thrashing circumstance: self-released by dr:wr, forgets, orlando ferguson, luminous monsters and garland fields

April 16, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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DR:WR – Zamage: Music For Party (self-released download)

forgets – reasons based on our thrashing circumstances (self-released download)

Orlando Ferguson – O! What hath man wrought? (self-released download)

Luminous Monsters – On Rubied Talons (self-released download)

Garland Fields – Schizophreniclustercadence (self-released download)

drwr - zamage

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: this ‘self-released download’ business is punker than punk. It is now possible, via services like the all-conquering Bandcamp, for anyone to present any sound at all to anyone else. Admittedly the means of production have not been seized entirely – we still need the internet, which is far from universal, and those banks of servers hosting The Cloud are not owned by a vegan co-op – but compared to the advances punk made in democratizing the creation of art and music this state of affairs is flat out anarchy. No one is listening, of course, but that isn’t the point – this is a qualitative change that we (well, oldsters like me) are still marvelling at. In celebration of all this freedom here are some glowing accounts of items I have been pointed at, *ahem*, ‘recently’…

DR:WR – Zamage: Music for Party

First then, a two track download from the school of The Zero Map. Firstly, ‘Wooden Flesh’ (reminds me of my entry to a ‘make up your own Channel 5 shock doc title’ contest: ‘The Boy With Wooden Legs… But Real Feet!’) sounds like dawn in one of those 2D, day-glo chthonic realms visited by the Yellow Submarine. Creatures gibber and shake the undergrowth as their cartoon anatomies burble. The middle section takes on a hunted tension then, having breakfasted on each other, the improbable animals settle down to the pan-dimensional business of the day.

‘This is not Thesis’ has a greater urgency to it. A crystalline shimmer is sullied, smeared as insistent ticking (at first) then a low end throbbing alarm (in the second movement) suggests there is only a very short amount of time left to defuse the suspect package – bristling with coloured wires – that no-one saw being delivered. If only you’d not spent your lunch break on the river bank eating magic mushrooms, eh? Luckily the only thing that happens when the big red LED counter gets down to ’00:00′ is that a little flag unfurls with the word ‘BANG!’ printed on it and we can all enjoy a pleasant come down.

forgets - reasons

forgets – reasons based on our thrashing circumstances

Next is forgets, winners of ‘the band I feel most guilty about not mentioning in the 2013 Zellaby Awards award’. Their latest recording – a raw, rehearsal room mix that demands volume and attention – features prose poetry from Kroyd over the improv noise guitar of Mitch, as expected, but also has some instrumental interludes reminiscent of the duo’s free rock incarnation Bluejay Neutrons too.

I find Kroyd’s storytelling to be hypnotizing. The dourness and despairing humour of his observations are perfectly relayed by the rhythm of his delivery and underscored by Mitch’s post-apocalyptic (well, that’s how it feels in some parts of Leeds on a rainy weekday afternoon) chang. At their most effective the poems bring on a kind of existential panic. Kroyd is not content: he realises that his ability to document the cruelties and absurdities of life does little to mitigate them. Being able to feel is not necessarily a survival trait. In fact, to see clearly can be a debilitating disability. So why not blur that vision with drink and rage and wry self deprecating humour, eh? I think Kroyd might be a hero of a strange sort and Mitch is either his therapist or his enabler depending on the shifting mood in the room.

This is not an easy listen but I recommend it, as I do the rest of their back catalogue.

orlando ferguson - o what hath man wrought

Orlando Ferguson – O! What hath man wrought?

Boy, have I come late to this party. I’m hoping a cheesy grin and a blue plastic bag full of cans is going to get me past the doorman… Orlando Ferguson is a York based duo: John Tuffen and Ash whose-surname-I-don’t-know. Long term midwich fanciers may recall John’s beautiful techno album available from namke communications which I released on fencing flatworm recordings, or perhaps his own artfully packaged micro-label minimism. A decade, and several regenerations (see: neuschlaufen), later John got in touch to alert me to this new project. I was delighted to hear from him but, within minutes, had lost the file down the back of the harddrive and, minutes after that, forgot about it. That was months ago – shame on me. Something, possibly guilt at missing their recent Hogwash show here in the beautiful garden city of Leeds, got me rummaging around and I’m very glad that I did.

