radiofreemidwich goes to tusk festival 2016

October 23, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, musings, new music, no audience underground | 8 Comments
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TUSK Festival 2016, Sage Gateshead, October 14 – 16

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Hmmm… ‘Long, Authoritative List Of Everything That Happened’? Nah, not really my style. How about ‘Epic Musing On Life, Music And What It All Means’? Oof, maybe later.

Let’s just start with the car.

Dan(iel Thomas – well known in this parish) kindly agreed to drive me, Sarah and Lisa to our digs in Newcastle. Here we are setting off:

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Dan looking handsome, a vision in stubble, Sarah in holiday mode, Lisa appalled at Sarah’s story about someone whose retina fell out and me giving it some cheek. What could go wrong, eh? Well, Dan’s back is crook and went into spasm on the A19. At one point I had to shift gears for him because he couldn’t reach down to the stick. Given that I only hold a license to drive an automatic this was a fraught moment that I had to be talked through. Still, my slight embarrassment was as nothing to the agony Dan was clearly suffering. After gliding into some grim services so Dan could walk it off, Sarah drove the rest of the way.

Luckily, when we arrived a retinue of servants rushed to carry Dan into the fluffy opulence of Malmaison and I was roughly directed to Premier Inn, where I would be KEEPING IT REAL. As I trundled the wheelie case containing my band and my clothes along Quayside the air started to crackle. I looked up and saw – fuck me! – the trio of Mike ‘Xazzaz’ Simpson, Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe and MIGUEL ‘SKULL MASK’ PEREZ walking towards me (all in black, natch).

Is this Rob? This is Rob!

Miguel said, lunging in for the bear hug.  Mike, who refuses to be photographed despite being a strikingly handsome guy, helpfully took this soon-to-be-iconic picture. Left to right: Miguel, me, Lee.  Tyne Bridge in the background.  Cool, eh?

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I’ve already written something about how important Miguel’s visit is to me and will return to the theme later so for now I’ll keep to the narrative.  Suffice to say I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone so pleased to be somewhere.  The huddle broke up so Miguel could soundcheck and I could settle into my (actually very pleasant) hotel room.

Soon I was trotting back over the Millennium Bridge to Gateshead and up the fuckloads of steps you need to climb to get to Sage:

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My feelings about Sage were fluid and contradictory.  On some levels it is profoundly impressive – an arts-for-all enterprise on a huge scale, proudly publicly funded, run by friendly and enthusiastic staff – but at other times it felt like a vast airport lounge from a Ballardian near-future dystopia.  From across the river it looks like a reclining figure from the title sequence of a cheapo James Bond knock-off (‘Silverfinger’?), on the inside it’s a Duplo play set, lit in sugary, boiled sweet colours.  For a structure so enormous it has little heft.  I could easily imagine the giant struts (one is cutting across the corner of the first picture below) hauling back the whole silver facade on a sunny day, like opening a roll-top bread-bin.  I did get pretty comfortable (institutionalised?) over the three days but there was definitely culture shock to contend with.

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An example: as I entered Hall 2, the main TUSK venue (middle picture above), for the first time on Friday an usher used a torch to show me down the stairs.  The room was dark aside from the stage lights illuminating the band currently playing.  Oh, I thought, it’s going to be like that is it?  Theatre.

Feeling discombobulated and out of my element I leaned myself up against a tousle-haired giant and enjoyed the crunktronik drama of Bad@Maths.  When the house lights went up at the end of their set I realised I was clutching onto:

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…Joe ‘Posset’ Murray – my RFM comrade-in-arms!  Always a delight to be in his company, likewise:

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yol!  Another who fears photography will remove biopsy snippets from his soul but I was NOT TO BE DENIED.  We soon became festival buds and hung out throughout proceedings.  Now though, I was so excited about seeing Miguel play that all I could do was babble and take photos of my new boots.  I’m not joking:

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[Editor’s note: at this point, after I’ve started introducing people but before I start rhapsodising about Skull Mask etc., I’m going to apologise in advance for not mentioning everyone I spoke to. This is partly because my notes are sketchy (and my memory worse) but mainly because I’m uncomfortable assigning some conversations to this ‘highlights package’ and some not. The social aspect of this trip was a thrill – from meeting people for the first time, to catching up with rarely seen friends, to chewing the fat with the regular crowd but outside of our normal context. It was all very inspiring. In short: if we talked, rest assured that I enjoyed our conversation and want to talk to you again.  Likewise I’m not busting a gut to account for every band, nor provide comprehensive links and tags – that isn’t the purpose of the exercise.  A quick net search should fill in any gaps.  There will be one Get Carter joke.]

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Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask (apologies for crappy picture, I still had the flash on my camera from the boot pics and once he got started I didn’t think to try again). This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.

Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant. I’ve had a hard time with music this year. I’ve not listened to much and have been in denial about how burnt out I’d got keeping this blog afloat whilst juggling the demands of ‘real life’. I’d been hoping that this event would prove to be a big purge and cleanse and that I’d be returned to music rinsed clean and ready to GO. That didn’t happen, but something better did.

Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be.  I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time.  A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):

HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!!  FUCK!!!

At the end of the set I felt myself tearing up.

Outside, shortly after, Miguel was holding court talking ten-to-the-dozen.  I’ve never seen anyone more stoked – his heart must have been beating like a sparrow’s.  He explained his philosophy of life, about living in the moment but appreciating the steps that have brought you to it, about the Mexican relationship with the dead, about the music he had just played.  I couldn’t keep up – my mind had been blown – but luckily it didn’t matter that I couldn’t say anything, as Miguel, beer can in hand, couldn’t quiet down.  And why the hell should he?  It had been a triumph.

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A short time later I found myself stood next to Miguel watching Guttersnipe (how wonderful to be able to type that sentence).  I had predicted that their set would be amongst the most talked about at TUSK and they certainly left the crowd open mouthed, wide eyed, ears ringing.  I feel like I could write reams about this band, scribble profane codices, letterpress manifestos, paint placards to be carried in protest or celebration but when I actually sit down to type… it’s confounding.  The strength of Gretchen’s personality – gentle, thoughtful, keenly intelligent, enabled by a seemingly (to this fat, middle aged man) unbounded energy explodes on stage into a writhing conduit for, what?  Rage?  Despair?  Whatever it is, it feels like unmediated access to the same rooms that Miguel opened doors to.  Likewise, Rob’s unassuming, cheerful manner translates into the most glorious, life-affirming, pushing-a-shopping-trolley-down-the-concrete-stairs-of-a-car-park, free-punk drumming I’ve ever heard.  Afterwards, Paul Margree, of the We Need No Swords blog, tried to praise his technique and, in typical self-deprecating fashion, Rob disagreed:

My technique is shit, there is just a lot of it, and fast.

Love it.  This pair are unique, the band are important and you have to check them out.

Wandering in a daze after this I was collared by the very lovely Jen Parry who wanted to show me the exhibition of Matching Head artwork that she had put together, which was hidden under a staircase around the corner from the main entrances to Hall 2:

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I really dug this and thought Jen had captured the vibe of Lee’s cut-and-paste aesthetic very cleverly.  The exhibit was interactive in that you could make yourself comfortable and listen to Matching Head releases on the tape recorders provided.  On the leather sofa (bottom picture) there was a hammer (and some goggles – health and safety!) which I assumed was also there for punters so I used it to whale on some of the tapes and tape cases that were artfully scattered about.  It seemed appropriate at the time, though I’ve noticed a disapproving tweet from Andy Wood about the smashed cases since.  In my defence the artist was there egging me on and taking photos of me doing it!  My apologies if I got the art wrong – difficult to tell nowadays <winking emoji>…

About this time I realised I was shot for the day and silently drifted away.  Back at the hotel I half-watched Dredd on Film4 whilst sorting out stuff for the next day’s gig.  In my pants.

