Dumb – ‘Thirsty’/Dub Sex – ‘Swerve’: Round 33 – Rob’s choice

Mark Hoyle and Cathy Brooks came out of Hulme, one of Manchester’s most blighted and slighted quarters, and channeled that parish’s cold concrete and desolate fire into not one but two great bands. Despite having the better part of a decade between them, both Dub Sex and Dumb were somehow not of their time and both were destined to disappear between the cracks, seeping back into the overflow.

At the centre of both undertakings was Mark Hoyle’s voice. Physically Hoyle, skinny and wire-spectacled, was every inch the disgruntled librarian, but when he opened his mouth he produced a sound like two drunks beating each other to death in a sewer. A glorious Mancunian roar from vocal chords which begged to be preserved and exhibited for future generations, even as they seemed to be tearing themselves to shreds with their every blasted syllable. If you think the voice cannot be a terrifying instrument of industrial post punk noise, hear Hoyle and think again. He was, whenever he opened his trap, magnificent.

That Dub Sex made such compelling music is all the more remarkable since Hoyle’s voice carries the weight of melody, bearing it with Titanic strength. ‘Swerve’ is pretty much perfect in my view. Three minutes of jagged, eviscerating force. ‘Waiting Room’ without the decorative tune. To my ears it compares favourably with Fugazi’s debut, a record which preceded it my just a few weeks. Why it wasn’t seized upon with the same voracity baffles me.

Dub Sex recorded EPs and singles and compiled these into a blistering but disjointed album, ‘Splintered Faith’, and then disappeared. Five years later, 1994, when Dumb’s debut single ‘Always Liverpool’ emerged as if from nowhere I couldn’t have been more excited. On ‘Thirsty’, the first of Dumb’s two albums, Hoyle’s voice and Brooks’ pounding bass guitar once again simultaneously lashed across and pinned down a raging noise, this time channeling in more melody, letting the sun shine in just a little. There are raging pop songs on ‘Thirsty’, alongside bludgeoning mosh-pit killers, alongside savant ballads, as incongruous as they are touching. It’s one of my favourite albums. I would take it to my desert island ahead of ‘Surfer Rosa’, ‘Nevermind’, ‘Candy Apple Grey’ or ‘Bug’.

But it sank without trace. I can’t even find an image of the cover art online to add to this piece. A few years later, now with two drummers, a more obtuse but only marginally less stunning second album, ‘King Tubby Meets Max Wall Uptown’, appeared, and that was the last of Dumb. I wish they’d gone on forever. I wish they were playing packed reunion shows, Hoyle’s voice holding up improbably through the years of gargling broken glass. I wish their music, so simple and irresistible, was played at weddings and school discos. Instead they are forever dumb.

Nick listened: It’s quite some time since we met for this session, so memory of Dumb and Dub Sex is fading. I do remember thinking that I understood what Rob meant when he compared Swerve to Waiting Room by Fugazi, but I think his “decorative tune” aside sums up pretty succinctly why Fugazi went on to sell a couple of million records around the world, and why you can’t even find Dub Sex’s record covers online. Plenty of music engages in the push-me-pull-you dynamics of attraction vs repulsion, where the abrasive and the pretty (or the funky) rub up against each other, from Public Enemy to My Bloody Valentine and far beyond. With Dub Sex / Dumb, there was plenty of the abrasive, but not quite enough of the pretty, whether that was hooks, melodies, texture, or something else. What they did was compelling enough, and I can see why Rob feels so strongly about it, but it was pretty unrelentingly grinding and dark.

Graham listened: Though I don’t recall ever hearing anything by Dumb, I’m sure I once read an article which praised their work. Having had a listen now, I can see why. Stark throughout but when the melodies/vocals are allowed through the darkness, they were stunningly engaging. Just came across as brutally, beautiful.

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5 thoughts on “Dumb – ‘Thirsty’/Dub Sex – ‘Swerve’: Round 33 – Rob’s choice”

  1. Glad someone else heard “thirsty” after it cost me all my savings to put out there. Dumb were the stars of Up Records, the label my brother and I ran in the nineties. Their follow-up was a much better production but Thirsty had all the classic tunes. As a live band they were unsurpassed. Brutal percussion, sledgehammer guitars, and of course there was Mark. They are down to play at the Night and Day in Manchester in April. Hopefully be just like old times…

    1. Hey Jacob. Thanks for the comment, but mostly thanks for getting this record made. Let me assure you, ‘Thirsty’ is one of my Desert Island Discs. An absolute home-run album. I loved it then and I love it still. I did everything I could, as Music Writer for the Big Issue, to make other people love it and them. Turns out I couldn’t do all that much. I grew to love the second record too. Great to hear they’re getting back together. I saw them in the ‘Hop and Grape’ and they were something to behold. Wish I could be there to see them this time around. I’m sure you’ll have a blast.

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