Orlando Ferguson was, I am told, a late Nineteenth Century advocate of Flat Earth theory and created a very beautiful map, decorated with bible quotations and jibes at fancy-pants science types, in order to disprove all that globe nonsense. Given that the band is named for such a character, its histrionic title and the defiant running time of 48 minutes for a single track you might expect this album to be epic, idiosyncratic and to have serious courage in some entertainingly wonky convictions. You would be right on all counts.

Put simply: this is a long, involving, proggish, psychotronic ritual which, despite its grand spaciness, remains admirably disciplined throughout. Yes, there is scouring, splintering guitar but it never gets noodly or aimless – riffs have an effective tech/kraut simplicity. Found sounds – some Foley work with bits of metal too – give the piece a grounded, located feel which I appreciate whilst voices gurgling and spitting keep the angelic host tethered to the altar. Its overall success is a product of John and Ash’s balls-out confidence – this was performed live at a noise show where sets are generally half this length – and obvious faith in their work. Great stuff. I now discover there are seven releases available via their Bandcamp site, all of which can be had for a mere couple of quid a throw.

luminous monsters - talons

Luminous Monsters – On Rubied Talons

When Matt of the inexplicably named guanoman emailed to plug his new Luminous Monsters album the description had me bouncing in my chair with anticipation:

Five tracks ranging from delicate near-silence to raging psychedelic noise, via heavy drone and the customary ham-fisted approximations of Middle Eastern modes.

Oh, Matt you smoothy – you had me at ‘ham-fisted’. I jest, of course, but it did sound custom made to fit these sorely mistreated ears. So it has proved – I like this album very much indeed.

We start with ‘The Kundalini Engine’. Imagine a great master of gamelan has died unexpectedly in the night. The following morning his shocked students gather to play a tearful, heartfelt tribute. A background buzz of sympathetic electronics and a swell of crystal guitar are entirely appropriate and poignantly represent the fragility of it all and the nearness of the spirits that day.

Next, ‘Tears of a Shoggoth’ sees an example of Lovecraft’s terrifying, amorphous, slave race summoned by a strangely faceted purple crystal and imprisoned in the dome of a mosque. An almost instinctive folk memory is awakened in the frightened populace and, on a moonless night, they surround the building with torches and play music – anything to keep the thrashing, furious animal inside.

Regarding ‘Coils of the Doxic Host’ I was recently asked what it is I am currently looking for in music and, without thinking, I replied ‘low end with sprinkles’. Plenty of that here. A satisfyingly full drone calls to mind a giant cauldron full of boiling caramel. The witch tending this delicious but lethally hot concoction is killing time by improvising on a miniature hand-held church organ.

‘Of Smoke and Sinew’ and ‘Wrath of the Tyrant Sun’ could be parts one and two of the same adventure story. We start with guitar shimmer, a heat haze over the desert sand, then – drama – a truck full of excited men with shovels arrives. They leap out and throw themselves into the task of uncovering a giant hatch that, according to the chap holding the map, is the gateway to a nameless underground city. Once opened, the gathering storm above and the hot, unnervingly breathy, wind coming up from the blackness below suggests the whole business has been a very bad idea indeed…

A cracker. Sadly, I think you’ve missed the pre-release opportunity to swap a free download from Matt for a hand-drawn picture of a monster (charming, eh?) so you’ll have to pay actual dough for it but, at three quid, this is a steal.

garland fields

Garland Fields – Schizophreniclustercadence

Finally then, the above.  This is officially on a label, Megawhat Recordings (I can’t decide whether that name is teeth-grindingly cheesy or some kind of Oi! genius – might be both), but as all the ‘acts’ gathered under this umbrella are incarnations of the same bloke, Robin Foster, this definitely counts as self-released.  Robin presented this to me with all the enthusiasm of a kid being ordered by the playground bully to light a banger pushed into some dog shit:

I hope at the very least my music doesn’t repulse you too greatly.

…he said and who can resist such a persuasive hard sell?  Luckily, not me.  The release comprises one 20 minute track of trilling electronic noise.  On first listen it appears to be a shipping container full of panic-stricken R2D2s short circuiting as an anti-droid luddite hoses ’em down.  Which is good, obviously, but further listens reveal quite a lot more going on.  Fans of foldhead’s gurning squawktronics will enjoy the struggle as flopping, squashed sounds try to right themselves whilst a malfunctioning gravitational field hurls everything arse over tit.  Good fun.  I shall investigate this guy’s work further.