—ooOoo—

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On Saturday I woke from from the dream-free sleep of the righteous and padded downstairs to gorge on obscene amounts of breakfast in a room with a view of the underside of Tyne Bridge.  Glorious.  As I was tucking into my second plateful, I noticed that I had been name checked by Dawn Bothwell in the introduction to the festival programme.  Blimey!  I nearly spat out my bubble and squeak.  It all added to a cheerful, woozy calm, a kind of blown-out relaxation that I hadn’t felt since sitting on Low Newton beach in Northumberland with my wife Anne and son Thomas back in May:

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Aside from feeling sheepish about instigating a complicated, 6-way conversation about how we were all getting there (the more tired I am the more insistent I am about knowing WHAT HAPPENS NEXT), I was also relaxed about performing.  My band was packed (see picture above, midwich fits in a rucksack), I was sweet smelling, fully medicated and my cheek pouches were bulging with spare breakfast.  LET’S GO!

Well, let’s all see Wolfgang Voigt first.  This involved sitting in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, feeling like I was in a dream version of a school assembly, with the headmaster replaced by an anonymous, unannounced middle-aged man giving a wordless, non-performance whilst illuminated by his laptop screen.  The sound – an ambient, computer-musicish drone, augmented by airy and/or brittle vibes familiar to those who know his work as, say, Gas – was perfectly lovely but I doubt it would have held my attention without Rachel Lancaster’s terrific visuals.

Rachel’s film was perfectly measured to draw out the best in the music.  We were reminded that there is nothing more sublimely beautiful than smoke rising in still air (‘Patrons are requested to smoke only on the right hand side of the auditorium’ – remember that?), unless the smoke is thick enough to resemble glaciers calving, or liquids of different densities spiralling into each other, or the pearlescent quality of crocodile scales as the creature lies semi-submerged and glistening…

Right then, NOW let’s go.

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‘Dark Tusk’ was set up by Lee Stokoe as a fringe event to help make the most of Miguel’s visit.  Here’s the blurb:

With the arrival of Miguel Perez in the UK to perform as Skull Mask at TUSK, it would be unthinkable to let him escape back to Mexico without congregating with some of his closest conspirators from the Northern noise void.

Culver & La Mancha del Pecado: with six collaborations to date and numerous splits and joints amassed, a live collaboration between these 2 horror drone obsessives was inevitable…

Midwich: one of Miguel’s most ardent advocates via his Radio Free Midwich blog, this is a mega-rare live performance from Rob Hayler’s solo electronic machine-dream.

NeckvsThroat: an ongoing postal duo of Miguel and Yol, binding guitar and voice with barbed wire and discarded steel.

Xazzaz: sinkhole drones, guitar fog and harsh dives from darkest Northumberland.

Plus sound installation by MP Wood.

2pm till 5pm at the Soundroom, Cuthbert Street, Gateshead, NE8 1PH. 15 min walk from Sage Gateshead.

Free with Tusk pass, £3 without.

The Soundroom

Cool, eh?  I love a matinee performance, me.  Miguel, yol and I met up with Jamie (if you don’t know his recordings as ‘Wrest’ you should check them out immediately) and his pal Steve who had kindly offered to drive us to the venue from Sage.  Miguel spent the journey telling us about how he had fended off two shitfaced Glaswegians in the hotel bar the night before.  They had offered him drugs (‘the hardest in Glasgow!’) in full view of two coppers who also happened to be there.  He wanted no part of it, fearing he was being set up, but Jamie assured him:

Nah, that kind of thing just happens around here…

…and expanded on similar topics whilst Steve forlornly tried to get him to concentrate on the journey and offer directions.  Never mind, we got there.

The Soundroom is a community centre/rehearsal space/gig venue sat in isolation in Gateshead.  I suspect most of us scuzzball, dog-eared, D.I.Y., no-audience underground types found it much easier to breath there than in the airy atrium of Sage and it is well equipped with a very decent PA.

Turn out was good, including – fuck me! – is that…

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…erstwhile RFM colleague, Discogs obsessive and near-hermit Scott McKeating?  Yes, it is!  Just one of many hands from the pantheon of the righteous I shook during proceedings.  You know who you are.

Once underway, the gig proved a joy.  First up was Neck vs Throat, the duo of Miguel and yol, playing with the lights on for full kid’s-birthday-party-at-local-church-hall effect:

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I needn’t say too much about this one as, amazingly, a video exists of the performance – filmed by Pete Cann (who, being an absolute darling, had come up from Leeds just for the afternoon) on his ‘phone.  Sound quality is hardly crystal but fuck that – it’s a document.

What truly boggled the noggin was how fluid and natural the partnership appeared.  Prior to that very afternoon the project had only existed as a transatlantic file swap.  Now it felt like a psychic connection, the product of long hours of rehearsal.  Miguel’s fingers-in-the-soundhole grappling, like a wheelbarrow of gravel being dropped into molasses, perfectly in sync with yol’s clattering, guttural retching and bleakly comic exhortations.

Next was Xazzaz and Mike treated us to the best set-that-wasn’t-Skull-Mask of the weekend.  As has already been noted, he forbids photography so all I have is this snap of his set-up, snatched prior to the show beginning:

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Mike used two (maybe three?) guitars and three (maybe four? Five?) amplifiers to create a drone/roar of ego-obliterating purity and intensity.  All the Xazzaz recordings I’ve heard have been exceptional but actually being there as it unfolds live was a shortcut to… I dunno?  Enlightenment?  For something as heavy as watching a gigantic dinosaur thrash its last and slowly sink into a tar pit it was a strangely life-affirming, awe-inspiring experience.  North-Eastern drone-metal of this quality is pretty much my favourite thing in all the world.  Fucking hell, I thought, I’ve got to follow that…

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…and so it came to pass.  I thanked all who were there and those involved in setting it up, had a quick word about the two tracks I was about to play – one inspired by a dismissal of our music by Miguel’s daughter, one a version of my track from a split CD-r I shared with Miguel, dedicated the set to him and… faded up a recording of my son snoring.  The rest was thick, chewy, throbbing drone at pleasingly high volume that would have gone entirely to plan if I could have stopped myself fiddling with the cut-off.  Anyway, it seemed to go down well and I was rubbery with relief once all was packed away.  Enjoyed the opportunity to bounce about on my seat too.

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Finally then: Culver and La Mancha Del Pecado.  Another unique opportunity to see a transatlantic tape-swap project in the flesh and this time the one that kicked it all off.  Miguel later told me that, like so many of us who end up in noise, he found himself looking for something without knowing exactly what that something was.  He discovered Skullflower, read up about it, saw Culver mentioned, found a rip of a CD-r in a shady spot on the internet, listened to it and heard the contents of his own head reflected back at him.  Soon they were collaborating on a series of beautifully sustained, utterly nihilistic, implacably menacing ‘horror drones’ and the rest is willpower and logistics.  This set was an absolute masterclass.

…and it wasn’t even 5pm.

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I have to admit that the evening programme back at Sage was something of a blur after that.  My highlights were the early doors sets from Usurper (above above) and Ashtray Navigations (above).

Surprising myself, I realised that this was the first time I had seen Ali and Malcy go at it live despite having heard many of their releases and eyeballing numerous zines and comics over the years (indeed, one of my collages can be found in Giant Tank Offline #4).  My usual reaction to their work – amused bewilderment – was swept away by a far more concrete admiration for the Dada lunacy of the performance.

For example: crouched under a table, each took a turn deliberately and repeatedly banging their head as if trying to get up and forgetting the obstacle above them.  I thought that the yellow objects taped to their heads were something like washing-up sponges to soften the blow but was later informed by Stuart Arnot (of Acrid Lactations, who was roped in to their gig at the last minute) that it was butter and that the stink in their hair afterwards was rank.  Idiocy or commitment to the art?  Or both?  Oh, you decide.

After the first few minutes of Ashtray Navigations starting, Miguel, who had been leaning on the stage, came over to shout in my ear…

Now I know why everyone loves them!

