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

January 1, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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That 2018 was a hard year for many eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Hayler

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

*Ahem*

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

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

OFOCL

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

“Auditory excavations.  Eremetic Music.  Pareidolia.”

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

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

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

A             Adrian Shenton

B             Bridget Hayden

C             caroline mckenzie

D             chlorine

E              Chrissie

F              Clemency

G             Dale Cornish

H             Daniel John Williams

I               Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper

J              Depletion

K             Guttersnipe

L              Hawthonn

M            Helicopter Quartet

N             Ivonne Van Cleef

O             Kieran Mahon

P             Marlo Eggplant

Q             Naido

R             Penance Stare

S              Robert Ridley Shackleton

T              Saboteuse

U             Sectioned

V             SLEEPMASSK

W            SOPHIE

X             Spelk

Y              Stuart Chalmers

Z              Wizards Tell Lies

ZZ           Xqui

Concentric Circles

Some notes:

SOPHIE

UN-INSIDES

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

MOST PLAYED

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

Saboteuse

ONE OFFS

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

caroline mckenzie

PROLIFICISM

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

Adrian Shenton

DRONE/NOISE

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

Wizards Tell Lies

UNACCOUNTABLES

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

Guttersnipe

Chrissie

FINALLY

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

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

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

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

Rob x

Luke Vollar

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

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

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

blood on your boots

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

usurper booby

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

Joe Posset

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

NAU Records and tapes

caught in the wake forever

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

ROMAN-NOSE-LP-front

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

tom and stuart

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

Live shows

shunyata

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

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

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

Miya_Masaoka_-_photo_by_Heike_Liss-517x355

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

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

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

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

\m/  \m/

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

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

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

-ooOOoo-

radiofreemidwich goes to tusk festival 2016

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

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

Let’s just start with the car.

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

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

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

Is this Rob? This is Rob!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

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

Right then, NOW let’s go.

dark-tusk-poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus sound installation by MP Wood.

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

Free with Tusk pass, £3 without.

The Soundroom

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

Nah, that kind of thing just happens around here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and it wasn’t even 5pm.

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

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

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

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

Now I know why everyone loves them!

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

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

C’mon Miguel you’re on!

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see each other again sometime, right?

Yes.  We will.

—ooOoo—

Postscript:

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

the 2015 zellaby awards

January 8, 2016 at 11:24 am | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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zellaby award envelope

Hello friends and welcome to the 2015 Zellaby Awards and Radio Free Midwich end-of-year round-up.  I’m very glad to see you.  My apologies in advance to those long term readers expecting the usual introduction full of whimsical nonsense.  There will be some of that, of course, but this year needs to be taken seriously and I’m going to start dark.  Don’t worry though – spoiler alert – there will be joy and life-affirming redemption by the end: this piece is my It’s a Wonderful Life.

Firstly, it is not the job of this blog to comment on the wider world but aside from the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, our glorious future prime minister, 2015 was largely without hope. I wish you all good luck in navigating the coming End Times.

Personally, away from music, my year can be split into three four month long segments.  For the first of these I was ill with non-stop, run-of-the-mill viruses.  Nowt serious on its own but the cumulative effect of so many strung together – a necklace of snot – left me in a parlous state.  My depression played cards with its fidgety cousin anxiety, waited until I was defenceless and then kicked in the door.  The second four months were spent off work attempting to shift these unwelcome guests whilst maintaining a functioning family life.  I’ve written about this debilitating effort elsewhere, no need for further details here.  The final four months of 2015 were the tale of my recuperation and slow recovery following a change in medication and a breakthrough in both the treatment of my illness and my attitude towards it.  After much grief, I left 2015 exhausted and resentful but hopeful that new ways of muzzling the black dog will allow me a lengthy period of peace and sanity.

When I was down in it, days, weeks even, passed when music seemed more trouble than it was worth.  The list of releases submitted to RFM for review, plus other stuff that caught my bloodshot eye, became an untended vine cracking the panes of its greenhouse and desiccating the soil in its giant terracotta pot. I’d try to ignore it, slumped in my deckchair, but would be tickled awake by a tendril and look up to see something like Audrey II grinning down at me:

Fleshtone Aura

Or maybe one my colleagues – Joe, Chrissie, Sof, Luke, marlo – would arrive with a ladder, new glass, plant food, exotic orchids or intricate alpines to distract me, gawd bless ‘em. Looking back, I’m surprised at how often I actually did pick up the trowel – if only to wave hello, or whack Luke on the nose with it when I found him digging in the flower beds – and I’m quietly proud of maintaining this garden despite the inclement mental weather. During 2015 radiofreemidwich received approximately 32,000 visits – a new record. 93 posts were published, including the blog’s 500th, by half a dozen different authors. The most popular of which were last year’s Zellaby Awards and my no-audience underground ‘state of the notion’ address – most gratifying as both are heartfelt celebrations of the scene. Not bad, eh?