—ooOoo—

DR:WR

forgets

Orlando Ferguson

Luminous Monsters

Garland Fields / Megawhat Recordings

there’s no code for this: stories by forgets

February 8, 2013 at 7:25 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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forgets – and my equal vegetates for her boy (self-released download)

forgets – Bedroom​/​Redboom (self-released download)

forgets – we are joke man (self-released download)

forgets – Everybody Limps Here (Live At Hogwash 3) (self-released download)

forgets - and my equalforgets - bedroom-redboomforgets - we are joke manforgets - everybody limps here

Y’know, I haven’t touched a drop in some time. Whilst changing medication a couple of years ago I noticed that the accompanying advice also changed to the sternly worded ‘avoid alcohol’. ‘Hmmm…’, I thought, ‘surely moderation in all things, eh? A little whistle moistener won’t do any harm…’ But I was wrong. That little experiment was over quickly and the results were conclusive. Ugh. After some thought, I decided to use the circumstances as a reason to just stop drinking alcohol completely. Best to keep it simple, no exceptions to the rule.

I haven’t missed it really. Well, there have been one or two fraught occasions where a bit of social lubricant would have oiled my squeaky hinges, but other than that: good riddance. I was a lousy drunk: overbearing, unpredictable, prone to bouts of nihilistic irresponsibility. Sure, fun at the time (for me at least, if not those around me) but for a sufferer of depression the hungover self-loathing following a weekend of ‘self-medication’ was dangerously close to unendurable. I don’t think I ever had a problem with drink, as such, but I lived on the same street as the problem for a while and it isn’t a happy neighbourhood. I suppose that there is a possible world not too far from our own where I ended up as an incidental character in a track by forgets…

I first encountered the duo of Kroyd and Mitch (words and guitar respectively, stage names – natch) at the Hogwash night where I last played as midwich.  What with Chrissie Caulfield also on the bill that gig proved a revelation.  Props again to Dave, Noah and Benbow for organising things.  May I encourage my dear readers to support their ongoing endeavour.

Over Mitch’s improv noise guitar – filtered through an impressive daisy chain of effects pedals – Kroyd told us a story, off the top of his head, of how repeated exposure to a song by Ronan Keating led him to jack in his job and instead roll up at Wetherspoon’s at 8am each morning instead.  There he helped defuse a tricky situation between the staff and two other early bird punters.  It’s a love story.  Kinda.  In-between chapters Kroyd read poetry/stories/routines from a sheath of notes.  These fell to the floor as he scrabbled through them one handed, his other busy with the mic or a large glass of red wine.  It had the dishevelled drama, the nervous shaky energy of someone who will ‘be alright once I’ve got this down me.’

I loved it.  In fact I’d loved ‘em since the soundcheck when Kroyd checked the mic line by reading his asthma clinic appointment letter whilst Mitch’s guitar gruffly weeped.  Others weren’t so sure.  A highly regarded comrade of mine told me ‘I don’t like someone talking when the guitar is talking.’  At first I dismissed this objection as daft, pretentious even, then I thought about it and… dismissed it again.  It is bloody daft.  The arrangement seemed appropriate to me.  A hip New York beat poet can have a double bass player picking out the rhythm.  Thus a poet from Yorkshire documenting the pitiful consolations, pyrrhic victories and gallows humour of a life, shall we say, not steeped in luxury can have a noise guitar emphasising his own ebb and flow.  It makes perfect sense.

My friend’s comment also underestimates, in my humble opinion, the extent to which the band really is a duo.  They were clearly listening to each other and reacting accordingly, both altering tone and tempo as the narrative required.  Anyway, this performance was recorded and has surfaced on the forgets Bandcamp page so you can listen and judge for yourselves.

After the gig I hastily followed things up and downloaded the other albums available.  Kroyd himself described this work to me as hit and miss but he is unnecessarily self-deprecating (he admits on one track to being passive-aggressive – which is a classic passive-aggressive double bluff, of course).  Yeah, the recording is raw but I don’t care about that.  The noise comes in two basic flavours: an agreeably spacious post-punk boom and rattle or an actual-punk anarcho-chug which wouldn’t seem out of place in a black-and-white wraparound sleeve.

