writing on drugs about not writing on drugs

July 13, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 2 Comments


Long story short: The year began with a minor dip in my mental health coinciding with a virus caught at work.  An unbroken four months of further physical illnesses caused a deepening of my depression and a strengthening of the accompanying anxiety.  As a result I have been ill for the whole of 20-fucking-15 so far and have been off work for weeks.

The latest stroke of bad luck is that a new medication I have been prescribed alongside my existing pharmaceutical regime has left me unhelpfully zonked.  Appointments to discuss results/dosage/alternatives are in the offing but in the meantime my brain is as worryingly hot as an off-brand ‘phone charger.  Luckily there is nothing in it to catch fire.  Seriously, you know that overclocked, whining noise that a car reversing uphill makes?  That’s my current waking experience.

The upshot is that I am not writing and the output of this blog will slow.  Apologies to all concerned.  More from my comrades will follow as and when I get around to formatting it, but I’m sitting out for a while.

For any new readers visiting due to the mention in Ashtray Navigations/Yorkshire Psych articles in The Wire I’d recommend looking at the ‘about us…’ page then reading down through the last few review pieces to the article on what I mean by the term ‘no-audience underground’.  That should give y’all the flavour.

I’ll still be larking about on Twitter and all emails are answered eventually.

With love, Rob H x



blowholes flaring: happy harshcore from robin foster

June 23, 2015 at 11:11 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon (download, say cheese and die)

Robin Foster – ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB (download, say cheese and die)


Regular readers of this blog will know of my troubles with depression and, more lately, anxiety.  I am suffering at the moment: what seemed at first to be a mild dose around Christmas took firm hold during four months of rolling physical illness and I am now proper fucked.  A coincidental run of poor luck has only exacerbated matters.  So what can I do?  Hmmm… I know!  I’ll count my blessings and cheer up.

Any fellow sufferer will shudder and/or crack a rueful smile at that last line.  Heartfelt sympathy from the well intentioned is often harder to deal with than simple, uncaring ignorance.  Any antediluvian HR idiot who tries that ‘well, we all get tired’ bullshit gets a curt and well-rehearsed critical beatdown from me and is banished from the room with a face like a well-slapped arse.  But what do you say to a friend or loved one who is genuinely, if ham-fistedly, trying to help:

You have so much to live for!  Your life is great!

…yeah, and yet I feel like this so why go on?

But what to you have to be depressed about?!

…you are mixing up two meanings of the word.  I’m not depressed about something, I’m ill.  Would you ask someone with diabetes what they have to be diabetic about?

…and so on.  I’ve had polite, firm-but-gentle versions of this conversation many times over the years and it is getting easier as understanding of the condition widens and deepens.  However, just recently I’ve been acting on a revelatory suggestion from my counsellor: maybe I should acknowledge what I have to live for.  Maybe I should count my blessings.  Maybe I could even pussyfoot around the idea of ‘cheering up’…

The idea goes something like this.  I can’t stop having these thoughts and feelings but I do have some control over how I react to them.  Consciously fighting them off is one tactic but can prove counter-productive.  The illness loves a pagga because even if I win it knows I’ll be in a weakened state for the return bout.  Depression doesn’t mind playing a long game.  Better perhaps to crowd it out, to fill the headspace available with more positive thoughts.  It’s akin to the much debated tactic of ‘no-platforming’ a political opponent – sure, I can’t ban you from expressing abhorrent opinions but you won’t be doing it at my rally – and each time the grimness is denied and the positive celebrated the latter is reinforced.  Conversations with my counsellor have followed this pattern:

So how have you been?

Well, mostly pretty bad, I’m afraid.

‘Mostly’, not all?

I guess there have been a few good things, amongst the bad thi…

Let me stop you there – tell me about those good things.

On my own I have, somewhat sheepishly I admit, been consciously, literally (even out loud sometimes) counting my blessings:

1. Anne and Thomas, 2. radiofreemidwich, 3. jam doughnuts…


It doesn’t work all the time but it feels like steps in the right direction – into the light, away from the dark….

*Phew*, anyway, forgive me, it helps to write it down.  The 500 words above was meant to be a brief introduction to a few reviews of what could be called ‘joyful noise’ and an explanation of why I might be receptive to a bit of cheering up at the moment.  Shall we crack on?

Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB

The charming Robin Foster got back in touch at the start of the year to steer me towards his new Bandcamp site (all aliases are his) and introduce his notion of ‘Happy Harshcore’ which he described in an email as:

…basically harsh noise without the dead babies and Nazi themes.

I was tickled by this as his label is perilously close to ‘happy sadcore’, one of the mythical sub-genres that Chris Morris used to befuddle witless interviewees when talking about the mythical drug ‘cake’ on Brass Eye (I think).  Heh, heh – every possibility in music will have its day.  I downloaded a bunch and… lost them down the back of the hard-drive for six months.  Mea culpa.  Anyway, their rediscovery was at an opportune moment.

Shitty Noise Moon is eleven genre-spanning short tracks from Robin’s fun-fur lined studio.  Kinda like one of my toddler’s energetic crayon drawings converted to electrostatic squigglecore.  Like the chatter of noise-punk dolphins disgusted at the new age appropriation of their culture and reclaiming the sea for break-fin, blowhole-flaring racket – that dreamy sunset poster mum and dad are on can fuck off.  Like groaning, out-of-phase EVP muttered by a spook bumping along the virtual fences of the Ghostbusters containment facility.  Plenty to make the listener smile here – not least the invitation to join a recording of a family enjoying what sounds like a backyard display of home-made fireworks.

