pride of the potteries: sophie cooper on saboteuse, subs(cribers) and stoke on trent

March 23, 2015 at 4:52 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Saboteuse – Death, Of Course (CD-r, Poot Records)

Subs(cribers) – Finger Fighting Basics For The Socially Inept (CD-r or download, self-released)

saboteusesaboteuse 2subs(cribers) - finger fighting

The City of Stoke on Trent is a place that on the surface looks to be completely dead. The town of Stoke itself has a High Street consisting of a few charity shops, boarded up failed businesses and an occasional nasty looking pub.  It doesn’t look like much is going on but, if we delve a bit deeper, there is evidence that the city is on the cusp of a renaissance: art will save this place. In September 2014 arts organisation B-Arts received a whopping grant to develop their vision of Stoke on Trent as ‘Art City’, aiming to induce a positive change in how the city’s cultural profile is viewed. Activities are already taking place: B-Arts themselves have taken over a giant warehouse close to all those boarded up establishments and will offer cheap studio and exhibition space for artists to use, last year Supersonic organisers took over Hanford Park and presented a day’s festival, outdoor performance organisers Appetite have put on a series of free events across the towns bringing new work to locals and AirSpace Gallery in Hanley continues to curate fantastic contemporary art exhibitions in a disused Post Office building. These are just a handful of activities that I know about.  Stoke is a place to watch and deserves this attention after having its original industry so brutally treated.

Radio Free Midwich is a music blog, of course, so what of the music scene in Stoke? The city has an interesting musical past and today when I look to its experimental fringes I see individuals from the area creating music and art largely because of an instinctual need to do so.  I’m so thankful for this scene because, as I grew up in Stoke amongst constantly creative people, it taught me not to sit about and do nothing with my time. There’s a hell of a lot of talent in the Potteries and for now I would like to draw your attention to the following two releases.

Saboteuse – Death, Of Course

This CD-r came out sometime in 2014 on Poot Records and I’ve got to say, I find it a bit irritating that I didn’t know about this release until Joincey gave a copy to me personally in February this year. As the sleeve notes bear no mention of Poot Records at all I assumed it was self released but Joincey informed me otherwise. If you enter this title into a search engine it does pop up on Discogs and if you have a nose about there (and in the rest of the Poot Records catalogue) you’ll see that Luke puts out some awesome titles.  I just can’t help but wish more people were able to know about this stuff when it first comes out.

Saboteuse is a duo of Andy Jarvis and Joincey. The pair have been making music together for a long time and it just gets better and better. Death, Of Course opens with ‘Yearning, “Rosebud”’, which is a brilliantly savage introduction.  Starting with a quiet beat, like slow footsteps going into a dark cave, dirty looped bass then lays a foundation for a barely in control electric guitar ‘solo’ that sounds like it’s being beaten to pieces to make way for a clattering percussive ending. It’s terrifying.  The sound puts you on edge and I can’t imagine anything I would like to find less during a cave exploration than the creatures summoned by this track.

On ‘Cheeking the other turn’ instrumental melodic lines interject, perfectly complementing the lyrics delivered by Joincey who loops words and sings over the top of them. It is difficult to work out what the words are about but I know they can’t be meaningless as the whole record has a strong sense of control over chaos. On ‘Blackened Pool’ the lyrics are more audible but still completely surreal:

I think I can take this heat because I’m wearing the white hat, which side are you on now? Cinnamon bagel, raisin bagel.

I’ve been listening to this record intently since I got it trying to work out what the lyrics mean but have got nowhere.  It doesn’t matter though because this is the language of the Saboteuse world: better to just listen in.

What I find most interesting about this release is how smartly some songs segue into one another. It’s a “I wish I’d thought of that” moment between ‘Burying Yourself on a Desert Island’ and ‘You, Holding My Breath’ where the two tracks become one and a natural break eventually comes part way through the second. It reveals a well thought out and really intelligent approach to the construction of this record.

Saboteuse produce consistently innovative and compelling music.  I can only hope that eventually some clever, fancy record label will cotton on to their brilliance and sort them out with the flash release they deserve.

Subs(cribers) – Finger Fighting Basics For The Socially Inept

The first time I saw The Subs play live was at their ‘comeback gig’ at Andy Jarvis’ hen do a couple of years ago in Stoke. This was Marky Loo Loo’s first time performing with Mika De Olivera on additional vocals and I’ll admit, I didn’t really get it at that point. I was nursing a particularly monstrous hangover after drinking too much gross lager in Newcastle’s The Full Moon the previous evening and just wasn’t in the right mood to understand the band. I mentioned this to Joincey who advised me not to be so dismissive because this was Mark’s “life’s work”. It wasn’t until I heard Finger Fighting Basics For The Socially Inept that I got what he meant.

Finger Fighting Basics For The Socially Inept was self-released on Valentines Day this year. It could just be a coincidence but I like to think of this album as a gesture of love towards Subs fans and to themselves. You couldn’t make this type of beautifully cute pop without being completely into it and the entertaining good times that come with it. There’s an ecstatic energy throughout the album that celebrates the overriding mission of creating joy for themselves and their listeners. It must have been so much fun to have made this.

Paradoxically, despite all this love and happiness the subjects covered by The Subs are dark and macabre and even death gets playfully joked about. My favourite track has got to be ‘A Day Out With The Aphids’ which on the surface comes over as a super sweet, toe tapping, pop tune but when you listen to the lyrics the aphids aren’t having such a great time: “what will the future hold? Death under plimsoll”. There’s a lightly morbid theme that runs throughout the album, I mean, light in the sense that the music is so blimming upbeat and happy that it takes your attention away from the grim subject matter. Check out these titles: ‘Killed By A Bath Nap’ (genius), ‘Next Spring You Will Die’ (charming) ‘Necro Supermarket’ (what??) ‘Dead Mans Jeans’ (where Mark picks up some new clothes from the local cemetery) and you know what, these songs are DEAD funny! Dark matter presented in rainbow wrapping paper, how could I have not seen how amazing this band were before? Is The Subs’ “Life’s Work”, to bring joy to all who listen? To remind us that it’s OK to just have a laugh sometimes? They are doing very well if so.

So there you have it, two contributions to the sound of Stoke on Trent – “Art City” in the making. I wish the place the very best.

—ooOoo—

Poot Records [Editor’s note: yeah, good luck with that.  Be resourceful though – it’s worth it.]

Subs(cribers)

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