the 2017 zelleby awards

January 2, 2018 at 5:05 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Phew!  Another year over, a new one just begun.

It’s that time again eh?  Sharpen your pencils and look back to what it meant to be alive and listening in 2017?

Being non-competitive folk there’s no overall ‘winner’ here.  Each RFM writer has sifted through hours and hours of listening memories to come up with a list of releases (or in Sof’s case – a single tape) that have really meant something to us.  We’re all winners eh?

You’re welcome to clap us along, raise a glass of bubbly or disagree and comment – discussion is always good yeah.

So, while the haters diss the list we at RFM don flak jackets and stick our sensitive parts out there.

Comrades – I present to you the Radio Free Midwich Zellaby end-of-year-list (2017).

Rob Haylerrob hayler at tusk

First up, some thoughts from our esteemed founder – Rob Hayler.

2017 saw one of the mainstream’s periodic upticks in interest in the underground.  The coverage was, as ever, woeful.  The Guardian led the pack with a vampiric attempt to leech authentic lifeblood, presumably to lure back some of the hip readers, so beloved of advertisers, that it haemorrhaged during its shameful anti-Corbyn campaign.  Fuck that.  Most of The Guardian is now just a stream of hot piss being hosed into the face of its legacy.

The Quietus was as late to the party as ever.  Their ‘New Weird Britain’ shtick was weirdly embarrassing on several levels.  Evangelising in Vice (ugh) offshoot Noisey John Doran described a scene ‘impervious to all attempts at commodification’ – in an article containing seven advert breaks, a clickbait footer and a warning the site wanted to shit cookies onto my laptop.  I wish I was joking.

I could go on but why bother?  The best thing to do is turn your back and take a long walk in the thriving ecosystem operating entirely apart from this bollocks.

As if in response to the mainstream’s attempts to prove relevant, 2017 saw a spirit lifting surge in zine culture.  This year I caught up with some back issues of The Chapess, continued to enjoy the indefatigable grimness of Hiroshima Yeah!, marvelled at one-off art projects like Crow Versus Crow’s Ra Wept, photocopied detritus from Robert Ridley-Shackleton and knockout illustration by blog-fave Joined By Wire.  Notable new publications included Dukes of Scuba, a mini-zine fizzing with enthusiasm for the noise scene in Wales, and, of course, Andy Wood’s TQ.  Andy played a blinder here by creating a regular, substantial paper zine but promoting it via that fancy social media that everyone uses nowadays.  With only half-a-dozen issues published he already has a bunch of great contributors and a hundred subscribers.  More power to him.

The digital realm remains as inspiring as ever.  The quality and diversity of writing to be found on blogs, written largely for the love of it by people who are essentially hobbyists, still can’t be touched by ‘professional’ sources like those above.  #noisetwitter was a constant source of comradeship and good humour, despite the trying times, and CAMP radio deserves special mention for hosting shows by Sof Cooper, Crow Versus Crow, Neil Campbell, marlo de lara, Stuart Chalmers and other luminaries.  A terrific resource.

Away from the house the highlight was, without rival, this year’s TUSK festival in and around Sage in Gateshead.  Lee Etherington and the crew kindly hosted not only my final Midwich gig – a profoundly satisfying creative moment for me – but also Klein, who performed the best live set I saw all year.  She proved that even jaded, exhausted veterans such as myself could be left speechless with delight, hovering two inches above the floor, by something thrilling and new.

Away from the noise underground I found myself bewildered, charmed and excited by the woozy, euphoric, future R&B and hip hop introduced to me by 1Extra as I pottered aimlessly around the kitchen.  I returned to tracks like ‘Girlfriend’ by NAO (yes, I know it was released in 2016 – bite me) and ‘Yesterday’ by Noname (ditto) over and over again, following them down late-night YouTube rabbit holes.  One such journey ended with me dumbfounded alternating between ‘It’s OK To Cry’ and ‘Ponyboy’ by SOPHIE.  Holy shit.

The album from the ‘canon’ I Iistened to most in 2017 was Nightclubbing by Grace Jones and film of the year was Paddington 2.  Don’t come at me with Blade Runner or whatever, the bear won it fair and square.

OK, now the main event.  Those that correspond with me privately will know that 2017 was an extraordinarily difficult year for my family.  The jaunty persona I’ve maintained on Twitter, whilst never insincere, has been a prop to help me cope/escape during some very dark times.  Accordingly, the purpose music has served is analogous to those silver foil blankets given to crash victims waiting for an ambulance – comfort during a time of visceral shock.  This may explain why my choices are mainly by friends and familiar names and largely from two genres I’m always happy to immerse myself in: psych noise and drone.  Mea culpa.

First, the ‘oh, just press repeat and that’s the day sorted’ section:

tuluum shimmering

Tuluum ShimmeringLinus and Lucy

A 75 minute psych groove on the riff from the Peanuts theme tune.  Turns any train journey into a summer flashback.

Daniel ThomasKeep The Red Kites Flying

An evolution in Dan’s light-touch-heavy-analogue style.  Possibly his best work, endlessly revisitable.

Caroline Mckenziethe drowning of ophelia

Four hours of dark ambient inspired by Shakespearian suicide, sounding like a cross between culver and SAWII era Aphex Twin?  Yeah, I can get with that.

Next, the ‘everything touched by these people’ section:

Earlier in the year I chose not to go and see Sunn O))) play at Leeds University and instead spent the ticket money I saved buying the entire digital back catalogue on MIKE VEST’s Bandcamp site.  Pretty certain I did the right thing there.  For weeks afterwards I walked around, earbuds welded in, feeling like some kind of space wizard.  My nostrils still ache from the near-constant flaring…

If you like your psych noise a little more sasquatch-spotting and less spaceships-slowly-crashing-into-moons then may I recommend that you investigate EIDERDOWN RECORDS?  There are no releases on this wonderful label that fall short of intensely satisfying.  It’s the home of a fried-pastoral aesthetic that laughs as it warns you how strong the stuff is only after you’ve taken a hit.

helicopter quartet

Two RFM colleagues next.  Firstly, CHRISSIE CAULFIELD has had a remarkable 2017, though she would be too modest to agree.  Foremost amongst a number of releases are the solo album From the Carboniferous and this year’s album from the duo Helicopter Quartet, The Birds Discover Fire.  The former is a beautiful meditation, more drone in style than her usual output, and the latter is an exquisite carving, strung with taut emotion – like a Brâncuși sculpture translated into music.  Seriously, I’ve been banging on about how amazing and important this band is for bloody years.  Go and download it now.

Secondly, SOPHIE COOPER has also lit up everything she’s lent her considerable talent to.  I’ve seen her perform solo in a tiny art gallery to a handful of people and as part of the Friday night headliners United Bible Studies at TUSK.  She’s released her own Faust Tapes in The Curfew Tower Recordings on Crow Versus Crow and offers an occasional Dial-a-Bone service that, well… the mind boggles.  However, it seems that The Slowest Lift, her duo with Julian Bradley, has really caught everyone’s imagination.  The The Blow Volume 3 tape on Front & Follow (billed as Sophie Cooper & Julian Bradley) and the eponymous album on VHF are at once the obvious children of the pair but at the same time utterly alien and fascinatingly other.  ‘What the hell is this?’ you ask yourself, every track, every time.  So, so good – and its December release date has shamed all those who lobbed out their ‘end’ of year list prematurely.

Finally then, the two albums I was most surprised to see are, non-coincidentally, my two favourite albums of the year.

itdreameddrone

Firstly, A.Y. by itdreamedtome was slipped out in an understated but handsome package by no-audience underground veteran Chris Gowers on his label Trome Records.  A new release from Chris is always cause for celebration but, as it turned out that itdreamedtome was none other than Johann Wlight breaking a decade long silence, I couldn’t log in to Paypal fast enough.

Chris tells the story of JW’s work, influence and disappearance eloquently in the notes on the album’s Bandcamp page so you can catch up there.  I’ll just say that these pieces have a rare poise, an intricate delicacy that overlays much sub-surface activity.  Like paddling in the waters of a moonlit bay and feeling something large and scaly brush against your ankles.  His touch is as deft as it ever was – what a joy to have him back.

tbbculver box – photo by rob

Lastly, with crushing inevitability, we have the body beneath by culver.  The logistics are cyclopean: 65 previously unreleased tracks, spanning the years 1996 to 2013, named only for the year recorded, spread over 10 CDs (not CD-rs) and housed in a screen printed wooden box.  The total running time tops 12 and a half hours.  Its gestation has been elephantine; the set has been literally years in the making – hence my rejoicing at its birth.

Each culver release is another page in the atlas mapping out the territory that Lee Stokoe has claimed as his own and, despite already owning around 80, I was counting the cash in my wallet the second I finally saw this in the flesh.  The precision and seriousness of Lee’s purpose and the (maybe surprising to some) variation he works into the roar that is his art kept me rapt throughout.  This is my favourite album of the year 2017.

Love and best wishes to all – can’t wait to hear what you have in mind for 2018.

Rob x

Next we hear from the essential Sophie Cooper.

sam and the plants

Hello all! Hope you managed to get through Christmas and indeed, the entire year, ok. I’m alright. Started 2017 with a new year’s resolution to work hard and I think I’ve achieved this. Records and residencies, and y’know a job I love that actually pays. The other half opened a beer shop in our beloved Golden Lion pub (#TorBeers #VisitTodmorden) and that’s been an interesting addition to this strange life I’m living. The dog is doing well, thanks for asking.

Music wise I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of new stuff but not written about any of it for Radio Free Midwich (see above for excuses) so was surprised that dear Joe and Rob are allowing me to say my piece in the spectacular “best of…” list produced right here. I’ve only got one album to discuss today because it’s the only thing I’ve given my entire attention to and I have listened to it countless times over and over in the car while driving round West Yorkshire. It’s Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants.

This album was originally released in May on cassette by Preston based label ‘Them There Records’ in an edition of just 35. The release came very nicely packaged in printed card and had an extensive insert containing song lyrics and notes that explain what’s what in each song. These sold out more or less instantly and in their own way these tapes caused a bizarre cultural phenomenon amongst those I knew who had heard it. Small talk turned into big talk down the pub, “have you heard that tape Sam did?” became a question asked over and over again usually answered with “yeah, it’s amazing” followed by an in-depth conversation about it. The reason I say this is bizarre is because this type of en masse interest in a record to me is a fairly rare thing. Readers of this will undoubtedly have some connection to the “no audience underground” and we all know that records come and go. In my opinion not that many of them produced on a scale like this tend to linger around for that long. Flaming Liar has become an actual part of a lot of people’s lives and in my eyes its not too hard to see why.

Sam has a wild way with words and I think at the core of this record’s success is the deeply satisfying song craft that makes each chord change and interplay between melody and lyrics sing beautifully. This artist clearly knows how to put a tune together and in a sense the song structures of the record come across as quite traditional however there is this overarching oddness tying it all together that really appeals to me. Despite being an hours worth of separate ‘songs’ they are presented as two continuous sides of music producing their own other worldly entity as one tune becomes unable to exist without the others. I’m talking from the point of view of someone who has listened to this umpteenth times, as each song essentially ends in your head you’re already hearing the next one and I think that’s the addictive quality of this album that has so many people hooked. Lyrically Flaming Liar really works the listener with things like incorrect grammar and by putting words together that shouldn’t make sense but in conduction with the melodies and genius rhyming couplets it just all fits and after a while you find yourself singing along to every word coming up with fake harmonies and imagery in your head as you’re doing so.

