Thursday, 7 June 2012

Rhythm of Cruelty: Rod Pearce & Fetish Records

Today many create their future memories online. Those of us with a pre-digital existence, however, sometimes have to retrospectively recreate the known unknowns of our past from Googled fragments...but with this facility comes the possibility of discovering unwanted news. One such experience befell me recently - I was thinking about an old friend - Rod Pearce - from the late 70s/early 80s - so I Googled him and innocuously tucked away in one sentence on a webpage, my Google search revealed that Rod had been murdered and in dreadful circumstances in 1997 almost 15 years to the day.

Rod was the mogul behind Fetish records - a small, but extremely important independent record label releasing industrial-electro music in the late 70s and early 80s. During that period, people realised that to produce music, you didnt need to deal with large conglomerate record companies. And in that dawn of DIY music and production, Rod's Fetish Records was a one-man organisation - certainly far harder to operate than it would be in this digital age. I searched for links to Rod and his Fetish legacy, but was astonished to find so little - not even a Wikipedia page for the Fetish record label! This small personal tribute to Rod and Fetish may hopefully introduce a few to what might otherwise be the shamefully overlooked work of Rod and the Fetish catalogue.

Rod started Fetish Records in 1978 with the (re)release of the seminal industrial/electronic Second Annual Report by Throbbing Gristle. The initial pressing of only 785 copies on TG's own Industrial Records had sold out rapidly through word of mouth as reviewers intriguingly grasped at familiar comparables: Faust, John Cage...or my favourite a "Syphilitic Tangerine Dream".  Sandy Robertson, in Sounds said "If the Clash are the sound of the Westway, then TG are the sound of Tesco (with a run down battery)". Prophetic perhaps given that TG were labelled the 'Wreckers of Society ' by Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn. Despite the ineffable quality of 2nd Annual Report, we are reliably informed by Genesis P Orridge that copies were purchased by Peter Gabriel, Frank Zappa and ...Elton John amongst others (Wreckers of Civilisation: Simon Ford).

As the original copies flew off the shelves, Rod stepped in and with the blessing of TG, pressed 2000 copies of this desired item with the different and now classic TG flash symbol cover shown below - Fetish was born
....producing some of the most unique music from 1978 to 1984, before folding as a business in 1986. The Fetish catalogue is not to everyones taste - it was true then and true today - some of it pushes the boundaries of what constitutes music (hear the late 70s audience response to TG and the DJ barracking the audience in response when TG finish playing). I will not try to describe much of the 'music' here because I just dont burst with adjectives, most defies description and you should listen for yourself.

The Fetish Catalogue

Aside from TG, the Fetish stable included several UK artists strongly associated with developing a more rhythmic industrial sound, including: from Sheffield Stephen Mallinder (of Cabaret Voltaire), the disjointed jazz edge of ClockDVA and London-based dark funk rhythms of 23 Skidoo. Rod complemented the dark and somewhat bleak edge of the UK outfits with several New York artists. These included New Jersey group the Bongos, whose cover of T. Rex's "Mambo Sun" reached #22 in the Billboard Dance Chart. Other New York artists included the gloriously sharp funk of the Bush Tetras and the female duo Snatch (Patti Palladin and Judy Nylon) who had friends in high places. Snatch's contributions for Fetish were produced by the Velvet Underground's John Cale. Snatch also recorded a wonderful single with Brian Eno which in 1978 reached #54 in the charts. This 'Judy' is also the Judy in Brian Eno's Back In Judy's Jungle and perhaps most crucially, Nylon is described as a kind of muse for Eno's venture into ambient music - according to his own liner notes for Discreet MusicFetish also had releases from other New Yorkers 8-Eyed Spy, featuring one of John Peel's favourite New Yorker artists Lydia Lunch. Added to this from the West Coast came Z'ev, whose percusive work using industrial materials has no parallel. I am not sure it was by design, but in retrospect, the common Fetish denominator is the strong rhythmic aspects (aside perhaps from TG and even they had their rhythmic days)

Many, if not all of the above artists are now seen to have been highly influential (explcitly or implicitly) on the later music scene. To take just one example, the following is a BBC review of the re-release of 23 Skidoo's Fetish debut Seven Songs
Seven Songs is still as rare as hen's teeth in one sense - as an album which actually lives up to the claim of having been 'hugely influential'. These eight tracks trailblazed much of what we take for granted now: a cut'n'paste sample culture audibly eating itself; white boys playing global funk rhythms; liberal application of metallic white noise and industrial ambience; sophisticated media-savvy imagery and political consciousness - it's all here.

