It's one of life's big mysteries: how influential have Ut been? Would Bis be in the charts now if Ut had not ploughed their lonely furrow through the '80s? Trace Bis back through Huggy Bear and Nation of Ulysses to Sonic Youth and beyond, and what do you get? Well, Thurston Moore once said, I believe, that in the early days Ut were the ones they were always chasing, and that maybe he said, or Ut themselves perhaps, that they were the link between the New York No Wave and the post hardcore art noise.
Now, I always had something of a problem with a lot of those US groups, and the basic root of this problem was the American rock culture, whereby these groups had grown up with Black Sabbath, Led Zep, Boston rather than Buzzcocks, The Jam, Wire, and it showed. However, Ut were always an exception, and that's the fascinating part. Was it because they were an all girl group, or because their roots went right back to that NYC art/punk scene?
I defy you: find me one conventional guitar solo in all of Ut's works, from the early scratchy noise on 'Early Live Life' through to the awesome 'Griller', and I'll go buy every single Rush LP. That is what's always struck me; the Ut sound works as rhythms and patterns, sequences of sound, weaving like the best techno. No matter how dissonant and vengeful the guitars got, there is still the opportunity to trace shapes and sense. "Repetition in our music, and we're never gonna lose it", as The Fall were wont to say.
That reference to The Fall was deliberate, for back in the days of the NYC No Wave, Ut were Anglophiles, very much drawn to the revolutionary experimental pop of The Fall. just as the girls from Luscious Jackson were fascinated by The Slits and the Rough Trade stable. Legend has it how Ut corresponded with The Fall and how kind Mark E Smith was when Ut came over to the UK in the early '80s. Certainly the traces are there in the Ut sounds: that scratchy Bramah hallmark, and the hostility towards the conventions of rock.
Well, the '80s are long gone now, but thanks to the Mute set-up, Ut's LPs on Blast First are still available and ready to be explored. The Steve Albini produced 'Griller' is everything 'Daydream Nation' might have been, but 'In Ut's House' is probably the one to go for.
The opening track, 'Evangelist', really is exceptional. When it comes to guitars, Jaqui Ham and Sally Young are up there with Pat Place in the way they fly so far beyond rock cliche. Clanging, crashing, jabbing, jarring, scraping, scrapping, like the Fire Engines and early Subway Sect when they were rewriting the rule books. I used to think that it was great how Saint Etienne used to cover The Fall's 'Choc-Stock', proving how melody was the underpinning on the rickety racket of 'Dragnet', and it's the same with 'In Ut's House'.
I've always been fascinated that no matter how harsh and extreme Ut's music may be, and how chilling their howls and tortured yelps sound, in pictures they have always looked defiantly respectable, as befits Fall fans. I remember a Birrer photo shoot for Debris, where they looked like trendy executives with a touch of the Madonnas.
I'll be quite honest. Ut mean much more to me now, because I guess I was always put off by the kind of dreadful noise merchants they were associated with. Anyone with any modicum of imagination could see they were soul mates with the pioneers and adventurers, not the ugly spoilers, and that until that's fully appreciated, their influence on the future of pop will not even begin.
© Kevin Pearce, 1996.