Now, at this point in the introduction I was going to get catty about my usual scratching posts, hit a few sacred cow arses with a banjo etc. but, looking down at the silted pavement and up at the grey sky, it’s clear that what the world needs now is love, sweet love – not smart alec remarks and passive-aggressive score settling. So let’s get the party started instead.

Here’s the rules: to be eligible in one of the following five categories this music needs to have been heard by one of us for the first time in 2015.  It does not need to have been released in 2015.  As the purpose of these awards is to spread the good news about as many quality releases as possible, should an artist win in one category they will not be placed in any of the others.  I do not vote for my own stuff as midwich, nor any releases that I had a hand in (thus no Aqua Dentata on fencing flatworm – sorry Eddie). The team will avoid touting each others’ projects too – not because we care about conflict of interest (there isn’t any down here) but we do like to maintain at least a veneer of decorum. Aside from marlo, who has been nostril deep in PhD crap all year and thus didn’t feel qualified to contribute, the whole team has chipped in and I will be pasting their responses below. This year I am at least nodding in the direction of democracy when compiling the lists but, as editor, I am reserving final say.  Don’t worry though – my dictatorship is benevolent and progressive.

Right then, time to pop some fucking corks…

sof's pina colada

—ooOoo—

Radio Free Midwich presents the 2015 Zellaby Awards

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

Chrissie expresses doubts about the whole process then nails a perfect nomination:

I’m not much of a one for end of year retrospectives, forward is my preferred direction. Also I find it hard to compare music and place it in any sort of order. One day a particular piece or artist will be exactly what I need, another day it will have me screaming for the STOP button.  Add to which I haven’t actually reviewed very much this year. Even when I found a (rather large, rich) niche to occupy I still take longer to complete a review than I’d really like.  Still, I hate to disappoint, and I never miss a deadline so…

Sabrina Peña Young

Even while reviewing one album, I couldn’t help mentioning tracks on other albums!

[Editor’s note: an extract from Chrissie’s review of Science Fiction & Horror Movie Soundtrack Collection: Strange Films of Sabrina Peña Young:]

‘Singularity’ is a whole Star Trek episode in miniature. It opens as an almost conventional, if nicely constructed piece of theme music, and gradually becomes something very much more. Going from the journey out, discovery of a possibly inhabited planet, then meeting an alien, trying to escape and the closing theme music again – a novella in seven minutes forty-three seconds! To be honest I’m pretty sure that that isn’t the actual narrative of ‘Singularity’ but I like to make things up as I’m listening and that idea seemed plausible at the time [Editor’s note: it’s the RFM way…]. What it’s really about is the rise of machine intelligence, of course; which is equally scary, possibly.

SPY0

Joe speaks in italics:

Not for the first time, Serbia’s No Basement is Deep Enough label has pinned my lugs back and hotly tongued my ear.  But this time it slipped a note in my pocket that read ‘G.J de Rook’ (but no phone number I notice!). 

Gerrit’s considered gobble-de-gook on a and bla is the metallic-gravy I’m craving right now.  The calm and pleasant gibber hits that sweet-spot of babies gurgling, a hummingbird’s gaudy thrum and the plastic pop of wrenched bubble-wrap.  These are universal sounds; sounds enjoyed from the Mongolian deserts to the Seattle coffee-house scene. These are the sort of sounds we need to send into space – gaffer tape a CD-r to Voyager or something- for them bug-eyed overlords to ponder.    

Although Gerrit’s wider discography is relatively thin and achingly expensive don’t worry readers, I have a plan in place to slurp slowly in discreet ‘o,o,o,o,o,oa,oa,oa,oa,eh,eh,eh,o,ooo,o-like’ sips.  Think on.

rook

Sof’s joy in discovery:

I heard and reviewed the album 3 by Sonotanotanpenz at the start of my Midwich employment and have since heard everything I can by them because, for me, they just tick all the right boxes. Cheers to Kirigirisu Records for pointing me in the right direction finding this stuff!

sonotanotanpenz - 3

Luke forward/slashes:

Ben Hallatt – Kay Hill, scke//, KIKS/GFR – the sinister/minimal man, eerie urban horror with muted synth/tape work.

tessellation

…and I say:

…that I haven’t had the wherewithal for the obsessive curiosity that usually makes it so easy and obvious to decide the winner of this category.  I have a few interests bubbling under – that lovely, young Graham Dunning seems like an intriguing chap so maybe I’ll stalk him once I have the energy – but in the meantime I’m happy to to go along with Chrissie’s nomination of Sabrina Peña Young.

