Ludus \ Biography
Ludus is the latin word for game, or play. Applied to the artfully provocative music of Linder Sterling and Ian Devine it's an apposite self-description, for Ludus remain one of the most enigmatic groups to emerge from Manchester during the punk era.
Ludus formed in the city in the summer of 1978 around Liverpool-born artist Linder Sterling (born Linda Mulvey), who relocated to Manchester from Wigan in 1973 to study art at the Polytechnic. "There wasn't a lot going on in Manchester at the time," she recalls. "The Poly disco every Wednesday was the highlight. Otherwise, there was nowhere to hear Bowie and Roxy Music stuff, or the Philadelphia sound. But at the end of the Sixties there was a pretty amazing art education to be had in Britain. We came in at the tail end of it. Peter Saville and Malcolm Garrett were there at the same time."
All this would change on 20 July 1976, when Linder attended the second of two legendary Sex Pistols concerts at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. "That evening I talked to Buzzcocks: Pete Shelley, who was very friendly straight away, and then Howard. From that point onwards my life changed. That's the date when all the molecules changed. I edited myself down to one name, Linder. No signatures, just a stamp."
Sterling and Devoto remained an item for the next two years. This highly fertile creative period saw Buzzcocks release epochal DIY EP Spiral Scratch on their own New Hormones imprint, after which Devoto left to form a new band, Magazine. Linder would provide iconic photomontage cover art for both groups, notably Buzzcocks single Orgasm Addict (October 1977) and Magazine album Real Life (June 1978), as well as publishing collage fanzine The Secret Public with writer Jon Savage. Soon after, Linder decided to form a band of her own. "I couldn't see any difference between making photomontage and making music," she later told writer Simon Goddard. "The principles of montage are fantastically liberating. You find your source imagery, cut it up, reassemble and glue. You can apply this method to most creative processes. Using my voice, writing words and finding musicians was simply the method to produce the raw material for the sound cut-ups. The songs were the glue."
Linder's first musical collaborator was guitarist Arthur Kadmon, previously with Mancunian art-punks Manicured Noise. Originally the new group was to have been called Bloodsport, in homage to the menstrual-phobic chapter in Stephen King's novel Carrie. Soon the pair were joined by Willie Trotter on bass, and drummer Phillip 'Toby' Toman. Linder told NME at the time: "Everybody around me was making music, it seemed like a very obvious thing to do, and it seemed so easy for everyone else, so I got musicians together - and it's not that hard after all."
Although this first iteration of Ludus would release no records, two studio demos were taped in October 1978 and February 1979, the latter with Howard Devoto producing. These reveal a punkish guitar band in search of a sound of their own, albeit elevated by Linder's more outré inspirations including Annette Peacock and Sylvia Plath, whose poem Daddy the band boldly set to music. From the outset Ludus were feted by the music press, and their live debut at the Factory Club in October 1978 (opening for The Pop Group) was widely reviewed. The band then travelled down to London with Magazine for showcase dates at The Venue on November 23rd and 24th.
Reviewing a second show at the Factory in January 1979, NME writer Paul Morley offered effusive praise: "Ludus are anything but ordinary. A rich, bewitching quartet, led by the enigmatic Linder, whose maturing, enchanting voice adds layers of mystery, fragility and haunting strength to the esoteric music... The overall mixture is of a precious dance music: Gothic, but not glossily so, like Magazine; impressionistic and expressionistic; compact and exuberant. It's music that chills and warms, with images that scare and comfort... Still young, still unsure onstage, their music is already alone and knowing. And they're getting better all the time. Take good care of them."
Initially both Factory Records and New Hormones vied to record the new group. Ludus flirted first with Factory, contributing two projects to Tony Wilson's 'laboratory experiment in popular culture' during 1979. Famously, Linder designed the menstrual abacus (or egg-timer) designated Fac 8, a fabled artifact that failed to progress far beyond the drawing board, and slipped off the label's release sheets towards the end of the year. Discussions about recording with in-house producer also Martin Hannett came to nothing. Indeed the only permanent evidence of Ludus as a Factory act was a short film for an early song called Red Dress within an 8mm short film known as the Factory Flick (Fac 9), also featuring Joy Division and A Certain Ratio, and premiered at the Scala Cinema in London.
