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Violence and the Sacred

Violence and the Sacred - Dull Knife, Dull Life; Sharp Knife, Short Life / Now a God Dances through Me -7

Dull Knife, Dull Life; Sharp Knife, Short Life / Now a God Dances through Me -7"
Freedom in a Vacuum - 1989

Michael Panontin
Despite their rather auspicious debut, opening for the mighty Chris and Cosey in 1985 at Larry's Hideaway, Toronto's hyper-experimental Violence and the Sacred have always toiled in the cellars of obscurity. Canada's answer to Negativland, or possibly even the Residents, managed to provoke almost from day one, first when an early keyboardist managed to spend that same night in the slammer after drunkenly attacking someone and then smashing a window at the after-party, and later when their first release, Two Songs from Violence and the Sacred, actually caused one listener to contribute to radio station CKLN-FM's annual pledge drive provided that they stop playing it.

With the eighties in full sway, the band's medium of choice was the easy-to-produce DIY cassette, with a flurry of live and studio releases, at least thirteen of them by my count, unleashed between 1985 and 1988. On their first and only seven-inch, Violence and the Sacred come up for air somewhat, with the relatively accessible a-side a remixed track from the Two Songs... cassette and the flip a brief snippet from their Suture Self LP. 'Knife' is a frenetic mash-up with drum machine and keyboards going at it head to head, hardly radio-friendly, but then that was hardly the point, was it? The flip picks up where Throbbing Gristle's 'Hamburger Lady' left off a decade before, with vocalist St. Deborah reciting a text on cancer atop sundry electronics.

The band at the time were at each other's throats. As their website explains, "Things are really falling apart by this time. The improv group is, by January [1989], the only active version of the band, and the tension is high here, too. The nihilism and negativity that has characterized the group's work for some time seems to have seeped into everything." Sri (a.k.a. Scott Kerr) left shortly after (to reemerge in the queer-friendly Kids on TV), while Graham Stewart and Ted Wheeler would eventually go it alone, most recently releasing the ambient, droning Dawning Luminosity CD in 2010.

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