Perfect 10: Bauhaus

“We were just four young kids who wanted to make something unique, without really having much idea what we were doing.” – Kevin Haskins

“We were arrogant fuckers. You had to be, in order to cut through everything and shine, to stand out. We really thought we were fucking brilliant. And we were.” – Daniel Ash

A group that could only have been spat from the cold, industrial post-war jaws of the less than shiny shoe town of Northampton in the English Midlands, Bauhaus formed in 1978 and proceeded to tear apart everything that came before them in rock n’ roll like a savage sonic juggernaut. 

The fearsome foursome created their own language and a new dimension in modern music in the wake of revolution bridging the gap between punk rock and just about every great ‘alternative’ act from Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More, The Cult and Jane’s Addiction to Massive Attack, The Dresden Dolls, and countless others that still haunt the bars and clubs today, painting their nails and dying their hair pitch black while dancing to the demonic beat of the “undead, undead, undead…” 

Influenced by German Expressionism, Dada, Bauhaus (the celebrated Weimar art movement from which they took their name), and classic horror films as much as they were Bowie and Iggy, the quartet reimagined a musical landscape without the constraints of typical pop and rock structure, often blending music styles and sonics in ways no one had attempted or even imagined before. Bauhaus played in shadows of the modern age casting new images upon the walls, uncaged and with an appetite for danger.

“I love rock n’ roll and impact at the beginning of movies, and Peter Murphy had this sort of ethereal, vampire quality to him, and I thought that would make an interesting opening title sequence in the movie.” — The Hunger director Tony Scott

Though some lazy journalists give more credit to some of their contemporaries, no other band of the late 1970s put forth the same package Bauhaus presented to the world. The odd hiatus ecdeopted, they have remained the same four-man band without line-up changes, consisting of Peter Murphy, the pale adonis with piercing eyes and cavernous voice; Daniel Ash, the perfect guitar foil with his razor-blade looks and haunted six-string; David J, the gentleman with a bass like molten lava; and his angel-faced brother Kevin Haskins, one of the most wire-tight and fluid drummers of all-time.

Together combined their love of art-rock, punk, reggae, psychedelia, and glam and became the perfect storm to sweep away the dull gangland cloud left by punk, and ushered back in the idea that music can be artistic… it can be romantic… it can make you think… it can make you feel more than two emotions. But most importantly, the music and art of Bauhaus represents freedom from stagnation, isolation, and darkness. They may have written the goth anthem, but Bauhaus were always about searching for enlightenment, wisdom, mystery, and an escape from the flat fields of the world they found themselves in.

As some kind of post-punk primer on the “founding fathers of Goth“, choosing a perfect 10 list from Bauhaus’s five flawless albums, A’s & B’s, live albums, demos and BBC sessions is about as easy as picking out the ten most beautiful stars from the sky. Virtually all of their recordings seem so perfect and timeless and created in the providence of the moment by four wildly different artsy boys with eternity in mind. This was never pop music. This ain’t rock n’ roll.  This was something so new and different yet possessed by an ancient energy that was fuelled by the dark side of the soul. This was poetry, anger, violence, sex, fear, and death.. all with a dash of gloom and eyeliner. This was Bauhaus. 

Bela Lugosi’s Dead (1979)

The song that started it all. Recorded in one take at Beck Studios (a former fruit and veg warehouse in Wellingborough, owned by the band‘s engineer Derek Tompkins) in January 1979, these are the first notes recorded by Bauhaus… notes that would give birth to a new darker path for music away from the mainstream. Siouxsie and Smithy may have been putting out records before Bauhaus, but it wasn’t until Bela that they truly embraced their inner dark. 

Over a hollow, dub-like arrangement at nearly ten minutes in length, the bellowing incantations of Murphy and Ash’s creaking six-string atmospherics leave the listener spellbound with a strange brew of dubby bossa nova beats, pulsating bass, haunting bellows, and echoing shattered guitar, BLD was like nothing that came before it. It was experimental, it was danceable, it was spine-tingling, and it was so fresh that it quickly became one of DJ John Peel’s most requested songs of all time, no doubt helped by its initial exclusivity as an attractive limited edition white label 12″ on the Walthamstow indie Small Wonder Records.

In 1983, Bela and Bauhaus themselves would go on to be featured in the opening credits of the Tony Scott vampire film The Hunger starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. This sequence, which featured intercut footage of Bauhaus performing on stage, Bowie and Deneuve scoping out the crowd for victims, and a rapidly ageing caged monkey in a lab, was the highlight of the entire film and would forever cement the shadowy fog-engulfed primal image of the band on celluloid in all their youthful glory.  

