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Zos Kia - 23

23 is a retrospective anthology of Zos Kia, a project of John Gosling who worked with Coil in their formative stages, and a little later featured in the Psychic TV ranks in countless live shows and on post Dreams Less Sweet releases such as Unclean and the Sordide Sentimental release of Roman P. The origins of Zos Kia predated his work with Psychic TV where he provided live sampling of tapes but the second Zos Kia release and all subsequent Zos Kia variations appeared on Psychic TV's Temple Records imprint. John Gosling's history stretched much further back into industrial history though as his pre-Zos Kia group Ake performed at the near legendary Equinox Event in 1983.

Prior to the Zos Kia / Coil appearance at the Berlin Atonal festival in December 1983 which comprised one side of the Transparent cassette release issued by the Austrian label Nekrophile in 1984, John Gosling and John Balance took part in the Coil "Performance Action" at the Air Gallery in London in August 1983. The piece titled 'A Slow Fade To Total Transparency' saw Balance and Gosling degrading their bodies, writhing in blood, cutting each other while Marc Almond read extracts from his diary in front of a stunned audience including Jim Thirlwell, Lydia Lunch, Anita Lane and Nick Cave.

Gosling was another Hackney resident, residing doors down from Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic TV and 23 Skidoo's Fritz Catlin - both of whom would be involved in Zos Kia. Gosling was maybe more hedonistic than the rest, bringing an element of chaos or football hooliganism as he once referred to it to the other more arty residents of Beck Road. Remember it was a drugged and drunken John Gosling who pissed all over Steven Stapleton resulting in the cancellation of Nurse With Wound's purported appearance at the Equinox Festival in June 1983. The Equinox Event was to become a near legendary one day festival in extreme industrial circles which featured appearances from Club Moral, John Murphy's Krank, Etat Brut and The Death and Beauty Foundation (featuring Val Denham). Ramleh and David Tibet's Dogs Blood Order made their debut performances here. Other noteworthy appearances at the Mary Dowd and Produktion organised one day event were Ake, a pre-Zos Kia project involving Min and John Gosling who performed an early live reading of 'Rape'. Also appearing were dominatrix Jill Westwood (of Fistfuck) and Pure an early group of Skullflower's Matthew Bower's alongside Alex Windsor and Alex Binnie. Windsor would join Zos Kia for the 'Rape' single, with Binnie following soon after, just as Jill Westwood would turn-up as part of a later Zos Kia line-up around the time of their second release 'Be Like Me', and in a January 1986 feature by Tom Vague in ZigZag magazine.

23 features all the vinyl recordings attributed to Zos Kia, along with excerpts from the Transparent cassette album and numerous previously unreleased material culled from the archives of John Gosling. Confusingly 23 foregoes the chronology of releases making the genesis of Zos Kia hard to follow. Zos-Kia's first vinyl release was the 'Rape' 7-inch single which caused something of a controversy when it was released on All The Madmen records, a label set-up by The Mob then under the control of Alistair Livingston of the Kill Your Pet Puppy collective. At this point Coil and Zos Kia were near indistinguishable; both groups sharing set lists and a line up of John Gosling, Min Kent and John Balance. Balance failed to turn-up for the sessions for 'Rape', though, but provided a tape of Coil's 'Here to Here (Double Headed Secret)' which was utilised as the backing to 'Rape'; a harrowing emotional monologue from Min, centring on a sexual assault she suffered in the Australian outback. A disconcerting and powerful listen with a graphic description of the brutality of the act, that forever leaves its scars. Writing in Sounds, Oi mouthpiece Gary Bushell called it "the worst record I have ever heard" while Melody Maker described it as "honesty unparallelled" and made it single of the week. The flip side featured the much lighter in tone - well, really anything would have been lighter in tone than 'Rape' - 'Thank You' where Gosling maps out his own emotional damage ranging from his tunnel vision to the sadness that I see, sung over an Alex Fergusson pop guitar given a scraping veneer over bumping bass and ringing bells. Both Alex Fergusson and Genesis P. Orridge of Psychic TV assisted Zos Kia with production duties on the recording from the Building Site in 1984. A year later, it was issued on 12-inch with two additional tracks recorded in Hamburg. As Min left to hitch a lift on the peace convoy and John Balance focussed his attention on Coil, Zos Kia continued with the ongoing assistance of Nains a pseudonym for Richard Watts (later of Pig and collaborator on Gosling's later work as Mekon), 23 Skidoo's Fritz Catlin and Alex Binnie. Those extra tracks included 'Black Action' and 'An Absolute'. Bustling to bass heavy throbs and rhythmic clicks and an undercurrent of guitar noise on 'Black Action' Gosling seeks "real chaos, satisfaction" to escape another humdrum day. The instrumental 'An Absolute' is mired in downbeat pummelling rhythms and droning electronics as it edges into guitar feedback shrieks and bass tones. Both tracks feature in various forms on 23 including a dub and a more contemporary Mekon mix, with added beats.

