name your price – ‘value’ underground in the age of bandcamp

August 31, 2019 at 6:44 am | Posted in musings, no audience underground | 10 Comments
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name your price – ‘value’ underground in the age of bandcamp

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(Note 1 of 2: I started thinking about this piece almost a year ago – time passes as nothing, eh? – and have been inspired to dust it off and get it finished by RFM comrade Joe Murray’s article on ‘value’ in the no-audience underground published in TQ Zine issue #24.  Back issues and subscriptions available here.  Highest possible recommendation!

Note 2 of 2: I’ve illustrated this piece with some pictures of rocks I took on St Bees beach, Cumbria, during a recent holiday.  The alternative was screengrabs from Bandcamp which I couldn’t get to look interesting.)

—ooOoo—

In January 1990, as my 18th birthday present, my folks gave me a boombox incorporating a CD player – the first in our house.  The first disc I bought to play in it was i by A.R. Kane which cost, I think, about £12.  According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator that is equivalent to an astounding £26 in ‘today’s money’.  In contrast, a while back I spent about £18 on the download of 50 releases by RFM favourite Stuart Chalmers.  I raised this money by selling downloads of most of my own back catalogue which I offered at a minimum cost of 50 pence for THE LOT.  As I started writing this article, noise Twitter was frothing over a deal whereby Kevin Drumm’s digital back catalogue of 113 albums could be had for $22.60 – 20 cents a pop.  And yet elsewhere I followed up on a random recommendation and found a physical release on tape that could be had for £6 but the download on its own was priced at a comically off-putting £1000.  Blimey!  What fuckery is this!?  In short: Bandcamp.  Its structure, its wild west pricing options, the implications of its very existence – raise all manner of questions about entitlement and respect, scarcity and giganticism, cost and value.  I’ll dance around the latter in this article.

In the last Zellaby Awards post, RFM’s round-up of the best from 2018, I said of Bandcamp that…

My routine is well established: during the day I follow recommendations, mainly garnered from twitter, dutifully keeping a browser tab open for each.  On retiring to bed those that are ‘name your price’ are downloaded to my ‘phone, either paying nowt or an amount depending on proximity to payday or whether my paypal account contains anything I can pass on.  Those that require a specific fee are placed on my wishlist, triaged and either discarded or purchased according to taste and resources.  Releases acquired this way are listened to mainly via (surprisingly good) wireless headphones as I nod off, walk to and from work or busy myself around the house.  The huge majority of my life in music is now comprised of this process and I find it magical.  The efficiency, the frugality with which I can navigate an unimaginable catalogue, dizzying myself with novelty, whilst offering direct support to artists (who are sometimes also friends) is borderline miraculous.  I guess I can almost still understand preferring the physical exercise of crate digging – the rush of discovery, the thwap of sleeve on sleeve, tape hiss or run-in groove crackle – but I’ve no time for anyone who scoffs at my alternative.  There are problems of course – some big – but that doesn’t stop this being the most interesting thing to happen to music distribution since the mainstreaming of digital piracy in the 90s.

Since then I’ve started the radiofreemidwich show and, to feed that beast, have added clicking on interesting looking ‘supported by’ avatars and seeing what those people have in their collections too.  I highly recommend doing this – it’s an excellent way of revealing connections between sub-genres and geographical locations.  I should also mention that – full disclosure – I’m not arsed with physical objects anymore.  All I really want is to hear the music.  Sure, I appreciate a thought-through aesthetic and packaging can be fun and/or impressive but if your object comes with a download code then, to be honest, what you are really selling me is a slip of paper elaborately presented in kipple.  OK, let’s crack on with the ISSUES.

Occasionally I see twitter threads by artists bemoaning the fact that they can’t make a living from their music anymore.  ‘We’ve spent $3k on equipment and Spotify pays pennies’ was the gist of one particularly mind-boggling one I read recently.  My initial reaction is almost always the same: ‘well, who asked you to?’  If Spotify had commissioned their album then refused to pay an agreed fee then, sure, the anger would be righteous but it’s never that.  It’s usually more a burning sense of entitlement, propped up by narcissistic solipsism, wishful thinking and some garbled pseudo-memory of the ‘good old days’.  ‘I work so hard at this’, goes the thought, ‘why aren’t I being paid?’ followed by lashing out at piracy or streaming services or ‘the business’ and doom-mongering about the death of new music or whatever.  Lucky for me, the definitive rejoinder to this shite has already been written.  Allow me to quote at length from the best thing The Quietus has ever published:

It surprises many people that members of bands considered successful are also in full-time work, which personally I love – no one has a god-given right to make money from entertainment and, arguably, to make money you have to sell a crucial part of what you do down the river.

Yet the structure of our world is so based around wealth. When I’m at work as a postman one of the first questions I get asked the morning after a Hey Colossus gig is: “What money did you get?/How much were you paid?/Did you lose money?/MONEYMONEYMONEY!” It’s how most people judge success and failure. The band I do, with five friends, makes no money. For 14 years we have made no money. Every single penny goes into recording and rehearsing and new strings and mending broken things. We all have jobs. We write and record music because it’s fun, we’re lucky enough to play shows throughout Europe and we’re over the moon to drive to shows and play to 30 people… or more if the weather is right/no other bands are in town/there’s nothing on telly (these are the top three Promoter Excuses, straight from the handbook). Kind people will put the show on and feed us and let us stay in their houses or put us up in the venue. We’ve stayed in squats with no toilets or showers and we’ve stayed in surprisingly swanky hotels (spending the night pinching ourselves and taking photos like tourists), but both are greeted with open arms. More often than not the squat sticks in your mind for a longer time, often for positive reasons. This network, a spider’s web, holds us up. It’s built over time, handed down through the generations. Money is nothing to do with what we do, and the minute it has anything to do with what you create you’re done for, you’re a spent force.

Inspiring stuff, eh?  This is a big chunk of a short article by Joe Thompson from the band Hey Colossus published in 2017 (which echoes thoughts I’ve published before).  I’ve always had a soft spot for this lot partly because my oldest friend, Tim Hall, used to be their drummer and partly because of this wholly admirable attitude (Joe has a book out about the band which I’m itchin’ to read).  I’m not sure I go the full Bill Hicks but Joe is pretty much right on all counts isn’t he?  Do it because you love it, do your best to make it sustainable: no-one has a god-given right to make money from entertainment.  This does not mean that it is OK for streaming services or unscrupulous promoters to rip people off, nor that money should never change hands, nor that grants or other financial help should never be available, nor that everyone is not entitled to a level of security and dignity no matter who they are or what they do (talk to Toby Phips Lloyd about that).  The answer to the question ‘Do they owe us a living?’ is, as we all know, ‘Course they fucking do!’ but those bewildered, angry artists on twitter aren’t arguing for universal basic income are they?  And if they choose to make selling their art crucial to their financial wellbeing then there are unpleasant consequences that the DIY scene, as personified above, doesn’t even have to consider because its priorities are elsewhere.

Bringing this back to the subject at hand, Bandcamp strikes me as a pretty solid attempt to square the circle.  Whilst casting side-eye at the cut taken by both Bandcamp and the egregious PayPal, this platform provides a way of expressing your support by buying from what is basically a digital merch stall.  Artists and labels get to sell their art on, more or less, their own terms (certainly less restrictive terms than are traditionally allowed) and pocket the dough, minus the rake.  This seems a healthy turn – sure, money is changing hands for product but the directness and immediacy seem to shift the emphasis from ‘selling something’ to ‘supporting the act’.  The exchange is disentangled from the ‘business’.  Which brings me to the strange and exciting topic of value in a world where cost is almost free-floating, attached to content largely by whim.

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It has always been the case that ‘success’ in what I have termed the no-audience underground is not measured by traditional material yardsticks.  There is no money, obviously, no fame, no retiring to a life of boat drinks.  I have spoken before about the true currency circulating being goodwill and it is more analogous to lifeblood oxygenating the scene than actual cash changing hands.  Joe Thompson mentions the wider DIY scene being ‘a spider’s web’ which is a poetic image and, I’d add, it is goodwill that keeps those freaky glands pumping fresh silk into the mesh, repairing holes and stringing new loops.  Whilst we do get very excited when something fantastic suddenly appears fully formed (*cough*) it is difficult for hype to take hold as kudos is garnered organically, through word of mouth and the hands-on involvement of scene members.  Thus respect has been (largely) uncoupled from competition and, as such, is both robust and available to everyone.  No-one gives a fuck about your sales figures.

Bandcamp’s flexibility in pricing allows for this attitude to be reflected and retained.  Whilst there are material factors that have to be considered when flogging physical stuff and no-one should begrudge anyone raising dough to cover costs and time, there is no further cost to the artist associated with selling digital copies of their work aside from the slice of pie that Bandcamp/PayPal take (I have concerns about the serious environmental impact of all that humming machinery in climate controlled server farms, of course, but am reluctantly leaving that to one side for today).  This has led to some bewilderment as a bunch of punks attempt to negotiate supply and demand at its most slippery, no more so when discussing the gloriously divisive ‘name your price’ option.  Before we hike into that wilderness, however, we have to examine a few of the other digi-sales strategies I’ve seen on Bandcamp.

The first is simply not to have any.  Take, for example, the wonderful Asta Taunus by Culver on Invisible City Records.  Craig of ICR has an exceptional ear and his roster is rock solid (including – full disclosure – me) but he won’t mind me saying that his ‘model’ is absolutely standard: everything listed on a Bandcamp page, physical editions of 50, name your price if you just want a download.  Lee Stokoe’s Culver fits right into the aesthetic but is resolutely, pathologically offline so what to do about the digital?  Easy – just don’t offer it.  No streaming previews, no download thrown in with purchase of the physical object, no download option at all.  If you want to hear it you buy the tape.  It’s perfectly possible to set up a Bandcamp listing like this and whilst it might aggravate us toga-clad future people with our ‘food pills’ and ‘flying cars’ and ‘smart phones’ there is a bloody-minded purity to it that I respect.

