what i mean by the term ‘no-audience underground’, 2015 remix

June 14, 2015 at 11:20 am | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 8 Comments
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Bomberg,_David_-_Sappers_at_Work_-_Canadian_Tunnelling_Company

I haven’t written anything substantial about the term ‘no-audience underground’ for a while.  When asked about it I’m still referring people to the response I wrote to Simon Reynolds which was posted in October 2012 (and sometimes this post too from July 2013).  Plenty has changed since then, not least my own mind with regard to certain details, so here I’m going to rub the notion to a shine on the crotch of my cricket whites.  Let’s see if it still bounces in a usefully wonky manner.

[Note: this article is about 4000 words long so get comfy before proceeding.]

An appeal to authority

Firstly, I’m going to lay out a brief CV.  I wouldn’t normally bother – appeals to authority are both fallacious and a wanker’s move – but hopefully this piece will be read by people new to the blog and I’d like to summarise where I’m coming from.  OK, three paragraphs of cold, hard fact:

Hello.  My name is Rob Hayler and I am the editor of radiofreemidwich.  I am 43 years old and live in Leeds, UK with my wife and two year old son.  I work a moderately responsible, poorly paid clerical job in the public sector.  My politics are a confused mixture of hard left, anarchist and libertarian sentiments that can be summed up as ‘hypocritical ageing punk’.  For what it is worth, I have a masters degree in philosophy and a dilettante’s interest in economics and various aspects of culture away from music.  Despite being ‘high-functioning’ most of the time, I suffer with ever-present depression/anxiety which is occasionally debilitating (I’m off work with it now, for example.  This article was put together in lucid moments over a three week period).

Always a music fan, I became aware of noise, sound-art, experimental and free music (etc.) in the late 1980s and became seriously involved in the late 1990s.  I spent three or four years around the turn of the century helping run Termite Club, the legendary Leeds based gig promoter.  Around the same time I co-ran the influential CD-r micro-label fencing flatworm recordings and its tape-label offshoot oTo (a time documented by Bang the Bore here and here).  I have been recording and performing electronic music, mostly under the name midwich, on and off for fifteen years, have collaborated with the likes of Paul Harrison, Neil Campbell, Lee Stokoe, Daniel Thomas and Miguel Perez, have been part of the band Truant with Phil Todd and Michael Clough, and so on.  I have had a hand in well over 100 releases on, I dunno, 20 to 30 different labels.

After what was meant to be a brief break from music due to health reasons (that stretched on for nearly five years) I returned in 2009 with this blog.  RFM now garners between 2500 and 4000 visits a month and I have a team of five comrades contributing as well as writing myself.  The number of posts approaches 500, the number of releases reviewed is comfortably in four figures and the total number of words so far published is somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000.  Sometimes people say:

You should write a book!

…and I reply:

I already have, a fucking long one too.

There are other things I could mention – the eye for detail compilation, The Barrel Nut microzine, etc. – but you get the picture.  All these numbers, all this vigorous trumpet blowing, is presented as anecdotal evidence for the claim that I have some idea what I am talking about.

underground 1

What it means

In the year 2000 I coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ as a shorthand, catch-all description for the music scene I found myself in, specifically the type of gigs I was attending and the network of micro-labels, invigorated by the availability of cheap CD-rs, that fencing flatworm recordings was part of.

The music I was hearing ranged from the most delicate bowing of singing bowls to hour-long, incense-choked psychedelic happenings to three-minute PA-busting squalls of hideous feedback.  Nothing seemed to link these disparate sounds and performance styles other than they could be loosely banded together as ‘noise’ and that very few people seemed to be interested.  Thus, at first, the term was merely descriptive in a tongue-in-cheek manner.  I hoped the implied self-deprecation would counter its smart-arsed irreverence.  It was of a piece with other slogans that I entertained myself with at the time: fencing flatworm’s tagline was ‘loss leaders of the neo-radiophonics’, for example.  Sigh.  I look back with a weird mixture of pride and embarrassment, both as profound as each other.

Anyway, over the years, especially when revisiting the notion for this blog, the term has taken on, I hope, further depth and explanatory usefulness. Here there’s no reason not to quote myself from the Simon Reynolds piece:

…first I need to say more about another important meaning of ‘no audience’.  [Simon Reynolds] is worried that that a ‘transmitter requires a receiver’ and that there are too few of the latter around.  I’d reassure him that his concern is misplaced – it doesn’t work like that down here.  There is no ‘audience’ as such, in the sense of ‘passive receivers’, because almost everyone with an interest in the scene is involved somehow in the scene.  The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed.  I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby (not a dirty word, by the way, who makes a living from experimental music nowadays?) but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves…

…or, in a nutshell:

Thus, there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene is the audience.

Catchy, eh?  I’ll spell out a couple of aspects of this in greater depth before going on to tackle some of the criticisms made and problems arising.

underground 2

Self-sufficiency, goodwill and relation to the mainstream

It goes without saying that there is next to no money available to prop up these endeavours.  Some may have principled objections to funding and sponsorship, all will agree that securing funding or sponsorship is no guarantee the final product will be any good (whilst shuddering at the memory of one Arts Council supported fiasco or another).  Most would probably dig a little help but can’t be bothered playing the game and find ways of getting it done regardless.  Thus saying the no-audience underground is self-sufficient is not to say that it is financially balanced.  If only.

There is a currency in circulation amongst us, however: goodwill.  From a piece called “our way of shaking hands”: trades and largesse in the no-audience underground I wrote in 2011:

…A certain amount of goodwill capital can be amassed but it can’t be hoarded in Scrooge McDuck-style coffers.  It needs to be fed and nurtured otherwise it will shrivel and wither.  Maintaining goodwill is more like tending a garden…

So why is goodwill so important?  Because money isn’t.  And here we need to consider the idea of trading off the standard indicators of success against others which may be more philosophically interesting.  Fame and wealth, as commonly understood, are not available to those pursuing fringe interests.  There is no screaming mob of fans to be milked dry of their pocket money with Astral Social Club 2012 calendars, there are no oligarchs wishing to be our patrons and, annoying as it may be when the rent is due, I suspect we sort of like it that way.  It means our ‘art’ and our ‘scene’, for the want of better words, can groove their own way uncompromised by non-artistic concerns…

Hence the prevalence of barter and other types of reciprocity that help keep the blood of the scene oxygenated.  This is a mechanism that nurtures self-sufficiency in the absence of money.

