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

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

(Mountford Hall, Liverpool, 28th October 2016, photo courtesy of @salfordelectron)

[Editor’s note: Inspired by the announcement of their final tour, Pete Coward asked if I’d be interested in publishing a guest post by him about Ceramic Hobs. I bit his hand off.

Pete has long been a presence in underground music as a bootlegger, scene historian and writer for indispensable zines such as Turbulent Times. He is one of four ‘superfans’ called on by Phil Todd to help compile the forthcoming best of Ashtray Navigations set (the others being me, Neil Campbell and, would you believe, Henry Rollins) and his selections are, as expected, as superb as they are obscure. Recently he has been producing booklets of his own poetry which is poignant, darkly humorous and depicts a park-bench view of the world a lot of us Ceramic Hobs fans will recognise. If I were you I’d email him at pete.coward@gmail.com and get yourself on his list.

Oh, and he also wanted me to mention that he dreamed about Borbetomagus the other night but the band were reduced to a duo, which made him quite sad.]

—ooOoo—

Writing about Ceramic Hobs is a tricky exercise. The band has just called time on their thirty years of music making so it seemed timely, if foolish, to pose the question to myself,

so what was all that about?

After a few weeks of considering that question and of re-listening I have no clearer answers than before and my thoughts seem scattered ever further. I can only offer attempts to rein in some of those thoughts, to see if tracing my confusion results in any kind of useable map to the terrain explored by Ceramic Hobs.

To start on what solid ground there is, Ceramic Hobs formed in Blackpool in the mid-80s. Their line-up has constantly shifted since, with founder Simon Morris being the one constant. The sound coalesced at a fairly early stage, into a distinctive mix of heavy lo-fi psychedelia and prankster musique concrète, driven by a truculent punk core. In high concept terms, they sound like a band that never really came down from that lysergic rush received on first listen to Locust Abortion Technician in the late ‘80s. They share Butthole Surfers’ love of excess. Their records are a potlatch of cultural and musical detritus. If there is a discernible linear progression in their sound, it is a thickening of that excess, a process of musical and thematic accretion. Tracks get longer over time (up to 35 minutes in the case of the title track to Oz Oz Alice, 2010), the sound becomes more layered and densely compacted, the sprawl of the music more suffocating.

ceramic hobs - oz oz alice cover

Later albums like Oz Oz Alice and Spirit World Circle Jerk (2013) represent an apex of this Tetsuo-like approach, one that threatens to collapse under its own mass. This development was possibly unsustainable in other respects; Simon said in an interview shortly after Oz Oz Alice,

I can’t do anything as dangerous as that again if I am to physically survive.

This sense of genuine danger and personal threat (to band and listener) comes in large part from the topics explored by Ceramic Hobs. These themes have been part of their music and lyrics from the beginning and could be outlined as a fascination with, a dwelling upon, the marginal, the abject and objectified, and particularly those areas of it shadowed by mental illness.

The foregrounding of the latter subject has been such that Ceramic Hobs have been frequently cast as a Psychiatric Survivor band, or as a Mad Pride band, referring to the international radical mental health campaigning movement (for which Ceramic Hobs have played a number of benefit gigs). The band has described themselves as functioning like a therapeutic community. They have spoken with pride of the numbers of members, current and past, who have been psychiatric in-patients. Those statistics have more recently been superseded by numbers of ex-members who have died; I’m unsure of the correlation, if any, between those two sets of figures.

Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerk

I am wary of focussing too narrowly on this undeniably significant aspect of the work. To do so runs the risk of reductionism and ghettoization. Ceramic Hobs are about mental illness in the same way Grateful Dead are about acid or drum ‘n bass about E. It’s an influence, part of the culture and politics of the music (and a big part of what makes it political music), but just as one factor among many. Also that influence has been creatively assimilated and refracted in ways that we call art (which is why I’d also counter that talk of the band as a therapeutic community is an unhelpful misrepresentation). You do not have to be tripping to recognise the greatness of Europe ‘72, neither does the listener require a mental health diagnosis to appreciate the music of Ceramic Hobs. Their lyrics may reference terms such as largactyl and dual diagnosis but if you are fortunate enough not to have learned the meaning of those, the context still leaves you in no doubt about the unpleasantness of both. You could make a perfectly good case for Ceramic Hobs being a great band without any reference to mental illness, and you certainly don’t need to “have” mental illness to “get them.”

That clearly said, it is not closing down any possibilities to also state that listening to Europe ‘72 while blasted may be a particularly rewarding experience, just as Ceramic Hobs’ personal experience of mental illness channelled into their music may be hugely empowering for someone who is a psychiatric survivor and listens to them as such. Ceramic Hobs embody both, and other, dialectical positions and it’s this ability to do so and to reflect all of those in the music that I find particularly admirable. The music of Ceramic Hobs provides a rarely heard perspective on experiences and thoughts shared by many, a perspective that is uniquely positive and celebratory. They have earned their place in narratives of mental health resistance and activism. They have also earned their reputation as a shit-kickin’ band from Blackpool, and I think it is useful to see their personal and political fearlessness, the use of illness as a weapon, as a means to carve out the zone of free self-expression which enabled that to develop.

ceramic hobs - psychiatric underground cover

This multiplicity of meanings and possibilities is expressed synecdochally in the title to their 1998 debut album Psychiatric Underground. It could be seen as a statement of marginal reclamation and militancy, after Mad Pride and The Weather Underground; or as a social/political/cultural/economic designation for Ceramic Hobs as musicians and mental health service users. It could equally be seen as an existential stance akin to Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man, existing at the edges so as to pass judgement on the centre; Simon in the self-appointed role of “Last Of The Great Blasphemers.” The psychological effort that must be needed for Ceramic Hobs as artists to inhabit each and all of these positions must be significant. That casts light for me on Simon’s words quoted earlier about the danger of creating this music. He went on to say in that interview,

I do think that artists should be ready to put their work above all else in life and risk health and sanity for it, otherwise it is a fucking half-arsed hobby.

That intense level of commitment also raises thoughts about the role of authenticity in art and music, and how far Ceramic Hobs embody that.

ceramic hobs - straight outta rampton cover

This is not authenticity as lazy sincerity, as in “Ceramic Hobs mean it, man,” as Richey Edwards did. It is authenticity as expression of genuine truth within power structures that deny and invalidate that truth and in a society so culturally oversaturated that any expression appears within quotation marks. Sontag wrote in ‘Notes On Camp’ of a time and culture when

…sincerity is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.

Sincerity is an infertile harmony of intention and effect, life and art. An alternate praxis she posits is

…overstraining the medium and introducing more and more violent, and unresolvable, subject-matter.

Ceramic Hobs create with the knowledge that irony, satire, transgression, vulgarity, the carnivalesque are the few modes of expression left with genuine potential to turn the world upside down.

This is also the only authenticity that can be possible on the internet. Ceramic Hobs seamlessly entered into a fecund feedback loop with online culture, indeed seemed to have been anticipating it. The female-voiced narratives of despair on tracks such as ‘Remembrance for Nicole Simpson’, ‘My Judas Lover’, and ‘Crash And Burn’ disturbingly capture the tropes of countless ‘My struggle with …’ videos uploaded to YouTube by teenage girls. The vocals to those tracks are credited either to Jane or Kate Fear but the voices seem indistinguishable to me in their numbed, affectless and weightless monotony. Lyrics like

I just want to find some kind of peace / You just want me in pieces

wouldn’t be out of place as the tag-lines to further countless tumblrs. Simon’s most prolific project these days seems to be his blog, a diarrhetic overflow of contextless found images and words, possibly some kind of apophenia bait.

hobs-leeds

(Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 20th October 2016, photo courtesy of @zanntone)

The underside to online hyperreality in the world of Ceramic Hobs is the very tangible reality of Blackpool, Lancashire, the city that they call home and which features regularly in their lyrics, both as backdrop and central character. It’s a place that can be equally deadening in its excess, as wearying in its touting of ephemeral pleasures. “Socially engineered by Blackpool” reads the credits to Psychiatric Underground. There does seem to be a local civic pride in reckless alcohol-fuelled hedonism, hell-for-leather escapism and constructed unreality which is reflected in the music of Ceramic Hobs. The band’s own local pride seems as ambivalent as that of the eponymous ‘Glasgow Housewife’ from Spirit World Circle Jerk who belts out drunkenly

I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town, but there’s something the matter with Glasgow…

There is palpable resentment and frustration, such as the self-explanatory ‘This Sore And Broken Blackpool Legacy’, but that must be seen alongside more affectionate tributes such as ‘Blackpool Transport,’ which namechecks and samples a sizeable list of local bands, framed bathetically by a story of pursuing teenage kicks through cheap booze and solvent abuse while sheltering from the rain in a car park. The love/hate relationship with Blackpool is one of Ceramic Hobs’ least surprising and most reconcilable contrary positions.

ceramic hobs - 72 hour drink binge alco pop madness

Those others I’ve reflected on above go some way to explaining the fascination this band holds for me. These contradictions and obfuscations thread through their music as inexhaustibly as words through a stick of rock. Their retirement depletes even further those few bands prepared to challenge listeners and make that challenge worthwhile. An epitaph that they may appreciate, Ceramic Hobs left us more bewildered, paranoid and despairing for their presence these past few decades.

