Tags: aetheric records, alan courtis, algobabez, anla courtis, chris corsano, david greenberger, don't drone alone, epiphora, ewa justka, fabrica records, fells, fractal meat cuts, glenn jones, listening pile, mattin, okraina records, review pile, sad_rave, sdz records, traven
Fells – Menhir (Self Release)
Traven – ЯTLLCTЯNCS (Aetheric Records)
Sad_Rave – Add Red (Don’t Drone Alone)
Algobabez- Burning Circuits (Fractal Meat Cuts)
Ewa Justka – Acid Smut (Fractal Meat Cuts)
Epipohra – Love Songs (Self Released)
Mattin “Songbook #6 (Munster Records/Crudités Tapes/SDZ/Insulin Addicted)
David Greenberger, Glenn Jones, Chris Corsano – An Idea in Everything (Okraïna)
Alan Courtis – Los Galpones (Fabrica Records)
Life! It’s all a bit of a balancing act eh?
On one hand I’ve been bemoaning poor attendance at live shows. Is a crowd of 6 people at a gig still worthy of the title ‘crowd’? But, on the other hand the amount of downloads, tapes and CD-Rs that we in the N-AU put out seems to be increasing exponentially.
I get it. Sometimes getting out the house can take military planning and a frugal counting of pennies. For many of us life is a careful juggling act with work, family, artistic practice, economics, study and health just a few of the balls in the air at any one time.
Or, leaving the house could even be a very reasonable reaction to world affairs. Things are so fucking fucked pulling the covers back over my head in the morning sometimes seems to be the only sane thing to do.
For many of us staying in results in getting more done. There’s more time to plan/plot and record. Using free software to create, edit and distribute your work means a project can move from brain-spark to universally available download in an afternoon. And while the N-AU has always had a prolific work-rate, releasing something every couple of months is becoming the new norm.
Hoorah and good gravy eh?
But herein lies the rub. For the last 3 or 4 months we at RFM have been staggering under an increasingly huge listening pile – close to 150 releases. Try as we might; the regular chipping away from us old hands and even taking on a clutch of talented and exciting new writers is not making a huge difference because each passing day adds another multi-album download or set of (generally wonderful looking) links to the pile. And of course we’re human too and all juggle work, family, artistic practice, economics, study and health along with this extra listening and writing.
We’ve reached a point where something has to give.
So apologies to anyone who has been waiting 6 months plus for a review – it’s probably not going to happen – but I suppose you guessed that already. We are going to keep the 50 or so recordings we have personally agreed to, but the rest of the pile will respectfully slip away into the great digital night.
Nothing happens at Midwich Towers without debate and this is not a decision that we arrived at lightly. But it does mean we can get back to doing what we set out to do: share passionate and energetic writing about the music that matters to us as it happens.
In the meantime here’s some snatches from the notebook hoofed into a clumsy haiku format…
Fells – Menhir (Self Release) tape and digital album
Granite sighs with great effort.
A bright moon looks on
Traven – ЯTLLCTЯNCS (Aetheric Records) 3” CD-r and digital album
Spanish moss hangs low –
hissing tape, werewolf’s foul breath
no silver bullets…
Sad_Rave – Add Red (Don’t Drone Alone) CD-r and digital album
Flickering notes from
a faithful Pisaro score.
Chat. Sine-wave edits.
Algobabez- Burning Circuits (Fractal Meat Cuts) tape and digital album
Real-time coding act.
Beats liquefy into goo,
Brain-melt soon follows.
Ewa Justka – Acid Smut (Fractal Meat Cuts) tape and digital album
Sid James – “Haw, Haw, Haw”
dripped with a caustic liquid.
Dancing feet scrubbed up.
Epipohra – Love Songs (Self Released) non-physical release
Mashed through dark velvet.
Maybe a jealous lover
bent up your best shades?
Mattin “Songbook #6 (Munster Records/Crudités Tapes/SDZ/Insulin Addicted) 12” vinyl and digital album
Severe warp and fuxx
Genre-free rock played like jizz
Don’t resist – give in!
David Greenberger, Glenn Jones, Chris Corsano – An Idea in Everything (Okraïna) double 10” vinyl and digital album
More Duplex stories
Banjo and drum improvise
Lost wisdom and joy.
Alan Courtis – Los Galpones (Fabrica Records) limited edition vinyl LP and digital album
Evil lives in the walls here.
Guitars drive them out!
holding our treasure aloft: thoughts on facebook, rfm and the d.i.y. underground compiled by rob haylerMarch 21, 2017 at 7:42 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 3 Comments
Tags: chrissie caulfield, d.i.y, DIY, ethics, facebook, joe henderson, joe murray, luke vollar, marlo eggplant, no audience underground, rob hayler, sky high diamonds, sophie cooper, twitter
On Friday 3rd March, as I was enjoying the opening of the Crow Versus Crow/Malorymaki art exhibition in Bradford, Joe Murray (who had been invited down to play at the event) mentioned to me that new RFM staffer Sarah Gatter (known ‘round these parts as Sky High Diamonds) had offered to create a Facebook page for RFM.
Without thinking too hard about it I gave my blessing. By lunchtime on Monday 6th March the thing existed. Blimey. As the dust settled there began a lengthy and involved discussion amongst RFM colleagues about the merits, or otherwise, of Facebook and other social media. This has proved so interesting that I have returned briefly from my sabbatical to compile these thoughts (edited to remove repetition, small talk and logistical stuff) and add some of my own.
Let’s start with Sarah and the rationale:
A brief online chat with Rob and Joe over the weekend suggested that an RFM Facebook page would be a good idea as it would exist as a ‘go to’ site for interested parties to get a rundown on RFM and the latest blog reviews. I am happy to manage this page but if any of you are Facebook users and would like to be added as admin (meaning you can then also upload the RFM blogs, add photos, monitor, add and remove posts, including posts or comments from other people etc.) then find me on FB and I can add you as admin.
As agreed with Rob & Joe this page will be a ‘copy’ of the RFM WordPress blog in its use of words and images, both of which will simply be an echo of the already published blog info. No new material or personal posting to exist here as it then gets confusing.
All business, right? Nowt to worry about, eh? Well… Marlo kicks it off:
Woah, really?! I think Luke, Chrissie, and I use it. Both Joes, Rob, and Sophie don’t.
I was thinking RFM was purposely avoiding that platform…. Times are a-changing…
Rob and Joe, can I ask why? I mean, it isn’t really harmonious with what I though RFM mission statement? Or is it?
Chrissie is pragmatic:
I’m very much a semi-detached user of Facebook these days but I think the idea of a page is OK provided it doesn’t distract from the blog.
Is the plan just to post links to the RFM reviews when they appear on the Facebook page? This seems like the best way of doing it to me and allows for people to possibly discuss the reviews and share them easily on FB.
Sof then voices unease:
Know what you mean Marlo. I came off FB because I got so sick of everyone relying on such a massively corporate website to find out about underground DIY gigs etc (including Tor Fest – winds me up so much). Don’t see why everything needs to have a FB presence to exist these days.
…which allows Marlo to expand her point:
Thanks Sophie for understanding. I feel torn myself constantly cause I cornered myself into the FB for Ladyz in Noyz back in the day and am stuck now or take the risk of losing the international audience. I should have just done a proper page in the past. Myspace to FB…sheesh…
I know it isn’t a collective and whatever Rob and Joe feel is right, I go with [Editor’s note – heh, heh]. Just wanted to see why the shift?
I will be here either way!
Time for me to weigh in:
I wasn’t involved in any discussion as such but Joe M did mention at the show on Friday that Sarah had offered to mirror RFM on Facebook and I said sure, if she’s willing to do the work then let’s try it.
I have never had any personal desire to be on FB, nor have I ever had an account, but since the blog’s inception the majority of referrals have been from FB links (twitter is catching up but FB still in front) so, like it or not, a lot of our traffic has come from that direction. Thinking about the ubiquity and omniscience of FB makes my stomach flip but it is only one aspect of the corporate global evil that we are using for our purposes. PayPal, Google, Apple, Twitter – bleurgh – even Bandcamp takes a hefty rake and WordPress charges me more for keeping the site ad-free than it does for hosting our actual content! We wade waist-deep through the shit holding our little box of treasure aloft so that it doesn’t get caked in crap too. ‘Twas ever thus.
Also, should you be concerned about such things, the numbers are down. Mostly, I think, due to the breaks in regular posting last year caused by my burn-out/’real life’ issues, 2016 was the first year since RFM’s birth that number of visits didn’t increase. I’m not fussed about a plateau – this is a niche concern after all – but this was quite a dramatic drop (2015 = 32k, 2016 = 23k) and I’m not above a bit of rattling the stick in the bucket. Calling attention to your fine work is noble, and can be even if the format is grisly.
