in celebration: victorian electronics and sheepscar light industrial live in leedsJuly 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
Tags: ap martlet, ashtray navigations, astral social club, daniel thomas, dave thomas, drone, foldhead, hagman, improv, live music, marky loo loo, mel delaney, melanie o'dubhslaine, midwich, midwich for sale, neil campbell, new music, no audience underground, noise, paul walsh, phil todd, shameless self-congratulation, sheepscar light industrial, striate cortex, victorian electronics
Various Artists – Victorian Electronics
(Striate Cortex, S.C. 50., 4 x 3″ CD-r box-set, edition of 50)
Daniel Thomas & Midwich – Twenty-three Taels
(Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.oo1, 3″ CD-r, edition of 50 and download)
Mel O’Dubhslaine – I Can Remember the Faces of All the Grebs at My School
(Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.oo2, 3″ CD-r, edition of 50 and download)
Astral Social Club, Ashtray Navigations, Midwich, Mel O’Dubhslaine, Hagman, Foldhead
Live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, Saturday 28th July, 2012
Never mind the ‘lympiks and the bloody jubilee, here are some genuine reasons to be cheerful: the Victorian Electronics box set is out, the shiny new label Sheepscar Light Industrial has had a champagne bottle smashed over its prow and last Saturday we all played live in the lovely Wharf Chambers here in sunny Leeds to celebrate these events.
Here’s the story. A couple of months ago Andy Robinson, head honcho of blog fave label Striate Cortex, rang me with a proposal (already most irregular – my reluctance to pick up the ‘phone is legendary). He had acquired some 3”(ish) square jewellery boxes similar to those which housed the Star Turbine release and wanted to load ‘em up with something special for SC’s fiftieth release. He suggested a Leeds-noise-themed set of four 3” CD-rs featuring about twenty minutes each from midwich, Daniel Thomas, Astral Social Club and Ashtray Navigations. I was to be his man on the scene tasked with selling the others on the idea, coming up with a title, writing liner notes and nudging elbows when chivvying was required.
I jumped at the idea. Not least because the line-up suggested mapped exactly onto the group of people that tend to meet every Thursday lunchtime at the Victoria Hotel pub in Leeds city centre. Hence the title of the set. This standing appointment has a long and illustrious history which I briefly described in the liner notes you will read once you make your inevitable purchase (or if you are impatient see here on the Striate Cortex site). The others didn’t need much persuading. We got to work.
The resulting object has surpassed all expectations. Andy’s already unrivalled standards of packaging have been raised to a new level of covetable loveliness. OK, deep breath: a hand-painted, cream coloured box sealed with a sash featuring a glamorously blurred view of Sheepscar at night (taken by Dan) contains a square of fluff which holds in place two inserts and four 3” CD-rs. The insides of the box and lid are both decorated; such is the attention to detail. One insert has the photo on one side and our contact details on the other, the second insert folds out to reveal the band names painted in a psychedelic swirl and track details and liner notes by yours truly on the reverse. Each CD-r is housed in its own black window envelope and is printed with the band name and a sexy zebra print. Blimey, right? Please note that Andy has created each one of these by hand and on his own. Think on that for a second… and then go and get your credit card so no time is wasted at the end of this post.
The music is so uniformly excellent that it is almost comical. I think that everyone sensed that something special was in the offing and got their groove on accordingly. Tempted as I am to indulge in a flight of whimsical fancy I think this set simply speaks more loudly, clearly and eloquently than I can. Suffice to say that my own track is perhaps the best thing I’ve done since the reactivation of midwich and I’m very glad it is, otherwise I’d look pretty daft in this exalted company. Hear for yourself: ten minutes of clips can be found on the Striate Cortex Soundcloud page. Then buy here.
Before this all kicked off Dan was already swirling the idea of a 3” CD-r label around his head like calvados in a brandy balloon. Sheepscar, the area in which Dan lives, positioned on a topographically weird spoke poking out of Leeds city centre, is a little Ballardian hinterland filled with anonymous car dealerships and low slung commercial buildings decorated with inept signage. Similar streets can be found in most cities but, as this is ours, we are able to see the strange charm in what others might claim to be featureless. For example, there is a photo essay waiting to be taken just on the walk from the Royal Mail sorting office (very handy) to Kurdish grilled meat specialists Gzing (delicious). This mixture of engaging, intriguing sometimes even humorous detail emerging from the murk of urban alienation has obviously influenced Dan’s work. Hence the label’s perfect name: Sheepscar Light Industrial.
