a fortnight with lee stokoe, miguel perez (and friends)

April 15, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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 La Mancha Del Pecado & Culver – Collaboration One (tape, Matching Head, MH191)

Witchblood – Eponine (tape, Matching Head, MH193)

Indian Lady – Help Wanted Female/The Creeper (tape, Matching Head, MH194)

Culver + La Mancha Del Pecado – Collaboration II (CD-r, molotov 18)

La Mancha Del Pecado/Xazzaz – La Fetichista (CD-r/tape, molotov 17/agoraphobia 20)

The Skull Mask – Delbene (tape, agoraphobia 21)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Cadaveres Exhumados (CDr, Ruido Horrible, rh54)

Enoc Dissonance/Pordiozero/ La Mancha Del Pecado – 3 Way Split (CD-r, agoraphobia 22/El Canzancio Records 01)

Wehrmacht Lombardo/Black Leather Cop – Stars Extinguished, Black Sky (download, Grindcore Karaoke)

Xazzaz/La Mancha Del Pecado – La Esquina Roja (download , Oracle, ORE90)

La Mancha and Culver - Collab One  Witchblood Indian LadyCulver and La Mancha - Collab IILa Mancha and Xazzaz - La FetichistaLa Mancha Xazzaz Skull Maskla Mancha - Cadaveres ExhumadosEnoc Pordiozero La Mancha - 3 Way SplitXAZZAZ_&_LA_MANCHA_DEL_PECADO_-_LA_ESQUINA_ROJA

As I sit here listening to Thomas the Baby enter a particularly blood-curdling, screamy phase of the vocal improv set he is currently honing (provisional title: “The Aptamil Variations”), I find myself pondering the question ‘what is it to be a conscientious reviewer?’

Some context.  The submissions pile at RFM never gets totally out of hand.  It is currently about 20 items (the oldest received two-and-a-bit months ago) and that is as big as it gets.  I am not complaining, of course, as being given artefacts, or pointed at downloads, is an inexhaustible pleasure for me.  Having learnt a few lessons from the Termite Club/Fencing Flatworm days, I also have provisos in place to stop me getting swamped and/or frazzled.  See the submission guidelines on the ‘about me and this blog’ page – basically, I am allowed to take my time and say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ if I like.

That said, the pile can still induce a kind of overloaded, guilty numbness occasionally.  One of the meanings of ‘no-audience’ in my tongue-in-cheek phrase ‘the no-audience underground’ is that there are few passive consumers round these parts, everyone is involved in the scene in some way.  So I ask myself: what do I owe in return for this generosity?  How much work counts as ‘doing my bit’?  The question feels sharper than usual at the moment because new-to-fatherhood-tiredness has sorely eroded my powers of concentration.

What, for example, should I do with the several hours of roar recently bestowed upon me by the gentleman Lee Stokoe and his Mexican cousin Miguel Perez?  An intriguing body of work for aficionados of the darker, metal-infused side of drone music, no doubt, but there is a fuck of a lot of it.  The answer came to me as I lulled Thomas the Baby to sleep with Cherry Vampire by Culver the other day, or rather I was reminded of a tack I have taken before.  When there isn’t time to put life on hold for musical appreciation, what you can do is just use the music to soundtrack life and live inside it for a while.  Thus, for a couple of weeks I have been listening to the releases above on my commute, on lunchtime strolls, when changing nappies in the middle of the night and so on.

This approach seems especially fitting for these two artists.  Both are exploring the nuances of a haunting and enveloping aesthetic.  As such, releases are like a series of landscape photographs that build up into an atlas of a bleak, windswept country, beautiful in its desolation.  Thus they can be enjoyed en masse, at length, repeatedly and in pretty much any order.  The more you breath in their atmosphere the more acclimatised you get and the more sense it all makes.  Details emerge as your eyes get used to the dusk, collaborations offer new angles on the scenery.

A word about the covers.  Apart from the noteworthy exception of those designed by Mike Xazzaz for his label molotov, they pretty much all feature pictures of women in states of undress and/or duress.  I can’t help feeling this is a bit teenage and distracts from the impact of the music, but I am also aware that I’m unlikely to convince anyone of this.  Lee has wryly raised an eyebrow at my prudishness before (I insisted there be no tits on the cover of faraday cage).  He just shrugs and points over my shoulder at the totally sexualised depravity of popular culture nowadays.  At least he and Miguel are aficionados of schlock images and use them in a way which acknowledges the history and context.  I suspect I’ll just have to continue grumbling in my quaintly 1980s-style feminist way.  Anyway, the quality of the music makes it possible to ignore the dubious packaging illustration…

There is indeed much to engage and satiate.  Collaboration One is a single track documenting a primordial scene: distant landslides bury forest, volcanoes steam menacingly, giant lizards hiss in desperation as they sink into a tar pit.  It smells of animals rooting in hot soil.  Collaboration II is a good place for a newcomer to start.  ‘Graveyard Kiss’ features a trademarked Culveresque melancholy loop rotting into mulch and coloured with Miguel’s metallic, echoing chang.  ‘Funeral in Black Stockings’ (see what I mean about schlock?) is a gloriously elongated crescendo of low end rumble and crackling heat haze.  It is a natural, fluid partnership of artists clearly in sync with each other.

