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Curve come full circle and treat us to this brand new song Test, one of the
best things they've ever done and a portent of the album, due next year.

Feature: Dominic Wells
Photos: Mark McNulty

They're back and they're baaaaad

Many today are confused, even displaced by the state of music. The mass crossover taking place between the alternative and the mainstream has left many an indie snob high and dry as supposed extremists shift units by the million.

This has been on the cards since the turn of the decade when the proto-grunge of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr first inspired the likes of The Boo Radleys to take up guitars, and the much-vaunted dance-rock crossover of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses engendered The Charlatans and inspired those Gallagher whipper-snappers. The consequent cross-pollination and outright larceny has brought huge success to many.

One name, though, is missing. Back in 1991, Curve literally exploded onto the scene. Their debut 'Blindfold EP', a caustic mix of funky bass, buzzsaw guitar, thrilling samples and a forceful, often embittered vocal, was given Single Of The Week in Melody Maker a full month before release. Music-maker Dean Garcia's technical wizardry and singer Toni Halliday's cool charisma and wild tales of a youth spent cruising the Med with her piratical father sent the press into a frenzy and A&R departments into a blind panic. No one else looked like this, no one else sounded like this and, aided and abetted by Dave Stewart's Anxious label (Halliday had met and deeply impressed Stewart while still in her early teens), Curve released a succession of ecstatically received EPs and, well within a year, were headlining London's Astoria. The Doppelgänger LP followed, then month after month of rigorous touring as Curve went about the conquest of America with crazed enthusiasm. 1993 saw them move towards hardcore techno with the blistering 'Blackerthreetracker' EP and a second album, Cuckoo. And then nothing. Curve split and, with only the most terse of explanations, disappeared as quickly as they'd arrived.

This year, again following the abruptest of statements, they've returned with a new single 'Pink Girl With The Blues', a complex wash of electronically mutated noise backing a dark trademark vocal of barely controlled emotion. An alternative and deliberately icy sex icon fronting a barrage of brilliantly produced and thoroughly contemporary rock - it's no great surprise to hear outraged claims that Curve have reformed simply to cash in on the success of Garbage, a success that should have been theirs to begin with.

Sitting in her Kilburn flat, sipping tea and thieving Garcia's Marlboros, Halliday is open but immovable. She's having none of it.

"We can see bits of Garbage in what we've done," she explains. "Just like we see bits of Sonic Youth or the Valentines or really any band that was doing something supposedly outside the norm. In a way it's very flattering to be tied in with Butch Vig, not just because he's a brilliant human being but because he's a brilliant producer and he's worked on some of our favourite records. But eventually Garbage are a pop band and Curve were never a pop band."

She has a point. Garbage's style, though seriously seductive, is simplistic and lyrically repetitive, hallmarks of chart-pop both. Curve's sound, with this new single and particularly with some barnstorming techno-metal stormers being prepared for the forthcoming LP, is far deeper, their lyrics concerned with hideous interpersonal complications, amphetamine joy and baleful resentment. Though they'd dearly like to flog some records, says Garcia, that is really no longer the point.

The reason for this is easily explained. So massive and so violently unexpected was Curve's initial success that unholy demands were placed upon them by their record company as well as themselves. Their debut LP, criticised by some for inherent sameness, followed immediately after a set of four four-track EPs; over two albums' worth of material inside a year. The touring was too extensive, the meet-and-greets too numerous, there was no real time to write, rest or evolve. Though their attempts to combine metallic power, lyrical complexity and new technology were brave and occasionally awesome (check 'Turkey Crossing') from Cuckoo) they were deeply unhappy and increasingly addled by drunk and drugs. They were turning into right bastards, maltreating the audience and hangers-on and especially each other.

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Splitting was easy, they'd done it before in the '80s with State Of Play. Halliday went off to form the all-female Scylla and scream her head off for a while - cathartic while it lasted but eventually unsuitable for her voice. She also experimented with Anke from Xymox. Garcia spent time in Crouch End with his children, engaging in a series of never-completed ambient projects, anything he could manage without leaving the house. They never lost contact - Halliday sought Garcia's opinion of 'Original', her collaboration with Leftfield, Garcia sent her flowers when she performed the track on Top Of The Pops. Then, while subjecting her to one of his more visceral hardcore efforts, Garcia handed Halliday a microphone and she, as she had many times before, blurted out a string of words that fitted damn near to perfection. The time was right to reconvene, only this time there would be no record company involved. Hence their own label - Fatlip. The concept of penning hit singles to order or endlessly rewriting their debut 'Ten Little Girls' no longer applies.

In a time of disturbingly widespread retroactivity, Curve have gone straight back to the cutting edge. Now drawing upon the likes of Tricky and Underworld as they were once drawn upon themselves, they utilise dub, dance, ambient and guitar samples so grievously twisted they sound like the krakens's death rattle. They are well and truly back.

"When we started," says Halliday "there were bands about who were doing things that would form a basis for later music. And I believe what we're seeing now, all these bands looking back to the past, is only gonna last for another couple of years because the new millennium will contain only new music. It always happens - at the end of each century people look backwards, at the beginning they always look to the future. And all the bands, like Garbage and the Sneaker Pimps and Curve as well, who use their imagination as well as the technology around them are gonna be there."

(article nicked from 'Volume' issue 17, December 1996)

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