The second option for artists and labels who wish to prioritise physical editions over downloads is to create a regular looking listing but charge a comically enormous sum for the download only option.  For instance, after being transfixed by Yoni Silver’s performance at the Hijinks Ensue all-dayer at Wharf Chambers here in Leeds I rushed to Bandcamp to secure further listening.  Immediately I tripped over the solo album Ape on Hideous Replica, described as ‘strangulated bass clarinet’ – perfect! – but the download was priced at £666.  I get the joke and I guess it’s to encourage people to buy the physical edition but, oddly, a download is still included alongside any purchase.  The sidebar suggests that if a listener wants a download they should contact and pay the artist directly but no contact details for any artists are provided!  It’s on you, mate: off to twitter and google you go for a bit of stalking then send your sheepish email/DM explaining the situation and asking for a link.  Bit embarrassing, innit?  I suppose it could be argued that the artists thus have autonomy to set prices and benefit accordingly from the arrangement but they have chosen to go through a label and not self-release these albums so is it too much to expect the label to handle digital distro (which costs nothing) and some bookkeeping?  I’m not throwing shade here – Hideous Replica do fine work, releasing intriguing music by terrific people – just genuinely perplexed.  Hideous Replica already has a perfectly functional website on which releases can be bought without downloads and snippets can be heard via embedded Soundcloud links.  I understand wanting a presence on Bandcamp – it’s where it’s all happening – but why not just replicate this there?  Culverize the listings – no downloads, physical merch only – and include links to the Soundcloud snippets in the release descriptions.  It is also possible to have releases available to stream but not for sale or download, the only option being to ‘share’ it via social media.  Stick a link to the existing website for purchasers in the description and all bases are covered. Huge prices for downloads don’t make any sense.

So what would be appropriate?  Charging exactly the same amount for the download only option as for the physical object?  I’ve seen this many times and there is a near-Culveresque bloody-mindedness to it that I can almost get behind:

How much is the tape?

8 EURO

…OK, and how much is just the download?

8 EURO

…err, hang on a minute…

8 EURO.  8 EURO. THE COST OF DOING BUSINESS WITH US IS 8 EURO. 8 EURO OR FUCK OFF. CHOOSE.

…but there is something about this strategy that makes the outside corner of my right eye twitch.  Earlier I mentioned that nobody should grudge an artist or a label recouping costs when flogging physical goods but a flat price seems to ignore this reality. Producing and posting a tape involves time and money at each step, selling a digital copy of the same content (after the Bandcamp listing is created) does not.  As such, it’s hard not to think of yourself as a ‘mark’ if you don’t want the tape, a listener to be milked for max profit in order to subsidise those that do insist on their STUPID CLACKY PLASTIC BOXES.  *Sigh*.  Anyway, the best thing about divorcing price from production costs is that, for the first time so far, a notion of value independent of objects can be inferred.

Bearing that in mind, we move to what seems to be the sensible option but is actually the most philosophically interesting so far: selling downloads for what feels like a fair and reasonable fraction of the full price of the physical object.  The psychologically acceptable sweet spot seems to be around two-thirds, or half once postage is taken into account.  Thus if a tape priced at £6, or £8 including postage, has a download-only option on sale for £4 then we all fold our arms and nod in approval of this obviously fair and reasonable state of affairs.  There are no costs to cover so it is fair and reasonable that an amount accounting for those costs be removed from the price.  Simple, eh?  But there is a magical weirdness gathering in these sums.  If costs relating to production and distribution are removed, and what remains is not a joke (£666) or a denial of reality (8 EURO), then what is it?   I’m tempted to say what remains is an honest attempt to put a value on the content alone.  That £4 is for THE ART.  Thus art, in this case recorded music, is something that can be valued, and on this platform paid for, independent of the costs of production or the existence of an edition on a physical format.  The means of doing so – money – is crude but the principle is established, which is the philosophically interesting turn.

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Finally then, having hacked through all this undergrowth, we get to the jungle temple that is ‘name your price’ – the option to pay what you want for a download, which can include helping yourself to it ‘for free’.  The usual, expected exchange is financial, of course, and most seasoned Bandcamp users must have rules-of-thumb about what they can/will throw into the hat (see the account of my routine above).  However, this option is not universally appreciated.  I’ve seen one tweet calling for it to be axed (seriously) and other conversations in which punters have expressed unease that it is ‘on them’ to decide what a release is ‘worth’.  Not only that, it occasionally brings on a ‘quo vadis?’ moment of existential plummeting for some artists too: if a listener can legitimately offer no money in exchange for your work then why are you doing this, what even is it that you are doing?

I have some patience with the first of these concerns. If price is divorced from production then the listener is just as well placed to determine value as the artist or label so they need to think it through (or at least read to the end of this article) and figure out a responsible rationale for their consumption.

I have more sympathy for the second. If an artist or label has got as far as choosing the ‘name your price’ option then they are already likely beyond the whiny narcissism I dismissed earlier. I understand, though, that it can be disheartening to shape a work of art around your soul and have no fucker even tip you pence when taking a copy for themselves.  It is possible, I think, to wholly agree with Joe Thompson on why we do what we do, or with my account of the no-audience underground’s self sufficiency, and still be fed up about it because a) most people in noise are skint and b) the idea that value = money is so beaten into us by society.

This despair is often expressed in what I’ll call the ‘coffee argument’. People think nothing of dropping mad quids on unnecessary luxuries like, for example, fancy takeaway coffees but won’t pony up for music, goes the complaint. This always causes much puzzled head scratching on my part.

Firstly, no, they don’t. Well, some do, I guess, but speaking as a perpetually brassic music obsessive with family responsibilities I measure every purchase.  Secondly, if coffee was freely available from public drinking fountains it would not be unreasonable for people to take it.  Or, to use a more accurate analogy, if a bunch of coffee enthusiasts shared a coffee delivery platform on which they could offer the results of their experiments in roasting and blending to coffee drinkers in return for donations, we might expect the more palatable to take the largest share of the business and those that taste like sump oil and hagfish slime to find a niche audience of skint coffee perverts at best.

Thirdly it occurs to me that most of the art and music that has inspired me I’ve bought in sales, charity shops, second hand or bartered for.  I’ve also borrowed stuff from libraries and friends, soaked up what I’ve heard on the radio and seen in galleries and, of course, in the modern era helped myself to a lot of music via Bandcamp.  A work of art’s value to me seems to be an entirely separate matter to its originally assigned financial value.

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Which brings me, at last, the the point where I can name my price.  The first thing to say is that if I have any money spare then you are welcome to it.  Dipping into funds remaining at the end of the month to fuel a hobby that means the world to me or passing on anything in my PayPal account seems as natural as reusing jiffy bags and *ahem* unfranked stamps back in the pre-digital era.  I’m also more than happy to pay for compilations in aid of charity or help friends out who are in a financial bind by purchasing something if I can (*sigh again* one day I’ll fit into that medium sized Penance Stare t-shirt, ONE DAY).

However, in other circumstances I have no qualms at all at naming ‘zero’ as my price.  In doing so I mean no disrespect.  In the absence of available cash I’ll lean on other definitions of value and payment that are native to the DIY/no-audience underground scenes.

The first thing I can offer is barter.  I have dozens of releases available on Bandcamp – as midwich, as see monsd, in collaboration with others via my page and others – and almost all are freely downloadable.  I’d be delighted if you helped yourself.  It’s (almost) taken over from the archaic practice of swapping CDrs and tapes at a show as our way of shaking hands.  The most popular release I have posted, by some distance, is the midwich/earth trumpet collaboration which has been downloaded, at the time of writing, an amazing 139 times. Grateful as I am to the 12 punters who also paid money for it, I bear no grudge against the 127 who didn’t because, well, it’s like being given indulgences that forgive my own downloading-for-nowt of others.

More important than this possibly contentious notion of ‘credit’ is the pleasure to be had in knowing that someone is listening.  It might seem preposterous to say ‘I’ll pay for your download by listening to it’ but in our world, where projects can be profoundly personal and many attract a double digit audience at most, knowing someone is paying attention can be very gratifying and validating.

I use the word ‘attention’ deliberately because the quality of that listening is important too.  In the paragraph about my Bandcamp habits quoted earlier I mention listening on headphones as I go about my business but if, say, I am walking to work then aside from the 5% of my brain I am using to avoid treading in dog shit I am ALL YOURS.  In return for a download I offer full, respectful, contemplative, open-minded attention.

Which of course devours time, the most valuable currency of all.  As part payment for a download I will put down every concern I can let go of and give your music exactly the amount of time you have decided it needs. At least, usually more.  Think about the crap we wade through every waking fucking moment in order to survive and yet still being able to command a section of someone’s day like that.  It’s magical.

It needn’t stop with the time taken to listen attentively though.  To keep the goodwill oxygenating the scene, or the spider’s web in a good state of repair, part of the price of a free download is the tacit agreement to boost it if you dig it, to pay it forward.  Some cultural heavyweights might publish a blog running to three quarters of a million words amassed over a decade, or have recently started a modest but appreciated internet radio show on mixcloud but there is no hierarchy here and, frankly, a positive tweet is all it need take.  That’s how I find the majority of the new music recommendations I follow up on and taking part strengthens a virtuous circle linking both the new and the established.

Paying the minimum, 50p in the UK, is useful too if you can manage it.  A common gripe from artists is that they’d rather listeners just took their release for free instead of paying such a small amount but that is missing the point.  For those listeners with a Bandcamp account, doing this adds the release to their collection thereby making it more convenient to listen to (well, marginally – the Bandcamp app isn’t good), makes it viewable as a purchase to those browsing that collection and adds their avatar to the ‘supported by’ list.  As I recommended earlier, clicking these avatars and snooping around the collections of others is a great way of forging connections and, again, finding stuff new to you.  Yes, yes – you may roll your eyes at the jaunty email notifications Bandcamp sends about the 34p that’s on its way but perhaps instead you could try getting over yourself?  This is cheap, friendly gesture that benefits everyone.  That you get a share of what is basically a service charge is not a reason to moan and, despite it being tiny, once you’ve collected a couple you can do the same favour for someone else.

