The Dog’s Bollocks – Vagina Dentata Organ and The Valls Brothers (Interview)

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The passing of time has not been kind to many of the “stars” of industrial music or “extreme culture”. Sought after limited editions often seem limp when finally downloaded, or ossified in expensive box sets. The futile attempts at commercial crossover look embarrassing rather than courageous in retrospect. And I’ve lost count of the people whose revolutionary ideas and references inspired me as a teenager now seem like pantomime versions of themselves.

Over exposure seems to be the main pitfall, and it’s surely no coincidence that the least prolific veteran of the extreme noise/art scenes of the early eighties remains the most interesting.

Jordi Valls worked extensively with both Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse in their earliest incarnations, organising live events for both acts in London and Barcelona.iii

In 1983 he released the first of a series of remarkable albums under the name of “Vagina Dentata Organ”. From the outset VDO’s work was characterised by a minimalistic and surreal approach to field recordings. His debut “Music For The Hashishins: In Memoriam Of Hasan Sabbah” evolved out of the recording sessions for Psychic TV’s classic “Dreams Less Sweet” album.

Valls appropriated PTV’s recordings of growling wolves (which appear for a few minutes on “Dreams Less Sweet”) and subjected them to a minor amount of looping and treatment before releasing it as VDO’s debut. An album of wolf noises is strikingly “out there” even by the standards of industrial music of the time.

Hashishins” was followed by a trilogy of limited edition picture disc LPs featuring: a pagan drumming ritual, the last sermon of Jim Jones (as well as the final screams of his congregation), and the sounds of humans fucking.iii

All of these releases displayed a true surrealist sense of the dark and absurd. The Jim Jones album was released in 912 copies, one for each of the dead bodies found at Jonestown. “Pagan Drums of Calanda” came in a special limited edition of 30 copies featuring Valls’ own blood vacuum sealed under the transparent vinyl. Any arousal experienced listening to the sounds of orgasms on “Cold Meat” might be slightly counter-balanced by the autopsy photos of Elvis and Marilyn on either side of the disc. Celebrity, sex, blood, death, control, all of this and more was served up for your delectation on a VDO album – if you could actually get hold of a copy.

Valls eschewed the faux-academic po-faced demeanour of his contemporaries. Whilst they waxed lyrical about their “research” into the darker recesses of human consciousness, Vagina Dentata Organ simply released mad records for the sheer hell of it, often with gaps of several years in between.

1994′s “Un Chien Catalan” featured the sounds of a Harley Davidson which Valls describes as “a meeting in Hell between Jimi Hendrix, Philip Glass, and Stockhausen… all you can hear is the howling of a Harley, with telluric turbulence and feedback. We recorded it in Cadaques, Port Lligat and Cap-de-Crus in a cold winter’s day, on the same spot where L’Age d’Or was filmed by Bunuel & Dali. […] The connection with UN CHIEN ANDALOU is very obvious. Both works have connotations of brutal eroticism.”iv

Jordi Valls has continued to operate as Vagina Dentata Organ in the 21st Century as both an audio and visual artist. Rumours of controversial performances abound. And now as The Valls Brothers, Jordi and his sibling Marc look set to rival the Chapmans.

After softening him up with a tribute websitev, I subjected Jordi to a barrage of questions about his recent work by email…

Were there any projects you were involved in before Vagina Dentata Organ?

I had no projects in mind. But the seed of VDO was always there. I used to enjoy breaking beer bottles at friends parties for the hell of it. Who doesn’t like the sound of breaking glass? Now, if invited to perform, I still break bottles, mirrors, or paintings in art centres or museums of contemporary art, and get paid for it with public money. It’s the urge to destroy that I enjoy.

Do you recall your intentions for VDO or your label World Surrealist Network Systems when they began?

First, I chose the name of Vagina Dentata Organ for myself, because I knew with such a great name you can do no wrong. All doors would be wide open for me. Then it was punk, and Genesis P-Orridge who helped my starting process to the work I do now. From then on, everything followed by chance, making records, performing, and now producing convulsive art with my brother Marc, in Barcelona.

You’ve been operating for over 25 years under those names now – has your vision or intention changed or refined over that time?

To me there is nothing more exciting than reality. In this case I still have tunnel vision in how to get to the core of things. It is the difference between faked blood and real blood. It is not possible to compare reality against phoney fiction, or fantasy on all levels of art and culture. I will always try to get authenticity in what I do.

Tell me about your blood paintings of super models. I’m particularly interested in your ideas about stardom and celebrity as this has been a long running theme in your work (Elvis and Marilyn on the cover of “Cold Meat”, Jim Jones as the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll performer and of course Dali – the superstar surrealist).

