[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
Before S.E.T.I., before Legion and even before he really went solo, Andrew Lagowski was in a band. Formed in the early 80s, Nagamatzu were that band. For a little under ten years and in the midst of some very big hair, Lagowski along with Steven Jarvis and Andrew Fleck carved out their own little space in the burgeoning no-man’s land which was the electronic underground in the UK. While most of their contemporaries chased the charts and tried their damnedest to sound like what was on the radio, Nagamatzu had no interest in doing so, preferring instead to remain true to their ideals. It is a testament to those ideals and more importantly integrity that this material has stood the test of time so handily. Be assured, you will detect influences here and there but they’re toyed with and then discarded. Whatever anyone might be tempted to think, this trio did not do things by the book. They wrote a new one.
From their beginnings in 1982 or thereabouts, Nagamatzu produced a divine mixture of electro, industrial and what the kiddies on youtube go so nuts over: post-punk. Fleck did the vocals early on, Steven mainly executed them but most surprisingly, Lagowski stepped out from behind his machines to belt out stray ones here and there. Of course, the majority of the time (then as now) saw him behind the scenes, no doubt happily sequencing beats and grafting bass lines to them in a most unorthodox fashion. For all the technological issues many others routinely moan about, Lagowski came up with some pretty damn convincing synthesis. No gaps, no pops and none of those atrocious overlaps which plagued electronics in the 1980s. Of course, it wouldn’t be him if he didn’t include media samples and so he did. To terrifying effect.
Even though the chronology of this compilation – scant copies, get to it people – begins in 1991, I reversed the running order to have it run from 1983. In doing so, you can hear the elements of what he does now starting to coalesce. The hard-edged arrangements with their blissful snatches of melody appear abundantly although the dark ambient side had yet to develop. You can also pick out what was going on around them if you listen closely enough; discerning the groundswell of techno is no problem. But this band didn’t survive long enough to experience what was to come, opting to go their separate ways as the next decade began. One last cassette was put out, fittingly entitled ‘Igniting the Corpse’ which forms an almost perfect bridge to Lagowski’s earliest 12″ singles (compiled on another album called Teratology).
Remarkably, the other two members of Nagamatzu did not really carry on after it all came to an end. A shame, really, because their contributions on bass and vocals added a dimension to what Lagowski composes that I haven’t heard since. Yeah, I owned some of their cassettes at one point but due to the attrition of youth, they’ve been missing in action well over two decades so it’s fantastic to get some of them back. The mechanics of a future techno mainstay are out in plain sight here, this is probably the closest you’ll get to a full reveal from Mr. A. Lagowski. There is nothing to be embarrassed about by any of these tracks, even the fleeting dialogue based snippets only serve to deepen the mood. And there is mood to heard here, enough to drown continents.
Hilarious to see them still being labeled as ‘synth pop’ when there was nothing poppy going on with them. They may as well have put out an album entitled ‘Waiting for a Train in the Cold, Grey Rain’ to underline the point. This music contained a multitude of potential commercial avenues but they are muted, mixed down and paved over by concrete slabs; oh you wanted it sunny with a bit of compassion on the side… better find a sugary alternative because Nagamatzu had neither the time nor the patience to blend in. The name of this release is very well chosen, they truly were a break from all the absolutely atrocious filler bands bombarding the airwaves – and clubs – at the time.
Of course, other labels have issued their own retrospectives of the band but I think you’ll find that this one defines them most astutely: a darkly engaging outfit who were determined to make their mark, and so they have.