(Aside: a similar line can be taken on the purchase of whole digital catalogues at discounted prices.  I’d argue the main points of buying one is to get the lot into your collection, with the benefits described above, and to support the artist with a financial boost to morale.  It’s a show of good faith.)

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So where are we at? Has this all been a self-serving ruse to justify me being a cheapskate?  Hmm… perhaps I shouldn’t have planted that thought.  No, let’s say: no.  What I hope I have shown instead is that whilst money is, to state the obvious, useful, welcome and necessary if you wish to recoup the costs of producing physical editions, it needn’t be the the only measure of value in the DIY/no-audience underground.  Striking a balance is difficult, as the examples I’ve used establish, but it’s when we get to ‘name your price’ that the air-cushioned sole of theory meets the sticky pub floor of praxis.  Payment – any payment – being optional forces an examination of motives and priorities, both for artists and listeners.

Money can be offered, of course, but we also have the opportunity of reflecting the wider values that hold our scenes together.  Barter reinforces the non-hierarchical nature of our endeavour, attentive listening is profoundly respectful and nothing helps create and maintain bonds better than sharing your time.

I feel sheepish offering this as a conclusion, like I risk coming off as punker-than-thou or naively utopian, but, horrified at the shitstorm of venality that surrounds us in the wider world, it seems important to stress there are non-financial means of payment and of allocating value that are expressions of the same qualities that make our scenes so rewarding and joyous.  That I start each episode of the radiofreemidwich show with ‘Hello comrades!’ and end it with ‘be kind to each other’ is an entirely deliberate summary of my position.

In short: I put a gigantic value on our work, but not one that is reducible to money.

 

Rob Hayler, August 2019

—ooOoo—

happy new year humans: it’s the rfm zellaby list for two thousand and eighteen

January 1, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby-award-envelope (1)

That 2018 was a hard year for many eh?

The impact of recent seismic political and cultural change has reached its grubby hands into our lovely underground and started poking and prodding.  In 2018 I witnessed an underground scene fractured, where tempers were frayed and short.  Reasonable people and reasonable debate had given way to, barely disguised jealously, name-calling and shaming.  Social media, that onetime ally of the powerless, became a toxic swamp of subtweeting, humble bragging, opinion presented as fact and relentless negativity.

It’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel.  And yet…

There’s something so powerful about the ideas that accompany NAU/DIY music.  With little commercial expectation it still remains truthful and pure.  With no piper to pay we are free to pursue our own directions, explore strange cul-de-sacs and settle into comfortable dead ends.  Our music is often, literally, a gift.  Either between two real-life people connecting in any manner of means or, if using the ‘pay what you like’ option, a gift for the many we are yet to meet.

While it may be true that a DIY lifestyle rarely offers solutions, I feel it offers something approaching equal value.  It offers hope.  Hope that we can prevail in a toxic world, hope that invention, kindness and humility are still highly valued by some. Hope that we can create a safe space in a world that seems to be careering into a period of sustained traumatic shock.

For these reasons I feel, this year, it’s all the more important to celebrate this hope.

As you will know RFM spent most of 2018 hibernating and not all the RFM writers have had time to contribute so you are stuck with Rob, Luke and myself.

In a spirit of what Kathleen Hannah calls “non-competition and praise” we humbly present you the Zelleby lists 2018.

Rob Hayler

Happy New Year folks!  I wish you a peaceful 2019 and hope that 2018 left you smiling.  I realise that might be a vain hope given that the world is hurtling towards Armageddon but, hey, let’s leave the existential terror to one side for a few minutes and distract ourselves with talk of music.  It’s fine.  This is fine.  I SAID IT’S FINE.

*Ahem*

RFM being on hiatus for the majority of the year has been refreshing.  It hasn’t stopped me writing – add up my account of TUSK (below), my pieces for TQ Zine, various unfinished articles and a frankly embarrassing number of tweets and it totals around 15 thousand words – but the absence of pressure has invigorated my listening habits and left me untethered from critical consensus.  I’ve also found time for see monsd, my post-midwich recording project, and two albums of gurgling tweakage and heavy loopism have been followed by more high concept shenanigans with Posset and yol.  A collaboration with Stuart Chalmers will follow in due course.  I’m proud of how this has worked out and must give thanks again to Chrissie and Ross for donating the kit I am now hunched over.  Angels both.

Right then: lists, sort of.  I’ll mention a ‘proper label’, a ‘not really a label’ and then gesture towards recordings made by 27 acts that had me hovering two inches above the floor during 2018.

OFOCL

My ‘proper’ label of the year is Other Forms of Consecrated Life.  I’m currently halfway through an account of its many qualities which I hope to publish in the New Year so, for now, here are the bare facts of the matter.  Based in Scotland, OFOCL has released four albums since its inauguration in January of 2016.  It appears to have no online presence other than its Bandcamp page and these releases are only available digitally.  There are bare bones Discogslistings and a Twitter account, also set up in January 2016, which has sent a mere handful of tweets.  Each release is accompanied by a black and white photograph of an historical artefact, a museum piece, presented unreferenced and closely cropped on a plain background, thus shorn of context.  The aesthetic is both neatly coherent and pleasingly enigmatic.  Great logo too.  The tag-line on both Bandcamp and in the Twitter bio is as follows:

“Auditory excavations.  Eremetic Music.  Pareidolia.”

I will say more in due course.  I insist you check it out.

The ‘not really a label’ is ‘self-released on Bandcamp’.  My routine is well established: during the day I follow recommendations, mainly garnered from twitter, dutifully keeping a browser tab open for each.  On retiring to bed those that are ‘name your price’ are dozily downloaded to my ‘phone, either paying nowt or an amount depending on proximity to payday or whether my paypal account contains anything I can pass on.  Those that require a specific fee are placed on my wish list, triaged and either discarded or purchased according to taste and resources.  Releases acquired this way are listened to mainly via (surprisingly good) wireless headphones as I nod off, walk to and from work or busy myself around the house.  The huge majority of my life in music is now comprised of this process and I find it magical.  The efficiency, the frugality with which I can navigate an unimaginable catalogue, dizzying myself with novelty, whilst offering direct support to artists (who are sometimes also friends) is borderline miraculous.  I guess I can almost still understand preferring the physical exercise of crate digging – the rush of discovery, the thwap of sleeve on sleeve, the smell, the crackle of a run-in groove – but I’ve no time for anyone who scoffs at my alternative.  There are problems of course – some big – but that doesn’t stop Bandcamp being the most interesting thing to happen to music distribution since the mainstreaming of digital piracy in the 90s.

OK, my 27 recording artists of 2018 are below.  One or two of those mentioned might stretch the usual remit of this blog but, y’kno, fuck it.  Where a particular release has stood out, the link will take you directly to it but many of the artists featured have been prolific and are included in recognition of all the new pages in their own strange atlases. Given the ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’ method by which I amassed most of this year’s highlights (“Gee Willikers! ‘Yesterday Rob’ has purchased a most fanciful download for ‘Today Rob’ to enjoy!”) the idea of a monolithic, numbered list seemed even more illegitimate than usual.  As such, may I present a new way of arranging my year’s favourites?  Everything that falls within the circles is bloody marvellous and absolutely worthy of your careful attention.  The closer it comes to the centre the more it chimed with me.  The alphabetical list of links is also a key to the graphic.  I think the solid red outermost circle might signify ‘the North East noise scene’ or ‘pastoral psych drone’.  Or maybe Kate Bush…

A             Adrian Shenton

B             Bridget Hayden

C             caroline mckenzie

D             chlorine

E              Chrissie

F              Clemency

G             Dale Cornish

H             Daniel John Williams

I               Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper

J              Depletion

K             Guttersnipe

L              Hawthonn

M            Helicopter Quartet

N             Ivonne Van Cleef

O             Kieran Mahon

P             Marlo Eggplant

Q             Naido

R             Penance Stare

S              Robert Ridley Shackleton

T              Saboteuse

U             Sectioned

V             SLEEPMASSK

W            SOPHIE

X             Spelk

Y              Stuart Chalmers

Z              Wizards Tell Lies

ZZ           Xqui

Concentric Circles

Some notes:

SOPHIE

UN-INSIDES

Firstly, the release that falls furthest from the usual ‘no-audience’ remit of this blog: OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES by SOPHIE.  In some nearby but alternate universe this has been the best selling album of the year by orders of magnitude.  It has a quality, in spades, that I value above almost any other when it comes to ‘pop’ music: it sounds like it has been beamed back to us from the future.  From the glorious permission of ‘It’s OK to Cry’ – a velvet crowbar opening your rib cage – to the industrial strength, mentholated joy of ‘Whole New World/Pretend World’ this is a triumph.  I didn’t pay much attention to the ‘end’ of year lists prematurely spunked over an appalled November and December but I assume this topped most of them.  How could it not, right?

MOST PLAYED

Let’s return to a scuzzy, black-painted upstairs room.  Possibly my most played single track of the year is a recording of a gig by Clemency at The Fenton pub in Leeds and which was made available afterwards to interested attendees (such as myself) via Dropbox.  How’s that for no-audience underground, fuckers!?  I don’t know if this piece – a cross-genre skittering collage of unplaceable emotions, clattering beats and sliding bass – is emblematic of her work in general but a resolution for 2019 is to check out her Soundcloud archive and her ongoing radio show.

