the compass will always point north

June 24, 2013 at 11:13 am | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Sheepscar Light Industrial Presented:

‘The Compass Points North’

Petals, Aqua Dentata, Hagman, These Feathers Have Plumes, Midwich, BBBlood

Wharf Chambers, Leeds, Saturday 22nd June 2013

01 hagman hands

Dan Thomas is to be congratulated.  Again.  The latest of his biannual gigs, themed (more or less) around his microlabel Sheepscar Light Industrial, took place last Saturday and was, without quibble, a triumph.  Background and biographies of the acts that played can be found via the numerous links Dan worked into the original publicity so I’m not going into much context here.  All I want to do is give a brief and immediate impression of what was a terrific, life affirming evening (this will be accompanied by my usual terrible photojournalism, which this time gets all arty part way through when I decide to forego the flash).  The gig was also appropriated by Mark Wharton of RFM’s sister blog Idwal Fisher as part of his 50th birthday celebrations.  More on him in the section about my set.

Being the model of efficiency that he is, Dan has already edited, mastered and posted freely downloadable mp3s of each of the six performances.  These can be found zipped up in rar files on mediafire but you lot can’t be arsed with that can you?  Thus I’ve taken the liberty of hosting unzipped mp3s here in the cavernous RFM vaults too.  Listen by clicking on the little arrows you’ll see below or download by right clicking on the links and saving the digital goodness.

Due to childcare commitments I couldn’t be part of the committee welcoming our three guests from London: Andie Brown (These Feathers Have Plumes), Eddie Nuttall (Aqua Dentata) and Paul Watson (BBBlood) so I met up with them, Kev Sanders (Petals) and Dan at Wharf Chambers sometime just gone 6pm.  Setting up and soundchecking was in full swing and Dan had thoughtfully dragged my usual table and standard lamp into my preferred position.  Kibe (apologies – I don’t know the spelling, it was pronounced Key-Bee), our soundguy, was super helpful and accommodating and asked a question I have never heard someone doing his job ask in all my years of droning:

Would you like it to be louder?

I knew right there the evening was going to be a belter.

So here’s us setting up, tabletop electronics is a breeze, eh?

02 setting up

Once all was in hand we retired to the Wharf Chambers beer ‘garden’ to relax and listen to the gathering crowd of ecstatic noise-fans chanting our names as they waited outside to rush the doors as soon as they opened.  Here’s Andie and dapper Eddie rockin’ his trademark mod look.

04 and andie and eddie

… and here’s Paul and Kev, synchronising their Sam Smith intake.

03 chillin with paul and kev

That bit about the baying crowd was a joke obviously.  For some time the first and only paying punter was the mighty Pete Cann.  Looks well excited, eh?

05 premiere paying punter pete

So come 8pm a respectable crowd was gathering but many jaded regulars were alarmed to find that the gig was going to start (and run throughout the night) on time.  Dan needed to run a tight ship to keep it afloat.  He did.  First up was Petals.

06 petals prepares

Picture shows Kev indulging in a little liquid preparation.  The esteem in which I hold this guy’s work is second to none and the sheer quality of his set made me want to simultaneously a) lie face down on the floor, eyes closed, palms up and b) accost the general public, grab lapels and thrust Petals releases into the pockets of the bewildered.  Putting him on first is a crime really, but it set the bar almost comically high for the rest of us.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/01-petals.mp3]

Download Petals

Next was Eddie:

07 aqua dentata one08 aqua dentata two

After championing his release March Hare, Kraken Mare this time last year I have been following the Aqua Dentata story with an almost unhealthy interest.  Eddie’s music has a quiet but unswerving sense of purpose and is constructed with such patience and confidence that its simplicity becomes exhilarating.  Like a clear blue sky, like a perfectly sharp knife.  This guy knows what to leave out and, in so doing, makes anything other than rapt attention impossible.  Smart dresser too.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/02-aqua-dentata.mp3]