Arthur Kadmon quit Ludus following a short UK tour with Buzzcocks in March 1979, and would subsequently go on to play with The Distractions and The Fall. After placing a time-honoured 'musician wanted' ad in NME the group tried out several replacements, with Ian Devine lasting long enough to relocate from Cardiff to Manchester. He beat off several strong rival candidates, notably John Kirkham, late of Pink Military and Factory latin-jazz contenders Swamp Children/Kalima. Trotter also departed, leaving Ludus a trio of Linder, Toby and Ian with no permanent bass guitarist, although Barry Adamson of Magazine occasionally guested for live shows.
Ian made his live debut at a 'Stuff the Superstars Special' event at Manchester Funhouse on 28 July, a bill shared with Joy Division and The Fall. He and Linder also began writing some bold new music. "When Ian arrived in Manchester, within weeks he was taking me off to see people like Derek Bailey and Evan Parker," Linder recalled. "All this fantastic British experimental music and improvisation. After punk I found that was the most exciting thing. I did find something genuinely exhilarating there. We knew that if we wanted to, we could craft these tiny songs, but also we could push it out in another direction."
"When Linder met Ian Devine something different happened," confirms Richard Boon, Buzzcocks manager and New Hormones chief. "A bit more open-ended. We would say post-punk, actually a bit more jazzy." By the time Ludus were ready to enter the studio again the group had chosen to work with Boon and New Hormones. A fan of Peter Hammill, Devine asked Boon to approach the former Van Der Graaf Generator mainman about producing the band. "Hammill came up to Manchester and did some 8-track recordings and cut and spliced," Boon continues. "But Ian wasn't entirely happy with the results, so he did his own remix."
Debut EP The Visit was taped at the close of 1979. By now a distinctive Ludus sound was in place, combining angular, jazz-informed music, often irregular free-form arrangements, with Linder's unflinching lyrical exploration of sexual politics and cultural anxiety. The long-anticipated record was released in March 1980 to enthusiastic reviews, reaching #32 on the UK indie chart. One avid local supporter was Steven Patrick Morrissey, who had first befriended Linder during a Sex Pistols soundcheck at the Electric Circus, and now reviewed a Ludus performance at the Beach Club in April in glowing terms for Record Mirror. "Ludus are sound psychology for the modern clientele... Tonight's set consisted of three lengthy bursts of experimental music. Linder delivered a wild melange of ill-disciplined and extraneous vocal movements, apparently without any effort. An exquisite torture. The set was a little too vague for general consumption, and that nothing from the EP was featured was an intense disappointment. But finally, that Ludus are valuable and special is impossible to deny."
By now Ludus were playing regularly in London, where high profile shows included the Prince of Wales Conference Centre (YMCA) with The Tiller Boys and Clock DVA (August 1979), the Electric Ballroom with Psychedelic Furs and Monochrome Set (November), the Nashville with Eric Random (March 1980), an ICA Rock Week in June, and another Lyceum date with the Furs in September. Ludus also performed at Cabaret Futura, the offbeat London club run by Richard Strange. Towards the end of the year drummer Toby quit and was replaced by Graham 'Dids' Dowdall. A second single, My Cherry Is In Sherry, described by Linder as a three minute pop song about 'hormonal victory', emerged in October 1980 to consolidate their burgeoning reputation.
With money too tight to mention at New Hormones, the next Ludus release took the form of a cassette package rather than the long-overdue vinyl album. Issued in April of 1981, Pickpocket contained six tracks ("Over 20 minutes of songs, instrumentals for close and casual listening"), as well as a pin badge and a booklet, the latter showcasing montage fragments and photography by Christina Birrer. "As a natural progression of early photomontage, I wanted to play with photomontaging myself," explains Linder. In practice, this involved photos of the singer covering her mouth with another photo of her mouth, and so on.