—ooOoo—

Ceramic Hobs on Facebook

Ceramic Hobs on Discogs

on ‘consumer guide’ by simon morris

March 3, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Posted in no audience underground, not bloody music | 2 Comments
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Simon Morris – Consumer Guide (hardback, 176 pages, Tegenaria Press, numbered edition of 100, dustjacket text by Philip Best)

consumer guide

This book contains a selection of autobiography and opinion from Simon Morris, best known ‘round these parts as front-man of The Ceramic Hobs. Discovering its existence (by eavesdropping on a twitter conversation between John Eden and Andie Brown) brought on a lust for ownership that shocked me with its meaty fervour. Was I bollocks going to miss this. Those who have read Bang Out Of Order, Simon’s augmented history of the early days of Power Electronics, or his occasional pieces for zines such as Hiroshima Yeah!, or who just know the man and his band, will need little convincing. Allow me to work on the rest of you.

Here’s Simon with the spec:

The first 30 pages ‘Mergers’ is the heart of the book – you may not believe I lived it, I can barely believe I wrote it. Pages 33 to 167 ‘Acquisitions’ features essays and profane outbursts on music ranging from Art Garfunkel to The Grey Wolves, on cinema, on fast food, on alcohol, on love, on literature. The short accompanying text from Dr Best ‘kith and kin’ should speak for itself.

(nicked from the Tegenaria Press blog, as are the pictures)

The opening section is indeed only 30 pages long but is so dense with incident it shames many biographies ten times the length.  An account of some recent dreams leads into a eulogy which in turn becomes a list of those in Simon’s orbit who have died prematurely which flows into an episodic, roughly chronological life story albeit with vectors overlapping: drugs and drink, death and sex, madness and music.  Given its brevity you might expect a collection of anecdotes shorn of context and worn pebble smooth by the retelling, or maybe a stream of consciousness piece more suited to an open mic night.  But it is neither.  Instead you’ll find a moving, funny and profoundly human description of one guy’s attempt to deal with difficult circumstances – occasionally of his own making – and the people he cares about whilst figuring himself out at the same time.  The tone is perfect: recognizable and straightforward but knocked off the ecliptic by enough to make it unique.

The second, much longer, section (set in a Courier-style font for some reason) is a very entertaining collection of (mostly) reviews – music, film, books, fast food, drink, seaside towns and so on are all encapsulated.  Simon does have an arresting turn of phrase but there is nothing overly ‘literary’ about this exercise, nor, thankfully, do you have to hack away at anything academic (no ‘phenomenology of transgression’ here).  It reads like this:

Imagine being at a gig and, in-between acts, chatting to a friend who you don’t see as often as you’d like.  ‘Band X’ gets a mention and your friend says

Oh right, are you into them then?

‘Band X’ being a mystery to you, you shrug sheepishly and your friend says:

ah, I’ll send you some links or something

…and two days later, to your surprise and delight, you get an email from your friend containing one paragraph reviews of pretty much their entire back catalogue written in a perceptive and open-hearted way but with the odd wry barb or flailing complaint chucked in to keep it well seasoned.  How lovely they took the trouble, eh?  And off you pop to YouTube, or Spotify, or to the record library with a print-out in your coat pocket.  This kind of stuff is gold dust and there is a hundred pages of it here.  In fact, it is very hard to remain disciplined and not skip forward pages or flip on the tablet to look up one track and have it playing whilst you read about the next.  I had to read it all twice to calm down enough to take it in once.

There are plenty of negative opinions expressed, something readers of this blog will know I’m not that interested in, but Simon never comes across as a prick because he wears his erudition lightly and his trenchant confidence is clearly borne of passion and experience.  Have to admit I punched the air at this bit though:

THE CLASH – the single most boring rock band that ever existed, clueless politics, tuneless lumpen riffs, overproduction and stylised painful fashion input.  I’d take Jon The Postman over these clowns as far as punk goes.

I wholeheartedly agree – once I heard some teenage aficionado smugly answer the question ‘what is your favourite reggae band?’ with ‘The Clash!’ and I had to be physically restrained from caving his head in with a fire extinguisher.

I found the final two chapters, ‘BAD ADVICE’ and ‘SELF-CRITIQUE’, very moving.  In the first Simon offers a kind of taxonomy of desire and relationships with definitions of the various stages (from: 1. Crushes to: 8. Arguments).  Despite the chapter’s title I found his observations – rueful, comic, joyous, human – to be thoughtful and charming.  The very last section is an account of The Ceramic Hobs’ recorded output in release order with added detail – fascinating to a fan like me – of wider context, of how things were put together and the love and/or turbulence between band members.  It is easy to forget when watching Simon perform, drunk and channelling whatever monster it is that produces that amazing, unique voice, that there is a lifetime’s work involving countless people behind all this.  He seems very proud of it.  He bloody should be.

—ooOoo—

OK: the object – a coat-pocket-sized, black bound hardback – arrived via insanely expensive recorded delivery, carefully packaged and slipped into a candy-stripe paper bag to ensure its matt white dustjacket remained pristine in transit. Both the bag and the book itself are hand-numbered. Yeah, I can sense the fetishists amongst you tremble with excitement. You perverts. Those not prone to hoarding don’t have to worry though; the zen minimalism of the design (by the impeccable Bracketpress) is guaranteed not to fuck with your chi. It sure ain’t cheap (£23.23 all in for the UK, less magical sums if you live abroad) but is apparently being sold at cost price. Given the distinction of the product, and the tiny edition of only 100 copies, I can believe it.

I’ll let Simon have the last word:

There is no plan for a second edition, e-book version or kindle amazon tie-in or film script or community arts funding – you can call it a kind of clandestine integrity if you wish … Satisfy your depraved bibliophiliac lust while you can, dear libertines.

simon

—ooOoo—

Tegenaria Press

the 2013 zellaby awards

January 4, 2014 at 8:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 4 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers all, welcome to the hotly anticipated Zellaby Awards for 2013.  The show, in its third annual outing, is presented in association with Radio Free Midwich and hosted by the editor from his comfortably-appointed padded cell in the basement of Midwich Mansions.

In previous years the awards have formed part one of a two part round-up of cultural highlights.  However this year I can easily roll what would usually be part two into this preamble.  Why?  Three words: Thomas James Hayler.  The birth of our son in March was an epoch-defining, paradigm-shattering, life-forever-altering event for all of us – I’m sure you’ll remember the moon turning a fire red that evening – but looking after the kid (y’know: issuing orders to the nannies, sorting through the mountains of flowers, cards and teddy-bears left at the gate of the estate, that kind of thing) has rather cut into the time and energy afforded to culture in general.

It was interesting to experience how looking after a baby pares life down to the essentials.  I now do my bit to help with Thomas, I look after my wife Anne as best I can too, I keep up with my friends and family (more or less), I go to work (when healthy) and I think about music.  That’s all I have but, crucially, it is all I want.  Sure, we could do with more money and better health – who couldn’t? – but establishing this balance has been refreshing and revelatory.  I can sincerely state, all joking and archness to one side, that Thomas joining us has made 2013 the best year of my life so far.  By some distance.