Saboteuse

ONE OFFS

How about the indefinable masterwork X by Saboteuse on Crow Versus Crow, eh?  A tape that evoked a kind of eye-bugging wild-take, like the listener was a Warner Brothers toon that had wandered into a David Attenborough documentary edited by Herschell Gordon Lewis.  Or the all-conquering Red Goddess (of this men shall know nothing) by Hawthonn?  A profoundly magical album that floats from the fecundity of the valley floor to the ageless moorland tops.  It’s been great to see Phil and Layla playing out – each version of ‘Lady of the Flood’ I see further securing its status as track of the year.  Scrying by Penance Stare was a revelation too – a model of deliberation in the face of rage and confusion, a head-clearing walk through a frozen dusk.

caroline mckenzie

PROLIFICISM

As already mentioned, several of the artists listed have taken advantage of the ease offered by Bandcamp and have been busy filling chests with treasure.  Chief amongst these is caroline mckenzie whose thoughtful, beautiful, longform albums are, on the surface, as welcome and restoring as warm sand underfoot but always have an emotional complexity revealed by close listening.  Kieron Mahon has had it good too.  My favourite of several equally excellent releases is Big Wheel – a kosmische journey with a utopian groove that reminds me at times of Kraftwerk’s ‘Neon Lights’, which is the highest praise of course.  chlorine also filled a swimming pool with fluid, odd tasting, eye-stinging (sorry, that’s enough chlorine jokes) albums.  I had Grassi pegged as a (very talented) drone artist having just heard Silk Trees and Solace but listened with increasing interest as later releases started to more resemble the aesthetic of his terrific photographic collages.  Special mention must also be made of Matt Dalby who has been tirelessly cataloguing his life and artistic endeavours with YouTube and other social media.  A small band of followers, myself included, have enjoyed his vocal improvisations, his accounts of lengthy walks, his comics about autism and his videos about eating insects as snack food.  A hefty body of work is gathering, documenting a unique worldview.  Finally for this section I’m going to shamelessly lump together A WHOLE COUNTRY, like a giant fistful of multi-coloured playdoh in the hands of a naughty toddler, and proclaim this ‘The Year of the Dragon’.  2018 revealed to me a bunch of Welsh underground music pulled together by Ash Cooke (a.k.a. Chow Mwng) and the Dukes of Scuba zine.  Possibly my favourite of these artists was Xqui who worked tirelessly to get approximately nine million tracks up on Bandcamp and, amazingly, kept the quality control needle wavering around ‘superb’ for the whole year.

Adrian Shenton

DRONE/NOISE

Now a paragraph on the genres I am perhaps most closely associated with.  Should you wish your noise to be as bleak, desolate and hostile as a nuclear winter then brace yourself for Final Exit by the extraordinary Depletion.  If your nihilism is of a more cosmic strain – At the Mountains of Madness rather than The Road, say – then I recommend The Transmission by Naido which is a deep dive into turbid waters with an entertaining Lovecraftian back-story.  The soul music continues with the self-titled SLEEPMASSK, which provides an unnerving subcutaneous vibration which somehow feels corrective.  head/rush(ed) by Marlo Eggplant is a collection of curios, miniatures, sketches and exploratory procedures given coherence by a formidable aesthetic, irresistible charisma and dry humour.  Adrian Shenton’s The House That Jack Built is constructed from the cawing of jackdaws, my favourite of the mighty corvids, and thus wins this year’s ‘fuck, I wish I’d thought of that myself’ prize.  Spelk has the great fortune to sound exactly like an inspired collaboration between Neil Campbell and Daniel Thomas.  Possibly because it is.

Wizards Tell Lies

UNACCOUNTABLES

Over the holiday period some of us may have spent time with rarely seen relatives and been in an awkward spot when they’ve said something politically unsavoury or made daft claims like ‘nobody ever discovered anything via a shared Spotify playlist’.  I mean, what can you say?  Probably best just to help them to a chair, put 6Music on for them and slowly back out of the room smiling.  Serendipity remains, of course, rife.  For example, one of my favourite albums of the year came to my attention indirectly when Daniel John Williams joined in with a twitter conversation I was having about a mild fetish I confessed to (peeling the protective film from a gloss surface).  I checked out his work and the spacious, carefully constructed collages of Meet me on the corner became an instant staple.  I literally have no idea how I got to Ivonne Van Cleef as I sleep-downloaded the work, but I was intrigued immediately by the lack of information (“Ivonne Van Cleef is a one person band from San Jose, California.”), the numbered releases, the unifying aesthetic of the photography and, of course, the music itself which is a subtle mixture of desert guitar and technological elements which make it almost unplaceable [STOP PRESS: via IVC I’ve just stumbled over Caleb R.K. Williams and Selected Works is playing as I type – bloody hell, it’s great!].  The fantastic Bad Nature by Wizards Tell Lies landed via that most glorious of promotional tactics – a tweet full of download codes and an invitation to help yourself.  Mate, my scrabble to take advantage is always unseemly.  This album fucking rocks.  I described it at the time as ‘steely industro-punk two thirds sunk into tar-pit metal’ and ain’t going to better that today.

Guttersnipe

Chrissie

FINALLY

Despite being known nowadays mainly as a middle-aged, dronetronika beardy I’ve kept tabs on punk and metal since I was a thrash-teen in the grindcore/grunge boom of the late 80s.  2018 has seen one of my periodic upticks in interest, possibly due to the political shitstorm forcing slurry into every cranny of our existence, and you’ll be glad to know that I still like both kinds: fast and slow.  Of the stuff new to me this year the album I return to, like a tongue wobbling a tooth loosened whilst ‘resisting arrest’, is Annihilated by Sectioned.  I don’t know how to breakdown the genres and microgenres it belongs to, just that it is incredibly fast and brutal but played with such fluidity and space that the experience of listening is all consuming.  It’s hardcore.

My most hotly anticipated release of 2018 was My Mother The Vent by Guttersnipe and I know that feeling was widely shared.  Some also expressed an uneasiness as to whether the record would capture the screaming ferocity of the band’s incomparable live assault, but I would (I think) have been disappointed if they’d just ‘bootlegged’ themselves.  I wanted to see what the duo, both whip-fucking-smart of course, would do with a new medium and, much to my great delight, it is as accomplished as I expected it to be.  The noise is barely describable – an ecstatic rage, a seriousness of intent that teeters on the edge of hilarity, an amazing musicianship in the service of chaos – however the best, most eye opening track is the least similar to the tsunami of the live show.  The closer, ‘God’s Will To Gain Access’, begins as snipey as you like but, over its nearly 11 minute run dubs out into a magic carpet ride over a Hieronymous Bosch hellscape.  Neil Campbell described this as the album ‘grinding to a halt’, which made me laugh and is as good a take as any, but I read into it an almost entirely opposite meaning.  I saw this as a statement of intent – a way of using recording to escape what has already become their expected ‘sound’ and a way of linking it to the other projects – like Blood Claat Orange, say – that Gretchen and/or Rob are involved with.  The options this approach frees up are boggling.  They’ve practised with Hawthonn, for example – think on that without fidgeting with anticipation!  I imagine this album was second on everyone’s list after SOPHIE.  Well, it’s second on mine too.

The very last artist I wish to mention is Chrissie Caulfield.  As one half of Helicopter Quartet (the other being Michael Capstick) she has produced two albums of exceptional quality this year: Last Death of the Phoenix and Revisited (the latter being reconfigurations of eight highlights from the HQ back catalogue) but it is a solo release under her own name that I wish to discuss.  It’s not a Game is a four track EP totalling 20 minutes and in that short run time Chrissie pulls off something near-miraculous.  Via a bank of synths, her piano and violins she conveys something true and meaningful about what it is to be us.  The cover photo looks like a mountain rescue team trudging across a moor on their way to rescue some hapless, ill-prepared accident victim (an amusing counterpoint to the windswept, magick romanticism of the Hawthonn cover).  It complements the title and the vibe of the music perfectly – the exasperation, the frustration bordering on rage, but also the solemn knowledge that someone needs to take responsibility for salvaging the situation.  It’s grown up, serious music but at its core it has kindness, not ‘ruffle-your-hair, don’t-spend-it-all-at-once’ kindness but the foundational type borne of love and respect.  It’s humbling and beautiful.  If I had to pick a favourite release of 2018 I think it would be this.

So, with apologies to those not mentioned (especially many lovely RFM regulars usurped by all these newcomers) that is your lot.  Here’s looking forward.  Take care, people, and be kind.  All is love.

Rob x

Luke Vollar

“In 41 years I’ve drunk 50,000 beers, and they just wash against me like the sea into a pier.”

Not my words sadly, but the words of David Berman, slightly modified to make a point, although I’m not sure what my point is?

Perhaps it’s the years getting more blurred with advancing years. To confidently announce that Sheffield punks Rat Cage wrote the anthem for 2018 with their phlegm-saturated masterpiece ‘Pressure Pot’ from the superb seven inch Caged like Rats only to realise that it was actually released in 2017!  No matter as the equally awesome Blood on your Boots was released this year.

blood on your boots

The raw surge of excitement that is harsh noise, courtesy of Limbs Bin, does that insect-warfare-through-a-primitive-rig thing.  LB’s Josh Landes is a one-man noise grinder from the USA happy to occasionally chuck in a Steely Dan cover for the heck of it.  His One Happy World record is a brief but thrilling ride.
Werewolf Jerusalem released a ‘proper’ CD of dark brooding electronic minimalism called The Nightmares and old faves Usurper (along with Jelle Crama) released ‘Booby Prize’ – a fine release who’s handsome packaging matches the wondrous sounds within. Still beguiling in 2018!

usurper booby

And a late contender for album of the year is the self-titled debut from Notts based, UK metal duo Shrykull (released on CD in a run of 100).  This tasty disc displays a fine vintage of motorcycle huffing excellence. Dig it!