SPY1

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

Sof ponders:

I don’t think I have an answer for this one, I can only think of Delphine Dora who released four albums this year which to me seems a huge amount! I’m not really into musicians who put out so much stuff that I can’t keep up. It puts me off if I’m honest, I like small and considered bodies of work. [Editor’s note: a very practical attitude – and Delphine should definitely be on everyone’s list anyway.]

delphine

Chrissie scratches her head too:

I’ve not really reviewed enough to come up with a suitable nomination for this. Similarly for the label award. I was tempted to nominate Steve Lawson for the Stokoe cup but he might be rather too ‘big’ for that to be sensible now and also I don’t believe he’s ever been reviewed here [Editor’s note: he is and he hasn’t but, hey, s’up to you – it’s an indication of where you are coming from too]. However he does release a considerable amount of material and it is of quite an amazingly high standard.

No doubts from Joe:

We’re all renaissance men and women now eh?  Fingers in various pies yeah?  You’re a composer/performer, a curator, a thinker, an archivist, a broadcaster, a hard-assed critic and goofy listener, a publisher and promoter?  Scratch the N-AU and we bleed like colourful skittles. 

This is all vital and impressive for sure.  But the real trick is to weave all those various roles together with a broader sense of ‘who you are’, a central-unifying-theme and aesthetic that’s as real as Westeros fantasy shizzle. So with the powers invested in me by the fabled ‘Stokoe Cup’ I hereby recommend Andy Wild, the Crow versus Crow guy guy, as an upstanding exemplar of unified vision, industry and purpose.

Not only is Andy releasing beautifully packaged CDs on the CvC label, he’s keeping us up-to-date with a set of paintings and photography.  He’s had a one-man exhibition, “You’re Gonna Need That Pure Religion, Halleloo” in his native Halifax.  He’s researched, presented and broadcast almost 100 radio shows and curated a bunch of special one-off sessions (like John Peel yeah).  And all this strikes me with a look and a feel that’s unmistakably CvC and unified.  Here’s an example: as Andy dug deeper into old blues records spindly hiss and burr appeared on the paintings (and in the exhibition title).  The smeared photos mirrored the abstract sound of worn vinyl.  The shows became looser, the voice deeper and the mood darker.  Do people still do mission statements?  If so, is ‘be beautiful’ taken?

crowradio

Luke starts on a theme:

A tough one this year with the above mentioned Ben Hallatt and the incredible Stuart Chalmers.  My vote, however, has to go to Robert Ridley-Shackleton: the Oxfam prince, the cardboard king.  He keeps on peaking, inhabiting his own corner. In a just universe he would be on the X Factor panel: he IS pop.

robbie7

…and I say:

Well, Joe makes a compelling case for Andy Crow there and since being born from an egg on a mountaintop the nature of Shackleton is irrepressible, but I’m handing the trophy to a familiar name and previous Zellaby award winner: Kev Sanders.

Whilst not quite reaching the Stakhanovite release rate displayed in 2014, his productivity remains alarming high, as does the quality of his work. I’ve not reviewed a great deal of it, nor much else released on his label hairdryer excommunication (this collection of haiku from September being my main engagement) but it has been an ever-present background radiation.

If you picture the year as an autobahn, one which I have been stalled beside, hood up, engine steaming, then Kev’s music is a series of electricity pylons running alongside carrying cables buzzing with an intensity that is somehow both bleak and comforting. I wish him well with his coming move to that London and look forward to a chance to catch up whilst he is otherwise engaged. Now, like a casino bouncer chucking out a professional gambler, I’m banning him from winning anything else for a while. House rules.

embers

3. The Special Contribution to Radio Free Midwich Award

Sof and Chrissie have a playground tussle over who gets to be teacher’s pet:

SofIt’s no secret that Rob Hayler has had a rough year with his depression but his drive and passion for underground music has meant he’s kept up with this blog which I’m sure a lot of folks wouldn’t do under the same circumstances – fair play and respect to you!