The term ‘self-sufficient’ can also be used to describe the drive with which many of these artists produce the work they do.  Some – most of the best – are compelled to create.  The absence of standard recognition might grate occasionally but is largely irrelevant.  These people do it because they have to or they love to or both.  That someone other than themselves might appreciate their art is great, of course – none of us are without vanity, but not necessary.  I know several people who, if shipwrecked on a desert island would be distracted from the business of survival by finding a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into…

Which brings me to the final point of this section.  If you asked our marooned friend what they thought was the relationship between their art and the mainstream I doubt they would even look up from the strange instrument they were fashioning from driftwood and seaweed.  There is a quaint, folk belief that a true underground should have some connection to the mainstream, ideally antagonistic – that underground culture should wish to change the mainstream, or at least to be a nuisance to it.  However, even allowing that such a nebulous, subjective thing as ‘mainstream’ could be usefully defined, I disagree.  There’s nowt noble about being a flea in the ear of an elephant.  Why waste time with the inevitable compromises that engaging with it, even negatively, necessitate?  I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it and that is what many practitioners in the no-audience underground do – either as a matter of policy or, largely, by just shrugging it off as irrelevant.  What the fuck does the ‘mainstream’ matter?  We’ve got things to be getting on with.

underground 3

In summary, plus last toots on the self-congratulatory trumpet

So, the term ‘no-audience underground’ denotes a sub-section of the noise and experimental music scene which is largely self-sufficient due to its members being prepared to take on the roles necessary to get things done in a fluid manner, being receptive to the exchange of goodwill in the absence of money, being driven to create for reasons other than the standard measures of success and being largely indifferent to the mainstream, however you wish to define it.  Oh, and the number of people interested is enough to sustain it, more or less, but very small.

Exciting, eh?  I’m delighted to say that this notion has caught the imagination of some who have found it useful and/or, dare I say it, inspiring.  It has wormed its way into at least one PhD thesis and one MA dissertation that I know about and has been adopted for the title (and as one of the informing principles) of an ongoing research project that I have been interviewed for.  The idea has featured in sympathetic magazine articles and blog posts several times and, as has been previously noted, was mentioned in passing by the writer Simon Reynolds in his keynote speech on DIY culture at the Incubate festival in Tilburg.  My pride at the term being used by the Washington DC Sonic Circuits festival burst into unseemly joy when a parcel from musician and Twitter comrade Phong Tran arrived containing this item of clothing:

n-au t-shirt

What greater approbation could I desire, eh?  My contribution to cultural discourse immortalised on a T-shirt.  Nowt more affirming than that.

Criticisms and problems arising

That said, it hasn’t all gone my way.  When I first presented a fully fleshed out version of this idea I was, somewhat naively, unprepared for challenges.  I thought what I was doing was merely describing something I was involved with and found interesting and was expecting, if anything, wry smiles of recognition.  Pats on the back – that kind of thing.

Apparently what I was advancing, though, was actually a theory and one that some considered not to make sense, or to contain controversial normative aspects (translation: I was being a punker-than-thou prick) or, well, you know what that internet is like…

I have to admit I took it badly, personally – especially when my mental health wasn’t great – and my reactions have varied wildly from the highfalutin’ to way aggro.  It was, as it were, a picture painted from life and I didn’t relish people standing behind me going ‘nah, mate, your perspective is off‘.  I’ve calmed down now though, so in what follows I’ll attempt to be fair and measured as I think there has been plenty for me to learn.

i. Genre labels are unnecessary

I’ve had this a couple of times.  ‘I hate labels like this’ runs the criticism, ‘you just like something or you don’t’.  I admit I have some sympathy with the view that there are only two types of music: music that rocks and music that sucks.  Defining genres is a game played by critics (myself included) to provide the comforting delusion that they are guiding musical development and thus relevant and useful.  If the point had been ‘I hate labels like ‘extraction music” I’d have had to take that on the chin (yes, that is one of mine).  However, the term ‘no-audience underground’ does not refer to a genre of music – quite explicitly.  It refers instead to the assumptions and working methods of a group of practitioners thus this criticism doesn’t apply.  It would be like saying: ‘I hate labels like ‘stamp collecting’ or ‘racquet sports’ or ‘diagnostic radiography’, you either like it or you don’t’ – a mild type of what philosophy calls a ‘category mistake’.

ii. My characterisation of the scene is defeatist, negative and insular

Because I focus on self-sufficiency, indifference to the mainstream and so on I have been accused of being negative and defeatist.  ‘Surely,’ the argument goes, ‘there could be a wider audience for this work and turning your back to it is wilfully perverse.’  Whilst I wish anyone showing evangelical zeal the best of luck, I’m afraid I can’t agree for two reasons.

Firstly, many years’ experience as a promoter, artist, writer and whatnot have shown that it isn’t true.  There are peaks and troughs, of course, and special events such as festivals do attract more punters now that at any time I can remember, but a wet Wednesday night at the Fenton, say, has attracted a remarkably consistent number of paying punters for at least 20 years.  From an article I wrote called the rewards of no rewards: musings on no-audience economics:

OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs.  10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving.  Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.

Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers.  This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive.  As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.

Secondly, I see being realistic about this situation not as defeatist or negative but as liberating.  From the same piece:

…because no one is interested in what we do.  There seem to be two possible reactions to this undeniably true conclusion: a) shake your fist at the gods and complain about the unfairness of your genius going unrecognised and unrewarded or b) take strength from its gloriously liberating implications.  I say go with the latter.

…if you are driven to create by an urge independent of possible rewards then you can do whatever you want purely for the love of it and only subject to the constraints that we have to accommodate in every other aspect of our lives (money, family, employment etc.).  This simple, eye-opening fact is truly heartening and this blog is testament to the many terrifically talented artists who are grasping this opportunity and wringing as much joy as they can out of it, sometimes in difficult circumstances.

The charge of insularity comes from those who worry that what I am describing looks like a clique or club, forbidding to the newbie.  I can understand that concern and attending a gig with a single figure audience comprised of people who all seem to know each other can be uncomfortable.  However, again, experience shows that the crowd, whilst undeniably odd, are a friendly and welcoming bunch.  People have their own way of doing things but offers of help are met with gratitude.  In fact, I have a little theory about why there are so few arseholes knocking around.  From ‘our way of shaking hands…’:

My guess is that there isn’t that much in the scene that an arsehole would be attracted to, or get off on.  There is no fame to abuse, no hierarchy to enforce, no money to waste, no club full of beautiful young things to enthral with shallow glamour.  Not much room for an arsehole to really flex its sphincter.  Now, it would be wrong to say the scene is without vanity but prestige and respect are earned from a down-to-earth crowd of hard-working and dedicated artists and punters and any attempt to assign it prematurely, or hype it up to unwarranted levels, will be met with a scoff … In short: our standards of success are unfathomable to the average fuck-knuckle and instead attract the fine, upstanding citizens who see the value in sharing their book-smarts and fancy-pants ideas with other fine, upstanding citizens.

*Sniff* I’m welling up…

iii. Who wants to go to a show where the audience are all musicians?

Ermm… yeah, this is a weird one.  Last December RFM started getting hits from the Italian language version of Vice’s music off-shoot Noisey.  Investigation revealed a link in an interview with David Keenan about his piece on the death of the underground published in the Christmas edition of The Wire magazine.  Noisey ask Keenan about the ‘no-audience underground’ and he replies something like:

…But that definition – No Audience Underground – note basically it means that the public going to the concerts is composed of people who are themselves involved in musical projects. And this is shit, let me say. If you want to go to a rock concert, I not necessarily have to be a musician, too, in the same way if I go to a movie, do not necessarily have to be a screenwriter. This is just another of the current issues of the underground: go to the concerts, and the public are all musicians … Fuck! When I go to a concert I want to turn off the neurons, listen and let me take the music, I’m not there to “study” because I am a worker of the sector.

