REVIEW: Barbed – Barbed / ‘Symbols’ (1994)

A tale as old as time. Two women talk about coleslaw. One voice confirms they need more mayonnaise, and with a “roger roger” all things suddenly burst into a pounding industrial assembly line groove called LFK. This is plunderphonics. More specifically, this is Barbed’s 1994 self-titled debut album, known to fans and the internet alike as ‘Symbols’.

Barbed was recorded meticulously between 1988 and 1993 by bandmates Alex Burrow and Alex McKechnie. Released in 1994 on the experimental music label These Records out of London, ‘Symbols’ gathered some favorable press before fading into obscurity.

User “alexbarbed” of the (terribly named) Muffwigglers forum website, writing as an unspecified member of the band, opened up about the creative process.

“If what we made sounded anything like something we’d heard before, we threw it out. That meant that (with the exception of King of Rock, which we sort of compromised on) there were actually no ‘samples’ on that record. There were tiny fragments of sound that we used as instruments, but no chunks of other people’s work. And there were no concessions to any genre or audience. Looking back though, I guess we wanted to be like an electronic instrumental version of Captain Beefheart.”

While it may now sit comfortably within the often humorous plunderphonics genre, Barbed achieved something many peers didn’t. While the basis of nearly all other forms of music, beat oriented tracks like King of Rock, LFK, and How About Some Butterflies subvert the sound collage propensity for purposefully difficult listening, while allowing for the listener to just have fun. Yet another groundbreaking development from the experimental music scene.

While former member Alex McKechnie’s solo work is available on Bandcamp, the collective effort of McKechnie and Burrow remain elusive. You can stream the full album here or buy the CD from sellers on Discogs.

The album in its entirety was uploaded to Youtube on March 26th, 2016 by user Howard Jacques.

For fans of: John Oswald, Meat Beat Manifesto, The Residents

Like Barbed? Give these a listen: Crash Course In Science, Men’s Recovery Project, Snakefinger

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