The original text (see below) was in French, translated with google

Colossi with feet of clay

By Stéphane Duchene
Posted on Thursday March 7th, 2013

It's the story of a group which, in reaction to the "no future" tumult, practiced a post-punk all in fragility and minimalism; who, for the time of a single and unique album, Colossal "Youth", experienced a meteoric success that he was not even looking for, and spawned a swarm of mismatched heirs. This is the story of the Young Marble Giants, invited to A Vaulx Jazz, 32 years after their separation, as if to obliterate this eternal misunderstanding which displayed both the charm of evidence and that of surprise.

On the scale of the history of music, Young Marble Giants (1978-1981, a single album, Colossal Youth) lived only the time of a flapping of butterfly wings, of a heart palpitation worth lightning, from an accidental nuclear explosion. But as is often the case with each of these three phenomena, this "moment" was not without lasting consequences. When it separated in 1981, the trio formed by Stuart Moxham, his brother Phil and singer Alison Statton, was the most fascinating and singular formation of the post-punk era. No doubt because Stuart intends from the start to propose in his own way a revolt against punk – and not a way of recycling it as was the case for many of his peers. However, said revolt is in no way a counter-revolution, punk having already made its own when, during the Sex Pistols' last concert in San Francisco in January 1978, a fulminating Johnny Rotten sealed the coffin of this screaming fetus in agony with a quasi-letterist epitaph-epigram at the end of an interminable No Fun with the air of a too long joke: "Ah, ah, ah, ever get the feeling you've ben cheated?" ("Never had the impression of being swollen?", implied, by all this circus, starting with us the Sex Pistols). End of the joke. No fun.

After the no future

For YMG, it's all over, as singer Alison Statton explains today: "Contrary to the overflowing and saturated sound of punk, we wanted to create something more intimate and more spacious, less intense ". A mixture of avant-garde and naked truth, sound research and "knitting", this "music of introverts for introverts", according to Simon Reynolds in his post-punk bible Rip it up & Start again, unfolds coldly, clinically , literally, the story of the world according to the "no future": "a sound similar to that of a radio wedged between two stations, which one would listen to in bed, at four o'clock in the morning" will say Moxham. The round bass plays with the treble and mingles with melody; in a reversal of roles, it is the Wurlitzer organ or Stuart's Rickenbacker guitar, muffled using the muting technique, which set the tempo; a drum machine made by the Moxham brothers' handyman cousin rattles in a corner – “compared to drum machines today it was quite limited but it gave a lot of personality to our sound” says Alison, the voice, essential, of the trio: slightly reverberated, ordinary and monotonous but nevertheless bewitching, as ghostly as it is maternal, which consoles us without being sure of not being frightened itself.

Just someone singing

From post-punk, YMG is therefore the five-legged sheep. But that's how he stands out from the herd and catches the attention of trendy Londoners: “We came at the right time. With all that was going on in Manchester in particular, decentralization was on the way and it was easier to arouse the interest of London. In fact, we had a lot more support there than in Cardiff where people only listened to rhythm & blues, soul and rock. On the basis of a compilation initiated by a handful of refugee groups at the Grassroots Coffee Bar in Cardiff, the only place where their music is tolerated, Rough Trade, record store and legendary indie label, godfather of London's Do It Yourself, succumbs: "They liked our two titles and immediately offered to produce a record. As we had enough to record an entire album, they said “ok, let's make an album!”. It happened like that, we were very lucky. Alison all the more, whom Stuart Moxham did not want as a singer: it is Phil, her boyfriend, who will impose her: "As I had a musical agreement with Phil, he said to Stuart "it's us two or nothing", which I did not learn until much later".

When, in 1980, the readers of the NME elected her the 8th best singer (sic) of the year, Stuart grumbled for form: “Alison is not a singer! It's just someone singing. She's doing it like she's waiting for the bus or something." The interested party recognizes it very willingly: “I have never been a singer, nor have I worked on my voice”. But deep down Moxham knows very well that she is a key element of a group that wants to be "a-rock'n'roll" from every point of view: "Personally, says Alison, I liked to make music but I had never hoped for a second that it would go further. It was obviously a little different for Stuart who even considered emigrating to Berlin, but more from a perspective of creation and artistic progression. He was simply carried by his project but absolutely not by the idea of ??being a rock star. So much so that we were all surprised when Rough Trade offered us this contract. We expected everything except to sign one one day.

First love

This no doubt explains the "soft radicalism" that Simon Reynolds talks about about YMG, or the fact of scuttling himself in full glory, without warning, after making the second best sale in the history of Rough Trade: "Colossal Youth had been made from the materials we had, Alison explains simply, there was no sequel. And then Stuart always wanted to move forward and was already planning to move on to something else musically, which he had in fact done before the band broke up (via The Gist, from which Etienne Daho took over the hit Love at First Sight under the title Paris, Le Flore)”. But this one-shot engendered many descendants who shared a less meager heritage than one would have thought: Beat Happening, The Cure, Nirvana, Magnetic Fields, Hole, The XX... "It's fascinating to see all of these groups claim our influence. It's like having children who are all very different because their genes go back a very long way. Everyone seems to have heard something in our music that they appropriated by adding their personality to it”.

Les YMG ayant dit ce qu'ils avaient à dire en un seul album, en eurent-ils produits quatre, cinq, six, dix que ce culte discret mais fervent eut sans doute été moins intense. Alison Statton ne dit pas autre chose, convoquant la métaphore amoureuse : "On dit qu'un premier amour bref et intense reste dans le cœur pour toujours. Même si faire un seul album n'était en aucune manière prémédité, nous avons dû être ce premier amour". Puis d'ajouter dans un grand éclat de rire qui bannit toute forme de regrets : "Le fait est que les histoires d'amour un peu trop longues finissent toujours par irriter d'une manière ou d'une autre". Le concert à A Vaulx Jazz nous dira ce qu'il advient quand on revoit ce premier amour après tant d'années, nous permettant peut-être de prendre la mesure de l'irréversibilité de ses ravages.


Young Marble Giants + Clara Clara + Chromb
At the Charlie Chaplin Cultural Center, as part of the À Vaulx Jazz festival, Saturday March 16, 2013.


Click here for the YMG Homepage