Despite the title, the seven tracks of noise improv that comprise ADHD NEOWZ are longer and at least as coherent (make of that what you will) as those on …Moon.  Perhaps this album is its older brother, perhaps the Ritalin is starting to have some effect?  A couple of these tracks are addled and Usurperish, some feature a nostalgic gristly throb.  The best of it is paddling in electric foam burped onto the shoreline by a mysterious, glowing shipping container, crowbarred overboard by suspicious crewmen.  You open a soggy document wallet bobbing in the surf and read ‘Caring for your Shoggoth’ at the top of the waterlogged paper.  Urgh, what’s that fizzing into being in the jelly around your flip-flops?  Eyes?!  Teeth!!  RUN!!!

Heh, well I thought it was funny and I am very grateful to Robin for the distraction.  Plenty more where that came from, thankfully.


Robin Foster

say cheese and die

acting sane: panic dispelled by técieu, prolonged version, troy schafer and foldhead

January 29, 2015 at 11:59 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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técieu – Miłość EP (3” CD-r, fyh!records, edition of 44 or download)

Prolonged Version – All watched over by machines with neurotic disorders (CD-r or download, thejunkyardprocession)

Troy Schafer – Untitled No. 1 (7″ single, Signal Dreams, edition of 300 or download)

foldhead – for William Burroughs (download, zanntone)

técieu - Miłość

Throughout January I have been enduring a near-constant state of panic with fluctuating levels of intensity. During the holiday period I made the grave error of relaxing and my depression, seeing a soft (and substantial) underbelly exposed, decided to have a right good poke. There are physical symptoms: queasiness, light head, short breath but the really exhausting aspect is the constant inner repetition of three phrases: ‘I hate myself’, ‘when will this end?’ and ‘how will I cope?’. Like lampreys, these parasitic notions suck onto any thought or action no matter how sleek or fast moving it may be. In summary: depression is insisting that nothing matters, panic is screaming that everything matters and my sane middle, increasingly squeezed, sighs:

Will the pair of you just FUCK OFF.

Ugh. I mention it for two reasons. Firstly, talking about it robs it of (some of) its power – it withdraws its feeding tube like a blood-engorged tick touched with the tip of a lit cigarette.  Secondly, this is part of a deliberate ‘no platform’ policy adopted to deny my illness the head-space it needs to operate.  Trading blows with these thoughts rarely works – the panic loves a pagga as it puts me in a state susceptible to self-loathing.  Instead, I’m learning that a sharper tactic is to crowd it out by accentuating the positive, by ‘counting my blessings’, by consciously attending to things that I know that I would enjoy when healthy.  I am, in a sense, acting sane in order to counter what stops me from really being sane.  Head spinning thought, eh?  These are the games I have to play sometimes.  It is very, very tiring.

The plus side, however, is that a consequence of trying to do things that I can be proud of and enjoy is that I occasionally actually do things that I can be proud of and enjoy.  Here is where I have to thank music and its attendant distractions – yet again – for being such a restorative tonic.  For example: the ‘hiring’ of RFM’s new writers was a joyful experience and, in its own humble way, politically positive.  The practical upshot was that I was then able to farm out half of the review pile to my extended crew.  This allowed me to listen to those recordings purely as a fan rather than as a, *ahem*, ‘writer’ and the experience has been so refreshing that I return to my own review ‘work’ invigorated.

In that spirit I now offer a bunch of short reviews of exceptional and entertaining work that was brought to my attention last year but has only been properly digested in the last month or so.  My apologies to the artists for unconscionable delays.  Better crack on, eh?


técieu – Miłość EP

técieu is the solo project of Polish lawyer, journalist, musician and gig promoter Tekla Mrozowicka.  Miłość, which means ‘Love’ in English, is a 3″ CD-r or download from Polish label fyh!records comprising three tracks and totalling something over 15 minutes.

Despite apparently being created with nothing but software these three tracks have the rasp and roar of North East noise/drone and carry a substantial emotional heft.  Indeed, grounding the fuzz and static in (what I perceive to be) synth line foundations lends a cinematic scope whilst short running times and attention to detail suggest admirable discipline.

This is nuance and restraint blown up to Imax scale.  This is the inner conflict suggested by the flicker of a telling glance.  This is the thousands of tons of rock and dirt implied by the thin stream of dust falling from a crack in the ceiling of the mine.  When the throttle finally opens on the short last track the catharsis found in the squall is entirely earned and is deeply satisfying.

I recommend this very highly and fyh!records fully deserve your support – Piotr runs the outfit with soul, enthusiasm and an attitude that is bang-on.

prolonged version

Prolonged Version – All watched over by machines with neurotic disorders

One of four CD-rs in hand-made packaging that were hand-delivered by Karl Whiting of thejunkyardprocession – Leeds based label, zine publisher and gig promoter. Who doesn’t love the personal touch, eh? The album comprises four tracks and lasts about an hour in total.

What you get is a series of grinding, mechanical rhythms and arcing, shorting electronics that work to obliterate conscious thought by submerging it in sump oil. Processes vibrate free of their moorings and pulse with unreadable alien purpose. Listening is a duck/rabbit experience, a flickering gestalt switch: ecstatic ego-dissolving delirium / drowning panic. I realise this review is short but I don’t feel the need to overembelish this one: I found it remarkable. The closest comparison I can make is to the unmusic of the piss superstition which is, of course, high praise.

troy schafer - untitled

Troy Schafer – Untitled No. 1

Two tracks, totalling 11 minutes, to be found on various colours of 7″ vinyl or as a download for those thinking of moving house soon and despairing at the number of physical objects underfoot.