That said – some suggestions/requests. Firstly, I’m not sure I want that photo of (some of) us from Crater Lake to be so prominent. Makes me a little uncomfortable. Secondly, I don’t want the text of posts just reproduced on the FB page – pictures, lists of artists featured, little summaries like those we tweet are fine but I want people to visit RFM to do their reading (or subscribe to the blog and get each post emailed to them directly – currently over a 100 people do this). I don’t want the FB page to replace the blog. I see that posts are being made as I type [Editor’s note: Sarah was cracking on]! The format is fine like that I think.
Over two emails Sarah doubles down for practical reasons and stresses it can be a collaborative effort:
The page is easy to delete if having second thoughts. I personally think it is a good idea as FB really is the ‘go to’ site for getting information. Also, those of us on FB can like and repost the blogs (as we do on Twitter) giving each blog a bit more of a following and a bit more oomph and clout. Also, when blogs are just in a newsfeed (as on both Twitter & FB) they are easily lost and many people (myself included) don’t have the time to fully read a review, or even scan through it, when leisurely (or frantically) scrolling through a news feed.
However, if people are aware that there is a permanent page storing these blogs with a link to a whole heap of other blogs, then that instantly makes all of the blog posts more accessible.
I’m happy that everyone gets a say about layout and content and happier that there are many admin involved, also to make sure that everyone’s happy!
At this point Joe Henderson offers a forthright, brain-stirring intervention:
Will briefly say my piece. I think that, for me, the magic is instantly lost when Facebook gets involved in anything – to be honest. Given my own experience of it and the flow of research surrounding well being & social media I make a concerted effort to stay away.
I don’t mind using the word ‘poisonous’ to describe my attitude towards Facebook, however, I’ve seemed to deal a little better with Twitter, although I still have yet to use it myself (I went on there to get another News source other than the BBC, turns out I can’t get the app anyways on my old iPhone, so I haven’t ended up using it anyway).
Can I make a request that none of my articles are re-posted to Facebook? And on a far stronger note – I do not want any of my writing to be subject to Facebooks content codes and control.
Part of the charm of things like Radio Free Midwich is their unwavering principles in the face of peer pressure.
Sophie, I know what you mean about lazy promotion. I came to think of Facebook promotion as really exclusionary – like, that you could miss out on so much by not being in a link or social loop. I have no solutions, but I think in general… good old hand-made posters and nerdy art stuff like that appeals to my DIY, punk sensibilities more. Things shouldn’t be eazy..
I’m happy to hang back for a bit and maybe see how things pan out. Very sceptical right now, but open minded for y’all. My first article should be out this week (given a little tweaking in the mean-time). Am happy for it to go out on the website but please don’t put it on FB – I hate that place and it’s toxic, damaging glare. But, of course am happy for you guys to go ahead and frollick (in the dust & mirrors)
Oh, is that Sarah wavering a little? <winking emoji>
I also think that hitting the delete button on the FB page would be weirdly very satisfying, and quite anarchic, at this early stage of gaining a few ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’
“Now you see us, now you don’t.”
Not sure what else to say!
Joe Murray shouts encouragement from the window of a moving train:
For me this is all about spreading the word. No more. I think we are a valuable piece in the no audience crossword so a few more clues (like FB) help folk connect.
But still…we all have to be comfortable with it. I guess we can self-destruct this channel whenever we feel the need.
It’s always good to debate and have different views. Let’s keep an eye on things and review in a month or so.
All our viewpoints matter.
Speak soon, and if I may gush for a second…we goddamn rule!
Respect as always…
Sarah, like all good academics recognizes grist for the mill when she sees it:
I’m loving this debate, currently attempting to put a PhD proposal together on this very stuff- the relevance of social media to DIY, so the varying perspectives on how we use and control/are used and controlled by social media platforms is intriguing. Many of the artists I know go through long/short periods of deactivating profiles and deleting entire pages of personal data and then coming back to social media on their own terms and for their own agenda when it suits them, I like that.
Sof, bit now firmly between teeth, questions the stated purpose:
Slightly related / aside – I saw this band in London last week and at the end of their show they made a massive statement that “clicks get gigs” find us on Facebook! If we have loads of likes then we’ll get more shows! What a load of bollocks. Talent gets gigs not some website. People who work hard at what they are doing get gigs. It doesn’t make any personal difference to me if RFM has a FB page or not I’m just saddened that this is the way people think you have to be nowadays. I know it is the go-to for loads of people, the company I work for get loads of work via it but what a lazy state of affairs. As if the Internet doesn’t make it easy enough for people already why not condense the info in to one accessible website ? Twitter is just as bad – argh! Please meet me down the pub or the library / send me a letter for further ranting opportunity!
I’m actually in talks with a web developer to create a sort of Cops n’ Robbers website [Editor’s note: for non-UK readers Cops n’ Robbers is a legendary Yorkshire-based listings zine with oodles of DIY and N-AU swagger]that would cover West Yorkshire (and maybe nationally) gigs as an alternative ‘go-to’ site instead of FB. For this gig I did on Sunday just gone I really wanted to just advertise without FB but actually got a complaint! Forced Jake to make a page – made it more legit I guess. Fairly confident that most people who showed up were at Pelt a couple of weeks before and picked up a flyer but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
Clearly a Luddite technophobe over here, where are my DDDD copies?
P.S. I really like Twitter btw. Not as personal.
In her typically quiet but laser-sharp fashion Chrissie makes the point that…
Contacts get gigs mainly – in my experience at least. It doesn’t matter how talented or brilliant you are, if no-one has heard of you then you don’t get gigs*. Facebook is just one of many places that can possibly be a help there. Ignoring it is a choice, of course, but you are cutting off a potential source of people. The platform on its own may, or may not, be evil. But the people on it mostly aren’t (with some exceptions).
* I’m not saying my band Helicopter Quartet are either talented or brilliant [Editor’s note: they are, both, in spades], but we don’t get any gigs because we don’t have any contacts and both of us are so painfully shy we never make any.
At this point Marlo and I both start thinking ‘there’s an article in this’ and ask if anyone wants to make a more formal contribution. Marlo suggests:
Perhaps we could all string something together around the question:
How do different social media platforms feed or weaken the ‘underground’? What associations do different social websites bring to the table? What is lost or gained in ‘opening the floodgates’?
Chrissie responds first:
One of the nice things about social media is that it can bring together people of niche interests together – it’s largely what I do on twitter – in a way that’s almost impossible or very difficult to do in other ways.
Yes – you can start your own website but how do you get people to use it in the first place: twitter/Facebook etc. are the funnel through which you can get access to people who might want to go there. Of course, there are all the arguments about centralisation and monopolies and I’m not happy about those things either. But principally I’m a pragmatist and that’s how these things are structured at the moment. To some extent they always have been, it’s just that the ownerships change over time.
As to ‘opening the floodgates’ – it doesn’t happen. Despite what I just said above, adding RFM to Facebook isn’t going to triple or even double viewing figures (if it does, please buy me a hat to eat). It’ll bring in some new readers, yes. But it’s not a magic potion and it doesn’t make you popular overnight or even ever – it’s a small help. I have Facebook pages for my two main bands, nothing has ever happened because of them. That’s partly down (as I said in a previous email) to the need to be ‘present’ to chat with people on there and make contacts, and partly down to having contacts on the IN THE FIRST PLACE to bring in others.
For my personal opinion, I hate Facebook (for non-political reasons), and I only use it to publicise (unsuccessfully) band things and chat in some obscure synth groups where it feels more cosy and safe. I don’t post personal things on my timeline any more, but plenty of people still do and I have chatted with lots of interesting people there.
Luke puts his head around the door to add:
Hey folks – well for what it’s worth I use Facebook every day. It has its drawbacks and I’ve sworn off it a few times. Having said that it does allow you to keep in contact with groovy people chat about music, films, books, gigs etc. I guess it’s about making it work for you and keeping it real. I can’t be doing with Twitter. So I guess I’m saying if RFM hits face-ache. I’m cool with it.
…then Sarah offers a more fleshed out statement of her position
My continued interest in the electronic DIY underground/no audience culture stems from the DIY rave movement of the mid 80s and early 90s.
I see the current No Audience Underground, as an extension of this movement and I am still fascinated by how it was documented through film footage, photography, music, art and printed/published writings by those who protested for the right to squat empty buildings, resist fox hunting, gather for music events etc. etc. I did attend some events back then however, it was always pot luck to get to those events due to no social networking and reduced publicity (for obvious reasons) except for well organised word of mouth-those guys were good!