The writing/storytelling is ramshackle or tightly controlled or improvised or carefully thought out or very funny or chokingly bleak – often all at once.  we are joke man has its moments but I’m going to discuss a few examples from the other two: Bedroom/Redboom – a 22 minute epic with instrumental coda – and and my equal vegetates for her boy – an album containing 19 tracks all titled with words beginning with the letter ‘D’.

The latter describes a battle-scarred past, a banal, bureaucratic present and a militaristic, totalitarian future. The songs and stories share themes and are linked with repetitions and reprises. Sometimes a passage that appears to be a gushing stream of consciousness is repeated word for word in another context. This gives the unnerving impression that all this is happening at once, now, or is waiting just around the corner.

The opener, ‘Divide’, is a harrowing report of protesters slaughtered at a checkpoint. But we are not allowed the luxury of imagining this is happening in some far-off land. The leader of the demonstration is a taxi driver from Doncaster, a grocer from Leeds helps with the banner. What has happened that has led to this? ‘Doors’ describes a group of strangers gathered mute and motiveless outside Kroyd’s house. It’s part Tubeway Army-style paranoia, part ‘Shadow Over Innsmouth’ dread and part delirium tremens. The closing ‘Duke #2’ ends with a bitter lament for all the ‘war mad little boys.’

I realise that by now you are probably thinking ‘whoo boy, tough listen’ and, well, yeah, in parts it is but, crucially, it is really good. As well as the doom there is drama (see ‘Disc’ about an ex-boy band star stealing a song from the narrator’s garage punk band) and a lot of humour (see ‘Donkey’ a joyous account of cheering up an emo horse). There are plenty of lines and images to make you guffaw on the bus too – even in this Orwellian future ‘robots cook your tea’. Ah, not all bad, eh?

‘Bedroom’ is framed with a semi-prepared story of Kroyd being visited by Death.  This set-up made me laugh (Death can’t be bothered explaining it all, just mentions A Christmas Carol and hands Kroyd a scroll of terms and conditions to read) and, like the gig recording, is interspersed with poetry and sub-routines throughout.  One of these routines is a long list of things that scare Kroyd – basically everything – which starts off as amusing but becomes electrifying as the impotent rage and despair at the ridiculousness of it all boils into a shouted fury mirrored by Mitch’s increasingly violent accompaniment.  This peaks, breaks and mutates into a beautiful poem – ‘we invented death’ – that is disarmingly profound.  It is a terrific, stomach-flipping moment.  The first time I heard this I was on my walk to work and realised that even at my dawdling pace I was going to reach the office before it finished.  So I stopped, leaned on a convenient wall, ignored the suspicious glances of fellow commuters and heard it out.

I suggest you download all this, get your coat on, find a suitable wall or bench yourself and do the same.  Maybe we can meet in the pub later to discuss it.  Just a coke for me, thanks.

forgets at Bandcamp.

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

5. The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

4. The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis, ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

midwichmas: live at the radiofreemidwich 5th birthday shindig

December 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Radio Free Midwich 5th Birthday Shindig: Hagman, Human Combustion Engine, midwich, UK Muzzlers, forgets live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 29th November 2014

nov 29th gig poster

So, yeah, it was a blast. Thanks to all who came and special, glowing thanks to Mitch of forgets who put it together then allowed me to hijack his efforts for my self-congratulation. All the sets were terrific and, despite the usual pre-gig nerves and some (fully justified) technical worries about crackling pots, I couldn’t be happier with how mine turned out.  Good crowd too, despite ‘rival’ gigs nearby (PAH! <spits on floor> I HAVE NO RIVALS! <short pause, sheepishly looks around, cleans up spit>). Some of my typically half-arsed and incompetent photo-journalism follows below. Let’s face it, I was only really concerned that my t-shirt and balloon were documented…

Oh, and in reply to the two comrades who wondered if this was now going to be an annual event the answer is: no, not unless each year another benefactor wants to come along and organize it for me. That said, my vanity did bubble to the surface on receipt of this riff from Eddie Nuttall of Aqua Dentata:

I propose Midwichmas as a name for this. Midnight mass on Midwichmas Eve can adopt a tradition of no carol singing, but perhaps a 4-hour recital of sine waves, bowed baking trays, and warpy cassette hiss. This can be followed by the traditional exchange of photocopied collages, also known as Midwichmas cards.