…and I had to grin because he was right: it was, from the off, a performance full of heart that encouraged a reciprocal response from an eager, affectionate crowd.  Phil pulled out one heart-stoppingly preposterous solo after another whilst Mel – resplendent in glittered Converse – held down the electronics and laughed at the site of Gretchen Guttersnipe and RFM’s own marlo eggplant wigging out front and centre.  Much as I enjoyed the bubbletroniks and nostril-flaring bombast I think my favourite track was a lengthy ambient piece halfway through during which Phil folded himself up and sat on the floor.  It was spacious and woozy but had a crisp brittleness to it that kept it fresh and engaging throughout.  Have I heard this before?  Probably, but I couldn’t name it.  Shameful, I know, considering my placing in the AshNav fan club.  What can I say?  I’m a big man, but I’m out of shape.

The evening culminated with me, Dan, Lisa and Sarah reconvening and rolling up to my second fringe event of the day.  This time at The Old Police Station (a venue I was told is ‘borrowed’ from the council?), a ten minute walk up the hill behind Sage.  The place was already full when we got there at about 1am and there was a great squat gig vibe with people spilling out into the street, sat on the pavement talking loudly, drinking and smoking.  For me it felt like travelling back in time 25+ years to my misspent youth in Brighton, a bittersweet feeling I was reluctant to embrace until someone appeared, like Scooter in the Muppet Show, shouted…

C’mon Miguel you’re on!

(or something like that) and we all piled in to a tiny front room to see Oppenheimer play.  Seriously, there must have been 30-40 people plus a four piece band in a space more suited to two sofas and a telly.  Once over the initial crush panic, it was awesome.

Oppenheimer are the aforementioned Jamie (drums), Lee (bass) and Mike (guitar), this night augmented with Miguel (also on bass) and they play, Christ, how to describe it?  Super-basic, long-form, thug-punk, primal-metal.  Whatever it is, it had the packed crowd bent at the waist, rocking in unison.  It is a crying shame that Mike doesn’t allow photos because when he was stepped on by a drunken and oblivious punter the look of lupine ferocity he threw was fucking terrifying.  I did get this pic of Jamie, Miguel and Lee though, which, as a piece of reportage, is my favourite of all the photos I took over the weekend.

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After the set I waved goodbye to my sweaty comrades and walked back to the hotel.  I put a music channel on the TV as I got ready for bed.  Every video looked like a film by Matthew Barney.  Lights out: 3am.

—ooOoo—

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On Sunday morning I felt exhilarated after the remarkable day before but old and tired after the late night.  Oof, I don’t intentionally go to bed at 3am ever nowadays.  Thus another war-on-the-buffet, gargantuan breakfast was warranted before I stumbled to Sage in order to meet Paul ‘Pops’ Margree, still of the We Need No Swords blog, who wished to interview me for his podcast.  I’d met Paul for the first time this weekend, we’d hit it off and were already chatting in a free and easy fashion.  However, when the tape recorder was switched on something stamped on a fuzz pedal between what I was thinking and what I was saying.  Oh well, here’s hoping he can salvage something coherent.

We adjourned upstairs to the Northern Rock Foundation Hall (where Voigt played) to see yol at midday.  This was easily the weirdest programming kink of the festival – both venue and timing – but a fair few people had turned up to see yol take his turn as headmaster-gone-wrong at the front of assembly.  The gig was intense, muscular, poised.  The venue adding a unusual theatricality to the bulging veins and growling stutters.  I always look around at the audience during a yol show, relishing the expressions of appalled fascination, but the stage lighting made it difficult to gauge reactions.  His comic timing was faultless though, plenty of half-laughs as we appreciated him diffusing the tension with a funny line then realising that what he had just said was easily as bleak, nihilistic even, as the rest of the performance.  To describe his total commitment to expressing his vision I need to reclaim a debased word and re-inflate it with meaning:  yol is an artist.

Feeling some trepidation about lasting the day I decided to accompany the men in black (Jamie, Mike, Lee, Miguel) back over the river and had a laugh walking with them through the Quayside market as far as my hotel.  I cocooned myself there until it was time to go see Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present.  Cuddling up with Joe Murray in the back row, this turned out to be a beautifully measured and life-affirming documentary about a charming and fascinating artist, surpassing all my (fairly high) expectations.  I loved it, and can only praise the transparency of the film-making – the director Tyler Hubby does an excellent job of standing back and allowing the story to be told by Conrad himself, a wise decision when your subject is such an intriguing raconteur.  With a voice and demeanour like a cross between William Burroughs and John Waters, Conrad chuckles through a life of iconoclasm, innovation and determination in a way that can’t help but be awe-inspiring.  There is also an hilarious section about what a total bell-end La Monte Young is.  I don’t want to get into any more detail about the content as you really should track this down – you’ll be rewarded.  The film was clearly a hit with Tuskers and provoked much discussion afterwards.  I was lucky enough to see Conrad live twice and boasted of it many times during the rest of the night.

During the evening programme I made the effort to give every act a fair shake, a decision made easier by the fact that my brain was shot and I found myself in a state of happy bewilderment wherever I was standing.  Highlights for me were probably Silent Servant and the final act Senyawa.

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Tall table for a short guy, eh?  Must share Dan’s back problems.  Silent Servant – American producer Juan Mendez – was notable for changing the atmosphere in Hall 2.  Suddenly all the middle-aged beardies (like myself) found themselves at a club night.  Advertised in the programme as ‘grinding, irresistible techno’ I actually best enjoyed the bits where he veered into Electronic Body Music territory – the kind of high camp, leather bound pounding that our Belgian friends were so good at in the late 80s.  yol was tempted in, amused by the prospect of seeing me dance, and guarded my handbag and coat whilst I stomped and flailed in tragic approximation of my twenty-something self.  The ‘pit’ of Hall 2 was soon lined with middle-aged beardies (like myself) leaning on the wall, sweating and clutching at their chests.  Whoo boy, haven’t danced for any length of time in a while.  The young and beautiful looked on in amusement.

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The last act on Sunday, and thus of the festival as a whole, was the Indonesian duo Senyawa.  Vocalist Rully Herman powered through a scouring range of timbres and techniques, hands grasping the mic stand or raised up in Black Metal claws.  Fuck me, the swagger on this dude.  Wukir Suryadi held his own playing an apparently hand-made instrument called the bambuwukir which resembled a giant phallus, stringed and pegged, which he could pick or bow to create anything from the most delicately augmented silence to brutal shredding.  I suspect they personify exactly the type of high-quality, cross-cultural, what-the-fuckery that TUSK wishes to promote and that their place on the bill was no accident.  Having them headline the whole shebang was programming genius.  After their set, under the cruel house lights, Lee Stokoe and I exchanged the kind of blasted/delighted look that Lee Etherington, creative director of TUSK, must design the festival to provoke.  Congratulations, mate – mission accomplished.

All that was left to do was say goodbye.  Handshakes were exchanged, gratitude expressed, Miguel was hugged, wished well, hugged again, wished well again but now with a distinct wobble in my voice.  I nearly fell down the stairs in my hurry to get into the fresh air.

We’ll see each other again sometime, right?

Yes.  We will.

—ooOoo—

Postscript:

a) We got home safely, as did Miguel.  Dan recovers.

b) Two Skull Mask tapes were made available to coincide with Miguel’s visit, one released by Invisible City Records (hello Craig) and one on Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head.  I’ve been listening to them as I typed this article and I reckon you should buy both.  Lee also has some rad Skull Mask t-shirts for sale.  Hit him up via the contact details on the Matching Head Discogs page.  All the discerning blog editors are wearing ’em – an Autumn wardrobe essential.

c) Last year the live-streamed sets from TUSK were made available after the event via the Archive page of the TUSK website.  I shall be keeping an eye on this, and on Lee Etherington’s Twitter feed (@tusk_music), in the hope of similar generosity with this year’s recordings.

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

dreams of fur and snow: ‘broadcast’ by daniel thomas

June 16, 2016 at 5:20 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Daniel Thomas – Broadcast (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR007, edition of 25 or download)

broadcast

[Editor’s note: a sudden and ferocious downpour of real-life has left me sodden recently and being dripping wet, stuck on the hall rug, makes it difficult to write. Now that I’ve finally managed to peel my socks off and drape ’em on the radiator, here’s a little something to keep you occupied whilst I squelch off to the bathroom and rub my baldy head with a towel. More from everyone soon.]