Thomas at Xmas 2013

<stares wistfully into middle distance, wipes tear from stubbled cheek, returns to business at hand>

I did get to read a handful of books, of which HHhH by Laurent Binet, about a 1942 mission to assassinate Richard Heydrich, chief of the Gestapo, was the most compelling, original and intriguing.  I even stole a line from it to use in a review.  I think I read the entire of Museum Without Walls, a collection of essays and television scripts by polemicist, architecture critic and commentator Jonathan Meades.  I say ‘I think’ because it was mainly done in sleepy five page chunks in the middle of the night.  Otherwise I kept my membership of the bourgeoisie fresh by reading the London Review of Books and took my news mainly from Private Eye which, despite its many faults, holds power to account at least some of the time thus making it unique in the mainstream.  I pretty much gave up on film and television aside from using the boy as an excuse to watch Regular Show and Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.  Oh, and Game of Thrones series 3 was fun too if you like that sort of thing.

Down here in the no-audience underground I devoured, as ever, anything posted by Uncle Mark over at the essential Idwal Fisher blog and cover-to-covered the no-less essential Hiroshima Yeah! the moment it arrived in the mail.  Congratulations to the latter on reaching its 100th issue this year, no mean feat with one of its two editors in prison…  Also in the realm of the self-published, a pamphlet of poetry by my good friend and comrade Nick Allen has been on my bedside table since he surprised me with it at work one morning and has been well-thumbed and repeatedly enjoyed.

It has been another golden year for music, both live and recorded.  A couple of my all-time favourite gigs occurred in the last 12 months and my ‘long list’ for best album contained 34 contenders!  Never mind those bullshit ‘end of year’ polls you see in print magazines that you know were proofread over ice-creams in August, never mind those ‘best albums of the last fifteen minutes’ you see on internet based blogzine snore-fests.  This is the real deal: compiled whilst the New Year is still bellowing after being slapped into life.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – we need to trot through a few methodological points, then the ceremony can commence.

Firstly, the music mentioned below may not have been released in 2013, although most of it was.  To qualify it had to be heard by RFM for the first time in the calendar year 2013.  Secondly, releases featuring the staff of RFM (me, Scott McKeating, Joe Murray) are excluded.  Modesty is not a virtue I can be accused of but awarding ourselves prizes is a bit much even for me.  Thirdly there are the same five award categories as last time (although one has had to be renamed…).  Should an artist win big in one of them they may appear overlooked in others.  This is deliberately done in the interests of plugging as much excellence as possible and thus no-one should get the hump.  Finally, I did invite the aforementioned Scott and Joe to contribute nominations but the final decisions are mine.  Think of me as a benign dictator listening carefully to his advisers before passing judgement.

OK, shush now – the house lights are dimming…  Time for the first category!

—ooOoo—

5.  The “I’d never heard of you 10 minutes ago but now desperately need your whole back catalogue” New-to-RFM Award goes to…

Lucy Johnson

smut - piano one

(with honourable mentions for Joe’s choice: WANDA GROUP, “the absolute master of steamy hiss and non-linear edit”)

Here’s a extract from the lengthy overview of Lucy’s back catalogue that I posted back in July:

One of the refreshing things about what I playfully refer to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is that it is not full of self-aggrandising blabbermouths.  There are a few – me, for example – and an acceptable level of self-absorption is common, but many artists quietly get on with producing excellent work mainly, it seems, for their own gratification and the pleasure of their circle.

This situation allows for the gradual discovery of that most mysterious of creatures: the unsung hero.  Names are pencilled in – an aside from the omniscient Scott McKeating, a credit on a Matching Head insert, say – then repeated until they become underlined in bold and further investigation becomes inevitable.  Such has been the case with Lucy Johnson.

I had, of course, already praised Space Victim, her duo with Mike Vest, to the hilt (they featured in RFM’s best of 2012 list) and more recently did the same for the Witchblood tape, her duo with Lee Stokoe, on Matching Head.  A comment from Miguel Perez led to me picking up her tapes as Smut and hearing those led to me finally paying some proper attention. Over the last few weeks I have been putting two and two together via Discogs, the Turgid Animal site and various other rune-casting activities and have been gathering up examples of her work.  She records solo as Smut and Esk, is half of the aforementioned duos, is the vocalist for black metal band Rife, and is also in the bands Obey and Dark Bargain (as reviewed by Scott below).  Her artwork adorns covers and T-shirts and has recently been made available to buy as prints.  Most of this stuff is available from the label and distributor Turgid Animal which (according to that same review by Scott) she co-runs.  Blimey, eh?

Can’t wait to hear what comes next.  There is at least one more Smut tape to pick up and the Obey album to look forward to as well…

Next is…

4.  The “Stokoe Cup”, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up goes to…

Robert Ridley-Shackleton

r r-s - butterfly farm

(with honourable mentions for Kevin Sanders whose consistency proves awe-inspiring, Bjerga/Iversen’s album-per-month Bandcamp project, Joe’s choice Hapsburg Braganza and, of course, Lee Stokoe, who was also Scott’s choice)

Given that I went from not knowing who he is to hearing/seeing around 50 objects produced by him during the course of a few months Robbie was odds-on favourite in this category.  That said, I realise that it is a controversial choice as ‘quality control’ may not be an entirely appropriate concept to apply to this gushing, unstoppable flow.  I suppose one man’s drivel fountain is another man’s exuberant exploration of an outsider vision.  As I wrote in my first overview piece about his stuff:

Call it an ‘aesthetic’, a ‘vision’ if you like, but it becomes clear during the perusal of these artefacts that this is Robert’s world – a dimensionless jiffy bag containing a wonky, distorted universe – and that the rest of us are tourists within it.

For what it is worth, The Butterfly Farm, the tape pictured above released by Beartown Records, is as good a place to start as any.

On to…

3.  The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award goes to…

Joe Murray and Scott McKeating

posset - my hungry holesscott

(with honourable mentions for Dan Thomas and Miguel Perez who both understand what friendship is really about.  Cheers fellas.)

Obviously.  In May Scott offered to help out, I bit his hand off.  This gave me the idea of asking Joe, who bit my hand off.  Once these appendages had been sewn back on we shook them vigorously and got down to the typing.  I like to think that the house style at RFM sits somewhere between the jazzed exuberance of Joe and the more meticulous, journalistic work of Scott.  Thus between us we offer a comprehensive ‘three bears’ account of this remarkable scene.  Being able to lean on these guys has kept the porridge at a perfect temperature during some pretty distracted times, especially baby- and illness-related, and I am beyond grateful for their contributions.

Now we have…

2.  The Label of the Year Award which goes to…

Memoirs of an Aesthete

Half an Abortion - Drowsy Seepage

(with honourable mentions for, well, see below…)

This was a very, very hotly disputed category.  I was tempted to be perverse and, in the style of Time magazine’s mirror cover, proclaim label of the year to be ‘self-released’.  Certainly, in this Bandcamp enabled age the idea has to be considered seriously.  But that ain’t much fun is it?  Let’s have an argument instead!  Joe stepped up for Winebox Press:

Jon Collin’s labour of love has presented some amazing music this year (Vampire Blues, Lost Wax, and his own gorgeous schizzle)  all nailed to hand-sanded wooden chunks.  This extra detail might make things difficult to file but the soft hand-feel makes me return again and again to these loose spools of joy.

Scott proclaimed Matching Head, natch:

Same as every other year. Lee Stokoe keeps it prolific, adding new regulars to a strong cast of returning cassette-friendly noise/drone/wtf artists.

Both excellent choices, of course, but what of the Sheepscar Light Industrial, last year’s runner up, or Kirkstall Dark Matter – a blood feud between Leeds postcodes?  Or is the glorious return of Sanity Muffin gong-worthy?  Speaking of returns, was any more welcome or surprising than that of Union Pole which made a long-gone 76 item back catalogue available to download for the total of one dollar?  Or what about Hissing Frames or hairdryer excommunication, the content-pumps of Robbie and Kev respectively?