On Midwichmas morning all the children will excitedly gather round the Midwichmas Tree (a petrified oak) to exchange CDRs in edition of 7 or something, usually recorded an hour or so prior. These are presented in the traditional Midwichmas wrapping paper substitute, heavily weathered Poundland Jiffy bags that have been recycled across England half a dozen times or more.

A traditional afternoon Midwichmas film would perhaps be like a Christmas film, but probably substituting Bing Crosby for Duncan Harrison.

Heh, wouldn’t that be glorious, eh?

OK, on with the showbusiness…

hagman 29-11-14

Trowser Carrier had to cancel (trapped in a giant laundry basket, apparently) so Hagman kicked off by recreating the pose from every other photo I’ve ever taken of Dave and Dan Thomas (no relation) ever.  Their set was a gruff, bassy, throb – like the hot breath of a big cat as it licks you with its sandpaper tongue.  I swayed purposefully.

human combustion engine 1 29-11-14human combustion engine 2 29-11-14

Human Combustion Engine (Mel and Phil of Ashtray Navigations) teased out some tangerine psyche-synth with semi-improvised power moves.  I slapped my thighs in time with the pulse.  Occult science.

…and then:

it's showtime folks

…it was SHOWTIME folks!

midwich 29-11-14

I thanked everyone for their support and played a 20 minute set comprising two new ‘songs’.  These have been recorded and will be released alongside their live versions on my Bandcamp site soon.  You will be kept informed.  About three minutes in I remembered the helium balloon I had stashed under my table and releasing it (see pic above) got a ripple of amused applause.  This moment was such a coup de théâtre that my friend Alice later said it was…

…better than the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Surely, no rational observer could disagree.

A word about my rad t-shirt.  The logo reads ‘Sonic Circuits’ and the tagline runs thus: ‘Avant Garde Music For The No Audience Underground’.  Yes!  My philosophy vindicated with leisurewear!  These garments were produced in celebration of the Sonic Circuits Festival 2014, organised by the genre-busting promoters of the same name based in Washington, DC.  My twitter bro’ and extraordinary digi-crate-digger Phong Tran (@boxwalla) appears to have convinced ’em that the slogan was bang on and, in return for lifting the idea, a shirt winged its way across the Atlantic.  So cool.  Fits real nice too.

uk muzzlers 29-11-14

Next were ‘headliners’ UK Muzzlers.  Neil Campbell and John Clyde-Evans played caveman Oi! over a hilarious tape collage.  There was much whooping, thumping and brute racket.  It was as if Happy Flowers had grown up but were still refusing to take their medication.  The future of rock and roll, possibly.

forgets 3forgets 2 - mitchforgets 1 - kroyd's notes

Finally, Mitch, who organised the night, and Kroyd, who’d been on the door, dropped their admin roles, took to the stage and brought the evening to a close as forgets.

The noise purists don’t like this…

…Kroyd began, and, looking at the half dozen people who remained in the room, he clearly had a point. The throng appreciating UK Muzzlers had melted away into the ‘beer garden’, the bar or had sprinted for last trains and buses leaving just this attentive elite. Ah bollocks to the lot a’ya – I fucking love this band. This is what they do: Kroyd tells stories and recites semi-improvised prose poetry whilst Mitch soundtracks it with improv noise guitar. A comrade who shall remain nameless worried that Kroyd’s observations were ‘hit and miss’, which I concede, but it all adds to the cumulative effect of the performance. People who put their heads around the door and think ‘hmmm don’t fancy this’ are missing out on sharp, funny, sometimes very moving stories and, quite often, a fantastic crescendo of flailing, bewildered despair that tops out the set. I recommend sitting the fuck down and listening.

…and that was that so we packed up, said our goodbyes and tumbled out onto the street. Dan Thomas, taking pity on a tired old man who’d been up since 4.30am caring for his boy, made sure I got home safely.  In the morning Thomas had a shiny helium balloon to play with…

—ooOoo—

Hagman

Human Combustion Engine

midwich

UK Muzzlers (dunno – try via Astral Social Club)

forgets

Wharf Chambers

Sonic Circuits

 

new midwich product! ‘single figures’ on kirkstall dark matter

March 1, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Posted in midwich, new music, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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midwich – single figures

(3″ CD-r, edition of 49 with handmade insert or download, Kirkstall Dark Matter)

midwich - single figures - frontmidwich - single figures - back

Wow, things move fast nowadays, eh?  I’m late for my own party here!  This was released in the early hours of Wednesday morning and, thanks to the wonders of facebook and the like, is already old news to all the little william gibsons out there.  A very flattering account has already been posted to inaugurate the new reviews and interviews section of Miguel Perez’s Oracle blog.  Go check it out then return here and settle down with me in the study.  I know certain members of my constituency are of a more, shall we say, pipe-smoking inclination so I’ll explain what has occurred at a leisurely pace.