If you were following Zos Kia at this point you'd be aware that their name had been taken from a magickal system of occult artist Austin Osman Spare. However Zos Kia never really seemed too occult fixated - I'm somewhat surprised by the magickal symbol that adorns the sleeve of 23 - but they had been dealing with the occult trappings associated with Psychic TV and the magickal influence of Aleister Crowley and thought of Charles Manson both of whom featured on live tapes on their Berlin Atonal show. That trinity was completed on their next single 'Be Like Me' and their first for Temple Records, with the inclusion of lyrics culled from a sermon from the Reverend Jim Jones, who lead the San Francisco based People's Temple church to Jonestown, Guyana and orchestrated the mass Kool-Aid assisted suicide that resulted in the death of over 900 people in the Guyana jungle. "I want you to be like me, I want you to become what I am, the courage, love, compassion that I have," Gosling shrieks, channelling the domineering and charismatic cult leader. 'Be Like Me' opened to a melodic piano introduction, which wasn't too far removed from the piano arrangements that featured on Psychic TV's 'Unclean' and especially 'Mirrors', but with a beat Zos Kia's 'Be Like Me' lurches into shuddering electronics and bass heavy rhythms, rapid drum rolls and guitar squall. And then it gets darn funky almost pinpointing the road ahead for John Gosling. 'Be Like Me' retains a great a bass driven groove poles apart from the Temple Records releases of the time. 23 features an additional extended unreleased version.

The flipside '10 Miles High', meanwhile, pushed higher than the The Byrds, while sinking into noise atmospherics and guitar squall. I never had the reference points back then but it's similar to the chaotic squall of Skullflower who of course grew out of Pure who were birthed in the same nihilistic scene as Zos Kia. In a rather excruciating interview with ZigZag from the time members of Zos Kia extol the virtues of the Marquis De Sade and the influence of control and domination. The same feature noted that Gosling had relinquished his role in Psychic TV to focus on Zos Kia. Images of the young footballing genius George Best captured in his prime outside of the football pitch featured on both sides of the sleeve of 'Be Like Me'. Maybe it was evidence that the cult of personality went way beyond religion - who cares though. George Best got a credit on the sleeve, a few years before The Wedding Present put him on the sleeve of their George Best album.

'Be Like Me' marked the final release under the name Zos Kia, aside from two contributions to the Stator compilation. Those contributions - 'Muggy The Staff' and 'Black Action (Heavy Shit Mix)' - don't feature here in their original form. Instead we get an unreleased version and another alternate version of 'Black Action''. Zos Kia would evolve into Zoskia Meets Sugardog and then Sugardog and 'Muggy The Staff (Unreleased Radio Edit)' is evidence of their evolution where the beat hankers around a clipped hip hop rhythm, swathed in guitar stabs by Jim Whelan (who would later turn up with Gosling in Agent Provocateur) as Gosling lets loose with a primitive rap over echoed drum beats and funky basslines. While Psychic TV adopted hyperdelic trappings on 'Godstar', Gosling made his dog the star: "The hound with the sound bites the bone". 'Muggy The Staff' originally appeared in a longer form on the Stator compilation alongside tracks from Greater Than One and Bourbonese Qualk and other artists including the French bands Étant Donnés and DDAA. 'Muggy The Staff' was also an early version of Sugardog's 'Groove To Get Down', which was released on 12-inch and appeared on the Tekno Acid Beat compilation on Temple Records.

While the first disc documents Zos Kia's original vinyl recordings and alternate takes, the second disc delves in Gosling's archive unearthing live recordings, rehearsals as well as couple of tracks from their original cassette release Transparent and a reappearance of a track with Peter Christopherson.

There are a number of recordings dating from 1982 which I think can be attributed to the pre-Zos Kia group Ake, who performed at the Equinox Event. These murky live recordings include 'Ake' and 'Era Vulgaris A1'. These early experiments are rooted firmly in the extreme industrial electronic field utilising electronic noise, frequencies and low bass. Voices are spoken and hollered while 'Era Vulgaris A3' veers from electronics and improvised generated noise with aggressive shouty vocals over industrial drum rhythms.

The same line-up of John Gosling, Min Kent, Mathew Cope and Hugh Harwood feature on 'Rape (Early Rehearsal)' from 1982. Here set to chugging electronics Min's voice is muffled to the point you can't discern the words. The overpowering intensity of this violent violation remains. Amidst quick fire drum rolls and piercing feedback shrieks Min exorcises her demons through harrowing screams that cut through the primitive recording. Never as intense as the single it does offer an insight into the sonic development of the track.

'Harry Wouldn't Like It' captured a year later brings a more aggressive edge to Zos Kia. It's much more physical with its pummelling drum rhythms and shaker percussion fronted by a dual vocal assault over industrialised noise and frequencies anchored around a loose bass throb. A chaotic blend of noise, rhythm and voices; it's well worth hearing.