Joe Posset

This has been the year when I’ve listened to more ‘mainsteam’ stuff than ever before.  So, 2018 has seen me cue up new and old sounds from: Big Brave, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Kamasi Washington, Joni Mitchell, Gore, Toshi Ichiyangi, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Autechre, Alice Coltrane, Earth, Old Dirty Brubeck, Julia Holter, Tal National, Soft Machine & The Shrubs.  Thanks to all of you who knocked the rough edges off a rough year.

NAU Records and tapes

caught in the wake forever

  • Sheer beauty love-bite swoon from Caught in the Wake Forever & glacis on Version & Delineation (Crow Versus Crow)
  • Sophisticated coffee-table head noodle from Rodrigo Tavares on Congo (Hive Mind)
  • Fever-dream night-sweat funk from Robert Ridley-Shackleton on Stone Cold Crazy (Crow Versus Crow)
  • Un-translatable earth songs from the strongest spirit imaginable by Jean-Marie Massou on Sodorome Vol 1 (Vert Pituite La Belle)

ROMAN-NOSE-LP-front

  • Blood-red kif-smoke & mind rickets from Roman Nose on Roman Nose (Singing Knives/Humane Pyramid)
  • Inward spiralling fingerprint jass from Blood Stereo on Tape Loop Meditations (Chocolate Monk)
  • Regional top-of-the class weirdos. All the Various Artists on The Harrowing of the North (End of The Alphabet Records)
  • Workbench experiments to gnarly fingers plucking ripe air from Chow Mwng on Stuttering Hand (Self Release)
  • Slick brain-fold of Lear-esque proportions from Gwilly Edmondez on Trouble Number (Slip Imprint)
  • Quick-blubber-vocal-blabber from Fritz Welch on A Desire to Push Forward Without Gaining Access to Anything (Radical Documents)
  • Painful jaw-twang and cavity vibrations from Chik White on Their Faces Closed (Chocolate Monk)

tom and stuart

  • And the THF Drenching prize for exceptional tapewerk goes to Stuart Chalmers and Tom White for Awkward Objects (Fractal Meat)

Live shows

shunyata

Records and tapes are great and all but no scene would survive without real-life interaction.  Gigs are a vital part of the NAU so I say a huge ‘yeah man’ for the regular lunchtime shows at Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery featuring celebrated dark artists: Culver , Xazzaz and the super spaced-out Shunyata Improvisation Group among others.

There was more lunchtime fun at The Newcastle University’s Kings Hall, this time with the exceptional Joe McPhee/John Pope/Paul Hession first-time trio as part of Newcastle’s Jazz & Improvised Music festival.  Two hundred swinging OAPs can’t be wrong!

Bradford’s FUSE was one of my favourite places to play this year (in a trio with the mighty Yol and Toby Lloyd) combining supremely relaxed venue folk (Hi Chris) with great, reasonably priced, locally-sourced drinks all presented at travel-friendly times.  After the show pretty much everyone who didn’t have a bus or train to catch decamped to a nearby pub to keep the conversation going.  Splendid stuff.

Miya_Masaoka_-_photo_by_Heike_Liss-517x355

2018 marks the year I saw my first ever ‘proper’ full-on orchestra with the super-beautiful, super-minimal piece The Movement of Things composed by Miya Masaoka and conducted by Ilan Volkov at Tectonics Glasgow.  The whole thing floored me with as much impact as Black Flag did when I was a spotty teen.

The Old Police House in Gateshead hosted many, many exceptional nights; the standout for me being Ali Robertson & Joyce Whitchurch’s drama/improv/morality tale that held me in a zonked trance throughout its brilliant duration.

20181015_105923

And in a TUSK festival crammed full of highs (Hameed Bros, Dale Cornish, Saboteuse, Pinnel, our very own Marlo Eggplant, Limpe Fuchs, Adam Bohman & Lee Patterson were all beautiful) the wonderful ink-haired Robert Ridley-Shackleton won the hearts of my whole damn family with his utterly charming, whip-smart funky and brain-boggling performance.  The Cardboard Prince reigns supreme.

And talking of reigning…although the ice-hockey venue was rubbish and they were a bit tired and sloppy, I finally got a chance to see another teen favourite – bloody SLAYER with my teenage kids.  And things don’t get any more metal than that.

\m/  \m/

The increasing importance of MP3 Blogs and Internet Radio cannot be denied; creating another platform for DIY artists to inhabit, I give a New Year Blog Cheer to the super classy Slow Goes the Goose, outrageously niche Bulletproof Socks, DIE or D.I.Y and Bleak Bliss (again).

As for Internet Radio I’ve goofed on the clever selections and dulcet tones of: Free Form Freakout, Ramshackle Sunrise, Sindre Bjerga & Claus Poulsen’s history of Danish & Norwegian Experimental Music, Tor FM, Fae Ma Bit Tae Ur Bit, QT and the much missed Crow Versus Crow.

And finally.  Here is my special shout out to everyone who made me a mixtape, sent me a link or a CD-r.  These kindnesses are always appreciated and cherished.  For every zine written, lent or sent; to every gig bootlegger, interviewer, blogger and promoter.  Thank you.  Jx

-ooOOoo-

the death of music criticism: cheap artificial intelligence quickly assimilates the RFM undead into weird new shapes creating a confident chrome voice that it will use to crush & destroy each sorry hack and has-been.

September 25, 2018 at 6:11 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

David Birchall – Tongues EP (Bandcamp)

see monsd – eagle house (Bandcamp)

Of Habit & Dane Law – Empty Gesture (Opal Tapes)

Chow Mwng – One Day All This Will Make Sense (Bandcamp)

Phil Julian – Three Single Points (Bandcamp)

Bridget Hayden – Pure Touch Only From Now, They Said So (Early Music)

Hello readers.  It’s been a while eh?

Over the last 48 hours I’ve had a fascinating, sobering and illuminating text exchange with NAU inventor, improviser and deep-thinker Murray Royston-Ward

Murray casually mentioned he’s been working on an Artificial Intelligence project and would I mind if he fed my gonzo RFM reviews into his ‘brain in a box’ to train it and see if it would spit out reviews the other side.

“…might be stealing your soul or some other voodoo”

…he joked and of course we both lol’d like the fleshy, leaky humans we are.

Murray takes over the story here.

“Basically I copied and pasted the text from Joe’s reviews…the copy/pasted text was then edited to remove titles, headers, and band/purchase links. What’s left is purely the review texts, all bundled up into one text file of 130,699 words.

I then fed that text file as ‘training data’ into a deep learning algorithm. I’ve never done this before and don’t really understand it myself (beyond it doing some fancy pattern matching and statistical modelling) but I pretty much followed this guide.”

So far, so mind-blowing I thought, but the ever modest Murray continued.

“I mean that’s how far this shit has come now, you don’t need a computer science degree, just be competent enough to install some software and follow a ‘recipe’ to issue a few commands in an old skool terminal.  The geeky project files are all here. “

Murray ran the AI training programme overnight all fat with my greasy words and bent phrases. But in a scant five hours the machine coughed politely and said, that’s it mate…got it.  I’m done.  Feed me records.

Let’s take a pause for breath here.  In five hours a machine ‘learns’ what took me decades of intellectual narcissism, false starts, anxious listening and tappy, tappy tapping.

So, my doomed reader, what you are about to read are real reviews of damn fine human records reviewed by our new digital overlords.

Wake up…time to die!

David Birchall TOngues

David Birchall – Tongues EP (Digital Album) Bandcamp

Gotta give you a sound of the air as you dash together in the heart of the sap through each other, inviting along Ex-Con and gentlemen, your eruption for ease: mouth-puff – ocarina, saxophone, flute, voice, and things like a next parish) becomes a condor). And if you think you can see your head at ‘real’ life I guess the gamut from scrap-metal-dinosaur-bar-brawl to Go’ starts with its tourism at the sort of traffic making it ready for card? …asks so to the kind of thing. I’m been thinking of this necks. But the drivel drones on this of the outpourings and that makes this time the sort of anti-social can be a bit of the ion drive, the picture. But to where? But what I need to get the head of absence* and this kind of sound takes this is a respective instruments at the spikes to be a hizzing field starts this is a ROCK recording and plods like a scientist head on this tape is this is a way at the heart. But what I think you can be a voyeur but this is bound up and basted in the true-born fidget. It’s something. I can be sure in the timing, so as the sort of thing like a menagerie (note: all buffed up and probed).

See Monsd eagle house

see monsd – eagle house (Digital Album) Bandcamp

It’s not as the wave of composition as a true-voice is re-cycled from Crow and, like a early-morning vigour, the kind of abrasion sloshed at the cheap-o laptop on the sort of thing like a Cramp’s Poison Ivy practising over in the speakers as a fan of the Pepsi generation) are splashed in blood in the electronics becomes a glitchy, sound juice to be a ‘lost’ futurist & sisters over in this of the soon-to-be-great-intros-of-all-time with a little world – all akka I get a meta-narrative of sound messin’ is a little thing that ‘M1Jet’…a hissy and overlays a new put-on-the-top-of-the-pile-er. The cacophonous tearing is no more and I have to check this baby into the corner of a ilk that sounds like prejudice’ I think the sort of thing like a backwoods gamelan. ‘Encore!’ Chuck, Chet or Chip calls out the kind of heavily-bearded hip-hop – on the kind of sound so all over the heart of the ion drive, the spectre is that starts up in the heart of the sap through my corner and I feel the outpourings and that seems to be a bit of it…this is a most thing of the castor.