The choice seemed impossible so I left the scribbled lists and did a couple of those things that you only see people do in the movies: splashed my face with water then stared into the bathroom mirror, took a cold can out of the fridge and held it against my cheek etc.  Soon clarity was restored.  For not putting a foot wrong, for never having even a single hair our of place, it had to be Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Phil Todd’s label has released one belter after another this year and has probably clocked up more minutes playing time in Midwich Mansions than any rival.  If it has Phil’s seal of approval on it then you should buy it.  Simple really.

…and finally…

1.  The Album of the Year Award

Risking accusations of hyperbole, I have claimed once or twice over the course of 2013 that we were living in a golden age.  Revisiting the releases I heard during the year I feel absolutely vindicated.  Add my long list to the short lists provided by Scott and Joe and you have a total of over 40 titles without even counting much not-really-released-as-such-but-still-magnificent work such as the soundcloud presence of, say, ap martlet.  Scott mentioned…

Black Sun Roof4 Black Suns & A Sinister Rainbow (Handmade Birds) – Davies and Bower make noise ritual a rhythm thing.

Vile PlumageBlack Tar Jenny (No Label) – Scum froth and gutter glitter.

Skullflower / MasterySplit (Cold Spring) – Black metal soundtracks.

Joe added:

Duff/Nyoukis/Robertson/ShawAcetate Robots (Giant Tank) – Soft Scottish mumble, sweet as tablet.

Poor MouthS/T (Total Vermin) – Stream of consciousness wonk-out in proud Estuary English.

Lost Wax – My Sore Daad Heap’d (Winebox Press) – Environmental sounds lashed into a bivouac as the sun rises.

ID M Theft AbleBabb’s Bridge (Veglia, King Fondue, Zeikzak, Taped Sounds) – Like Manson’s internal monologue as knives get knotty.

Blue Yodel & Lovely HonkeyPoppies & Cocks (Chocolate Monk) – Mooooggg, hummm…voosh. Boo-fffff.

Both lists pleasantly indicative of the interests of my comrades, I think.  Take note.  Right then, as I did last year I have whittled my choices down to twenty with the first half presented in no particular order, linked to the original RFM reviews.  Here we go:

Witchbloodspoils and relics - angelsplurals sli 018Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkaqua dentata - ten thousand wooden faceshalf an abortion - quandarystarlite coffins - medicine eagleGalena - Buried Finchpeople-eaters - imprecate

Every one a winner.  Click on the above for further thoughts and for contact/purchasing info.  Now on with the top ten, in reverse order…

10. Xazzaz – Untitled (Molotov 20)

xazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

This was reviewed twice on RFM this year.  Firstly Joe said:

…a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…

…then I pitched in with:

Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

9. Shareholder – The Backwards Glance volumes 1, 2 and 3

shareholder 1

Joe turned me on to this one.  He wrote:

The Backwards Glance is ten god-damn years of recordings all wrapped up in beguiling drawings, elastic bands and creepy collage work.  Sandy has taken the Faust approach and jams are cut-up hard against each other so you lurch between approaches, styles, themes and moods … My advice is to block out a few hours in your schedule, settle yourself in your preferred listening area and drink this special brew in deep.  As in the dog-eat-dog world of high finance the Shareholder is always looking for a unique selling point.  This USP for these clever little tapes is their god-damn addictiveness!

8. Culver/Somália ‎– Split

culver-somalia

Joe also beat me to this one too and came up with the best simile of the year, damn him:

Culver is a master of the dark art of static movement.  In the same way smoke will fill a room to the corners, too thick to see thorough but fragile enough to part with the wave of a hand, Culver plays that hard/soft, full/empty, maximal/minimal dichotomy like Erich Von Daniken’s  ancient astronauts. Always working on the edge of being there and not being there this piece, this relatively brief drone called ‘seven human hairs’ is like watching ink boil … Somália is some mysterious Portuguese music maker who, on ‘das cordas’ takes a melancholic Satie riff (Gnossienne No. 1 I think) and loops it over and over again with a grimy patina of tape murk.  That’s it.  No speeding up or slowing down. No descent into beats or basslines.  Just a gradual fade into the muck collected round the capstans.  Super simple and super effective.  It works at times (and I have to point out here I have played this tape a lot!) like dark canvas, swallowing the light but freeing up the subconscious.  This is dreaming music.

7. Seth Cooke – Run For Cover

seth cooke - run for cover

The spec is simple enough, a single track of about fifteen minutes in length, but its ingredients are tricky to separate out.  I suspect the noise that sounds like a swarm of angry wasps flying into a juddering extractor fan may be a vibrating implement set upon a drum skin.  The buzz is malevolent – like tapping the glass of a giant tank full of insects only to have them all turn in unison, give you a hard stare and then start working together to get the tank’s lid off…  Some abrasive electronics are then set loose in order to scour and gouge the source noise whilst a bucket of low end catches the swarf.  The concluding crescendo is visceral, tough and as sparkling as your peripheral vision after a sharp smack to the back of the head.  Yeah: awesome.

6. Yol – Four Live Pieces

yol - four live pieces

Joe is a true believer:

I think it was the mighty Stan Lee/Jack Kirby axis that came up with the Incredible Hulk to explore the untamed, brutish side to mankind.  The trick Yol has turned is to take this Yahoo Hulk and transplant it into the damp and bland world of Northern Britain – 2013.  This is no Marvel Universe magic realism but the dark perverted land of a bent cop, conflicted priest or overworked teacher.  It’s a post-Saville world where celebrity corrupts and no one can really trust each other.  Yol gives a voice to the bitter and bleak, the misplaced righteousness and revenge that most of us keep buttoned up tight.  The inner struggle is played out in vivid crimson, choked out, spat into the gutter and stamped on with spite.

5. Shoganai –  ショウガナイ

shoganai

The fella behind this project, remaining semi-anonymous for his own reasons, has produced a piece of work so ambitious and accomplished that the fact that it is available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis from that Bandcamp left me stupefied … Some details: your download will contain nine tracks spanning 41 minutes.  These episodes are clearly the product of a single aesthetic but vary in construction.  There is computerborne surrealism, the programme code distorted by a horseshoe magnet ordered from the Acme catalogue, there is deep-fried tropical psychedelia the like of which wouldn’t be out of place on a Space Victim or AshNav album, and there is the cooing and squawking of an alien menagerie, recorded rooting and strutting about the forest floor on a distant, poisonous world.

4. Helicopter Quartet – Where have all the aliens gone?

helicopter quartet - where have all the aliens gone

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 it is epic on a human scale.

3. Various – Knurr & Spell

knurr and spell

Four tracks, each about twenty minutes long, by four different solo artists.  First is veteran Leeds scenester Shem Sharples, recording as his robotic alter ego Shemboid, who kicks things off with ‘myths of the prehistoric future’ – a Ballardian pun well suited to this blistering, splintering track.  Shem is an aficionado of the garage psych sound and his skyscraping fuzz/wah guitar illuminates the rubble like harsh Californian sunshine.

Next is ‘bontempi bastet’ by Ocelocelot, Mel O’Dubhslaine’s noise/drone endeavour.  The track is remarkable: an ectoplasmic gumbo, a thick electronic soup spiced and seasoned to make the corners of your eyes twitch.  Or is it an evocation of heaven?  Mel is a serious artist quietly and brilliantly re-purposing music to serve her own mysterious ends.  She does this with good humour and modesty and I think she might be my hero.

Third is ‘no forks’ by Moral Holiday, Phil Todd’s affectionate homage to first wave industrial music. The backing is brittle, unforgiving, stark.  Phil has taken the bucolic feel of the most utopian electronic Krautrock, frogmarched it to a grimly urban setting and then recorded it amongst the glass and concrete, mutating to fit its new surroundings.

Finally, we have ‘taser delerium’ (sic) from Paul Walsh’s foldhead.  Perhaps you could imagine spiking the punch at a convention of shortwave radio enthusiasts then getting the fried participants to improvise a jam using nothing but the guttering warbles of atmospheric interference.  Life affirming stuff – joyful noise wall.  Like an intruder appearing at the foot of your bed, paralysing you with a swift injection to the sole of your foot, then draping his cock across your forehead as you lie prone and immobile, it is a perversely calming experience.

In summary: this album is damn near perfect.

2. Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver

cloud come cadaver

Previous winners come oh-so-close once more.  I wrote a lengthy psychedelic ramble accounting for each track in turn which you can read by clicking on the title above.  For now I need only quote the final remarks:

It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

Absolutely magnificent.

…and finally, the RFM Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2013 goes to…

1. The Piss Superstition – Vocal Learning

vocal learning front

Back in May I had a moment of prophetic clarity:

The music suggests systems gone wrong, like some guy pushed in a punch card upside down and then went to lunch leaving everything running.  Yet heavy, juddering electrics describe arcane symbols as they spiral through the iterations of this garbled instruction set.  Something truly wierd is being revealed.  The serrated buzzing suggests saw mill equipment escaping its moorings and consuming itself as one bladed machine vibrates into the path of another.  But again, there is nothing random about this movement.  All is being conducted by an unfamiliar intelligence for some unknowable purpose.  In the end though, all metaphors, similes, superlatives and whimsy just slide off this band or, at best, get caught in the gears and mashed – such is the beauty, mystery and power of their output.  They do not sound like anyone else and yet, somehow, it turns out that this sound is exactly what I wanted to hear.  Its value can only be calculated by fumbling with an alien currency, glinting strangely in my palm.

Thus: Vocal Learning is the best album of the year so far.  Why?  Because it is – I said so.

…and there we have it.  The End.  Well, not quite.  There is a prize should the winners wish to claim it: a release on the fabled fencing flatworm recordings.  Yes, in a tradition stretching all the way back to one year ago I decided to reanimate my legendary label to issue one release a year which could only be by the winner of the Best Album Zellaby Award.  So, JB & Paul, how about it?  Drop me a line if the idea tickles you both and we’ll talk turkey.

RFM’s ongoing account of the no-audience underground’s creative endeavour will continue shortly.  We wish you all a very happy New Year!

sorting the lego part four: soundtracks for decorating the tree

December 19, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Ceramic Hobs – Spirit World Circle Jerk (vinyl LP in silk-screened sleeve, Must Die Records, MDR 032, edition of 250)

CASTRATO ATTACK GROUP – blood porridge from the islets of langerhans (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 666-13, edition of 100 or download)

La Mancha del Pecado & Culver – collaboration six (tape, Matching Head/Agorafobia, mh 199/27)

Ceramic Hobs - Spirit World Circle Jerkcastrato attack group - blood porridge backcastrato attack group - blood porridge front

I think I’ve written enuff about depression for now, don’t you?  See the preambles to parts one, two and three of this series for an account of the development of my current illness and what I am doing to combat it.  Suffice to say the struggle continues but I am very well supported and am looking forward to the break in routine that Christmas will provide.  I’m trying hard not to make a ‘mulled whine’ pun.  Damn, just did it…

Thanks again for the music and messages of encouragement – it all means a great deal to me.

These will be my last reviews of 2013 – if you have stuff on the review pile then it will be dealt with in the New Year.  Continued apologies for any delay but we have caught up considerably during December.  Articles by Joe and Scott on Colectivo N, Smut and Caroline Mackenzie are in the works and will probably appear sometime during the holiday period to tide us over until the Zellaby Awards are announced in January.  Exciting!

Have a lovely Christmas, dear readers, and I wish you peace, health and love from all at RFM HQ and Midwich Mansions.

—ooOoo—

It isn’t often that I agree to review something without having heard it first.  I’m not concerned about accusations of insider trading, or conflict of interest, nor are there brown envelopes stuffed with payola for me to collect in motorway service station car parks.  It’s more to do with not wanting to feel obliged, nor wanting to accept freebies under false pretences – I know resources are scarce so I don’t want to trouble someone for their warez only to say ‘no thanks’ once it is too late.  However, I thought I was on safe ground when Simon Morris of Ceramic Hobs pulled out a copy of their latest album and handed it to me at that Skullflower show with the words: “You MUST review it!”  I agreed, of course.

Here’s the spec: The Spirit World Circle Jerk is a vinyl LP in an edition of 250 from the ever-impressive Must Die Records, the covers were created and screen-printed by Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon fame and a handy lyric sheet and download code are included for maximum convenience and enjoyment.  One side features six of the seven tracks, the other side contains just the epic ‘Voodoo Party’.

Initally, it seems a bit more straightforward than the psychonautical adventure that was the last ‘proper’ Hobs LP I heard – Oz Oz Alice – but flip it over and over during the course of several afternoons and its depth, complexity and sense of humour are revealed.  Ideas, characters, lines of lyrics, references to popular culture, mass murder etc. that are largely lost on me (a great track-by-track description of the album on the Must Die Records site helps decipher all this) are repeated from song to song which gives the album coherence.  Don’t worry – this isn’t a tedious ‘concept’ piece, more a series of linked short stories (‘Simon Morris as the Robert Altman of the psychiatric underground’?  Discuss).

Simon’s voice remains remarkable: utterly different from his speaking voice, it ranges from bassy growl, as if gargling with multi-coloured gravel and slimey algae from the bottom of a tropical fish tank, to overdriven power electronic screech, like William Bennett flicking through the Ikea catalogue in bed and getting a paper cut on his bell-end.  The band are totally up to it too and the music works an accompanying range, from oi punk and pub rock to psychedelic collage.  There are plenty of laughs.  For example, the opening line of ‘Glasgow Housewife’: “I… BELONG… TO… GLASGOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW” cracks me up every time I hear it.  It’s as funny as Wile E. Coyote stamping on the trap that Road Runner just failed to activate.  There is head-down boogie – try and resist singing along to the ‘Hong Kong Goolagong’ with your thumbs in your belt-loops.  And then there is ‘Voodoo Party’…

The side-long seventh track is a companion piece to the 35 minute long title track of Oz Oz Alice.  It’s a category-defying collage, a psychedelic ritual, or maybe a cut-up screed by the author of a conspiracy website where everything is grist to the mill and the more you deny it the more sure he is that you are hiding something.  For example, the ‘true’ story of Rhonda’s journey through a stargate, lifted from an American talk radio programme complete with dumbfounded hosts, is totally fascinating in itself and calls to mind ’22 going on 23′ from the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician by Butthole Surfers.  Surely, there can surely be no higher praise and yet this is just one of the many elements to be found sliding over each other, slotting into an order of things dictated by the track’s own gurning and fluid internal logic.

I’m happy to conclude that this album is perfect music to accompany tucking into a lovely Christmas dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings – well, you might have to reheat it after making sure that the family whose house you have just broken into are securely tied up in the basement first…

blood porridge from the islets of langerhans is perfect music to accompany chestnuts roasting on an open fire – that is if the fire was caused by a gas explosion and is roaring in the rubble of what used to be your house.  The album comprises two twenty minute plus tracks of crackling free rock.  Despite the band’s name, this is clearly the result of the nine balls belonging to the four band members (which member has three is a closely guarded secret) swinging back and forth like a hairy Newton’s cradle.  Nothing clever-clever here.  ‘triceratops badmouth’ starts in a paint-huffing, head-banging mood and remains that way throughout – a tethered crescendo of thrashing and bucking.  ‘temple of glue’ is even less structured, if that is possible.  At first it’s like a squadron of dragonflies attempting to free themselves after having accidentally landed in a puddle of beery piss then, rescued at last by a beat at around the nine minute mark, they spend the rest of the track shaking themselves dry and drunkenly vowing revenge on the fool who dared urinate under their flightpath.  Terrific.

collaboration six is perfect music to accompany dashing through the snow – that is if you have been thrown from a helicopter onto the tundra because your colleagues think you may have been infected by an alien shape shifter and now night is falling.  The latest in a series of all-star team-ups featuring friends-of-RFM Lee Stokoe and Miguel Perez, this won’t hold any surprises for those already familiar with their work but it is perhaps a little more delicate than you might expect.  The album comprises a single track on a single sided tape in a black and white cover not reproducible on a family blog like this due to, well, tits.  In the spirit of seasonal goodwill I won’t make my usual prudish complaint about this ‘aesthetic’.  The music, a deceptively simple, multi-layered drone is magnificent, a high water mark in the recent catalogues of both artists.  How you take it could go in two opposite directions depending on your mood: is it evocative of a warm, enveloping, womb-like environment in which you shift about, satisfyingly comfortable, in a cocoon of amniotic jelly or is it a windswept mountainside, treacherous with snow-covered ice and bottomless crevasses below?  Essential either way.