Chrissie: At the risk of sounding like a spoilt kid sucking up to the boss, I’d like to nominate Rob for this award. In what has been a difficult year for him he’s hired three new writers, no small risk in itself, trusting our ability to actually deliver readable prose (well, in my case anyway) in usable quantities, not to mention editing it onto the blog in good shape and good time. He’s also put up with my erratic writing schedule and lack of enthusiasm to take anything off the review pile – preferring to go off on my own in a crusade to bring more female artists to the notice of our good and loyal readers.

[Editor’s note: it might appear shameless to include the above, and I admit it kinda is, but, as I’ve pointed out, it has been a tough year and I was touched.  Let me have a little sugar, yeah?]

Luke picks an outlier:

Sorry gonna have to be Robert Ridley-Shackleton again [sings: “Return of the Shack!  Here it is…!”].  A little quote from Robbie following a chat about tedious porn/bondage themes in noise:

To me noise is a positive thing, it fills my brain full of the joys. I don’t understand all the negative themes presented, to me it’s life affirming

Yeah baby!!!

[Editor’s note: R-Shack’s physical contribution to RFM is indeed notable as he sent copies of all his releases plus extra examples of his womble-on-ketamine junk art not just to RFMHQ but also personally to Joe and Luke too – a Knight of the Post.]

Joe rallies the troops:

As ever, I reckon this one belongs to everybody.  Anyone that sent in a tape, clicked on a link, wrote a review, listened with intent, left a comment or gave a god-damn fuck.  This one’s for you.  It’s all of us that make this: writers, readers, editors…even you cynics (coz debate is good, yeah?).  We’re all part of the oneness.  No one hears a tree fall in an empty forest right?

…and I say:

Tempting as it is to fall into step and punch the air, nostrils flaring, there is an objectively true answer to the question and that is: Anne, my wife.  Without her love, care and truly unbelievable strength this blog would not have continued to exist.

However, if we limit the word ‘contribution’ to meaning actual hands-on graft accounting for the endeavours of the no-audience underground then only one name can be engraved on this medal: Joe Murray.

Of the 93 posts published this year a huge proportion were by Joe and each of those usually contained reviews of numerous items sourced from far-flung corners of the outer reaches.  Despite his hep prose poetry being the best music writing currently available – Richard Youngs himself described Joe’s review of his epic No Fans seven CD box set as ‘the definitive account’ – he is completely selfless in his unpretentious enthusiasm.  He embodies the ethos of this blog.

posscat

[Editor’s note: hmmm… getting a bit lovey and self-congratulatory this isn’t it?  Maybe I’ll rethink this category for next year <takes deep breath, dabs corner of eye> OK, on with the big gongs!]

2. The Label of the Year Award

Sof sticks to the point:

I’ve really enjoyed every release I’ve heard from Fort Evil Fruit this year, and most years, I think we must have the same taste in music.

fort

Luke whittles on the porch:

Another tough one with old favourites like Chocolate Monk continuing to deliver the goods.  However at a push it’d be Winebox Press, a fairly laid back work rate but always something to look forward to, can’t think of another label as aesthetically as well as sonically pleasing to me at least. Objects of cosmic power that’ll warm you from the inside out.

winebox

Joe’s takes a turn:

Let’s hear it for Cardboard Club.  Why?  For the dogged determination and other worldly logic of course.  I have no idea what is going on in the disco/noise shire of Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  All I know is that I like it, I like it a lot. 

Robert’s singular vision is not so much outsider as out-rigger; a ghost on the pillion.  The label spreads itself across media so the scrabbly zines, tape artwork and ‘pocket-jazz’ sound can only contain the RR-S, nothing else.  But what made me giggle, what made me really smile was the recent move to vinyl.  Some lame-o’s see the hallowed seven inch as a step up; a career move if you please!  With that kind of attitude the battle is already lost and all ideals get mushed in ‘rock school’ production.  None of this for our Cardboard Club… it sounds exactly the same!  A hero for our troubled times.

cclub

…and I say:

Yep, all excellent selections deserving of your attention but, with hairdryer excommunication out of the way, I’m going to use editor’s privilege to share this year’s prize between two exemplary catalogues: Invisible City Records and Power Moves Label.  Both are tape-plus-download labels based on Bandcamp, both have strong individual identities – in ethos and aesthetic – despite presenting diverse, intriguing rosters and both share impeccable no-audience underground credentials (PML’s slogan: ‘true bedroom recordings with delusions of grandeur’).  It don’t hurt that the gents running each – Craig and Kev respectively – are polite, efficient and enthusiastic in their correspondence too.  Anyone looking for a model as to how it should be done could do worse than sit at the front of their class and take careful notes.