The album is tastefully unpretentious. The songs seem to be written from a personal place and I found myself wondering what could have inspired each one. The liner notes hold some hints at answers e.g. “an anti-hymn of sorts, written in a moment of cold clarity” but at the same time they keep you guessing. On one hand the writer seems incredibly open, most of the words written from a first person point of view with lyrics inviting you to dig deep into your emotions as Sam lays his out for everyone to see: “I light, I trip, I fall. I soil before you all”. There are mentions of deep love and tinges of sadness, there are several references to crying littered throughout the album. Yet on the other hand the messages are obscure and kind of harsh: “you’ve been down, I’ve been down. How are you supposed to sound?” It’s like the artist is messing with the listener in a way, perhaps you aren’t suppose to figure it out, making us come back for more.

sam and the plants 2

I heard about people writing to the label to say thanks for putting this out so I wasn’t surprised when Flaming Liar got another short run re-release this time 50 copies of a CDR. Them There Records did a really nice thing of honouring the tape format by releasing this version as a double CD containing one side of the tape on each so you didn’t lose that glued together effect. Similar attention was paid to the artwork, all hand typed and pretty.

This album was mostly recorded on tape with very few overdubs made later creating this warm and cosy vibe. Tape is celebrated as a contributing instrument throughout Flaming Liar, layered up between songs and over the top. You hear tape being played at different speeds and in different directions throughout sewing pieces of songs together. My copy of the tape had a weird feature during a song soon at the start of side B called “the net was never cast”. Somehow the volume of the song gets louder during a great banjo solo halfway through and initially it was a weird addition but after all those plays it just became part of the fabric. Eventually the label put the album on Bandcamp and I heard it digitally through studio monitors showing me this little “effect” didn’t actually exist. A perfectly placed mistake. I later found out this also happened on another friend’s copy, she loved it as well. I appreciate that this record was made to be heard on tape and it’s made me consider mastering approaches for different formats a lot so thanks for that Sam.

A good song lends itself nicely to this type of lo-fi treatment though and you can’t get away from them here. Clearly the songs have been loved and crafted to the point where they can be recorded in a one take, press play and record at the same time, to the point where they sound effortless. Sam is a skilled instrumentalist moving between notes on harmonium, piano, guitar and banjo like a path travelled many times before. His voice has a story telling quality guiding us through various ways of looking at the world and outsider observations. Musically he throws in notes that take you in unexpected directions and these moments really make the song sparkle making everything come together in a truly magical way.

I love this album! Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants is number one for me. Sorry I don’t have a top 176 album list for you but I’ve been working. Listen to this album in 2018, physical copies have all gone but the label have kindly put it up on Bandcamp. You can also hear an interview I did with Sam on my radio show Tor FM where I ask a lot of questions about his writing methods. Love be with you in 2018 x

wizards of oiwizards of oi – what it is not

A puff of smoke, a flash of light and genie-like he appears – Luke Vollar

And so marks the end of a pretty terrible year…

A time of anxiety and uncertainty about my future and what grim tribulations lay ahead (buy me a pint and I’ll share the whole sorry story with you). More time on my hands should have given me the impetus to dive into the review pile but alas I was constantly at war with grey and weary enui. I found the effort to provide sparkling insight into underground sounds just wasn’t there.

I still took a great deal of solace in music, be it the sombre post-metal of Neurosis or the self-loathing hip hop of Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt. The furious tornado of rage from the Power Violence/Grindcore underground offered me an outlet for the rage and injustice I felt.

As the request for end of year thoughts was put out I found myself musing over the year as I walked to the pub to meet a mate whilst listening to Fata Morgana by Stuart Chalmers. It dawned on me that my end of year list would include two artists who have been at the top of my end of year list for the past two years- Stuart Chalmers and Robert Ridley Shackleton. This in turn led me to mull over the ‘problem’ of the review pile and the sheer glut of (often fantastic) artists who want people to hear their work. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with Rob Hayler’s views raised on the punkness of bandcamp and the increased accessibility to peoples music that can bypass all the horseshit there is an undeniable risk of over-saturation.

On a purely personal level and as someone who has always been fairly (ok very) obsessive about music a certain amount of investment is required in order the reap the rewards from their work. Hence I have now spent a couple of years getting my head round a couple of artists who have been on an upwards trajectory with their work.

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Robert Ridley Shackleton’s – The Opera – on Chocolate Monk is a culmination of all of the disparate elements of his art brought together into a sprawling masterpiece. Part absurd/awkward/ moving audio diary part cardboard noise work out part purple bedroom funk.

Stuart Chalmers has maintained his output of dazzling brain-music unshackled by earthly requirements and free to orbit the space ways. His disc on Chocolate Monk plus his collaboration with Neil Campbell and his self released Fata Morgana are all essential.

Towards the end of a grim year came an unexpected shaft of sunlight as my duo The Teatowels were asked to perform our debut at the Tusk Festival in Newcastle. Several sleepless nights were spent prior to the event asking myself was I really going to ‘sing’ in front of an audience? On the night all nerves were forgotten and the show itself seemed to be over in minutes, we had a blast.

The joyful experience of catching up with old pals and meeting new people all with a passion and intrigue for weird sounds was a wonderful thing, as was mooching about the toon with two of my best pals. I left with my soul enriched but my liver threatening to leave me. Highlights include Rob Hayler’s thought provoking panel discussion followed by a Midwich set as the perfect hangover cure and the dismantling of the trusty groovebox – absurd, funny and moving. The Brainbombs set was a ferocious nihilistic groove machine and I damn near dislocated my head from banging it.
so before a ramble some more here’s a list of things that I enjoyed this year in no particular order:

stuart chalmers loop phantasystuart chalmers loop fantasy 4

Drunk in Hell – s/t
Infernal Body Demo
Filthxcollins Demo
Of habit- Extended technique
Stuart Chalmers- Loop fantasy 4 , Fata Morgana, In the vicinity of the reversing pool (with Neil Campbell) , Mazes and Labyrinths (2007-2017)
T Mikawa- Rising Sunset
Blood Lewiis-The Toadstool Millionaires
Feghoots -Dwindling Correspondence
Fordell Research Unit- Octuary
Wizards of Oi- Wot it is not
Psanck- Psanck
Richard Youngs- Fibe Optic Ballads
Robert Ridley Shackleton- The Opera
Street Beers-Seriously Hot
Karen Constance- Gudgeon Snout
Karen Constance and Elkka Nyoukis- Bicker Sweet
Lust rollers- Grim reflections from the poetic spleen
BBblood/Posset/Stuart Chalmers- Delirium Cutlet Impaste
Fells-Waking
Kevin Sanders- Numb for Somethings
Skull Mask- La muerte es sabia
Culver- Prisoner of FRU
75 Dollar Bill- Wood/Metal/Plastic
Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society- Simultonality
Yeah You- Krutch

And in conclusion 2018 is already looking a lot brighter. Stuart Arnot’s prediction for The Teatowels blasting out a set from a boat on the Tyne for the next Tusk Festival might just happen. Anything is possible right?

Feet on the ground, head in the sky – it’s Paul Margree’s blurred memories

In 2017, I listened to and wrote about music, then stopped writing about and listening to music, and then started listening to and writing about music again. I spent the first third of the year swamped in dark ambient symphonies, drone shudders, computer music chatters and freely improvised squalls in a state of caffeinated befuddlement before throwing the whole lot in the (proverbial) bin post-Easter in an attempt to figure out what I actually liked listening to, if anything. And, while I still don’t have the answer to this, the investigations required have continued to prove rather fruitful.

Here are some good albums that I should have reviewed but didn’t in 2017:

maya and tom

Maya Dunietz & Tom White: Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE)

Duncan Harrison: Preamble to Nihil (self-released)

Kostis Kilymis: A Void (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Yan Jun and Ben Owen Swimming Salt 游泳的盐(Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Jlin: Black Origami (Planet Mu)

Sloth Racket: See The Looks On The Faces (Tombed Visions)

Cristián Alvear / Seijiro Murayama: Karoujite (Potlach)

Organ For The Senses (Marginal Frequency)

Daniel M. Karlsson: Expanding and Overwriting (Conditional Recs)

YOL: Hand of Glory (self-released)

Kill Alters: No Self-Helps (Hausu Mountain)

It wasn’t all bad, however. In those jittery months, I got to speak to a set of talented, passionate experimental musicians about their craft, a process that was both a privilege and an eye-opener. Speaking to these artists added perspective and nuance to my own understanding of their recorded output and helped to free something in my own creative process, an unfolding which is still ongoing. Thank you Marlo, Colin, Duncan, Phil, Elizabeth, Gabriele, Petridisch, Andie, Sam, Dale and Cristián – and apologies to everyone I never quite got around to.

Here are some good albums that I did manage to review – or at least talk about – in 2017:

daniel bennett roil

Seth Cooke: Triangular Trade (Suppedaneum)

Me, Claudius: Reason For Balloons (Dinzu Artefacts)

Phil Julian: Clastics (Conditional Recs)

Maria W. Horn: Excitation – Frustration – Excitation (Conditional Recs)

Dale Cornish: Aqal (Entr’acte)

Bredbeddle: Stackes (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Sophie Cooper: The Curfew Tower Tapes (Crow Versus Crow)

Irreversible Entanglements: s/t (International Anthem)

Mark So … And Suddenly From All This There Came Some Horrid Music (Caduc)

Trupa Trupa: Jolly New Songs (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records/Ici d’aileurs)

Elizabeth Veldon: Laika & Other Works (Third Kind Records)

Guiseppe Ielasi: 3Pauses (Senufo Editions)

Mami Wata: s/t (Wild Silence)

Missing Organs: Old Speakers (Umor Rex)

Daniel Bennett: Roil (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Diurnal Burdens: Inaction/Extinction (Invisible City Records)

A lot of labels had a good year, too. You’ll all have your favourites, but, for me, the dedication of Tombed Visions, Linear Obsessional, Sacred Tapes, Potlach, Wild Silence, Crow Versus Crow, Entr’acte, Singing Knives, Organized Music From Thessaloniki, Chocolate Monk, Invisible City, Beartown Records, Baba Vanga and Structured Disasters was crucial in achieving a kind of mass immersion in weirdo sonics that has helped rewire my brain. Don’t go changing, y’all.

Threaded through all of this, of course, is the warp and weft of everyday life. Getting up, going to work, coming home, cooking, cleaning, washing, giving people lifts, getting stuck in traffic, filling in forms, going on holiday. You know the drill. During these bursts of activity, I’ve listened to Stormzy, Sza, Princess Nokia, St. Vincent, The National, Neil Young, Drake and Halse . I’ve heard ‘Despacito’ more times than I thought I would ever hear a song (and that includes Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love Is All Around’ and all those Christmas songs that never, ever go away). Sometimes music is a consolation in all of this, sometimes it’s a distraction. Sometimes it’s both.

