It is pretty unusual for someone to spend their whole working life at the same organisation and that can pretty much be said for band members and artists. In this regular feature Rob Morgan (@durutti74) maps out the career chronologically of a selected band member.
In this edition Rob compiles the CV for Margaret Fiedler
Born: Chicago, Illinois Education: Sarah Lawrence College, Trinity College Dublin Instruments: Cello, guitar, keyboards, samplers
1987 to 1988 – Child’s Play / Ultra Vivid Scene
Fiedler’s first foray into music was during the mid 80s when she formed Childs Play with Moby in New York. Both Fiedler and Moby became members of an early lineup of Kurt Ralske’s Ultra Vivid Scene project (for want of a better word, as UVS never felt like a band). Sadly there are no recordings to prove this, unless Ralske wants to dip into his vault which seems unlikely. She didn’t even appear in the “Mercy Seat” video broadcast on Snub TV in 1988 where Moby can be briefly seen. But it was a start. In 1990 Fiedler moved to the UK.
1991 to 1993 – Moonshake
Fiedler’s move to the UK allowed her to form Moonshake with Dave Callahan, former guitarist with The Wolfhounds. Inititally they signed to Creation Records who issued their debut EP “First” during the summer of 1991, the summer of shoegazing. In some ways the EP fitted in with that trend – the first track “Gravity” was hazy, full of distorted waves of guitars and Fiedler’s calm vocals.
Other tracks showed more promise. “Coward” was a speedy blast of noise, “Coming” was based on looped percussion and was all tension and release while closing track “Hanging” was slower, more considered but equally tense. Fiedler’s gentle sigh of “Left me hanging yesterday / I cut the rope today” was frightening in its lack of intensity. The EP was produced by Guy Fixsen, who was also working with other shoegazing acts like Revolver, Moose and of course My Bloody Valentine.
Around this time Fiedler also recorded a cello part for “Please tell mother” by The Telescopes, a high point on their second album which wasn’t released until June 1992, by which point Moonshake had fallen out with Creation and moved to Too Pure Records.
Too Pure issued Moonshake’s second EP “Secondhand clothes” in the Spring of ’92 and the band were becoming more distinctive, moving away from the waves of guitar and more into loops and samples. The title track featured Callahan snarling about modern life, a subject he would develop over time, while Fiedler’s “Blister” accentuated off kilter rhythms, and was more personal, a stark description of PMT and the feelings surrounding it. Moonshake’s debut album “Eva Luna” came out in the autumn of ’92, heralded by Fiedler’s “Beautiful pigeon” as a single,featuring more tension and threatening drums that sounded like cannons firing into a ballroom (a sound Fixsen had used on “Untitled Love Song” by Moose).
“Eva Luna” was the perfect Moonshake record – Callahan’s tales of urban decay matched by Fiedler’s more intimate and personal songs while the whole band work as a perfectly oiled machine through strange rhythms and bass lines that wander around bar lines and irregular rhythms. If “Spaceship Earth” was Callahan’s best moment, “Little thing” was Fiedler’s. While loops fall over themselves in 7/8 time, and more layers of sound are thrown into the mix Fiedler whispers in character about unmaternal feelings for an unborn baby inside her. “Shut my eyes, make a wish, count to ten, will it be gone? Maybe I’ll start bleeding, maybe I’ll stop breathing”. Unnerving and slightly terrifying.
Moonshake toured with The Wedding Present at the end of 1992 (a bill that also included little known but wonderful Leeds quartet Tse Tse Fly, three quarters of whom ended up in the Wedding Present) and contemporary reports state that Moonshake were at the height of their powers. Tightly coiled with every song running perfectly into the next and alternating between Callahan and Fiedler. Also around this time, they recorded a Peel session where Callahan sang Fiedler’s songs and vice versa. An interesting experiment, Callahan snarls through “Sweet Heart”, Fiedler is lost in the loops within “Mugshot Heroine”and the version of “Coming” is a thrill ride of rhythm and feedback, more ferocious than the original version on their debut EP.
1993 would see another Moonshake release, a six song mini album called “Big Good Angel” and the creative tension between Callahan and Fiedler nearly explodes over the songs. Fiedler’s trio of songs point to her future. The frantic looping of “Two trains”, swampy textures of “Girly loop” and a celebration of bodily fluids in “Flow”. Callahan can barely compete. Whilst his songs are great, Fiedler’s are in another class. During an American tour the creative tension between the two became toxic and personal and Fiedler left Callahan with the band name and the drummer, taking dextrous bass player Mig Morland and producer Fixsen with her to her new band.
1994 to 2003 – Laika
The trio of Fiedler, Fixsen and Morland were the perfect fit, all they needed was a name. So Fiedler ran a competition in the Melody Maker inviting readers to submit names and she would pick the winner. A few months later the band name was revealed as Laika, the name of the first dog sent into space by Russia back in the late 50s. Laika’s debut album “Silver Apples Of The Moon” was also a perfect fit for 1994, which wasn’t just nascent Britpop. Laika’s music fused the loopadelic sounds of trip hop with the more adventurous sounds of the dance scene, as likely to be played on Peel as on Radio Three’s Mixing It show. “We’re just like trip hop, but much much faster” as they said in interviews. Debut single “Marimba Song” was more frantic looping and falling over rhythms while Fiedler sings about… god knows actually.
“Coming Down Glass” is a strange song with a steamy atmosphere to match the lyrics. “If You Miss” sounds like a train approaching, while Fiedler sings about aiming for the stars. The album was well received and earned a lot of praise. Around this time, Laika recorded a cover of Wire’s “German Shepherds” for the “Whore” Wire tribute LP, a fine cover of a fine song.
Second album “Sounds Of The Satellites” was issued in 1997 and earned them a support slot with Radiohead who loved them and offered them much support and praise in the media. Maybe it gained them a few more fans too, it certainly raised their profile. The sound was slightly smoothed down, less rough edges but still off-kilter enough. It still wasn’t exactly pop music, and Laika remained a cult band. Third album “Good Looking Blues” was issued in 2000 and includes probably the best known Laika song, “Badtimes”, where the jazzy groove is built up then Fiedler starts talking about what the Badtimes virus will do. From rewriting your hard drive to drinking all your beer and generally ruining your life.“Badtimes will make you fall in love with a penguin…it will kick your dog…it will leave your toilet seat up…”.
By the time of Laika’s next album in 2003 the band itself was falling apart, Fixsen at home making tracks while Fiedler was performing as part of PJ Harvey’s band. Laika would end around 2003, although they are said to be on hiatus. Fiedler also claimed that the increase of illegal downloading effectively killed the band, noting how sales of their fourth album were a third of previous albums, which she claimed was down to fans downloading the album instead of buying it.
2003 – Present
Fiedler studied in the College of Law where she received a post graduate degree in 2005, then working in the copyright department on the BBC, while also starting a successful business making candles in teacups.
She married David McGinnis of Mute Publishing (she is now known as Margaret Fiedler-McGinnis). In 2008 she toured with Wire (in support of their “Object 47” album) as second guitarist, replacing Bruce Gilbert who had retired at this point, though she does not perform on the album. On the other hand, she appears on the rare “Strays” EP by Wire, playing guitar on “German Shepherds”, which rather squares the circle.
So raise a teacup – with or without a candle in it – to Margaret Fiedler-McGinnis