“excuse me, can you show me where the ‘yorkshire experimental’ section is please?”

January 29, 2013 at 7:14 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 10 Comments
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Leeds University Union Music Library

Panelak – Arnica Eyebright (Cassette, Crater Lake Sound, CL#22, edition of 50)

untold excitement

I am not sentimental about the physical objects on which music can be stored.  I recognize that a CD or whatever has a crucial role as a ‘place holder’ for the music it contains, of course: an object demands contemplation and packaging and presentation can add a dimension to the experience of listening.  However, I’ve moved house too many times to be misty-eyed about shelves of vinyl.  The CD jewel case is one of the crappest pieces of design that decadent late period capitalism has come up with.  Tapes are cute – I’ll give you that – but, even after throwing hundreds of ‘em away in-between their last burst of popularity and this current phase, they still gather in drifts…

…and yet I have serious misgivings about download culture too (not regarding copyright or piracy of course – I couldn’t give a toss.  Those arguments are over.  You may as well discuss theories of phlogiston.) and I have written at length about how having what-might-as-well-be infinite access was actually detrimental to my organs of musical appreciation.  It led to the compulsive amassing of as much ‘archive’ as possible, almost all of it unloved, heard once if at all.  Discernment, connoisseurship both went out the window taking enjoyment with them and were replaced with a miserable frantic desire to ‘keep up’.  Ugh.  It took a concerted effort of will to discipline myself and re-establish a balance.

So what now?  Well, I am in the super-privileged position of having many lovely, talented friends and acquaintances happy to give me their work in return for the possibility of review on this blog or just because they are keen for me to hear it.  Recommendations come my way for the same reasons.  It is beautiful.  But what about stuff outside my areas of expertise?  Do I clog the hard drive with downloads, or fill the house with objects?

Well, perhaps neither because my luck extends to having a music library in the Students’ Union at the University where I work.  The Union Music Library (hereafter: UML) of the University of Leeds, a repository for some 7000 items, has been around for donkey’s years – indeed I was a member myself as an undergraduate back in the early 1990s.  I was recently reminded of its existence due to the evangelism of Pascal Ansell.

Pascal is well known within the Leeds ‘experimental’ ’music’ ’community’ for his tiggerish enthusiasm, his enviable youth and his limitless capacity for starting projects.  He occasionally bites off more that he can chew and one of us older, more jaded types has to administer the Heimlich manoeuvre but he is so personable that if a plan comes to nought it is hard to be annoyed.  You just want to ruffle his hair.

Still, he is notching up a few undeniable achievements: a tape of his solo project Panelak is available (see below), he is promoting a very interesting looking show and has his own label in the works too.  He also came to me before Christmas with an idea which is now reaching fruition.  What the UML needs, he suggested, is a new section dedicated to experimental music from Yorkshire.  After overcoming my amazement that such a thing as the UML still existed in these internet-enabled times, I agreed to give him a hand selling the idea to the people in charge and to donate a bunch of stuff to kick it off.  The idea of getting stuff out of the crates at home and into circulation has a strong appeal to me.  I baulked at his request to write a guide for it, instead offering up whatever bits of this blog he felt like appropriating.

So, a few weeks and a bunch of emails later I found myself with Pascal and Daniel Thomas (along for the ride) delivering a couple of carrier bags full of goodies to the charming people who run the enterprise.  We were met by Evelyn, Lorna and a third girl whose name I didn’t catch (please forgive this lapse, most unchivalrous) who were smiley, grateful and enthusiastic and made the experience totally life-affirming.  Here is some dynamic photo-journalism documenting the place and the ‘handover’:

lunchtime rush

A lunchtime delegation from the Leeds Noise Underground arrives at the Music Library.  Lorna of UML: left foreground, Evelyn of UML: behind Lorna, Daniel Thomas (Hagman, Sheepscar Light Industrial): right, mysterious third girl of UML: behind Dan, Pascal and me: out of shot.  Check out how fucking cool the Music Library room is.

but what to choose

Stock, glorious stock.

sensible cataloguing

“Excuse me, could you explain how the indie rock etc. section is organized?”

sun ra commands awe

Pascal pulls out a vinyl Sun Ra album and we all gawp in awe.

try before you borrow

Billy Joel guards the ‘try before you borrow’ turntable.  Vinyl only – doesn’t work for CDs.  Handwritten note implies these librarians like to party at work!

new acquisitions

New acquisitions board – I’ll be asking for more midwich, obviously.

the handover

The handover!  Evelyn and Rob enjoy the magical moment.

i explain that no-one will be interested

I explain that no-one will be interested but, frankly, it is so hard to say ‘no’ to Pascal that sometimes it is easier to just humour him.  Everyone else nods earnestly.  Pascal, too excited for words, takes photos and then…

pascal hands over his tape

…hands over his own tape thereby crowbarring himself into musical history.  Nice work!

Well that was all very exciting, eh? Some of the acts represented in the bundles I passed over include: Astral Social Club, Spoils and Relics, Early Hominids, etai keshiki, Half an Abortion, Inverted Nepal, Lanterns, Legion of Swine, Brown, Ocelocelot, Petals, Posset, Ashtray Navigations, Julian Bradley, Human Combustion Engine, Human Horses, Klunk, Neck vs. Throat, The Piss Superstition, prpGroup, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Aqua Dentata, Sindre Bjerga, Deadwood and Petrels, amongst others (and, yes, I know some of these have no Yorkshire connection but I was straight up with the librarians about any liberties taken). Dan dropped in the last copy of his collaboration with Kev Sanders and this weekend I bought a copy of the terrific Helicopter Quartet CD-r to add to the pile too.

