Judda (1994)

Some time ago I was asked to write a piece about Judda. Who? You may well ask. I never sent through the article – but on reflection it’s not a bad start point, so here it is.

To understand about Judda it’s first necessary to describe London and Camden in the early 90’s. And that is a distant land, seen dimly now. London was deep in recession. The late 80’s were supposed to be a time of excess and decadence – yuppies, Thatcher, all that. Maybe so but I don’t recall much improvement to the aesthetics of the town before the whole British economy crashed again in about 1990. I remember electric fires, dirt and peeling wallpaper in dim lit corridors, the broken door buzzers of thousands of bedsits and DSS flat shares. There were squats everywhere, but landlords didn’t care – the property market had slumped so far that vast piles of Georgian and Victorian splendour sat rotting and unwanted. It was a grimy time, the last year or two before the internet changed everything. It’s strange to think about that now. Imagine organising a gig. No mobile phones (hardly, anyway), no websites, no email, no Facebook Groups. Nothing but word of mouth and printed flyers.

JuddaEveryone was on the dole. Ecstacy was the drug of the moment (at £15 quid a pill!); backstreet raves were everywhere, springing up with the weeds in the gutter. Scenes blurred and merged. Fetish had yet to become a mainstream, commercialised affair and the last echoes of punk could still be heard faintly reverberating. (A lot of the older techno-heads had been fourteen-year-old punks, now in their late twenties drawn back to the experimental and anti-police vibe around the underground rave scene).

In the mainstream music press that period in Camden is remembered for the rise of the Britpop bands – Blur and Suede and Elastica and a load of second string indie bands with floppy haircuts posing around; playing The Falcon, pretending to be bisexual and drinking too much lager in the Good Mixer. We thought those bands were simpering and self-satisfied little wankers and we poured beer over them whenever we could.

For something else stirred in the bowels of North London. Before property developers and the mobs of foreigners in T-shirts and stinking fast food outlets swamped the place there was a genuine semi-illegal subculture centred in Camden around the tube, the market and the stables. This industrial-grunge movement was an odd alliance of acid housers, intellectual perverts, gothic rockers and piss stained crusties. After Sheep on Drugs (briefly the undisputed champs), there were three bands of any importance in this scene – Pig, Cubanate and Judda.

All of us celebrated self-destruction. But for all our debauches Pig and Cubanate were really quite posh. Flicking through pictures from the time Raymond looks ludicrously chiselled (who is this strutting fop?) and we (the early Cubanate) appallingly clean-shaven and momma’s-boy-delicate.

But Judda were proper nasty.

Judda’s sound was a guttural, clanking roar that (to my mind) only ever made sense live. Frontman Pedro was a mountain of leather and dreadlocks and tats, barking and grunting at the front of the stage. Andy, the pierced and perverted keyboard player was also positioned up front. As I recall he wore his enormous moustache in a walrus like style, scowling and prowling under a trilby and a cream suit. Bass player Jez and the rest of the band bristled with spikes, nose rings and studs. Judda were always fighting and arguing, splitting and re-forming. Often live on stage. They were also constantly whipping or piercing or buggering or being buggered by each other. One story I remember about Andy is that one day he failed to turn up to rehearsals because his boyfriend, with whom he had been playing some kinky homo bondage game, had left him muzzled and bound, dangling from the ceiling of his Finsbury Park flat in a crucifix position. Andy struggled extra hard and tried to explain that he was urgently needed at the studio but his partner couldn’t hear his muffled protests through the gag – and anyway just thought Andy was enjoying himself so left him dangling for a few more hours.

Clubbing was very different back then, a dirty and dangerous business. If you lived in Camden, you could pretty much walk it to Islington or the West End or Manor House. No one had any money. It was always Wednesdays Hard Club, Friday The Ballroom, Saturdays Slimelight. You could be out most nights in a darkened room listening to darker music. I would often run into Jez or Andy at the Hardclub or the Slimelight. Most disturbing of all were my occasional confrontations with Pedro, who always managed the improbable feat of being even drunker than I was. I really liked the geezer but it was hard to tell the difference between “Pedro pissed and friendly”, and “Pedro pissed and pissed off”. The bruise count was about the same.