Side A is six minutes apparently culled from 36 hours of recording and I can only marvel at this superhuman feat of editorial rigour. In the circumstances you might expect a cartoonish strobing of splinter cuts but nope, instead you get drama, depth and invention with room for transitional flourishes and even the odd moment of near silence. Highlights include: scribbled violin interpreting a shredded Berhard Herrmann score, the groaning of a Lovecraftian Old One woken by volcanic activity raising its sunken city, dawn in a SF dystopia as directed by John Carpenter and a genuinely moving threnody for strings and junkyard scramble which builds to an ego-piercing, liquid silver climax.

Side B is a mournful performance by a lovelorn suitor on an unwieldy metal instrument he’s dragged into place under the balcony of his disinterested Juliet. As he bows, scrapes and rattles she is nowhere to be seen. For the final minute we cut to inside her apartment and find her attention darting between every screened device and radio in the place – all barking reports on an unprecedented electromagnetic storm engulfing more and more of the planet until…

I’ve listened to this a dozen times at least and feel there are still corners to poke into, densities to unravel. In some alternate universe this is the perfect pop single.

foldead - fwb

foldhead – for William Burroughs

Picture me as a 10 ten year old rummaging in a box on a market stall labelled ‘Science Fiction 20p’ and picking out a copy of The Naked Lunch that was nestled amongst the Asimovs and Bradburys.

What about this, Dad?

…I asked. My Dad – a librarian and well aware of its contents – chuckled and replied:

Better ask your Mum if you should read that one.

I didn’t, of course, and as soon as backs were turned I handed over my pocket money. Thus Burroughs, alongside albums like Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – which my long-suffering Mum bought for me well before I knew what the word ‘erotic’ really meant – and the B(DSM)-sides of Adam and the Ants singles (‘Beat My Guest‘ etc.) introduced me to some ‘interesting’ aspects of the adult world. Explains a lot, eh?

Anyway, years later I finally heard Burroughs’s voice and everything fell into place – its dry crackle lighting a forest fire in my head. For many readers of radiofreemidwich it must be one of the most recognisable sounds of the Twentieth Century. Thus when I saw that Paul Walsh had used this unique source in a foldhead recording I was intrigued. The result is something of a shock, however, as it contains not a syllable of recognizable speech. Paul has instead dragged a snippet (I like to think it is one word – ‘sphincter’ maybe) through various patches and filters until what remains is a 23 (of course) minute long unnerving, dronetronic landscape of snow drifts shifted and reshaped by the wind. Perhaps this is what it feels like to overdose on mugwump jizz, metabolism slowing to an irreversible stop. On one listen I got so deep into this that I nearly walked under a car.  What more do I need to say?



Signal Dreams

fyh! records


the grey snow thaws

February 8, 2014 at 10:41 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 8 Comments
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anne, thomas and rob, christmas 2013

Regular readers will be aware that I suffer with depression, and have done for a long while – my first diagnosis and prescription for anti-depressants was in 1997.  Though I remain ‘high-functioning’ most of the time and have never been hospitalized, it disables me for periods of three to six months every now and then, often as the seasons change and the light fades.  I have written a great deal about my symptoms, my treatment and my thoughts about the disease on this blog and the interested reader can click on the ‘depression’ tag above for more.

Today, though, I’m in a quietly celebratory mood.  This episode, which began last November and has been sharp, deep and distressing, has eased to the point where I am fit enough to begin a ‘phased return’ to work – meaning I turn up and grin in a spaced-out manner for a couple of mornings then build up to full hours and responsibilities over a number of weeks.  It is a welcome return to normality.

I am also self-managing a phased return to my emotional life.  One of the most gruelling symptoms of depression is anhedonia – a fall of grey snow that muffles and deadens experience making it impossible to enjoy anything.  Social interaction is meaningless, food is just pre-shit, nothing matters.  On Monday 3rd February a gift from my baby son Thomas showed me, definitively, that the ice was melting.

His present to me was an afternoon playing on and around the living room sofa.  He babbled and chuntered in his own language, chuckled at my attempts to bark like the dog pictured in his board book, chewed on the remote controls – delighting whenever he managed to change the channel to static (his favourite programme – that’s my boy!).  He would lift my t-shirt in order to poke a finger into my navel or, ninja quick, get his hand in my mouth whenever I laughed.

I found myself to be perfectly happy.  It is state I have been fortunate enough to experience many times in different contexts though rarely have I been conscious of it at the time it happened.  Usually events are retrospectively categorized as ‘best ever’ but so joyous, so content was I that I found myself thinking: ‘this could not be more beautiful.’  Describing the scene to my wife Anne later reduced me to tears of grateful relief: I can feel again!  At the risk of making myself sound even more ridiculous than usual, it felt as close as I’ve ever got to ‘the meaning of life’.

OK, enough of that.

Many thanks to those of you that have offered kind words and support during this latest ordeal.  As ever, it means a huge amount to me.  Fuck this disease – I love you all.

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.


