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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Rubella Ballet. February 6, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Okay, I have to admit before a couple of weeks ago I had no real knowledge of Rubella Ballet. This is my bad and I’ve no explanation for it. I’m very partial to that area where post-punk and goth rubbed shoulders – groups like Southern Death Cult, Siouxsie, some PIL, Killing Joke, early Cocteau Twins, Joy Division (natch), Sad Lovers and Giants and many more worked a patch of the musical terrain that was suggestive of, without being overwhelmed by, the darkness (I’m not averse to the darkness either though looking back at the posts in this slot on the site over the years few enough goth bands have made it through). What’s particularly strange is that they have a track on one of Mick Mercer’s excellent Gothic Rock discs which I got in the mid-1990s and I’m curious in retrospect as to why I didn’t follow them up then.

Anyhow, be that as it may, Rubella Ballet was part of a loose conglomeration of anarcho-punk bands along with Poison Girls’ (early members were related to them), Crass and others. Their line-ups across the year were a thing of wonder with luminaries such as Annie Anxiety and others passing through their ranks. But It’s fair to say that the core of the line-up solidified with the arrival of Zillah Minx as vocalist who with drummer Sid Ation/Truelove (also of Flux of Pink Indians) have kept the show on the road with occasional breaks ever since. Singles and EPs were put out on Poison Girls’ XNTRIX label initially before starting their own label.

Their first album proper ‘At Last, It’s Playtime’ appeared in 1985 with ‘If…’ its successor appearing a year later. A third arrived in 1990 at which point they broke up for the rest of the decade only reforming ten years later and since then remaining a going concern.

Rubella Ballet while still deeply political projected an image that was notably different, opting for day-glo/fluorescent punk image in their clothing, a sort of inverse of much post-punk/goth. And in a way the focus on politics points up another difference with goth as well. Anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist, pro-environmental and feminist they’re a world away from some of the tooth-grinding selfism of that genre. And also with what appears to be a nice strand of scepticism running through it.

Interestingly though, the sound was inflected by post-punk and aspects of goth – all twisty melody lines, staccato and/or chiming guitars albeit often mid-paced – a genuinely fantastic rhythm section, all propulsive drums and basslines (listen to the former on Mummy as it powers the song along). False Promises is punk rooted (as is the pretty great Blind Ambition). Arctic Flowers likewise, with layers of sound building to an anthemic – in the best sense of the word – chorus.

But there’s more, there’s a sort of restlessness with obvious forms and a willingness to experiment. It’s odd, listen to some of the musical backing and it has both a poppy and power pop element – Dream Dreamer is a good example. Add to that hints of funk and it makes their songs truly enjoyable (perhaps inevitably given that later they were to get into rave in a big way under different names). Perhaps it is an odd word to use, but there’s an uplifting quality, an airiness to these songs that the gothisms of the guitar and bass and drums enhance, and all this despite Zillah Minx’s voice being described as ‘steam-roller flat’. If that was intended as a criticism of her vocals then it’s way out of line – there’s a directness and range in her delivery which just dovetails perfectly with the music.

Difficult to find the original albums, but they were remastered by the group in 2010 and with the addition of snippets of dialogue, including Gordon Brown’s infamous ‘We saved the world…’ speech. It makes for a fascinating update to a sound that was already – for all that it touches on other influences – pretty unique. While the tracks below are taken from their 1980s incarnations it is well worth keeping in mind that the group has continued to release music into the 2010s (and a more local aspect – Sid Truelove produced Paranoid Visions 2012 album – Escape from the Austerity Complex… small world).

Every Second Counts

False Promises

Money Talks

Arctic Flowers

42f (Live)

Mummy

Thugs

Blind Ambition

Plastic Life

Comments»

1. Russ Madison - September 27, 2019

Good post! Any idea where I can find the lyrics to Dream Dreamer? The music is stuck in my head but I’m not always sure what they’re saying.

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WorldbyStorm - September 27, 2019

Thanks, had a look but can’t find anything. At a push might the band themselves be willing to give them?

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