Buy the Ceramic Hobs LP direct from Must Die Records, where you’ll also find the track-by-track description I mention above.  Buy the Castrato Attack Group CD-r (or download) via the Memoirs of an Aesthete Bandcamp site.  The La Mancha del Pecado & Culver tape can be had from Matching Head, contact details on the Matching Head Discogs page.

ton up for hiroshima yeah! plus exclusive midwich track!

June 8, 2013 at 7:10 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hiroshima Yeah! Issue #100

THE SOUND OF HIROSHIMA YEAH! (CD-r compilation accompanying HY! #100)

the sound of hiroshima yeah

Ladies and gentlemen, the team at Radio Free Midwich would like to offer their congratulations to Mark Ritchie and Gary Simmons, the writers of Hiroshima Yeah! zine, on the occasion of its 100th issue.  Vigorous handshakes for regular contributors like the mysterious Mitch Hell and the affable Dan Susnara too.

Should you be unaware of this fine publication, each issue comprises a few A4 pages full of poetry, reviews, short stories and diaries, assembled in a properly punk cut-and-paste manner, photocopied, stapled in the top left hand corner and posted to an unknown number of subscribers.  Hard copy only, no internet presence.  It appears monthly and, even with Gary languishing in prison (I’m not telling that story here), the publication schedule has been unswerving.  A remarkable achievement.

Mark provides the poetry and short stories and writes about music and drinking from his position in the gutter looking up at the stars.  His beat is song writing and he writes about practitioners of the art with an infectious passion.  His slice-of-life accounts of call-centre work, cheap food and boozing his way around Glasgow before ending up at gigs are strangely hypnotic and I look forward to them each month.

Gary’s beat is noise, especially the harsher end of industrial noise and power electronics.  Don’t be fooled by his balls-out gonzo style, this guy’s knowledge of the history and minutiae of these genres is awe-inspiringly encyclopaedic.  His accounts of unlistenable racket interspersed with entertaining misanthropy, vignettes from his chaotic life, and references to science fiction films and novels make for invigorating reading.  That said, the reviews are on hold for the rest of the year as he enjoys some enforced accommodation at Her Majesty’s pleasure.  They have been replaced with a prison diary which is just as essential – it’s a window onto a world unlikely to be encountered first-hand by nice boys like me.

As a celebratory treat, to accompany the 100th issue Mark has put together a CD-r compilation featuring tracks by HY! readers, contributors and favourites.  I was very flattered to be asked to be part of this and can reveal that The Sound of Hiroshima Yeah! features ‘snags’ by midwich – five and a bit minutes of squelching drone throb created during a unique recording session by the duo of me and my friend Rob Retkowski.  I love it, it sounds like Dalek sex music, and it will be completely exclusive to this compilation.  Snap to it all you midwich completists!  Aside from my unparalleled genius, you will also get some terrific garage punk from Ceramic Hobs, grisly power electronics from Bagman, beautiful, melancholy songs from Paul Doucet and Mark’s own Shy Rights Movement, some bewitchingly odd, looped field recordings from Breadwinter (which I think is Dan Susnara), euro-robo-electro pop from Staline Plays Theremin and, as they used to say: much, much more!!  12 tracks in total (plus an unlisted 23 second coda I suspect might be sung by Gary) which reflect the eclectic tastes of Hiroshima Yeah! perfectly.

Long may it continue.

Contact Mark via donbirnam@hotmail.com to enquire about subscribing.

recent zinery, part two: yol and the turnip flag

July 19, 2012 at 12:20 pm | Posted in art, new music, no audience underground, not bloody music | 2 Comments
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Yol – Always Looking Down

Yol – Adventures in the House of Chicken Feet

Yol – Brighthouse (CD-r, self released)

The Turnip Flag: Selections from the Ceramic Hobs Magazine, 1986-1988

The following envelope contained two booklets of art and poetry: Always Looking Down and Adventures in the House of Chicken Feet, and a three track CD-r: Brighthouse, by Hull based artist Yol.  Now, I try not to bandy about the word ‘artist’ too much but it is chosen quite deliberately in this case as Yol uses several media – poetry, graphics, music, performance – to express a singular vision.  A vision that is as coherent and relentless as arithmetic and as undeniable as death.  Everything, Yol explains, everything that we are told to do, to want, to consume, to enjoy is FUCKING BULLSHIT.  He was once the child who pointed out that the emperor was naked, now grown up and driven mad by the fact that no-one listened to him and the idiocy continued, business as usual.  His persona is reduced to delivering his raging, stuttering, retching critique whilst flailing through anonymous city streets, ankle deep in litter and dog shit.  I realise I may not be selling this to you.  However, I’m hoping that, like me, you always find a strange beauty in the truth, no matter how grim.

A word about Yol’s graphics: they are terrific.  His pictures have the brute elegance of cave painting, the violent immediacy of stencilled street art and the liquid cool of a Saul Bass title sequence.  They compliment the clipped, jagged, stream-of-id writing perfectly.  And did I mention how funny it can be?  The CD-r, named half for the high-street usurers who provide loans for household items at hair-whitening interest rates and half as a pun on ‘Whitehouse’, alternates between harsh digital power electronics and Yol’s vomited bellowing.  The ‘lyrics’ to the first track make me laugh out loud each time I hear it.  To paraphrase: “You’ve got the long arms of a strangler/You’ve got the neck, the fat neck of a murder victim/You should both hook up.”  The delivery of that punch line kills me.  This is humour at its hearing-a-strange-noise-and-fumbling-for-the-light-switch blackest.

Yol tells me that this stuff is available from him, presumably for sale or trade, and that one of these days he’ll set up a site to punt his warez.  In the meantime you’ll have to email him at yol1971@hotmail.co.uk

…and finally we have the truest zine of the batch.  The Turnip Flag is a collection of excerpts from the Ceramic Hobs magazine dated 1986 to 1988.  This was a silver age of zinery remembered very fondly by me as I was involved in the small press comics scene around that time (does anyone remember the distro ‘Fast Fiction’ run by a pre-Sound Projector Ed Pinsent?  No?  Oh well…).

Sent to me by the great man himself, Simon Morris tells me that ‘beyond the occasional jejune phrase I’m not embarrassed by it at all!’ and, after a sheepish peek at the dictionary to find out what ‘jejune’ means, I think he is right not to be.  What you get are typewritten articles, very short stories, prose poetry and interviews chopped, pasted and interposed with illustrations and pre-photoshop collages of headlines, adverts and the like.  It is all created with a normality-bashing humour that will be familiar to Hobs fans.  Timestamping the content perfectly are, for example, an appreciation of Butthole Surfers (Locust Abortion Technician and before – all the solid gold stuff) and a short but very interesting piece on United Diaries Records including an interview with Steven Stapleton, no less.  Scoop!  I’d heard somewhere that Mr. Stapleton makes a comfortable living from his endeavours now so was intrigued to hear about the money lost back in the (relatively) early days.  And, as they say in publishing, much, much more inside!

I liked this very much.  The object emits a sunbeam of nostalgia that will help you dry off after being out in the unseasonal rain.  It is of interest both for the content and as an historical document of how this information was shifted from place to place in the pre-internet era.

Simon says that this can be had from his address – 124 Condor Grove, Blackpool, FY1 5QY – whilst stocks last in return for a ‘trade or nice letter’.  And you have to do what Simon says don’t you?

artifacts of the no-audience underground: yol – pushtoshove, or why i’m scared of vocal improv

March 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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YOL – PUSHTOSHOVE pushtoshove (self-released CD-r)

If you asked me what had changed in the five years I had away from the no-audience underground (2005-2010 approx) I would be tempted to put ‘the use of vocals’ near the top of the list.  I’m not talking about heartbreaking harmonies, of course, or verse-chorus-verse-chorus.  Down here it is more likely to be stream-of-consciousness improv, Dada tone poem nonsense or completely non-verbal ‘gurglecore’.