Download Aqua Dentata

Then Dan had to relinquish his organisational duties for half an hour and take to the stage…

09 the solo hag man

Hagman, the duo of Dan Thomas and Dave Thomas (no relation) was exactly 50% short as the latter was not in attendance.  Due to Dave enduring an attack of ‘real life’ type stuff Dan had to play solo.  An intriguing start of cross-clattering rhythms (field recordings from his recent travels to Hong Kong?) gave way to the pressurised roar of a sleepless night in an aircraft cabin, augmented by the pots and sliders of the kit jumble you see above.  It was muscular but delicate too.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/03-danielthomas.mp3]

Download Hagman/Daniel Thomas

…and then something really magical happened:

10 andie's giant wine glasses11 andie in action

To my shame, I wasn’t up to speed with Andie’s work as These Feathers Have Plumes before.  Suffice to say I am now a fan.  She used the three giant glasses (vases? punchbowls?) pictured above, part filled with water, to produce gorgeous, haunting, tones by rubbing a moistened thumb around their rims (titter ye not).  This augmented a carefully underplayed selection of field recordings – birds, weather, water – to create an effect that was, in short, perfect.  Usually, the act before I go on is a blur as I pace around retching and coughing with nerves but Andie’s music held me transfixed.  The artist Joan Miro once described his life’s project as to ‘conquer simplicity’.  I’ve always been quite taken by that notion, despite the machismo of ‘conquer’, and was envious of Andie’s obvious and natural understanding of the idea.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/04-these-feathers-have-plumes.mp3]

Download These Feathers Have Plumes

My turn.  I didn’t take any photos of me performing, for the obvious reason, and my attempts to photograph the crowd at the beginning of my set were too rubbish to be used.  No matter, you can see my set-up at the back of the photo of Dan – sparkly scarf used as glamour table cloth, standard lamp, grumpy old mc-303.  The first of my two tracks was a version of the title track from inertia crocodile, my soon-to-released CD-r on WGGFDTB, and is mainly constructed from a rave stab noise filtered until it gets seasick and starts tripping over itself.  The second track is a new piece, as yet unnamed, in which a recording of Thomas the Baby drinking his bottle of milk is used as a rhythm track under a dense drone ‘lullaby’.  I was very pleased at how it turned out – good and loud and thick.  Now, I am a vain, self-regarding man and will shamelessly fish for compliments after a set but, to my delight, people I didn’t even know wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me.  My spoken intro got a laugh and most seemed charmed by my indulgent use of Thomas recordings.

I dedicated the set to Mark Wharton who, as mentioned, was there celebrating his birthday.  As well as being a friend, a comrade and an all round good egg, Mark has been an important influence on me over the years.  In a sense he taught me noise – no Idwal Fisher (and its predecessors) = no radiofreemidwich.  I’ve written about this before so I’ll just wipe the tear from the corner of my eye and leave it there.  He seemed touched by the gesture, which was my intention.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/05-midwich.mp3]

Download midwich

OK, time for Paul Watson to step up and obliterate this soppiness…

12 bbblood13 bbbloodier

Finally: BBBlood.  A performance by Paul is always a treat and an eager throng gathered, vibrating in anticipation, as he kicked off.  The first section was all scabrous electro-mechanical rhythms, building in intensity until the appearance of his handheld noise-o-tron (a tobacco tin with a mic in it) indicated that the point of no return had been reached.  Paul then flung himself into it, clattering his sound source onto/under the long suffering furniture and fiddling viciously with the pots and sliders of his patch lead orchestra.  Totally joyous: we all went fucking crazy and when the noise dropped for a burst of pop funk many audience members, notable Kev, couldn’t resist busting a move.  There was even an encore of sorts as a ‘highly refreshed’ Andie wanted to shout into the microphone.  A dizzying, nostrils-flaring, grin-inducing end to a great night.