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.

sorting the lego part three: further soundtracks for graded tasks

December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – Four More Cosmic Jams from Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR001, edition of 50 or download)

Xazzaz – Kin (CD-r, Molotov, 23)
Xazzaz – Untitled (CD-r, Molotov, 20)

Crowhurst – Memory / Loss (self-released download)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – The Butterfly Farm (C30 tape, Beartown Records, edition of 31)

cosmic jams

We’re all huge Tour de France fans here, right?  Good.  Then you’ll share my excitement in watching the build up to a sprint finish at the end of a flat stage.  With about five kilometres to go the teams of the star sprinters pull into formation and chains of identically jerseyed links draw the peloton forward, protecting and positioning their man, reeling in any group of breakaway riders with a heartless, machine-like efficiency.  Under the flamme rouge (a red flag indicating one kilometre to go) and the tactical jockeying is largely complete.  Now it is a matter of timing and anticipation.  A train of the strongest, fastest riders sacrifice themselves one at a time to maintain a superhuman pace for their potential stage winner until, with the line in sight, the last peels away and the bullet is fired from his slipstream.  Bikes are thrown from side to side as pedals are mashed and a day-long, hundred kilometre race is boiled down to 100 metres of pure athleticism, competition in its most distilled form.  In terms of tactical teamwork, heroic sacrifice and sheer fucking muscle it is, in my humble but correct opinion, the most exhilarating spectacle in sport.  I’m embarrassed to admit how much it moves me.

Now imagine this glorious sight utterly perverted and ruined.  The frontrunners are clearly drugged, hunched, steroid-addled monsters, barely recognizable as human, slobbering and growling as they approach the finish line at speeds no earthly creature could match.  No one is watching but me, appalled, no one cares any more.  The lead out train of two riders protect their sprinter by kicking over competitors to cause pile-ups as they pass.  “Three months of viruses” finally peels out leaving “Utter self-hatred” as the trigger man who launches “Bottomless depression” to thrash for the finishing line.

When this analogy for my current mental predicament occurred to me it struck me as powerful and telling (if a bit overwrought perhaps).  It does feel like Team Depression have been preparing for the attack of their star performer, and that preparation has been ruthless and unstoppable.  Over the last couple of years I have been starting to understand my relationship to the illness in terms of a fight, a confrontation, a war of attrition, an ebb and flow of insurgency and counter-insurgency, a Spy vs. Spy cartoon etc.  Thus this cycling analogy, in which I just look on helplessly, is a disappointing throwback to a more passive time when I thought all I could do was batten down the hatches.  I daren’t even think about what ‘the finish line’ might symbolise.

Whoo boy.  Suffice to say: I am down in it this week.

Thus my abilities to both complete graded tasks and think to some purpose have been cruelly curtailed.  However, I’d still like to get some reviews down, for morale purposes if nothing else.  For what it is worth, the stuff you have all sent me has been of incredible help during what continues to be a very difficult time.


Firstly, then, I bring you glad tidings of great joy for, lo, a new Leeds-based microlabel is born!  Yes, Cherry Row Recordings has been created by a moonlighting Daniel Thomas as a home for releases too long to be comfortably housed on 3″ CD-r – the format of choice in his day-job at Sheepscar Light Industrial.  The inaugural release is… well, the title is self-explanatory but it may be worth spending a moment defining what Dan and Kev (of Petals and hairdryer excommunication renown) mean by ‘cosmic’ here.  We aren’t talking long hair and body paint, nor is this retro-futuro-utopio-dystopio Krautrockish cosmicheness.  Rather, this is ‘cosmic’ in the existential sense Lovecraft uses it – to refer to an unfathomable and indifferent universe.  This is like exploring some suspiciously intact Cyclopean ‘ruins’ armed with only a guttering flash-light, a clenched jaw and a profound sense of foreboding.  The angles are all wrong.  The birdsong that appears at the end of ‘three’ and reappears in ‘four’ is a cruel joke, a last gasp of fresh air before a gnarled claw draws you back into the throbbing occult machinery of the ritual.  This is, as Nietzsche might put it, some heavy shit, bro’: stare into this and it stares right back, unblinking.  Really terrific and a superb way to kick off the label.

xazzaz - kinxazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

With a lack of fanfare typical of his brethren in the North East scene, Mike Simpson of Molotov Records is quietly producing the finest in ego-shredding, guitar-led noise.  The two releases above by Xazzaz, his (mainly?) solo project are not so much attention-grabbing as everything-else-obliterating.  For example, I tried to listen to Kin again as I wrote the preamble to this piece but had to turn it off after a few minutes because 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.

crowhurst - memory-loss

Here’s another release I have been sleeping on unfairly.  Crowhurst (which I dearly hope is named for Donald Crowhurst, subject of my all-time favourite non-fiction book The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall) is American artist Jay Gambit.  Notably, this six track album downloadable from Bandcamp, has been stitched together by him using contributions from no less than 24 collaborators.  This approach – lone mad scientist assembles monster from numerous sources – is not unprecedented (indeed I was among 27 credited on the Birchville Cat Motel album With Maples Ablaze.  Beat that!) but is very unusual and deserves high praise for its ambition.

Presumably those invited to submit were given a remit because this does not feel like a collage.  A consistent mood is maintained throughout via a magnificent feat of editing.  Jay has realised a clear-headed and focussed vision: this reads as a six part meditation on the finality of death and the shadowy impermanence of everything else.  That the final track in this sequence is called ‘No Visitors’ could not be more perfect.