—ooOoo—

Noise/life juxtapositions are fun aren’t they? Earbuds snug, some ominous rumbling soundtracking your trot around the everyday. The purchase of a birthday card or a lunchtime mooch in the charity shops becomes otherworldly, post-apocalyptic. Sometimes it syncs just right and you feel like an underlying reality is being summoned to the surface, made visible.

For example, whilst listening to Daniel Thomas’s Broadcast for the umpteenth time an early morning walk to the dentist became a scene from They Live. I passed a crocodile of primary school children, all in charming fancy dress insect costumes, and felt sure that if I changed my usual specs for the sunglasses in my bag the purple skulls and ‘MARRY AND REPRODUCE‘ t-shirts of the cheerful adults accompanying them would be revealed. It’s that kind of recording.

However, despite being one of the more concrete/abstract of Dan’s releases, the buzz and crunch is surprisingly intimate and rewards careful appreciation with headphones. The composition has a lifting, enveloping, flowing quality – comforting or unnerving depending on the outside circumstances. Like drifting to sleep on crisp, freshly laundered cotton sheets only to wake later tangled and sweaty from dreams of fur and snow.

Hmmm… did I use the word ‘composition’? Fair enough, I suppose, knowing what I do about the meticulous care that goes into the construction of Dan’s music: the grain of each veneer matches perfectly, the joints are sanded, imperceptible. For those listeners not privy to the dank basement chambers of Castle Thomas, though, the working method must be a mystery. Leaving all talk of pot-twiddling and patch cables to one side, as I recommend we do, these tracks just seem to coalesce: like rain drops around dust motes.

Like galaxies.

—ooOoo—

Daniel Thomas

the 2014 zellaby awards

January 4, 2015 at 8:23 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

The deliberations are over, the ballots are burning.  White smoke billows from the chimney here at Midwich Mansions.  Ignore the salty wave of ‘best of 2014’ lists you saw prematurely ejaculated over an appalled December – here is the real thing. ‘Never finalised prior to January 1st’ – that’s the Zellaby pledge.

And what a conclave it has been!  Scott turned up early and presented his nominations as a hyperlinked series of Discogs listings – he spoke using a vocoder throughout and would only answer our questions if we assigned them catalogue numbers.  Joe’s effervescent enthusiasm remained undimmed despite a trip to Accident and Emergency following a foolhardy attempt to gargle Christmas tree baubles.  New kid Luke seemed happy to fetch and carry despite our hazing pranks – oh, how we laughed sending him to Wilko’s for a tub of left handed CD-rs!  All I had to do was sit in my wing-backed leather chair, fingers steepled, and pass Solomon-style judgement.  My beautiful Turkish manservant took copious notes during procedures, of course, and whilst those are being transcribed I’m afraid I must begin with some sombre news: the underground is dead.

An article making this claim by David Keenan was published in the December issue of The Wire magazine and caused adverse weather in the crockery.  Having finally read it I can confirm that it is, by and large, laughable.  The friend who sent me a copy included this note:

Here it is.  I will look forward to reading your response as it would be great to see his flimsy, self-obsessed nonsense getting torn apart.

Hmm, yeah, tempting as it is to to embark on a comprehensive rebuttal what does it really matter?  I hate to disappoint but engaging with the wilful fucknuttery to be found in publications like The Wire is like arguing about the properties of phlogiston – it might be of vague historical or semantic interest to those with too much time on their hands but is ultimately pointless.  My favourite response has been Tom Bench‘s (@TJDizzle) satirical summary of Keenan’s disdain, tweeted in reply to some genuine outrage from Duncan Harrison (@Young_Arms):

yr not tru underground because u have friends and sometimes talk to them about music

Lolz.

Some of the fallout has been quite interesting though.  Just before Christmas, RFM started getting hits from an Italian language music site that was, on investigation, carrying an interview with Keenan in which he is asked specifically about the idea of the ‘no-audience underground’ as popularised by this blog.  In his short response he manages to invent a barely recognizable straw man version of the notion, take a swing at it, miss, then step back as if he’d actually landed a punch.  Admittedly, Google Translate may have knocked some nuance out of his answer but, as I was able to read it, it was good for a hearty chuckle and fuck all else.

Phil Smith, currently researching the history of Termite Club for a book chapter, wrote a thoughtful piece largely agreeing with Keenan that contained the following tragicomic scene:

One of the saddest moments of the year for me (on a lovely day) was Neil Campbell & John Tree talking about whether there was ever in our lifetime likely to be a music revolution like (say) punk again (one which Keenan seems to want), & shaking their heads in total ‘of course not’ resignation, the required kidz soaked in computer games & all manner of other entertainment drips & (I suppose) music, whatever it signifies to people, only ever welling up in such a way as part of a business move anyway.

I laughed out loud reading this.  Not only have these rueful old geezers forgotten at least one revolution we’ve already had since punk (rave culture – musically game changing, actual laws passed to disrupt it) but the internet enabled golden age is orders of magnitude more significant than punk.  Here’s a piece from yonks ago which begins to explain why and, for good measure, here’s another from double-yonks ago about why The Wire is hopeless too.

Neil Campbell, emboldened by Keenan’s piece and nostalgic memories of poorly received gigs unearthed in response to Phil’s Termite research, ramped up his usual silliness.  On Twitter he lamented the lack of confrontation nowadays and took the piss with his #realnoaudienceunderground hashtag.  I was interested to find out if there was any substance behind his bravado so devised an experiment.  After waiting for Twitter to move on, I called Neil out on some random nonsense in a deliberately antagonistic manner.  As expected, fight came there none.  Indeed, after explaining what I was up to both publicly and via direct message (the latter, I admit, did contain the phrases ‘full of shit’ and ‘you ol’ fraud!’) I found myself unfollowed.  Ah well, so much for confrontation.

(Aside: Neil has form for practice/preach discrepancy.  After hearing him proclaim several times that he’d rather read a bad review than a good one I took him at his word and minced three Astral Social Club releases including the album Electric Yep.  I did this with heavy heart and even ran it past Neil before posting.  He replied with a jaunty ‘hey you know me, go ahead’ but after I did he deleted the RFM link from the list of friends on his Astral Social Club blog and has not submitted anything at all since.  I was amused to find myself excommunicated for heresy.  Ah well, so much for bad reviews.)

I get the impression that Neil might be a bit uneasy with his current status as universally loved sacred cow.  Or maybe he digs it and is frustrated not to be a Wire mag cover star?  Who knows?  I love the guy, have done for about fifteen years, and hate to jeopardise a friendship with a shameless ad hominem attack over something so inconsequential but… dude has clearly forgotten how to take a kick to the udders.

So, in summary: those that say they want confrontation don’t, or rather only want it on their own terms or at a safe distance, those that lament the lack of revolution need only to open their eyes to what is happening around them and those that proclaim the underground dead are talking pish.

Before moving on a word about terms of engagement.  Whilst I’ve enjoyed a few physical fights in the past (yeah, I may be short and out of shape but I’m fucking mental), I find this kind of swaggering jaw-jaw to be boring, childish and unproductive.  Comment if you like but unless what is posted is novel, substantial and engaging I am unlikely to respond.  I won’t be tweeting about it under any circumstances.  I have washed my hands and will need an irresistible reason to get ’em dirty again.

—ooOoo—

BOY!  WHERE ARE THOSE NOTES?  Oh, thank you.  Have a shortbread biscuit.  Right then, shall we crack on with the fun bit?

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents The Zellaby Awards 2014

Thank you for bearing with us.  Firstly, an apology: due to, y’know, austerity n’ that, this year’s ceremony will be taking place on the swings in the playground at the muddy end of the estate.  Nominations will be scratched into the paint of the railings and refreshments will be whatever cider Luke can prise from the grip of local vagrants.