However, I can recommend a period of abstinence from music. This may seem like an odd thing to say on a website devoted to uncovering organized, disorganized or just plain unorganized sounds, but this absence really did make the heart (and ears) grow fonder. My hiatus came to an end when I was welcomed into the Radio Free Midwich fold, a move that helped me chart a path back to thinking about music again. So, Joe, Rob and all the RFM squad, thank you.

There was plenty of live stuff this year, although individual gigs do tend to slip away from my lobes like custard down a plughole unless I make specific notes. Some things have stuck, however –TUSK remained one of most welcoming and sonically adventurous festivals around, closely followed by Glasgow’s Counterflows, whose city-spanning locus matches the diversity of its bill. The London Contemporary Music Festival felt a little highbrow in contrast although sets by Joan La Barbara, Moor Mother, Yeah You and the Elaine Mitchener Ensemble were definite highlights.

Here in the big smoke, Café Oto continues to be a beacon for weirdo sound junk of all stripes, with newer locations such as Sonic Imperfections and Rye Wax in Peckham, Iklectic in Lambeth and New River Studios in Manor House offering up tasty morsels themselves. Even better, scenes around the UK are asserting themselves –Dylan Nyoukis and the squad in Brighton springs immediately to mind, but there are fruitful nodes of improv, electronics and noise in Gateshead, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cheltenham and loads of other places. This cannot be anything but good news.

Here are some gigs that have rocked my 2017:

Ian Watson, Marlo Eggplant, dtub; New River Studios (February)

Aaron DIlloway; Hope & Ruin (February)

Posset; Café Oto Project Space (March)

Les Filles de Illighadad; Counterflows (April)

Farmer’s Manual; Counterflows (April)

Phil Maguire;Sonic Imperfections (July)

Dead Neanderthals/Sly & The Family Drone; Café Oto (September)

Beachers / R Elizabeth / Dan Hayhurst/ Missing Organs; New River Studios (September)

Duncan Harrison;TUSK (October)

Klein;TUSK(October)

The Seen; Hundred Years Gallery (November)

New Intimacy III; London Contemporary Music Festival (December)

Sharon Gal and Paul Watson; Café Oto (December)

philphil maguire at sonic imperfections (photographer unknown)

What does all this mean? It is possible to synthesize all this sizzle and noise into something meaningful? Should we even bother? After all, isn’t all this list making and ranking just another way to instil FOMO and get you to part with your hard earned?

Well, maybe. I reckon most of these artists deserve your coin as they battle on through financial hardship and general indifference. So, let’s raise a mug of peppermint tea to all those cultural workers whose idiosyncratic, dissonant lurches up various one-way streets brings a little bit of joy to our lives.

Here’s to you, one and all.

We would not be complete without a word from Marlo Eggplant.

It has felt like a super long year. Constant turmoil in the world left me completely disinterested in making music and listening in isolation. And for me, to appreciate and create music and art without social context has been particularly difficult. So, in light of folx calling out the misogynistic white washed, I propose to you some music that I have been enjoying. I am absolutely certain I missed some great music released in 2017. But these releases are more than enough for me to feel like other folks were feeling similarly.

C. Lavender – “Vanishing Light” (Hot Releases)

Where does one go when they are feeling overwhelmed by life? Do we choose to be studied through a two-way mirror in hopes those behind it have our best interests in mind or do we choose to live as outsiders and let our internal conflicts unfold without help?

Freaking good. I love an album that you feel compelled to listen to from beginning to end. The recording quality is nostalgic and analogue-ish. While the tracks are ordered, the sounds are not confined. Her orchestration is unpredictable but melodic and zeroes in on the irritation and desire to feel something. Hudson, New York based C. Lavender has been killing it for years but perhaps this album’s juxtaposition with the fascist irritants of the times is particularly medicinal and accurate.

stackes2

Stackes – “Bredbeaddle” (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Nottingham’s Rebecca Lee’s work is charged with playful intent. It feels good on the ears with a late-night radio channel surfing quality. Rolling the dial between the fuzz of a well-loved vinyl collection, the tenor of instruments, and the more mathematical computer sounds, Lee distracts us from the dis-ease of current events.

dead machine

緊那羅:Desi La (Kinnara : Desi La) –  “Dead Machine”  (Afrovisionary : Dark Matter)

The always excellent Afrovisionary: Dark Matter label promoting the black avantgarde brings a treat with a full-length album by the label’s admin LA BRUHA DESI LA. I was tuned into this particular release with the Tokyo based artist’s current geometric video art accompanying the tracks. The album is electronic harpsichords and sci-fi visions. I have been sent a homing signal back to my home planet and escape from this sur(reality) contemporary society.

edit history

Sterile Garden – “Edit/History/Erase” (Self released)

Portland, Maine artist Jacob DeRaadt describes this release as music concrete explorations of the human condition. Accurate. Seeing the masses as grouped individual experience, this long form cassette is aesthetically pleasing and epic. Experiencing both nothing and momentous. With each side, atmospheric discomfort DeRaadt articulates the ephemeral.

Helictitie in the Studiophoto of typical nau live equipment

What do I think about the last 12 months?  Here’s Joe Posset’s list plus a riff about live music.

A gradual change in live performance seems to have reached a peak in 2017.   While the NAU is pretty much built on the idea that performer and audience are one and the same, when we get down to it, in the live arena, the old invisible contract between active, single-discipline performer and passive single-discipline audience holds sway.   You know the sort of thing I’m talking about: the ‘artist plugs in a box and plays, the audience shuts up and listens’ scenario.

For years Usurper have been redrafting this contract, busting out of a single-discipline improv mode by adding elements of humour, visual art, dada-winks, audience participation, drama, repetitive movement and sharp political comment to their increasingly abstract(ed) work.  And for me some of the most electric performances of the year have brought a similar polymorphic structure to the NAU.

To be clear…I’m not just on about Bob Dylan painting his own record covers here – another key element of the NAU is the multi-skilled nature of its proponents.  What I’m talking about is bringing those multiple energies and disciplines straight into performance where what we thought was one thing becomes the other.

renerene mcbrearty (photographer unknown)

The penny dropped for me while watching Rene McBrearty perform Hesitation, Deviation, Repetition.  This prompted my listening companion to say – ‘kinda reminds me of Malcy Duff’ which of course was a spot on comparison.

Rene’s vocal rollercoaster had all the hallmarks of a vocal jaxx / sound-text piece. Repetitive sounds, sense and meaning were explored and performed with a wonderfully straight face.  But if some beard walked in halfway through they would have struggled to place the setting and root of this marvellous piece.  It stood in a new patch of grass; not chin-stroking sound art, or visual art + .  It was a slippery performance delighting in sliding between exciting places.

Granted…a few acts branching out does not a movement make.   But this year, when I think back, I’m seeing more and more of this polymorphism.

Rob Hayler’s well documented final Midwich performance was both an artistic farewell, a greatest hits medley and a safety-conscious Metzger action.

Headless Pootluke poot in gateshead

In their solo guises, and in an occasional duo, Duncan Harrison and Luke Poot have left audiences with their jaws loose and flapping.  Physical comedy, tape interruptions, fourth-wall collisions and a deep, deep investigation into the nature of the uncomfortable have made their performances bristle with meaning way beyond the purely sonic.  They react in the moment to the moment.  It seems you don’t need shock tactics to blow open the doors of perception – just a well placed joke, a clever mind and carefully choreographed movements.

Sophie Coopersophie cooper in thornton

More and more examples are released from my memory banks; Sophie Cooper’s trombone performances have merged highfalutin’ reductionism with laff-out-loud honks, electronic loops and heartfelt covers.  Yeah You, Acrid Lactations and Sippy Cup are pushing at the long and illustrious history of ‘tabletop improv’ by balancing primitive electronics, domestic non-instruments with dangerous, unhinged drama – gloves are off, rules are broken and anything can happen.

All-in-all 2017 has been an outstanding year for live music and I’m confident 2018 will continue to stretch genres and rubberise boundaries.

ESSENTIAL MUSICS WHAT I’VE LOVED TO LISTEN TO THIS YEAR, IN NO ORDER BUT MARK MY WORDS. ALL WILL MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE.  THANK YOU ALL…

Witch Blood – Xenie (Invisible City Records)

“There’s an aching to the sound that’s more than the sum of any hiss or lo-fi tape wobble. It’s the marbled end-papers in a leather-bound book; it’s the smell of cigar smoke on a blue velvet jacket.”

Katz Mulk – Husks (Singing Knives)

“Below the chanting it squats waiting for the echoing ‘clack’ balancing the freezer burn amp-huffing on Andrea Kearney’s perfectly timed Cuban finger clicks.  High on rum I feel gloriously wasted.”

KWC – Fruit Rosary Sacred Hour Service (Power Moves Library)

“Hail Marys and ritualistic bingo / self-help becomes text-sound gumbo / Fylkingen with lap steel blunts”

Various Artists – L’Incoronazione (Hyster Tapes)

“…tracks that seem to bridge the gap between Gastr Del Sol’s sweetly-composed minimal whimsy and the raw burst of anger unleashed when you realise your car’s been nicked.”

Spoils & Relics – Threadbare Adult Life (Second Sleep)

“A constant churn of soft and gentle, an avalanche of chinchilla fur envelopes an unsuspecting listener warming the cockles like a fine brandy.”

King Kungo – Da Ist Der Rhein (Spam)

“The shouts and hollas let us gnarly-old adults revisit that pure innocent joy of shouting into the wind; you can hear his excitement as these sounds reflect back his practiced squeals and effectively rolled ‘r’s and trills.”

yol wanting less

Yol – Always Leave Them Wanting Less (Self Release)

“The carefully controlled mayhem, the steel toe-capped attack and shuddering decay sprints though the ten minute set.  But as the balti bowls are hurled about for one last time, and in the instant before the cheers begin, one set of booted feet swiftly exit stage left.  Their work cleanly and precisely done.”

Dale Cornish – Aqal (Entr’acte)

“Ear-cuppingly intimate, a conversation between bass-crustacean, measured in bright bubbles and underwater static (If such a thing is possible).”

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Self Release)

“This is a repeating cascade of sonic bladderwrack – all pop-able blisters and gummy textures.”

Blood Stereo – Where There’s Raw Grace in Garbage (Chocolate Monk)

“Dry, echoing ‘clonks’ and ‘squarks’ are placed carefully into the mix – but not with a dictator’s swagger stick.  Rather the gardener’s crisp carrot!  These, sounds are encouraged to grow, swell and bloom.”

Maya Dunietz & Tom White – Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

“Outstanding Quatermass freakery from these two living dovetail joints…leapt like a flea from the back of a 2016 tour with Maya Dunietz (voice/piano/harp) melting butter all over Tom White’s (reel-to-reel tape) witchcraft.”

Duncan Harrison

Duncan Harrison – Prelude to Nihl (Self Release)

“It’s like staring into a fly’s eye; multifaceted and crazily reflective.  The movements come thick and fast collapsing into each other like drunken Henry Moore nudes.   It is god damn ripe my dearest reader.”

Feghoots – Dwindling Correspondence (Chocolate Monk)

“The flickering and flighty splutters mimic a barista’s recurring dreams of hot steamed milk.  At one point I swear a double bass makes an entrance and I realise I’m getting randy for Feghoots and John Edwards to collaborate.”