Those DIY activists made thorough use of the tools that were available to them at that time to promote their beliefs, ideas, celebrations and defeats into a wider consciousness and I believe that without those wonderfully documented processes (e.g. the wibbly-wobbly film footage of squats being raided, dancers in the street protesting the CJA etc.) this representation, and therefore a current understanding and contextualisation of that scene, would not be available to us today. I see this as a cultural mapping of those times and I see social media as a contemporary tool available to us now to continue that cultural mapping.
Social Media is a site of production and reproduction but in many ways it responds to the DIY ethos in that it is free (most of the time), accessible (to the majority) and can be used to promote the individual, it is not entirely corporate like other sites of production and reproduction. However, I like to think that at some point DIY will turn away from social media and re- ground itself into a less available scene, but I would be happier with this only once much documenting has been achieved and exists in some kind of accessible form.
Things that nag me are: Does the DIY underground movement become less ‘exclusive’ and therefore less underground when its documentary style footage is available to all to access online? How do the ideas of audience/participation/spectacle/active and passive viewing fit in with this? We are all passive audiences when viewing footage/sound/writing of the underground through social media. I also ponder how an attraction to a much larger and wider audience may well undo the emblematic DIY underground counter culture status, such as witnessed in the growth of the Glastonbury Festival, as well as contribute to a more general and overwhelming saturation of the arts.
In summary: For me, social media is currently a way of culturally mapping the continued growth of the DIY movement and is a tool available for us to use (and abuse) right now, but I am not entirely sure that it should or will have a monopoly on documenting the DIY movements for the long term.
I propose that we find a way to occupy the dark web!
…and that was that until over the weekend of the 11th and 12th when Joe and I received the following volte-face from Sarah:
Hi, I was in two minds about RFM on Facebook.
- It seemed like a good idea to make use of it as a tool and to support the artists, whom I think want reviews about their work publicised.
- It might be free, it might be accessible but it is a limiting platform and I am beginning to agree with Joe H, it makes us lazy and passive.
This has been echoed within another group that I am involved with [Editor’s note: The Unexplained Sounds Network] who have today proposed ‘silence’ in order to find new ways to communicate and collaborate other than Facebook. I am in agreement with them. DIY must mean DIY and Facebook takes that away through its controlled use of data, amongst other things. I did say in my last email that we need to find new ways and jokingly suggested the dark web but I am starting to feel that more needs to be done with searching for new and less lazy & passive ways. Sorry for the complete 100% U turn!!!
Heh, heh – the irony that this doubt as to the appropriateness of one form of social media was sent via a twitter DM was not lost on me.
So, where are we now? Firstly, let me just comment on the loveliness of my colleagues – a multiway discussion carried out over the internet that remained civil and useful for an entire week. Have you ever heard the like? Secondly, it strikes me that there are three questions to consider with answers to the first two informing the answer to the third. I’ll begin with a stab at the moral/political question: is Facebook evil? Next, the pragmatic question: does it actually work as promotional tool? And finally, the overarching question of whether it is ‘appropriate’ for our slice of the DIY underground to use it.
Despite not holding an account I have, of course, spent plenty of time dodging the demands to sign up in order to see gig info or otherwise lurk. If RFM is being discussed then the hits coming from FB feel like a partially heard conversation happening in a room with the door ajar. I’ve never been tempted to walk in, however, because what I hear about Facebook outside of Facebook is predominately negative. I don’t doubt that there are lovely people using it (like those members of Chrissie’s synth discussion groups) but friends talk about it with exasperation, torn as to whether to cut ties as you might with a needy and bullying family member. The final straw for a mate of mine was when he was disinvited from a stag do following a row caused by him daring to confirm his attendance with, y’know, his actual voice and not via Facebook. It’s become like shopping in a supermarket, or reading The Wire – something none of us actually enjoy but which we grudgingly accept as part of modern life. Imagine spending the evening in a gigantic, soulless, city-centre chain pub, one which has an unsmiling bouncer on the door demanding ID before letting you in. The beer is crap, the décor unpleasant, neighbouring tables are full of braying idiots but, hey, it’s here that we have agreed to meet. Evil – on a personal, individual level? Probably not. Fuck that shit? On balance, yes.
That’s not to say that the information you provide to Facebook can’t be used for straight-up evil though. As these thoughts were congealing in my head I read this article, published on The Guardian website on February 26th. I’m genuinely concerned that if I name names bots will be released, like flying monkeys, to come and destroy us but the gist is that an off-the-radar software company is busy analysing hundreds of millions of FB accounts and using that data to target propaganda furthering the hard-right agenda of their billionaire backer:
These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. […], the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says […].
This team worked both with the Leave campaign and with Trump. Was it enough to swing both elections? Maybe us complacent liberals wouldn’t have laughed so hard at those ‘dumpster fire’ campaigns if we’d known this Black Mirror style PSY ops was occurring in the background. Evil – on a worldwide, political level? Yeah, I’d say so. Fuck that shit? Absolutely.
But, the pragmatist asks, does it work? Leaving aside the moral qualms and given that everyone is in the crap pub, what happens if we put our poster up on the noticeboard? I think I’m with Chrissie on this one – the answer is: nowt much. The reason is, I think, to do with the size and structure of the scene and not where the noticeboard is located. In an article I wrote five years ago about the, *ahem* ‘economics’ of the no-audience underground I said:
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 (ignoring little blooms of hipster popularity every now and again) but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive. As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are (for example in Leeds we have the essential Cops and Robbers) then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.
…and, despite the Facebook gig listing becoming ubiquitous in the meantime, I still think this is about right. Had I been stood next to Sof when that band made their ‘clicks mean gigs’ announcement I would have groaned but at some level I guess it might make a difference nowadays – just not at our level. Chrissie is right about contacts to a certain extent too – those who hustle for shows do generally get more shows – but within the no-audience underground any attempt at hype or unwarranted self-promotion is usually met with at least a raised eyebrow if not all-out hilarity. Given the absence of money, the unit of currency ‘down’ here is goodwill and it is earned, exchanged and repaid through being active in the scene. Perhaps this is our equivalent of <dry boke> ‘networking’ <coughing retch> and it strikes me that this can make more of a difference than any particular means of spreading the word – look, for example, at the love showered on Crater Lake or Tor Fest (“Call something a festival,” says Jake Blanchard, mystified, “and people just turn up.”).
For us, Facebook is now one of the ‘usual places’ where we find stuff out but its prominence has not noticeably affected attendance numbers either way. When not specifically concerned with discussing Facebook itself I think most people consider the format transparent and ‘see through it’ to the information itself in the same way you don’t consciously think ‘this is a poster’ but instead just register the date, venue etc. To be honest, I’d have been grateful to have it back in the Termite Club days when I was stuffing envelopes with flyers (<Noel Fielding voice> Imagine that!) to send to a postal mailing list or badgering magazines knowing full well that their attention was far less important than whether or not it rained on the night of the show.
To the last question then: given that we are at least justified in having misgivings about using Facebook and that as a promotional tool it is little better than other means (necessarily so given the nature of the scene we are part of) how appropriate is it to use it at all?
Firstly I’m going to dismiss a couple of related concerns more or less out of hand – that it is inappropriate because it is ubiquitous or ‘mainstream’ and that it is inappropriate because it ‘makes things easy’ – then I’m going to end the whole thing really abruptly.
If something so nebulous and subjective as ‘mainstream’ culture can be usefully defined (I’m not sure it can, but that is for another day) then Facebook is unarguably part of it. Your mum is on Facebook right now, discussing her favourite tracks from the Stormzy album. I don’t care. One of the great strengths of the no-audience underground is that is does not define itself in opposition to ‘mainstream’ culture but largely just turns its back to it and cracks on with the work. The belief that DIY culture needs to be antagonistic to popular culture is a quaint stained-glass window surviving in the Church of Punk – very pretty, but I can’t help thinking it is orders of magnitude more radical to not engage with popular culture at all. I’ve rehearsed these arguments several times over several years (starting here) so I needn’t say any more right now.
I also have absolutely no time for the argument that Facebook, or any other form of social media, ‘makes it easy’ or ‘lumps it all together’ as if that were a bad thing. I’d be delighted if access to everything we do was made as easy as possible so that anyone who is interested could find it at their fingertips. When I think of the golden age we live in now and compare it to the time and resources I had to spend as a teenager getting even part-way sound-literate I could cry at the waste.