(I say ‘something like’ because my Italian is fairly hopeless so I am relying on translation by web browser…)

First things first: props to Noisey for knowing about the notion and thinking to ask – very thorough – and to David Keenan who is a writer I have always found very inspiring even when I disagree with what he says.  However: this is bonkers.  Look back at my definition and you’ll see I am careful not to say ‘all’ but to qualify it with ‘almost’.  I also include ‘paying punter’ as one of the roles.  It is perfectly possible to be involved and/or show your support just by paying in and digging the show.  It is also, of course, possible to turn off your mind even if you are a musician.  Part of what I enjoy about drone, for example, is its capacity to dissolve ego and that I ‘know how it’s done’ doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it on the most visceral level.  I can lose myself even when performing.  Isn’t that the point?  Also, wanting to study doesn’t mean the experience can’t be freeing and joyful.  I remember Termite Club putting on Sunny Murray and half the drummers in Leeds literally sitting at his feet at the front – many were treating it as a lesson from an old master, all were ecstatic.  I’m afraid Keenan’s characterisation of my position is just wrong, as are the conclusions he draws – he doesn’t even knock over his own straw man.  I’m hoping that there was some sense in the original that has been lost in the translation.

iv. My definition is tautologous and thus has no content

…in other words: all I’m saying is that the people who make up the scene are the people who make up the scene and that isn’t very helpful is it?  The ol’ philosophy graduate in me was momentarily troubled by this one as it has the look-and-feel of a ‘proper’ objection from a dissertation supervisor.  However, I think there is enough information contained in the extended definition – implications about attitudes, working practices and the like – such that I can be confident I am saying something.  Whether it is of use to you is a different question of course.  A more philosophically interesting criticism is…

v. My definition could be applied to other endeavours and only relates specifically to this noise scene because I specify that it does

This is my favourite objection, in fact I consider it less an objection than an invitation for further anthropological study.  The idea is that the definition of ‘no-audience underground’ contains nothing that intrinsically links it to the noise scene I am using it to describe apart from my say so.  It could just as well be used to describe groups engaged in other endeavours with a similar spirit.

My response to this is to wave my hand dismissively, say ‘yes, yes, whatevs’ and demand to be shown these other no-audience undergrounds.  What an exciting idea.  Sure, I can see broadly comparable groups in, say, mail art, fanzine culture and other musical sub genres I come into contact with but what of, say, trainspotting?  Is there a group of self-supporting trainspotters, driven by a dedication to their hobby, indifferent to the false dichotomy of mainstream versus alternative trainspotting, just grooving their own way?  Wouldn’t it be intriguing if there was?  Well, it would be to me anyway.  I’m happy to concede this one and just ask that in return you send me a link to your research.

underground 4

The well-connected outsider

OK, so what now?  I suppose the biggest developments unaccounted for above are Bandcamp and social media.

There has been some grumbling that there is no true underground any more because everyone is busy with the social media circle jerk – being friendly, connecting with each other around the world, sharing things unmediated by the former gatekeepers and so on, but I think this is a red herring.  I consider myself to be fairly well connected with an email address, this blog and a Twitter account followed by around 300 people.  Given that Twitter has half-a-billion users this fraction is statistically indistinguishable from zero.  Seriously, with my social media presence if I really did want to antagonise the mainstream I’d annoy more people by coughing at a Laura Marling gig.  And yet here I am: punk as all fuck.  So, yes, it is possible to use social media without tarnishing your underground credentials.

Bandcamp is more interesting.  In the ‘documents of a golden age…‘ post I poke the notion of punk as ‘year zero’ with a stick then go on to say:

In contrast, the freedoms offered by the internet are greater by orders of magnitude.  Via services like Bandcamp any sound at all can be made available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection, at no unit cost to either the artist or the listener, within minutes of it being completed.  Punk couldn’t compete with that: it’s as transparently democratic, anarchic even, as it is possible to be in a ‘music-related’ context.  Sure, engage with traditional elements if you like (running a label, for example, is a fun thing to do and still one of the best ways of organising a cluster of artists who share similar objectives) but you don’t have to.  The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern.

Emphasis added.  The consequences of that freedom are still being worked through now, two years after I wrote that, in a scene that has never been healthier (couple of examples here – not without precedent, I admit, but you get what I’m getting at).

Exciting times, eh?

In conclusion

Y’know, I was going to end with a stirring, poetical, rhetorical flourish but the more I think about it the more humbled I feel to be part of the scene I have been describing and the more simple I’d like to keep it.

So: should the term I have been defining and defending be of use to you then feel free to make use of it.  More important is to acknowledge the amazing work that I am attempting to crowbar into this pigeon-hole and the amazing people creating it.  What a fucking great crowd this no-audience is.

—ooOoo—

liberation through a lack of interest: jorge boehringer on the no-audience underground

December 8, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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Jorge Boehringer, best known ’round these parts for his guise Core of the Coalman, is an indefatigable, shaggy haired polymath knee deep in all that is musically intriguing. When he got in touch recently to ask about writing an article on the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ it was with great regret that I couldn’t find the time for an email interview. In contrast, I was knee deep in Duplo and nappies full of brightly coloured toddler crap. That wasn’t going to put him off though and, using a few links I desperately chucked his way and adding some original research of his own, he wrote it anyway. Good man. The finished piece appeared in Czech magazine HIS VOICE. Jorge explains:

…it is sort of like The Wire, it’s called VOICE – “his” Voice, which is a stupid name in English but it’s because h.i.s. stands for “hudebni informace spolecnosti” which means “musical information society” which is in fact a really important and great group of people for experimental music over there, a magazine of “other” music is what they call it…

Cool, eh? Ermm… probably. Alas, and to my shame, I can’t read a word of Czech so I had to sheepishly ask for a translation. Jorge obliged and I was flattered and excited to find that not only had he nailed it, but had called on some surprising sources new to me too. A flurry of interest on Twitter led to me asking permission to reprint it here and Jorge obliged again. What a gent. Following the article are the links that Jorge provided at the end of the original, following those are links to the magazine and Jorge’s own site. Please investigate – there is apparently plenty going on in the Czech underground that we should get to know…

Over to Jorge:

Liberation Through a Lack of Interest: The No-Audience Underground

there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene IS the audience

– Rob Hayler, Radio Free Midwich

Rob Hayler is an electronic musician and sound artist working under the name Midwich. Hayler is one-half of Fencing Flatworm Recordings – a micro-label releasing a plethora of musical abstractions by various colourfully named personages – and editor of the blog Radio Free Midwich, which, among other things charts the development of a Northern England DIY experimental music scene that nobody cares about, and one that doesn’t care about anyone else either. In other words, Hayler is a very active example of the type of musician responsible for the local continuity of DIY and experimental music in his region, and by extension the sort of person one finds in the substrate of underground music scenes everywhere. What is different about Hayler, and according to him, many of the musicians whose work he is most involved with, is that they do not care whether I write this or not. They don’t care if you listen either.

When I first coined the phrase at the turn of the century it was because I needed a succinct way of referring to a scene that contained wildly diverse creative endeavours: from blood-and- spittle power-noise to the daintiest bowed singing bowl.