At the same time Ludus undertook a short New Hormones package tour through Belgium and Holland with Eric Random. A show at the Free University in Brussels on April 21st proved serendipitous, since the audience included Benoît Hennebert of chic Belgian indie label Les Disques du Crépuscule. Hennebert, a retiring but hugely talented graphic artist, was much impressed by Ludus and expressed keen interest in working with the band.
Meanwhile a third single arrived via New Hormones in June, coupling the ferocious Mother's Hour with Anatomy Is Not Destiny, judged a single of the week by Sounds, yet 'formidably unlistenable' according to Melody Maker. Fearless to the point of self-sabotage, the group even dared to improvise onstage at the third Futurama festival in September, staged in the unglamorous surroundings of Stafford Bingley Hall. With shiny New Pop now dominating the charts, and the culture, mainstream critics cocked a snook. "Once a highly-promising new outfit who played early dates supporting Magazine, they've since split and splintered and come back in different shapes," wrote Paul du Noyer in a major NME profile, going on to note that Ludus had "drifted steadily away from the mainstream of commercial potential and critical acceptance. I used to rate them an awful lot. Nowadays, although I can admire their uncompromising stance, their musical output seems more erratic: flashes of magic and puddles of boredom."
Financial constraints at New Hormones were also a hindrance. Throughout their career the group were obliged to record in a hurry, in basic studios, with the result that some sessions lacked polish. Moreover, while The Visit sold a healthy 3,500 copies, provocative second single My Cherry Is In Sherry shifted just a third of that number. Nevertheless, Ludus continued to eschew contemporary trends to work in purposeful opposition.
"It was the triumph of curiosity over anxiety," affirms Linder. "We were precocious and impatient. We were never bored. I was delving deep into the possibililities of how many sounds a larynx can make. A lot of the stuff I did I was taking from Yoko Ono and from a Polish singer called Urzula Dudziak. All the women who used their voices as instruments: Norma Winstone, Meredith Monk, Yma Sumac, Annette Peacock. With Ludus I had this internal palette of voice options, and Ian would be next to me with all these weird tempo options, maybe at times the two of us should have been a little more disciplined with songwriting. But there was just this insatiable curiosity. The live sets became totally improvised - it must have been quite hard going for an audience. We had a piece which had twenty tempo changes."
After a brief period of silence, 1982 saw the release of not one but three Ludus albums. The Seduction appeared as a double 12" package in February and offered some of their best work to date, notably on more structured tracks such as Mirror Mirror, See the Keyhole and The Escape Artist. Danger Came Smiling followed in September and was an altogether more challenging work. Featuring 18 largely improvised tracks, recorded on basic equipment, ORG 20 was described by Ian as a therapeutic exercise, and by Linder as an exorcism. Bored of singing conventional lyrics, she instead offered a selection of cathartic shrieks, yells and laughter, along with spoken interludes taken from diary records of Reichian therapy.
The third album, a compilation titled Riding the Rag, was issued by Expanded Music in Italy in August and based largely on the Pickpocket cassette. All three releases drew positive reviews, yet sales remained modest, and for many Ludus remained simply too abstract, too radical, too hard to decode.
Having purged some poisons on Danger Came Smiling, Ludus now decided to experiment with a more mainstream approach. On the recommendation of Howard Devoto, former Magazine keyboard player Dave Formula agreed to work with the group as a producer/arranger, as well as open discussions with Virgin Records. Thus a new EP, Nue au Soleil, was recorded in Manchester over the summer. In order to achieve a richer, more sophisticated sound, Linder, Ian and Dave Formula were joined by bassist Paul Cavanagh, drummer Roy O'Shea and sax players Lee Buick and Graham Revell. August 1982 also saw the expanded group record an excellent four-song BBC session for John Peel, from which Covenant and Vagina Gratitude went unreleased elsewhere. As well as an arch cover of Nue au Soleil, a hit in 1970 for Brigitte Bardot, the EP sessions also produced springy pop originals Let Me Go Where My Pictures Go and She She, along with freeform workout What a Falling Off Was There.