Witchblood is a duo of Lee and Lucy Johnson (of Smut etc.) and Eponine is made up of several tracks presented on a one sided tape.  There is an elusive shimmer to this, rising through the murky recording like silver carp just below the surface of a muddy pond.  Delicate piano lines are partially submerged in clockwork loops, burbling water and overamped hiss.  It’s like the accompaniment for practice at a ballet school for ghosts.  Indian Lady is, y’know, a ‘proper’ band featuring Lee on bass.  This tape contains two lengthy jams presented apparently unedited.  Rumble is to the front and centre with a satisfyingly fried psych/metal guitar grooving its own way behind.  I imagine teenage, stoner dragons listening to this whilst picking their teeth and relaxing after a huge meal of peri-peri hobbit.

The split album La Fetichsita finds Miguel and Mike (of Xazzaz and molotov records) on a war footing.  Miguel shows us billowing clouds of metallic noise and the machine growl of giant tanks advancing whilst foot soldiers (presumably, given the title, in rubber skin suits with high heels and ‘sexy’ gas masks) finish off the wounded.  Mike gives us Sabbath as played by an ill disciplined battalion of mechanical trilobites then later joins Miguel on the choking battlefield to supervise the collection of the corpses.  Yes, this is pretty dark.

La Esquina Rosa is the return leg: one twenty minute track each from the same two acts, this time made freely available to download via Oracle Netlabel.  Miguel’s track is a satisfying, viscous drone.  Imagine filling an indoor swimming pool half with syrup and half with ball bearings then chugging backwards and forwards in a little dinghy on the surface using the outboard motor to churn the mixture up.  Of you could just bounce your Casio through some filters if that proved too messy…  Features a two minute long surprise towards the end unique to Miguel’s drone work.

Mike’s track begins with the sound of the listener being locked into a shipping container and the situation remains heavy thereafter.  Scything, arcing, guttering electrics – as lithe and unnerving as mating snakes – and some punishing guitar feedback makes me concerned for his health and safety.  Exhilarating.  Mike’s stuff is so good I feel a little embarrassed subsuming it within a review headlined by others.  My apologies Mike – next time you’ll get the prominence deserved.

Enoc Dissonance, a duo with Oracle netlabel collaborator Pablo Mejia, and the solo Wehrmacht Lombardo are the most balls-out-total-noise of Miguel’s various projects.  Stars Extinguished, Black Sky is a split featuring the latter and Black Leather Cop, a collaboration between Scott McKeating (of Bells Hill) and RFM’s North East Correspondent Joe Murray (of Posset).  The Wehrmacht Lombardo track is a very convincing, satisfyingly panic-inducing tale of a gathering hailstorm.  It eases off around the twenty minute mark briefly so we can hear Miguel torture his guitar as he kills time hiding from the weather in his cave.  Otherwise: you wouldn’t want to be out in it.  Black Leather Cop present an almost indescribable gumbo of doomy noise/metal and discombobulating, scrabbling, dictaphonic collage.  It might be awesome – I can’t tell – which means it probably is.  I suspect it of being unholy at the very least, if not downright satanic.  Freely downloadable from the wonderfully named and breathtakingly prolific Bandcamp label Grindcore Karaoke.

3 Way Split is comprised of tracks by Enoc Dissonance, Colombian electro-noise act Pordiozero and La Mancha Del Pecado and is co-released by Miguel’s agoraphobia tapes and Pordiozero’s El Canzancio Records.  The Enoc Dissonance tracks are full-frontal racket.  Fans more knowledgeable than me get the hump when I use the term ‘harsh noise wall’ because I often do so inappropriately, but surely this is pretty close.  It’s like getting into a very, very hot bath or a very, very cold shower – bordering on painful at first but then strangely invigorating.  I admit I don’t listen to this end of the noise spectrum often but a blast every now and again is a welcome brain-rinse.