– Rob Hayler

Hayler coined the term ‘No-Audience Underground’ several years ago to describe a scene in which there were no passive listeners, but rather an energetic community of active contributors. It is no secret that the audience for many experimental music gigs consists of other musicians firstly, followed by a layer of artists from other disciplines, and then finally, perhaps a few “standard audience” members, by which I mean people coming to the concert simply to listen, with no personal artistic relationship to what is happening onstage. A friend of the bass player on holiday from Zlin, perhaps a colleague tagging along to the gig after a long shift at the ice cream factory, or someone’s mom account for this small percentage of listeners. Meanwhile the rest of the audience consists of people who might normally be found on a “guest list” for a mainstream band at a larger venue: the friends performing in or promoting next week’s concert, publishing the recordings, or writing criticism. As audience members are seen as active participants, the entire social role of the audience and the function of the music produced there is redefined:

The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed.

I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby … but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves.

Video of Posset Live, Northumbria Arms, 2010

It is also interesting to note that whilst the idea of N-AU (an abbreviation for No-Audience Underground credited to Joe Posset, an extremely active Northern English noisist) could, in many obvious ways, counter views expressed by Milton Babbitt in his much sited essay “Who Cares if You Listen?” (High Fidelity, February, 1958) there are some important points of contact as well. For example, Babbitt expressed a problem in his essay’s exposition:

This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy- and, usually, considerable money- on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a “vanity” composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow ‘professionals’. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

The solution to this problem, at least in part, has been to embrace electronic music. A practice in which the performer, composer, and audience could be the same person, in which the process of the creation of the work lay solely with the creator of it, and one for which the aesthetic criteria for the sonic artwork would be determined by the decisions and aspirations of the creative musician alone. These are approaches so common today as to be completely taken for granted as normal in the production of music as an independent artist, even though in context Babbitt worked in very much an ivory-tower studio while today’s experimental musicians materialize their noisy visions in their basements with charity shop cassette recorders and hacked guitar effect pedals.

In a society where artistic merit, or value in general, is conflated with perceived financial worth, it is interesting to note some commonalities in the approach to economic thinking expressed above by Babbitt, a largely “academic” composer working in the 1950’s and the heirs to an ostensibly post-punk/noise scene. For example, to again quote Joe Posset:

The trade thing is a bit ‘our way of shaking hands’. It’s also a great way to keep the filthy lucre out of the equation. I sold one CD-R on that last tour. Just one; and if I ever find out who bought it I’ll give them the next posset slop report just for showing so much faith. But I came back with a stack of CD-Rs, tapes and vinyl the height of medium sized milk jug through trades with other bands, DIY labels and well-prepared punters. They will keep me spinning & smiling until December….Sociologically ‘alternative economy’ is one of the many interesting things about the n-au.

Another perhaps surprising parallel can be seen in Richard Serra’s characterization of the relationships between sculpture, architecture, and late 20th Century Western Culture:

…the ‘viewer’ is fiction. Basically this is my response to sculpture. I know there is absolutely no audience for sculpture, as there is none for poetry and experimental film. There is, however, a big audience for products that give people what they want and supposedly need but not more than they understand. Marketing is based on this premise.

In terms of architecture right now, a lot of people have a need to build and a lot of clients are concerned with what is considered ‘relevant’. This creates a situation in which both client and architect receive criticism and advice on how to serve. Since there is no audience for sculpture or poetry, no one demands that they resist manipulation from the outside. On the contrary, the more one betrays one’s language to commercial interests, the greater the possibility that those in authority will reward one’s efforts. Architects have justifying phrases for this behavior. They call it ‘being appropriate’ or ‘compromising’. When Robert Venturi’s pylons for Federal Triangle in Washington, D.C., were criticized for not being symbolic enough, he returned the next day with the American flag atop each pylon. This is the kind of self-justifying pragmatic compromise I am talking about.

– Richard Serra, in conversation with Peter Eisenman, 1983

So then, the No Audience approach, as characterized by such diverse artists as Hayler, Babbit, and even Richard Serra, can also be seen as an approach of No-Compromise to market pressures, as compromises have been rendered entirely unnecessary, whether in regards to the pursuit of money or fame, the two indicators of value used to characterize mainstream artistic production. Thus, when the celebrated music critic Simon Reynolds characterized Hayler’s approach as “melancholic” at a conference on DIY art and media in 2012 at Tillburg’s Incubate Festival, and suggested that the No Audience approach symbolized a general tendency within DIY culture which threatens to bring about its own “inconsequentiality” by eschewing a dependency on an audience, Hayler responds:

Video of Simon Reynolds on DIY culture

The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern. You don’t have to sound punk either, or cop a snarling attitude. Simon Reynolds, betraying an old-fashioned punknosity, suggests the underground should define itself in opposition to the mainstream. Quaint, eh? In turn I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it. The machine loves to be raged against – what it can’t bear is to be shrugged off as irrelevant. Which, of course, it is.

Thus, we engage and commit ourselves to the level of our own concern, and determine our own degrees of engagement and interest in our artistic pursuits, which, after all, is what a whole lot of both post-Romantic and DIY post-punk rhetoric suggests that participation in music and art are all about. The No-Audience Underground further suggests a framework for engagement with society as a whole, and a liberating way of being in the world, in which each individual constructively opts-out, and while developed locally, it is interesting to consider that such an approach could have radical and global relevance.

—ooOoo—

Links included with original article:

Rob Hayler

Radio Free Midwich

Joe Posset

Kieron Piercy/Spoils and Relics

Cops and Robbers: DIY Gigs in Leeds

Eddie Nuttall/Aqua Dentata

Milton Babbit “Who Cares if You Listen” High Fidelity, 1958

Daniel Thomas/Sheepscar Light Industrial

Ashtray Navigations

Andy Robinson/Striate Cortex

Sara McWatt

Simon Reynolds on the No Audience Underground and DIY Culture, Incubate Festival, Tillbur, 2012

Some Radio Free Midwich articles of note:

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2012/10/07/simon-reynolds-diy-culture-and-the-no-audience-underground/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/documents-of-the-golden-age-new-from-ashtray-navigations-aqua-dentata-and-helicopter-quartet/

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/our-way-of-shaking-hands-trades-and-largesse-in-the-no-audience-underground/

—ooOoo—

Further links:

Jorge Boehringer / Core of the Coalman

The original article in Czech

HIS VOICE magazine

 

 

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!

artifacts of the no-audience underground: new from sheepscar light industrial

December 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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BBBlood – N 51°33′ 0” / W 0°7′ 0” (3″ CD-r, edition of 50 and download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.010)

Core of the Coalman – 12 Lines (3″ CD-r, edition of 50 and download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.011)

Ap Martlet – Pyrite (3″ CD-r, edition of 50 and download, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.012)

bbblood - n 51 33 0 w 0 7 0core of the coalman - 12 linesap martlet - pyrite

Right then, regular readers will be familiar with Leeds-based label-du-jour Sheepscar Light Industrial and its charming head honcho Daniel Thomas.  Launched mere months ago, its collector-attracting homogeneous packaging has led to fistfights in the overnight queue that forms outside SLIHQ whenever new releases are announced.  Its ruthless quality control has guaranteed plaudits from all the commentators that matter.  Irregular readers can start here and then catch up by clicking one of the SLI links to be found inches from this current sentence.