[Editor’s note on the Editor’s note: yes, yes, I know that ICR re-released my epic masterpiece The Swift, thus making it the label of the year by default but I felt duty bound to mention it anyway.  Shame on Tabs Out Podcast, by the way, for filling the first 135 places of their 2015 Top 200 with hype and industry payola.  Glad to see sanity and integrity restored with #136.]

icrpower

1. The Album of the Year Award

Chrissie kicks us off:

1. R.A.N

My first female:pressure review and the one I still listen to the most.

…not only are the individual tracks on this album good, but the ordering of them is exquisite. They follow on from each other in a wonderful, spooky narrative that runs smoothly and expertly from start to finish – the gaps between them allowing you to pause for breath before being dragged into the next hellmouth.

RAN_-_Her_Trembling_Ceased

2. FAKE Mistress – entertainted

The opening track, ‘Appreciate the moment’s security’, will pull you in with its drama, heavy noise-based beats, spooky voicing and very punkish shouting but you’ll stay for the gentler opening of ‘You better trust’, intrigued by where it’s going. There’s harsh noise in the middle of this track and in lots of places on this album, but it’s never over-used. It’s here as a structural device to take you by surprise and drag you out of your complacency.

entertainted

Luke casts his net wide:

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP

Charlotte Braun – Happy Being Sad

Absurde, Chier – Absurde VS Chier

Skatgobs – Pointless

Blood Stereo – The Lure of Gurp

Alec Cheer – Autumn

Ali Robertson & His Conversations

Guttersnipe – Demo

xazzaz – descent / the crusher

VA AA LR – Ping Cone

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks 3/4

Anla Courtis – B-Rain Folklore

S C K E / Kay Hill – Disclosure, TESSELLATION A/B, IN-GRAIN, Cold Title

Jon Collin – Wrong Moves / Dream Recall

Whole Voyald Infinite Light – Uncollected Recordings

Ashtray Navigations – Lemon Blossom Gently Pixelating In The Breeze

Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels

yol / posset – a watched pot never (no link – ask yol or Joe, they’ll sort you out)

half an abortion / yol – the designated driver

Shareholder – Jimmy Shan

[Editor’s note: blimey, eh?  Luke also provided a ‘year in metal’ list too!  Available on request.]

lemon

Sof’s impeccable taste displayed:

I’m going with Steven Ball’s Collected Local Songs which I reviewed earlier this year because it’s the one I’ve gone back to over and over, each listen revealing more to me. It’s such an original piece of work.

Originality is the theme of my list –

Saboteuse – Death, Of Course (this maaaaaaay, have come out last year!)

Bridget Hayden and Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child

Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God

Guttersnipe – Demo

Rosemary Krust – Rosemary Krust

Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker – Show Your Sketches

Delphine Dora – L’au-delà

steven ball - collected local songs

Joe selects:

I fucking guarantee your serious music critics will moan and denounce 2015 as a fallow year for sounds.  Fools!  If you look around there’s an embarrassment of riches spilling out of the tape drawer, CD-r pile and download..er…folder? 

I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable hurling my opinion of ‘what’s best’ around so, in the spirit of “non-competition and praise”, here’s what I’d play you right now if you were to pop round for sherry.

  • yol – everyday rituals. When a record makes you run giddy for the Spanish/English dictionary you know something extraordinary is at work.  You’re familiar with yol yeah? You’re not?  Get a-fucking cracking pal.  This is a truly explosive & genuine performance that makes your insipid rebellion look safe as milk.
  • Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God. A super-subtle voice and tape work.  What I love is the ‘too studio-fucked to be field recordings and too much punk-ass rush for fluxus’ approach.  Natural and wonderfully blunted domestic, ‘Others…’ inhabits its own space – like a boil in the bag something served piping hot.
  • Midnight Doctors – Through a Screen and Into a Hole. The merciless despot with a harmonium!  Phil Begg’s steady hand guides a cavalcade of rough North East gonks through their paces to produce a timeless noir classic.  It is equal parts soundtrack, accurate cop-show homage and mysterious new direction for tight-meshed ensemble.  C’mon Hollywood… make that damn call.
  • Shareholder – Jimmy Shan. Rock und Roll songs collapse in sharp slaggy heaps. Dirty explosions replace instruments (the guitar x 2 and drums) leaving us dazed in a no-man’s-land of stunning, blinding light and electricity.  Ferocious and don’t-give-a-fuck all at once.
  • Tom White – Reconstruction is tied, even-stevens, with Sindre Bjerga’s – Attractive Amplification. The world of violent tape abuse is one I follow avidly. But there’s nothing to separate these two outstanding tapes (of tapes, of tapes, of tapes).  Both Tom and Sindre have the muscle memory and total mastery of their mediums (reel to reel and compact cassette) to wrench brown, sticky moans from the vintage equipment.  It sounds belligerent, punch drunk and rum-sloppy to my ears.  A perfect night out chaps!