Perhaps superstars and gurus should be more down to earth for their own good. But, who cares? Because, for sure, nobody is going to be spared and get away with stardom forever. See the Reverend Jim Jones, taking himself too seriously and becoming totally paranoid and a mass murderer. He was a total waste of time to everybody involved with him.

The picture-disc “Cold-Meat” has the black and white photos on each side of the dead bodies of Marilyn and Elvis. Then all you hear inside the record is the sound of several couples having sex. A clear deference to necrophilia and stardom entertaining the world. Real fun.

The meaning behind the blood paintings, each one named after well known top-models, is very ambiguous. If we look at the red canvases sometimes one may think that blood gives you life and a perfect body. Absolute nirvana to the models. But, in darker moments the sight of blood, it makes you think of the diametric opposite: A blood bath.

This paroxysm is interesting as convulsive art. Surprisingly, I had an exhibition of the blood on canvas paintings, at the Arts School of Grenoble, France.

To me, Salvador Dali is the dog’s bollocks. He was always in total control of himself. Very well read. He wrote many compelling books, and knew a great deal about science, notably maths and nuclear physics. Firstly, he was an hyperrealist painter. And of course, he was surrealism in person! Also, very charismatic, and a heavy manipulator of people. I admired the cosmic thunder of his imagination. But now it is our duty to kill his legacy. True surrealism died with him. Nothing lives for ever. We always have to kill the father to survive, and change to new directions.

You left London to return to Barcelona a few years ago and have said that you have found Spain to be more conservative than England – why is that? Isn’t the UK supposed to be really uptight and repressed?

There is a big difference in spontaneous street creativity between Barcelona and London. Not necessarily with the rest of England, or UK. I was referring to music and all other arts in general. Nothing compares to London in young explosive creativity. For instance, the phenomenon of punk, electronic music, street graffiti, or the so called Young British Artists, just to mention a few. Regrettably, this is not happening in Barcelona, or Paris, before or right now.

Would you agree that your work is a very definite product of Catalonia? Shouldn’t VDO be used to advertise tourism there?

Thanks. What a great idea. Imagine a big cunt with shark’s teeth ready to welcome, and castrate tourists in Catalonia. Besides, I’m a Londoner. I have lived more years of my life in England than in my own country. Still, now it is not relevant where you are born, because we all belong to cyber space.

There is not much available in English about your recent live actions (and complications with authorities) so it would be helpful if you could expand on the following rumours: I have read that you were “expelled” from the Sonar festival – what happened there?

That was Sonar’s 1997. I was pre-invited to play. I happened to be in London and could not go to Barcelona for the music festival. Nevertheless, I asked my biker friend Eliseu to go there with his Harley-Davidson and perform with the motorbike static, with the engine running for ten minutes. The Sonar organisation were not brave enough. They gave some weak-minded excuses about the bike’s fumes being harmful to people in an enclosed environment. That was that.

There are references to a 2003 performance in Bilbao which was to feature 100 motorcycles, several bulls, a chainsaw and some naked women. Can you tell me more about this and explain why it did not take place?

Again, I was invited to perform at MEM’s (Music Ex Machina) festival, and spent at least six months preparing this live action. It was to be played in the open air at the Guggenheim museum. I was going to decapitate six dead bulls with an electric chainsaw. Then impale each bull’s head on six large spikes at the front of the stage. Behind me one hundred bikers with the engine running, and naked women throwing red wine into the audience. Somehow, the budget for the production became too much, and the project was killed off by the organisers.

Was your “Cristall Music” live action from 2007vi a homage to alcohol, or something else?

This took place at the LEM festival in Barcelona, in 2007. At the auditorium of the MACBA museum of contemporary art. It has nothing to do with alcohol. I broke hundreds of bottles. Perhaps, it’s a metaphor for cosmic violence, but I never analyse or judge what I do. What’s the point?

By the way, Lady Gaga copied VDO, breaking bottles on her piano, at the American Music Awards performance, in 2009. My live actions have no hidden messages. I don’t like preachers. What I do, it’s all you see, straightforward business. In this case it’s just the sheer pleasure of breaking glass and getting paid for it.

The video for your 2008 performance at SPECTRA: The First Worldwide Symposium on Conspiracy Theory in Valencia was removed from Youtube because of nudity, which is slightly ridiculous. I’m curious about whether or not you see VDO’s work as relating to conspiracy theories and how the performance was received?