In response to this development I was tempted to document my experience of non-standard uses of the human voice in a (more or less) musical context.  This would take us from ‘I Zimbra’ by Talking Heads and Treasure by Cocteau Twins to the brown-straining of the Posset tape below and the spittle-flecked fury of the release above via some half-arsed ahistorical research into scat singing, Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and the Fluxus artists (I saw Ludo Mich at the Fox & Newt recently – that guy has been gibbering since before I was born).  However, all that wouldn’t account for my unease with the genre(s) so I’m going to take a different tack.  For context, let me first introduce you to two characters I used to see around Leeds.

In the mid-90s a young woman (late 20s?  hard to tell) with mental health issues would badger passersby on Wood Lane in Headingley with an endless stream of questions about their personal hygiene.  She would also request advice on dealing with her bestiary of imaginary pets, all of which seemed to be perpetually ill or injured.  For a while I saw her four or five times a week.

On one of those days, whilst nursing a hangover, I passed her and she fell into step with me.  “My dog, my little dog, I think he has a piece of glass, a little piece of glass, stuck in his tail,” she insisted.  I stopped and looked her in the eye, my well of patience suddenly as dry as my morning-after mouth, and said “You. Do. Not. Have. A. Dog.”  The keening, retching wail which I got in response has often come to mind when listening to this stuff.  I’m not proud of myself for causing pain, by the way, I was an obnoxious dick and karma repaid me with my first diagnosis of depression a year or two later.

Secondly, last year I often saw an archetypal crazy-guy-on-the-bus – unkempt mop of hair, razor sharp ‘Mr Punch’ nose, complexion of a windswept lobster – riding the top deck of circular routes here in the garden city of Leeds.  I looked over his shoulder at the tatty wordsearch puzzle book that he carried with him and was amused and intrigued to see the random selection of letters – never an actual word of the Queen’s English – that were sometimes emphatically struck through, sometimes tentatively circled.  Occasionally he hesitated, as if unsure that the arbitrary snake of letters he was outlining actually represented what he thought it did.  His puzzle sheets became a schematic diagram of glossolalia.  He also argued – with himself, with memories, with invisible antagonists, who knows? – and repeated variations of simple phrases, altering volume and emphasis as fury overtook him: “I said I’d do it, I said, Isaidi’ddoit, I’ll do it I sa…I TOLD HIM! I said I’D DO IT…” etc., etc.

And here we almost get to the point because this is what the vocal part of Yol’s performances sound like: like the auto-echolalia (I’ve just made that term up – please comment if you know what the actual word for this behaviour is) of someone ‘touched by madness’.  He picks a word, or a short phrase and constructs a tight, violent improvisation around it.  He barks and growls, he bellows.  There is one track of ‘gurglecore’ – ‘disconnect’ – which is bookended with the sound of keys and leaves the listener feeling like a startled Victorian gentleman who mistakenly thought it might be fun to visit the madhouse.  Otherwise, Yol works through repetition and variations on a theme as if he was on the top deck of my bus.

All the while he accompanies himself with a furious racket – like a school hall full of sullen kids scraping their chairs as they reluctantly get up for the headmaster, like a post sack full of glass bottles being stamped on, like a slavering alsatian guard dog causing an avalanche of metallic rubbish in a junkyard.  Yol has joked that this is ‘power electronics without the power’ but I suspect that it would be more accurate to describe it as ‘…without the electronics’ as this has Darth Vader levels of power – just no amplification.  At the end of ‘limb’ there is a smattering of applause and the first time I heard this I laughed out loud: holy shit! The guy did that in front of an audience!  The destruction seems absolutely real, the physicality of it is exhilarating.

So what is the problem?  Well, it is similar to the issue I had/have with Ceramic Hobs.  I suffer with depression, currently under control but debilitating for a few months every year or two, and my illness has no redeeming features at all.  No manic periods of glorious creativity.  Nothing.  As I have said many times before, if I could get rid of it by pressing a button then you would have to pry my thumb off it.  As such, the invocation of madness in art makes me very uneasy and the voluntary ceding of control that full blown vocal improv like this entails is truly frightening to me, even when someone else is doing it.

In an extraordinary article on glossolalia, Seth Cooke, Bang the Bore curator and all-round force for the good, describes his upbringing in a Christian church where this phenomenon was common and encouraged.  Despite having left the religious aspect behind, Seth considers this state of mind potentially useful in a creative context and provides instructions for the novice, including a come-down debriefing to help restore your ego after the experience.  This is fascinating stuff – gripping even – and I highly recommend settling down to read his whole piece once you are finished here.  But terrifying.  Choosing to surrender yourself to the spirit/the unconscious (delete as applicable) is beyond my comprehension.  Yes, I admit to favourably describing many drone pieces – including my own – as ego dissolving but this strikes me as importantly different.  When I speak of ego dissolution I am usually referring to a welcome break from the exhausting rigours of being myself, not replacing myself with something else, not giving voice to god knows what abyssal monster may lurk beneath.

In conclusion then, the CD-r above is entirely worthy of your attention and you should contact Yol at yol1971@hotmail.co.uk to secure a copy.  It’s intriguing, darkly funny, properly unsettling (to me at least, for the reasons given above) and, at about 20 minutes total running time, gets in and out with a refreshing brevity and focus.  Yol’s commitment to the brute physicality of the performance is jaw-dropping.  You’ll have to excuse me if I stand at the back though, and don’t worry if I leave early, head down and breathing heavy, as the walk home will do me good…

EDIT: see Yol performing ‘hand to mouth’ (titled here as ‘scrape mess’) via YouTube.

the hiroshima yeah! at spon corner, plus bonus musings on gadget enslavement

July 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Posted in art, musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Amongst the doormat-fodder that greeted our return home from Venice were two welcome and generous parcels containing the gubbins below:

On the left, stuff from the venerable Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon.  On the right, stuff from the honourable Gary Simmons of HY!  Cool, eh?

The parcel from the latter included the usual papery detritus (which I pore over like runes or entrails trying to deduce facts about Gary’s mysterious existence), the latest issue of HY! and the Shy Rights Movement CD-r mentioned below.  I am also in receipt of certain HY! back issues which were originally sent to William Bennett of Whitehouse via Susan Lawly, but which were returned to sender due to troubles the label had with their postal address.  Presumably a curious postie opened a couple of the parcels they were getting and the police were called immediately…  Anyway, being sent Bennett’s cast offs, complete with cap-doffing covering notes, is disproportionately pleasing too.

The content of HY! is split between a) Gary’s gonzo reviews of noise, the nihilistic sneer tussling with obvious love, enthusiasm and an encyclopaedic knowledge of rackets from the Rite of Spring to Cold Spring, and b) Mark’s heartfelt reviews of songs and hypnotically comprehensive, day-long, pint-counting gig reviews.  I read its four-or-five pages ‘cover to cover’ pretty much the moment it arrives.  Did I mention Mark’s misanthropic stories and poetry too?  How about this for a title: “The Slightly Sozzled Thoughts of a Bitter Old Fuck”, first line: “Young people bore me – “.  Heh, heh.  I think anyone who reads this blog regularly should probably check them out too: donbirnam@hotmail.com

The parcel from Adolf included issue 7 of Spon – The Stan Batcow Issue, various small-press comiks from the World of Steg archive, a bunch of Pumf flyers, and a charming laminated membership card for the ‘I Am A Cunt Club’.  He also included the Ceramic Hobs CD-rs mentioned below and an entertaining label sampler of crunchy electronic braindance from Must Die Records.

Those hoping to read Stan’s side of the Ceramic Hobs story will be disappointed, I’m afraid, but not too heartbroken because what you get instead is a terrific double-page tirade titled: ‘The Only Good Mobile Telephone is a Dead One’.  In the interests of full disclosure I must admit to owning a mobile myself but have had this ‘brick’ (referred to by one charmless techno-runt as a ‘refugee phone’) for many years and use it almost exclusively as an alarm clock.  With that confession out of the way, I’d like to nod in vigorous agreement with almost every word of Stan’s article.  He says:

Mobile telephones, as they evolve and develop ever more functions, are regressing the intelligence and capability of the world’s population.  People are becoming more and more dependent upon them, and essential life skills are either being forgotten or simply not learned because ot this dependence

…and later, whilst bemoaning the use of these devices to record and comment on events at which their owners are actually present:

…instead of experiencing life, they’re only experiencing the recording of life and separating themselves from reality … none of them are really at the event – all they’re doing is focussing all their attention on a small electronic device.