[audio https://radiofreemidwich.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/06-bbblood.mp3]

Download BBBlood

Post-gig, the atmosphere of drunken revelry was such that leaving the venue was like leaving a wedding party: all hugs and promises.  The rain didn’t dare touch me as I ran for the last bus.

More on Sheepscar Light Industrial

More on Idwal Fisher

artifacts of the no-audience underground: recent petals

January 21, 2013 at 8:52 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Petals – where textus became textus, and how I operated within (CD-r, WGGFDTB)

PETALS – Aposiopesis (3″ CD-r, LF Records, LF026)

petals – silvered alumnus (C22 cassette, Armed Within Movement, AWM006)

petals - where textuspetals - aposiopesispetals - silvered alumnus

Fresh from his category-winning triumph at the 2012 Zellaby Awards Kev Sanders, recording as Petals, has marched directly into 2013 and thrown down some glorious warez thereby consolidating his position at the top.

How does he do it?  What’s the secret to the irresistible Petals ‘vibe’?  My latest guess is that it may be something to do with the way it is recorded.  Anything recorded ‘clean’ or straight-to-hard-drive is difficult to place. It just exists, in your head, as you are listening to it. However, Kev’s stuff seems to be recorded ‘live’ with a microphone somewhere in the room/space where the noise is happening. This gives it a definite physical location but one which is, ironically, mysterious and unplaceable. I suspect this is why I have reached for the metaphor of cartography so often when talking about his work – he produces maps of invisible coastlines, unreachable foothills.  By way of example, here are three releases gracing labels other than his own (the ever-fascinating hairdryer excommunication).

where textus became textus and how I operated within is a single track spanning 40 minutes and thus is one of the lengthier volumes in the Petals cannon.  You don’t feel it though – it whistles past – and so persuasive are its arguments that I was entirely distracted from the blizzard I happened to be walking through when I first heard it end to end.

The track begins with a short, steep incline.  What follows appears at first to be a plateau but soon reveals its own subtle gradients.  All is crescendo here.  We battle through an increasingly bosky thicket as unseen wildlife twitters nervously, sensing that we are traipsing in a dangerous direction.  Eventually, shockingly, we come to a clearing and are met with the fizzing, crackling clatter of an angry troll testing the electrified fence that is keeping him captive.  Kev busies himself with the stuff he had us lug up the hill – it turns out to be some kind of troll monitoring equipment.  The monster, now knackered and scorched but amused by our presence, sits down and listens to the amplified findings of the machinery along with the rest of us.  Really great.

Available dirt cheap from Andrew Perry’s label We’re Gonna Get Fucking Drunk Tonight Boys and packaged in his functional, effective, black and white text-based graphics.

Buy here.

(…interlude: welcome to ‘jokes about obscure terms from literary analysis’ corner!  This week: ‘aposiopesis’.  Me: “I say, I say, I say, Kev – what does aposiopesis mean?” Kev: “well, Rob, I could tell you but then I would have to….”  He trails off.  Silence.  We both stare mournfully at the setting sun and think about death.  Join us next week for another laff riot!  OK, back to the advertised programme…)

Aposiopesis is half the length, filling a 3” CD-r, but seems equal to the above as it is pitched at much higher level of intensity.  The track has a bassy, dense, subterranean feel.  The rumbling throb is ominous and pleasantly uncomfortable at silly volume.  Kev is shining his powerful torch at features of note in a giant underground cavern: here is a rock formation that looks like a rasher of bacon, here is a Palaeolithic painting of a horse, here is his left hand resting lightly on your shoulder, gently steering you away from the suspiciously fresh blood stains on an altar-shaped boulder…

Again this is available for not much from Greg at the (shamefully) new-to-RFM LF Records.  Packaged in a very neat full colour sleeve.  More to come from LF in future reviews but for now…

Buy here.

Finally for today there is silvered alumnus a C22 tape on the much fancied Armed Within Movement label (see here for previous praise).  This was slipped to me, samizdat style, by Kev tucking it into my hot pants as we danced euphorically to Tubeway Army in the Fox and Newt bar.