Although Paul Watson, him of BBBlood, has been rightly praised for the physicality of his noise music, less is said about the artfulness of its construction.  Perhaps the obliterating racket obscures this skill.  Not so with this typographically challenging release, however.   N 51°33′ 0” / W 0°7′ 0″ finds him in a less combative, more contemplative mood than you may have heard before.  It contains passages of dense, high-volume cacophony, of course, but this isn’t simply HNW.  For the most part it doesn’t feel that H at all.

In allowing some room Paul foregrounds the interesting conflicts that occur when you push the concepts of noise and music together, like the invisible struggle between matching poles of two magnets.  His source material is clearly as ‘authentic’ as it gets – recordings of noise-generating activity and the good ol’ fashioned fucking up of innocent objects – but the breathing space allows you to hear the ‘artificial’ loops, reverb and other elements from which it is built.  You can hear the working out and it is fascinating.  Unlike lesser noise (which, given the quality of this release, is a very large set indeed) this fair demands repeat listens and rewards them by opening up a little more with each.

12 Lines by Core of the Coalman is twenty minutes of deliciously spiced drone. It’s as earthily satisfying as a well seasoned lentil dhal, as cleansing as chopped coriander and contains enough texture and flavour to distract even the fussiest, most skittish diner. Food metaphor not working for you? OK, let’s get practical and see how a track like this can be used…

Last Wednesday morning I found myself at my place of work, the University of Leeds, a full hour before I needed to be.  It doesn’t matter why.  On a whim, I took a lift to the top floor of the Parkinson Building (the imposing Art Deco pile that acts as gateway to campus), found a window with a radiator underneath it, leaned on the sill and looked out over the frosted rooftops of my city.  The rising sun coloured the freezing fog: smoggy ochre at street level, raspberry milkshake above.  All the while this track was playing on my mp3 player and was a perfect soundtrack to the scene.  Glorious.

Finally we have Pyrite by Ap Martlet, a solo project from Dave Thomas also known round here as half of Hagman.  It is an eerie 20 minutes of ominous fuzz.  Like the BBBlood disc it is full of space but this space feels somehow denied.  Like the hum of an electric fence surrounding an enormous and newly created hole in the ground, impossibly deep, something glowing at the bottom, guarded by armed men in hazmat suits.  Or the wind whipping through razor wire on the perimeter of a long abandoned military base.

This is of a piece with The Black in the Wood, apparently inspired by ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ by H.P. Lovecraft and freely downloadable from the Ap Martlet SoundCloud page.  It sounds exactly like waking to find your brain has been removed and placed in a metal cylinder for the journey to Yuggoth and for that reason comes highly recommended.  You should get ’em both.

For purchases of physical objects and/or downloads visit the SLI Bandcamp page.  Should releases be sold out at source it is always worth asking the artist – Dan is almost nonsensically generous with freebies to his roster.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: crimson rainbow facility

December 6, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Crimson Rainbow Facility – Unknown Strains (3″ CD-r in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.55, edition of 50)

crimson rainbow facilty frontcrimson rainbow facilty cdrcrimson rainbow facilty inserts

Back in the dark days of 2010 when Striate Cortex was a mere mewling babe-in-arms, label-founder Andy Robinson was introduced to the work of Tim Mitchell. When Tim’s CD-r, titled Ch [u47] and recorded under the name Crimson Rainbow Facility, arrived at SCHQ the hand-made packaging and tiny edition (12 copies) alerted Andy to the presence of a kindred spirit. Sure enough the music caught his ear and demanded repeat listens. Shaking himself free of his reverie he fired up Myspace (amazing to think that it was only last year that Bandcamp became truly all-conquering and Myspace was reduced to ‘decaying Victorian graveyard’ status) but Tim had already moved on and left no forwarding address. So that was that for a while.

However, in recent weeks a mutual acquaintance – James Moore of Sapir Whorf – dropped Tim’s name and Andy leapt at the chance to be reintroduced. This belated pairing of Tim’s eerie post-industrial aesthetic with Andy’s unrivalled attention to detail spawned the excellent Impurities by Thossian Process, Tim’s current musical moniker. A package well received ’round these parts.

For the final Striate Cortex release of 2012 Andy has chosen to tie up the loose end that Tim’s disappearance in 2010 left hanging. How satisfying. Unknown Strains is composed of five fragments, totalling 19 and a half minutes, taken from the same sessions that produced the long-gone Ch [u47].

The packaging is a multi-layered treat.  From the inside out: a printed 3″ CD-r in red paper windowed wallet is accompanied by three professionally printed card inserts.  One has the release details on the reverse and a photo of a buttoned down 1950s scientist type on the front – presumably Andy’s reading of Tim’s persona for these experiments – the others have unnervingly unspecific photos of (possibly) bugs, infections, soft tissue and the like.  These objects are tucked into a purple plastic slip which in turn slides into a case of handmade paper. Another clear plastic slip printed with a pattern likely to be microbes or cells or spores or spawn or something equally worrying is the final ornament and the lot is contained within a hygienic plastic wallet.

The music is compelling, eerie, spacious.  Machines emit electronic throbs and skitter.  Bubbles of sound rise and burst releasing snatches of barely audible dialogue from public information films or maybe a videoed record of laboratory life.  It feels like walking around a ruined industrial complex on a frosty morning, taking off your glove to feel the side of a giant centrifuge and, inexplicably, finding it warm to the touch, still humming.  The album and track titles suggest a science fiction tale of escaped contagion, a story compiled from the remaining fragments of the official record but told with the nihilistic, noirish efficiency of Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers.  Hypnotic, immersive, icily calm.

Buy here.

…and let me take the opportunity to congratulate Andy of Striate Cortex on another champion year of terrific releases.  His label is a model of what can be achieved with love, enthusiasm, faith in your own taste, attention to detail and stringent quality control.  All accomplished whilst having pretty much bugger all resources too – he is no trust-fund dilettante: this is all done with graft .  I know that Andy, admirably modest, will not allow artists to thank him on the packaging of his releases so I’m doing it for them here: cheers, man, Happy Christmas and here’s to 2013…

artifacts of the no-audience underground: thossian process and joined by wire

November 13, 2012 at 7:01 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Thossian Process – Impurities (CD-r in handmade packaging, Striate Cortex, S.C.54, edition of 60)

joinedbywire – lost weekends (CD-r, self-released, edition of 17)

Patience is a virtue, eh readers?  Without it how could I ever come to appreciate the oblique, the abrasive or a not-immediately-welcome change of direction?  It took me a while to get with these releases (one even had to be snuck into Midwich Mansions ignoring my polite but firm indifference) but the rewards have far outweighed the effort.  When life outside music proves difficult and I eye the teetering review pile with, shall we say, ‘mixed feelings’ these CD-rs remind me that remaining open-minded is a virtue too.

Impurities by Thossian Process – a chap called Tim Mitchell – is new on Striate Cortex.  Reason for celebratory fireworks usually but in his plugging email to the Striate faithful Andy described it as follows:

Impurities has a more industrial feel to it, very dark and edgy and for me has massive reflections of early TG

Oh, I thought, maybe I’ll give it a miss.  Heresy, I know, but I don’t really like much of that first wave industrial nowadays.  The claustrophobic seediness of Throbbing Gristle just makes me feel sad.  Thus I maintained a dignified silence.  Andy contacted me again, I explained my misgivings and suggested hardier blogs that might be more receptive …and a few days later a copy turned up in the post anyway.  The cheeky bugger had guessed correctly that once it was in the house I’d feel compelled to give it a chance.  Well, I’m glad I did.

