With a bold, experimental sound that ranged forcefully across an organic landscape of sound, This Heat blazed a trail that, roughly four decades later, sounds like punk’s true path rarely taken.
The Brixton trio’s records are the kind musicians know and love. And one can hear their influence everywhere from Battles to Public Image and Four Tet. With their music largely difficult to lay hands on for decades, the rest of us now get a chance to immerse ourselves in the world of This Heat. In January, Light in the Attic thoughtfully reissued three albums from 1979-1981 (This Heat, Health and Efficiency and Deceit) on vinyl for the group’s 40th anniversary.
This Heat were significant in bringing an avant-garde sense of experimentation into rock at a time when glam and punk were otherwise returning to the ‘50s for inspiration and tribal look. Despite playing its first gigs in 1976, This Heat existed well before punk hit. Drummer Charles Hayward recorded in prog/jazz fusion outfit Quiet Sun with Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. But rather than pursue a fusion groove, This Heat embraced experimental music-making, assimilating ideas from musique concrète, Krautrock and eventually dub into primordial epics that range from minimal and primal to aggressive and damaged as they draw from a broad palette of sound. Bassist Gareth Williams, a non-musician at first, brought a wild-eyed, shamanic energy to the band’s efforts. The band employed prominent tape edits, used everyday objects as instruments and self-recorded much of its debut album. In 1981, the make-it or break-it year for what critics called post-punk, This Heat released Deceit, an ambitious album appropriate for Rough Trade with equal parts tension and melody. But gains in the public consciousness were minor versus the first crashings of the synth pop wave. The band split a year later.
A This Heat reunion for tentative rehearsals in December 2001 was tragically cut short by the death of Williams. Recently This Heat founding members Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward announced they will come together for the first time since 1982 for THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT, a two-day residency this month at London’s Cafe OTO exactly 40 years to the weekend from their first gig in 1976. Hayward tells us more:
: Charles Hayward, I know you played in Quiet Sun with Phil Manzanera. What kind of music were you playing before forming the band?
Hayward: Before Quiet Sun I wasn’t in a group. Before This Heat I was playing non-idiomatic, non-jazz improvisation with Charles Bullen in a group called DOLPHIN LOGIC. A while before that I was in Gong for a couple of months.
: Where did you think music was going? Who did you think was on to something special?
Hayward: Music is constantly moving in many directions at the same time, so not sure it was any different back then, unless you mean the commercial mainstream, which is manipulated in order to make profits. I was listening to Miles Davis, Bartok, Terry Riley, Balinese Gamelan, Irish traditional music.
: How did you get from folk, jazz, blues to making this kind of music?
Hayward: We didn’t think that any single attitude was making the whole thing, that it was wider than that, and that genre and styles were mostly an illusion that gave journalists and critics something to write about.
: Was This Heat a reaction to overly technical progressive music?
Hayward: Not really, we just made the music we wanted to hear and that we thought people would find useful.
: Why would you form a band with Gareth Williams, who wasn’t an experienced musician?
Hayward: Because we were too experienced, knew too much in the wrong way and needed to strip things back for ourselves. It was what we wanted to hear.
: What did he bring to This Heat?
Hayward: Mostly he brought himself.
: Where did the idea of “violence” fit in with This Heat?
Hayward: Thinking about it, it was about touch, the way the audience understands muscular shading from cruel to kind, and that we allowed ourselves to go to extreme places.
: What were the early This Heat shows like?
Hayward: Loud organized chaos, small audiences.
: When The Sex Pistols came along, was that inspiring to you?
Hayward: Not so much the Pistols, not so much the music, but we did take what they said as useful and rebellious; then we heard it and it was just Chuck Berry on speed.
: What was This Heat’s relationship like with punk?
Hayward: Have you read Duchamp on Dada and group thought? It reminded me of how I felt about punk; everybody wearing safety pins through their ears sounds like sheep to me, sheep pretending they’re doing something radical.
: Where did the impulse to radically experiment with sounds, arrangement, editing come from?
Hayward: From my childhood, I would make music like it was play. I just never stopped, never grew up.
: Your recordings have a patchwork quality to them, mixing what sounds like demos with big studio versions of your songs. What inspired that?
Hayward: To use all of the sound to communicate and to let it move across spaces and time.
: I’ve read the band recorded everything it did. Are there any other recordings that might see the light of day?
Hayward: Yes, there are other recordings, but not sure if we’ll release them. It’s a slow process.
: How did dub come into the picture?
Hayward: Dub integrates the studio and the sound desk into the music and that was something we were interested in and already using in our music.
: I seem to know a lot of drummers who love This Heat. Why might that be?
Hayward: I think it’s because we never used a click track and that means the music can breathe and not echo bullshit hierarchical industrial work. Drummers especially can hear this more clearly than most people.
: With Deceit, and the Rough Trade association, the band seemed more of a piece with the crop of post-punk bands. Did the band benefit from the association? Did it seem that it had run its course? Or was there more to do?
Hayward: All these absurd subdivisions, genres, tribes, ridiculous names, what the fuck is post-punk anyway? It’s all meaningless. And there’s always more to do.
: Why did Gareth leave?
Hayward: He left because he wanted to do something else, be someone else, pretend something else. I just think he was running away from himself.
: Why do you think This Heat is so relevant in this day and age?
Hayward: Actually because I think we’re back in the same situation as we were back then, 40 years ago. History repeats itself.
: Can you tell us anything else about the THIS IS NOT THIS HEAT London shows?
Hayward: We’re not going to recreate the records, although we will be playing most of the material, but in new ways and without Gareth. So we’ve made the group much larger, including Thurston Moore, Alexis Taylor from Hot Chip, Daniel O’Sullivan, David Cunningham, Charles Bullen and me. Frank Byng and Chris Cutler will also be playing drums and percussion. “S.P.Q.R.” is going to have four guitars. The rehearsals are going really well.
: Any plans for doing something similar in the States or elsewhere?
Hayward: We’re going to just be doing the London shows at Cafe OTO for the moment and then see how things work out.