Cubanate and Judda played and sold out several shows at the Camden Underworld, always advertised as a confrontational “Cubanate versus Judda” by the promoters Mags and Kath – aka Mechanical Promotions. One time they even got Pedro and me to mock-up a boxing match weigh-in and we were photographed facing off, eyeball-to-eyeball. I was glad, during this event, that we weren’t actually going in to the ring together because Ped had a stone or two on me and looked a bit tasty besides. Up close he always smelled of booze and sweat and violence.

Nevertheless Cubanate usually won the musical confrontations. Judda looked dirtier and darker but we had a manager (there were endless stories of the abuse Judda heaped on would-be managers) and we played more so we were tighter. Cubanate were more ambitious, more focused, more structured. Judda just didn’t give a fuck. By this I don’t mean that they didn’t believe in their music. Oh, they were intense about the band; Judda was their lives. But for all the aggro they were more scared than I was about sitting down with the suits from record label. Judda saw that as supping with the corporate devil – whereas that was the bit I liked the best. That righteous political attitude may sound ridiculous these days, when everyone is a whore, and fastidiousness about from whom you take money is seen as embarrassingly passé (unless it’s say, from a high profile carbon polluter), but then Class War was alive and well.

In 1993 Cubanate made a video for Body Burn, our first single. You can see it on Youtube. In retrospect I’m rather pleased with that video now, considering the 8mm vintage and the old brown shoestring budget. But more importantly it’s probably the one remaining glimpse of both bands together. The director wanted a crowded, violent feel to it so I bought in Jez and Pedro as extras to make up the numbers. You can see them clearly in the video. Plus Joolz Beeston who had just left Nitzer Ebb and was drumming for us.

Briefly, over winter ’92-93 there was a fad for “Industrial”. Major label A&R were told to look for a British Nine Inch Nails. Soon the Melody Maker and Kerrang! and EMI Records were coming to see us all. Cubanate even recorded some demos for London. Judda did record some stuff, with Raymond producing. But no label would touch them, even in those days when Sheep on Drugs, Ministry and NIN were in the charts. This was partly because Judda were always at their best live and loud, partly because of the vitriol they spat at any A&R men who turned up. A bit of lip from some indie upstarts is acceptable (shows “attitude”) but five burly speedheads with extremist views and (shall we say) flexible sexuality bearing down on you in leather is another thing.

Pig, Cubanate, Judda. I always tried to harness the three bands together, to try to build up a scene, to gain a sense of momentum in the press. But whenever I suggested a collective approach Raymond was evasive. And Pedro would just laugh. One time, an hour before an Underworld show, a music journalist took me and him upstairs to The World’s End to discuss this upcoming London Industrial / whatever movement. Serious and intense, I gave the journo my usual shtick – which this was the edge, about how to use the anger, the links I saw between the personal and the political… But Pedro was out of his skull on cider and (I think) acid. After my opening sally, spitting Strongbox and coagulated flecks of sulphate, he violently demanded silence, and then announced that he would only discuss one subject – marmosets. And then Pedro talked. He gibbered and gabbled about marmoset fur and marmoset noises and marmoset fighting habits and marmoset mating habits until the music hack got bored, stood up and left. Afterwards I tried to remonstrate with Pedro but I stopped because it was pointless. He was all fucked up. I don’t think he even recognised me by that point and anyway looked like he was about to panel me.

The last time I remember Judda playing together was around ’95, ’96. I always said that the ground was cut from underneath us all from the moment The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” reached number one. The mainstream always steals from the margins and that was the death of it all. Suddenly none of us sounded like the future any more. Hardclub died when they removed the plastic cave from Gossips. Slimelight changed – they built a bar, rather than simply positioning a skinhead on slabs of beer in the corner. Soon, a wave of bedwetter bands like VNV Nation had moved in. By that time Cubanate were touring Europe and the US where we got tired and sick and all fucked up ourselves. But that’s another story to be told. When we got back, the moment had passed when Judda might have been signed.

And because the scene never quite took off, because it all happened just before the internet, there’s almost nothing in the digital consciousness to remind anyone about Judda and all that happened during that time. The city goes on and covers the over memories with another layer of shit. Now only the brick walls and the pavements remember.

(Originally posted August 2010. Since then, Armalyte Industries released a long lost collection of Judda recordings).