Pordiozero provide two central tracks of agitated, restless electronics.  Sub-genres of hard dance, industrial and synth based noise are smeared over one another, squeezed flat, then discarded and replaced.  Vocal snippets, crunching rhythms and increasing distortion create a atmosphere of disaffected alienation.

I’d had a copy of the La Mancha track ‘She is Misery’ on my hard drive for a while prior to this being released and it is good to see it finally available.  It has a dystopian, science-fictional feel to it that could well make it an appropriate soundtrack to the shenanigans pictured on the cover.  Ah yes, the cover: this album is notable for its very professional looking packaging and insane artwork.  A pro-copied CD-r is housed in a properly printed digipak featuring photos of some kind of post-apocalyptic alleyway in which gas-masked, pseudo-military, fetish-zombies threaten each other with guns.  The mind boggles.

Anyway, here is your chance to do your duty for the international noise underground by buying one of these.  It isn’t the best release in this round up but I know it cost a fair bit to produce and it would really help out our Latin American cousins if you got busy with Paypal.  I know times are hard but, if it helps, you could consider it payment for all the stuff you can download for free.

Finally, we have two key releases by Miguel’s major solo guises: La Mancha Del Pecado, as already encountered several times above, and my favourite of his incarnations: The Skull Mask.

Cadaveres Exhumados by the former is a full length, five track CD-r presented in a grey digipak by Ruido Horrible (stick that label name into Google translate for an example of truth in advertising).  It is an ambitious and accomplished noise album that almost scuppered this ‘fortnight with…’ idea by hogging the time available for repeat listens.  There are quiet, elegiac passages of bells, pipes and slow picked guitar that balance the roaring crescendos, lend an air of mournful seriousness and indicate the level of care and sophistication taken in its construction.  The noise itself is forceful and thick as bitumen in places (the final track, ‘Renuncia al silencio’, is HNW until it breaks at the end) but thoughtfully layered and throughout most of it there is space to think and appreciate what you are hearing.  Its scope is impressive.  Fans of the kind of metal-infused, heavy psychedelics typified in this country by the North East noise scene (from Culver to Jazzfinger to the various Mike Vest projects) should really track this down because they would dig it.  High praise from me.

A word about the ‘chur-chur-chur’ sound that can be heard high in the right channel on many La Mancha Del Pecado tracks.  I suppose it is an artefact of one of the filters he uses, or perhaps a result of knackered recording equipment.  It would distract me occasionally at first but now it seems like a signature – like the bubbling electric jug noise that is all over those 13th Floor Elevators records.

The Skull Mask has an intensely personal vibe.  It is Miguel’s shamanistic response to his experience of the Mexican wilderness.  He draws on folk traditions from around the world to construct dizzying ragas and desert improv using almost nothing but acoustic guitar.  Whilst the influences are sometimes clear, it has a core identity that is Miguel’s invention alone.

The tape Delbene is perhaps more varied in style than previous Skull Mask releases.  Side B is definitely more hard-picked than the seasoned Miguel-watcher would expect.  It shares the spiky, Bailey-esque, rawness of the pieces he records under his own name.  Side A, though, is pure Skull Mask: a swirling incantation, calling up dust devils to whip the desert sand into the air.  As well as his usual loose fingered virtuosity on the guitar there is some mysterious instrumentation (trumpet?!) adding to the impression that a rite is taking place.  Great, as ever.

OK, I think my ‘bit’ might be done for now.  Links below, folks.

Matching Head

Oracle netlabel/agorafobia


Ruido Horrible

Grindcore Karaoke

El Canzancio Records

architects of the no-audience underground: a working week with miguel pérez

January 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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  • La Mancha Del Pecado – Desde Lo Putrido (ORE 65)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – Viernes 13 (ORE 67)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado – En el Festival de la Desgracia (Agorafobia 10)
  • La Mancha Del Pecado/Whermacht Lombardo – Devastacion/Debutante (Agorafobia 07)
  • Whermacht Lombardo – Departamento de Despoblacion (ORE 68)
  • The Skull Mask – Casette Dic. 2010 (ORE 73)
  • Enoc Dissonance – Love in Black Shit (ORE 74)

(…plus some untitled La Mancha demos and collaborations and various other examples of metal, jazz, composition and noise from the Mexican underground provided for the education of gringo Rob.)

Ciudad Juárez, which sits opposite El Paso on the US/Mexican border, is a city of some notoriety.  I’m sure its politicians would like the world to focus on its rich history, or the lightly regulated opportunities for lucrative business, but the headlines, alas, have little to do with civic pride.