Stef Ketteringham  – More Guitar Arrangements (Crow versus Crow)

“…all arthritic knuckles and sunburned hands, shiny as polished chestnuts with its ham-fisted flamenco flourishes bruising the strings.  This is most certainly hardcore!”

artem spar

Artem Spar – Kassettenwerk 13-15  (Falt)

“The end result is part solo-tape slosh, a wonderful brain-scramble of pinched wheels and FFW scree, part free-jam in a No-Neck style; untutored, informal and confident.”

Tea Towels – We are the Deadness (Beartown Records & Tapes)

“The rehearsal room ambience is thick with amp fug and ideas blooming in the moment. It’s a secret shared in hot breathy gasps.  The shamanic use of repetition and lowest of all known ‘fi’s’ becomes a grey carnation shuddering in an autumn storm.”

Ezio Piermattei – Tre Madri Ludopastiche (Discombobulate)

“…things are kept purposefully beautiful and wobbling: voice crackle in fake-stereo, tape jizz squirts it’s hot mayo, TV gossip chatters to no one except the caged songbirds.”

The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift (VHS)

“Their coupling of (on one side) shocking distortion, tape noise and blistering huff with (on the other) soft slow voices and gentle unhurried compositions make the act of listening like dreaming through an electrical storm.”

Ali Robertson & Guests – S/T (Giant Tank)

“Without any of the oddball yuks this is a beautiful tape/performance piece of gentle clicks and solitary word play.  The whirr of the tape engines adds one hundred tog warmth to the creaks, recorded footsteps and groans.”

power moves

Various Artists – You/In/Be/Arc (Power Moves Library)

“Like that gold record they sent up into space on Voyager; a recorded message of humanity’s desperate need to make sound, to communicate in the most natural way possible – to make music.”

Aqua Dentata – One Day, You Will Be a Painter (Echo Tango)

“…my ears register the electronics tones as haw frost shimmering on silver birch or endless exhalations roaring from bronze lips.”

OK my dearest reader.  Blimey!  Are you still there?  We’ve almost reached the end of this massive, massive memory gong.

As this marks my last post as editor I’m going to grant myself permission to be a bit soppy so a HUGE heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent us music, read our scribblings and gone on to check out exciting and daring new sounds.

A big and particularly sloppy kiss to the whole RFM team – the absolute best of humans.  Your support and energy has been o-o-o-ou-ouu-outstaaaaaanding.

And please remember RFM will continue to champion the new, the bold and the plain weird – just at a slightly more sedate pace in 2018.

You’re wonderful ya’hear!

-oOOo-

changes at radio free midwich soundtracked with the full-throated huxx from: sdf, knives, phil maguire and charlie ulyatt

December 3, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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My dearest RFM stalwarts and most noble readers.  It’s with a heavy heart I announce that in January 2018 I will have to step away from the editor’s chair, close the laptop lid and hang up my headphones.

There’s nothing dramatic going on. It’s just that real life has rather rudely interrupted me over the last few months and will continue to do so for the majority of next year.  Put plainly I don’t have the time to listen as I would like, write as I feel and edit as I must.  Hours in the day innit?

As I’ve mentioned before nothing happens in the People’s Republic of Midwich without debate so me, Rob, Chrissie, Sky High Diamonds, Luke, Marlo, Sophie and Paul all juggled the options and agree we don’t want to let our collective half million words splutter out completely.  But, at the same time, none of us can commit to the weekly task of publishing Radio Free Midwich.

So…we plan to adopt the Idwal Fisher model.  RFM will continue, but as an occasional treat.  We all will write as and when the muse strikes and publish when possible.

But this must mean changes have to be made.  The most drastic will be, from this day forward, we can’t accept any more submissions.

Globally the No Audience Underground has been generous to a fault.  When I stood in for Rob at the start of 2017 he told me to expect a new and exciting relationship with my postman.  He wasn’t kidding!  Trev (we are on first name terms now) rings the doorbell almost daily with another heavily taped-up package in recycled jiffy bags.

“More tapes?” he says, “looks like they’ve come from Italy.”

“Aye…that’ll be the new batch from Tutore Burlato” says I.

It’s been a real honour to listen and a delight to try and capture the essence of this beautiful, inventive, clever, essential and often indescribable music into chunky, informative and entertaining posts for you but I’m afraid that from today the submissions box is now officially closed.

That’s it.  Please don’t send any more tapes, CD-Rs or downloads.

I’ll put a note on the ‘submissions’ page to back this up but I know most of you who kindly send us stuff to review are genuine readers so – you read it here first.

Right now the plan is to write up the last few items in our personal listening piles so expect a few more posts.  In early January we go list-crazy with the hotly-contested Zellaby awards and then we revert to an occasional journal. 

For me personally…I’m really going to miss the thrill of slotting a tape in the player that knocks me sideways.  I’m going to have to get used to the ache that not writing leaves. But most of all I’m going to miss telling new friends and old that RFM have written up your new release and it’s an absolute fucking belter.

At least I know Trev will breathe a sigh of relief.

But until then, let’s crack on with these beautiful organs…

SDF – Alana (Psykick Dancehall)

Knives – The Way People Are (Red Guard)

Phil Maguire – brak (Soft Error)

Charlie Ulyatt – Shifting (Self-Release)

SDF

SDF – Alana (Psykick Dancehall) Cassette and digital album

My goodness! Pure avant-pop from this collective of ruddy beet-makers.

My headphones don’t often get the chance to delve into such bass-heavy electronic frequencies.  And this is all ‘boom-tish’ and square-waved bass poke. Cor!

Recorded in a bamboo-themed nightclub in a Liverpool basement (circa 1987) these are real songs with real backing vocals and weighty lyrics.  ‘Stroke for Stroke’ seems to be about coke or wanking or perhaps coke and wanking.

The digital coughs that introduce ‘My Friend David Don’t Need Rubber’ and dry narration suggest a Storm Bugs vibe but this is as sleazy as casually shrugged off linen trousers.

The erratic tom-tom programming dominates ‘The Fight’, so the swaddled synth wash becomes a sulphurous base note.  It’s heavy without being metallic.  Yet compare this with the gum-popping airiness of ‘4 Men’ as sparkly as Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’.  Two very different visions of the teenage disaster!

It’s not all senseless ecstatic joy though.  Closer ‘All Night Disco’ seems to ram Paul Young’s fretless bass sound into a pre-rave serotonin dump.  The heavily reverb-ed snare sounds echo round the abandoned dancehall.  The last few revellers slumped into human pyramids realise that cold daylight is breaking outside and the dream of temporary release is well and truly over.

The trick SDF pull of is to deal in a rare surface deepness – a delicate trick of the light when the glitterball’s beam hits the chipped Formica.

20171203_174658

Knives – The Way People Are (Red Guard) CD-r and itunes

Fully enveloping darkness from Blyth-born, London-based Knives.

Opener ‘The Idea of Homes’ simple guitar figure repeats, repeats, repeats like a Papa M theme; building tension, creating worlds of simple herringbone.

The occasional field recording (a drip, instinct rattle, spoken words) and keyboard sizzle augment ‘A Fire That Never Goes Out’ that ever-so-gently nudges forward slowly, taking time to revel in each rich, deliberate note.  A beautiful musing that begins to answer itself on what might be a mouth organ.  Rural Post Rocking Chair Music.

The spook gets let loose on ‘Out of Touch’.  As dramatic as opening credits on some 70’s Cold War TV special.  The threat of reds-under-the-bed suggested with sly nods and Pinter-esque pauses.

The lengthy ‘Involving Others’ (an excellent song title – sounds like something from a school report card yeah) involves a powerful throb and a kind of long-spring-in-a-pipe rubberiness last heard on King Tubby’s most ingenious recordings.  The throb builds slowly over twelve minutes growing more and more grubby.  Proving you can take the boy outta Blyth but…

Closer ‘Favourite Friend’ works on the sort of chord progression Britpoppers would carve up their forearms for.  Ever descending notes circle above some late-night radio drek from Night Owls or something warping suddenly into a Star Wars conspiracy/warp drive malfunction.

phil maguire

Phil Maguire – brak (Soft Error) Cassette and digital album

Two intensive five-minute micro studies that contain a galaxy of carbon-rich details.

Side one is the stale breeze that wafts from a recently vacated taxi, the change in air pressure you feel before an electrical storm.  Phil carefully knits these concepts together into a deliberate smear.   Like the careful scrape of a palette knife sounds are revealed, presented and then smoothed over in decisive strokes.  Hum becomes thrum.

Side two plugs my ears with clear wax.  A curved sound (the inside of a porcelain basin perhaps) plays with reverse-thought and distant, high-level atmospheric hisses.

The sudden edits act like the reaction-shot in a slasher pic.  The victim’s eyes are wide and mouth flaps in a wordless scream.  The micro-second before the meathook is revealed an absence opens up in the grainy VHS.  Magnify this one thousand times to watch the red, blue and green pixels dance in random ecstasy.

One for inner-spacers and adventurous tape-heeds.

charlie ulyatt

Charlie Ulyatt – Shifting (Self-Release)  CD, Cassette and digital album

Marvellous solo guitar experi-werks from Nottingham’s Charlie Ulyatt.

The six-stringed workhorse is nothing if not versatile.  From stun-heavy power chords to gentle nylon fingering the guitar speaks loud and long in popular musical debates.

But folk who can take those half-dozen taut strings and do something useful seem to be getting few and far between.

Shifting takes care the boxy resonance of the wooden guitar body is explored as deeply as the shiny metal strings, caustic amplification and decaying effect pedals have making this a full-spectrum experience.

Charlie marries the flinty pluck of a Derek Bailey with the full-throated huxx of a Bridget Hayden in ‘Erasing Angels’ storing energy in dark coils for the bulk of the track to release them in a boiling blur.

‘Ah Moses’ is as fresh as the scrunch of newly fallen snow, pure and blank but with an eye-squinting brightness.   This winter theme is continued in ‘Honeycomb’ a brittle icicle drip and suspicious yellow puddles.

The bowed pieces, ‘Mannering’ being one vital example builds in tremulous clouds.  Think a quivering sample of acrid fog being sucked backwards into a test tube and firmly bunged.

Majestic closer ‘Daisy Chain Burns’ straddles the burnt-out corpse of Dead C with the busy, rolling fx-damage of fellow New Zealander Peter Wright.  Bubbling like a porridge pot; small geysers erupt with yeasty burps while the milk rushes up the side of the pan smelling like new babies.

Psykick Dancehall

Knives / Red Guard

Soft Error

Charlie Ulyatt Bandcamp

-ooOOoo-

have cake/eat it: rob hayler on tusk festival 2017

November 4, 2017 at 11:34 am | Posted in midwich, musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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TUSK Festival 2017

[Note: for part one of this year’s TUSK story, in which I talk about the year past, how I blagged onto the bill, what I planned to do and what it meant to me, see here. This part is about the festival itself and begins on the morning of Friday 13th October. Also, I’d like to repeat the same provisos as last year. Firstly, I won’t be mentioning every act, not even all those I saw and enjoyed, as creating An Exhaustive List Of Everything That Happened is not my bag. Secondly, I won’t be mentioning everyone I spoke to because I don’t want to allocate some to this ‘highlights’ package and not others. Safe to say that every conversation I had with you lovely people I enjoyed very much. Finally, I’m not cluttering what follows with links, nor topping it with a cloud of tags – I’d suggest having the TUSK website open on another tab and hunting and pecking as appropriate. TUSK will fill the archives with videos of all performances in due course. If no credit is given then pictures are by me, apart from the last one.  OK, enuff – on with the show.]