The packaging is first class.  Inside a robust plastic wallet there is a length of black gauze.  This veils a fold out cardboard case painted in ‘oriental’ colours of red, gold and black.  Inside is a title card, a booklet of creepy black and white photography and a colour printed CD-r in its own black window envelope.  The attention to detail is… well, you can only shake your head in amazement.

The music unfolds to reveal a similar seriousness of intent.  I see where Andy is coming from with his description.  With so much noise these days being so, er…, noisy it is easy to forget how empty and eerie some of that early industrial stuff could be.  Thossian Process captures that vibe perfectly with rhythmic ticks, pulses and pitter-patter in lieu of anything too drum-like and a carefully chosen palette of electronics used sparingly and with purpose.  A couple of tracks even have that vaguely ethnographic Middle Eastern/North African influence that bands like Cabaret Voltaire tapped into.

Part of what makes the album so compelling is the space within the music.  I don’t mean it is ‘dubby’ – this is not a stoner-friendly warm bath – rather it is ‘spacious’ like a harshly lit, unfurnished room, or a view across a frozen lake, or the inside of your head when you wake sweating in the pitch black at 3.30am.

The seven tracks that make up this release total a fat-free 28 minutes.  This efficiency shows a respect both for the material and for the listener and ensures that the quick-witted inventiveness throughout is left undiluted and espresso strong.  Its discipline is admirable.  Given its very high tolerance to repeat listening, and the art-object level of the packaging, this release is incredible value for money.

Buy here.

The issue that delayed my appreciation of Lost Weekends, the latest CD-r by Joined  By Wire was a bit different.  I’m a big fan of the work of Stephen Woolley (and associates) and was delighted to be offered one of this super-limited edition.  Imagine the shiver of anticipation as I slid it into the CD player, pumped the volume and… was bludgeoned.  Oof.

Now, JBW is a noisy project and doesn’t mind loosening teeth/bowels if necessary but this is something else.  Stephen’s turn to brute electronics is closely akin to that taken by Neil Campbell with his recent Astral Social Club stuff.  However, being the dimwit that I am, my first thought wasn’t ‘oh yeah, Neil did something like this and I eventually understood it and learned to love it.’ It was: ‘oh shit, how am I going to break it to Stephen that I don’t like his record?’  Luckily, good ol’ fashioned English fear of an embarrassing situation kept me from pressing ‘send’ for a few days and in that time I realised that I was wrong.  Once I’d got used to the chilli heat I could taste the nicely balanced blend of spices underneath.  It turns out that, after your eyes stop watering, the new JBW disc is delicious.

It’s another cracking package.  A brown card gatefold sleeve, screen printed with a cartoon forest on the front, opens to reveal a CD-r, itself printed red and decorated with a wood grain pattern, and an eight page card booklet.  The booklet contains no information about the release just more of Stephen’s lovely graphic work.  The CD-r contains seven untitled tracks and runs to approximately 44 minutes.

The first three tracks are full of joy and energy but are unrepentantly brain-scouring.  It is like an audio time-lapse account of geological processes: formless masses are melted, boiled, set hard, torn into reflective shards, melted again.  Exhilarating stuff but you’ll need to fiddle with the volume to minimise ear-bleed.  Track 4 is relatively mild so affords us a deep breath and a brief, refreshing interlude to wiggle our toes in the grass before cracking on.  Track 5 is exactly one minute of sanity-baiting anarcho-squiggle so breathtakingly looney that if it continued any longer it may well cause irreversible brain-tilt.  Luckily it cuts when it does and we are back with the longer form, shimmering, rolling, scarifying tectonics until the end.  Blimey.

Now, in my reviews I generally try and avoid the internet cop-out of ‘if you like that, you’ll like this’ but fans of recent Astral Social Club material that don’t already know Joined By Wire should really check this out.  I’m sure neither Neil nor Stephen would grumble at the comparison as they are clearly both attacking the void with similar weaponry.  This particular edition runs to a mere 17 copies but fear not as Stephen has previous for bootlegging his own stuff.  I’m sure some arrangement could be made should it have ‘sold out’.

Buy via the JBW Big Cartel shop or drop Stephen a line at joinedbywire@hotmail.com.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: the rest of aqua dentata

October 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Aqua Dentata – Seventh Past The Umbrella (C35 cassette, Beartown Records, BTR029)

Aqua Dentata – Lesbian Semiotics at a Jewellery Table (CD-r, Echo Tango, etc01)

Well, hasn’t this lad made a good impression?  Since Eddie Nuttall came to my attention via a charming email and the gift of his remarkable album March Hare Kraken Mare I’ve seen write-ups in other journals of record, including RFM’s sister publication Idwal Fisher, I’ve marvelled at the marvellous A Staircase Missing on Sheepscar Light Industrial, and even had the pleasure of his company over dinner when he and Paul ‘BBBlood’ Watson trekked up from that London to administer two of the sharpest live sets I’ve seen this year.  Eddie’s performance was a masterclass in control; a lesson in fire-walking for those more delicate artists who struggle with the hubbub of a traditional gig venue.  Hypnotize the audience with something as good as this and they simply have no choice but to shut the fuck up.

Aqua Dentata’s body of recorded work is still small enough to cradle whilst cooing at its perfection.  Each release is ‘of a piece’ with the others as Eddie works through the implications and nuances of a disciplined, minimal aesthetic.  Anyone who has read my many worshipful posts regarding Culver will sense me nodding in approval at this approach.  Complaints that ‘it all sounds the same’ are for the barbarous and uncouth.  Four releases are listed on the Aqua Dentata website: the two aforementioned and the two I am about to discuss.

The recording of Seventh Past the Umbrella is dated to 2001 which makes it a fascinating developmental step towards Eddie’s current activity.  Why the decade long break in between this recording and the recent releases?  I’m intrigued.  Anyway, the aesthetic ‘vibe’ is already in place but, as you might expect from a first attempt, the sound is rawer, less cut.

What you get are two side long fuzz/drone pieces multi-layered from tooth-loosening top-end to slack-flapping rumble.  These elements slide over each other with the firm grace of a Turkish masseuse kneading a sumo wrestler’s back.  This is fleshy, satisfying fare: quivering in its own jelly, glistening with delicious juices.  Or if the metaphors are getting too meaty for you (and I am being deliberately naughty here ‘cos I know Eddie is vegan) how about this?  It is the sound of the thoughts of a super-organism, expressed by the beating wings and chittering mandibles of the millions of pseudo-individuals that make up the colony.

Lesbian Semiotics at a Jewellery Table (some kind of gender politics set-to at a craft fair?  I daren’t even ask), recorded last year and released on Eddie’s own Echo Tango imprint, is fashioned from the same material as March Hare Kraken Mare and A Staircase Missing.  That is: another recording documenting the sounds emanating from the central chamber of some occult power station.  In this vast room energy is produced by giant metal discs sliding over each other lubricated solely by their own sheen, or occasionally with a dab of fragrant, grainy, wax-like grease.  It is multistable: both calming and unnerving at the same time.  Quietly magnificent.