Instead, as recently as a couple of years ago, this city was the homicide capital of the world due to murderous competition between drug cartels and the enforcement agencies charged with stopping them.  Sometimes this violence had a grisly, Grand Guignol theatricality: severed heads were found in fridges with notes attached warning rivals that they were next (notes!  As if a severed head doesn’t make the point on its own!).  Kidnapping is rife, the threat to the civilian population, especially women, is grave, corruption is endemic.

…and yet life has to go on.  In a city of over one million people not everyone can be a drug baron.  The overwhelming majority of the population are, like everywhere else, just good people trying to earn a living, look after their families and keep out of harm’s way.  As you would expect in a place of that size, a few have turned to artistic endeavour in an attempt to make sense of it all.  For example, it is the kind of town where a noise tape label might choose the name ‘Agorafobia’ not just because the connotations of confinement and paranoia might suit the music but also because, straightforwardly, people are afraid to leave their houses.

The patron of that label is Miguel Pérez.  Miguel has already featured on radiofreemidwich, mainly in connection with releases on Oracle Netlabel which he co-runs with its creator Pablo Mejia of the Dominican Republic.  Over the course of a few months we have struck up a lively and entertaining correspondence.  He has become a cult hero in my office as my work colleagues are amused by the idea that I have a Mexican doppelganger who, like me, slaves at a desk all day only to spend his spare time presenting noise to a tiny audience of followers.

Miguel’s enthusiasm is certainly infectious.  Conversing with him shames me for being lazy and inspires me to get on with my own projects.  However, his boundless enthusiasm and Stakhanovite work rate has caused a hefty pile-up of new releases teetering atop an already daunting back catalogue selection here at RFM Towers.  What is the casual listener to do?  Well, to paraphrase David Simon: “fuck the casual listener”.  I decided to catch up by listening to Miguel’s music on each commute and every lunchtime stroll for a whole week.

So on Monday I kicked-off with the charmingly named ‘Love in Black Shit’ by the exuberantly noisy Enoc Dissonance.  This is a duo of Miguel and his Oracle collaborator Pablo.  Their working method seems to be to pick a theme or idea from the existing cannon of noise music – the last one was about The Haters, this one Power Electronics – and let that loosely inform an hour of destruction.  The first of two lengthy tracks features billowing clouds of distortion pierced with scrapings and hammerings, the second track is a pummelling guitar thrash.  I have an odd connection to this piece as Miguel tells me that…

…while working on a new Enoc Dissonance release doing a big racket with the prepared (with metals, coins, bla, bla) electric guitar at 9:00 at morning … the post man arrives looking at me kind of strangled since it seems he was hearing my noises from the outside for a while since when I got to the door to receive the package he was holding for me he could not stare at my eyes and almost throw it to my hands and took his bicycle and ran away!!!

To my amusement, it turns out that the parcel in question was from me and the track he was working on at the time is the one described above.  This is not an easy listen, obviously, but the nostrils-flaring verve with which it is executed induces a state of hypnosis.  It carried me to and from work effortlessly.

Tuesday was Whermacht Lombardo day.  The Oracle release listed above is, basically, balls-out noise.  The aesthetic is bleak, nihilistic: the title means ‘Department of Depopulation’ and you don’t need Google Translate to figure out a track title like ‘Vasectomia Obligatoria’.  The music is that roaring push with no apparent source.  Is it guitar distortion?  FM radio static?  A heavily over-amped field recording of wind in the trees?  It doesn’t matter.  There are occasional minor changes in texture but mainly this is a warm bath: dip in for a few cleansing minutes or wallow in it for hours depending on your mood.

Interestingly, the Whermacht Lombardo side of the split tape with La Mancha Del Pecado is a moveable feast.  Miguel says:

By the way the split of Whermacht Lombardo can be anything.  Sometimes I use that side and fill it with static, a field recording and yours is filled with odd electronics, vocals and other metallic percussions.

…and strange and compelling it is too.

Wednesday and Thursday were a two day celebration of Miguel’s main solo project: La Mancha del Pecado.  An interesting tape of demos and collaborations charts its development as Miguel’s (heavy) metal drones and thrashed out ragas gradually smear and blur into a Culver-esque growl.  Miguel is a great admirer of Lee Stokoe’s work and it shows in his use of volcanic rumbling and overloaded guitar.  La Mancha, however, is not a mere copy of the monolithic stasis and tunnel vision of Lee’s recent output.  It contains more variation in atmosphere: sometimes the music is meditative, echoing around cyclopean ruins, sometimes it is as sharp and sparkling as shards of broken mirror.  Miguel’s natural enthusiasm grates up against his attempts to be disciplined and this molten magma under the cool, dark surface gives the music a fascinating tension.