Dave Thomas, half of Hagman and the whole of ap martlet – both lavishly praised on this blog, recently felt the urge to start a microlabel.  It comes to us all and he isn’t to be blamed for it.  In cheeky homage to Sheepscar Light Industrial he has chosen the moniker Kirkstall Dark Matter for his endeavour.  Soon, no doubt, each district of Leeds will have its own microlabel, allegiances will shift and bloody wars will break out with a Game of Thrones style ferocity.  For now though all is calm.  Dave asked me if I would like to submit something.

Around that time I was winding down my year-long return to the live ‘arena’.  Over the course of half a dozen gigs I proved (if only to myself) that a bloke wigging out to his own drones can be entertaining and rediscovered that the natural volume for midwich stuff is trouser-flappingly loud.  However, I find performing live, even for twenty minutes and with a set-up that fits comfortably in a rucksack, quite a commitment.  I was privately glad to use impending fatherhood as an excuse to return to semi-retirement.  But I get ahead of myself.

Before Christmas I revisited the sun-burnt, suburban heat-haze of ‘augmented field recording’ eaves – my smash hit Summer single – and thought it was time to try something similar but colder.  Using the dictaphone function on my mp3 player (slipped into the turn-up of my woolly hat) I recorded the walk home along Chapeltown Road during a wet, dark evening rush hour.  The rise, rumble and fall of the traffic, unedited and pleasingly oceanic with plenty of sub-bass, leant itself perfectly to an accompanying slow pulsing drone riff and ‘seasonal adjustment’ was complete.  Not only did it fit as a companion piece to eaves but there was a link back to the workaday alienation that informed the very first midwich stuff such as ‘every day is the same’.  Ooo.. hark at me, eh?  Check out the fancypants artistic vision!  Smell the integrity!

‘penny dropped’ started life as another dicta-recording, this time of a cake tin lid rocking back and forth on our kitchen work surface.  It’s a noise I find strangely soothing, despite its proximity to the sound of sharpening knives, and it seemed an obvious bookend to a shorter, more vigorous drone piece.  Rebranded as single figures (parts one and two), these tracks totalled twenty minutes: a new set!

Just before Christmas I premiered this ‘Winter’ version at a gig organised by my old mucker Matt Robson and it got a second outing at the Hogwash night on 9th January.  The latter gig was where I played alongside forgets and Chrissie Caulfield and thus has already been extensively documented on this blog (and also reviewed here).  A recording was made by improv-tigger Pascal Ansell, given to Dave and you can now hear it too courtesy of KDM (complete with that scamp Phil Todd shouting ‘get off’ before I even begin: his comedic reaction to my news that I didn’t have any guitar effects pedals at all, following two acts that may have had 30 between them).

The physical edition (of 49 copies) comes recorded on games console-style CD-rs with black mirror playing surfaces.  Each disc is packaged in a unique wraparound insert made of an adulterated page taken from a copy of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos – the book from which my band name is lifted.  A hand printed strip, similar to what would be found in a library book back in the days of the card index, contains the details.  All is protected by a robust plastic wallet.  It is carefully thought out, winningly executed and very satisfying.  For those unconcerned with objects, or who otherwise miss out, a download can be nabbed on a pay-what-you-like basis from the same Bandcamp page.

Buy here.

grins, nods, shrugs shoulders and points: small things on sundays, ap martlet, helicopter quartet

February 3, 2013 at 10:53 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Small Things on Sundays – Searching For (vinyl album, Skrat Records, skr-011)

ap martlet – a tabletop mountain (self-released download)

Helicopter Quartet – Helicopter Quartet (self-released CD-r or download)

small things on sunday - searching forap martlet - a tabletop mountainhelicopter quartet

Regular readers will know I am sometimes prone to flights of whimsy.  Daniel Thomas – friend, comrade, astute cultural commentator – went as far as to coin the neologism ‘haylerise’ (ha! I just clicked on ‘add to dictionary’ when the spellchecker underlined it!) which he defines as:

Verb: the spontaneous creation and attribution of a narrative as a response (usually involuntary) to an audio recording.