Side A features an angry buzz augmented by a slow rolling pulse: the former presumably the noise made by units of a hive population as they carry out their pheromonally determined tasks, the latter being the hive mind’s ‘brain’ wave as consciousness appears, an emergent property of the system as a whole.  The rest of the track is this new unified presence developing self-awareness and deciding on a plan for the destruction of all life outside the hive.  Luckily a family of hungry anteaters are in the area and we are saved.  Side B features the kind of alarums! that might accompany the Id monster from Forbidden Planet escaping out into a stormy night on Altair IV.  The rain crackles as it strikes the invisible creature, tracing its outline in steam.  Also great.

This tape can be had for inconsequential loose change and is packaged in a standard cassette box with a stylish and pleasantly minimal black and white J-card.

Buy here.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: hobo sonn and michael clough

December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hobo Sonn – Synthetic Preserves (C60 cassette, Sick Head, #31)

Hobo Sonn – Swarm (CD-r, self-released)

Pulse Field I & II (CD-r, self-released)

hobo sonn - synthetic preserveshobo sonn - swarmpulse field

…and so we come to the final reviews of 2012. I’ve taken an editorial decision to leave anything received here at Midwich Mansions on or after 1st December until the New Year. Thus you have some excellent tapes from Mantile, a Petals CD-r on WGGFDTB and the new Panelak tape on Crater Lake Sound to look forward to, amongst other quality items. I’ll also be posting my own end of year round-up and announcing the winners of the second annual Zellaby awards in due course – I can sense you shivering with anticipation already.  OK, take a deep breath as it is time for the business of today…

The releases pictured were acquired at the Truant gig in November and thus just slipped under the wire.  Due to pre-performance nerves I didn’t really register the Hobo Sonn set performed by Ian Murphy (joined, for one night only, by that Kieron Piercy of Spoils & Relics) but I dug the fact that they wanted to play in darkness, illuminated only by the LEDs on their kit, and requested that no photos be taken.  Their seriousness of intent led to a wholly immersive set, much enjoyed by an audience lulled into a state of appreciative concentration.  Or so I’ve been told – I was pacing about, worrying.  Why not listen to the recording and judge for yourself?  Off stage Ian is a charming, easy-going gentleman and we had fun beforehand chatting about a mutual acquaintance from my days of misspent youth in Brighton.  During the inevitable post-gig merch swap he generously gifted me the tape and CD-r above.

Synthetic Preserves, released by Sick Head, comes with a great black and white cover and is housed in one of those oversize, squishy plastic cases that computer game tapes used to be packaged in.  I love the squeak as you open it.  The track is an hour of variations on a guttering throb (split into two equal halves by the fact of tapeness) and is deeply, penetratingly satisfying throughout.  There is a chewy graininess to the fuzz and a compelling stickiness to the pulse.  It will make you as happy as poking a bead of tree sap with a twig.  The rolling layers move at different speeds and flop, tangle and fall over themselves in a very gratifying manner.  Imagine an old, battered and malfunctioning machine extruding a substance with the consistency of tarmac, grinding and stuttering because the ingredients are not pure enough to guarantee a smooth flow.  Terrific.

Swarm, self-released by Ian via his website Rotten Slushy, is an 18 minute CD-r packaged in a length of what might be player-piano roll.  I don’t know – it’s mysterious.  The track kicks off with spiralling, billowing string shimmer, like the angry insistence of a disturbed wasps’ nest, or sometimes like the whine of ultra-high performance engines – the rise and fall feels like drifting in and out of consciousness at a F1 Grand Prix.  Around the 11 minute mark the drone is locked down with spikey plucks, some bibbling electronics then usher in the second movement and this in turn builds to a remarkable final few minutes.  This section could be the soundtrack to the denouement and aftermath of a 1980s tech-noir thriller, whilst the instrumentation calls to mind 1960s Hollywood.  Imagine Blade Runner directed by Alfred Hitchcock and scored by Bernard Herrmann.  Surprising, ambitious, intense – very highly recommended.