Well, exactly.  Stan’s point is not just that we are losing the ability to stride manfully across the glen with nothing but an OS Pathfinder, a compass and an intention to be home in time for tea.  It is more serious than not being able to provide, or act on, directions.  The issue is the creeping infantilisation entailed by the ability to just opt-out of retaining knowledge.  That is: to let your phone do your thinking for you.  The default mode of being for a gadget-enhanced citizen of decadent late-period capitalism seems to be obliviousness, except in the case of their own immediate needs to which, of course, they are hypersensitive.  Like babies.

And not only does it think for you, but it has your fun too.  Fun you might miss at the time it is actually happening but, hey, don’t worry – you’ll be able to upload it to Youtube later.  I vaguely recall seeing a documentary about Madonna in the early 90s in which Warren Beatty says to her “why do anything if it’s not on camera?”  Here was a world famous sex symbol of the not too distant past chiding a currently world famous sex symbol for the casual way in which she was forsaking her privacy.  Part wryly amused, part horrified, it was an interesting comment on the changing nature of celebrity.  Less than twenty years later Mr. Beatty’s question seems, appallingly, almost universally applicable.

I was struck by this phenomenon during our recent holiday.  Venice is by far the most remarkable man-made place I have encountered and, unless you simply do not own a device capable of doing so, taking photographs is irresistible.  We came back with over 100 despite only being there seven days.  However, apart from a few documenting our surprisingly lovely hotel, there are none taken indoors.  Most were views taken once we had sat down somewhere to gather ourselves together, or exteriors of places we had just visited, or pictures taken very early one morning when we left the hotel before breakfast with that purpose in mind.  On several jaunts we left the camera in the hotel, happy to wander and just drink the place in.

This approach was, to say the least, unusual.  Most of our fellow tourists had no qualms about taking photos constantly, within places where it might be considered inappropriate, and prior to actually looking at the thing being photographed.  During the two holidays I have spent in Italy I have noticed, and abided by, the many signs forbidding various activities whilst everyone else, including the immaculately uniformed official posing nearby, pays them no mind at all.  The sign we saw everywhere in Venice read: ‘No Photos’ (or at the very least ‘No Flash Photography’).   By this stage in the blog post you can probably guess how well this injunction was respected.

Picture the scene: we are in the gallery of the Basilica di San Marco and the lights illuminating the gilded Byzantine mosaics have just been turned on.  This is a sight that can make even a scoffing, heathen unbeliever like me quiver with spirituality.  At this very moment a women positions her child immediately to the left of the inevitable sign that reads ‘No Photos, No Videos’ and videos the girl taking a photo…

<author sighs deeply and wishes his current medication allowed the consumption of alcohol.  A lot of alcohol>

Anyway, you should really get hold of Spon 7 from Dr. Steg –  not only in order to read Stan’s whole argument, but also to get the great cover portrait and the unnerving collages that accompany it.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: rfm catches up, part two

July 28, 2011 at 7:46 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Jazzfinger – les enfants jazzfinger dans.. (Fuckin’ Amateurs)

What we have here is a fat DVD case with a colour cover containing 4 CD-rs (well, ideally – mine is missing disc 3 – fuckin’ amateurs, eh?), a one-page discography, a pamphlet/fanzine reprinting a Jazzfinger interview conducted by Neil Campbell yonks ago for Bananafish with added marginalia and a cool badge!  It is a terrific set – made me feel like I’d joined the Jazzfinger fan club and that this was the membership pack.  It is also as much an homage to the Toon as it is to the band and locates Jazzfinger firmly within the Newcastle scene.

Three of the discs contain raw recordings of Jazzfinger gigs spanning a number of years and disc four contains a career-retrospective collage created from mouthfuls of back-catalogue.  That’s all I’m saying though as, again, I’m not sure whether this is available to buy.  The insert in my box is labelled 90 of 90 so I apologise if I’ve got your juices flowing only for them to be staunched.  I know no-one likes to have their juices staunched.  Typical of Fuckin’ Amateurs it seems like they spent three years getting this together then just gave away the initial run at a Jazzfinger gig at Morden Tower in April.  Admirably perverse.  Anyway, my copy was a present from Scott of Bells Hill but I think your best bet would be to contact Martin of Fuckin’ Amateurs directly at: thinkpinkfairies@aol.com.

An aside: the first gig, recorded in Burton-on-Trent in 2004, appears to have taken place at some kind of indie night (‘Schizophrenia’ by Sonic Youth is the track faded out as the band start playing).  As the set comes to a close a vocal contingent in the audience starts booing and mouthing off.  Indie rockers can be such boring little children, can’t they?  They think they are so hip and alternative, yet present them with something genuinely extraordinary and they start crying.  Their insistence on the ‘song’ makes them indistinguishable from the least-discerning fan of the crassest pop music.  In fact, the latter is far more honest and at least won’t get the hump if you’ve heard of their favourite band.  OK, that’s enough ranting – I’m in a funny mood today.

Shy Rights Movement – The Defeat Sublime

…and talking of bloody songs (don’t worry Mark, I jest) here is something unusual on my ‘to hear’ pile: an album full of ’em.  Mark Ritchie is better known to me as editor-in-chief at the Hiroshima Yeah! Glasgow office.  When not running a publishing empire, eating egg mayo rolls or listening to The Gourds, Mark is a singer-songwriter in a sort of Mark Eitzel mode and his band is called Shy Rights Movement.

Now, I find myself in the perverse position of being better qualified to talk about screaming racket than I am to talk about tunes but, for what it is worth, I dig this.  It starts a little sketchy but from the 90 second snarl of ‘Haloperidol Blues’ (“I take some pills and go to bed, am I asleep or am I dead?”) onwards there is a run of quality and the two songs bang in the middle of the album – ‘All Roads Lead to Here’ and ‘Holding On’ – are crackers.  This is sincere and heartfelt, without being at all mawkish, and has an occasionally nice turn of phrase.  There is a bitter accuracy to the best of it that I enjoyed very much.

Contact Mark via the HY! email address: donbirnam@hotmail.com

Ceramic Hobs – Live – 8/11/87, 21/11/09, 13/2/88, 15/10/09

Ceramic Hobs – Summer Hob Days 2 (Smith Research)

Two CD-rs of ‘second-stream’ Hobs material kindly provided by Dr. Adolf Steg of Spon comic/fanzine (more on which to come).  The ‘Summer Hob Days 2’ CD-r, released in 2010 in a now sold-out run of only 25 copies, is a kind of ‘Hobs Unplugged’ where our heroes gamely attempt to be warriors of the garage-psych underground using only rubber bands, cardboard boxes, a recorder, a stylophone and other acoustic detritus.  Occasionally very funny (“23 years ago, I saw Psychic TV, they were crap”), mostly perplexing.  This will appeal to those who are already fans (thus: me) and will be of no interest whatsoever to anyone else.  Explained on the Smith Research blog as follows: 

“Twenty-five years after the first recordings the original Phase One line-up reconvened to reinterpret them in an act of truly grandiose perversity.”

‘Live – 8/11/87, 21/11/09, 13/2/88, 15/10/09’ is more accessible, relatively speaking.  You should just be able to read Simon’s rationale for the release on the scan above.  He is right to foreground the Hob’s commitment to entertainment.  The ‘proper’ albums contain plenty of humour, of course, but it is there leavening the dark psychonautical exploration and the documenting of life on the borderlines.  However, when I’ve seen the Hobs live the emphasis is definitely on balls-out, punk-rock, fun.  On the evidence of these recordings the approach has remained pretty consistent over the years but I have to say I prefer the later accounts as a) they are better recorded and b) they contain tracks – ‘Irish Jew’, the butchering of Toto’s ‘Africa’, etc. – that made it onto the masterwork ‘Oz Oz Alice’.

I suspect a bit of harmless bootlegging here as only one of the CD-rs scanned above resembles the picture in its Discogs listing.  Still, there is no harm in contacting Simon via Smith Research or the Hobs livejournal page.

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