Sandwiched between the dominance of Progressive Rock and Krautrock in the early 1970s and the emergence of Punk Rock and Post-Punk later on in the decade, was a little known group by the name of This Heat, who somehow managed to bridge all these scenes together whilst simultaneously sounding utterly unique.
This Heat first came together in 1975 by Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward, both seasoned musicians who had previously played together in the prog rock band Quiet Sun (led by Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music). Shortly after they acquired a third member, Gareth Williams, who despite not being able to play an instrument at the time, contributed greatly to their interest in tape splicing and experimentation. They chose for themselves the name This Heat in reference to the British heat wave of 1976, which was then regarded as the hottest summer ever recorded, and began playing whatever the hell they wanted.
While they started playing in the attic of Hayward's parents' house, the band eventually converted a disused cold storage room into a studio and began experimenting with found sounds and tape loops. This Heat soon became a favorite of legendary DJ John Peel, who gave them crucial radio exposure while they were still working out material for their debut album. After a recording process that lasted almost three years, they finally released their self-titled debut in August 1979. Consisting of equal parts sparse, droning soundscapes and raw, cacophonous rock songs, the album sounded like nothing else on the market, and while overshadowed by the likes of Unknown Pleasures which released in the same year, it's still considered a demented classic of underground rock music.
After their debut, the band began to embrace slightly more conventional song structures. They released a two track EP, Health and Efficiency, in 1980, and in 1981 released their most remembered album, Deceit. Saturated in Cold War nuclear paranoia, the album is no lighter than their debut despite its more accessible sound.
Williams left the band shortly before the release of Deceit to study in India, who eventually broke up in 1982 following a brief European tour with two other musicians. In 2001 the original trio made a tentative effort to reunite, however these hopes were dashed when Williams died of cancer. In 2016 Hayward and Bullen began playing This Heat's material again under the name This is Not This Heat. Featuring a band of guest musicians which included Thurston Moore and Alexis Taylor, this iteration of the band received critical acclaim and was considered a fitting tribute to the group's legacy.
- Charles Hayward
- Charles Bullen
- Gareth Williams
We are all tropers, we live to regret it:
- Album Intro Track: "Testcard (Blue)" on This Heat, 47 seconds of high pitched electrical noise which is interrupted without warning by "Horizontal Hold".
- Boléro Effect: Done in a restrained way on "Not Waving", which builds up from nearly inaudible synth noises to an oppressive soundscape of guitar feedback, Mellotron drone, and mournful clarinet, all without any percussion whatsoever. When combined with the despairing vocals, the overall effect is similar to watching a ghost slowly come into view.
- Book Ends: The two versions of "Testcard" that open and close their self-titled album, the latter directly segueing out of "The Fall of Saigon".
- Careful with That Axe: Charles Hayward lets out some pretty deranged screams on Deceit. He later said in an interview that "Makeshift Swahili" is the song where he really learned to let go of his voice.
- Creepy Monotone: Most of their vocals. Other times it's...
- Darker and Edgier: Than pretty much any other contemporary artist aside from Throbbing Gristle. Their Kafkaesque lyrics and delirious sound make them a harrowing listen even to this day.
- Drone of Dread: Used extensively throughout their discography, comprising about half of their debut and showing up frequently even in their later, more accessible work.
- Epic Rocking: "Horizontal Hold" (6:56), "Not Waving" (7:26), "24 Track Loop" (5:56), "Health and Efficiency" (8:07), "Graphic/Varispeed" (11:25), "Paper Hats" (6:02). There's also the improv tracks "Repeat" (20:23) and "Metal" (23:16), and remixes of "Graphic/Varispeed" which run for 15:22 and 30:26.
- Every Episode Ending: Pretty much every live show closed out with "Health and Efficiency".
- Everything Is an Instrument: Gareth Williams was very fond of found sounds, leading to things like kazoos and bike horns being incorporated into their soundscapes.
- Extreme Omnivore: The characters in "The Fall of Saigon" start by eating their cat and then get more desperate."We ate the TV
We ate the armchair
We ate the telephone
We ate the styrofoam"
- Fading into the Next Song: "Rainforest" into "The Fall of Saigon" into "Testcard (Yellow)". Also, "Shrink Wrap" into "Radio Prague" into "Makeshift Swahili".
- Genre-Busting: They sound like nothing before or after them. The band were omnivorous with their listening habits and included a bit of everything in their sound, resulting in a completely unclassifiable blend of punk, folk, prog rock, krautrock, drone, and noise. "24 Track Loop" for instance, is considered an Ur-Example of Techno and IDM.
- Horrible History Metal: "The Fall of Saigon", though the event it describes was only four years old at the time the song came out. Played straight with "S.P.Q.R" and "Cenotaph", which deal with the fall of the Roman Empire and the two World Wars respectively.
- Instrumentals: About half of their self-titled album, as well as the "Repeat" and "Metal" EPs.
- Lead Drummer: Charles Hayward has the lion's share of vocals and a significant hand in the songwriting, though he still really wasn't the frontman in any traditional sense. He fully assumed this role with his subsequent band Camberwell Now.
- Literary Allusion Title: "Not Waving" is named after the poem "Not Waving but Drowning" by Stevie Smith. The full title is quoted in the lyrics.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Songs like "Sleep" or "Independence" have really innocent lyrics being sung over harrowing instrumentals.
- One-Steve Limit: Averted, two thirds of the band are named Charles.
- Power Trio: Charles Bullen is The Spock, Charles Hayward is The McCoy, Gareth Williams is The Kirk.
- Pun-Based Title: Made Available is a compilation of the band's Peel Sessions, so named because they were recorded at Maida Vale Studios. Deceit was also chosen as a play on words of the band's name.
- Ripped from the Headlines: They commented a lot on the issues of the day, particularly nuclear war, early awareness of climate change, and the fallout of the Vietnam War. Charles Hayward actually wrote "The Fall of Saigon" in a rush after watching news coverage of the eponymous event being followed by a fluff piece about a cat drinking whiskey and being struck by the contrast.
- Sampling: One of the first bands to make this a major part of their sound. "Radio Swahili" and "Hi Baku Shyo" are both comprised almost entirely of this.
- Song Style Shift: "Health and Efficiency" has three distinct sections: a bright, surf rock intro, a darker, heavier vocal section, and an extended industrial outro.
- Suicide by Sea: "Not Waving" is about a person drowning themselves in the ocean because of their failure to cope with the modern world.
- Vocal Tag Team: All three of them sang, often in unison.