I was so touched and flattered by this amusement that I promised myself that I’d never be so vain as to mention it on this blog.  Ah.  Oops-a-daisy.

Anyway, whilst Dan’s joke does describe my reaction sometimes (indeed my response to certain artists is a kind of ‘narrative synaesthesia’), it isn’t always the case.  Occasionally something is so engaging, so entertaining, such a good fit to my taste that the only option when it is over is to immediately press play again.  Never mind making up stories – expending mental effort in that direction is wasting energy that could be better spent just enjoying what I am hearing.

When I finally escape this reverie I find myself in an evangelical mood: wow, I think, people gotta hear this!  But paradoxically these releases are often the most difficult to write about.  All I want to do is grin, maybe throw some horns during the heavy bits and make that tip-of-thumb-touching-tip-of-forefinger-whilst-nodding gesture that means ‘yeah, OK!!’ during the beautiful bits.  I want to play it to someone else and watch as their eyes open comically wide and they start grinning and nodding too.  It’s a bit visual for a wordy blog like this.  I suppose what I can do here is implore you thus: folks, if you take anything I say seriously then perhaps you should check at least one or two of these items out.  Look: I’ve got my earnest, sincere face on and everything.

First up is Searching For, the new vinyl album by Small Things on Sundays.  These guys and their label – Skrat Records – are impressively organised: this was sent to me a month before its official release date (19th January) with a helpful full page press release that I’ll be trying not to crib from too much.  Those with eagle-eyes and elephant-memories will have noticed the format is ‘vinyl’ and will remember the last time I was sent something on this heritage medium (LPs from Molotov/Fuckin’ Amateurs) I had to guess at the contents due to my turntable not working.  Well, since then it has had a stern talking to, has been threatened with the business end of a screwdriver and has grudgingly agreed to cooperate.  Thus I’ve given this platter multiple spins, even with my beloved wife in the room.

Yes, you read that right: officially sanctioned by the whole Hayler household and I reckon the baby will dig it too.  The duo of Henrik Bagner and Claus Poulsen have garnered favourable reviews here before (Small Things: here, Claus solo: here, Claus as part of Star Turbine: here) but this is probably the lightest and most accessible of their recordings that I have heard.  Is it noise?  Yes, of an ambient, airy, spacious nature.  Does this mean it is insubstantial?  Absolutely not.  It has been constructed with charm and love and the interplay of the various elements (press release sez: “The basic sounds on the LP are derived from live improvisations, using turntables, bowed guitar, toy keyboard, viola and laptops.”) is subtle and sophisticated.  Technically it is detailed, balanced and yet unselfconscious and transparent.  It can burble happily as background drift or, should the volume be tweaked upwards, immerse you in its slow-moving fluidity.  Very lovely.

Next is a tabletop mountain, the latest chewy treat freely downloadable from ap martlet, the solo project of Dave Thomas (otherwise to be found sparring with Daniel Thomas in Hagman).  This one is an entire Summer’s day spent fried on acid – getting sunburnt, eating ice cream, laughing at bees – squashed down to a delirious ten minute summary.  Or perhaps the orgiastic climax of a drunken party held by a buzzing gang of animate hairclippers, come alive Toy-Story-style after the barber has gone home for the night.

I remain amazed that Dave just sneaks these modest masterworks of electrical wrenching and tweaking onto Soundcloud.  If I ever came up with stuff as good as this then I would organise a parade with elephants in feathered headdresses.  My dream would be to find someone with the vision (and money) to release, say, four of Dave’s best 10-15 minute Soundcloud tracks as a 12″ double pack – mastered in muscular fashion on vinyl as thick as manhole-covers – then batter the world over the head with it until it topped the best-of-the-year lists in every publication from radiofreemidwich to Total Carp Magazine.  C’mon, patrons!

Finally, there is the self-titled debut by Helicopter Quartet, the duo of Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synth) and Michael Capstick (guitar, bass) augmented by their gigantic collection of effects pedals. This is available as a donations welcome/free download from that Bandcamp or a snazzy CD-r made up to look like a dinky vinyl LP (pictured above) from the band in person. It has four tracks, lasts about 33 minutes and is awesome.