By now the size of the geographically scattered seven-piece band meant that live performances were relatively rare, the most celebrated being a show at Factory nightclub The Haçienda on 5 November. Much of the new music - the Crépuscule EP, Wrapped In Silence, Breaking the Rules, Too Hot to Handle - showcased the band's newfound pop sensibility. Visually, however, the show took a very different direction. "Bucks Fizz had just won the Eurovision Song Contest," recalls Linder. "At the end of their song the men pulled off the girls' skirts, and that ticked off an outrage in me. Oh no, I thought, it's still going on. At the same time the Haçienda was still this male preserve. They were showing lots of soft porn and they thought it was really cool, repetitive reels of pornography presiding over the dance floor. Pornography can never be casual and without consequence, at least not in my world. So I took my revenge."
Helpfully, merry prankster co-managers Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll decorated every table in the venue with a paper plate, on which sat a red-stained tampon and a stubbed-out cigarette. The management feared these would mark the floors, and also withdrew the Bloody Linder cocktail from the bar. "Tony Wilson came in and just went fucking spare," recalled Dave Formula. "He went completely bananas. I'd never seen him lose it like that before. He's normally the urbane Mr Cool, you know. He was incredibly shaken by it, meaning they put them all away. But then Linder came up with the trump card of The Dress."
Linder's raw meat dress has since passed into performance art legend. "It was exquisitely crafted," says Linder. "I used the discarded parts of chickens sewn onto layers of bloack net. I was a vegetarian and didn't want to buy a dead animal, so I used thrown away meat from a Chinese restaurant instead. I wore chicken claws in my French pleat. The worst aspect was the smell - I had to drench myself in Dioressence. Only four of us knew what was going to happen. For the first two songs the stage lights were blue and from the audience the meat looked like strange flowers sewn onto my dress. It was only as the lights changed that people could see the reality."
During the closing number (Too Hot To Handle) The Dress was pulled aside to reveal a large black dildo. "I remember the audience going back about three feet," says Linder. "There was hardly any applause at the end. And that was a crowd who thought: nothing can shock us, we see porn all the time, we're cool. When that happened, when they stepped back, I thought, that's it. Where do you go from here?"
Certainly not Top of the Pops. The big band played a final London date at Islington Town Hall, and in March 1983 recorded a new single for highbrow French imprint Sordide Sentimental. Two tracks were taped at Spirit Studio in Manchester, Breaking the Rules (aka One and One) and Little Girls, which again evidenced a subversive, leftfield approach to pop. The single appeared as a limited edition package of 2,509 numbered copies, and was followed by another BBC radio session taped in April for Janice Long, sadly now lost. In Belgium, where Benoît Hennebert remained a loyal supporter, plans were made to release the Nue au Soleil EP as TWI 102, as well as a compilation album, TWI 340, with a sleevenote by Morrissey. Indeed TWI 102 even crept out in Italy on 12" via Base Records.
Unfortunately relations between Linder and Ian were deteriorating, and Ludus began to lose momentum. In 1984 the pair returned to Belgium with the object of recording a polished, accessible record with former Associate Alan Rankine. "Ludus were going to do the Big Album for Crépuscule," recalls Linder, "all trying to fulfil Benoît's vision." The duo shared a flat above Interferences, Crépuscule's bar-cum-cultural venue, but creative chemistry was found to be lacking. "Everything seemed to slow right down. Go into slow motion. But, like the name of the club, there was an interference. We just couldn't create there." Even the Nue au Soleil EP and compilation album ended up being shelved. Ian and Linder left Brussels separately and did not speak for more than a decade. "It fell apart," Linder told Simon Reynolds. "We fell apart. I didn't have the energy to start a new collaboration with anybody. So it felt like the right time to walk away."