And why not end the week with a treat?  Friday was the day for my favourite of Miguel’s projects: The Skull Mask.  I’ll let Miguel explain this one:

The Skull Mask – is my acoustic improvisation project with no one else. This is influenced by Hindustani music, Arab, Jew and free improv. I am taking more and more a minimalistic approach and doing it solo guitar…. is something that I love doing…..will see more releases in the future to come.  This is mostly inspired on my trips to the Sierra de Chihuahua, to the mountains and valleys south Mexico, my visit is to mystic Indians in the desert, etc….is a sort of tribute to the wilderness in Mexico…… good to read that you cared about it!!! No one does!!!!

Well, I care about it a great deal as this is where Miguel’s verve and brio is at its most ego-dissolvingly hypnotic.  These pieces spin and mutate from thrashed riffs through contemplative passages to droning ragas.  For two minutes you think ‘whoo boy, do I really want to listen to 46 minutes of solo guitar?’ then 44 minutes later you come out of your reverie thinking ‘Aww… man, that isn’t long enough!  Again, again!”  This is not slick – Miguel is not trying to be Ry Cooder or Jack Rose – he is just letting fly and the raw energy with which he does so is irresistible.

And that was the week that was.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and will no doubt do it again sometime.  All of this stuff is available for free or for trade so why not check some of it out?  Agorafobia tapes has no web presence and is trade/gift only – contact Miguel directly at lamancha@rocketmail.com for details.  For brand new releases by all these projects your one-stop shop is the Oracle Netlabel site where they are free to download.  For older releases the files are stored at archive.org so click on these links to investigate: La Mancha del Pecado, Enoc Dissonance, Whermacht Lombardo, The Skull Mask.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: second review haiku

November 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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At a time when the quantity of music I’m exposed to is increasing exponentially, even without amassing downloads, I am super wary of burn-out.  It did for me during the last days of fencing flatworm when I was stretched paper thin and miserably ill.  Back then, an unsolicited jiffy bag full of scratchy Scandinavian improv was enough to bring on thoughts of self-harm.  Ugh.  In hindsight it wasn’t surprising that the short break from music that I embarked on in 2004 ended up lasting five years…

Now back in the fray, healed and enjoying some hard earned sense of perspective, I am digging music more than I’ve ever done before.  Amazing, eh?  The only problem is finding the time and the energy to write about everything I want to write about.  Goddammit, the world must be told!  And by me!  So here is the second in an occasional series of round-ups in which I maximise efficiency by using the traditional Japanese poetic form of Haiku.  Pretentious?  Aww.. maybe, but I enjoy attempting to achieve the clarity and precision of thought that the form demands.

I’m hoping that, as none of the producers and donators of this material were expecting reviews at all, they won’t be disappointed not to get a thousand word epic containing rapturous references to duelling cybernetic dragons.  I’m parking all that for a minute.  Instead this lot get seventeen syllables in the traditional 5-7-5 formation.  Each poem is a distillation of some concentrated repeat listens and was composed whilst the music was actually playing.  Each entry follows the same format:

Thumbnail of cover (click to enlarge)

  1. Band name – album title
  2. Review poem
  3. Label and release info which doubles as a ‘buy here’ link

OK, off we go…

  1. Enoc Dissonance – Ilimitada Disponibilidad Corporativa de un Automata
  2. Lump hammer rhythm / Heaving circadian wheeze / Wounded robot blinks
  3. Oracle ORE72, free download

  1. The Skull Mask – The Old Spirit of Maria Sabina
  2. Wilderness shaman / Sierra de Chihuahua / Ego Dissolving
  3. Oracle ORE70, free download

  1. Mascarae – Daemdria Lades
  2. Mechanical ghost / Abandoned power station / Circuitry spirit
  3. Oracle ORE71, free download

  1. The Piss Superstition – Valentine, The World Hates Us
  2. Reptilian hulk / Immobile yet poised, like a / hibernating frog
  3. Self released, CD-r

  1. Inseminoid – untitled
  2. Quiet, implied threat / Cinematic butchery / Hung meat favoured here

  1. Inseminoid – uk tour 2011
  2. The gulf between us / The sheer metallic cliff face / The roaring abyss
  3. Self-released, 3″ CD-r

  1. Hapsburg Braganza / Trancers II / Posset – …a clutch of eggs…
  2. Magic carpet flight / George Dixon versus Jack Deth / Dicta-noise chirrups

  1. Foldhead – Drugs Paint Alcohol
  2. Amniotic lab / Grisly incunabula / struggling to be

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