Secondly, the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2014.  It does not need to have been released in 2014.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for any of my own releases, nor any releases that I had a hand in, er…, releasing (with one notable exception this year).  My three comrades are free to ignore these rules and write about what they like.  The price paid for this freedom is that I, as editor, have final say.  Thus the awards are the product of the idiosyncratic taste of yours truly with input from my co-writers along the way.

A couple of omissions explained.  Long term readers may be shocked to find no mention of previous winners Ashtray Navigations or the piss superstition.  Phil and Mel have been preoccupied this year with moving house, full time unenjoyment and various celebrations of the AshNav 20th anniversary and have not been as prolific as nutcase fans such as myself would like.  There has been one cassette of new material, Aero Infinite, which, to my shame, I only became aware of recently and do not yet own.  Believe me, the pain is fierce.  Bookies have already stopped taking bets on their planned four-disc retrospective winning everything next time out.

Julian and Paul have shared a split live tape with Broken Arm and had a CD-r, The Dialled Number, The Bone-Breaker, The Heavenly Sword, out on Sheepscar Light Industrial but, in my humble opinion, their defining release of 2014 was getting nothing to appear on the developed film, a mighty album which is sadly ineligible for this year’s awards because it was released by me on fencing flatworm recordings as their ‘prize’ for winning album of the year last time.  See, complicated isn’t it?

There are also many releases on the guilt-inducing review pile that I suspect could have been contenders had I found time to digest them properly: apologies to Ian Watson, Prolonged Version, Troy Schafer, Seth Cooke etc. and thanks for your continued patience.  For the first time, two entries in this year’s poptastic final chart are previously unreviewed on RFM.  Mysterious, eh?

OK, enuff with the preamble.  The first category is…

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

Joe votes for Yoni Silver:

I heard Yoni Silver play a solo bass clarinet set on November 1st this year. Over the course of 20 minutes I blinked repeatedly and snapped my fingers; my mouth hung open like a codfish and eventually my eyes filled with hot tears. I’d emerged from a jazz-hole that ranged from barely-there, reductionist ‘hummmm’, to wet-chop dribble/spittle outta the brassy pipes, to full-bore Ayler-esque gospel skronk. It was so good I didn’t just clap and holla…I vowed to start a record label to immediately box this shit up. Yoni’s discs are thin on the ground but live shows with proper jazz cats and beards like PWHMOBS are gathering pace. Watch out!

Luke goes for Botanist:

Ever fantasized about a forest dwelling black metal troll singing songs about plant life on drums and hammered dulcimer only?  Me too.  Well, fantasize no longer: he exists. Just when your jaded ears smugly tell you they’ve heard it all along comes the Botanist.

taming power - twenty-one pieces - cover

…but anyone paying attention will have already guessed that the winner this year is Taming Power.

I might have indulged in some ill advised Campbell-baiting above but I am profoundly grateful to Neil for taking the time to introduce me to the world of Askild Haugland.  This quiet Norwegian has amassed a sizeable back catalogue of tape and vinyl releases on his own Early Morning Records, most of which were recorded, edited and annotated around the turn of the century and have remained largely unheralded since.  His work – created using tape recorders, cassette players, shortwave radios, electric guitars and the like – is perfection viewed from shifting angles, filtered through prisms.  His patience and dedication to uncovering every nuance of his processes are truly inspiring.  It has been an enormous pleasure to promote his music to a (slightly) wider audience – exactly what this blog is all about.  The chap himself seems lovely too.  Read more: Neil’s accidental guest post, reviews, more reviews, Early Morning Records catalogue.

…and when you return we can move on to…

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

Joe makes a compelling case for the Peak Signal 2 Noise broadcasts:

If Cathy Soreny and her Sheffield-based gladiators had released ten 25 minute compilation tapes in a year featuring the creamy froth of the N-AU we’d stand to attention and sing a rousing song. To create ‘visual cassettes’ for your telly and computer screen and navigate the machinations of the community TV industry and come up with such a thoroughly curated, imaginatively shot and god-damn funny series is just the bee’s knees. PS2N has opened another glossy window into the N-AU.

Luke keeps it pithy:

The Stokoe Cup should clearly go to Lee Stokoe.  ‘The underground is dead ‘ announces David Keenan in The Wire this month ‘shut up you prat’ is the reply from Radio Free Midwich.

Scott agrees:

Predictable enough, I HAVE to say Lee Stokoe. Browsing my discogs list for 2014 acquisitions it’s virtually all Matching Head tapes – either the new ones or tapes from the 90s that I didn’t already have. Its consistent to the point of sheer ridiculousness.

daniel thomas - that which

However, the editor has other ideas.  This year’s winner is Daniel Thomas.

Dan’s output in 2014 has been prodigious.  He even wins in two categories that don’t exist: ‘1016’ the opener on Enemy Territory is my track of the year (go on, play it whilst reading the rest of this article) and the ‘flower press’ edition of That Which Sometimes Falls Between Us / As Light Fades put together by Dave Thomas (no relation) for its release on Kirkstall Dark Matter wins packaging of the year too.  The latter album is perhaps the definitive expression of ‘extraction music‘ – the sub-genre I defined as a way of herding the work of Dan, Dave, Kev Sanders and other fellow travellers into a manageable fold of headspace – and one of at least three projects involving Dan that could have been album of the year.  For the record, the other two are Hagman’s Number Mask on LF Records and the remarkable Dub Variations by The Thomas Family in another beautiful package hand crafted by Crow Versus Crow:

It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb.

Dan shows no signs of slowing, nor of relinquishing his choke-tight quality control.  I cannot wait to hear what he has for us in 2015.

…and now a favourite moment for the editor:

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Scott goes for a far-flung ambassador:

It has to be Miguel Pérez.  For making RFM a global concern, and being full of passion, he’s the man.

Joe, as ever, finds this a tough one to pin down.  He suggests…

…we should say a thank you to all the readers and contributors … to everyone who has waited patiently for a review/carried on reading without sending us hate mail…

…which is a sentiment I share, of course, but this year I think one particular set of contributors has to be recognized in this category.  God knows how 27 different acts are going to share the gong though because the winners are…

Michael Clough - eye for detail cover

The artists who submitted tracks to eye for detail – the midwich remixes album:

Andy Jarvis (Vile Plumage, NIHL), ap martlet, Aqua Dentata, Breather, Brian Lavelle, Chrissie Caulfield (of RFM faves Helicopter Quartet), Clive Henry, Dale Cornish, Daniel Thomas, devotionalhallucinatic, DR:WR (Karl of The Zero Map), dsic, foldhead (Paul Walsh – who accidentally started it all), Hardworking Families (Tom Bench), In Fog (Scott McKeating of this parish), John Tuffen (of Orlando Ferguson), Michael Clough (who also provided cover art), Michael Gillham, Neil Campbell (Astral Social Club), Panelak, Paul Watson (BBBlood), posset (Joe Murray also of RFM), Simon Aulman (pyongyang plastics), the piss superstition, Van Appears, Yol, and ZN.

This year I finally joined Twitter which, as a wise-cracking, smart-arse, mentally unstable narcissist with self-esteem issues, turned out to be a perfect platform for me (though for those exact same reasons I think I’ll have to exercise a bit more caution with it in future).  One of the first things that happened was a throwaway comment about a midwich remix project ballooning into an actual album that had to be retroactively called into existence.  The final release six weeks later contained 27 re-workings of tracks from my back catalogue and lasted a total of 3 hours 40 minutes.  The process was humbling, exhilarating, joyful and unprecedented in my personal experience.

The album remains available here (along with more detail as to its construction).  If you don’t already have it, I recommend you treat yourself with that Christmas money from Gran.  I’m charging a fiver for the download and all dough raised is being given to The Red Cross.  The total donated so far, after PayPal and Bandcamp fees, is something like £180.  When I reached a ton I had a giant-cheque-handing-over-ceremony, again following whims blurted out on Twitter.

Many, many thanks to all involved – you are elite members of the pantheon of the righteous.