Fetish Artwork and Neville Brody

Aside from the extraordinary Fetish music, the label was closely aligned with the brilliant immediately recognisable artwork of Neville Brody more famous for being artwork director for the pioneering high quality fashion/music magazine The Face and later for the men's magazine Arena. Brody's album covers for Fetish were pre-computer design and so, all hand-crafted elements were pasted together from paper cut-outs, film overlays or PMT [photo-mechanical transfer] prints, with type provided by a professional typesetter.) Some of the Fetish sleeves used three-dimensional work that was then photographed, such as the wooden carvings or plaster hands on the 23 Skidoo sleeves.

          Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo, FM 2008, 1982.         Thirst by Clock DVA, FR2002, 1981

In his book The Graphic Language of Neville Brody: vol. 1, Brody highlights the approach of Fetish and how it differed from mainstream record labels not just in music but all the way through to cover design:
"The musicians on Fetish were also totally open to the idea of me working under my own steam; there has been such a shift in this respect—most groups now take a much bigger hand in design which does not necessarily make for a better cover"
The Graphic Language of Neville Brody, 1988.

The Last Testament

Jon Savage former journalist on electronic/avant garde music for the music paper Sounds, wrote the sleeve notes for The Last Testament (1983), the final Fetish release and much of what he says captures the energy and innovation of Fetish:
I’D IMAGINE IT TO BE SYMPTOMATIC that the word Fetish should have changed in the middle to late 70s, from being a slogan on an obscure Mail Art T Shirt to becoming the tradename of an internationally renowned record label—Maida Vale’s own ‘Home of the Hits’—but that’s showbiz.
IN THIS PULSATING SCENE, Fetish represented an opportune, if haphazard, meeting of New York, Sheffield, and Hackney. All of these spots have been glamourised to a greater or lesser degree, so you would have thought that this brand name was onto a winner. It is, however, an undoubted sign of human perversity that Fetish’s greatest success was to occur at the point when mogul Rod Pearce was shutting up shop: in early 1982, 23 Skidoo’s ‘Seven Songs’, produced by noted noisemakers Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson, became NUMBER 1 in the indie charts. Phew! Luckily, insufficient interest combined with too much time spent promoting the Bongos meant that this incredible success was nipped in the bud: disheartened at rock ‘n’ roll’s indifference, Pearcey announced that Fetish was to cease operating. People in polytechnics wept.
1980! 1981! THOSE WERE THE DAYS! Those heady days of idealism are over. The fragile dividing line between art and commerce which Fetish represented has now shattered: Rod Pearce and Perry Haines are now prostituting themselves with King, Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson with Psychic TV, Adi Newton with DVA, and Neville Brody with the Face. I too, am deeply implicated, having sold my soul similarly to PTV and the Face. How worlds change! Isn’t life tough?

In his rather self- and other-admonishing manner, Savage highlights how Rod - in a total reversal of what he had been doing - along with Perry Haines (onetime founder of i-D magazine), surprisingly went on to manage the successful popstars King - who had a massive hit with Love & Pride.

A train trip to Northampton

It was our mutual links with members of TG that fostered my relationship with Rod. For a couple of years from 1979 onwards, we went to some eye/ear-opening/splitting evenings, watching what for some, is far removed from conventional notions of music. I want to relate one specific evening that has stuck in my mind - a trip by train to the Northampton Guildhall on 26th May 1979 to see Throbbing Gristle. TG were being supported by local Northampton band Bauhaus (of Bela Lugosi's Dead fame - so effectively used in the opening of Tony Scott's movie The Hunger) - though more correctly known as Bauhaus1919 at that time. 


                              Northampton Guildhall where the gig took place 26 May 1979

Thirty-three years later, I cannot recall much detail (strangely, I was trying to recall if Rod smoked... and I couldn't!) What is life... if not a series of apparently trivial half-remembered events that sometime later may gain resonance. Nonetheless, I do remember the palpable excitement (both of us teenagers) that I felt travelling for the first time out of London (on unreliable British Rail from Euston) to see a band. On the journey I recall us chatting about Rod's fledgling record label and our anticipation of seeing TG. It is difficult to convey, but at that time TG events - not gigs - were highly unpredictable; often accompanied by violence, confrontation and disorientation in equal measure (not just from the audience, but also on the part of TG). Bear in mind that TG had emerged from a performance arts and not a music background - musical entertainment of an audience was low, if at all, on their agenda. I vividly recall our being in the wonderful Guildhall venue - perfect for this kind of event, both of us worrying about time ticking-on and how we would get home - the one blessing was that TG always played for exactly 1 hour (as a timing device turned off their instruments after 60 mins) - so we knew when we could leave to catch the train and made it home after our venture into the wilderness known as Northampton. On the positive mnestic side of the internet, someone has actually uploaded a rough YouTube clip from the Guildhall on that night of TG and their infamous Hamburger Lady 

Hamburger Lady at Northampton Guildhall 26 May 1979

Fetish Finale (Fetish Night - the end of Industrial Music?)