For example: I grew up in a small seaside town called Littlehampton on the South Coast of England, near enough to Brighton for me to misspend much of my youth there. As a teenage fan of Spacemen 3 and Loop, Can loomed large in legend. My fellow heads and I did what we could to track down stuff from libraries, second hand shops and borrowed stuff from the rich kid whose dad bought him the first batch of CD reissues. In that way we built up a patchy knowledge of the band and their context. Contrast this to the situation in January of this year when Jaki Liebezeit sadly passed away. In celebration of the man and his unique achievements links to YouTube clips went flying around twitter and anyone could listen to hours of the band’s music for free whilst reading exhaustive accounts of its history and influence via Wikipedia and innumerable blogs. May I respectfully suggest that anyone who thinks the former situation is preferable to the latter (not with regard to Jaki’s passing, of course, I’m talking about access to the material) is, at best, misguided. There is a tendency, especially amongst middle aged beardies, to cry-wank over their box-sets and pristine collection of Melody Makers from the late 1980s whilst whimpering nostalgically about finding a copy of Fun House under a hedge and ‘discovering’ The Stooges. Jesus wept. I could go on but I presume my feelings about anything that could be perceived as ‘gatekeeping’, or the raising of artificial barriers, are perfectly clear.
But what about RFM? Reading through the above I see much of what I’ve written is fairly abstract or from the perspective of gig promotion. Does it help answer the question as to whether a blog dedicated to documenting weird music produced by a fiercely independent d.i.y. scene should have a presence on Facebook? Well, much as I understand Sof’s frustrations, Joe H’s reticence and the personally negative feelings shared by me, Chrissie and others I’d hesitate to say, as Joe H does, that Facebook drains the magic from everything it touches. I don’t find it fun, for sure, but I’d like to think that the magic of the art we cover (and, let’s not be too modest, our descriptions of it – we are part of all this) shines through the murkiness of the medium. If we proceed with caution then …nnnnggghhh… OK.
We are camped way uphill from the floodgates, a few signposts can’t hurt.
the sweet jelly is in the deft cut: joe murray on david birchall/nicolas dobson/javier saso, dylan nyoukis & friends, plastic hooligans and acrid lactations & gwilly edmondezMarch 3, 2017 at 6:00 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
Tags: acrid lactations, chocolate monk, david birchall, drugs, dylan nyoukis, fae ma bit tae ur bit, gwilly edmondez, javier saso, joe murray, nicolas dobson, plastic hooligans, skronk, soundholes
David Birchall/Nicolas Dobson/Javier Saso – XZ ::::::::: Brazil (Soundholes)
Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time? (Chocolate Monk)
Plastic Hooligans – Untitled (Chocolate Monk)
Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock in The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk)
David Birchall/Nicolas Dobson/Javier Saso – XZ ::::::::: Brazil (Soundholes) C30 cassette
Super-charged scrimple-skriffle improv coming at you mixed in, depending on your view, (almost) mono or 3-way stereo.
But what’s going on?
Dave Birchall plays granite-flecked guitar in the left speaker, Javier Saso spills slippery, silvery lapsteel in the right speaker and Nicolas Dobson sprays wild, wild violin all over the place.
Side one is a string piece for three players and it waxes happily, darting in and out of focus like a lazy eye would. Contributions are in part clotted and meshed (like a scab) and independently driven. Imagine walking three energetic hounds, each with their own digging, burying, pissing mission. Their colourful leads are soon a wrapped-up maypole binding your arms and hands. Got it?
Now replace the noble hounds with these three improv-dudes and the dog-specific missions with group-mind blankness and collective musical mischief and you’ve got the perfect picture!
While the pace is athletic there’s always room for a ruminative cul-de-sac, a wet sniff about a single tone or blunt-thumbed technique. And as I listen I pass through several phases myself: chin-stroking on the non-idiomatic tip but also horn-throwing on the sexy electric eruption.
On side two I briefly land in a thoughtful strung-out lake but get distracted by amp-pops and bright lead-crackle. The tension mounts as our three players riff on the giant nothingness that exists right at the point of the horizon; saw, saw, sawing away, whipping up a gentle typhoon that bursts with bloated rain. It doesn’t take long to plinkety-plonk and things end with that ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ intro-played inside out and over ice.
This is what it sounds like when Slash cries.
Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time? (Chocolate Monk) CD-R
Popular wisdom suggests that there is nothing more boring than other people’s drug tales.
Ha! Popular wisdom is a duff grey lie.
On this re-imagining of Dylan Nyoukis’ Fae Ma Bit Tae Ur Bit radio show various sub-underground lads and lasses ‘fess up their first or otherwise notable drug experiences. Imagine Radio 4 has been snorting and huffing all night long (or something) with Dub Naughty on the controls.
They talk, in soft mumbles and gentle whispers; ‘it was like this…’, ‘we took a taxi…’, ‘I started to feel strange…’
Recorded up close it’s an intimate listen. Breathy and in your ear(s) – you sense the memories being dragged from that grey-matter prison and forced out into the open (in some case decades later) with all the added memory moss and drama a bit of distance provides.
D-Nyoukis works like a psychedelic Foley artist, twisting the background. Adding an addled ‘whuff’ or stoned ‘skofff’ to the voices that are dropping cautionary, ecstatic and, in some cases heart-warming tales of sweet, sweet intoxication. Subtle it is, in the way a shimmering hallucination first grabs you and makes you say “wha?” But it’s a flanger-free zone yeah?
So…anyone want to split this bottle of Cherry Lambrini? I’m thinking about getting it on now anyhow.
See ya on the other side travellers! YEAH!
Plastic Hooligans – Untitled (Chocolate Monk) CD-R
The aptly named Plastic Hooligans are gentle souls wrapped up in retro Adidas and Fila.
But an obsession with the Arabic world introduces ritualistic field recordings in a primitive electronic cloak. With a sparse, shady touch, loops are played via old reverb units and malfunctioning oscillators ramping up the potency of these already fairly ‘loaded’ sounds.
The shivers come in four waves.
- A xylophone tinkles in a French-speaking colony. Delicate as a music box found among boiled chicken’s feet.
- Moroccan tapes get fed through the mincer. The ‘boing’ of the overdriven hand-drum and voice pinched sonically to release only the most important tones.
- Rubberised machinery clunks away as a giant horn is blown roughly but slowly. Deep reparative hums.
- A hiccough bounced across eleven cryptic reverb-drenched minutes. The sort of mind-loop you feel on waking from a cumin-scented dream.
Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock in The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) CD-R
The exact Reuleaux triangle-shaped intersection between modern classical, goofy wonk and hardcore improv. Oh yes!
History Lesson #1: The Acrid Lactations have been humble key-players of the untranslatable wonk scene. Really, really, really free players smiffy that non-idiomatic improv by adding an indefinable ‘something’. I’ve pondered this conundrum long and hard and the best I can come up with is that ‘something’ might be their slight unhinged quality; a willingness to go the extra mile, wherever that trek will take them.
History Lesson #2: Gwilly Edmondez has ploughed a similarly deep furrow. A Dictaphone high-priest, instant composition stalwart and one half of those rising stars YEAH YOU! [The UK’s only father/daughter slack-hop duo pop-pickers.] Gwilly, the tallest man alive, is a selfless player, an encourager, a persuader whose full-frontal yet ego-less schtick seems to be able to connect with that artistic blank space where anything becomes possible.
Taking this babycake as a whole I’m shocked by the time-shifting quality to these suckered gobbles, hazy trumpets and clogged electronics.
The lumps are bigger yeah! For 20, possibly 30 seconds you could be listening to Pharaoh Sanders (Impulse Era), or Morton Subotnick and then it could be nothing other than the good ole AL & GE. Things are so precarious I’m on a mental zip-wire sporting a psychic g-string baby.
But readers, it’s the edit that’s the thing here. In a similar way to the exceptional Hardworking Families latest disc the sweet jelly is in the deft cut taking these pretty much wonderful recordings and carefully layering, stripping and selecting the ripest cheese.
And this editors ear not only multiplies this trio but forges new links and allegiances between sound-nodes. Put simply; a ‘clunk’ recorded one day now spoons a sexy sigh recorded another and lo! A whole new thing starts a’going on.
The sounds? A dignified sniffle and pre-language burrs make up a respectable percentage but add to that bamboo pipes that ape the breath hissing down a human neck, disturb-o-moans and high-octane heffer on brass and tin. We’re talking “Seriously munged magic” (Nyoukis 2016)
But I’m throwing in a deep balloon-rubber ripping, a damp Dictaphone squelch and a goff-keyboard going electronically slow & low. Not only but also, the relaxing humming of social insects (ants probably) discuss their complex legal system.
To sum up I’ve got (consults notes, adjusts spectacles and frowns) three quarters goat-legged- spry and muscular, one quarter lazy liquid. So that’s something for everyone then; time for dreamers to collect themselves and activists to get-up-offa-that-thing.
Right-o. Discussion proposition? Dub opened a new door for Reggae. Teo Macero projected Jazz into an alternate future state. What about this N-AU versioning then readers?
Like…whoa man. Makes you think and shout “welcome to the world Keir J Arnot.”