So now we finally return to the themes of my opening paragraphs.  I appreciate the value of the physical object but don’t necessarily need (or even want) to own them.  I do want to take chances on more mainstream stuff, or rediscover back catalogue gems, but without testing my pathetic willpower by opening the download floodgates.  Thus the music library offers a lovely compromise solution.

The set-up encourages a healthy discipline in two ways.  Firstly, you must choose from a large but finite collection.  Secondly, your membership allows you to take out just one item at a time – a restriction as delightful as fur-lined handcuffs.  Better still, you get to mull over your decision in a friendly environment then engage in a genuine face-to-face social transaction with a fellow music fan – the librarian – before exiting with your booty.  Finally, there is a pleasing ‘survivalist’ aspect to all this.  When the aliens invade and destroy our server-based culture with one gigantic electro-magnetic pulse the objects herein, the vinyl at least, will still be usable.  I exaggerate for comic effect, of course, but as my Mexican cousin Miguel has sadly found out recently, the hard-drive is not a heritage medium.  In short then: it is all good and deserving of support.

Thus, if you are a student or member of staff at the University of Leeds you can, and should, join.  If you do not fall into either category but find yourself on campus now and again then you could ask about ‘guest’ membership.  I dunno if this is possible but no harm in asking.  To join there is a £10-per-academic-year fee and a returnable £10 deposit is required to make sure you don’t run off with anything.  Membership can be bought online via the Union website – you will have to create an account but that takes a matter of minutes.  See the Music Library page for details, contact info, opening hours and the like or go visit them in their secret turret.  I am told the new noise section (I’m presuming: a cardboard box with some tapes and CD-rs in it) could be up and running as soon as the end of this week.

For those of you unfortunate enough not to live in this fair city I suggest you frequent your council run libraries – always grateful for business in this desperate era of swinging cuts – where CDs can be hired and/or ordered for smallish fees or see if there are private or educational libraries, student-run or otherwise, that you could blag access too.  I’d be interested to hear about other such endeavours.  Keep up the inter-scene trades too.  Good circulation is necessary to keep the extremities healthy.

EDIT: UML membership open to all – see comments.

EDIT AGAIN: check out the Forgotten Vinyls blog – a one-woman alphabetical odyssey through UML’s LP archive.


 …and whilst Pascal is front and centre let’s round things off with a quick look at the Panelak tape:

panelak - arnica eyebright

Here are some snippets from the blurb that Pascal passed on to me:

…pass through scattered suffusions and billowing noise, detouring into heavy ambience, harsh mouth utterances and piercing mbiras scrapes … draws heavily from recordings made at the Bates Mill in Huddersfield which manufactures synthetic fur fabrics … Throbbing keyboards and squiggling mic feedback as well as scraping tremolos are bundled together with the aim to emulate the devotional nature of mandala gazing…

All in 28 minutes – blimey.  Note the use of samples from The Wire and, erm… Boney M (!) are not mentioned.  Now, I wouldn’t normally be so lazy as to quote promo material but the description above nicely illustrates both what is good and what is not so good about this tape.  Pros: it is ambitious, joyous and packed full of ideas that are occasionally realised in a great, rolling rush of fun.  Cons: it is all over the place which leaves some of the ideas, pretty good ones too, feeling sketchy and unfinished.  The chap does not lack imagination and talent, what is missing is patience.  I’m sure his work would benefit from doing fewer things at greater depth.  Kids, eh?  I am reminded of that ‘two bulls on a hill’ joke.  Anyway…

This cassette has apparently been released in an edition of fifty by Pete Cann’s Crater Lake Sound imprint, though no details have made it to the CLS blog as yet.  Get it direct from the Panelak Bandcamp site or, hey, borrow it from the record library and try it out!


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  1. Bottom centre of the first photograph: New Kingdom – Heavy Load. Any record library where the first record you see is this, needs to be held in high esteem and suggests that further exploration should bear equally delicious fruit…

    I know what will be blaring in my headphones on this morning’s commute…

    • …and not one but two Butthole Surfers albums pictured…

      R x

      • Yo check this! Anyone at all can join the music library — I just checked with them. It’s usually very cheap to do it during fresher’s week — mine was £5 + deposit of £10.


  2. Correcto, membership is open to anyone, Leeds student or no. I especially recommend coming in at 12–1pm on a Friday, when a particularly toothsome, cultured fellow volunteers there.

  3. Enormously inspiring and depressing in equal measure.

    • heh, heh – cheers Scott – care to elaborate? Or would this be better left mysterious? R x

      • Just jealous of other local scenes 🙂

  4. ah.. gotcha, yeah, I appreciate I’m very lucky to know the people I do and have a bunch of cool stuff on my doorstep. Hence my ceaseless plugging of it 😉 R x

  5. Thank you for including my blog! It was great to meet you on Friday 🙂

    • My pleasure Helen, lovely to meet you too and good luck with the rest of the alphabet ;-). R x

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