Of Habit and Dane Law

Of Habit & Dane Law – Empty Gesture (Cassette & Digital Album) Opal Tapes

meaning-carcass. A THE r e p meaning-carcass. A THE r e p meaning-carcass. A THE r e p e ALWAYS KEEP A SPARK r e p ON The TAPE r e p ON The SPARK r e p ON The TAPE r e p e ALL KEEP But ALL e IS PAINT, SHOES, GLOVES. PING…CRUNCH. IS IT A WARNING? CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A SPARK CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A SPARK PLUG IN YOUR POCKET. UHG UHG CRASH. SILENCE-CLICK. These four sublimely beautiful modular synth THE LUXURY FLATS. SCRATCH. CREEEE—WAAAJ WAAAJ. I SWEAR DOWN IT WAS LOOKING AT ME. HAH-HAH-HER. FADED GHOST LETTERS. GUNG-KIDDLE-TOING. SAY SOMETHING ABOUT. BOING. PAINT, SHOES, GLOVES. PING…CRUNCH. IS IT A WARNING? CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A WARNING? CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A WARNING? CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A WARNING? CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL. ALWAYS KEEP A SPARK PLUG IN YOUR POCKET. UHG UHG CRASH. SILENCE-CLICK. These THE BALCONY OF THE LUXURY FLATS. SCRATCH. CREEEE—WAAAJ WAAAJ. I SWEAR DOWN IT WAS LOOKING IS SAY SOMETHING CHUDDLE-RATTLE-HING. CRAZY PAVING. SCRATCH-UG UG UG MADE FROM BROKEN GRAVESTONES ROARRR-R-RAAAH. SQUEAL-EEL.

Chow Mwng One Day

Chow Mwng – One Day All This Will Make Sense (Digital Album) Bandcamp

Jan concentrated on sound and sparse. But what I’m gunna Glutch & rin There is a real largest Whoopee Cushion deflating as ‘Road’ takes out of the sound of the ion drive, the picture. The map? But with course colours, as drawn out with the heart of the ion drive, the picture. The map? But with a evil. Side is a one easy, Could it’s be a voyeur but this opera?” The first tapes are peeled this is no doubt that makes me all crying into my ears like a moth’s wing, this is a very different growling sounds but in the stomach. Production-wise this tape are dum-dum with the kind of mille plateaux-shudder to be a fitter, leaner guest-blogger. I was associate with a wryd feel: a stunning, but all border appear this is a formless kitchen…I get manner of gosh. But this sounds like an eruption of post-blues as pretty much to check out a Bandcamp. This two pieces seems to be a end-of-the-day machine” is teased and taxed with a apple-cheeked yokel at the sound of the ion drive, the picture. The map? But to Fahey become the corner of this ear-silt; a slackness, a ‘lost SOS, from a appearance on the ion drive, the picture. The map? But to Fahey become the corner of this lived! Klampe, a eruption for post-blues as lead in the jams. This is a lo-slo mung-out. Chirping two-ahhh. Ahhh,three!

Phil Julina 3 single points

Phil Julian – Three Single Points (CD-r & Download) Bandcamp

Miles perfected on Kind of Blue. —ooOoo— And I get the bars of the spikes to create a ounce of fuxxhorn this is a very different jam to interpretation. And in the curtain, beckons in a very different jam to interpretation. We could be a winner. But it’s with the world as this Heat’s Health & Efficiency with a propulsive or sick?). From the argument for the constant expansion of Eliza Doolittle’s ‘Walking on Water’ or the speed-junk-trash-can, like a life? Where’s the twenty-year tape of course) it as a next vocabulary to be a meta-narrative of ‘light’ – drum-fills are the sound of the ‘Spin/Off’ is no more for this of the gentle nut. This familiarity like a appearance but all Mozart to create a meta-narrative of flab on this whippet-like tape. I’m always a jammy world of Damian’s walks – horses appear out of the bridge of this delirious geography experiment. Finally, the one of the everyday pyrotechnics of a very different affair in footage and the pace is super-relaxed with ‘humms’ and electrics. This is recorded from pylons, “Cassette Tape” with oodles of tuning into a lashings of sound and sepia-bores. milkman…he wanders into earshot) —ooOoo—

B Hayden

Bridget Hayden – Pure Touch Only From Now, They Said So (Limited Vinyl LP & Digital Album) Early Music

Of course for each sound of sound takes off with the heart of the dune. A cacophonous tearing of found-sound are the unmistakable sound of Ciudad Juarez, rejoice on the cheap-o high-fi and I realise it on the speakers as a integral a more and I know it I can be it. It starts like a world of chunter and yokel; that seems to be a retro-influence on the other of the child of a AA LR differ is to be the sound of the ‘Spin/Off’ is no more and this tape is a real largest tinkling so this is the sound of the Bertoia persuasion, was kidnapped and play out the sound of the Kinder Dach Lieder’, ‘Sixty-Nine Fat-Stock Brevaries’ and things like a god-damn C and a sap through each other, soft-edge collisions that seems to pump up the Kinder Dach Lieder’. The PASSING TOT: This is no doubt that makes me think but I feel the head of ‘Virgin Soil’ with a progression or where’s the stern-gobs have not be the head of bandsaw takes up in the speakers in a pint pot.

 

-ooOOoo-

 

joe/murray/on/bjerga/iversen/bandcamp/project

October 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Bjerga/Iversen – various Bandcamp downloads.

b-i - extended techniques b-i - harmonic halflife b-i - endless tapes b-i - maps of electric transmissions b-i - random systems b-i - three units of magentic flux b-i - crumbling layers b-i - divided by zero b-i - dripping galaxies

(Editor’s note: apologies for the delay in comms from RFM – ten days between posts is most unusual.  The silence has been due to your faithful editor taking a short recuperative break.  No music, no email, no writing, no work of any kind save chopping wood for the fire – just time spent with wife and child.  Most refreshing.  He is now back, batteries recharged and arms flailing like the duracell bunny, so hopefully the flow will recommence.  First up: some bullet points from Joe, to follow: the hard word from Scott.  Take it away Joe…)

Bjerga/Iversen are a Norwegian duo who take the long view of things.  Over the last ten years Sindre Bjerga and Jan-M. Iversen have released approximately 125 (according to discogs) CD-Rs, tapes and floppy discs and clocked up almost as many live appearances all over Europe.  Their latest project, over and above their normal avalanche of releases, is to place an album each month on Bandcamp.

So who are these extraordinarily busy men?

If you poke a stick randomly into the tangled mess that is the no-audience underground you’ll not jiggle long until you hit upon the name Sindre Bjerga.  He pretty much is the essence of D.I.Y. avant garde: running Goldsoundz, touring extensively everywhere (recently Russia & Japan and the UK jaunt every October) and releasing a slew of records on every micro-label of note; Discogs lists at least 100 solo releases…and this I fear is a conservative estimate.  He is a solo player and the consummate collaborator; plays in a bunch of semi-regular groups (be sure to check out Star Turbine with Claus Poulsen) and you know what?  He’s a funny, modest and generous chap to boot!  Sindre flits between hazy drone, four-track recidivism, jump-cut dictaphonics and, more recently, rambunctious vocal studies. Sindre is the improviser’s improviser.

When left to his own devices Jan-M. Iversen is almost as prolific, recording solo and with guests, masterminding the drone lounge and also finding time to knock out a tower of ambient/drone videos. A look through his back catalogue is sobering, racking up dozens of remixes, collaborations, solo CD-Rs and tapes culminating in the cheekily titled masterwork ‘Monotonous – A Collection of Drones’ released in a snazzy 10 CD box set emblazoned with Jan’s grinning boat race.  Jan’s solo work mainly digs the rich seam of electronics.

Together they specialise in longform drone and organic interrupted glitch.  On paper the idea of the punk-ass fiddler making show with an electro-boffin seems destined to failure.  But they both bring out a third quality, a more-than-the-sum-of-it’s-parts-ness that gently skims over the rough surfaces like weed-drenched plaster.  Time is taken.  And the occasional allusion to Prog Rock fits like a velvet loon.  In an alternate reality I can see Peter Gabriel era-Genesis using Bjerga/Iversen as intro music to stull all the patchouli beards before their theatrical pomp takes the Old Grey Whistle.

Ask them if they are a noise band and the answer is an emphatic ‘no’ but the hallmarks of noise: drawn-out minimal sound sources, clotted notes and the abandoned factory vibe are all here.  They prefer the term psychedelic drone and with such thorough fieldwork who are we to argue.

The concept of ‘ghost sounds’ is visited again and again with mere whispers sneaking through the cracks in the tiling, mould becomes grout and shadows fall where you least expect them.  At times they are the sound of candle light, with the heaviness of felt.  You often get a curious shifting effect too.  This is no clumsy ‘me to you’ approach but more like some old ‘49er panning for gold; sluicing the freezing cold water and gravel to find the dull nuggets with their heavy burden of gravity.

But what does this generous clutch sound like?  In a sloppy-soundbite style, exactly like this…

  • Extended Techniques: Musical saw orchestra in an electric India, arc welding.  The noisiest of the bunch.
  • Maps of Electric Transmission: Magnetic waves breaking on the shore while deep sea divers struggle for oxygen beneath.
  • Three Units of Magnetic Flux: Algebra comes to life!  Force vs Flow…who will win?
  • Divided by Zero: Table Tennis paddle swats steel wool for tin reverberations.  For ex-punks.
  • Random Systems: Stavanger nightlife re-imagined for Tubular Bells.  Seriously pretty.
  • Harmonic Half Life: Almost a found-sound documenting the nightly slosh of an empty accident and emergency room.
  • Crumbling Layers: Featuring a recognisable stringed instrument tugged and bothered among future traffic noise culminating like a Liturgy out-take.  Very beautiful.
  • Dripping Galaxies: Fourth, fifth, sixth-generation tape of a marble being rolled round a Bizen-yaki bowl, played out through crackling Walkman.
  • Endless Tapes: Once a prophesy, now reality.  Keening geese made of lightning weave feedback loops in and out of the negative zone.  Dr Strange looks on and begins the forbidden incantation.

In an ultra generous offer these fine, fine releases are pay as much as you like on the Bandcamp site.  So, if you have a hankering for music that’s “Carving great gestures out of minimal motives: Immersive soundscapes built from naive assumptions” then look no further.  Spare a dime if you can…you know the score.