FRIDAY

If I am not at least 10 minutes early then I feel late. Stir that perfectly rational compulsion into a gumbo of stress and excitement and it is no surprise that I was at Leeds railway station a full hour before the departure time for my train. I took the edge off by chatting to an amiable, middle-aged, Glaswegian rocker – all Chrissie Hynde bang and black and white spandex leggings. Her phone rang and the tone was the opening bars of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. Beautiful. Once the train arrived, 40 minutes late due to ‘police attention at Sheffield’, I’d been sat there for longer than the journey would actually take.

But – ahh! – who doesn’t enjoy staring wistfully out of a train window listening to crystalline electronic music whilst pretending to be in a European art movie? Alas, this Kraftwerkian reverie was impossible. The carriage was packed, the seat cramped, the luggage rack a stack of cases as unviable as a jenga tower made of dog chews. Even a soundtrack of A480 by KARA-LIS COVERDALE couldn’t gloss the snores of the drunk bloke in front. Luckily the hotel was mere steps from the station and I was able to get there, check in and throw my stuff down in minutes. My dinky single room, with ensuite wet room and surprisingly large telly, was pleasantly functional, like a prison cell for hipsters. I imagine it’s like where you’d end up if you were convicted of burning down Scandinavian churches.

The reason I was in a hurry was that I wanted to get to Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead in time for the FESTIVAL IS SUDDEN performance at 3pm. I splashed into a cab (such rock and roll decadence!) and was there with mere minutes to spare. The show, organized by Giles Bailey and CIRCA projects (Dawn Bothwell, Adam Denton, Sam Watson – more on Dawn and Adam anon) was the opening event of their MY PART OF YOUR HOME exhibition and the de facto beginning of TUSK weekend. I’m afraid I clocked little of this compact, elegant gallery, or its contents, as I was too busy glad-handing and being overexcited beforehand, then too busy being engrossed by the ritual unfolding.

It was a very smart idea, perfectly executed: six artists, set up in different parts of the building, performed for ten minutes each. Dawn carried a cylindrical, portable speaker – emitting bird song – which she placed in front of the performer when their time was up, we then followed the chirping to the next station. Each segment seemed full, but not rushed, which was amazing as they included, for example, slowly evolving drone from CULVER (pictured) and two dance performances, one from BIANCA SCOUT framed within beautiful piano pieces and one from VICTORIA GUY in which she didn’t stop spinning even during a costume change. The experience as a whole was deeply satisfying and (this is not a bad thing) emotionally draining. After snatching brief ‘hellos’ with Dawn and some of the other stragglers/organisers I joined those ushered out into the sun so the gallery could close. I walked back through a bright, blustery afternoon, being nearly run over at every junction, burning my mouth on delicious fish and chips as I trotted in more or less the right direction. A knot I’d been carrying between my shoulder blades for who knows how long seemed to unravel. I found myself very, very happy.

Back at the hotel I had time to sort out my gear and despair at my useless packing. Given that I’d done nowt but think about TUSK for weeks how on earth had I managed to bring so few shirts and so much underwear? I mean DUNCAN HARRISON is a very beautiful young man but I wasn’t expecting to literally wet myself with excitement in his presence. Ach, no matter, time to stumble down the hill, across the swing bridge over the Tyne and up the other side to Sage.

I arrived to find DRONE ENSEMBLE in full flight on the concourse and, disgracefully, paid them absolutely no attention. Instead I wandered about saying ‘hello’ to people, shaking hands, babbling into ears – mainly those of long-suffering gentle giant Joe Murray, RFM editor and one of TUSK’s organisers, and Paul Margree formally of We Need No Swords, now plying his trade with RFM and anywhere else words meet noise…

…I even clapped at the end as if I’d been listening. What an arsehole, eh? Heh, heh. As I topped the stairs Duncan rushed past on his way backstage and I pressed a package into his hand. I shivered with pleasure as Joe helped me secure my Artist/Crew weekend wristband and, as it contained an introduction written by me, bagged three copies of the programme.

The evening’s entertainment in the prestige venue, Sage Hall 2, started with a right good kick up the arse. The expectant crowd were confronted with four – occupied – body bags and the performance began with a nightmarish sequence as the members of SWARM FRONT screamed, groaned, clawed and cut their way out. The remainder of the set was a theatre of cruelty: lines were intoned, sung, bellowed (“Get this into your thick fucking skull”, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”) and melons bearing the faces of Gateshead councillors were violently despatched whilst a power-electronic soundtrack rearranged my viscera.

Looking for clues in the programme (“…here with the intention to weaponize the banality of liberal institutions…”) and talking to Dawn afterwards suggested this was a protest/curse focused on those responsible for the imminent closure of important, much loved Gateshead venue The Old Police House and/or the faux progressive credentials of the Sage itself (bit more on this later). Fucking strong start.

DUNCAN HARRISON prepped his gear as the stage crew mopped up blood and melon pulp (ha, c’mon, being able to write sentences like that is why I’m in this game). I was pleased to see the present I’d given him – a framed photo of John Cage (explanation unnecessary) – looking over his table full of noise-making detritus. His set was a lesson from a virtuoso on how to collage subtlety and humour with mallet-to-the-knackers noise. The opening section of real-time tape rec and scruffle was masterful, the glugly pop and repeat vocals charming and intimate and the hard noise – a bunch of tinnitus enhancing key chain alarms laid out like a Pueblo clown’s protecting chalk circle – suitably punishing. The audience, including me, was rapt, delighted.

There was just time for a little professional jealousy before THE TEA TOWELS rocked up. This duo of Gavin Montgomery and RFM staffer Luke Vollar, both ex of no-audience underground legends Castrato Attack Group, happened to be in the right ear at the right time when SHAREHOLDER pulled out so two tapes and no gigs into their ‘career’ here they are filling a prime Friday evening slot at TUSK! Bollocks to that – 18 bloody years, I (half) joked and I had to beg my way into a Saturday bloody lunchtime show in a glorified school assembly hall! Huh, showbiz is cruel, eh?

Anyway, my inner David Van Day was banished as soon as they started playing. I was hooked, grinning at the guileless lo-fi thump and groove. I wrote a long list of possible influences but pretty much anything can be poured into the rubber jelly mould these chancers were using as a template. I had Bongoleeros as the sponge fingers at the bottom, rising to Camberwell Now as the sprinkles on the top with the intervening trifle liberally laced with crushed co-codamol and dark rum. You might as well just grab a big spoon and enjoy it. They went down a treat.

At this point tiredness, over-excitement and anticipation of a full-on Saturday began to smear my focus. I understand VALERIO TRICOLI was a festival highlight for some, but for me ten minutes sufficed and the rest of his set provided a handy break for socialising outside before headliners UNITED BIBLE STUDIES.

(Top pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I’ve had an interest in UBS and affiliated label Deserted Village for years (check out Gavin Prior’s Always Summer Somewhere – one of my favourite albums of recent times) and was looking forward to being transported by these veterans of cosmic and free folk. The experience was sure to be enhanced too by the presence in the line-up of Sophie Cooper – genius musician, daring promoter, RFM alumni, all-round enthusiast and glorious credit to the species – on vocals and trombone. I have to admit to sniggering a bit at the ‘misty forest’ nature of the lyrics – never been able to take that seriously – but what I did see was presented with care, skill and passion. I’m sure if I’d been in a fitter, or perhaps more altered, state it would have been transcendent. As it was I had to admit that it wasn’t for me – or, more accurately, that I wasn’t for it – and slink away back to the hotel, feeling like a ghost as I picked my way unheeded through the chaos of chucking out time on the Newcastle side of the river.

SATURDAY

My artist info sheet requested my presence at the venue at 11am on Saturday morning so, of course, I was settled in Sage at 10. I sat at a window table on the concourse and distractedly tried to revise my notes. After about fifteen minutes of stress induced gastric tightening I risked lifting a cheek for what I hoped would be a discreet puff but instead I let rip with possibly the loudest fart of my entire life. Ricocheting off the plastic chair it reverberated around the vast atrium like the whole of yesterday’s DRONE ENSEMBLE set condensed into three wet seconds. I mention this event for two reasons. Firstly, it was well funny. I couldn’t help laughing, as did the bloke sitting three tables away from me. I was, after all, a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Viz comic. Secondly, it was one of those beautiful bodily sensations – like a hot shower after a day’s walk, like listening to Aqua Dentata, like eating a really good fish finger sandwich – that leaves you feeling absolutely content and in tune with the universe. Sure, I’d still be nervous but I knew the day ahead was going to be just fine.

At about ten thirty I trotted upstairs and over the next two hours I met the lovely Orchi and David the stage manager who were going to help me through the afternoon, had the great pleasure of shaking hands with ANDREW LILES, said hello to the ever-accommodating Joe who was to be my beautiful assistant during the show later, plugged in my midwich set up FOR THE LAST TIME…

(Pic by Duncan Harrison, @Young_Arms)

…and was bear-hugged by my old mucker Ben Young, university friend and Newcastle resident who had a day pass to hang out. I also chatted to Lee Etherington, TUSK head honcho, who was exhibiting his tidy knack of appearing at exactly the right moment to exude an air of relaxed confidence and say helpful and reassuring things. He is the Mr Benn’s shopkeeper of the avant-garde. I sloped out of ANDREW LILE’s satisfyingly chewy set at the halfway mark to meet up with my panellists and, all of a sudden, it was time for the WHAT HAPPENS UNDERGROUND discussion.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

We settled into our comfy chairs, toyed with the microphones we’d been given and I started proceedings by reading a round of introductions:

My name is Rob Hayler and I’ll be your host for this hour (Aside: yes, I did write down my own name – I can usually remember it, true, but I thought it best not to tempt fate in this high pressure situation). For the last 18 years I have performed and recorded as midwich and my LAST EVER SHOW using that name will follow this talk. I also founded the radio free midwich blog and coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ to describe the largely self-sufficient noise scene that some of us here are part of.

Next is Soo Fitz, or Susan Fitzpatrick as her Mam might insist. As well as performing as Joyce Whitchurch and as half of Acrid Lactations, Soo lectures in Geography and has written on such topics as the spatial politics of DIY gigs and the ways the term ‘community’ gets deployed and politicised in the context of urban mega events such as the European Capital of Culture. My RFM colleague Joe Murray described her as “one of the most frighteningly pure improvisers I’ve had the joy to watch.”

Hopefully everyone here will recognize Duncan Harrison from his gobsmacking performance in Sage 2 last night (Aside: I wrote that before Duncan’s performance, of course, but luckily he had smacked our gobs). Duncan is a skilled collagist in both visual and audio art and we love his work because as well as being properly thought through it never fails to be thoroughly entertaining. He’s no stranger to academia but is happy call out bollocks when he hears it and to get dirt under his fingernails with us no-audience scuzzbuckets.