yol - er

…and finally, your humble editor:

Bubbling under: here are the releases that made my long list but not the countdown. Every one a cracker, presented here in alphabetical order to avoid squabbles breaking out in the car park:

Culver – Saps 76

David Somló – Movement

Delphine Dora and Sophie Cooper – Distance, Future

Dominic Coppola – Vogue Meditations

Hagman – Inundation

Hardworking Families – Happy Days

Ian Watson – Caermaen

joined by wire – universe allstars

Luminous Monsters – The Sun Tree

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Self-Titled EP

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower

Shredderghost – Golden Cell

yol – everyday rituals

[Editor’s note: I also have to make special mention of Askild Haugland and his peerless recordings as Taming Power. I’ve received two (I think, possibly three) parcels from him this year containing his work, all the way from Norway, and these recordings always have a profound and meditative effect. Some of it, for instance the 7” single Fragments of the Name of God, could quite possibly be perfect.]

OK, right – ooo! exciting! – here’s the top ten, presented in traditional reverse order:

10. E.Y.E – MD2015

md2015

…and what a joy it has been to have Paul Harrison back in the fray!  Yes, after over a decade new material from Paul’s Expose Your Eyes project was finally made available via his new Bandcamp label Eye Fiend – a repository for much missed Fiend Recordings back catalogue (Mrs Cakehead has to be heard to be believed) and digital versions of the new stuff which is otherwise only available in tiny hand-splattered physical editions.

MD2015 is a four CD-r, four hour and twenty minute set comprising discordant synth clatters, decontextualized chanting (familiar to anyone into first wave industrial music), beats: pitter, patter – galloping hooves – factory presses, intoxicating loops, delirium (remember that footage of animals drunk on fermented fruit?  This is the OST to a bootleg version of The Lion King that features those orgiastic scenes), repetition beyond human endurance / irresistible motoric groove, ‘proper’ noise – all primary sexual characteristics out and flapping in the breeze, and sorbet-refreshing shortwave-radio-ish pulse.  It is a lot of fun.

9. AAS – Balancing Ritual

aas

Y’know when your favourite stoner rock band lay down a super heavy, half-hour long, ego-obliterating, tethered crescendo but it isn’t quite enough so you and a hardy group of the suspicious break into one of the spaceships of a seemingly benevolent alien race currently visiting Earth and discover this playing inside?  Yeah?  A version of the above but clinical, steely, a step up from our humble efforts.  It’s like that and I, for one, welcome our new drone overlords…

Graham Dunning offered to send me a tape of this, I visited Bandcamp for a sneaky preview and ended up so impressed that I’d bought the download and fallen in love before my exhausted postie even delivered the jiffy bag.  I can count on the fingers of no fingers the other times that has happened recently.

8. Duncan Harrison, BBBlood, Aqua Dentata – “Ineluctable modality of the visible”

ineluctable

What an excellent three-fer.  Not only occupying a wholly justified place in the chart but giving me the opportunity to praise Paul Watson (BBBlood), Duncan Harrison (who’s Others Delete God tape, so highly praised earlier, shamefully passed me by.  Did I ever own it?  Did I send it to Joe in a moment of madness?  Ah, who knows?) and Eddie Nuttall (who, as Aqua Dentata, is producing amongst the finest work on my radar).  Here’s some extracts from marlo’s review:

…But, damn you, Duncan Harrison! The first track immediately gets me back in my academic head! ‘(Je suis) La Loi’ makes me think of psychoanalytical linguist theorist Julia Kristeva and deconstructionist scholar Jacques Derrida. The use of breath and physiological sounds makes the listening an embodied experience. The listener feels present. It is hard not to notice if one’s lips are dry or if you possibly had too many coffees…