At some point, Rod and I lost contact as our lives diverged - mine away from music and into University/academia and Rod's away from Fetish and into managing King. The big hurrah for Fetish, however, occurred at the Fetish Night, The Lyceum, London 8th February 1981 with Z'EV, NON, Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle (being their last London gig shortly before Psychic TV emerged)

Although Rod decided that Fetish was finished, the artists continued with several appearing the following year at The Final Academy, Ritzy Cinema, London September 1982, which featured the first live readings in London by William Burroughs along with Brion Gysin, 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire and the debut performance of Genesis P Orridge's Psychic TV.


Rod's murder

Finally, I want to say something concering the circumstances of Rod's murder. The following is extracted from a press report of the events.
Rod had moved to Mexico and planned to start a firm running motorbike tours. In May 1997, friends in the UK received a call from his Rod's friends in Mexico to say his body had been discovered on a beach. A friend who identified the body said that he had been virtually decapitated. He was aged just 39, hacked to death with a machete.  
The Mexican authorities initially claimed Rod had been killed in a motorcycle accident.  Suspicious, some of his friends flew to Mexico to investigate further only to be confronted by a wall of bureaucracy. Suddenly, however, witnesses were found. One saw Rod arguing with two men and a woman while another spotted the three in a 4-by-4 vehicle, similar to one owned by the brother of Rod's girlfriend.

It was claimed one of the men was carrying a machete - and that the girl shouted "kill him".

Determined, Rod's friends finally forced the prosecution of his ex-girlfriend, Jemima Alaves Dobles, who was charged with murder and spent three years in jail before being cleared by the court.
The statements also sealed the death of two witnesses, including the one who reported seeing the machete. They were shot with a .38 and their two bodies were dumped at the site where Rod was found. It was thought they were Rod's killers - silenced as part of a cover up.

Recently I was contacted by one of the friends (Rod Buchnan) who investigated Rod's murder. I am grateful to Rod B for sending me this scan of an artricle 'Burying the truth' - that he wrote and was published in the Times newspaper (below). Rod also plans to write a book about the episode...but as he said to me ...."trouble is that there are holes in the truth as we see it and there is certainly no happy ending"



  1. jean-marc lederman18 September 2012 at 03:53

    Thank you for posting about this really quite extraordinary man. I had the chance to help him in his small office, at the end of Fetish Records. Still don't know why he hired me as my broken english of the time must have been hard to endure :)

    He was very funny altho verging on the cynical at times, but always with an amused eye.
    Wishing there would be more about Rod on the net...

  2. Thank you very much for writing this. A top piece on what seems like an excellent label. Rod was in fact my half great-uncle, I had no idea he had existed until a few weeks ago. I am amazingly proud that a relative of mine made the decision to release such experimental, ballsy music. What a dude. Will try and get my hands on some releases (if at all possible).

    1. I am glad that you found my post - Rod was a pioneer in this area of music and it is a shame that his contribution is not sufficiently recognised. I have a couple of updates on Rod that I will try to post soon on

    2. Beate Nilsen-Pearce28 February 2016 at 08:33

      Rod was not a teenager in 1979. He was 21. 23 Feb 1958

  3. Thanks for this

  4. Thank you very much for this piece. I'm from Italy and have very precious memories about these superb records.

  5. Rod's story is heartbreaking. He was integral to my life and career, having faith and belief in The Bongos and signing us to Fetish early on, introducing us to Throbbing Gristle who we collaborated with. We were his house "pop" band. He opened his home in London to us, where we stayed when not touring the U.K. and Europe and we made our first and in many ways our best recordings for him, on Fetish. When he was wrapping things up with the label he gave us ownership of the album (compiled from all our Fetish singles and EPs), and it has been in print continuously on various labels throughout the world ever since as "Drums Along The Hudson". It was a wonderful experience knowing Rod and spending time with him, talking about music and style. Thank you for filling in some gaps in the story for me.

  6. I remember Rod with great affection. I wrote about him and Fetish on my blog here -

  7. Thank you for perpetuating (t)his story. I recently founded for a similar purpose, documenting and memorializing our stories before those of us who have stories to tell are gone.

    Thanks again for this personal insight.