In contrast to the baroque packaging salivated over above, Dan wanted to indulge in fetishism of a radically different kind. His objects would be simple, homogenous, functional, minimal, quick and cheap to produce according to a design template that calls to mind the labels on laboratory chemicals, or the pharmacy labels stuck on prescription medication (‘listen to this three times daily’). They’d also be available as immaculately tagged downloads. Eminently collectable, irresistibly dirt cheap.
The first two releases are out now but, as with the above, I’m not going to say too much about them as you can hear them for yourself at the SLI Bandcamp page. I recommend you head over there and treat yourself – CD-rs for less than the price of a weekend newspaper, an honesty box for downloads…
…Well, I can’t resist saying a little bit. Twenty-three Taels by Dan and me is a delicious squelch through a fragrant alien swamp, sparkling with bioluminescence and buzzing with swarms of iridescent insect life. I love it. I Can Remember the Faces of All the Grebs at My School by Mel O’Dubhslaine is absolutely extraordinary. When reviewing Neck Vs. Throat below I was delighted to be able to say ‘this is nothing like anything else I’ve ever been sent’ and the same applies here. Thirteen tiny tracks, each properly titled, of spiky, squirming surrealism played on bizarre cross-pollinated hybrid instruments. It did call to mind Nurse With Wound’s ‘A Sucked Orange’ but that is unfair to Mel as the NWW collection is a bit sketchy and self-consciously humorous whereas …Grebs… is a unified collection expressing something wonderfully unfathomable. Go get ‘em.
Launch party gigs had always been part of Dan’s plan for SLI so when the overlap with the Victorian Electronics set became clear it was obvious to everyone that a joint celebration of SLI’s birth and Striate Cortex’s fiftieth release was a ‘no brainer’. After the usual faffing and some concerns about rival gigs (we should be grateful the Leeds scene is so healthy, I suppose) a line-up was assembled remarkable both for its quality and its home-grown cheapness.
There now follows a brief illustrated gig report. This is relatively short because a) I know at least one other review from a more reliable source is in the works, b) failing batteries in my camera meant my ‘photojournalism’ was crapper than ever and c) most importantly: nothing went wrong – no snowstorm, no technical problems, no long dark night of the soul driving home from the Pussy Boutique… In fact, every minute of the whole evening was a joy. Links to sound files can be found at the end of the piece…
Astral Social Club, Ashtray Navigations, Midwich, Mel O’Dubhslaine, Hagman, Foldhead, Live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, Saturday 28th July, 2012
First let me introduce our host: Daniel Thomas and, in the sunglasses, Andy Robinson of Striate Cortex. Andy seemed delighted by the whole event, as you would expect him to be given that the thing had been organised (at least partly) in his honour. He talked to everyone and obviously relished the opportunity to mix with his punters and artists face to face. I was really pleased to have the chance to publicly celebrate all his incredible work and nodded in approval at how drunk he got as the evening progressed. At the end of the night he had forgotten the name of the hotel he was staying at. What a man! Thanks for everything Andy!
Check out the merch! One of the most exciting looking door tables I’ve seen in a while and punters seemed willing to put their hands in their pockets for a few CD-rs too. The SC back catalogue ‘all a quid’ box was very popular. To the left you can see the complicated but crucial tally list. Ah, brings back memories of my time as a promoter. Rather Dan than me…
Setting up with Alex the Sound Guy. Totally sympathetic and unruffled dude who made the experience of checking and playing utterly painless. Little bit of midriff on show there too. Calm yourselves ladies…
Here’s Dan and I laughing nerdily at Dave (Thomas – other half of Hagman) for plugging things in the wrong way around and then wondering why no sound was coming out. Shows how relaxed the atmosphere was that we were sniggering at this and not fretting.
Dan’s half of Hagman. Two mixers! Tsk – what decadence.
