I’m beginning to understand why Wire enthusiasts still follow the band’s every collaboration and EP 20 years on. My misconception was that Wire was a standalone band, and that their experiments were limited to Wire. To me, they seemed experimental in those sometimes reactionary and desensitizing late 70s/80s ways that are well understood now as punk and post-punk, new wave etc., so I wondered what else there was to it.
Lately I’ve been listening with more appreciation, and rewardingly I’ve discovered that Wire was — true to their name — not a single tribe, but a roadie’s nest of raw 80s underground connections. Angela Conway was one of the collaborators who contributed to Wire and later Dome (one of the numerous spin-outs from Wire’s mid 80s break-up). For her sole album, Conway called herself A.C. Marias. She produced videos for Wire and later made video production her career. She was a dancer, and she wrote ethereal music that reflected this, being surprisingly free of hang-ups in the abrasive post-punk scene that was founded on Wire’s edgy example.
But as often happens with musical collaborations, the deeper you go, the more difficult it is to draw a line under authorship. Wire’s Bruce Gilbert is an equal contributor on A.C. Marias only album, One of our Girls have Gone Missing. And Conway contributed vocals and compositions to Wire members’ bands He Said, Dome, and P’o. The first A.C. Marias track I discovered was not on the album; it was one of Conway’s contributions to Dome, called “So.” “One of our girls has gone Missing” seemed less striking: plucky feminist flag-waving disguised as bone-china pop. Compared to Wire it seemed like a leisurely stroll on the beach. But what I liked about it was how its strangeness grew on me. Wire’s experiments were out front, meddling with my ears. With them, I had to grow to accept the sometimes dated combat tactics. A.C. Marias was so unobtrusive I had to listen enough times to find the uneasy jazz club bass of “Trilby’s couch.” I didn’t notice the clarinet in the first few bars, and I thought the breezy new wave sound of “One of Our Girls Have Gone Missing” was merely pleasant — not the unsettling tale of a female soldier going AWOL that it is. It’s a great track — after a few listens it becomes an escape into vertigo, rather than freedom — an “Oh well” that you take seriously. “So” was also unsettling: it was an A.C. Marias track on the Dome album, with an eerie chamber-choral atmosphere, that sounded like moments on Julia Holter’s Tragedy.
It’s easy to see how people would think of these Wire offshoots as “Wire-lite,” but having listened to the originators and the collaborators both, it’s nice to find that I’ve stumbled into a tangled collective of weird experiments rather than an essential band that I must learn to like. A.C.M, Dome, Cupol, He Said, et al., are integral to understanding the whole mess of post-punk connections related to Wire. A.C. Marias is a remote, pale satellite that gives you an insight into what was concerning a wide network of artists in the late 70s and early 80s — and she is well worth checking out in her own right.