Test Dept's formation in 1981 in the decaying docklands of South London, was an urgent reaction to the materialistic drift and reactionary conservatism of the prevailing musical and political culture. TD rejected the conventional and developed a style that reflected the decay of their surroundings scavenging the unregenerated wastelands for raw materials, and transforming found industrial items into designed, sculptural instruments. Suitably armed they forged a hard rhythmic sonic battery, fusing found sound samples and cutting edge electronics in the construction of a dynamic physical totality. Their infamous sonic assaults were challenging and demanding for audience and performers alike, a test of physical endurance that journeyed through the sonic pain threshold and into a cathartic energy release. The 'Stakhanovite Sound' was a furnace that forged an attitude of total collective commitment, embracing the spirit of punk with an avant revolutionary sensibility that sought to challenge the status quo. It was the antithesis of commercial record industry values.
EXTREME CONDITIONS DEMAND EXTREME RESPONSES.
Their unique performance enviroment utilised multiple slide and film projections reinvigorating disused industrial settings, with epic scale spectacular events working collectively with other artists under the umbrella of the 'Ministry of Power'. Collaborations were formed with filmmakers, sculptors, dancers and politically active groups, such as the striking Miners in 1984/85, where members of the community were encouraged to participate with creative contributions. Such endeavours led to comparisons with the early work of the Futurists movement, Russolo's ' Art of Noises', Mayakovsky's political poetry, Meyerhold's revolutionary theatre, and Vertov's audio visual experiments on celluloid. This reputation was enhanced as they became one of the few Western groups to penetrate the iron curtain and forge working alliances in Eastern Bloc Europe.
Test Dept became renowned for producing epic scale site specific productions within Britain, land and sound mark events included both Arch 69 and Titan Arch at Waterloo, 'The Unacceptable Face of Freedom at Bishops Bridge Maintenance Depot, Paddington, and Cannon Street Station in a continuing burgeoning relationship with British Rail. Other Multi media collaborations took them to represent Britain at Expo Vancouver Canada, supported ironically by the Queens Own Royal Lancashire Regiment.
In Valladollid, Spain they created a show with the local theatrical and music academies at the Monasterio De San Benito, in a 'Boschian' exorcism of the centre of the Spanish Inquisition. Their most awesome collaboration with Brith Gof (Faint Recollection) took place at the Rover Car factory in Cardiff and other unique locations around Europe. The performance based on the epic 6th Century poem 'Gododdin' recalled the plight and heroic struggle of a small band of celtic warriors against the might of the invading Angles. A parable of minority cultures struggle for identity against the superior forces of colonialism and homogenisation.
In 1992 an offshoot of The Ministry of Power, NVA was formed in Glasgow to focus on large scale productions. 'The Second Coming' show at the St. Rollox Railway Works in Glasgow was the centrepiece of the cities European Year of Culture celebration. The remaining core of the group concentrated their activities on working with new music technology, moving in the underground dance scene, whose counter cultural values were to find themselves at odds with both mainstream musical values and the Government. With the proliferation of illegal 'raves , the politicisation of the dance movement became official with the introduction of 'The Criminal Justice Act' to prevent large scale gatherings and curb the "excessive" noise levels of "repetitive beats". Such draconian action alongside advances in digital technology ultimately led to the creation of a wider digital diaspora of experimental sound artists and electronic practicioners. All former core TD members are still actively involved in the creative industries working under various guises, some of these activities are documented here.