I was tempted to caption this: ‘Phil Todd throws a rock and roll tantrum and demands that Dan removes a roofing joist that was getting in his eyeline,’ but the prosaic truth is that it just shows Dan g-clamping his recording device in place whilst we stand around chatting and not being very helpful.
Paul Walsh avec pint. As I’ve sworn off alcohol completely and Dan was keeping a clear head due to driving and being in charge of us all, Paul was our designated drinker for the evening. When most people arrived they were carrying bags of kit, amps etc. Paul entered the gig chamber with a pint in each hand. As William Bennett might say: “ROCK AND ROLL!”
So let the games commence. Here’s foldhead live, producing a satisfyingly scrunchy racket – a bit heavier and more demanding than the electronical squiggles of previous sets I’ve seen and none the worse for it. The bar is set high.
…and now Hagman. I was ‘doing the door’ during their set and chatting to Andy so I have to confess to not paying them as much attention as they deserved. Listening back to the recording though I’m kicking myself – it’s magnificent. An artfully constructed piece with a hypnotising build. Dave told me later that he was stressed by the perfomance, which is a shame, but from that tension came beauty.
Mel’s set was my favourite of the night. With Phil accompanying her on some kind of electro-bongo gadget they whipped out a bunch of delicate but powerful, arhythmical future-jazz using space instruments… from the future! This was similar in style to Mel’s release on SLI, was gloriously left-field and distracted me from my pre-set nerves.
…’cos I was up next. Here’s the new kit. After my problems at the Stoke gig I decided to get a little mixer and take control of the volume away from my erratic and untrustworthy 303. It also allows me to mix in field recordings and other ephemera from my mp3 player whilst ‘performing’. Basically I’m biting the style of both Popular Radiation and Astral Social Club but don’t tell anyone. The scarf-used-as-table-cloth belongs to my beloved, the standard lamp is a fixture of Wharf Chambers.
My set began with a brief spoken intro then a field recording of a bee colony that lived in the eaves of my old house. This was recorded by blu-tacking my mp3 player, which contains a little dictaphone-style recording function, to the outside of our bathroom window. As well as the bees going about their business it also picked up kids playing, lawnmowers, cars and, at the eight minute mark an ambulance siren passing in the distance. All very ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’. Over the top of this I played a pulsing drone made up of a single tone at different pitches. After pausing to let the ambulance go by I stamped on the pedal and rocked out in the second half. It was great – exactly what I wanted and towards the end I was shaking because I couldn’t believe how well it was going (photo by Paul).
I have to admit the Ashtray Navigations set was a bit of a blur to me because I was still buzzing from my show. I wandered about, drank ginger beer, packed, unpacked and repacked my stuff and finally calmed down enough to dig the last few minutes of their set. It was great – some hard rockin’ punk/psych guitar with electric bubbling, sandpaper fuzz and splatter drums.
Last on were Astral Social Club. Neil treated us to an entertaining spoken introduction in which he described shooing the pigeons from the ruins of the band’s namesake building, sleeping there and recording the larks that came to roost instead. I like these intros very much (see also the hilarious ‘electronic séance’ on ASC #23) and Neil and I talked afterwards about what a shame it is that so few acts use this opportunity to set the vibe/create a world in the room prior to their performance.
For the set itself Neil was joined by Seth Cooke who played what looked like a contact-miked drum stand fed through some electronics which he hit with beaters and seemed to sing into (apologies for not getting close enough to be more specific). It sounded great though, whatever was going on.
Given the totally obliterating nature of the last couple of ASC performances I’ve seen, the relatively calm, pastoral nature of this one was a not unpleasant surprise. Pulses, sparkles, slowly descending wails were placed in service of the underlying field recordings, accompanying and augmenting the vibe. It was, to use a word I don’t often call for when describing ASC live, lovely.
And that was that. There then followed the long goodbye that I usually dodge by sloping off for the bus, the delighted discovery that costs were covered and, exactly as with the Stoke gig, my evening ended with a lift home from the ever-generous Seth.
Dan has kindly made available the first four minutes of each set via Soundcloud and, if you like that, there are mediafire downloads of the whole thing. See the Sheepscar Light Industrial blog for details.
Andy’s verdict on the night, plus some photos, can be seen on the Striate Cortex site here.
3 Comments »