…and here’s Dawn Bothwell. Dawn should be well known ’round these parts, not least for her performance in Hen Ogledd with Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson at last year’s TUSK and for her other musical projects such as Pentecostal Party. She also curates for CIRCA Projects and The Northern Charter and those that visit The Shipley Art Gallery here in Gateshead during the festival can see the My Part Of Your Home exhibition that CIRCA Projects put together. Yesterday’s Festival is Sudden event there was a great kick start to this year’s TUSK too.

Finally, Adam Denton. A musician and researcher with a background in guitar noise and releases on many very smart labels, Adam plays solo as Swan Hunter, is half of the duo Trans/Human and has worked extensively with Nicole Vivien Watson of Surface Area Dance Theatre. Joe Murray’s one sentence account of his work runs as follows: “generally has a load of gear on the table and makes it all sound pretty gnarly.” (Aside: Adam groaned afterwards at how out of date this account of his activities was so I recommend interested parties get busy with Google to catch up.)

Interesting bunch, eh? I began by asking each panellist in turn for some ideas as to what it means to be ‘underground’ nowadays and we took it from there. As I have no notes or transcript it is safest to wait to hear what was said for yourself once it is available via the TUSK archive. I’ll just talk a bit about the experience and some thoughts that occurred to me as a result. Firstly, having a microphone and a large room full of people waiting to hear what you have to say isn’t entirely alien to me but I haven’t done it for years, nor have I ever had to do the cat-herding needed to keep a five-way, real-time discussion on track in front of an audience. I had, naively perhaps, imagined a light, celebratory hour during which we praised each other’s efforts, made recommendations, told d.i.y. stories and slapped a few sacred cows on the arse, and there was some of that, but there was also plenty of darker and more serious stuff about the appropriation of ‘culture’ and ‘community’, suspicions as to the motives and competence of funding bodies and concerns about the availability of venues and the overall future for d.i.y. art and music.

The topic that has stuck with me is the question of the availability of venues. What with the Old Police House being closed after TUSK weekend and the actions of Gateshead Council clearly causing anger and frustration – see Friday night’s SWARM FRONT performance for one righteously furious spin on it – this issue is currently an open wound. It seems to me that running a venue is not something I have given sufficient thought to in my, *ahem* ‘theorising’. As a promoter I follow the ‘Dan Thomas method’: work out what you can afford to lose on the event, plan accordingly, find ways of getting it done. As an artist I don’t think I’m owed a damn thing, not even by the very few people who give a monkey’s about my ‘work’. However, the lass from building regulations will not be satisfied with a vegan curry and taxi fare, nor can the electricity bill be settled with £20 from the door and a sofa to sleep on. This seems to be the place where all my punkish nobility and integrity gets bloodied by grim reality.

That said, there does always seem to be somewhere. In the decades I’ve been attending shows here in Leeds, for example, many venues have been and gone, or remain and go through phases of welcome or hostility depending on changes in management (The Adelphi – once a Tetley draymen’s pub and spiritual home of Termite Club is now a place where beardos nod approvingly at how reasonable ten quid is for a burger). One of the benefits of there not being many of us is that we don’t need a giant box to sit in. Adam suggested, in a despairing tone, that the future might be gigs in people’s houses but I think, well, yeah, on a temporary basis whilst we sort stuff out, why not? One of the finest shows I’ve seen in recent years was Ocelocelot in Kieran Piercy’s basement… We survive, like the rats we are.

But I digress…

At the end of the hour Sophie Cooper, sat out front, piped up with a glorious gush of love and enthusiasm for music, her friends and the scene and that gave me the opportunity to end on a high. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Soo, Duncan, Adam and Dawn for being game and joining me – I’m sure we could have gone on all afternoon once we’d got warmed up. It was a great thing to be part of and I’ve been pleased that reaction to the debate has been positive with many commenting that it provided food for thought.

One last thing: I promised Lee Stokoe that there would be some biting of the hands that feed us and, aside from swearing at The Guardian, I feel bad for wimping out on that. So, for the record: fuck The Guardian (again) for its sudden and pathetic ‘interest’ in the underground, that rag has become a disgrace to its legacy. Fuck The Wire for being an unreadable, soulless, joy vacuum. Fuck The Quietus for being even worse: a relic of an irrelevant critical empire, a black hole of boredom. Fuck Sage for being a ‘liberal arts’ funding-hoover whilst hosting UKIP and licking up corporate vomit in return for sponsorship money. Fuck the Arts Council for, whoo boy, where to even start with that hive of corruption, that shameful gibberish factory? And finally, fuck TUSK for… heh, heh – nah, TUSK is alright. Sand in the vaseline, innit?

Up next was midwich. Excuse me quoting myself from my previous post…

Anyone who has spoken to me before or after any midwich gig of recent years has heard me complaining about the growing unreliability of the Roland MC-303 Groovebox that has been (almost) my sole instrument since 1999. It’s a remarkable machine but it has been hammered to the point that getting what I want out of it involves an ungainly combo of cajoling and brute force. I have long spoken of a ‘final’ performance. This would be a ‘Greatest Hits package’ ending with the tearing up of the manual and the dismantling of the machine, handing out keys, pots and components to audience members as souvenirs. What more satisfyingly perverse way could there be to end a long term man/machine relationship than with a ritual disembowelment at a prestige venue?

…as this is pretty much what happened. I took my boots off, announced what was to occur and pressed play on a recording of seagulls over Chesil Beach.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I was having my cake and eating it here – sounds of the sea are a ridiculous ‘ambient’ music cliché but, even so, it does still set the mood and it is a lovely piece. When I was ready I slowly faded up into a drone and started wigging out to the rhythms emerging from it. The sound was perfect (hey, it can always be louder), the vibe immersive, the lighting sympathetic, the room full. Much to my amusement I even had a smoke machine. I was very, very happy – in the moment – enjoying myself hugely.

(Pic by Joe Murray, @joeposset)

As an interlude I used Joe’s piece as posset from eye for detail, the charity fundraiser album of midwich remixes. ‘a moment of stillness’ is a selection of my writing for this blog, read by Joe then subjected to his dictaphonic jinking. From this I began a version of the title track from Inertia Crocodile – this throb, collapsing in on itself, was the pan sonic tribute part of the set and, I thought, a fitting last track to play live on this beautiful, soulful machine. It ended with a crescendo as I used both hands and my forehead to hold down every key – this was my ‘A Day in the Life’ moment – before the final hands off.

(Above Joincey, @joincey, below Joe, @joeposset)

OK, now the theatre. I pressed play on my little mp3 walkman again, this time the brunt, a favourite lengthy drone I was going to use as cover and – because I thought it would be funny – put on a white crime scene investigation overall that I’d lifted from a murder mystery themed works away day, comically struggling to get my right arm in. As Sophie wailed…

DON’T DO IT!

I flipped the box and got busy with the screwdriver. The screws were tiny, black and fixed into a black backplate so under the dim stage light and with wildly shaking hands it took a moment to get started. For the obvious reason, I couldn’t rehearse this so I was going off some half-remembered service-and-repair pictures I’d seen on the internet. I had planned a gentle and respectful demise – surgery not butchery – but, as I couldn’t find a couple of hidden screws, I resorted to force to yank out the ribbons and snap the circuitry. It felt… good, complicated. Whilst this was going on Joe distributed the torn pages of the manual in school assembly style (“Take one and pass them along please, I’m afraid you’ll have to share.”). I slipped a couple of bits – including the volume control, bane of our relationship – into my own pocket and lined up the rest of the pieces on the floor in front of the stage.

(Pic by Joe, @joeposset)

To everyone’s amusement, David the stage manager lit them with a swirly lighting effect. And that was that: 18 years of midwich, done. I faded out the soundtrack, took a bow, dug the applause and invited all comers to snatch a souvenir. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying moments of my involvement with music, with the ‘underground’, with all of this.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey, note Andy of TQ fanzine in the foreground making off with a massive chunk.)

Fortunately, no other act was following me in the hall so I had a few precious minutes to gather myself together and pack up with the house lights on. David Howcroft of No Audience Underground tapes (see review below) took the entire contents of the bin I’d dumped my CSI suit into so look out for some interestingly packaged tapes from him. I walked out feeling triumphant and shamelessly fished for compliments amongst those milling around on the balcony (although I did make sure and ask Mike Xazzaz if he liked it because I knew that surly bastard would be honest and say ‘no’ which, of course, he did. Heh, heh – I love him so much). When sufficient approbation had been collected I wandered back across the river to the hotel with my pal Ben. At this point I began to notice the blood and cuts all over my hands.

Ben and I met at university in Leeds in 1991 where we shared digs and both studied philosophy. I will be forever grateful that being around the insufferable bell-end that I was at the time (can you imagine me in my early twenties? I shudder at my former twattitude) didn’t put him off me for life and was delighted when we rekindled contact a few years back after he discovered this blog. Now a Newcastle resident and the father of a young lad himself we had arranged to cane Saturday together, albeit in a gentle, tired, middle-aged manner.

The original plan was to go to everything, including the afternoon show at The Old Police House to see LUSH WORKER, but once we sat down in a hipsterish pizza restaurant (it had a full size model of a horse, painted gold, looking out of the doorway – its arse in line with two pizza ovens inside) it was clear we weren’t going anywhere. Ben listened graciously to me babble on about what had just happened – I was beginning to feel a little shaky as the buzz subsided and was replaced with a diabetic hypo – then we caught up on life, parenthood, the world at large. Ben’s unimpeachable politics and the thoughtful, generous way he deals with the insanity surrounding us is an inspiration. His company was perfect.

Eventually we hauled ourselves out and back to Sage for an evening of socializing, showing off my workplace injuries and one damn musical highlight after another. Aside from greatly missing our Mexican cousin Miguel Perez whose appearance had made last year such an unforgettable event (I understand he watched the livestream of my set – bless you, comrade!) the 2017 line-up felt much stronger and more consistent throughout the weekend than that of 2016.

Take, for example, KINK GONG. Laurent Janneau – looking cool as fuck in this wonderful photo by Joe – presented a forty minute collage of chopped and layered field recordings, ebbing and flowing in a near-psychedelic audio approximation of culture shock, of travelling far outside your comfort zone. He also invited us to sit down and relax at the beginning of the set which was very polite. I welcomed the opportunity to stare at my shoes and concentrate entirely on the music though looking up revealed that rarest of exotic birds: a lap top artist who looked genuinely transported by what they were doing. He stared intently, smiled, closed his eyes, nodded to a favourite rhythm internal to the cacophony. It was a beautiful, charismatic performance.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Following that was one of the highlights of the festival, one of those joyous ‘what the fuck?’ moments that are la spécialité de la maison chez TUSK. STARAYA DEREVNYA, a collective of Russian/Isreali anarchists, played in near-total darkness in order to shift our attention from their strange collection of instruments, some clearly home-made or adopted (a rocking chair?), to the work of the artist using iPad software (an app called Tagtool apparently) to create and animate a visual accompaniment projected onto the screen above. I later found out that the band had pre-planned beginning, middle and end points and the rest was improvised, albeit rehearsed in a very disciplined way for a week beforehand. The visual side was sometimes a prompt or spur for the music, sometimes an interpretation of or reaction to what was being played.

