threat of disintegration: joe murray puzzles over basic house but is damn sure about the piss superstition

December 18, 2013 at 10:07 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Basic House – Oats (CD, Alter, ALT12)

the piss superstition – southpaw the skull (CD-r, poot records, poot#49)

basic house - oats

Basic House – Oats

One of the stranger developments in recent years has been them naughty noise-boys trading in their para boots for vintage gazelles and applying the ‘noise’ mentality and sound sources to a completely new template.  Labels like Pan, Opal Tapes and Alter are scooping up these singular artists and opening up new vistas; transforming these no-audience stalwarts into some-audience players.

Oats starts with tape hiss as fresh as ocean spray soaking the bridge of the Terra Nova.  And it’s with this image of adventure I sit down and struggle to work out, what is it that Basic House does?  He’s not a DJ.  Well not here anyway, so it’s not turntablism I’m listening to.  He is using sound sources and in some way sampling them but I find the term samplist clumsy and insufficient. The job title ‘composer’ is far too stuffy and does nothing to describe the very organic thought process on show.   So, how about loopist?  One who performs with loops?  Does that take us any nearer understanding the art of the Basic House?

Let’s see…

Like movements of a galactic timepiece ‘AR II’ chimes with cymbals double-timed by Jack DeJohnette.  On a second listen the touchstone could be Tom Recchion’s Chaotica with its woozy, schoozy fat-wobbling circles spiralling within each other and occasionally collapsing.  I think I’ve just got this thing cracked when it all ends with about 15 seconds of syrupy mid-70’s easy listening schmaltz.  The atmosphere is briskly challenged by ‘Child Confession’ with the introduction of a soggy-bottom beat, a machine-like ‘whump’ that anchors the soaring, grinding gears.

I need to make something clear here though Midwichers.  A few commentators have used the word ‘industrial’ when describing Basic House.  For me this sends out all the wrong messages.  This is not the itchy grime of a replica WW2 uniform but the beautiful deep pearly-grey of a dove’s wing.  And while the occasional beat (however lopsided and lurching) signifies a ‘club’ feel, this has as much in common with late-period Blood Stereo as Berlin’s  Transmediale.  It’s all about the sound of the sound.

‘Interiors’ could be extreme vocals pushed through a mincer.  It could be the time stretched squeal of a pig as a bi-plane circles overhead.  The only thing that remains certain is the distinctive klunk and scree of a Dictaphone that makes an appearance into the misty melange; fading slowly…

‘BG Feathers’ lavishes a beat so distorted it sounds like a dot matrix printer wired to explode, whilst cymbals buried deep are ‘ten-to-two-ing’ again.  Folded into the mix a stanky aquarium squelch comes across almost like a parody of an acid track.  These are not Autechre’s studied opaque strategies but genuinely odd juxtapositions and alliances; field recordings from the Nostromo, air vents opening and closing wetly.

The CD version that I have been playing has a couple of tracks of silence separating side one and side two to mimic the anticipation of turning the record over and diving in again.  Patience is rewarded with ‘Time Table’, that loops the sound of a trawlerman’s winch hauling nets and throaty gurgles that wouldn’t be out-of-place in Yol’s back catalogue

The penultimate piece, ‘C – Beat’ ripples like mercury.  The heavy, silvery waves lapping with insistent purpose until we find ourselves at the Terra Nova once again, climbing out the sea like lesser gods, ready to summon accursed masters in a diabolical ceremony.

But does the term loopist work?  For me Basic Stephen Bishop waits right until the end to give us hungry listeners a tantalising clue with the epic ‘L-Wave and Comb’, the greatest tune Jazzfinger never wrote, an exercise in dank basement gloom, grimy loops and never-ending climax.  You’ll have to listen to see if you agree with me Midwichers!

OK.  I started this slightly hysterical review with a knee-jerk and badly-researched statement; folk are leaving the sub-underground to engage with a slightly different set of parameters.  Basic House et al are making work that is just as challenging and avant garde as anyone else on these pages but it’s snagged something more commercial.  It’s becoming more than another tiny-micro niche and turning (dare I say it?) into a movement.  And the million dollar question…what’s the difference?  Could it be that a slight change in frequencies and presentation are the deciding factors?  Are audiences so shallow that the merest hint of a beat places this music into a different, more commercial and visible, category?  Hell…I don’t know.  But it’s fun trying to figure it out eh?  Until then consider me a fan…the oldest swinger in town.


the piss superstition – southpaw the skull

That Dorian Gray of the no-audience underground, Piss Julian Superstition Bradley, kindly put me up once after a gig in Leeds.  We had a laugh that night; drank some beer, listened to Public Enemy and generally put the world to rights.  But my enduring memory of that visit was having the most powerful and outrageously lucid dream of my life kipping on his sofa.  I’m one of them annoying light sleepers.  The merest rattle of a fag paper and I’m sitting bolt upright shot through with black-coffee alertness.  But on that morning it took me hours to pull myself round.  I was so confused I kept questioning my compatriots (Lee TUSK and our RFM host Rob (Editor’s note: heh, heh – much fun was had by all…)) ‘Did someone visit in the night?’ so realistic were my dozy memories.  That, dear readers, is a taste of the potency of Mr Julian Bradley when he’s not even trying!  The contact-high off his sofa was enough to knock me for six all morning.  Now imagine distilling this psychedelic essence into a silvery disc and pouring it into your ear.  That is pretty much what I attempted with repeat listens to the glowing masterwerk southpaw the skull.

But despite his boyish good looks, me and Julian must be similar ages coz the all the references on this sizzling disc are super-resonant to my 43 year-old ears.  At some points it’s the harshest, worst fidelity imaginable, Velvet Underground bootleg ever; a two note boogie, nodding-out over the zonked repetition, dropping brass polish all over the floor and headaching the metallic fumes.  At other times it’s a Stylophone demonstration disc played by furious bees then roughed up in an alley by a Mexican girl gang.  Finally there is a hint of that old Pebbles compilation (with bands like The Litter? The Wild Knights?? (Editor’s note: the most reprehensible song ever?  Possibly.)) letting them guitars ring out and feedback like a trashy liberty bell.  There’s a real joy in the simple fuzz and fuh that’s pretty darn contagious.  Even non-musical sounds twang the memory gong with the grey-pumice pulsing of a ZX Spectrum game endlessly loading becoming a theme running though ‘Hospital Material.’  And if that makes things sound like moronic retro-riffage you got it all wrong pal.  Amid the spark and fizz of the uber-distorition strange melodies peek out.  ‘Sev Acher’ is one of them modern hymns you get on Songs of Praise every now and then that has a vaguely familiar tune taking unexpected turns as if people don’t know the words very well.  It’s on the point of constantly breaking up but holds things together for a minute or two before a breathless surge towards the climax.

And it’s that threat of disintegration; the edge-of-chaos collapse that keeps making me turn back to this sweet knuckle-sandwich again and again for a hit of fresh air.

Buy Oats via the Alter Bigcartel site, buy southpaw the skull by contacting Poot direct.

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