional state, Rimbaud and Birkett’s dilettante rhythm section make it feel like eight minutes of being completely out of sync. Scrambled voices and primitive samples phase in and out through walkie talkie feedback and laugh maniacally while Bandez plays twinkling keys on a Teac, the whole thing being mixed on a four track. The tinny sound of the keyboard fulfills a complete immersion into the eerie, its off-putting lack of depth conjuring chills as Bandez speaks of “Russian roulette on the motorway…light a fag in the petrol station”. Its very cheapness serves as great proof to why the post-punk project was so vital; each scrappy instrument was used by autodidacts to their full potential, often not even in the ways they were intended to be played. “Third Gear” becomes a stew of sound, not so much building as bubbling. But as its whispered sultry come-ons get more heated and the vertical pumps of minor chords flange and meld across the mixture, the music cuts out and out of nowhere emerges a faded glimmer of pop.
To the tune of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky”, Bandez broods in a reverberation of exhaust that foreshadows the following year’s Psychocandy by the Jesus and Mary Chain: “My baby rode into the darkness / My baby rode into the night / My baby’s gonna be forgotten/Tonight”.
Though Soul Possession is a terrific time capsule from a time when anything in music was possible because so much was still new, it seems likely that this baby will soon be forgotten again as well, despite the brilliant rescue mission by Dais Records. It’s an arcane and occult little foreign object. The cacophony of the record’s first four seconds seems designed to both repel and allure, jolting one into the midst of horrid sequences already in progress. Soul Possession, like Annie Anxiety herself, refuses to play by any rulebook and the hypnotic piecemeal assemblages at the front of the record eventually just fall apart by its finale. Ultimately, though, this is a rewarding venture and perhaps a grim reminder of how damaged times can lead to some equally damaged tunes. Advice for the scrap metal of tomorrow’s industrial waste.
// Notes from the Road
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