—ooOoo—

BOY!!  DIM THE LIGHTS.  What?  Oh yes, we’re outside aren’t we.  Fetch me a shortbread biscuit then.  What do you mean there are none left?  Well, just give me the one you are holding.  Gah!  The impertinence!  Anyway, finally we come to the two main categories…

—ooOoo—

2. The Label of the Year Award

Joe goes for No Basement is Deep Enough:

You could easily mistake No Basement is Deep Enough’s tape goof for a zany Zappa-esque prank. But peel away the layers; brush the fringe to one side, open that single plush tit and you are rewarded with some amazing music. Almost like a wonky Finders Keepers NBIDE have unveiled some new ghouls and re-released some remarkable old gizzards (Alvaro – The Chilean with the Singing Nose, Ludo Mich and Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson) in frankly outrageous packaging. Old or new, experimental classicists or gutter-dwelling hobo these gonks are pure trippin’ for ears.

Yeah, I’ve been involved as a one of these gonks this year but I think that means I can give you an extra bit of insight into how curator Ignace De Bruyn and designer Milja Radovanović are such wonderful human beings. I told them about getting some mentions in The Wire (Ed – you’ll love this) and they didn’t give a shit. “Ha, we always get mentioned in The Wire without any clue how, what, where, when” said Ignace, “and let’s keep it like that” he chortled into his waffle.

Luke narrows it down to two:

Beartown Records.  A consistent champion of no audience sounds and nice and cheap, they sent me a parcel addressed to Luke ‘ the sick’ Vollar which contained a postcard with ‘sorry just sorry’ written on it.  For this reason they are my label of the year.

Also a mention for Altar of Waste.  I find it comforting to know that somewhere in North America there is a guy called Cory Strand transforming his favourite films / TV programmes / music into insanely limited and lovingly presented sets. Twenty disc drone interpretation of Harry Potter limited to five copies!? He also releases loads of drone/HNW discs that are lovely items to look at and listen to including my album of the year [SPOILER REMOVED – Ed]

Scott apologises:

Sorry, Matching Head again.

Luminous worthies, for sure, but I reckon my choice has been phosphorescent:

kevin sanders - ascension through apathy

The winner is hairdryer excommunication.

The solo venture of Kevin Sanders has released, I believe, 26 items in the calendar year 2014.  Unbelievably, during the same time, he has also had his creations released by other labels, has played live, has moved house and job along a lengthy diagonal line from North to South and has let fly with a gazillion opaque tweets.  This guy’s heart must beat like a fucking sparrow’s.

But never mind the girth, feel the quality.  Kev’s hairdryer excommunication sits alongside Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head as an absolute exemplar of the no-audience underground micro-label as expression of personal vision.  Each release is a new page in the atlas mapping the world he is presenting to us; each trembling drone, each nihilistic/ecstatic scything fuzz is a contour line.  Like all great labels, hXe is greater than the sum of its parts and only gets more compelling as those parts collect and combine.  I appreciate that this might appear daunting for the newbie so here’s five to be starting with – you’ll thank me for it.

Now you see why I have to strictly enforce my ‘win allowable in only one category’ rule.  I could have created a top 40 (!) that just contained releases by, or involving, Askild, Dan and Kev.  Astonishing.  So, leaving those guys sat chatting under the climbing frame, we finally come to the blue riband, best in show, gold medal event:

1. The Album of the Year Award

Woo!  Lists!  Click on the album title and you will be taken to the original RFM review (if such a thing exists) or another applicable page (if not) where you will find details of the release (label, whatnot) and, most importantly, how to go about hearing/purchasing these marvels.

First to the lectern is Mighty Joe Murray:

It’s taken a real effort to whittle this down but here’s my top 5 in order:

faint people

1. The New Band of the Faint People – The Man Who Looked at the Moon

Keep yr Wounded Nurse. These micro-pieces are stitched together with a domestic hand juggling fly agaric.

2. Rotten Tables, Golden Meat – My Nose is Broken

This cheeky release opened a new stomach pouch and gassed itself in…yeasty and fruity. Biggest smiles of the year.

3. Pascal – Nihilist Chakai House

It goes, “tk tk tk tk tk …. po/po/po – ping.” Blistering like hot metal pipes; fragile like seaweed.

4. Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget

Stream-of-consciousness becomes conscious itself…a living, breathing music as fresh as green parsley.

5. CKDH – Yr Putrid Eyeballs/Fungal Air Creeping Adders

The most violently restrained listen of the year by a long shot. Needle sharp. Music to break radios.

Scott briefly interjects:

skullflower - draconis

Skullflower – Draconis

As sylph-like a heavyweight as you’re ever likely to hear.

Now over to the office junior Luke:

Album of the year…

midwich - the swift cover

Midwich – The Swift

Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?!  Madness. [Editor’s note: ha! What is more shameful? Luke sucking up to his editor or me for publishing it?  Yes, I know its me – shut up.]

The rest:

Spoils & Relics – Embed and then Forget
culver & posset – black gash
Skullflower – Draconis
Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus
Robert Ridley Shackleton / Werewolf Jerusalem / She Walks Crooked – April Fools
Ashtray Navigations  – Aero Infinite
Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg
Dylan Nyoukis – Yellow Belly
Ezio Piermattei – Turismodentale

..and last of all, to your faithful editor.  I have chosen twenty items (well, twenty three including cheats).  The first half are presented in no particular order, the second set in the traditional ‘top ten run down’ ending with the actual, objectively verified best album of the year.  In my opinion.

10. NIHL / Female Borstal / Dear Beloved Henry / Albert Materia

female borstal nihl splitdear beloved henry

The perils of the split tape, eh?  I dug the Female Borstal side of the former, sadly didn’t get on with Albert Materia on the latter.  However the sides by NIHL and Dear Beloved Henry were bloody marvellous and, if they’d appeared on the same object would have rocketed up these rankings.  So I’m imagining an ideal world in which they did.  NIHL got a haiku:

Seduced by darkness

beyond guttering arc-light –

like moths, like dead souls.

Praise for Dear Beloved Henry – equally heartfelt, less formatting:

…deceptively simple in execution: a flowing electronic drone groove with a vaguely East Asian feel – like 1970s Krautrock that has been listening to a bunch of gamelan LPs – works through the variations.  However, every so often a magnetic pull distorts it off course and adds an intriguing, complicating layer of discordance.  It’s like it was mastered to VHS and someone is now messing with the tracking.  Is this an artefact of duping it to an old recycled tape or is this woosiness wholly intended?  The result is magical either way.

9. Helicopter Quartet – Leading Edges

helicopter quartet - leading edges

 …the album expresses a profound vision with an austere but soulful beauty.  Imagine a slate-blue version of Ashtray Navigations psychedelics or a restrained take on the intensity of, say, Swans without the self-loathing bombast. The band may jokingly self-describe as ‘semi-melodic mournfulness’ but this is a deeply serious music with, I think, plenty to say about the difficult, forlorn, wonderful, awe-inspiring condition we find ourselves in.

…Helicopter Quartet are, to my tired ears, a near-perfect example of how musicianship can be harnessed in a noise context.  Chrissie and Mike balance their considerable skills with an understanding of how to use noise to pluck the soul of the listener and have it vibrate with a slightly discordant, emotionally complicated, seriously intended, profoundly satisfying resonance.

8. Sophie Cooper – Our Aquarius

sophie cooper - our aquarius

 

When I wrote in the RFM Christmas message to the nation…

To be transported by a work of art – to be lifted from yourself, your surroundings and placed elsewhere for the duration – is a profound experience and, as someone who has trouble with self-sabotaging mental illness, one that I greatly appreciate. Catch me right and the bus to work is swapped for a magic carpet skimming the treetops. Find me in a susceptible mood and waiting at a pedestrian crossing becomes standing at the bedside of an elderly relative, brimful with a mixture of love and trepidation. Listening to music pans the muddy water sloshing inside my head, nuggets of gold and squirming, glistening creatures are uncovered. It – thus: you – is a constant source of revelation, of insight and of inspiration.