Double Dare (1980)

Originally recorded for a John Peel session at the BBC in 1980, but a track so perfect and inimitable the boys used it on their debut LP In The Flat Field. Although the more accessible Dark Entries opens later editions of the album in searing style, the original UK vinyl fired on all cylinders from the word go with Double Dare. The song begins with such a rare amount of electricity and intensity that it is almost palpable, a war cry to all willing to listen. A preparation for a journey. A manifesto by a quadrate of brilliant musicians who continue to innovate and inspire. “I dare you to be real”. Be yourself at all costs. Even punk had become bland and corporate. Bauhaus were clearing the slate and reinventing rock n’ roll for a new generation daring us to be feel and to be free.

There’s a strange lumbering almost militaristic feel to the song starting-off with sonar sounds and an ominous fuzzed out bassline followed by tribal marching drums and impassioned vocals commanding listeners to wake up or be flattened. The song itself crawls out of the speakers, grabs you by the shoulders, and shakes you until you remember what it’s like to feel alive.

Double Dare truly reached new heights when it would later be used as the opening number of the band’s first reunion shows in 1998 where Peter’s well-lit visage appeared on a television monitor on a blackened stage to introduce a new generation to the power of Bauhaus. 

In The Flat Field (1980)

The title track to the aforementioned debut kicks off with a wall of feedback broken down by rapid-fire rumbling drums and gristly throbbing bass propelling the band across the musical landscape crushing everything in their wake. Utilising references to the Greek myth, the band provided another powerful anthem for the disenfranchised, enraged, and trapped seeking their way out of the labyrinthine maze of modern life. Only the mystical string that Theseus had laid down can lead us out of this mess. 

Danny Ash’s guitars twist and bend as if they were on set on fire as Peter Murphy declares his boredom for the mundane over the thunderous rhythm of the Haskins brothers to create this dark art masterpiece. As with many Bauhaus songs, particularly in the early years, In The Flat Field showcases just how complimentary these four musicians were to each other, building upon each other’s uniqueness and willingness to take the music further and further with each song. As the track fades out, a few seconds of silence are necessary to recompose one’s self and allow the heart rate to return to normal. 

Crowds (1980)

Relegated to the flipside of their eccentric cover of T.Rex’s Telegram Sam single, the band prove that they can pour as much emotion and power into a stripped-down piano progression as they could any of their more titanic numbers. Crowds is beautifully accented with sparse notes from Daniel Ash’s guitar on full chorus as Peter Murphy showcases the wide range of depth and feeling in his voice that has made him one of the most distinctive vocalists of the century.

One of the most literal songs in the Bauhaus canon, the lyrics play upon the symbiotic relationship between the artist and their audience. At one moment the crowd adores you. The next they’re “fickle shits”.

How much does the artist owe the audience? How much can he or she give of themselves and their souls before there’s truly nothing left?    

Kick In The Eye (1981)

Never ones to rest upon laurels, in 1981 Bauhaus not only moved from their original home of 4AD Records to Beggars Banquet but would make major changes to their music and image. Combining their minimalistic raw energy with an incorporation of new textures, instruments and musical forms into their sound, their sophomore set Mask would be one of the standouts in an already stellar year in music.

Where their first album was a monolithic sonic beast called upon to clear the slate, Mask would be its new order. Amid an underbelly of lacerating guitars, fifth single Kick In The Eye saw the band upping their Jamaican influences while throwing in a healthy dose of twisted hard-nosed funk to get even the most sombre of souls off of their feet and onto the dancefloor. With that brooding mix of groove orientation and in your face harshness, think Killing Joke crossed with early Spandau Ballet with a pulse.

Poetically mixing the search for Satori and enlightenment with uncontrollable addiction, Bauhaus walk the thin line Lou Reed so carefully laid before them and further prove that possibility can be endless. 

Mask (1981)

This is a band illustrating its own crossroads. Mask on a whole is about Bowie-esque metamorphosis and the title track is a perfect picture of it. One is practically strangled by the smouldering intensity of this cryptic song as it builds and transforms into its magnificent peak. Almost cinematically, the strange and mysterious backwards tapes and guitars swirl around the pained vocals evoking an unsettling sense of torture and imprisonment which finally burst into flame in a cascade of 12-string and pounding drums and the soaring proclamatory chant of “the shadow is cast!”

Although it wasn’t released as a commercial single, the band filmed a promo for the song guerilla style. Shot in an abandoned Victorian shoe factory in their hometown of Northampton (without permission, I should add. I lived 20 minutes away and read about it in the local paper — Ed.), the video is fantastic slice of surreal horror that should only be watched during the darkest hours of night. And talking of The Dame… 

Ziggy Stardust (1982)

It must have been difficult to be unique, artistic, dramatic and moody without drawing comparison to David Bowie in the ’70s and early ’80s. It seems that Bauhaus and almost all of their contemporaries had their lives changed forever by a certain appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1972 (“A significant and profound turning point in our lives,” writes Kevin Haskins in his essential book Bauhaus Undead: The Visual History And Legacy Of Bauhaus).