Tags: chrissie caulfield, death is not the end, east of the valley blues, helicopter quartet, joe henderson, joe murray, julian bradley, kevin cahill, luke vollar, marlo de lara, miguel perez, neil campbell, patrick cahill, power moves label, power moves library, skull mask, sophie cooper, tusk festival, zellaby awards
Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…
…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions. I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers. I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains. The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough). When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself. A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:
Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?
Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile. People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94. People important to all of us died. An anonymous tweet drifted past:
We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.
…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio. There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.
What about music and this blog? In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour. Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast. I could go on. All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.
I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first. Things need to change, at least temporarily. I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…
…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise! I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me. I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries. He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.
End of year pieces from everyone, boss…
…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing. Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic! Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.
[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign. I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window. There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]
Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:
Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…
In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…
The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)
Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)
Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)
Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)
Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)
The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)
6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW)
Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.
“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…
Blimey, eh? “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.” Brilliant. Quite some calling card. I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest.
Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:
as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache. so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:
1. death of heroes
there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians. to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human. prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life. prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician. totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america. pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention. my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman. thank you for the inspiration.
2. ghost ship tragedy
despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity. on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene. as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive. so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.
on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit. joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez. i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed. love and respect always.
the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour. his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads. arrington survived by painting and creating sounds. but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too. arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.
stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo
Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:
Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order. The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?! On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably. Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.
Wormrot – Voices
Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time
Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?
Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun
Pudern & Vomir – Split
Error Massage – Rooby
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave
Moon – Diseasing Rock Who
F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase
Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise
Posset – The Gratitude Vest
Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance
Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5
Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness
Usurper – The Big Five
Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.
Clive Henry – Hymns
The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience
Triple Heater – Aurochs
The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire
Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows
My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.
Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:
I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.
Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.
My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.
Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter, eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.
And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I? Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.
And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.
Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:
Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows. It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope. Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.
Records and tapes of the year
Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.
Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!
Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.
Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?
Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.
Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend. Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.
Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.
East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.
Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?
Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.
Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.
Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!
Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space. Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.
Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?
…and penultimately Sophie Cooper. Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway. Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool. Watch it here. I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature. Hah! There is no escaping RFM! Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!
Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?
So that just leaves me. I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high. How’s that for showbiz? I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.
In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been 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. I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.
The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion. His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work. I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling. The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that? He wins.
OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order. This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.
[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]
Flat out glorious from beginning to end. This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight. It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit. If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator. Best to keep it mysterious though, eh? I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.
Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too. Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago. The no-audience underground remembers. Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year. Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.
Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here. If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.
Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction. The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.
I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate. Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?
Powerful and important music, as ever. That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.
The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB. Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:
Wonderful! Wonderful, wonderful!
This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs. And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.
This tape is a truly innocent joy. Why? Firstly, it’s the simplicity. We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.
Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings. This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.
Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in. But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee. This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.
And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me? Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back. Maybe reader maybe.
Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:
Me? I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,
If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.
…and he is right, of course.
The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.
All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner. Congratulations, fellas.
A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site. For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.
The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it. Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget. Negotiations can commence anytime.
Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit. OK: some news. As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical. No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year. I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses. I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence. I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here. Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.
Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival. Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend. In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.
Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.
All is love, Rob H x
Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.
Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.
Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be. I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time. A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):
HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!! FUCK!!!
Tags: situations vacant
It causes me great sadness to announce that Sof Cooper is no longer on the ‘staff’ here at RFM. Alas, she has decided to turn her awesomeness in other directions. We wish her well and her contribution has been celebrated here with a gigantic bonfire of sweet incense and unheard tapes. RFM insiders know that her letter of resignation has been on my exquisitely carved marble desk for some time but I had been IN DENIAL about its contents. However, once I came to terms with the news (by throwing a Kylo-Ren-style office-trashing fit) the thought occurred to me: Ah, could this tragedy prove an opportunity?
The fact is I cannot keep up. Nowhere near. As I type, the review pile contains scores of items, some received as far back as last Spring, and much as I’d like to do nothing but lounge about on a fluffy cloud of downloads I’m afraid ‘real life’ has had other ideas. I admit it is an enviable problem to have – damn all this amazing free stuff, the clamour for our opinion! – and running RFM is largely a joyous experience, but I am left glum by the thought that WE COULD DO MORE.
This is not to cast aspersions on the efforts of the remaining RFM squad, of course. Without them I suspect the whole enterprise would have folded in on itself, like the haunted house at the end of Poltergeist, sometime in the Summer. Joe continues to produce the best writing on music to be found anywhere – the gonzo rapidity of his prose slyly hiding a wit as sharp as shards of broken mirror and a breakdancing phenomenologist’s understanding of what music feels like. Chrissie hand-carves her occasional posts, carefully detailing her appreciation with an even-handed patience, a refreshing openness and an infectious enthusiasm. Luke and marlo have recently been standing by their beds forlornly waiting on orders from their editor whilst I just grin sheepishly and mutter.
You can see where this is going can’t you? Anyone fancy stepping up to help? Here’s the job spec, number of positions available still to be decided:
Firstly only those identifying as women are invited to apply. Odd music, and reporting on odd music, remains male-dominated and I want to do a little to redress that balance. Secondly, and the only other essential qualification, is I’d like you to be able to convey your enthusiasm for this music with an entertaining writing style.
Regarding that writing, the ideal candidate would be able to commit to, say, at least half a dozen articles a year (hopefully more) with at least half of those taking stuff from the review pile as subject matter (the rest can be at your discretion). Posts generally run 750-1500 words for reviews or 2000-4000 words for ‘think pieces’ or festival write-ups. Whilst RFM’s main concern is recorded music I’d be open to suggestions – anyone up for conducting and transcribing interviews, for example? I’m not interested in bad reviews – this blog is almost entirely positive as a matter of editorial policy – nor does a dry or academic approach much appeal. We ain’t big on footnotes.
I guess being part of the ‘no-audience underground’ scene (see link below) – punter, participant, whatever – and/or D.I.Y. culture would be handy but isn’t strictly necessary (at least to begin with – gabba, gabba, we accept you!). Anyone who could help with proofreading and/or formatting submissions for WordPress would likely have their hand bitten off.
Unfortunately, there is no payment available. RFM attracts about 30,000 visits a year so your writing will be read by an appreciative and knowledgeable crowd but the budget is less-than-zero. I offer no subscriptions, invite no donations and actually pay WordPress a premium so as to not carry adverts (punk as fuck, me). There may be the odd freebie review copy posted your way (or download codes emailed if you are outside the UK) but that is it. We’re all for love.
So, if this appeals and you aren’t already a reader please acquaint yourself with the blog’s style and content – as well as dipping into a handful of reviews I’d advise getting some biscuits and settling down with my last big piece on the ‘no-audience underground’ as that really explains what we are all about. If you are still interested after that then feel free to contact me via email or Twitter and we’ll talk turkey.
A reshuffle of the ‘about us’ page, a (painfully polite) cull of the review pile and a tightening of the review submission guidelines will follow in due course but I wanted to get this, most exciting, aspect of the coming changes up and running first…
Tags: ceramic hobs, pete coward
(Mountford Hall, Liverpool, 28th October 2016, photo courtesy of @salfordelectron)
[Editor’s note: Inspired by the announcement of their final tour, Pete Coward asked if I’d be interested in publishing a guest post by him about Ceramic Hobs. I bit his hand off.
Pete has long been a presence in underground music as a bootlegger, scene historian and writer for indispensable zines such as Turbulent Times. He is one of four ‘superfans’ called on by Phil Todd to help compile the forthcoming best of Ashtray Navigations set (the others being me, Neil Campbell and, would you believe, Henry Rollins) and his selections are, as expected, as superb as they are obscure. Recently he has been producing booklets of his own poetry which is poignant, darkly humorous and depicts a park-bench view of the world a lot of us Ceramic Hobs fans will recognise. If I were you I’d email him at email@example.com and get yourself on his list.
Oh, and he also wanted me to mention that he dreamed about Borbetomagus the other night but the band were reduced to a duo, which made him quite sad.]
Writing about Ceramic Hobs is a tricky exercise. The band has just called time on their thirty years of music making so it seemed timely, if foolish, to pose the question to myself,
so what was all that about?
After a few weeks of considering that question and of re-listening I have no clearer answers than before and my thoughts seem scattered ever further. I can only offer attempts to rein in some of those thoughts, to see if tracing my confusion results in any kind of useable map to the terrain explored by Ceramic Hobs.
To start on what solid ground there is, Ceramic Hobs formed in Blackpool in the mid-80s. Their line-up has constantly shifted since, with founder Simon Morris being the one constant. The sound coalesced at a fairly early stage, into a distinctive mix of heavy lo-fi psychedelia and prankster musique concrète, driven by a truculent punk core. In high concept terms, they sound like a band that never really came down from that lysergic rush received on first listen to Locust Abortion Technician in the late ‘80s. They share Butthole Surfers’ love of excess. Their records are a potlatch of cultural and musical detritus. If there is a discernible linear progression in their sound, it is a thickening of that excess, a process of musical and thematic accretion. Tracks get longer over time (up to 35 minutes in the case of the title track to Oz Oz Alice, 2010), the sound becomes more layered and densely compacted, the sprawl of the music more suffocating.