…it was no coincidence that I had been listening to this album a lot.  My apologies to Sof for not getting around to reviewing it but, hey, Uncle Mark did over at Idwal Fishers.  The cad suggests that it is ‘by no means a flawless release’ but if he dare repeat that in my vicinity I shall strike his cheek with my glove.

7. Stuart Chalmers – imaginary musicks vol. 1

stuart chalmers - imaginary musiks vol 1

The world his music describes is fully formed and the listener’s experience of it is immersive and ego-dissolving but carefully placed ticks – a filter echo, a moment of dictaphonic skwee – bring you back to the surface by foregrounding its artificiality. It’s like a South Sea Islands version of Philip K. Dick’s Time out of Joint. Imagine walking on the golden beach, admiring the dancing palms, looking out over the glassy ocean to the setting sun only for it all to suddenly disappear and be replaced with a featureless white room and a scrap of paper at your feet with the words ‘tropical paradise’ typed on it. As with all the very best stuff: the more I listen to it, the more I want to listen to it.

6. The Skull Mask – Nocturno Mar / Sunburn

skull mask - nocturno marskull mask - sunburn

Another terrific year for the prolific Miguel Pérez, RFM’s Mexican cousin.  From the bloody-minded free noise of his improv duo ZN to the incense-and-bitumen ritual drone of The Will of Nin Girima (released on new label-to-watch Invisible City Records), I doubt a week has passed without me spending some time in his company.

My favourite of his projects is The Skull Mask and these two recordings were released either side of Miguel’s return to acoustic guitar.  The former is made of enveloping, tidal drones containing half-submerged reversed vocals.  It can prove oppressively menacing or hypnotically soothing depending on your mood as you encounter it.  Just like the night sea it is named for.  The latter is ravaged, desert psychedelia improvised with raw acoustic guitar.  There is no shade under which Miguel, or the listener, can hide – this is completely exposed music and is riveting.

5. Yol – Headless Chicken Shits out Skull Shaped Egg

yol - headless chicken

From the preamble to a review by Joe:

For the uninitiated Yol has carefully and modestly created his own footnote in the frantic world of kinetic poetry.  Imagine tiny fragile words battered with broken bottles.  Innocent syllables and posh sibilance swashes getting clotted and clumped together.  Those classy phonics all chopped up and smashed; ground out like spent fags and stuttered wetly in a barely controlled rage…

Musical accompaniment is of the most primitive and brutal kind.  Forget the chest-beating Harsh Noise dullards, this is frighteningly naked and exposed.  Short blasts of destruction come from broken machinery, sheared plastic shards, bits of old hoover and burnt cutlery.  A more dicky commentator would say recordings are made in carefully selected site specific locations.  The truth?  Yol’s breaking into empty factory units and shouting his rusty head off.

4. Spoils & Relics – Sins of OmissionEmbed and then Forget

spoils and relics - sins of omissionembedandthenforget

The closest the RFM staff come to ‘critical consensus’.  I can’t decide which of these releases I prefer so you are getting ’em both.  From my review of the former:

Their music denies narrative … The palette used is a largely abstract selection of found, domestic and field recordings as well as sound produced by the various electronic implements that make up their ‘kit’.  The source of any given element is usually (and presumably deliberately) unclear.  They are examining the innards of everything, poking around where noise happens and taking notes.  It is more akin to the meta-musical experiments of AMM and their progeny.

Don’t be scared off – this music is not dry and scratchy, it is layered with humour (ranging from the wry raised eyebrow to banana skin slapstick), tension and a whip-smart self-awareness that speaks of the telepathic relationship between the band members when performing.  A piece by Spoils & Relics is about sound in the same way a piece by Jackson Pollock is about paint.

From Joe’s review of the latter:

There is a constant flow of ideas all itchy with life; reminding me of a similar feeling – running your finger over a gravestone, nails gouging the names.  I’m caught up in a multi-sensory melting of meaning into a constant ‘now’ … Listeners who favour that hi-fidelity will be delighted.  Beards who dwell in the no-fi world of clanking tape jizz are going to be entranced.  Skronk fans will be be-calmed.  Zen droners will wake up refreshed and sharp.

3. Ap Martlet – Analog Computer

ap martlet - analog computer

The title is perfect – it calls to mind a room-sized, valve-run difference engine humming with contented menace.  These three tracks seem less compositions than iterations of an algorithm set in motion by a wonky punchcard being slotted into the machine upside-down.  ‘Comdyna’ and ‘Thurlby’ are both rhythmic in an abstract sense – the latter being a low impact step aerobics class for retired ABC Warriors, the former an exercise in patience and discipline as a series of low-slung tones are held until they start to feedback, then released, then repeated.  The final track, ‘Heathkit’, is a coruscating, brain-scouring, fuzz-drone.  It is the kind of sound that in a workshop you would wear ear protectors to dampen but here it is presented for our contemplation and admiration.

2. culver – plague hand

culver - plague hand tapes

[Editor’s note: a sudden attack of prudishness has stopped me from reproducing the covers of this release.  Scans can be found accompanying the original review.]

I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver, a twin tape set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

[Editor’s second note: Lee later told me that this is in fact all one track with various movements.  Just so as you know.]

…and the winner of the Zellaby Award for Album of the Year 2014 is:

1. Aqua Dentata – The Cygnet Procambarus

aqua dentata - cygnet procambarus

My review took the form of a science fiction (very) short story.  Eddie’s music does that kind of thing to your head.  Here it is:

In some future hospital you are recovering from a horrible accident. Within a giant glass vitrine, you are suspended in a thick, healing gel – an amniotic fluid rich in bioengineered enzymes and nanotech bots all busy patching you up. From the waist down you are enmeshed in metal, a scaffold of stainless steel pins keeping your shape whilst the work continues. The first twenty minutes of Eddie’s half hour describes your semi-conscious state of prelapsarian bliss, played out over dark undertones of bitter irony: every moment spent healing is, of course, a moment closer to confronting the terrible event that put you there.

During the final ten minutes the tank empties, bizarrely, from the bottom up. Pins are pushed from healing wounds and tinkle and clatter as they collect below you. Attending staff shuffle nervously but maintain a respectful distance and near silence. As the gel clears your head, your eyes slowly peel open, the corners of your mouth twitch. You look out through the glass at the fishbowled figures in the room. You weakly test the restraints you suddenly feel holding you in place, and with a sickening flash it all comes back and you rememb———

No-one in what this blog lovingly refers to as the ‘no-audience underground’ is producing work as consistently brilliant as Eddie Nuttall. The back catalogue of his project Aqua Dentata – growing with the alien beauty and frustrating slowness of a coral reef – contains not a wasted moment. His work – quiet, long-form dronetronics with metallic punctuation – is executed with the patience and discipline of a zen monk watching a spider construct a cobweb.  Best dressed man to feature on this blog too.

—ooOoo—

So, that is that.  Eddie’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for Aqua Dentata to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2015.  I’ll keep you posted on negotiations.

Oh, and should any of you be interested in how this blog does – y’know, number of hits and all that – I’ve made the annual report provided by WordPress public and you can see it here.

Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.  All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2015.

 

midwichmas: live at the radiofreemidwich 5th birthday shindig

December 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Radio Free Midwich 5th Birthday Shindig: Hagman, Human Combustion Engine, midwich, UK Muzzlers, forgets live at Wharf Chambers, Leeds, 29th November 2014

nov 29th gig poster

So, yeah, it was a blast. Thanks to all who came and special, glowing thanks to Mitch of forgets who put it together then allowed me to hijack his efforts for my self-congratulation. All the sets were terrific and, despite the usual pre-gig nerves and some (fully justified) technical worries about crackling pots, I couldn’t be happier with how mine turned out.  Good crowd too, despite ‘rival’ gigs nearby (PAH! <spits on floor> I HAVE NO RIVALS! <short pause, sheepishly looks around, cleans up spit>). Some of my typically half-arsed and incompetent photo-journalism follows below. Let’s face it, I was only really concerned that my t-shirt and balloon were documented…

Oh, and in reply to the two comrades who wondered if this was now going to be an annual event the answer is: no, not unless each year another benefactor wants to come along and organize it for me. That said, my vanity did bubble to the surface on receipt of this riff from Eddie Nuttall of Aqua Dentata:

I propose Midwichmas as a name for this. Midnight mass on Midwichmas Eve can adopt a tradition of no carol singing, but perhaps a 4-hour recital of sine waves, bowed baking trays, and warpy cassette hiss. This can be followed by the traditional exchange of photocopied collages, also known as Midwichmas cards.