After the split, Ian returned to Wales and formed Heb Gariad, who worked with Welsh-language label Anrhefn, then joined forces with former Young Marble Giants/Weekend vocalist Alison Statton. As Devine & Statton the pair produced two well-regarded albums for Crépuscule, The Prince of Wales (1989) and Cardiffians (1990), along with a clutch of singles. Devine also produced an album for Belgian band Fats Garden and co-wrote with Tuxedomoon member Blaine L. Reininger. From 1992 he played with Cardiff group Low Gods, and in 2001 resumed his musical partnership with Linder to produce the largely electronic soundtrack to the performance piece Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me, released as a seven track CD Requiem via Welfare State. An album of new songs in a similar vein to his work with Statton, Devine & Griffiths, arrived in 2007. With Patrick Jones, he contributed The Bells of Rhymney to the Tongues for a Stammering Time collection on Anhrefn in 2009. As Taffia, Devine has also released two albums via 029 Records, Soupermarket (2007) and Headloo (2011), on which Stuart and Philip Moxham of YMG also feature.
Original Ludus drummer Philip 'Toby' Toman later played with Primal Scream, while Graham 'Dids' Dowdall joined Eric Random's Bedlamites, as well as The Faction with Nico. Dave Formula went on to produce a Crépuscule single for Winston Tong (1984), opened Strongroom studio in London, and co-produced the second album by Howard Devoto's post-Magazine project Luxuria, Beast Box (1990). After a spell teaching musicology and production analysis, he took part in an acclaimed Magazine reformation between 2009 and 2011, and issued a solo album in 2010.
Linder remained in Belgium after Ludus dissolved, before returning to Manchester in 1986 to focus exclusively on visual art. Much had changed, and her best friend Morrissey was now a solo star. In 1992 she published Morrissey Shot, a volume of photographs documenting two world tours, and her images were used for the albums Your Arsenal (1992) and Beethoven Was Deaf (1993). 1997 was marred by a near-fatal car accident, but retrieved with a one-woman show at London's Cleveland Gallery titled What did you do in the punk war, mummy? The following year she filled a room in a disused Widnes school with 42 tonnes of industrial salt for Salt Shrine.
Subsequent exhibitions, installations and performances pieces have included The Return of Linderland (2000), the film Light the Fuse (with a soundtrack by Ian Devine), four hour performance piece The Working Class Goes to Paradise (2001) and the requiem Clint Eastwood, Clare Offreduccio and Me (2001). An exhibition of photomontages and early works was held at the Mayor Gallery in London in 2002, and in 2006 Linder (again with Ian) staged The Working Class Goes to Paradise at the Tate Triennial. A deluxe art monograph Linder Works 1976-2006 was published by Swiss imprint Jrp/Ringier in 2006. 2013 saw another prestigious show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris, and a spell as artist in residence at Tate St Ives.
The infamous meat dress deployed at The Haçienda returned to prominence in 2010 when American artpop superstar Lady Gaga wore a similar garment to the MTV Video Music Awards. Cited by Time magazine as the top fashion statement of the year, the originality of Gaga's gesture was soon questioned. Interviewed in the Guardian, Linder remained ambivalent. "It rankled a little bit. The lack of acknowledgment. Our generation always acknowledged our influences. That does not seem to happen so much any more. You have to do it, though, otherwise people don't go on the great journey of discovery that impelled you to become an artist."
The music of Ludus also lives on. The entire back catalog was reissued across three CDs by LTM in 2002, and in June 2004 the duo of Linder and Ian reformed for two shows at the Royal Festival Hall in London, as part of the Morrissey-curated Meltdown Festival. Backed by a group of cherry-picked Cardiff musicians, the pair delivered two exemplary sets of re-arranged Ludus classics, once opening for Nancy Sinatra (20 June) and once for Morrissey himself (25 June). Indeed we may leave the last word to Morrissey, paraphrasing from his sleevenote for TWI 340 and his Autobiography published in 2013: "Linder sang of a reality that no-one had thus far wished for. In the exploding Manchester scene, she was the only female, and although she faught with fire to render the unreceptive receptive, she was overlooked... Her singing leaves me out of breath. Ludus perch uneasily of the fringes of all things bright and avant-garde, their music is unlike almost anyone else's. People who know real genius will love this record."
"Linder's 2013 show at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville in Paris tells an earlier tale: of how, in 1976, graphic design student Linda Mulvey became Linder and, informed as much by feminism as by Dada and Surrealist manifestos, embarked on an incisive, arresting, often hilarious study of the relationship between consumertism, sex and gender." (The Wire, 04/2013)