Well, we still can see part of the action online of me breaking glass mirrors, but Youtube have very strict hypocritical rules of never showing breasts, cunts, or pricks. I only had two naked girls with motorbike helmets on their heads constructing on the floor my hypercylindrical white cross made up with 72 rolls of toilet paper.

Meanwhile a cellist was playing classical music. Then I came into action with a gang of drummers and started breaking several mirrors left and right with a baseball bat that broke, and a big iron hammer. I was in and out in 6 minutes. The strange thing is that after the action I was asked to go back to the stage because the public was applauding non-stop. I took the two girls already dressed and together the three of us holding hands bowed to the audience, exactly like prima donnas do.

No conspiracy theories there. By the way, a year or so later after my performance in Valencia, the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto, broke mirrors at the 2009 Venice Biennale. What a coincidence.

Please tell me more about the plans for the 2008 “National Gallery” exhibition with your brother Marc in Spain? Why was this event censored?vii

We were invited by a public arts centre in Barcelona to have an exhibition of our own as The Valls Brothers. After a few days, Marc and I presented a sketch with our concept. We called it “The National Gallery”.

Let me explain. In Spain there is a very powerful ultra-right wing, ultra-catholic radio station, run by the bishops. It is similar to the extreme right wing ‘radio Maria’, in Poland. They always yell anti-abortion messages, anti-voluntary euthanasia, anti-gay weddings, and against progress in general. But of course, they never say a word about the happy go lucky pedophiles in the clergy.

Among other things, our main idea was to hang by the neck with a tight rope the life size mannequin of a bishop, dressed in full regalia by Prada, with a golden mitre, and a pair of red shoes by Gucci. And to have 14 radio transistors playing loud, 24 hours a day, the very same radio station of the Spanish bishops.

Soon we were called to an urgent meeting to discuss our installation. Apparently, the land of the arts centre belonged to the catholic church! We were asked very politely to change the concept, otherwise the centre’s organisers would loose their steady art centre job. We refused to change it. The show was banned.

Is it correct that all of your performances have been in Spain? It seems odd that there were never any in London, although I realise you will have participated to a greater or lesser degree in events by TG, Whitehouse, PTV etc.

Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse, were genuine ground breaking musicians. But VDO, it’s not your typical music circuit player. I don’t have a repertoire of songs. I think it’s good for me not to have performed in the UK. It helps VDO to become more obscure this way. At the same time when asked to play I always need a strong production team behind me. It’s expensive. Up to now, I have always refused to perform in private music clubs, and other regular places. This situation could change if the right money is there. I need to be in some kind of control to do it properly, and to enjoy myself.

2002′s “The Perpignan Killings” was something of a retrospective of your audio releases. It seems with your recent performances that you are making use of your previous work – both sonically (Jim Jones, drumming, etc.) and visually – blood, destruction of artwork or mirrors, masks, the crucifix constructed of toilet rolls, etc. It seems like you are striving for an increasingly complex “VDO World” with its own symbolism? Or perhaps you are simply adding new ways to fuck with people’s minds?

Let it be. If some people get fucked up. They deserve it. I do what I love to do, and only work by intention, intuition, and imagination. Think of my records. “The Perpignan Killings” CD, mixed by David Kenny, with great result. One of the tracks it’s called ‘Time Orders Old Age to Destroy Beauty’. Pure poetry in the making. I stole the title from a painting at the National Gallery, in London. In this CD the crooner is the Reverend Jim Jones, from “The Last Supper” LP. The drums ‘n’ bass, it’s from “The Pagan Drums of Calanda” LP. The rhythm guitars from the sexual cries of “Cold-Meat” LP. And the lead guitar from the growling dogs from “Music for the Hashishins” LP Absolute convulsive beauty, there.

Your 1984 performance in Madrid on national TVviii was described as “An offence to rock music” which is obviously a great achievement. You have now released eight albums – do you consider yourself as a musician? Is there anything in contemporary music which inspires you?

Why bother. I’m into destroying rules and ethics. Music is only one medium, and it’s not so important to me. As it is, there is too many composers, too many musicians, too many woman / man made music instruments. Everything seems so orthodox, so conformist, and so easy to do, that I rather fuck around with other ideas. I try to apply this criterion to all the other work I do. For me, it is imperative [ to have ] a tabula rasa, in what I do.

Can you explain the significance of the bell recorded on your release “The Great Masturbator”? And more broadly the concept behind the album?

This is a very metaphysical disc. It is the sound of a church bell tolling for the dead. Behind my house in Cadaques there is an old church, and when somebody from the village dies the bells toll one or two notes at the time, non stop for twenty minutes or longer remembering the dead person. The CD came out in 2004, the year of Salvador Dali’s centenary. The old master is the great masturbator, in person.

