Formed late in 1980 as a spinoff from the sparking embers of NZ’s definitive art-punk band The Features, Fetus Productions initially comprised Jed Town, with new recruits Sarah "Serum" Fort and Mike Brookfield. The Features' Karel van Bergen and James Pinker would join the band within a few months to record their debut album.
The original concept, as the name implies, included a production of sound and visuals, hence the group’s debut “exhibition” featuring Brookfield’s screen prints of human deformities.
The first show, without van Bergen and Pinker, was at Auckland University's Elam School of Art at the end of 1980.
The group moved to Sydney in 1981, where they recorded and self-released their first album, which sounded like recordings from within a hellish insane asylum. When Pinker and van Bergen moved to Melbourne and then England to work with SPK and Dead Can Dance, Jed Town became the guiding force behind the more song-oriented Fetus Productions on the 1983 12-inch EP Fetalmania and its startling alternative hit ‘What’s Going On’. A further EP, Perfect Product, was to follow, and it contained another classic ‘Flicker’; and finally in 1985, the Luminous Trails album.
Like contemporaneous “industrial” groups in the vein of SPK and Severed Heads, Fetus Productions shows reveled in grisly autopsy footage, but the big difference was a unique duality: for every bludgeoning, churning horror show there was a contrasting twist of beauty in Town’s songs, no matter how oblique. And at a time when few NZ groups were availing themselves of the electronic hardware that had become common in England, Fetus Productions not only utilised samplers but they incorporated “field recordings” into their music, which gave them a startlingly different sonic signature.
Just as much of an art project as a rock band, Fetus Productions worked all over the world during the mid to late 1980s, but Town’s discovery of acid techno on his arrival in England in 1987 ended the group for good. His next project would be his pumping techno persona, ICU.
Returning to New Zealand in the late 1990s, Town has revived the Fetus Productions name several times for audio-visual retrospectives, and a series of anniversary performances in 2011.
Over its eight year span, members of Fetus Productions included: Karel Van Bergen, John Kuipers, Geoff Martin, Zennor, Dubhead, Mark Sullivan, Jamie Jetson, Chris and James Pinker, Ian Gilroy, Greg McCunn, Polar Castronova, and many more.
Karl van Bergen
Jed Town’s pre-Fetus bands include Optic, Stonehenge, Acid Grease, The Superettes and The Anaesthetic.
The name Fetus Productions was based on a poem Town had written about the human race in 1979, including his thoughts on human reproduction. “I was inspired by images found at various medical libraries of genetic mutations found in humans and animals and began to Photostat the images and cut them into collages,” Town has said. “I showed them a friend, Mike Brookfield, and he was inspired to create many works with fluorescent colours on canvases.”
‘What’s Going On’ was recorded at Groovex Studio in Sydney in 1981 and 1982, and featured Groove Myers on keyboards and Phil Punch on engineering duties. “I mixed the track in about six hours, but the recording process took nearly two years,” Town has said. “Only weeks before the studio closed I realised that the siren at the beginning was missing. It had been deleted. Once it had been re-recorded with a Pearl Syncussion drum machine, the track came back to life, and is as you now know it.”
After moving to Australia, Town and Serum tried to form a group with Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, later known as Dead Can Dance, but the collaboration didn’t work out.
When this author interviewed Town in the mid-1980s, he sported scarily modified “fangs”, while a jar containing what appeared to be a real fetus sat benignly nearby.