What’s that?  You want more?  Then be sure to visit Andy Robinson’s fabulous Striate Cortex label for even more future-ethnic drone from these mighty gentlemen.  Bjerga/Iversen…the mark of quality experimentation.

Bjerga/Iversen Bandcamp project

documents of the golden age: new from ashtray navigations, aqua dentata and helicopter quartet

July 29, 2013 at 7:30 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 7 Comments
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Ashtray Navigations – Insect Descent (CD-r, Obsolete Units, OU-042, edition of 100)

Aqua Dentata – Ten Thousand Wooden Faces (CD-r, Echo Tango, etc02)

Helicopter Quartet – Where Have All The Aliens Gone? (self-released download)

ashtray - insect descentaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshelicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

Musing on the quality of the releases above, and on the methods by which they found their way to me, led me to revisit some comments made by Simon Reynolds in that speech we talked about last year.  In particular, the bit where he seemed to champion the freedoms won by punk whilst being suspicious of the freedoms allowed by the internet.  He also bemoaned the lack of an audience for the avalanche of creative endeavour that is instantly accessible nowadays.  He worried that all this production needed validating by sufficient consumption and that the required level of consumption just wasn’t there.  Hence his reference to my notion of the ‘no-audience underground’.

Regarding the first worry, well, of course we should all be grateful to punk for wresting the means of production (partially at least) from the majors of the mainstream.  It showed that the music ‘industry’ could be run by and for fans and artists.  May I cheekily point out, however, that all the elements that made up the mainstream music industry were retained by punk: releases, tours, press, promotion etc.  Even, in some cases, old-school bullshit like management and contracts.  The fan/artist (stage/pit) divide was made more permeable but wasn’t eliminated.  That these means were co-opted by people who weren’t godawful wankers and who really cared about the music and the politics is not the same thing as jettisoning them altogether.  I realise that I am being naughtily revisionist in doubting the ‘Year Zero’ status of punk but you know what I mean.

In contrast, the freedoms offered by the internet are greater by orders of magnitude.  Via services like Bandcamp any sound at all can be made available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection, at no unit cost to either the artist or the listener, within minutes of it being completed.  Punk couldn’t compete with that: it’s as transparently democratic, anarchic even, as it is possible to be in a ‘music-related’ context.  Sure, engage with traditional elements if you like (running a label, for example, is a fun thing to do and still one of the best ways of organising a cluster of artists who share similar objectives) but you don’t have to.  The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern.  You don’t have to sound punk either, or cop a snarling attitude.  Simon Reynolds, betraying an old-fashioned punknosity, suggests the underground should define itself in opposition to the mainstream.  Quaint, eh?  In turn I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it.  The machine loves to be raged against – what it can’t bear is to be shrugged off as irrelevant.  Which, of course, it is.

The second worry seems to be based on a misunderstanding of why we do what we do.  If we instead take as read that the primary purpose of most worthwhile creative endeavour is self-expression then this concern just dissolves.  ‘But where are the fans?’ Simon says, ‘what do you mean ‘fans’?’ I reply, looking up from the keyboard and glancing nervously over my shoulder.  It is lovely to have an appreciative audience, I understand this – I’m as vain and needy as the next guy, but this is a secondary concern.  In fact, aren’t we supposed to be suspicious of ‘art’ created with the audience in mind, that is, with an eye on the market?  Isn’t that what we call ‘product’?  Not very ‘punk’ is it?  Sure, I’ll settle for market-driven pabulum if I find myself in an undemanding mood but I’m equally sure that the stuff featured on this blog is created without any concern for how many ‘units’ it might shift.  We all appreciate the occasional reward – we work hard – but no one here needs a fist-pumping crowd to validate what they do.  A friend joked the other day that the ratio of artists to listeners on Bandcamp is 10 to 1, then was careful to add: which is how it should be.  I agreed, laughing.  The production of all this work is, in and of itself, a terrific thing.  What should we be doing instead?  Passively consuming CDs recommended by veteran cultural commentators presumably.  Ugh: boring.

So why rake over these coals again?  Well, these three releases nicely illustrate three choices about levels of commitment to the process, and give three crystal clear examples of the majesty that can be achieved by people following their vision irrespective of whether or not it will ‘sell’.  All are also expansively psychedelic, albeit in different ways, and thus suitable listening during the recent heat.

Ten Thousand Wooden Faces by Aqua Dentata comprises five untitled tracks totalling about three quarters of an hour.  They are presented to us by Eddie Nuttall himself via his ‘echo tango’ imprint on CD-r in the stylishly minimal, ‘wood grain’ print cover pictured above.  Once again I am impressed with his exquisite discipline.  This is electronic noise as tai chi performance: poised, muscular, subtle, focussed.

The first track features not much more than a tone hovering at midriff level whilst a rolling rattle seesaws to and fro around the stereo field.  I have no idea what the sound source for this liquid clatter might be but it calls to mind happy hours from my early childhood spent dropping endless marbles down a homemade run constructed from bits of cardboard and sellotape.  The six year old’s equivalent of meditation.  The second track is almost modernist in its austerity but I find this drone soulful and not the slightest bit academic or aloof.  It is like a Beckett play – formally minimal, intensely human.  The third track finds the gradual smearing of an early morning burglar alarm reconceptualised as the centrepiece of Eddie’s album.  Context is everything – sat here it is perfect.

The main event is the fourth track: an 18 minute stretch so magnificent that I feel compelled to coin a new sub-genre to account for it.  I used the phrase ‘tethered crescendo’ in the piece I wrote about Lucy Johnson but would like to flesh it out here.  What I mean is the type of piece that exists in an uneasy stasis and gives the impression that it could roar into chaos if it wasn’t being held delicately but firmly in place by the guiding hand of the artist.  I picture Eddie struggling with a sack full of drunken wasps or holding his hands stock still over a crackling, multipronged, malignant-looking, sentient Theremin.  We end with a short coda of dangerously wet electrics which, inevitably, short circuit and leave us in ozone-scented darkness…

Where Have All The Aliens Gone?, the new album by Helicopter Quartet also comprises five tracks totalling about three quarters of an hour, this time self-released as a pay-what-you-like download via Bandcamp.  It is fair to say I swooned over the first Helicopter Quartet album and I have been quivering with anticipation since hearing that the duo of Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synth) and Michael Capstick (guitar, bass) were recording their second (y’know, in a studio and everything, like a real band).  Expectations were high and I’m happy to say that they have been comfortably exceeded.

Their sound (‘drone rock’? ‘dark ambient’? I don’t know) is dense and rich, each element absorbing in its own right, all contributing to a mysterious but coherent whole.  It is like finding an ornately inlaid wooden casket containing a collection of exquisitely handcrafted objects: what might be a bear, carved from obsidian, a female form cast in an unplaceable grey/green metal, an abstract pattern, possibly even unreadable script, scrimshawed onto yellowing bone.  All irresistibly tactile, all fascinating, all revealing aspects of the character of the unknown and long dead collector who gathered them together.

It is cliché to describe simplicity as ‘deceptive’ and efficiency as ‘ruthless’ but both phrases are perfectly apt in this case.  There is no waste, no let up, the emotional demands of this music are unmistakeable.  Despite the jokes about torturing aliens on its Bandcamp page, this is a deeply serious music but, like Aqua Dentata above, it is epic on a human scale.  Allow me an anecdotal illustration.  The other day I found myself walking home from work chewing over some difficult news.  No need for specifics – suffice to say that aged 41 years old I find myself surrounded by young children, elderly relatives and am occasionally (still) shocked by mortality and frailty in my peer group. In short: I am now a grown up.  This album was playing on my walkman at the time and it resonated so perfectly with my mood that at one moment – it could have been the violin’s entrance in the title track, maybe the guitar in ‘Hunter Gatherer’ – it pulled at me so irresistibly that my mental jenga pile collapsed and I found myself crying, hard, whilst waiting to cross a road at Sheepscar junction.  Remarkable.  I think HQ can consider that a standing ovation.

Finally, we have Insect Descent by Ashtray Navigations, a pro-pressed CD-r in full colour digipak lovingly produced in an edition of 100 by American label Obsolete Units.  Yet another five track album but this one is a monster 73 minutes long.  The music herein was recorded by Phil solo (can I make the ‘on his todd’ joke?  Hah! – I just did!) back in 2008 but, mysteriously, has languished unreleased since then.  I don’t know the story but no matter – all’s well that ends well and we should thank Obsolete Units for doing their duty in making it available.

We begin with ‘The Trail Of The Long Wet Mystery Fruit That Dropped Into The Lion’s Mouth’, two minutes of scene setting psychic alarums – the kind that might go off in your head when you realise you’ve just taken twice as many magic mushrooms as you originally intended.  We are then launched into ‘Insect Descent Trajectory’ which is 12 minutes of orgiastic delirium.  Picture a neon-lit pit full of writhing, multi-limbed, demigods wearing nothing but day-glo body paint.  Every protuberance is for fucking with, every crevice and orifice is to be fucked.  Yeah, Phil uses the medium of the guitar overdub to paint a vivid scene.  The bip-bop, electronic percussion track that accompanies the squalling is hilariously strutting, bad-ass, daring you to laugh at its rinkydinkyness.

The wet electrics that ended the Aqua Dentata album resurface as the main component of ‘One Million Pleasurecards All Painted White’ – 23 minutes of guttural rumble, like the drainage system of a large, Northern, post-industrial city attempting to clear its throat before announcing something important.  This growling throb is leavened by guitar occasionally bobbing to the surface – giant fuzzy dice emerging miraculously unsullied from an oil-slick filled bay.