At the time, stood in the dark, I knew nothing of these logistics and was simply and absolutely rapt. It was psychedelic and truly dream-like in a way that so little art described as ‘surreal’ gets anywhere near. It was fluid and varied in tone but consistent in atmosphere and never felt unsure of itself. Their was something folkloric about the vibe – like listening to a recording of your great great grandmother telling stories about what lived in the woods on the outskirts of her village in the old country, slipping in and out of a forgotten dialect as she reached back for the details. Ben and I chatted to the lovely Gosha, STARAYA DEREVNYA’s head honcho (for want of a better description), afterwards and he was humble and gracious as we gushed with praise.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Decades of involvement with noise have left me cynical and suspicious of costumes (likewise mess. As a former promoter I rarely enjoy it – this weekend’s melon pulp excepted, of course – as my first thought is ‘oh great, someone is missing the last bus to clean up that crap.’). There seems to be a zero sum relationship between the elaborateness of the set-up and the generic averageness of the actual music: ‘oh great, Mr. Blobby has heard a Merzbow CD’. With that in mind I stood at the back near the stairs for HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET but I needn’t have worried – it was ace.

Their squalling racket had an exuberant bounce to it, the rubbery al dente texture of a highly processed, alarmingly coloured food stuff, allegedly of ‘natural’ origin but about eight times removed by the laboratories of food science. The outfits – they were basically dressed as a gingerbread village – suggested the same folkloric setting as the tales interpreted by STARAYA DEREVNYA but this time described by a four year old after binging on cheese strings.

Finally then, Saturday was topped by BRAINBOMBS. At this point I was grey with tiredness and all set to split but the most un-TUSK-like behaviour of the crowd spiked me with something I remembered from my teenage years as a skate punk. There were a lot of people, mainly serious looking dudes in black t-shirts, intent on getting to the front. This was clearly a much anticipated event and when they started playing people moshed, shook fists and (unique in my experience of TUSK) threw a drink at the band. Blimey! This last led to the frontman making a twat of himself by walking off for a comically short time. Aside from the trumpet player looking a little nervous the rest of the band didn’t even stop playing. They were loud, heavy and fortunately the lyrics were inaudible but I’d had enough after three songs.

Walking through Newcastle at that time on a Saturday night proved pretty spicy. Nowt worrying – the only threatening behaviour I saw was one bloke challenging two coppers who were hassling a homeless guy. Good for him, I thought, as I scuttled past – it’s just that I’ve never seen a crowd so pissed. Everyone seemed distressingly young too. It was like walking through a Little Mix video but with all the participants drunk to the point of being unable to stand.  And screeching.

Back at the hotel I bathed my stinging hands, retired to bed and stared at nothing until well into the early hours, unable to sleep, processing the day.

SUNDAY

Sunday I woke early and raw – head thumping, hands aching – but in a buoyant mood. Needing air, I headed to the railway station shops for supplies, skipping merrily over the broken glass, discarded chips and pools of vomit that were already being swept up and washed away by weary looking council guys in a fleet of Scarab street cleaners.

I’d arranged to meet Ben again, this time with his partner Kadie and two-year old son Wynn, so was soon weaving my way through Quayside Market (clocking all the hipster-bait street food stalls with an eye out for my future lunch) and parking my arse on a railing. It was another glorious, blustery day and as I sat waiting I enjoyed the view and the satisfying whirr and clatter of bikes crossing the river using Millennium Bridge. We adjourned to Sage to indulge in more politics/parenthood chat over expensive flapjack before exchanging farewells. I had to hurry to get to Workplace Gallery in time for CLUB PONDEROSA LIVE at midday.

As I stood at a pedestrian crossing, mentally absent, my reverie was punctured by a fellow Tusker, later introduced as Emma, telling me that she’d enjoyed my set of yesterday. I considered this an inspired opening to a conversation and was instantly impressed by her taste and credibility. Indeed, my step got springier as I realised this event might have attendees that I hadn’t already milked for praise. On our arrival it appeared that things were running late, presumably due to the presence of jazz musicians, so pockets of support hung around outside chatting bollocks and wishing each other ‘good morning’. You must have noticed that the first event of a festival day is always considered the ‘morning’ whenever it occurs.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

Following herd instinct, there came a point when we knew it was time to crowd in and succumb to the all-enveloping embrace of BRB>CULVER. Kev (Wilkinson, crouched) and Lee (Stokoe, hunched) brought forth a roar of such depth and profundity that I don’t hesitate to use the word ‘perfect’.  This kind of thing is a shortcut to nirvana for me – time and desire are obliterated, I want nothing but to be here now experiencing this noise.  It is primal, without scale, yet full of detail – like the sea pulling a beach down the coast one wave at a time, every pulse dragging uncountable pebbles over each other.  That the pair magicked this into being with such (seeming) nonchalance was too much for me.  I lost my shit.

(Aside: coincidental accompaniment for the performance was a projected slideshow of photographs taken by JOINCEY, which were being shown as part of the TUSK/Workplace Gallery CLUB PONDEROSA exhibition.  JOINCEY’s beat is the beshitted pavements of crap town Britain and his deadpan documentation of the depressingly ridiculous, the comically underwhelming and the occasional, surprising moment of beauty or symmetry is brilliant.)

As nothing was going to follow that (with apologies to ARCHIPELAGO, who did) I let me stomach lead me back to the market, scored some sort of authentically Spanish/Geordie chicken wrap and warmed another of Newcastle’s fine railings with my backside.  Forgetting the film programme and enjoying the clement weather I decided to wander the city centre for a couple of hours.  I was looking at Batman outfits in Primark when I realised that it was time to return to the art.

At 5pm two of Saturday’s favourites got together for a collaboration in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall.  Playing again in darkness, and again accompanying / accompanied by live animated painting, STARAYA DEREVNYA and HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET (this time without costumes) pooled resources to return us to a dream of staircases in the forest.  I can’t tell you much about it for the same reason I can only guess at what was passing through my mind as I fell asleep last night.  However, beforehand people sat behind me were discussing William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and this performance was a glove-like fit for the hypnagogic experience of losing yourself in that surreal masterpiece.  It was great – we stumbled out onto the balcony discombobulated, refreshed.

During KARA-LIS COVERDALE’s skittish and distracting (in a good way) set I found myself getting increasingly skittish and distracted (in a bad way) as I couldn’t find my wallet.  After checking every pocket in my clothing and every flap and cranny of my bag ten times during an extended self-fondle I resigned myself to an unwelcome walk back to the hotel.  It was there, of course, where I’d left it – an indication of how blown my mind was by this point of the weekend.  I arrived back at Sage in time to be ushered out again due to a fire alarm.  I would have really enjoyed a bellowing siren bouncing around that atrium but all we got was:

mahwahbwahmawahbawahanaamahwah

…only quieter and less distinct, which was either some early-NWW sub-vocalising or a safety announcement made through an inadequate PA.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Anyway, fuck all that shit because next for me was KLEIN.  She had a microphone, two metal lecterns – one for a laptop and a mixer on the other – and played with beer can in hand, parka hood (mostly) up.  The set was a rush of disorientating cross chatter, of glistening bubbles and of high velocity, jolting noise.  If KINK GONG had summoned the nature of travel, KLEIN held up a punched mirror to contemporary existence right where we stood.  It was arresting, beautiful, hilariously deadpan, unfathomable.  I grinned, helpless.  During one section – a shining glass pyramid built from shards of techno pop – I felt myself welling up:

THIS IS THE FUTURE!

…I thought.

Afterwards I was buzzing, hyped, gobsmacked, hovering two inches above the floor and all conversations descended immediately into teenage hyperbole:

Me: HOLY SHIT, DID YOU SEE THAT? IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER!

Hapless Tusker: Yeah, it was pretty g…

Me [interrupting]; NO!! YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS: THINKING IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER OR BEING WRONG!!!

Heh, heh <deep breath>…

OK, whilst putting this piece together, I’ve been torn as to whether to talk about KLEIN being a young, black woman and, if so, what to say.  But I think I have to.  Reading reviews of her recent EP for Hyperdub on sites such as Resident Advisor, her being young and black is not discussed, or even much remarked on, because in a dance music context being young and black is unremarkable.  Unfortunately, in the context of experimental music, especially ‘noise’, it is still unusual.  Looking around at the audience to make sure everyone was appropriately delighted, it occurred to me that KLEIN might be one of only a handful of young, black women in the building, possibly the only one.

Back when dominant trends in noise included leather-coated idiots screaming on about serial killers and race hate the absence of BME voices was entirely understandable – I didn’t really want to be part of it myself – but now, as that side of things has waned, or that anger refigured in more politically and artistically interesting directions, the lack of diversity is more puzzling and shaming.  I think that ‘we’ are a welcoming, open minded crowd with positive, progressive politics but then I would say that wouldn’t I?  I’m white, male, middle-aged, middle-class (more or less) and cis-gendered – and it is probably base assumptions still held by even well-meaning libtard snowflakes like me that are the problem.

For example, one of the most thrilling things about KLEIN’s set had been wondering where the hell it had come from.  I’m not usually fussed about biography but I couldn’t help wondering what influences and experiences led to her expressing herself in this manner.  I began thinking in dad-who-listens-to-1Xtra-when-he’s-washing-up clichés: R’n’B, YouTube, minicabs, pirate radio (showing my age there – is that even still a thing?) because it couldn’t be ‘the canon’ could it?  Then I took a step back and was embarrassed – I don’t know a thing about KLEIN (her hilarious, deflecting blog is no help with ‘facts’ either).  She could spend her evenings discussing plunderphonics and listening to Throbbing Gristle bootlegs, who knows?  Not me.  Sexism and gender bias is in there to.  In the programme notes I described KLEIN’s music as:

…cut-up soul futurism – all silk and pinking shears…

I meant to convey, in a quick and entertaining way, the idea that her smooth source material is chopped into jagged pieces then layered and rearranged by whatever processes she uses to compose.  So why did I use an analogy to dressmaking?  Fucking hell, I’ve got some thinking to do.  Would I have been so stoked had the same set been performed by a middle-aged white guy?  Probably not – I think the music was objectively exhilarating but I’m certain that it was given an edge by the feeling that I was witnessing something new and forward looking.  Mulling it over afterwards, that edge has only been sharpened.  I’m going to use it to cut away some of my mental flab.

By now I was pretty much delirious and sprawled out downstairs with Joe and friends wondering where the energy for the rest of the evening would come from.  Luckily, at that exact moment Joe received a message via the TUSK politburo whispa-ma-phone alerting him to a pizza delivery for the crew.  Using his magic lanyard, he whisked us backstage where we shamelessly stole food from the lovely staff and volunteers who had spent all weekend helping us.  For some reason this moment of naughtiness has stuck with me – a funny little irreverent highlight.  The sustenance was very welcome too.