I was lucky enough to be on the bill with Chrissie at the Hogwash gig where I played my final pre-fatherhood midwich set (coming soon: more about forgets who also played that night).  I was mesmerised by her command of her kit: violin and a bewildering array of effects pedals (about 20 by my reckoning).  The shifts in tone from high-modernist drone-screech to grime-caked sludge metal to wistful, ambient folk were so assured they suggested rigorous rehearsal yet so fluid as to seem entirely improvised.  Fuck, I thought, gobsmacked: follow that.

(Aside: Chrissie’s recorded solo stuff is as good.  I wholeheartedly recommend, for example, Outside which is freely downloadable from her own Bandcamp page.  It is a collection of augmented field recordings made around Leeds and is an engaging, accomplished, delight.)

Chasing things up after the show led to me downloading the Helicopter Quartet album from Bandcamp and falling in love with it in the heady, two-week, whirlwind romance that followed.  There are passages as austere and fragile as the most accomplished 90s post-rock, there are moments of abrasive heaviness deep enough to take down anything Swans are up to nowadays, but most importantly it is thick with beauty.  Not anodyne prettiness, not superficial attractiveness but beauty as awe-inspiring force of nature.

By the time Friday 25th January rolled around, the date of the next HQ gig, I was a fan.  As I excitedly waited for the bus into town the weather was inclement but not distractingly so.  By the time I got to Wharf Chambers, however, it had deteriorated to white-out blizzard.  Sadly, this occurring during the crucial deciding-whether-or-not-to-leave-the-house hours led to the gig being poorly attended.  This was disappointing, of course – I imagine money was lost – but even if the room had been packed out (as it should have been you lazy good-for-nothings!  What’s a little snow compared to ART, eh?) I think my experience of their set would have been just as latched-on and unmediated.  They were terrific.

Despite also enjoying the ethereal folk of headline act Lost Harbours, I decided to leave a few minutes early on the off chance of getting a bus.  The weather remained awful but, amazingly, they were still running.  God bless public transport.  The ride – surrounded by giddy drunk people, mostly on the wrong side of the road, at speeds of around five miles per hour – was a pleasant blur and I did something that I haven’t done in years: listened to the band I’d just been to see on my walkman as I journeyed home.  My righteous determination to attend has been rewarded handsomely.

Here’s the Bandcamp link again.  A copy of the CD-r can be borrowed from the UML.

final chance to see midwich live before semi-retirement recommences: fox and newt, leeds, 09-01-13

December 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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hogwash 3 flyer

Hey holiday revellers!  All going well with your festive season?  Good, good – glad to hear it.  Me?  Us?  Ah, not so much.  Both myself and my lovely wife are ill with variations of the bug that is ‘going around’ and the week has been less than celebratory.  Apologies to those awaiting the RFM end-of-year round-up or responses to personal emails.  I’ll be back on it as soon as is feasible.

In the meantime, here’s something to stick in the leather-bound filofax that Santa brought you for Christmas.  The blurb:

This is the line up for Hogwash 3, Ojud and Horrible Injury’s night of ambience, spoken word, electronics, noise, whatever you fancy.

This month we have Leeds no-audience noise stalwart Midwich, Chrissie Caulfield, who in her own words is “currently exploring the possibilities of octave violins that are tuned in the cello range” and epic spoken word, guitar noise from Forgets, featuring Wind-up Birds’ Kroyd.

£3 in, doors around 8:15pm, and Hogwash Djs playing all sorts between the acts.

Web stuff:

Event Facebook Page
Midwich
Chrissie Caulfield
Forgets

Cool, eh?

Hogwash is a monthly programme of interesting oddness that deserves your support and I was flattered to be asked by Noah to be part of it.  I’ll be performing a version of the critically acclaimed set (“best midwich set ever” – Phil Todd) that I played at Matt Robson’s night a couple of weeks ago.

This will also be the last midwich gig for a while – my year of ‘playing out’ is over.  Our first child is due to be born at the end of February and I intend to embark on a lengthy period of semi-retirement until I’ve earned enough husband/father points to sneak out again.  I think that is how it works…  The blog will continue, as will my recorded efforts, baby permitting.

See you all there!

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