Remarkably, at the time of writing it appears that all four items in the Aqua Dentata catalogue are still available for sale – though budding completists should note: not in great quantities.  You’ll need to scamper over to the releases page of the Aqua Dentata website where you can buy Lesbian Semiotics… direct from Eddie and follow the links there to Beartown Records and Sheepscar Light Industrial for the rest.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: molotov label review

October 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Xazzaz – s/t (CD-r, Molotov 04)

Funeral Dance Party / Xazzaz – MMXI (Vinyl album, Molotov 08/Fuckin’ Amateurs #62)

F.D.P. R.I.P – Under Stone and Trees (Vinyl album, Molotov 09/Fuckin’ Amateurs #68)

I, Torquemada – Asesinato Total (CD-r, Molotov 10)

Oppenheimer – s/t (CD-r, Molotov 12)

Xazzaz – Black Hearts and Brittle Bones (CD-r, Molotov 13)

Blimey, it’s like the ‘hampster dance’ or something.  For a couple of days my response to Mr. Reynold’s talk garnered three times the usual average hits for this blog.  Crowds are flocking to read my spirited defence of this odd little world (although I’m amused to see it isn’t all one way – almost no-one was watching the video prior to me mentioning it, now hits on it at Vimeo are bubbling along healthily).  I’ve had so many referrals from that facebook that I momentarily thought about creating an account there.  Luckily sense overcame vanity and I left it well alone.  May I ask a favour?  If anyone out there has made or read interesting comments then could you please email them to me, or comment on this blog, because otherwise I’m unlikely to see them.  Cheers.

So, how to consolidate this new readership?  Point them at something joyous and relatively accessible in order not to scare them off?  How about a round-up of releases by a relatively ‘big name’ in order to ease the alienation?  Nope: neither.  Next up on the review pile is a whole mess of impenetrably hard, semi-anonymous noise, covered in skulls and on a more-or-less secret label hidden up in the wilds of the North East.  Perfect!  It’s the no-audience way…

Cherry Vampire by Culver is a mighty release and I said as much in my last worship-piece about the work of Lee Stokoe.  However, when I came to exhort you to ‘buy here’ there was no ‘here’ to be found.  No contact details on the CD-r or packaging, a partial Discogs listing for the label – Molotov – that was no more informative.  In the end the ever-accommodating Scott McKeating of Bells Hill, omniscient in the North East noise scene, pointed me at a guy called Mike and a gently probing email was sent in his direction.

Yes, he admitted, he was running Molotov but had been keeping it strictly on the QT whilst it was mainly recordings by him or close associates.  Amazingly, he’d built a notable back-catalogue of nicely packaged releases whilst very few outside his circle even knew it existed.  Should you wish to examine truly hardcore no-audience underground behaviour in its natural habitat then the North East is hard to beat.  Here is where a label such as Fuckin’ Amateurs can push out scores of releases, sometimes without even the featured band’s permission, and then just give them away at the shows they so cheekily bootleg.  Even if the music, which is varied but tends towards a heavy guitarish/psych/metal inspired noise, isn’t your bag you can still find the attitude and self-sufficiency of the scene inspirational.

My nudge was well timed as it neatly coincided with Mike adding some information about Molotov to the website dedicated to his solo project Xazzaz – thus giving me something to point you at.  He was also kind enough to send a generous parcel of his warez too – thus giving me a reason to point you at it.

Firstly, Mike has co-released two albums on the heritage medium of 12” vinyl with the aforementioned Fuckin’ Amateurs.  One is a split called MMXI featuring live sets from Xazzaz and scene legends Funeral Dance Party.  I imagine this will contain recordings of varying quality, maybe spitting with energy, top and tailed with excitable Geordie chatter.  The other is, I think, a compilation of punk/noise hybrids called F.D.P. R.I.P. Under Stone and Trees.  I say ‘I imagine’ and ‘I think’ because I haven’t been able to listen to either.  My turntable is protesting by making a nasty grinding noise whenever switched on (all by itself – no need for HNW) so apologies to Mike and note to potential submitters: no vinyl until further notice, please.  I’ll take it to bits at the weekend.

I can’t, however, pass these records by without commenting on the excellent sleeve decoration.  MMXI is wrapped in a gloriously psychotic white-on-black screen print of three creatures from a Lovecraftian bestiary, doodled by a mad artist during the psychic storm caused by the raising of R’leyh.  That the spear point at the end of the goat/devil’s tail is a guitar headstock and that one of the Cthulhoid creature’s tentacles ends in a jack plug is well ROCK too.

Now some CD-rs – we’ll start with the toughest.  Asesinato Total by I, Torquemada is as unforgiving as the title, cover and band name suggest.  I imagine this stuff is fun to make and, at one third the length would make for an exhilarating live set, but an hour long CD-r is too much for me.  Not that nothing happens – it does.  Not that it isn’t good – it is.  Passages in the final third are terrific but by then my attention had been sandblasted to a nub.  This may be savoured by those with a taste for such things but I usually order from a different part of the menu.

The self-titled Oppenheimer is almost as brutal.  The components of metal are crushed and smeared until all that remains are distorted guitar and clattering, pummelling percussion.  ‘Tests’, the first of two lengthy tracks, is relentless: a gang of droogs mug some defenceless krautrock motorik, wrestle it to the ground and give it a 29 minute kicking. ‘Consequences’ starts with a little swing to it (who woulda thought the Manhattan Project would be so… groovy) before settling down to more ego-mashing, eventually finishing with a swirling mechanical loop and, unnervingly, a child’s giggle.

Best of the lot though is Mike’s own solo work as Xazzaz.  This is also noise coming from a metal direction but is all the better for making some concessions to the listener: shorter tracks and much more movement in tone and texture.  You may even hear the odd riff or bassline, albeit one with a foot on its neck.  Track six of the self titled Xazzaz is the one I keep coming back to.  It is made up of a guttering bottom heavy wail, like a slowed-down, pitched-down recording of an orgasming dalek, a riff that breaks the waves like the back plates of a monstrous sea creature and bursts of whistling thrown into the air like snorts of mucus from a blowhole.

Black hearts and brittle bones crams the lot into an efficient thirteen minutes.  A mournful opening, an organ drone for the shipwrecked, gives way to a sludgy guitar attempting to squall, like a giant carnivore trying to free itself from a tar pit.  It ends with a haunting player piano tinkling away to itself deep under the rubble of a saloon destroyed by an earthquake.  I dig it.

Ordering details can be found on the Molotov page of Xazzaz.com.

simon reynolds, diy culture and the no-audience underground

October 7, 2012 at 9:45 am | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 20 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Click on the screengrabbed photo above to be taken to a video of the author, journalist and accomplished cultural critic Simon Reynolds giving the keynote speech on DIY culture at last month’s Incubate festival in Tilburg, The Netherlands.

“Why are you pointing me at that?” you might think.  I had the same thought when, as I was getting ready for work last Friday, I opened an email from the comrades at Pyongyang Plastics.  “Are you aware of this?” they chorused, “skip to 38 minutes and 40 seconds(ish).”  Perhaps you might do the same, watch a few minutes, and then return here.  If you have an hour to spare then feel free to watch the whole thing.  I’ll wait.