So finally, for today and for 2012, I come to Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow, Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes by Michael Clough.  What we have here are two lengthy, throbbing analogue synth workouts on one CD-r.  The colour inserts feature simple patterns blurred in a way that exactly represents the working of the music within.

‘Pulse Field II: Chthonotron Wakes’ could be the alpha waves of a sentient machine, constructed by the Old Ones, as it is roused by foolhardy occult scientists who have made the mistake of plugging it in.  Or I fancy a less Lovecraftian picture: imagine the contented purring of an adorable kitten.  Now imagine the same noise but made by a kitten 40 feet high and carved from granite.  There you go.  ‘Pulse Field I: Summer Meadow’ is, despite the title, barely any more pastoral.  This is a rustic scene on the micro level: where ants toil ceaselessly and mechanically, or lower: where nematodes devour and be devoured, or smaller still: is this what photosynthesis in the innumerable blades of grass sounds like?  Unlikely I know, but cool to think so.

Both tracks are minimal and rhythmic enough to accompany the most ferocious cardiovascular workout yet the tweaking is subtle and involving enough to make them oddly soothing in an armchair context (well – spoiler alert – the last few minutes of PFII do get teeth-looseningly sharp so you may find yourself putting down the wine glass and fiddling with the volume at that point).  Like the best minimal music, I suspect the reaction it provokes in the listener will depend on the listener’s mood and situation – even the angle of your head in relation to the speakers makes a difference.  I love it.

Both Hobo Sonn releases can be purchased via Ian’s website, I’m not sure Clough’s release is ‘available’ in any commonly understood sense of the word but you could try dropping him a line at mriclough@aol.com and blagging.

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I’ll see you in the New Year!

architects of the no-audience underground: andrew perry knows what he is doing

November 12, 2011 at 10:31 am | Posted in live music, musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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  • Andrew Perry / Dead Wood – The Sweetest Meat (Striate Cortex, S.C.04, CD-r, 80 copies)
  • Andrew Perry / King Rib – Split (We’re gonna get fucking drunk tonight boys, CD-r)

As with so many other quality acts, Andrew Perry first came to my attention via Joe Posset, RFM’s North East correspondent.  Joe forwarded a copy of their split CD-r on Fuckin’ Amateurs, which turned out to be literally unlistenable (grumpiness here) then triumphant (happy ending here).  After the party, Andrew wrapped a large creamy slice of his back catalogue in coloured tissue and I carried it home, still feeling giddy from drinking too much pop.

Over the intervening months I have become a fan and was delighted both to meet the man and see him perform at that gig in October I keep banging on about.  Seeing his shtick live really helped coalesce a bunch of previously nebulous thoughts, as did hearing a couple more CD-rs of his that I blagged on the night.

Andrew is a prolific creator of music in his own name, with others – either in collaboration or as part of split releases, and has a label of his own too: the gloriously named ‘We’re gonna get fucking drunk tonight boys’.  The stuff released as ‘Andrew Perry’ is a mix of fuzzed-out 18-tog drone, balls-out noise, guitarish shimmer, lo-fi field recordings featuring snatches of conversation and tickly contact-mic closeness that makes you pull out your earphone and wiggle a finger in your aural cavity.  Indeed, you may get all of this within the same track.

Don’t expect a smoothly stirred cocktail, however, as this is more like a glass lighthouse filled with layers of different coloured sand by a distracted child thinking about ice-cream.  Some of the transitions between styles jar, and sometimes I wish he’d have a little more patience with a groove or blissed-out fuzz that he’s established only to dismiss, but on the other hand nothing outstays its welcome, nothing is allowed to bore, the ‘jukebox’ quality makes it good for repeat listens and the hit and miss ratio of the segments is weighted heavily in favour of the former.  It is really good walkman music and often accompanies me on the route to work, augmented by the sub-bass rumble of the bus idling at junctions.