As previously mentioned a couple of tracks are taken from the Zos Kia / Coil appearance at the Berlin Atonal festival. 'Baptism Of Fire' unfurls to a relentless beat laced with electronic noise cast against percussive clatter and drum rolls. "You're a secret of mine" Gosling whoops before settling into an early lyrical form of 'Thank You', which would eventually arrive fully formed with scurrilous guitar as b-side to the first single 'Rape'. 23 also features the powerful howls, screams and shrieks from Min over hollow drum pounds from John Balance and bass noise from Gosling on 'Poisons' which on Transparent segues from 'Violation', an early live take of 'Rape'. The full show as captured on the Transparent tape is available in a reissued form on CD and double vinyl set on Cold Spring.

23 also includes 'Sewn Open' a rehearsal recording involving Coil's John Balance and John Gosling from when the groups were almost interchangeable sharing line-ups and set lists. A crepuscular instrumental, full of primitive scraping guitar, low bass drones and blackened atmospherics. Interestingly the Cold Spring edition featured an abridged version, this however is the full version just as it originally appeared on the Nekrophile released tape and subsequently on the Threshold House reissue of Transparent.

The live recording of of 'Be Like Me' taken from a performance at Stoke Newington Town Hall in 1984 (though I'd hazard a guess that it should be 1985 where they played alongside Psychic TV's The Angels Ov Light, Blyth Power and the Astronauts as a fundraiser for a Hackney based squat) is good though. Propelled by Alex Binnie's throbbing bass and Fritz Catlin's rolling drum rhythms, Gosling paraphrases the words of Jim Jones - those actual recordings featured on one channel of 'Neurology', on the flipside of the Psychic TV Sordide Sentimental release - as he presided over the People's Temple's "revolutionary suicide" over cascading waves of guitar noise from Stefan Jaworzyn - both Binnie and Jaworzyn would later turn up in an early formation of Skullflower. There's apparently cello too from Gail Evans but I can't hear it. It would be wonderful to hear more from this live incarnation of Zos Kia.

23 closes with some later tracks attributed to Zos Kia. The sound transformation of 'Sways Backwards' that moves from beatless hyper sound wash into a pulsating rhythmic thrust and back again was produced and mixed by John Gosling and Fritz Catlin in 2006 when Gosling had been recording as Mekon for more than a decade. 'Sleazy Said' which is John Gosling's collaboration with the late Peter Christopherson of Coil is listed as unreleased but it sounds very similar to 'Sleazy's Says', the version that appeared on Mekon's album Piece of Work in 2013. Maybe it's a different mix but it remains filled with a haunting chorus of atmospheric voices floating over ominous arching and scraping synths, like a celestial take on Sleazy's Threshold HouseBoys Choir.

23 gives a broad overview of Zos Kia and their development from Ake onwards. It's confusing as the disc darts from releases to unreleased material and live excerpts without a thought for chronology. It also doesn't feature the Zoskia Meets Sugardog and Sugardog releases on Temple Records - even though there's a Zoskia Meets Sugardog clipping in the booklet. These would have been fine additions, and would have made 23 complete. I've waited a long time for John Gosling's past to be fully documented and I'm slightly disappointed. What 23 does illustrate is the creativity of those involved with Zos Kia and the strands that entwined Zos Kia with Coil, Skullflower, 23 Skidoo, Pig and others. I was unaware of the role of 23 Skidoo's Fritz Catlin in Zos Kia and that Raymond Watts aka Nains was involved with the 'Rape' single.

Fritz Catlin and Raymond Watts continue to work with Gosling as Mekon. Both Alex Binnie and Stefan Jaworzyn went onto Skullflower, and while Jaworzyn (whose live appearance with Zos Kia was a one-off) went onto Ascension before recording solo Binnie left behind the music world to become a highly regarded tattoo artist and is now an artist with his main focus on printmaking. John Gosling got involved in the squat and rave scene and became a DJ before getting involved with Agent Provocateur providing beats to the group featuring Cleo Torrez and ex-Ant Matthew Ashman. And of course there is Mekon his current solo project merging breakbeats, hip hop and guitar which reunited him with many artists from his past including Marc Almond, Peter Christopherson and Cleo Torrez as well as a whole host of guest singers and musicians as diverse as Bobby Gillespie and Afrika Bambaataa, Schooly D to Alan Vega, Roxanne Shante to Leslie Winer and more ex-Ants members such as Marco Pironni and Kevin Mooney. Gosling, though, is quite elusive and is something of an enigma. From Zos Kia to Mekon he seems happy to remain in the background whilst acting as a catalyst for his collaborations which continue to explore his disparate formative musical influences of James Brown and the Velvet Underground. If you want to hear what John Gosling is doing as Mekon I wholeheartedly recommend his albums Something Came Up and Piece of Work - which incidentally also includes a version of 'Be Like Me'.

23 is available as deluxe digibook 2CD set featuring 2 hours of Zos Kia recordings with an eight page booklet of information and exclusive archive pictures. For more information go to Infinite Fog or Bandcamp

Zos Kia's debut release on 12-inch including 'Rape', 'Thank You', ' Black Action', 'An Absolute'. Released on All The Madmen Records.

Zos Kia's second EP including 'Be Like Me', 'Ten Miles High'. Released on Temple Records.

'Muggy The Staff ', compilation track as featured on the Stator compilation.

Zos Kia, Berlin Atonal Festival, 3.XII.1983