The noise here is mainly electronic, deep-set and, as you’d expect given the source material, multi-layered, but room is left in which to think.  Even in the roar the surprise augmentations – a slow piano line, the trilling of a robotic aviary simulation – tint the vibe like a beam from a lighthouse outlining treacherous rocks at the mouth of a bay.

I realise that I am making this sound bleak, which it is, but it is also compelling.  “I wonder if I like this?” I thought as I pressed play for the eighth or ninth time, my actions answering my own question…

r r-s - butterfly farm

…and finally, as has become the custom in these pieces, a selection from Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  This will be the last of his work that I mention this year because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.  The Butterfly Farm (a C30 tape available from Beartown) is, I reckon, my favourite of the innumerable RR-S releases I’ve heard so far.  On first listen with notebook in hand I managed to write down two words: ‘motherfucked pop’ and many repeats later I’m not sure I can improve on that.

It sounds like nothing else: ultra lo-fi clatter-pop, largely indecipherable lyrics sung with the lip curl of a fourteen year old Elvis impersonator through Suicide’s echo pedal. ‘La, la, la’s gargled into whatever recording device is to hand then looped – that’s your backing track.  It’s like a mongrel pup produced by the unlikely union of two wildly different breeds of dog.  Fuck knows the mechanics of it but the odd shaped yappy offspring is cute as all hell…

sorting the lego part one: soundtracks for graded tasks

November 29, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Tape Noise – Journey to the Centre of the Worth (tape, self-released, edition of 1?)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton & David Barton – Surge (30 page pamphlet with card covers, ISBN 978-1-907546-52-5)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Nov 8th 2013 (C15 tape, hissing frames)

Ashtray Navigations – axe attack in 3D / unfuck you (tape, Crater Lake Sound, CL004)

Posset – Goose Shat Silver Dollars (tape in hand-stamped cover, Mantile Records, #024 or download)

Posset – the teenage virus (CD-r, chump tapes, chump #6 or bootleg below)

Stuart Chalmers/Nick Edwards – split (tape, Feral Tapes, C60, edition of 80)

tapenoise - journey

As regular readers and correspondents will already know, I am currently off work enduring a nasty bout of depression.  In the past I have written about my history with the illness, its symptoms and its effects on my life – click on the ‘depression’ tag above should you be interested – but not today.  Instead I wish to briefly mention two coping strategies – exercise and the ‘graded task’ – explain how the music of the no-audience underground is helping me with both and offer a few brief accounts of my listening in that context.

Firstly, exercise needs no explanation.  Much as we potatoes are loathe to admit it, getting moving helps with pretty much everything, especially depression.  To adapt Funkadelic: free your ass and your mind will follow.  For me this means walking, mainly around the neighbourhood.  Secondly, the idea of the ‘graded task’ might need a little clarification.  Originating, I think, from the cognitive behavioural therapy side of counselling, ‘graded task’ is used to describe a physical activity that can be completed in discrete, manageable but notable chunks.  The idea being that the job takes you out of yourself for a while, can be scaled according to your energy levels and can be looked back upon when completed with a sense of undeniable achievement: I did that.  For example, when I kept an allotment I dug it over one square metre at a time, currently I am cleaning Midwich Mansions (a series of chores sadly neglected since the baby arrived) and during one particularly debilitating episode a few years ago I ordered a vast collection of second hand Lego from eBay and spent days sorting it all out and bagging it up according to categories of brick.  Whatever, man – it helped.

At the moment my energy levels are such that I cannot rely on physical activity alone to lighten the darkness.  I simply can’t work up the sweat needed to turn my brain off entirely.  Thus I need some help and that is where you lot come in.  Whilst out walking, or doing a chore, I have been accompanied unswervingly by my mp3 player and/or tape walkman and music from the review pile has been keeping me company.  However, it wouldn’t be fair to use your art just as elaborate wallpaper to cover the cracks in my psyche so I have been trying to consider it too.  This has the added benefit of flexing mental muscles that the depression has sat on.  Forming an opinion heaves the fucking thing off me for a second and fans away the fug.  So, in the first of what I hope will be several similar articles, here are some short pieces (with what I was doing whilst listening in parentheses, in italics) about stuff picked more or less at random over the last few days.

OK, firstly I have to apologise to Dex Wright of Tape Noise for sleeping on Journey to the Centre of the Worth (heard as I walked through Gledhow Woods) for months.  It is no reflection on its quality, it just slipped down the back of everything else for a while.  Dex is the outsider’s outsider.  His preferred method of distribution – hand-decorating tapes and recycled inlay cards and selling his warez in editions of (apparently) one on eBay is unique amongst those artists celebrated on this blog.  He seems perfectly content to groove his own way utterly independent of any concern other than the production of his art.  The music herein is his usual mix of first-wave-industrial-style echoing vocals and pattering noise-tronics and all-embracing collage.  There is hard-puffed jazzy flute, chugging rock guitar, snatches of conversation – children playing in the background, squalling electrics, an episode of bass that will balloon your ear canals and a break for some Current 93ish folk/psyche prose poetry.  This might sound garbled but I assure you it is perfectly coherent.  It is all clearly the product of that singular mind to be found shielded by that polka-dot bowler hat.