I surfed the carbs and fat rush to the final set of the festival…

(Above pic by Mike Winship, @MikeWinship, below pic by Kevin Geraghty-Shewan, @deadheaduk)

So, at 11.30pm on a Sunday night in Gateshead I stood at the lip of the stage (no unseemly Brainbombs-style moshpit today) and watched NURSE WITH WOUND. There’s James Worse, dada prophet reciting his own twisted psalms and incantations. I feared the theatricality of his performance might prove hammy but, ach fuck it, his physical gusto – and terrific facial hair – won me over. There’s Andrew Liles, exuding confidence and adding some rock and roll swagger. I don’t know if the stance is ironic – his Bandcamp picture suggests it is – but he is charismatic enough to pull it off in any direction. There’s Colin Potter, co-responsible for Salt Marie Celeste, one of the most-listened-to-albums of my adult life. He looks as jittery as he did when performing a wonderful solo set at a disastrous, poorly attended Termite Club festival years ago (yeah, sorry about that Colin). His frantic concern that everything is working just so, even under huge swathes of clamour, is as charismatic in its way as Andrew Lile’s nonchalance. Finally, there’s Steven Stapleton, the main man, an unassuming presence on the left quietly getting on with his part in the racket whilst a slideshow of his collages is projected above.

I’ve already written about what this act means to me here so I’ll leave that largely to one side. The set itself was a swirling ball of poached noise coloured blood red, concrete grey and the iridescent green of graveyard moss by psych/dada elements. One particularly satisfying all-in tethered crescendo was a highlight. I dug it, it left me satiated. The applause at the end had that multi-faceted meaning it always does when you are in the same room as your heroes, as living legends: relief that they didn’t disappoint (c’mon, you know that is always a worry), congratulations on the actual set and, most importantly, thanks for the decades of work that led to this point.

We also clapped for TUSK – a fitting end to a terrific, beautiful, exhausting weekend. Thank you so much to all that made it happen.

CODA

Despite being a Monday there was a much more cheerful vibe on the train home: better seat, secure luggage and good eavesdropping:

Did you open your presents this morning?

Didn’t get any.

WHAAAT?! NOT EVEN A TUB OF HEROES?!!

Heh, heh.  Once everyone settled down I put Tuluum Shimmering’s Linus and Lucy on my mp3 player, a glorious 75 minute kraut/psych groove on the Peanuts theme tune, and stared backwards at everything that had just happened.  Finally it seemed time to give some serious thought to the question I’d been asked over and over again since Saturday afternoon:

What next?

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

TUSK to TUSK: rob hayler on the year past and the ‘final’ midwich show

September 22, 2017 at 11:42 am | Posted in midwich, musings, new music, no audience underground | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

TUSK 2017 poster

Shit.  Who would have thought that 2017 could turn out to be worse than 2016?  At the global level, possibly irreversible man-made climate change is screaming ‘I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO’ as it flattens, floods or incinerates.  The leader of the free world is a ham-faced, racist, narcissistic idiot who appears happy to boast about the prospect of nuclear war.  I started typing ‘I could go on..’ but I’m not sure I can.  I feel the same stomach-flipping foreboding that kept me awake as a teenager in the ‘80s.

On a more personal level, my plan to ‘sort everything out’ whilst on sabbatical from radio free midwich has yielded mixed results.  Without going into detail, months have been sliced from the year caring for elderly relatives following a ‘things will never be the same’ level accident.  My own life has been complicated by learning to cope with diabetes and other long-term, soul-withering nonsense that would be unwise for me to discuss on a public forum.  Everything is either an emergency or delayed indefinitely.

As I write, waves of rain are crashing against the back windows of the house, and Warehouse: Songs and Stories is playing quietly in the background, commemorating the untimely death of Grant Hart.  I look up at a post-it note with ‘fencing flatworm 2017 release: East of the Valley Blues’ written on it, placed at an optimistic angle on the wall nine months ago (sorry fellas)…

So [takes deep breath] what to do?  As always: count my blessings, be realistic, look forward. It ain’t all bad.  Living with my wife Anne and our four year old son Thomas is an inexhaustible source of strength and inspiration.  Family switches the light back on when it grows dark in my head.  Joe is doing a staggering job at the helm of this beautiful blog.  The #noiselife area of Twitter I frequent has offered an easy way of maintaining connections even at the busiest times.  And then there’s music, always music.  From bangers heard on 1Xtra whilst I’m cooking to the glottal pops and retches of the latest gurglecore tape as recommended below.

When talk of TUSK Festival 2017 started appearing on social media I recalled what a life-affirming blast it had been in 2016 and vented my frustration at our current lack of funds via a handful of joke tweets (read from bottom to top):

tusk tweets

This caught the attention of Lee Etherington, TUSK head honcho, and – fuck me – he only went for it!  So, at the moment it looks like I’m going to be hosting a discussion about the state of, ahem, ‘the underground’ then perform immediately after.  GET IN!  I’m delighted and as this is such a relatively high profile gig that I could use to springboard my career to the next level I’m going to… nah, only joking:

I’m going to use it to kill midwich.

NWW - A Sucked Orange cover pic

Some context.  One of the headline acts is Nurse With Wound.  I imagine virtually all readers of this blog will be familiar with at least some of the music of Steven Stapleton and his numerous collaborators.  As such, it is unlikely to surprise you that his work is an enormous influence on me, maybe one of the two biggest on my output as midwich.  The magickaldronetronics of Soliloquy for Lilith – constructed from recordings of self-playing pedal loops manipulated hands-off like a Theremin – is something I have pathetically tried to harness numerous times.  What might raise an eyebrow, though, is how much of the dada and whimsical side of Stapleton’s catalogue I’ve absorbed too.  In amongst the drones I’ve always used skittish interludes, sometimes jokey, sometimes intentionally irritating or deliberately on the verge of being so.  This is all the fault of albums like A Sucked Orange – a collection of off cuts that I adore – which is a perfect manifestation of Stapleton’s inspiring unconcern with the mucking about that comes with being, y’know, an actual musician.  It might genuinely be the case that the track ‘Pleasant Banjo Intro With Irritating Squeak’, a mere 43 seconds long, is the biggest musical influence not only on midwich but on how I think about what is possible in ‘the underground’.  Chew on that.

To be on the same bill as this band (albeit as part of a weekend-long festival and in an adjacent room) makes me feel rubbery with excitement and nerves.  This is pretty much all I wanted to happen one day.  Now it will, so I’m done.

(An aside on the other biggest influence on midwich: Pan sonic.  Oh god, how I loved their heaving rumble that had me gluing a coin to the cartridge to stop my prissy needle jumping off the record in disgust.  Just as impressive though was how they threaded this cyclopean density with intricacy, thought and playfulness.  Like an obsidian carving of Cthulhu shaking its polyps to Miami Bass.  The removal of the second ‘a’ from their name, then calling the following album ‘A’, is perhaps the most deadpan, thus funniest, ‘fuck you’ to corporate bullying I can think of.  Inspiring on so many levels.  I was truly saddened by Mika Vainio’s passing this year and, in my own hopelessly inadequate way, my set will be in tribute.)

pan sonic a

What then does it mean when I say ‘I’m going to kill midwich’?  Anyone who has spoken to me before or after any midwich gig of recent years has heard me complaining about the growing unreliability of the Roland MC-303 Groovebox that has been (almost) my sole instrument since 1999.  It’s a remarkable machine but it has been hammered to the point that getting what I want out of it involves an ungainly combo of cajoling and brute force.  I have long spoken of a ‘final’ performance.  This would be a ‘Greatest Hits package’ (I’m semi-serious – any requests?) ending with the tearing up of the manual and the dismantling of the machine, handing out keys, pots and components to audience members as souvenirs.  What more satisfyingly perverse way could there be to end a long term man/machine relationship than with a ritual disembowelment at a prestige venue? This finality has not yet been finalised – scheduling constraints may force a rethink – but if it proves possible I’m well up for carrying a much lighter bag back to the hotel…

groovebox

So: the prospect of a fun discussion followed by a unique performance with a self-sabotaging, tragic-comic finale, maybe even a physical souvenir!  And the same ticket – very reasonably priced weekend or day options available – sees you right for all the other choice oddness occurring too.

Unmissable, eh? See you there.

TUSK Festival 2017, Sage Gateshead, 13-15 October

midwich Bandcamp site

—ooOoo—

 

slip away into the great digital night: the midwich review pile and nine clumsy haiku offerings

April 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Fells – Menhir (Self Release) tape and digital album

Wonderful breathing:

Granite sighs with great effort.

A bright moon looks on

traven

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

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

Algobabez- Burning Circuits (Fractal Meat Cuts) tape and digital album

Real-time coding act.

Beats liquefy into goo,

Brain-melt soon follows.

acid smut

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.

epiphora 2

Epipohra – Love Songs (Self Released) non-physical release

Mashed through dark velvet.

Maybe a jealous lover

bent up your best shades?

mattin

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!

greenberger

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

Alan Courtis – Los Galpones (Fabrica Records) limited edition vinyl LP and digital album

Overlook Hotel.

Evil lives in the walls here.

Guitars drive them out!

Fells Bandcamp

Aetheric Records

Don’t Drone Alone

Fractal Meat Cuts

Epiphora Soundcloud

SDZ Records

Okraina Records

Fabrica Records

-ooOOoo-

 

holding our treasure aloft: thoughts on facebook, rfm and the d.i.y. underground compiled by rob hayler

March 21, 2017 at 7:42 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 5 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

facebook satire 2

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.

facebook satire

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)

foghorn

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.

evil twitter

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.

zucker 2

…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!!!

zucker

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.

dislike

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?

vomit

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.

evil facebook

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.

 

—ooOoo—

 

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 edmondez

March 3, 2017 at 6:00 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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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)

 birchal-etc

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-and-friends

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-hooligan-1

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.

alge-1

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.”

Soundholes

Chocolate Monk

-ooOOOoo-

the 2016 zellaby awards

January 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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zellaby award envelope

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.]

—ooOoo—

Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:

capsules

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. 

—ooOoo—

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.

for-marlo

3. #pizzagate

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

—ooOoo—

Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:

junk-seance

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.

xx

—ooOoo—

Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:

furchick

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.

—ooOoo—

Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:

five-mile

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?

—ooOoo—

sofs-video

…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?

—ooOoo—

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.

vol-5

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.

—ooOoo—

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?]

jbnc

Bronze: Julian Bradley and Neil Campbell – FOR LILA O

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.

hqef

Silver: Helicopter Quartet – Electric Fence

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.

eotvb

Gold: East of the Valley Blues – EOVTB

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:

So… can I play this next to Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s sublime A Meeting by the River?  Does it hold its own beans compared to Phil Tyler’s exquisite banjo snaffle?

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.

—ooOoo—

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.

—ooOoo—

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.

—ooOoo—

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

100_4233

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!!!

—ooOoo—

radiofreemidwich is *ahem* ‘hiring’

December 1, 2016 at 12:30 pm | Posted in blog info, musings | Leave a comment
Tags:

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…

With love,

Rob H

x

a shit-kickin’ band from blackpool: pete coward on ceramic hobs

November 12, 2016 at 10:30 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: ,

hobs-liverpool

(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 pete.coward@gmail.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.]

—ooOoo—

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.

ceramic hobs - oz oz alice cover

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.

Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerk

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.

ceramic hobs - psychiatric underground cover

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.

ceramic hobs - straight outta rampton cover

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.

hobs-leeds

(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.

ceramic hobs - 72 hour drink binge alco pop madness

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.

—ooOoo—

Ceramic Hobs on Facebook

Ceramic Hobs on Discogs

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