…In ‘Nexistence of Vividence’, BBBlood returns to more of the crunchy reeling and wheeling and dealing. It is a typhoon that builds and waits. Never fully collapsing, the sounds peters out like attempting to catch water running through fingers. Yet there is an ethereal resolution to the struggle and the listeners are laid to rest, an aural wiping of the brow. Time to rest after the long haul…

…Eddie Nuttall, a.k.a Aqua Dentata, is not from this planet. I honestly don’t think he is. His music feels like extraterrestrial communication from outside our universe. Like binaural beats and subconscious interfering hypnosis, his untitled track sounds like it is made of laser beams. As a listener, you feel like you merge with the frequency and question your ability to make cognitive sense. It isn’t because of a reliance in bombarding one with several sounds but rather a direct cerebral invasion…

7. The Piss Superstition – Garage Squall

garage squall

Joe reviewed this one in the shape of a UFO. No, I don’t know why either but it is absolutely bang on:

Mag-lev trains.

The very best form of bluster.

As gentle as breath on a mirror,

Predator’s Answerphone message

The Velvet Underground trapped in a matchbox.

A map! Hectares of featureless crystalline crackle – zoom into mountains,

A corduroy vibe; not geography teacher clichés but that ribbed softness – a tickle on the fingernail.

Ride the world’s slowest roller-coaster taking 1000 years, cranking the incline.

Forbidden Planet strained with nourishing iron-rich greens,

A dream-tractor changing gear on the endless road.

Immense power restrained by gravity

A hit of strong, clean anaesthetic,

I’m counting backwards.

10, 9, 8…

6. Stuart Chalmers – Loop Phantasy No. 1, No. 2, No. 3

lp1

Joe again, not sparing the superlatives:

…But this time I throw my regular Northern caution and cynicism out the window and claim these three recordings THE MOST IMPORTANT SALVAGED TAPE LOOP RECORDINGS EVER YEAH.

What?  Like…ever?

I hear you ask.

Yes

I answer with a calm, clear voice.

Like in the whole 100 year history of recorded music?

You probe,

even including the oft- mentioned high- water mark of looping Tom Recchion’s Chaotica?

You add.  I merely smile and press play on the device of your choice.

You must listen, you must listen to truly understand

I chant with glassy eyes.

Anyway… fuck yeah!  That’s what I’m saying.  If you want to know where looping is right now in 2015/2016: PLAY THESE RECORDS.  If you are looking for an instructional map of what’s possible with simple tape loops, a couple of pedals and some hot ears: PLAY THESE RECORDS.  If you want to open up that valve in your stomach that helps you release gaseous tension: PLAY THESE RECORDS…

…Students of tape culture – your set-text has arrived.  Screw in those earbuds and get seriously twisted.

5. Ashtray Navigations – A Shimmering Replica

ashshimmer

A beautiful album in every respect and an entirely life-affirming experience.  Terrific to see Phil and Mel get such a high-profile, flagship release in what was a high-profile, flagship year for the band.  I will have more to say on this in a long-planned article which will be published around the eventual release date of the long-planned best of Ashtray Navigations 4CD box set.  Coming soon!  In the meantime: buy this.

4. Melanie O’Dubhshlaine – Deformed Vowels

mel

Likewise, Mel’s remarkable solo venture deserves a much more detailed account than it is going to get here.  Via a kind of meta-semi-improv (or something?) she continues on her utterly compelling, largely unheralded project to reinvent music on her own terms.

I imagine a Dr. Moreau style musical laboratory in which Mel cares for her cross bred instruments, incunabula parping their first notes, joyfully interacting with the sentient automata Mel has created to entertain them with.  She dangles a microphone over the giant aquarium tank in which they all live and conducts this unique performance.

Unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, or maybe ever.

3. Helicopter Quartet – Ghost Machine

ghost machine

A peerless work, even within the band’s own faultless back catalogue.  From my review:

It is difficult to write about Helicopter Quartet, the duo of RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield (violin, synths) and Michael Capstick (guitars), because their music is so enveloping, so attention seizing, that when I’m listening the part of my brain I use to put words in a row is too awestruck to function.  However, following many hours with it, I am certain this is their best album yet.  That a work of such mature beauty, sculpted over months, is freely downloadable is surely further evidence that we are living in a golden age for self released music.  It has the austere and magisterial presence of a glacier edge, the drama of that glacier calving into the sea.

If you ever act on anything I say then act on this: go get it.