Next, two items picked at random from the latest wildly generous parcel received from RFM’s other favourite oddity-generator Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  Surge (meditated on in an attempt to clear my head and go to sleep) is a 30 (approx) page A5 booklet containing drawings by Robert and collaborator David Barton.  The former’s pages are like Joan Miró’s Hope of a Condemned Man endlessly reworked in crayon and masking tape, drawn on pages pulled from a recluse’s empty scrapbook.  The latter’s pages contain line drawings of the human form, agitated to the brink of collapse.  Incompleteness and uncertainty are depicted with definite and furious energy.  The honours are shared.

Nov 8th 2013 (heard whilst hoovering the stairs) is a brief noise tape. Side A is mechanical peristalsis with alarms sounding whenever an indigestible lump is passed from duct to duct.  Side B is electrical scouring, like an R2D2 class droid frantically trying to reconstruct its memory after an EMP attack.

ashnav - axe attack

Two live sets (walking in Gledhow Woods again, trip to the pharmacy) by Ashtray Navigations (here mysteriously billed as ‘Ashtray Navigations (l.a.m.f.)’ – I don’t know why) from Autumn of last year.  The first is dominated by an exquisite psyche guitar indulgence that devolves into a deeply satisfying scything drone: whirling blades, molten silver.  The second is a curious beast.  Phil and Mel are joined by Daria Ramone of peerless punksters Etai Keshiki on guitar and by Pete Cann of Half an Abortion and Crater Lake (the label putting this out – buy here) on noise.  Despite beginning with a bellowed ‘1,2,3,4’ this takes quite a while to gel.  In fact it doesn’t really cohere until they give up on cohering and instead surrender themselves to a group freak-out and non-linear crescendo which makes up most of the second half.  Love the underpinning robo-warble.

posset - goose

Goose Shat Silver Dollars by Posset (heard whilst cleaning the bathroom) was a fitting accompaniment to my chores as it appears to be constructed largely from domestic recordings made around the Posset household.  Slow-motion vocals mirror my own strained attempts to follow conversation whilst my brain swirls in the fug.  The plinkplonkiness elsewhere has the same indecipherable feel (to the untutored western ear) as traditional Japanese music.  Indeed, in that context the sounds of liquid – pans being filled?  Teeth brushed? – could well be the lanquid tricklings of a water feature in an oriental garden.

Someone (Derek Bailey?) once complained that the turntable-as-musical-instrument has as limited a range as the bagpipes.  I always thought that this focus on the ‘wick-wick-wack’ scratch noise was missing the point entirely.  The turntablist has a century of recorded music to play with – try matching that by waggling your fingers in the sound box of your guitar, dumb ass.  A similarly incorrect complaint could be made about the dictaphone, Joe’s weapon of choice.  Yes, the skwee and scrubble of pressing-more-than-one-button-at-once is its signature sound, but the dictaphonist also has all audible noise within range of the device potentially in their saddlebag.  Beat that.  You think you are just hearing Joe’s kids chuckle but actually these humble, clever, funny recordings are intimations of infinite possibility!

Hmmm… or maybe I’m just a bit mad at the moment.  One or the other.  Or both.

Anyway, Joe also sent a copy of his CD-r the teenage virus which he created to be given away at the Colour Out Of Space festival (li’l networker, eh?).  It is great stuff and on the insert he insists we are free to bootleg it as desired so, in that punk spirit, here are the four tracks in good quality mp3 format for you to download as you wish.  Help yourselves (descriptions are mine):

  1. the carriage of spirits (possetronic dictamatics)
  2. at the end of the day (snatched recording of pub piano, possified)
  3. learning the restaurant trade (full flowing posset, live set from Bar Loco)
  4. he loves me so (riff on that tear-jerking endurance test by Gavin Bryars)

I’ll not be assessing the split tape from Stuart Chalmers / Nick Edwards (trip to Co-Op for Sunny Start Baby Porridge, Banana flavour, hanging out laundry) as I find myself in word-for-word agreement with Uncle Mark over at Idwal Fisher and you can read his review here.  Though, unlike that shirker, I did at least listen to all of it.  Tut.  In short: Chalmers = terrific, Edwards = not so much.

OK, more as my energy levels allow.

i spoke too soon: unwelcome houseguest revisits midwich mansions

October 21, 2013 at 7:51 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 7 Comments


In the editor’s note at the beginning of Joe’s piece below I mentioned feeling refreshed and raring to go again after a week of recuperative holiday.  Well, whilst the family ‘staycation’ was indeed a delight, I’m afraid an unwelcome mental houseguest has chosen this exact moment to return.  My productivity forecast now looks somewhat optimistic.

An episode of depression is approaching.  This time of year, when the changing of the seasons coincides with my busiest period at work, is when I am at my most tired and therefore vulnerable.  We’ve also just spent a month nursing Thomas the Baby through a prolonged period of viral illness which began with chickenpox and has just ended (fingers crossed) with hand-foot-mouth disease (spots and snot mainly, no relation to the farmyard ailment with a similar name).  Trying times have exposed cracks and through those cracks has seeped depression.

I have nothing to be depressed ‘about’, of course, my life is a very lucky one full of joy and love but, of course, that isn’t how it works.  I am ill, not sad, and illness does not have an object.  What I mean by that is, I suppose, that to ask what I am depressed about is as nonsensical as to ask Thomas what his chickenpox was about.  It’s a matter of the strange, cyclical nature of my faulty brain chemistry, not ‘issues’.  This is why its onset is sometimes a surprise, despite having suffered many debilitating episodes since my first diagnosis in 1997.