Possibly due to the fact that Murphy and co were able to pull off the theatrical aspects of performance closer than others at the time, almost every critic either called them Bowie clones or acolytes. Things could have been worse, but the lack or journalistic originality must have grown a bit tiresome to these voracious seekers of the new. 

During a little downtime and finding themselves at the very same Trident Studios where Bowie’s original had been recorded, Ash and Haskins messed about with a cover of Ziggy Stardust for a bit of a laugh. After the other half of the band heard what they’d had done, they knew it would be a perfect song to perform on their upcoming radio session at the BBC which fell around the tenth anniversary of what is still considered Bowie’s most classic of albums (TRAFOZSATSFM for short).

Whether or not it was all a two fingered salute to their critics or a tribute to the Starman himself, Bauhaus’s “nuclear-strength take” of Ziggy was released as a single in October of 1982 and became the biggest hit of their career, earning them their own idol-making spot on Top Of The Pops in the process. Ironically, the week the track peaked at No.15, sitting atop of the charts was the debut hit by a far bigger Bowie fan than you or I — Do You Really Want To Hurt Me by Boy George and Culture Club.

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (1982)

Beyond the animal ferocity and energy the awesome foursome could muster up at a moment’s notice, there was also a deep human beauty that they could convey in their songs. Slowing the tempo down and with subtle instrumentation, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is Bauhaus at their most poignant and universal. 

A song reflecting upon the dreams of a dismal childhood that remain unrealised. Undoubtably, The Sky’s Gone Out, Bauhaus’ third album, is their finest work. This is the band standing at the top of the mountain and finding that it’s really just a volcano and the only way back is down. Are happiness and satisfaction ever truly attainable? Then again, “life is but a dream..”

Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? (1983)

In 1983, Peter Murphy had fallen victim to a life-threatening case of pneumonia forcing the rest of the band to begin writing and recording without him. More than a few of the songs on Burning From The Inside sound as though the frontman was retrofitted to be a part of them. However, in context, everything fits into place perfectly, and the fourth album serves as the major milepost for the band. Not only would it be the final studio set they would make together (well, until 2008’s surprising reunion project Go Away White), but due in part to the ability to express themselves individually vs as a band, BFTI paved the way for Tones On Tail, Love And Rockets, and the solo works of Murphy, Ash and David J… but, alas, those are all perfect 10s for another time.  

Two of the songs written without Murphy ended up on the album: the psychedelic rocker Slice Of Life and David J’s poignant piano-led ballad Who Killed Mr. Moonlight?. Clearly, the boys had outgrown their form and even this brilliant revolution they started had grown old and could no longer support the singularity of each member’s musical vision. Wisely forgoing the risk they would outlay their welcome, the band decided to call it quits while they were still on top. They could see that what always made their work so timeless and powerful was the combination of their forces. With each member now vying for a louder voice, the band could not sustain itself and needed to combust and explode into all the works that came after and are still being created by the boys today.

Of all the songs on BFTI, it was the aforementioned Mr. Moonlight that was the most haunting and prescient. This elegant and beautiful song was an expression of true maturity and the moment in all of our lives where we’re forced to realise that not all dreams come true, there is no immortality, and all innocence comes to an end. Sparked by the death of John Lennon, David J ended up writing an ode to end of Bauhaus before it happened and an end to youth for us all.

“All our stories burnt
Our films lost in the rushes
We can’t paint any pictures
As the moon had all our brushes”

She’s In Parties (1983)

If Who Killed Mr. Moonlight? was the sad lament to the end of an era, She’s In Parties would be their finest of farewells as the band’s final 45, and the only one released from Burning From The Inside. Unironically, the B-side was entitled Departure, which was an experimental and nightmarish short story/soundscape reminiscent of The Gift by the Velvet Underground.

She’s In Parties was the culmination of everything Bauhaus had worked towards musically and artistically in the past five years since they joined forces in cobbledy old Northampton. With lyrical grand allusions to old Hollywood and Marilyn Monroe, we wave goodbye to the pulsing reggae, the sharp and angular riffs and echoes, the Teutonic beats, the ghostly whispers, and the deep howls of our courageous heroes. The boys are all gone. All that remains of their exquisite corpses are the images left on film and the sounds recorded to tape. All that’s left is the legacy. 

“It’s in the can…”

Antoine Poncelet

Antoine Poncelet is a singer/songwriter and the front man of the post-punk group The Antoine Poncelet Band, currently on an endless world tour of New Jersey. 

You can find him most days at facebook.com/antoineponceletmusic,

antoineponcelet.bandcamp.com, and YouTube.com/antoineponcelet. He recently released an album with alt-rockers Precious Bones which can be found at preciousbones.bandcamp.com

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Antoine Poncelet
http://antoineponcelet.bandcamp.com
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