When in collaboration with others, or under other names, Andrew reins in some of his tiggerish impulses and, whilst painting from a similar palette, long-form tracks are allowed to grow and mutate in a more leisurely fashion.  I am unsure of the personnel involved in Gish, King Rib, Dead Wood etc. but a fairly consistent aesthetic is at work throughout all the stuff I’ve heard and I suspect the diagram of their overlap could be drawn on a page torn from an exercise book.

Meeting the guy helped explain and flesh out his solo approach.  He was bouncily enthused, entertainingly sweary, wary of producing anything longer than 15 minutes for fear of boredom, and seemingly able to tweet on his ‘phone whilst nodding in vigorous agreement and remaining engaged with the conversation.  The performance was likewise: three different segments picked from the list in paragraph three, all performed with equal verve, which left the audience grinning madly.  His instructions to the sound guy: ‘loud as you like’.  The following day he met us for lunch and was wearing the same t-shirt.  Some years ago you might have worried that they guy had ADHD, now he just looks well adapted for life in the modern world…

So, why not cop hold of the two CD-rs above?  The one on Striate Cortex is of a quality and consistency you’d expect from that impeccable label.  Three tracks: 1/a guitar quiver similar to the opening seconds of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ stretched out into a lilting, climbing shimmer, 2/fire blankets of fuzz thrown over the flames, 3/crackling noise that is both spacey (as in open) and increasingly spacey (as in cosmic).  The other one is brand new and can be had dirt cheap via WGGFDTB.  Andrew’s half is an excellent example of the genre hopping I describe above and is balanced nicely by the uncomplicated dronetronics of King Rib.

Musing on the wilfully no-fi, punk-as-fuck packaging for the King Rib split – a photocopy of hand-written scrawl – leads inevitably back to a thought which has occurred to me several times whilst listening to Andrew’s work: “wow, he couldn’t give a monkey’s…”  This is not to say that Andrew dislikes our simian cousins – he may volunteer at a gibbon sanctuary for all I know – I am referring to the well worn idiom meaning ‘he doesn’t care’.  This may seem an odd thing to think as Mr Perry is obviously deeply passionate about his music, his performance, about the network of similar artists that he finds himself a part of, about engaging with the world via his drive to create, and about getting those creations heard – so allow me to explain.

Andrew appears to be refreshingly unconcerned with the twiddly peripherals of ‘finishing’ (meant in a sense akin to how the word is used in interior design) that others like to waste their time on.  The recording is lo-fi and I doubt any of the instruments used cost a fat lot either – I imagine travel to gigs involves backpacks, bubble-wrap and carrier bags, not flight cases lined with wavy grey foam.  Songs occasionally have beginnings but endings are usually arbitrary snips.  Many of Andrew’s track titles are throwaway funny or Dadaist goofy…

(Aside: nowt wrong with that, I suppose, but I can’t help thinking that it sometimes undermines the seriousness, beauty or quality of the music they refer to.  Does it show a lack of faith in the material or an energizing irreverence?  I’m not suggesting that being po-faced would be better – god forbid everything was called ‘Composition No. 112’ or ‘Lament for the Oppressed’ – just that, well, oh I dunno…)

…The biography on his wordpress site reads, in its entirety: “Andrew Perry has had no idea what he’s doing for a very long time.”  Amusingly, at the time I write this, all the events listed in the ‘Future’ section are now in the past.  And so on.  It is an attitude I’ve come to see a lot in what I lovingly refer to as the no-audience underground and it is personified by people like Andrew, like Fuckin’ Amateurs, like Hiroshima Yeah!, like Dex TapeNoise etc.  It’s the idea that the central pursuit – the MUSIC, the WRITING, the ART – is all that really matters and the rest can look after itself.  I don’t share it completely – I’m way too uptight for that – but I love it when I see it.

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