2007′s “Music for the Blind” is arguably your most conventionally musical release to date – do you have plans to explore this arena further? Has there been any response to it from classical music reviewers or artists?

Like Duchamp said: “I have forced myself. To contradict myself. In order to avoid conforming to my own taste”. I made this record to obtain absolute personal freedom of action. The track “Serenata” is by the Italian composer Enrico Toselli, played by the virtuoso violinist Bernarda Jones. On this CD there are five different versions of the same music piece. It is very unlikely for VDO to explore further in this field. Nevertheless, it is a great and unique record, receiving good reviews from the regular music press.

More generally, do you have any plans for future releases or projects you can tell me about? Are you proposing to move more into exhibitions and performance or is it simply a case of using inspiration of and opportunities as they arise?

I’m ready for exhibitions and live actions by the right invitation only. After mechanical destruction, we have fire and chemicals in mind to follow suit. Because, what the hell is there left to do? Play the guitar? Or rather shoot the audience with a pistol, like old Sid Vicious. By the way, the film is visually perfect.

The title of VDO’s next CD is “Irene’s Cunt”. Inspired by the book of the same name, by French poet Louis Aragon. A work of genius.

I’m very interested about the role that your brother Marc has played in VDO since the beginning and your new incarnation as the Valls Brothers?

Up to now, The Valls Brothers, have been banned from all exhibitions. Great news.

I said this before, without Marc, VDO could not exist at all. You have to comprehend our records as whole bodied, undivided between sound and graphics. Here lays the hush-hush of Vagina Dentata Organ. [Marc was either unwilling or unable to answer my questions, so this will indeed have to remain hush hush - for now!]

And “The London Punk Tapes”?

In 1976/77, as a punk fan I taped all these bands before they had any studio recordings. Now I’m preparing this punk installation at a museum of contemporary art in Barcelona. We shall have 6 Marshall amplifiers to play my punk recordings, and also a film collage of punk, sex and violence projected on the 3 walls.

Thank you Jordi

 

The London Punk Tapes” exhibition took place in July 2010. The Vagina Dentata Organ bookix accompanying the event re-situates punk as antagonistic noise, not catchy pop tunes which are a respected part of the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame:

Punk? In 1976 the youth of London were shouting \Fuck off!’ The philosophers, sociologists and psychologists, who always seek a long intellectual explanation, were searching for a pretext to define a new movement with sophisticated words written from the safety and comfort of their own homes. Punk is the suburban streets full of dog shit and piss. Faces with no future, urban guerillas with guitars and knives […] The best thing about punk music is its vital, visceral energy, and the way it proves that anyone, even though they don’t have orthodox talent, can grab a guitar, a paintbrush, a hammer, a chisel, a photo or movie camera and do whatever they set out to do. It only takes the intention, the power of your imagination. Just that.”

 Vagina Dentata Organ will perform at “Extreme Rituals: A Schimpfluch Carnival” which takes places in Bristol UK, 30 Nov – 2 Dec 2012.

 

i Valls arranged events at the Centro Iberico for both groups. This was a former school squatted by Spanish anarchists in West London. For more mainstream venues, Valls presented Whitehouse to clubs as an ‘electropop’ group. This lead to predictable conflicts with venue management when the group’s true nature was revealed during the gig. During a 1983 Whitehouse “live action” at the Roebuck, the noise and flying beer glasses attracted the attention of the police. Valls ended up spending a night in the cells after barricading the door to prevent the cops from gaining entry.

iiAs the anonymous author of the power electronics pulp fiction tour de force “Bang Out Of Order” has noted, Valls was one of the only people to maintain cordial relationships with both of the notoriously hostile TG and Whitehouse camps. http://www.bangoutoforder.blogspot.com/

iiiThese releases are well documented elsewhere – http://www.uncarved.org/music/vdo/vdoadn.html

ivExcerpt from interview in “Live Without Sex” http://www.uncarved.org/music/Vdo.html

vHttp://www.uncarved.org/music/vdo/ for all your Vagina Dentata Organ needs.

vihttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpmLWUPUzBw

viihttp://uncarved.org/music/vdo/vallsbros08.html

viii“Dressed as a sort of pagan priest, in the middle of an altar surrounded by twelve barking police dogs and with a background sound of Calanda’s drums, Jordi Valls destroys three paintings by Casademont (valued at over one million pesetas) from which spring; blood“ – http://www.uncarved.org/music/vdo/vdoadn.html

ixVagina Dentata Organ Presents The London Punk Tapes (Actar, 2010) 96pp available from actar.com

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