Later albums like Oz Oz Alice and Spirit World Circle Jerk (2013) represent an apex of this Tetsuo-like approach, one that threatens to collapse under its own mass. This development was possibly unsustainable in other respects; Simon said in an interview shortly after Oz Oz Alice,
I can’t do anything as dangerous as that again if I am to physically survive.
This sense of genuine danger and personal threat (to band and listener) comes in large part from the topics explored by Ceramic Hobs. These themes have been part of their music and lyrics from the beginning and could be outlined as a fascination with, a dwelling upon, the marginal, the abject and objectified, and particularly those areas of it shadowed by mental illness.
The foregrounding of the latter subject has been such that Ceramic Hobs have been frequently cast as a Psychiatric Survivor band, or as a Mad Pride band, referring to the international radical mental health campaigning movement (for which Ceramic Hobs have played a number of benefit gigs). The band has described themselves as functioning like a therapeutic community. They have spoken with pride of the numbers of members, current and past, who have been psychiatric in-patients. Those statistics have more recently been superseded by numbers of ex-members who have died; I’m unsure of the correlation, if any, between those two sets of figures.
I am wary of focussing too narrowly on this undeniably significant aspect of the work. To do so runs the risk of reductionism and ghettoization. Ceramic Hobs are about mental illness in the same way Grateful Dead are about acid or drum ‘n bass about E. It’s an influence, part of the culture and politics of the music (and a big part of what makes it political music), but just as one factor among many. Also that influence has been creatively assimilated and refracted in ways that we call art (which is why I’d also counter that talk of the band as a therapeutic community is an unhelpful misrepresentation). You do not have to be tripping to recognise the greatness of Europe ‘72, neither does the listener require a mental health diagnosis to appreciate the music of Ceramic Hobs. Their lyrics may reference terms such as largactyl and dual diagnosis but if you are fortunate enough not to have learned the meaning of those, the context still leaves you in no doubt about the unpleasantness of both. You could make a perfectly good case for Ceramic Hobs being a great band without any reference to mental illness, and you certainly don’t need to “have” mental illness to “get them.”
That clearly said, it is not closing down any possibilities to also state that listening to Europe ‘72 while blasted may be a particularly rewarding experience, just as Ceramic Hobs’ personal experience of mental illness channelled into their music may be hugely empowering for someone who is a psychiatric survivor and listens to them as such. Ceramic Hobs embody both, and other, dialectical positions and it’s this ability to do so and to reflect all of those in the music that I find particularly admirable. The music of Ceramic Hobs provides a rarely heard perspective on experiences and thoughts shared by many, a perspective that is uniquely positive and celebratory. They have earned their place in narratives of mental health resistance and activism. They have also earned their reputation as a shit-kickin’ band from Blackpool, and I think it is useful to see their personal and political fearlessness, the use of illness as a weapon, as a means to carve out the zone of free self-expression which enabled that to develop.
This multiplicity of meanings and possibilities is expressed synecdochally in the title to their 1998 debut album Psychiatric Underground. It could be seen as a statement of marginal reclamation and militancy, after Mad Pride and The Weather Underground; or as a social/political/cultural/economic designation for Ceramic Hobs as musicians and mental health service users. It could equally be seen as an existential stance akin to Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, existing at the edges so as to pass judgement on the centre; Simon in the self-appointed role of “Last Of The Great Blasphemers.” The psychological effort that must be needed for Ceramic Hobs as artists to inhabit each and all of these positions must be significant. That casts light for me on Simon’s words quoted earlier about the danger of creating this music. He went on to say in that interview,
I do think that artists should be ready to put their work above all else in life and risk health and sanity for it, otherwise it is a fucking half-arsed hobby.
That intense level of commitment also raises thoughts about the role of authenticity in art and music, and how far Ceramic Hobs embody that.
This is not authenticity as lazy sincerity, as in “Ceramic Hobs mean it, man,” as Richey Edwards did. It is authenticity as expression of genuine truth within power structures that deny and invalidate that truth and in a society so culturally oversaturated that any expression appears within quotation marks. Sontag wrote in ‘Notes On Camp’ of a time and culture when
…sincerity is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.
Sincerity is an infertile harmony of intention and effect, life and art. An alternate praxis she posits is
…overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter.
Ceramic Hobs create with the knowledge that irony, satire, transgression, vulgarity, the carnivalesque are the few modes of expression left with genuine potential to turn the world upside down.
This is also the only authenticity that can be possible on the internet. Ceramic Hobs seamlessly entered into a fecund feedback loop with online culture, indeed seemed to have been anticipating it. The female-voiced narratives of despair on tracks such as ‘Remembrance for Nicole Simpson’, ‘My Judas Lover’, and ‘Crash And Burn’ disturbingly capture the tropes of countless ‘My struggle with …’ videos uploaded to YouTube by teenage girls. The vocals to those tracks are credited either to Jane or Kate Fear but the voices seem indistinguishable to me in their numbed, affectless and weightless monotony. Lyrics like
I just want to find some kind of peace / You just want me in pieces
wouldn’t be out of place as the tag-lines to further countless tumblrs. Simon’s most prolific project these days seems to be his blog, a diarrhetic overflow of contextless found images and words, possibly some kind of apophenia bait.
(Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 20th October 2016, photo courtesy of @zanntone)
The underside to online hyperreality in the world of Ceramic Hobs is the very tangible reality of Blackpool, Lancashire, the city that they call home and which features regularly in their lyrics, both as backdrop and central character. It’s a place that can be equally deadening in its excess, as wearying in its touting of ephemeral pleasures. “Socially engineered by Blackpool” reads the credits to Psychiatric Underground. There does seem to be a local civic pride in reckless alcohol-fuelled hedonism, hell-for-leather escapism and constructed unreality which is reflected in the music of Ceramic Hobs. The band’s own local pride seems as ambivalent as that of the eponymous ‘Glasgow Housewife’ from Spirit World Circle Jerk who belts out drunkenly
I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town, but there’s something the matter with Glasgow…
There is palpable resentment and frustration, such as the self-explanatory ‘This Sore And Broken Blackpool Legacy’, but that must be seen alongside more affectionate tributes such as ‘Blackpool Transport,’ which namechecks and samples a sizeable list of local bands, framed bathetically by a story of pursuing teenage kicks through cheap booze and solvent abuse while sheltering from the rain in a car park. The love/hate relationship with Blackpool is one of Ceramic Hobs’ least surprising and most reconcilable contrary positions.
Those others I’ve reflected on above go some way to explaining the fascination this band holds for me. These contradictions and obfuscations thread through their music as inexhaustibly as words through a stick of rock. Their retirement depletes even further those few bands prepared to challenge listeners and make that challenge worthwhile. An epitaph that they may appreciate, Ceramic Hobs left us more bewildered, paranoid and despairing for their presence these past few decades.
Y’know those rare days when it is so hot that the only possible topic of conversation is ‘how hot it is’? Well like that but replace ‘hot’ with ‘tired’.
So tired that I mix up different presenters on the CBeebies channel and alarm my three year old son by exclaiming:
Blimey! That lass has grown a new arm!
So tired that I can only marvel, a hapless spectator, as a single flight of stairs proves a challenge to my trembling knees.
So tired that I put the grapes in the freezer and am bewildered to find them, rock-fucking-solid, the following morning.
So tired that all music becomes a grey and undifferentiated mass, the prospect of which just makes me want to… sleep.
Readers may have noticed a slow down in posts of late. This is due to your humble editor enduring a bad attack of the one-damn-thing-after-anothers. Long term followers may worry that my depression is returning but, mentally at least, I seem as impervious as a concrete rhinoceros. It’s ‘just’ ‘real’ ‘life’, the demands of which have brought on a mild, music-related existential crisis and have, until now, not afforded the time to think about it.
On the face of it, all is barrelling along very nicely indeed. I’ve been massively impressed with Clan RFM this year and the terrific projects my comrades have been involved with: Chrissie’s album with Helicopter Quartet, Joe’s unhygienic but effective finger-in-every-pie creative strategy, marlo’s participation in and championing of the Extraction Music event/comp, Luke’s mad tape on ultimate outsider-art label Cardboard Club, the awe-inspiring line-up gathering for Sof’s Tor Fest (alas, I won’t be there – I’m cashing in all the husband-points I’ve collected to go to TUSK and hang with Miguel later in October) – to name but a FEW. That any of them has managed to write anything for l’il ol’ RFM boggles the mind.