—ooOoo—

Done?  Interesting isn’t it?  And how flattering for me, midwich and the ‘no-audience underground’ to be mentioned in such a prestigious context.  I don’t always agree with everything Simon Reynolds says but his reviews were key in shaping my tastes via the halcyon days of Melody Maker in the late 1980s and I have followed his writing on and off ever since.  In fact, it is quite game of him to talk about me as I think I have only mentioned him ‘in print’ twice and was spectacularly rude on both occasions.  Firstly, I described his comment that Myspace was a ‘mass grave’ as ‘shrill nonsense’ during that interview with Bang the Bore (and though the image chosen is unfortunate, I have to admit that his comment is now irrefutable.  All hail Bandcamp).  Secondly, I singled out a piece by him as ‘beyond parody’ in an article I wrote against criticism which contained a lengthy takedown of the joy-vacuum that is The Wire magazine.  I suspect from comments made in his speech that the anti-Wire article is how he came to know about this blog’s existence.  He is a good egg, obviously.

Anyway, the speech is entertaining and thought provoking and I recommend watching it all.  I imagine everyone who is a regular here will think ‘hey, hang on a minute’ at one point or another, which is a good thing.  What you get for your hour is a brief history of DIY culture both before and after punk’s ‘Year Zero’ plus musings on the implications (practical and political) of new technologies for the meaning of DIY culture now.  It’s good stuff and I am now going to engage (more or less directly, mainly less) with some of the points he raises by offering an extended definition of what the phrase ‘no-audience underground’ has come to mean to me.

When I first coined the phrase at the turn of the century it was because I needed a succinct way of referring to a scene that contained wildly diverse creative endeavours: from blood-and-spittle power-noise to the daintiest bowed singing bowl.  On reflection, the only thing all these types of racket had in common was that almost no-one was interested in them.  Hence my tongue-in-cheek, irreverent bit of shorthand.

Over the years, especially during the time I’ve been writing this blog, my understanding of what was at first just a self-deprecating joke has deepened.  I’ll come back to the implications of the low numbers involved later but first I need to say more about another important meaning of ‘no audience’.  Simon (I’m going informal, we’re all friends here) is worried that that a ‘transmitter requires a receiver’ and that there are too few of the latter around.  I’d reassure him that his concern is misplaced – it doesn’t work like that down here.  There is no ‘audience’ as such, in the sense of ‘passive receivers’, because almost everyone with an interest in the scene is involved somehow in the scene.  The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed.  I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby (not a dirty word, by the way, who makes a living from experimental music nowadays?) but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves.  Simon raises concerns about the right-wing implications of self-sufficiency but the connection is not a necessary one and if you tried that argument on down here I suspect you’d get either blank stares or would be laughed out of the pub.

Some examples of how people can contribute in different ways may be illustrative.  Firstly: Kieron Piercy.  Kieron may be known to readers of RFM as one-third of improv troupe Spoils & Relics.  He is also a gig promoter of impeccable taste here in sunny Leeds.  Like all gig promoters he enjoys a good moan about what a stressful and thankless task it is but he obviously loves the music so much that he just can’t help himself.  Last Friday evening I was personally invited by email to a gig in Kieron’s basement where I saw Gael Moissonnier, Hering Und Seine Sieben Sachen and Melanie O’Dubshlaine in a very select gathering.  The atmosphere was magical, I loved it and what was terrific was there wasn’t a sniff of hipsterism about any of it: this was the only way the gig was going to happen, so this is the way it did happen.  Perfect.

Secondly: Andy Robinson.  Andy is label boss of Striate Cortex and I suspect the ‘3 inch boxes in editions of fifty’ that Simon refers to are his releases, possibly Star Turbine or Victorian Electronics.  Andy is not a musician himself (that I know of) so he pours his passion into handcrafting the amazing packaging that his one-man label is justly famous for.  It is his way of showing his love and appreciation of the artists that create the music that he cares so much about.  Simon says these objects are ‘presented in the form of art’ with a seriousness of intent, ‘as if’ for an audience.  I’d be less equivocal and say these objects are, without question, art.  I own paintings that were produced in an edition of, er…, one and are only seen by me, my wife and visitors to Midwich Mansions.  They are no less art for that.  Andy’s boxes are for an audience – a small but dedicated one.  He knows from hard work and experience how many he can sell.  Fifty is fine – think of it like an edition of a fine art print, rather than a hobbyist version of mainstream practice and it makes more sense.

Thus, there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene is the audience (I feel I should add ‘ya dig?!’ at the end of that sentence).  Now on to numbers.  As I have recently argued, recognizing that this endeavour is only ever going to be of fringe interest is incredibly liberating.  Get over the fact that your genius is not going to grant you fame or money – no-one even remotely sane in the no-audience underground thinks that they deserve an audience – and you are rewarded with the realization that you can do anything you like subject only to the restraints that affect all others areas of your life: family, employment, money, the law (!) etc.  This is clearly amazing.

One thing I didn’t understand in Simon’s speech was the implication that the removal of the restraints on means of production that were encouraged by punk were great and democratic but the removal of restraints on means of production encouraged by the internet, software etc. are problematic.  I’m tempted to swat this away (whilst acknowledging that I’m being a bit naughty and kicking over a staw man – his argument is more nuanced than I’m giving it credit for) with a dismissive snort and repeat a notion oft used here: now it’s all about quality control.

These days, anyone (even Simon – dying to hear his synth experiments) can make something and release it.  The challenge, restraint if you like, for the artist is to rein it in, to only release the best stuff.  Simon wonders how he can keep up with someone who pushes out releases with the regularity of bowel-movements, even if he likes their stuff.  Well, simply put: you can’t and the artist is making a mistake.  I suspect the current stage we are in with internet based distribution is ‘kid in a sweet shop’ – everyone going crazy just because they can.  Some have already got very sick as a result – see previous posts on this blog about resisting the archival urge and giving up indiscriminate downloading (the cost of free things parts one to five etc.) – and it wouldn’t surprise me if a new phase of discernment, taste and quality control is around the corner.  Wishful thinking maybe, but, hey, in an age of infinite access the new restraints are obviously going to have to be internal and self-imposed.

A final word about the mainstream.  For Simon, to be an underground culture, rather than just a hobby or a private practice, there needs to be some connection to the mainstream, ideally antagonistic.  The underground culture should wish to change the mainstream, or at least to be a nuisance to it.  I don’t agree.  What’s so noble about being a flea in the ear of an elephant?  Whilst adopting some of the methods and vocabulary of the mainstream can be useful – a ‘label’ is still a good way to organise the presentation of music, for example – actual interaction with it is corrosive and unnecessary.  The mainstream will never be interested in what we do in any substantive or meaningful way and money eventually fucks up anything it touches so why waste time with the inevitable compromises that engaging with it necessitate?  Simon is right when he says I don’t give a shit, but let’s be clear that it is courting, or even acknowledging, a mainstream audience that I don’t give a shit about, for all the reasons given above.  I’m choosing to be free instead.  It’s way more punk, innit?

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