If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, then maybe you’re about to discover your new favourite band. Then again, maybe not. In order to be both bad and compelling, there needs to be something about your art which is competent. Even the world’s favourite terrible movie ‘The Room’ has a veneer of professionalism. There’s a rhythm and a trajectory that’s easy to follow, no matter how baffling the characters’ motivations are. Similarly, three quarters of Embryon are perfectly functional. The drummer, the guitarist and the bassist all know how to play – that much is indisputable. However, like sour milk in a passable cup of coffee, the formula is poisoned by one element and its name is Dave.
Dave is the only reason why Embryon are worth talking about. Bad and mediocre bands are ten a penny and picking on them feels like giving a wedgie to someone half your age. Cruelty aside, why bother? They’re not hurting anyone. Embryon, however, are a documentary waiting to happen, and there are three videos on the band’s Youtube channel which are all the proof you need. Let’s begin.
Ok, so what do we know after watching that video? There are 4 members: blokey bloke crotch-fondling frontman Dave, a mute drummer, a shirtless Viking who plays unaccompanied classical guitar solos, and a French guy who resembles Satan on a hiking holiday. If the words “This Is Spinal Tap” were screaming at you for the duration, that’s no surprise. There is, however, another classic spoof that looms very large over Embryon. That spoof is ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’. This cult one-series TV show from 2004 is presented as a lost horror-hospital drama created by fictional “author, dreamweaver, visionary, plus actor” Garth Marenghi. His bestselling pulp horror novels include ‘Slasher’, ‘Slicer’, and ‘Afterbirth’ in which a mutated placenta attacks Bristol. Another book dares to ask “What if a rat could drive a bus, and what if it and its brethren took over parliament?”. The resemblances between Garth and Dave are nothing short of shocking. As well as the pair looking and sounding alike, Dave’s “series of short stories” could easily have been pulled from Garth’s “extensive canon of chillers”, all explained with the same unwavering confidence.
‘Darkplace’ is presented as a “lost classic” TV show which was never aired in Britain because it was too “radical”. Sadly, we may never know if Embryon recorded an album, radical, classic or otherwise. If it exists, it is indeed “lost”. As far as we can tell, band activity ceased almost a decade ago. Instead the most we have is ‘Clone’, a single and video which resembles a neutered crossbreed of Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and Iron Maiden, all at their very worst. It never ends and it’s only 5 minutes long. That being said, when combined with the video, the result is rivetingly embarrassing. See for yourself.
Where’s Viking guitar man? And why is Michael Bolton’s dad playing bass? Is the new drummer here on work experience? What on earth is Dave doing in Austin Powers’ shirt? He’s even wearing Garth Marenghi’s glasses. It’s that same strange magical combination of competence and incompetence that makes it so mesmerizing. Clearly some very skilled people were working here. It takes a lot of work and money for a bunch of nobodies to make a video like this. By the way, the word “nobodies” isn’t meant to be an insult. Some of my favourite music ever was made by nobodies. A “somebody” in this context is someone with the reputation and money to command slick production values, and I have nothing but respect for people who just do it anyway. “You think we can’t do this? Well, we’re gonna!” That’s great. Doing something with nothing is respectable at worst and world-changing at best. The thing is, it’s pretty clear that Embryon don’t have “nothing”. They do have money. Well, Dave has money. I’m very very prepared to make a substantial bet on Dave being very rich, and he can afford to assemble some clearly-very-adept musicians to play with him for what is unmistakably a vanity project. Quite the reverse, Embryon are doing almost-nothing with plenty of something. If you think I’m being harsh, even vitriolic towards Dave, I’d like you to watch this final piece of the puzzle.
Anyone else feel gross? That opening slower-than-slow pan up a teenage girl’s body, Dave asking to touch her “to see if [she’s] a clone”, then slagging off her entire generation for being generic, the “oh golly you caught me with my shirt off” dressing room moment – everything about this is perplexing, bordering on sinister. And that’s not getting into the Inland Empire-esque fever dream that it dissolves into towards the end. How does this even exist? Did Dave pay for all of it, plus a making-of presenter to showcase a band that would fizzle out very very soon? And why did they fizzle out? Did people quit? They’d already hastily replaced two members. Did they run out of money? Hell, maybe they sunk their entire life savings into that video. Somehow I doubt it. I have a third theory: Dave got bored. His total lack of self-awareness; his keenness to flash his cash; overestimation of ability; his general attitude – all of these add up to a somewhat narcissistic character. Again, maybe I’m being cruel and pig-headed. Maybe I don’t know shit. Maybe I’m just punching down on a man with a dashed dream. That being said, my guess is that Embryon folded when it no longer serviced Dave’s ego enough. In fact, it’s got to the point where I’m starting to think that his resemblance to Garth Marenghi isn’t a coincidence.
For a start, depending on which website you check, Embryon are either from Canterbury, Ashford or Thanet, all of which are in Kent. Matthew Holness, who created and plays Garth Marenghi, is from Whitstable, a town directly between Thanet and Canterbury. Holness is also an accomplished guitarist. Is it too fanciful to imagine that Dave and Matthew met on the Kentish gig circuit way-back-when? Probably, but it sure as hell isn’t impossible. The similarities between Holness’s creation and Dave’s real-life personality are uncanny. What’s more, Holness played a condescending supercilious IT manager in the sketch show Bruiser who wears the same Motorhead T-shirt as Dave. Coincidence or not, Garth and Dave are kindred spirits. Uncharismatic, well-connected, cynical people with delusions of grandeur who make awful art. That being said, they’re also both strangely sympathetic. They’re dreamers, and in many ways they’re losers too. Everyone loves a dreamer and everyone loves a loser. God bless them both.