Amazingly, it always seems to have some new torture up its sleeve.  It was alarming, for example, to discover on Friday night that some errant part of my brain has been making very detailed plans for my own suicide and was gleefully happy to present those plans to my conscious mind as I lay in bed, awake and appalled, at 2am in the morning.  The part of me that wants me dead was happy to answer logistical questions about ‘the day’, even down to suggesting a pleasant cafe to have my last meal in.  As you can imagine, I felt like I was losing my marbles.  I don’t mention this to shock or be melodramatic – I assure you that I am no risk at all to myself or others – but just to give an example of the exhausting, ludicrous thought processes that I have to fight with.  It isn’t all so grandiose.  The main damage is done by constant self-sniping, nipping away at my self esteem and energy levels.  Like having a pack of yappy dogs jumping on your back, pulling at you, biting your ankles all day and barking the word ‘loser’ whenever you feebly try to kick them away.

So what am I doing about it?  Well, the last time this happened I managed, for the first time ever, to successfully fight it off (hear that, fucker?  I BEAT YOU!!) and I intend to try the same set of tactics again.  I am fortunate to have a brilliantly supportive wife and family, an understanding and enlightened workplace and a sustaining and inspiring set of friends so I’ll be asking for help.  I also have access to at least three flavours of healthcare professional and am hitting ‘em all up for appointments as soon as possible for the current advice on crisis management and medication.  It then becomes a game of trying to maintain an acceptable energy level whilst the disease uses all its cunning to reduce me to a chewably shrivelled version of my healthy self.  This can be fought with diet (though liquorice allsorts are considered medicinal), moderate exercise, distraction, rest, and, when possible, challenging the dark thoughts head on by dragging them into the light and arguing it out.  That last bit is easier said than done, of course, but very effective when it works.

I won’t be disappearing, nor will the blog be entirely suspended: I’m still at work, there are two or three gigs coming up that I hope to attend, The Barrel Nut #4 is ready to roll (submissions for later issues still very welcome), I have a home-grown tape on Matching Head to tell you all about, a post by Scott on Bong and JFK to format and stuff in the pipeline by both me and Joe.  However, I will have to be careful what I commit to in the near future.  My ‘to do’ list has been ballooning grotesquely in every direction, like an irradiated, tentacled creature in a manga cartoon, so I’ll have to chop it down.  The review pile is over three months deep and thirty items high so I’ll be pruning that too and possibly passing on the cuttings to Joe and Scott – we’ll see.

All I’m going to ask of you, dear reader, is simple: some patience.  If you’ve sent me objects (or pointed me at your downloads) – many thanks, they will be digested in due course on the understanding that the course is currently indefinitely long.  If you’ve sent me email, or letters, or left comments, or corresponded by slip of paper attached to the leg of a trained raven I will endeavour to respond but, in the meantime, please accept this post as a reply and an apology.

OK, some hard work ahead – wish me luck.

rfm’s 2012 round-up part two of two: life outside the bubble

January 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm | Posted in musings, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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books read in 2012

I turned 40 years old in January 2012 and, as if in recognition of the fact, was presented with some properly grown-up situations to process during the course of the year.  Away from music my life tilted around two main pivot points: the pregnancy of my wife Anne and the death of my life-long friend Chad.

The horror of losing a close friend, a contemporary, to lung cancer is something that revisits me often and with a force that resists dilution.  I continue to dream about it and to miss him enormously.  An account of the day of the funeral with the eulogy I gave can be read here.  I’ll say no more about it for now but could I just quietly urge those friends of mine who smoke to have a think about what they are doing.  For what it is worth, I found the book Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking very helpful when I stopped myself years ago.

We discovered that Anne was pregnant whilst preparing to move house.  I was packing boxes as she came to show me the stick with the faint blue line in its little window.  Was it blue enough, we wondered.  Was it liney enough?  “What did it look like prior to pissing on it?” I asked prosaically, my inner scientist taking charge as my inner romantic fell to pieces in a haze of joy and excited terror.  The experiment was repeated, the conclusion confirmed.

Sadly, the pregnancy, especially the early months, has been tough on Anne.  Throughout the first twelve weeks – when it is customary to keep quiet about being pregnant – she was violently and continually sick all day.  The nadir of this period being a trip to Accident and Emergency in Leeds General Infirmary instigated by a call to the scaremongers of NHS Direct.  We found ourselves amongst the drunken and blood-spattered in the early hours of Saturday morning suddenly petrified that what at first appeared to be an infection caused by exhaustion and dehydration could now be a threat to a satsuma sized foetus.  Fortunately, the panic was not warranted and we left reassured at 3am.  What a night.

Our house is now filling with generous gifts from already sprogged-up mates keen to empty their spare rooms into ours.  I’ve also discovered what a sobering experience a trot around Mothercare is – a giant shop full of stuff I previously did not know existed but may have to find hundreds of pounds for shortly…  The due date is 27th February.  I’ll keep you posted.

Other life-tests have been administered.  An important family drama is ongoing, though this is not a suitable forum to discuss it.  Our friend Rob, partner of Anne’s cousin Sarah – who was also pregnant at the time, had a debilitating stroke at the tender age of 28.  We moved house, as previously mentioned.  My busiest time at work was sabotaged by managerial idiocy.  I even got into a fight and took a punch to the mouth whilst protecting Anne and myself from some drug addled scrote who accosted us as we walked to work at 8am one morning.  I won too – I was magnificent!

