Tony Gage – Doctor Shit (1995)
Tony Gage’s Doctor Shit is a masterpiece of staggering proportions. It registers an account of turn-of-the-century Britain that seizes the DNA of social music and reconstructs it around an aperture of incisively abstract critique. It is sheer.
Genius, here, is seen to emerge from the consistency of a practical engagement that successfully blocks out the paranoia of interpellation and idiot supplication. Using what was already a starkly out-dated sound palette by the mid-90s, Gage seems to court irony and the faux naïf, but his unwavering focus on the music’s subject matter etches the imaginary onto the waxy fibre of ordinary madeness, exposing surreal relief, frigging the absolute.
How does he achieve this? Beats me. Except to say that Gage’s use of the familiar is key, threw out for the r/cats. There are four cover versions (well, that’s if you include ‘Angel of Death’ which is named for the Slayer song as a would-be cover, but completely rewrites the tune – look out for the sung version of this on Bollocks to the Lot of Them for a full explanation), but several songs have ‘covered’ referential passages buried deep inside their narratives: look out for Stereo MCs’ ‘Connected,’ Prince’s ‘Sign O’ The Times,’ and a brilliantly inept dribbling of Dave Brubeck’s rubbish ‘Take Five.’ ‘Into The Stadium’ is an exemplar for a Gage approach that inhabits a mindset (in this case, presumably, enthusiasm for sports) convincingly enough to draw the listener in, before spiking their drink with extravagant hallucinogens that expose the very neurons of spectacular foil.
Doctor Shit is an historic masterclass in MIDI orchestration and counterpoint: the well-programmed sequencer. After the two ‘Sierra Era’ albums, Gage went back to composing with MIDI sequencing in a big way. What he had to work with was the Atari 1040ST/C-Lab Notator® that he and Gwilly Edmondez had used to make Sparrow’s Dirty Willy’s Deep Party (1990) and Europe Yoy (1991), but with only one expander, the Roland U110, to source sounds from. The U110 was good, but it was limited, and besides it would only allow six voices at once, which meant most people (including Gage and Edmondez previously) would generally use it as one of several sound modules. Technically, then, Doctor Shit represents a triumph in timbral resourcefulness and savvy programming, squeezing every last sonic giblet from the entrails of technology that was already hopelessly dated by the mid-90s. So it’s like Bach, but also Mozart, and then also Bartók, then Stockhausen, back to Poulenc, before humiliating all the Fitkin/Bloke tangi-vibrat.
For Gage is the true artist, the artist’s artist as well as the world’s artist and the best’s artistes. Consequently you got this thing going on where a mind and its hands will appropriate whatever materials that are to hand and make something from them that is beyond meaningful, pungently sublime, poignantly irredeembable. Broken hearts are full of art’s holes – taste is a sorry capitulation. This album will change your life.
1. From Russia With Love
2. Angel of Death
3. Mission Impossible
4. Into The Stadium
7. The Prat
12. Dr. Voodoo
14. Mad March
15. Dr. Voodoo
17. Funk It
20. Russ Mix
Tony Gage – everything
Recorded in Roath, Cardiff, 1995