And me? Yeah, my dinky CD-r on Bells Hill has been well received, my ideas have been discussed in the ivory towers of academia and I am now the owner of two T-shirts commemorating events at least partly inspired by my writing. No biggee.
The only problem is that I can’t seem to listen to music.
It’s odd – throughout my life as a serial obsessive I’ve spent three or four years each on various nerdish pursuits (go on, ask me about textual variations in the numerous editions of Philip K. Dick’s The Unteleported Man a.k.a. Lies Inc. Err, no, on second thoughts, don’t) before losing interest and moving on, but music has always been exempt from this pattern before.
What’s happening? Despite the ridiculous tiredness, my concentration span hasn’t entirely left me – for example, I got through over twenty hours of podcasts about the horrors of the World War I recently (yes, that was what I was doing instead of listening to your tape). My sense of humour may have darkened but I’m maintaining a jaunty-ish Twitter presence (even if the rest of my correspondence is for shit). I’ve even tried dropping the noise and looking elsewhere. A few weeks ago I was told off for declaring 6 Music ‘unbearably smug’ so I turned it on, listened to three minutes of a string quartet covering ‘Kashmir’ by Led Zeppelin, and turned it off again. The prosecution rests. 1Xtra is a lot more exciting but the playlist system makes it impossible to listen to for any length of time (or at the same time each day – ‘Skwod‘ soundtracked the washing up for a week, it’s great but…). Experiments with YouTube, downloading mixes, internet radio and the like have had inconclusive results.
So what now? My apologies to those who have sent music or are expecting emails – I’ll do what I can. I have posts lined up from Chrissie, Luke and, inevitably, Joe so RFM won’t be entirely silent whilst I figure this out but, with the pile of stuff for review at record levels and visitor stats stalling, I wonder if you lot have any advice.
Any ideas as to why my grapes are in the freezer?
Tags: coil, current 93, david keenan, nurse with wound, strange attractor press, whitehouse
David Keenan – England’s Hidden Reverse (revised and expanded edition, 464 pages, Strange Attractor Press)
[Editor’s note: in order to make full sense of the below, the reader is advised to consult part one here before proceeding.]
…so the hefty tome arrives and an unexpected cross-country train journey affords me the time to give it a close reading.
The new forward, as advertised, is a written version of the lecture ‘Crime Calls For Night’ which I discussed in part one. Fixing it to the page does it no favours, unfortunately, and there is little point discussing it further for two reasons. Firstly, what was good in it before remains so, as does what was questionable. Secondly, its argument is largely unsupported by the text that follows (the book’s hook is ‘England’s lunatic tradition’ (page 284), the lecture’s is ‘night time imagery’ (page VII) – they ain’t the same). It’s post-hoc, tacked on.
That said, it might surprise you that I was hoping for more of this in the book itself. I have been largely negative in my account so far, true, but stuff like this on Whitehouse:
Let’s attempt to look this thing in the face, as much as we can, without any filter of ideology or explanation or ‘understanding’. (page XIII)
is pretty invigorating. I was hoping for something polemical but deeply personal, impressionistic but rigorous, something that might have me hurling the book across the room in fury or welling up with tears of recognition. Something inspiring that would leave me fizzing with ideas of my own. Tall order, maybe, but given Keenan’s chops and unbeatable subject matter – the unnatural histories of Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93 – it was entirely possible.
But nope. Instead what we get is A Very Long List Of All The Things That Happened. For fuck’s sake, I thought with rising dismay, this is just another bloody music book: 400 pages of painstakingly researched explanation and ‘understanding’.
Do any of these beats sound familiar? Guy grows up a misfit, moves away, finds a crowd/purpose, fierce early work, arguments about money/credits/romantic entanglements, drink and drugs, artistic development and lengthy accounts of the ‘mature’ work (with scholarly asides on influences and collaborators), happy accidents in the studio, fortuitous meetings and so on. All these gongs are bonged in the usual order determined by the ritual, like a bored gamelan orchestra calling the court in for lunch. You’ll be amazed to learn that this time was unique and that things will never be the same again too, of course.
On one level, I understand that this is a daft criticism to make. It’s like moaning that you’ve seen it all before whenever an artist daubs pigment onto a canvas using a brush to depict a figure – Gah! It’s just a painting – but Keenan’s trad fan/critic ‘definitive’ approach robs the subject of its enviable magic.
For example, Keenan largely keeps himself out of it and, as such, a lot of total bollocks passes without any editorial comment aside from the mildest, bathetic rebuke. When, at one point, Coil decide to only start recording on equinoxes and solstices Keenan dares to describe this nonsense as ‘arbitrary’ – ooh! Meow, eh? Absenting yourself might be journalistic best practice (I dunno, is it?) but this wasn’t advertised as an oral history. Frequent, spirited challenges would have been illuminating, entertaining – inspiring even (see Bangs vs. Reed). I was expecting to disagree at points, but I was genuinely shocked at it being a grind.
Finishing the book I found I’d made a couple of pages of notes towards this review, a short list of artists and releases to check out and one or two triggered memories (apologies to anyone else who was at the 1991 Current 93/Death in June/Sol Invictus show in New Cross that gets mentioned – I was the kid front left who coughed all the way through it. I even climbed up onto the stage at one point so I could sit down). Not much, is it? Keenan isn’t a bad writer, the topic is important and clearly a huge amount of work has been done. I was up for it, despite reservations – I am regularly inspired by music writing, that’s the reason I do it myself. So what went wrong here?
Part of the answer is summed up in this quote about David Tibet by the horror writer Thomas Ligotti (pages 383-384):
To talk about Tibet’s work in aesthetic terms is relevant only to a limited extent. Like other artists whose work is in an expressionist vein … you can take or leave him, but he absolutely stands above criticism because he is completely true to his visions, beliefs, obsessions, whatever you want to call the substance of his songs … It’s simply that Tibet is working in another realm entirely. He’s alone in what he does, and that makes any evaluation of him in the conventional terms of music or literature beside the point.
I think this is bang on, indeed I’ve said similar things myself about the limits of criticism when it comes to those driven to create within what I call the no-audience underground, and that ‘pffft’ sound you can hear is the shrivelling of Keenan’s project, irreparably punctured by Ligotti’s point. It’s so damaging I’m surprised he put it in, to be honest. Tibet and friends may not be judged on their musicianship or material success (though both are mentioned) but the very form of the book itself could not be more conventional. If your subject matter is working in another realm a ‘then they did this’ music bio approach is never going to capture what is special about them.
The other, larger, part of the answer occurred to me as I was laughing at a throwaway joke from Steven Stapleton, deadpanned as he explains his fixation on Perez Prado (page 344):
I don’t dance – my hat would fall off.
Despite Keenan’s silly whining in The Wire magazine, in between the original publication of the book and its reissue it is not the underground that has died – it thrives – but the critic. The human centipede three-way of ‘artist – critic/gatekeeper – fan’ has been irrevocably unstitched by the internet and social media. No one needs to eat that shit anymore. New relationships, new, flexible ways of looking are available. Yet the critic doesn’t want to dance because their hat would fall off. That hat means a lot – wearing it allows them to publish books, write columns for magazines and appear on panels at prestigious industry events no matter how stilted or inappropriate these strategies appear to those really engaging with what is happening.
I have a colleague here at RFM who can barely keep a hat on his head – plenty have been trampled under his almost perpetual footwork. Commenting on a draft of part one he said:
For my money Keenan’s voice (along with others… there’s loads of them) has grown tired. The whole meta-rock critic thing is dead, dead, dead.
then, pausing only to pinch my cheek and grab a bunch of tapes from the review pile, he shimmied back onto the dance floor. Ha, I thought – fug lifting, head starting to nod again – couldn’t agree more.
Tags: coil, current 93, david keenan, nurse with wound, strange attractor press, the wire, whitehouse
David Keenan – England’s Hidden Reverse (revised and expanded edition, 464 pages, Strange Attractor Press)
I almost didn’t bother with (any of) this. A coffee table reissue of a book about the good old days, the original edition of which is a sought after collectors’ item. It’s hardly of burning relevance is it? Might as well have released it on Record Store Day.
That said, two things had me ‘continue to checkout’. Firstly, I was caught by the insta-meta-nostalgia on social media surrounding its re-release. The vibe seemed to be: ‘hey remember the good old days when you couldn’t get Keenan’s book about the good old days for love nor money? Well now you can!’ I remember The Small Note, short-lived indie CD shop in Leeds, tried to order a copy for me, to be paid for with the proceeds of fencing flatworm CD-rs they kindly stocked, but their line of credit was stepped on by the supplier because they were going out of business and I missed out. Good times, eh? Now I could finally have it! It’s the same urge that has the middle aged buying childhood toys on eBay, or giant King Crimson box sets. Secondly, I have become morbidly fascinated with a few examples of Keenan’s work that have come my way over the last couple of years. I shall mention three.