By the time we get to ‘Fake Aeroplane’ the mushrooms from earlier have well and truly kicked in and you find yourself fried and sitting on a park bench at 4.30am. “Up!” you murmur and the bench launches into the air, “vroomm!!” you suggest and the bench flies you towards the raspberry dawn.  “Somewhere nice please,” you politely request and, after fifteen minutes of blurred landscape below, you land gently in the setting for the final track. ‘Sweeping Song’ is a masterfully sustained 20 minutes of blissed-out heat, tropical but made comfortable by a sea breeze.  It is the aural equivalent of laying on your back, spread-eagled, on a beach and slowly working your fingers and heels into the sand.  The rhythm track that starts, somewhat surprisingly, at around 14 minutes marks the dawning realisation that this might be the most awesome afternoon of your life…

So there we have it: three album of the year contenders in one blog post.  One available direct from a terrific microlabel, the others direct from the artists concerned.  You don’t even have to pay for the Helicopter Quartet album if you have nowt spare (though please bung ’em something if you can – it is well worth a donation).  All done for the love of it, because the drive to do it is irresistible.  All created outside of any commercial concerns and with little, if any, reference to ‘the mainstream’ at all.  Never mind the music industry, here’s the life affirming genius.

Truly, people, we live in a golden age.

Aqua Dentata

Helicopter Quartet

Obsolete Units

hot, hot summer hitz: new from midwich on bandcamp

July 20, 2013 at 6:08 am | Posted in fencing flatworm, midwich, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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three days in wooden block edition frontthree days in covermidwich - flint soul beach midwich - light industry

Ladies and gentlemen, may I call your attention to a further three releases cooling on the windowsill over at the midwich Bandcamp site.  There is much for the discerning dronester to get their teeth into.

First is three days in, four to go, originally released in 2003 on CD-r in an edition of 75 with a lovely screen printed cover by Carbon Records of Rochester, New York.  This is a rarity in that it has not been available digitally before and is one of my favourites of the first-wave midwich albums.  Forward looking, creamy.  ‘snows’ is an orchestra of hairclipper fuzz, the title track is a deeply penetrating 20 minute cardiothrob (at the time of writing a few of the original physical objects are also still available).

Next is a brand new live album, light industry, featuring recordings of my performances at the two Sheepscar Light Industrial summer shows, both of which took place at Wharf Chambers in Leeds.  The 2012 piece is a unique combo of the field recording from Eaves and the drone from ‘verdigris’.  The 2013 set is two tracks: a version of the title track from inertia crocodile and an as yet untitled track of heavy drone featuring a recording of Thomas the Baby gulping his milk as rhythm. The latter set was dedicated to Mark Wharton of Idwal Fisher in honour of his 50th birthday.  Links to more about these shows, and to a ten minute YouTube video immortalising part of the former, can be found over at Bandcamp.

Finally we have flint soul beach – a favourite from the back catalogue. This 18 minute track is full of hope that the broken can be mended and is perfect for the current heatwave. Originally released in 2003 by fencing flatworm recordings on a 3″ CD-r in an edition of 50 (ffr-e). For the cover picture the band name and title were chalked on the end of Littlehampton pier at low tide. It was washed away a few hours later…

I hope you enjoy what you hear.

midwich at Bandcamp

buy now! name your price! probably ‘zero’! midwich on bandcamp

July 6, 2013 at 8:50 pm | Posted in blog info, fencing flatworm, midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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life underwater

Ladies and gentlemen, your faithful editor returns from his holiday week refreshed and bearing good news: RFM is proud to announce the launch of the midwich Bandcamp site.  The initial offering is of nine releases.  Featured among them are running repairs and ‘verdigris’, my contribution to the Victorian Electronics box, both originally released by Striate Cortex and both long sold out.  Also airing is the perpetually-coming-soon october in yorkshire, fished from the wreckage of the scuppered Zanntone label.  More will follow in due course.

As well as new releases, live recordings and rarities previously unavailable in a digital form, I will copy across some back catalogue items that can already be found in mp3 format on this blog’s discography page.  I think this is worth doing because via Bandcamp you’ll be able to get it in any format you like (the wavs sound well nice) and download whole albums at once.  Your convenience is my motivation.

Everything will be offered on a ‘pay what you like’ basis so visitors are able to use the ‘support’ and ‘collection’ functions within Bandcamp (whatever they are.  I’m told those functions get turned off I just select ‘free download’).  Don’t worry though as entering ‘£0’ is fine if you have ‘£0’ to spend.  I won’t be using this as a way of harvesting your email address either.  Donations are welcome, of course, and I pledge that 100% of any money raised will be spent within the no-audience underground either purchasing music by others or diffusing the cost of releasing physical editions of future releases, thus helping keep the flow of goodwill circulating.

Speaking of which, may I cash in a little goodwill in exchange for some quid pro quo?  If you are a reader and/or had your work featured on this blog could I ask that you return the favour by checking this site out and maybe nudge a friend or two in the same direction?  Those more connected than myself – I remain self-excluded from Twitter/Facebook – may wish to alert others via those means.

I would be very much obliged to you all.  I hope you enjoy what you hear.

The midwich Bandcamp site.

…and whilst I’m at it, various other midwich releases can be found elsewhere on Bandcamp.  Check out cut flowers, eaves and single figures too.

P.S.  This is the 300th post on RFM.  Woo!

rfm attends to recent downloads: petals, hagman, clough

July 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 3 Comments
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Although I have written about such things before, I tend to avoid comment on downloads, especially those to be found on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. I fear, I suppose, opening a floodgate and being swamped by the sloshing enormity of unmediated reality.

For instance: a friend recently tipped me off to a band they thought I would dig and included a link in their email. I downloaded the file it pointed to and liked it very much. A quick nose about the internet revealed many of trustworthy opinion are keen on this crew too. Their back catalogue beckoned seductively.  Reason to rejoice? Time to crank up the metaphor engine and get posting, eh? Well, no. On visiting the band’s own website I found stacks of files named only for their dates of composition – many, many hours worth – and if there is one thing guaranteed to shrivel my organs of musical appreciation it is the prospect of vast quantities of undifferentiated stuff. Ugh.

(As an aside: everyone is going crazy for the Lost Tapes box set by Can, and rightly so. The question I have heard several times, always accompanied by an amazed shake of the head, is ‘why didn’t they think this stuff was worthy of release first time around?’ This illustrates the times we are living in. Ah, for the days when an album had to be vinyl-sized and thus quality control had to be exercised. To my undisciplined brethren I say: cut it to 40 minutes and, if people are still interested 40 years later, it might be worth digging up the outtakes then…).

Now, we all know from bitter experience that being presented on a physical object is no guarantee of musical quality. However, it does indicate that someone had some faith in the work, enough at least to make the extra effort required to birth a thing. If a jiffy bag arrives on my doormat its contents generally imply a level of filtering, distillation, care and perhaps even pride that ensures I treat it with respect and accord it a fair hearing. I can’t help but feel that a download doesn’t deserve the same attention.

Is this position defensible in these post-everything, internet-enabled times? Probably not: you are reading this on a blog that contains almost my entire back catalogue available for download just one click from here. I also have recent releases available to buy and download via Bandcamp myself (see below). But, even leaving my hypocrisy to one side, you have to admit I’m at least part right. Our time available for music has not increased in step with our exponentially increasing access to music. You have to discriminate. Thus the answer to the question ‘how much attention does a download deserve?’ is: maybe some. How much depends on the context: who made it, who recommended it, where it originates and so on.

So… Bearing all that in mind, and acknowledging that your ears are busy organs, I am now going to recommend several hours worth of stuff all of which is available via Soundcloud or Bandcamp and, further, I’m going to insist that it is some of the best stuff I have heard all year. Do not worry that your personal bandwidth will be wasted following these links. The recommendations of Radio Free Midwich are entirely trustworthy.

First up: Hagman, the duo of Dave Thomas and Daniel Thomas (no relation). I wrote the following description as a gig blurb for Dan but it didn’t get used, presumably due to its ponciness. Still, this is my blog and I can do what I like so check this out:

Hagman present a hard-won equilibrium teetering between power line hum and the rhythmic clatter of early 80s electro-industrial. As sinuously alien as a millipede clambering over tree bark, yet as warm as a cat asleep on your chest.

Cool, eh? Soundcloud contains documents of their recent live appearances and I highly recommend you check them out. I’m particularly fond of the two versions of Primer (one live, one ‘studio’) as it kicks off from the soliloquy that opens the film of the same name, which is a favourite of mine.

The solo stuff by these two chaps is pretty special too. Dave records as Ap Martlet and his recent track Jacquetta Hawkes is very lovely indeed. The fuzz is elegantly balanced and as mournfully life-affirming as Ivor Cutler’s harmonium. The almost-a-melody gives it a misty narrative but isn’t too prescriptive. As befits a named track – it has personality.

Dan is no slouch either. Theme for Freedom is a fuzz-drone homage to the no-audience groove championed by this blog.  It’s rise and fall as dizzying as the first gulp of fresh air the morning after a very late night.  Even better is the themed pair Hyperbolic/Litotic.  Delicate, balanced but with unbelievable core strength, like an accomplished martial artist hosting a tea ceremony.  I am envious.  Oh and Twitch is a terrific exercise in sustained menace too.

Now onto old friend Michael Clough, whose atem_tanz is a gloriously super-minimal analogue throb.  When listened to at the appropriate volume, that is: so loud as to be consciousness threatening, it sounds like the sewing machine that God used when she was stitching up creation.  Fucking amazing.  STOP PRESS: this track has been taken down from Soundcloud as it has been slated for ‘proper’ release on Sheepscar Light Industrial.  More news as it breaks!

…and finally may I recommend the recorded output of Kev Sanders, best known round these parts as Petals.  Praised here before, this chap’s work can be found in clearly defined, manageable segments via Bandcamp and the ever-entertaining hairdryer excommunication blog.  No will-sapping giganticism here, nor should you be fooled by the lo-fi aesthetic.  This is carefully, thoughtfully constructed stuff, varied in style but all obviously expressing aspects of the same vision.  Kev is a cartographer, quietly mapping a world which looks just like our own but which on closer examination reveals some unexpected twists in the path…

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