On Midwichmas morning all the children will excitedly gather round the Midwichmas Tree (a petrified oak) to exchange CDRs in edition of 7 or something, usually recorded an hour or so prior. These are presented in the traditional Midwichmas wrapping paper substitute, heavily weathered Poundland Jiffy bags that have been recycled across England half a dozen times or more.

A traditional afternoon Midwichmas film would perhaps be like a Christmas film, but probably substituting Bing Crosby for Duncan Harrison.

Heh, wouldn’t that be glorious, eh?

OK, on with the showbusiness…

hagman 29-11-14

Trowser Carrier had to cancel (trapped in a giant laundry basket, apparently) so Hagman kicked off by recreating the pose from every other photo I’ve ever taken of Dave and Dan Thomas (no relation) ever.  Their set was a gruff, bassy, throb – like the hot breath of a big cat as it licks you with its sandpaper tongue.  I swayed purposefully.

human combustion engine 1 29-11-14human combustion engine 2 29-11-14

Human Combustion Engine (Mel and Phil of Ashtray Navigations) teased out some tangerine psyche-synth with semi-improvised power moves.  I slapped my thighs in time with the pulse.  Occult science.

…and then:

it's showtime folks

…it was SHOWTIME folks!

midwich 29-11-14

I thanked everyone for their support and played a 20 minute set comprising two new ‘songs’.  These have been recorded and will be released alongside their live versions on my Bandcamp site soon.  You will be kept informed.  About three minutes in I remembered the helium balloon I had stashed under my table and releasing it (see pic above) got a ripple of amused applause.  This moment was such a coup de théâtre that my friend Alice later said it was…

…better than the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Surely, no rational observer could disagree.

A word about my rad t-shirt.  The logo reads ‘Sonic Circuits’ and the tagline runs thus: ‘Avant Garde Music For The No Audience Underground’.  Yes!  My philosophy vindicated with leisurewear!  These garments were produced in celebration of the Sonic Circuits Festival 2014, organised by the genre-busting promoters of the same name based in Washington, DC.  My twitter bro’ and extraordinary digi-crate-digger Phong Tran (@boxwalla) appears to have convinced ’em that the slogan was bang on and, in return for lifting the idea, a shirt winged its way across the Atlantic.  So cool.  Fits real nice too.

uk muzzlers 29-11-14

Next were ‘headliners’ UK Muzzlers.  Neil Campbell and John Clyde-Evans played caveman Oi! over a hilarious tape collage.  There was much whooping, thumping and brute racket.  It was as if Happy Flowers had grown up but were still refusing to take their medication.  The future of rock and roll, possibly.

forgets 3forgets 2 - mitchforgets 1 - kroyd's notes

Finally, Mitch, who organised the night, and Kroyd, who’d been on the door, dropped their admin roles, took to the stage and brought the evening to a close as forgets.

The noise purists don’t like this…

…Kroyd began, and, looking at the half dozen people who remained in the room, he clearly had a point. The throng appreciating UK Muzzlers had melted away into the ‘beer garden’, the bar or had sprinted for last trains and buses leaving just this attentive elite. Ah bollocks to the lot a’ya – I fucking love this band. This is what they do: Kroyd tells stories and recites semi-improvised prose poetry whilst Mitch soundtracks it with improv noise guitar. A comrade who shall remain nameless worried that Kroyd’s observations were ‘hit and miss’, which I concede, but it all adds to the cumulative effect of the performance. People who put their heads around the door and think ‘hmmm don’t fancy this’ are missing out on sharp, funny, sometimes very moving stories and, quite often, a fantastic crescendo of flailing, bewildered despair that tops out the set. I recommend sitting the fuck down and listening.

…and that was that so we packed up, said our goodbyes and tumbled out onto the street. Dan Thomas, taking pity on a tired old man who’d been up since 4.30am caring for his boy, made sure I got home safely.  In the morning Thomas had a shiny helium balloon to play with…

—ooOoo—

Hagman

Human Combustion Engine

midwich

UK Muzzlers (dunno – try via Astral Social Club)

forgets

Wharf Chambers

Sonic Circuits

 

tension, balance, possibility: the thomas family’s dub variations

November 11, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Thomas Family – Dub Variations (CD, Crow Versus Crow, CVC001, edition of 100 or download)

thomas family completethomas family under constructionthomas family insert

First, the specifications:

Three seamlessly segued tracks, all around quarter of an hour long (two over, one under), released on a properly pressed CD, in an edition of 100, by Andrew Wild’s Crow Versus Crow imprint. The packaging is impressive and will be accounted for below. The brothers responsible for the content are Daniel Thomas and Dave Thomas (no relation) better known ’round these parts for their duo Hagman, for their solo recordings and for their efforts with the labels Sheepscar Light Industrial, Cherry Row and Kirkstall Dark Matter. Eyes right for links.

Second, the music:

This piece is the tension between delicate epicycles of electronic noise and the ruinous discipline needed to control the technology that produces them. It is the bead of sweat on the brow of the tightrope walker. It is a time-lapse film of dew condensing onto a cobweb. Existing as it does at the point where the needle touches red, it is saved from straying into a squall of feedback by, seemingly, sheer willpower alone. The chaps are only human though and despite (because of?) this effort artefacts still bubble to the surface. For example, around the ten minute mark a silvered ping leapt out of the dark and made me jump, like a face at the window. It is repeated, quieter, and thus possibly becomes music…

Punctuating the rumble are squeaks and trills that I assume are field recordings of avian chatter, though the context suggests poorly lubricated machinery lifting cages full of nervous workers back up a seemingly endless mineshaft. Later these squeaks become the sound of sneakers on a basketball court as two multi-limbed robots square off under gigantic air conditioning units. Each seat of the stadium is occupied by a silent mannequin, head bowed – those on the right, dressed as Dave, those on the left dressed as Dan…

…and then, sometime into the final track, there is the beat. Now, being one of the core members of the ‘extraction music’ elite (the ‘distillate’?) I was privy to an interesting peek behind the curtain. Apparently the Thomas boys had a difference of opinion about this aspect of the album: Dave thought it was unnecessary, Dan was all for it. I shall account for it thus: imagine the mannequins slowly looking up towards the end of the match. Dan’s robot is winning! The Dannequins nod in unison to express their approval whilst the disconsolate Daves shake their heads mournfully from side to side: no, no, no. In doing so the ‘crowd’ adds a percussive pattern to the remainder of the album.

In summary: this is fucking great.

Third, the package:

Quoting Andy, these CDs are

…housed in hand-stamped recycled card ‘no glue’ sleeves, with full colour 24x12cm artwork by Crow Versus Crow…

…which is a humble description of a satisfyingly tactile, beautiful object. It looks like its own future deluxe reissue – fallen to us through a space/time wormhole from an alternate reality where Dan and Dave garner mainstream worship and Pink fucking Floyd have to shoplift CD-rs to put out their shit. The guy has clearly invested a great deal of time, effort and, presumably, money into this project but, admirably, has not let his own highly developed aesthetic sensibilities overwhelm the music. Thus medium and the message are balanced and mutually enhancing.

Fourth, the conclusion:

What we have here is a foundation document, an ur text, for this year’s most talked about sub-genre ‘extraction music‘. The album was recorded way before the term became common parlance on every street corner and was released way after. Hearing it is as mysterious and exciting as finding a previously missing explanatory introduction to the Voynich Manuscript.

A truly essential purchase.

—ooOoo—

Crow Versus Crow

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