Still, with all this energy sapping responsibility to shoulder it is no surprise that my ol’ nemesis depression came knocking.  Previously when I started to notice the tell tale symptoms of the slide I have taken care to batten down the hatches, informed all those that need to know and prepared to ride out the storm.  This time though I took a conscious decision to fight it out.  Amazingly, and for the first time since my first diagnosis and medication fifteen years ago, the tactic worked.

My illness did not like this one bit.  It wailed, it howled.  It soaked me in red hot anger.  It mocked my attempts to thwart it.  It dunked me in self-loathing (my first thought on waking, every morning and for weeks on end, was ‘I hate myself’) and kept its foot on my neck as I floundered about.  But in the end I won.  The experience was awful and left me as weak as a kitten with emphysema but here I am.  This victory has, to say the least, been good for morale.

How was it done?  Well, with plenty of teeth-gritted willpower but also with a lot of help, advice and understanding from those around me: Anne, my friends and family, my amazing work colleagues and the healthcare professionals who took care of me.  I’m also on the most successful medication yet prescribed for me (though I may have to change it soon due to it fucking with my liver – a story for another time).  Special mention must be made of my current counsellor and Occupational Health nurse.  I won’t name them as they certainly wouldn’t be expecting to be discussed on a noise blog.  The counsellor, new to me, proved attentive and inventive and got me to look at the issues from a different angle.  For example:

Me: I’m struggling with self-loathing.
Her: What does it look like?
Me: I’m sorry, what did you say?
Her: If it was an object, what would it look like?
Me: (intrigued) OK… (warming to the idea) it is animate, maybe covered in oily fur like an otter…

And so on.  The Occupational Health nurse was elegantly practical in her advice.  For example:

Me: I’m so bone-weary that I worry this fatigue will tip over into depression.  The ‘daily deficit’ is such that I can’t catch up.
Her: When is this at its worst?
Me: Late afternoon, maybe 3pm onwards.
Her: Then I’ll arrange for you to go home early at 3pm for a few weeks.
Me: (sighs with relief) Genius, thank you.

I’m very lucky to work for an institution large enough to offer these services.  Thus a two pronged attack developed.  Encouraged by my counsellor I played whack-a-mole (or whack-an-otter, if you like) whenever my illness raised its head.  I confronted it, questioned it, deflated it with interrogation. Encouraged by Occupational Health I took care of myself and recuperated when possible.  Together these tactics proved more effective than I dared hope.

So, I sing a happy song but add all this ‘real life’ stuff to the music stuff – to midwich and the blog – and you’ll forgive me for not having much time for wider culture in 2012.  TV passed me by, apart from maybe Jonathan Meades’ series about France which was diverting and intelligent.  I watched a lot of films from Hong Kong in the living room of Daniel Thomas – check out Killer Constable and Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter – but only ventured to the cinema a handful of times: Prometheus was dog shit, The Master was about two thirds masterful, The Imposter was fascinating – as I find almost anything to do with questions of the fake versus the authentic.  There were no expensive holidays filled with Renaissance masterworks this year, nor much in the way of visual art at all.

One thing I did manage to do a bit was read.  The blogs and fanzines praised last time – the ever inspirational Idwal Fisher, the ever ambitious Bang the Bore, the ever inventive Spon, the continuing-despite-being-half-in-jail Hiroshima Yeah! – remain top of the pile in this round-up too.  The books I read in 2012 are pictured above.  I just about managed the book-a-fortnight pace I set myself in January but only by including some novellas and re-reads.  You’ll see The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst again, already featured in a previous end of year photo.  I suspect that I find this true story so haunting and irresistible that I will revisit it regularly.  Mind you, I can give myself credit for the 900 pages or so of Middlemarch, occasionally said to be the greatest novel in the English language.  You don’t need me to tell you it is wonderful.  It is wonderful.  The books I enjoyed most in 2012 were the sensation novels of Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White and The Moonstone.  Storytelling of the most robust nature.  However, book of the year and an intriguing bedside companion for months was The Book of Disquiet by Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa (edited and translated by Richard Zenith, Penguin Modern Classics edition).

Pessoa was known as a literary figure around Lisbon but the true extent of his genius was not recognized until after his death in 1935.  A trunk full of unpublished writing, under numerous pseudonyms each with fully realised back stories and styles, was discovered amongst his belongings.  In this trunk was found a large envelope, labelled ‘The Book of Disquiet’ and full of fragments from the ‘factless autobiography’ of a fictional Lisbon bookkeeper called Bernardo Soares.  Pessoa was engaged in stuffing this envelope on and off for many years.

These unnumbered papers – accounts of dreams, ‘autobiographical’ scraps, musings, snippets of literary theory – add up to a philosophy that is nihilistic, misanthropic and solipsistic, that champions a life of intellect and inactivity and that scorns the life lived.  The thrust is more or less entirely at odds with what I believe to be the case and yet it is written with such beguiling skill and humour that it is charmingly hypnotic.  The structure makes it perfect for dipping into, thus a great bedside volume, and it is so eminently quotable that I’m not even going to start trotting out the many droll observations and arresting thoughts that it contains.  A crucial and influential book made all the more magical by the circumstances of its writing and discovery.

…and that will do for 2012.  I’ll see some of you at the final (for now) midwich gig on Wednesday.  Reviews of stuff received here at Midwich Mansions in December and January will begin shortly.  I’ve had trouble with the post recently so if it has been over a month since you sent me something and you’ve not heard from me about it then please get in touch.

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.

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