Still infected after all these years.
I popped to London last week to see a rare screening of Matt Johnson’s 1986 video epic – ‘Infected’. I haven’t been to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) since the early 1990s, so it was good to be back. We arrived just in time, after getting a bit lost, and my memories of this film didn’t disappoint. It’s as visceral and prescient today as it was back in the ‘troubled eighties’. It’s funny how awful things seemed back then with rampant Thatcherite class divisions and Reaganomics ruling the roost and ruining the Western world for the majority. Have things actually got any better today?
This is the land where nothing changes
The land of red buses and blue blooded babies
This is the place, where pensioners are raped
And the hearts are being cut from the welfare state
Let the poor drink the milk while the rich eat the honey
Let the bums count their blessings while they count the money
Heartland by The The
These things are what fuelled Matt Johnson’s righteous anger, amongst plenty of others, including the AIDS crisis, the right wing media and the rise of radical Islam. These potent ingredients all fed Johnson’s young creative mind and were fused in the pursuit of a concept album that railed against the vacuous side of the 1980s. Duran Duran’s yachts and Spandau Ballet’s Caribbean sojourns were stridently replaced in Infected with gruesome drug fuelled trips tied into a chair, being assaulted behind the wheel of a car, strapped to the top of a squalid Bolivian boat and set alight in a funeral pyre. This was startling stuff for my teenage self and I remember it vividly.
The budget for Infected was huge for a left field music release, allegedly costing around $500,000. The combined talents of several renowned directors, including Tim Pope and Mark Romanek did sterling work, visually representing the songs from the album of the same name. The visuals of The The was something I’d always admired and the artwork of Matt Johnson’s brother, Andy, was a perfect fit that angrily adorned almost every release. His work is all over Infected too. It is tragic that he died so young as it would have been great to hear his perspective on the project. I had been in touch with Andy ‘Dog’ Johnson not that long before he died and was planning to interview him for Classic Pop magazine. Gone far too soon and a talent that deserved more widespread appreciation.
The film, which is a series of short videos segued together with graphics, text and sounds, was released under Matt Johnson’s familiar musical moniker of The The. It received heaps of praise in the media in 1986, but to date has never been released on DVD. In the interesting Q&A after the screening, it seems it’s something that we shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for either. This seems a shame and a missed opportunity, as I would suggest that the reviews still stand today and the narrative perhaps has even more biting relevance.
“Into stagnant waters Infected surfaces as shockingly as a neon nuclear submarine” – Time Out Magazine.
“Infected has arrived into my world like a hawk into a dove-cot, like a motorcycle gang into a Quaker prayer meeting. I’ll be honest – I’m shocked” – New Musical Express.
“The liaison between rhythm and rage is full of manic power, suitable Christmas listening only if you are spending it with Satan!” – The Independent.
Today, The The has primarily become a vehicle for Matt Johnson’s soundtrack scores and it’s unlikely that there will be any more tours, so it was a treat to hear the man talking about some of his work that I consider the best in his repertoire.
“Nurse me into sickness, nurse me back to health and tell me what it is that I want in this world…”