To begin: ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, a short piece that appeared in The Wire magazine issue 371, dated January 2015. In this piece Keenan declared the underground dead and it was much discussed at the time of publication. The scamp that forwarded me a copy expected me to blow a fuse and issue a withering line-by-line rebuttal. I was tempted – it would certainly have been deserved – but the more I thought about it, the more disheartening the prospect became. Why engage with the flatulent grumblings of a confused old uncle who, apparently quite literally, had no idea what he was talking about? Or maybe Keenan was self-aware enough to feel guilty that his vision of the underground had been gentrified, codified, canonized and calcified partly due to people like him writing books about it – and silly articles in publications like The Wire. Either way: fuck it.
Next up: ‘Perspective: The Right to Offend‘, published on the Crack magazine website, dated 3rd November 2015. Crack give the context as follows:
London-based label Berceuse Heroique was recently subject to criticism following a tweet from the label’s founder that led to a wide rebuke of the label’s use of extreme imagery.
…and Keenan uses that reaction to kick off an article castigating trends in social media and musing on the nature and purpose of ‘offence’ in popular music. Whilst this is considerably less daft than the above there are several eyebrow raising ‘citation needed’ moments and some seriously muddy argument. Take this, clipped from a section comparing ‘Belsen Was A Gas’ by Sex Pistols to ‘Buchenwald’ by Whitehouse:
An album like Buchenwald by Whitehouse has no chords, no lyrics, no rhythms, no graphics. There is nothing to hold onto, nothing to align yourself with. It’s not ambiguous; it is very deliberately and precisely put together, but it does force you back on your own response without signposting exactly how you are supposed to react. Crucially, though, it does not attempt to aestheticise horror or mass murder or the holocaust. It’s not fun. The music is irreducibly tied up with the subject matter. It sounds as horrifying, as distressing, as barbaric as the scenario it attempts to evoke. No poetry after Buchenwald? Well, there’s no poetry here. In this, Whitehouse dare to take a stand.
First, some pedantry: it is unclear whether Keenan is referring to the track ‘Buchenwald’ or the whole four track album of the same name. This may be important as the other tracks reference incest, the Boston Strangler and the work of the Marquis de Sade so whether or not Whitehouse are aestheticizing horror isn’t as clear cut if the whole record is taken into account. To keep it simple, I’ll assume he’s talking about just the track.
(Aside: the track title referencing the Boston Strangler is ‘Dedicated to Albert de Salvo – Sadist and Mass Slayer’. Songs, books, park benches etc. are usually dedicated out of love, respect or gratitude. ‘Mass Slayer’ is an unnecessarily salacious use of tabloid vocabulary. Is this a parody of sentimentalism or are Whitehouse, as could easily be argued just using the tone and usual meaning of these words, celebrating a monster? Following Keenan’s argument, why isn’t the track simply called ‘Albert de Salvo’?)
Keenan is also ambiguous about the meaning of ‘ambiguous’. At first he claims the track is not ambiguous, offering a very peculiar definition of the notion (a Donald Judd box is ‘deliberately and precisely put together’, does that make it unambiguous?) but at the end of the same sentence he says it does not signpost exactly how you are supposed to react – which is pretty much the dictionary meaning of the word. Likewise, the idea that the music is irreducibly tied up with the subject matter doesn’t hold water. Anyone with a passing interest in the genre could imagine this track retitled and appearing on another Whitehouse album or slotting into any number of industrial/noise releases. Titling it ‘Buchenwald’ isn’t enough – the kind of essentialism Keenan needs to make the point doesn’t exist.
I thought for a fair while about the final part of that paragraph. What does ‘It sounds as horrifying … as the scenario it attempts to evoke’ mean? Is Keenan saying that this track is literally as harrowing as the actual Buchenwald concentration camp and the horror that occurred there? Presumably not because that claim (that a 12 minute noise track was as upsetting as the machinery of genocide) would be preposterous to the point of obscenity. So what are we comparing? Is the track documentary – like, say, a book of photographs? Again presumably not because, despite the mood it successfully and unbearably evokes, there is nothing essential linking this particular track to this particular atrocity. What are Whitehouse taking a stand on? That genocide is bad and that evil exists in the world? Mate, we didn’t need to be told. Or is it something like the spiel on the cover of Whitehouse’s 2001 album Cruise:
That art created with anything less than unflinching engagement with reality is pathetic decadence? Who knows? As rhetoric Keenan’s account is exciting stuff, as an argument it’s gibberish. The article finishes with this call to arms:
But there is a right to offend just as there is a right to be offended. Rights exist to protect what ordinarily could never survive, what is most offensive, what is most off-message, most non-mainstream. There is also, crucially, a right to be irresponsible, a right to say no, to refuse pieties about the sanctity of life and the beauty of love and the achievements of democracy and the reputation of Boris Johnson, to scribble all over them with crayons, if you feel like it. Take that away and we lose some of the greatest art of the 20th Century, from Life Stinks by Pere Ubu through Suicide and Blaise Cendrars. What are we left with? Billy Bragg, Sting and The Lightning Seeds.
Whilst largely in agreement with this sentiment, the temptation is to remind the author that we are no longer in the 20th Century. An article about the right to offend in an age of identity politics, ideological puritanism and public shaming via social media might have been fascinating but Keenan only mentions this stuff to dismiss it (entertainingly, I admit) and crack on with the history lesson. The ‘what are we left with?’ examples are hilarious. I mean, there are literally hundreds of acts pushing things forward in brilliant, innovative ways without being bulb-ends like Gizmo (yes, really) of Berceuse Heroique. It’s been a long while since blokes in three quarter length leather coats were the vanguard and, quite rightly, plenty of them are amongst those being challenged now.
Heh, heh – The fucking Lightning Seeds. One for the kids there.
Finally: ‘Crime Calls For Night‘, an audio/visual talk presented at Off The Page, Bristol Arnolfini, September 2014. This lecture, given at The Wire magazine’s ‘literary festival for sound and music’ and subtitled ‘A phenomenology of transgression in industrial music’ (for those playing hackademia bingo: ‘house!’), is another order of magnitude less daft than the articles above.
Over 50ish minutes Keenan has some space to flesh out ideas and some of what I called gibberish above starts to make more sense (The Lightning Seeds are replaced by Joanna Newsom too, which made me laugh). The section about the adolescent nature of Paleolithic art is great and had me nosing around the internet hoping to find a cheap edition of the book he mentions (R. Dale Guthrie – The Nature of Paleolithic Art, no such luck – might have to try inter-library loans). The bits on industrial music as ritual gave me pause too – reminding me of reading things like Rapid Eye and the Industrial Culture Handbook, having my nipples pierced by Mr. Sebastian shortly after my 18th birthday and warily climbing the stairs above the photocopiers to Wildcat, the Brighton based piercing supplies shop, only to find Genesis P. Orridge there holding forth:
A day without a Prince Albert is a day lost!
Anyway, two Whitehouse tracks get an airing this time. Firstly, ‘Ripper Territory’ which is an easier sell than ‘Buchenwald’ as it contains audio from news reports of Peter Sutcliffe’s arrest so the piece is tied to the subject matter in a straightforward way. Keenan’s analysis of this is compelling – the news reports are at once banal and sensational, at odds with the band’s stomach-churning accompaniment which needs do nothing but hold up a cold mirror to reality. That Keenan finishes this section by leaving the question ‘where is Ripper territory?’ hanging unanswered (the implied answer being ‘in us’) is very smart indeed. I was less convinced, again, by the account of ‘Buchenwald’ but it certainly seemed more persuasive than the cribbed version in the ‘Right to Offend’ article. What I really need, I thought, as I rewound it for the third time, is a definitive written account of this argument…
Wait, what? I’m sorry what did you say?
Long out of print and with the first edition demanding serious money from collectors, this much-anticipated expanded edition comes completely redesigned, with many new and previously unseen photographs and ephemera. It also comes with two new chapters, a final summing up of how the Reverse has changed gear since the book was first published and a new Chapter Zero entitled Crime Calls For Night where Keenan presents a daring argument that traces the transgressive urge that animates industrial culture all the way from Palaeolithic cave art through rock n roll and punk rock and up to contemporary noise music.
Ah, OK, let me get my credit card…
In part two: ‘Crime Calls For Night’ revisited, including more on the ‘no poetry…’ idea if I can get my head around the source of the notion (Adorno: ‘To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.’), some ‘Lester Bangs died for his own sins, not mine’ stuff about the erosion of the artist/critic divide and the redundancy of critics in general and maybe even an account of the contents of the book.
Don’t hold your breath though – it only arrived on Saturday and is a right doorstep.