2. Guttersnipe – Demo

guttersnipe

Wow, this kicked the fucking doors in.  With this CD-r and a series of explosive live performances Guttersnipe owned 2015 – they were either your new favourite band or you just hadn’t heard of them yet.  Luke got to review this one, here’s an extract:

Guttersnipe whip up a frightening noise on drums, guitars, electronics and howled vocals that will have you reaching for the light switch. The cassette fidelity smudges the freejazzmetalhaze into a fog of terror from which emerges the fangs of a gaping gob ready to bite you. I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal recently and these vocals could have the corpse painted hordes crying for their mama.  However, they are not the guttural grunts of the alpha male but more a feminine screech of desperation and disgust which the other two respond to by conjuring a blackened and unsettled miasma.  Calling this disc demo leads me to believe that Guttersnipe are selling themselves short.  This is impressively original material that comes over like a Xasthur/Skullflower hybrid with a hefty slug of secret ingredient.  Marvellous job.

Amusingly, and presumably because he hadn’t seen them live at the time, he seems to imply this duo is a trio – a testament to their ferocity (and my skills as an editor…).

1. namke communications – 365/2015

namke - 365-2015

Finally then, the winner of the Zellaby Award for album of the year presented by Radio Free Midwich is, in an unusually literal sense, the album of the year: 365/2015 by namke communications.  Here’s some context from a piece I wrote in March:

…old-friend-of-RFM John Tuffen, in a project which recalls the conceptual bloodymindedness of Bill Drummond (who has raised ‘seeing it through’ to the level of art form), is recording a track every day throughout the whole of 2015 and adding them to the album [on Bandcamp] as the calendar marches on … each track is freshly produced on the day in question and, as might be expected, vary enormously in style, execution and instrumentation – there is guitar improv, electronica in various hues and field recording amongst other genres welcome ’round here…

Indeed, added to various forms of (usually light and expansive) improv and field and domestic recordings of life’s ebb and flow were many forays into sub-genres of electronica, techno as she is written, actual *ahem* songs, drones of many textures, experimental sketches with software and new toys, callbacks, the odd joke (all tracks in February had the duration 4’33” following a twitter exchange with me) and so on and so, unbelievably, on.  I can’t claim to have heard all of it – of course I haven’t – and there are misfires – of course there are – but the level of quality maintained is gobsmacking given the scope of the exercise.

Each track was accompanied by notes, most with a picture and then a tweet announced its presence too.  John was no slacker on the admin – I approve.  In March I suggested:

This one I have no qualms about dipping into, in fact I would recommend constructing your own dipping strategies. As the year progresses you could build an album from the birthdays of your family, or never forget an anniversary again with a self-constructed namke communications love-bundle. Won a tenner on the lottery? Create your own three track EP with the numbers and paypal John a couple of quid. Or perhaps a five CD boxset called ‘Thursday Afternoon’, in homage to Brian Eno, containing everything released on that day of the week? Or condense the occult magic with a set comprising every 23rd track? Ah, the fun to be had. Or you could just listen to it on a daily basis until it becomes a welcome part of your routine…

I was at least half-joking at the time but engaging with 365/2015 has proved a unique way of experiencing an album.  During the worst of my illness, as I spent nights trawling Twitter unable to sleep, it did become a valuable part of my daily routine.  Literally a light in the darkness – Bandcamp page shining on the tablet as I lay in bed – John’s project, existing due to nothing but his crazy drive to create (the whole thing, 40+ hours, available as a ‘name your price’ download!), truly helped me through.  A clear and worthy winner.

In conclusion…

So, that is that for another year.  John’s prize, should he wish to take me up on it, is for namke communications to have the one and only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings some time in 2016.  A surprise baby sister, perhaps, for his lovely available from namke communications released by me back in the day and now (I think) a teenager itself.

Many thanks to my fellow writers and to all who support us – for your time, patience and enthusiasm – it is much appreciated.  Heartfelt best wishes for the New Year, comrades.

All is love.

Rob Hayler, January 2016.

—ooOoo—

detritus maestros: luke vollar on va aa lr, guttersnipe, xazzaz

August 6, 2015 at 3:52 pm | Posted in no audience underground, not bloody music | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , ,

VA AA LR – Ping Cone (tape, Mantile Records, #028, edition of 50)

Guttersnipe – Demo (CD-r or download, self-released)

xazzaz – descent / the crusher (tape, matching head, matching head 209)

VAAALR_PINGCONE

VA AA LR – Ping Cone

VA AA LR are a trio of London based improvisers who make a confounding and ludicrous noise on all manner of non-musical items.  The most obvious comparison would be with that other trio of detritus maestros Spoils & Relics, as they also have a weird grasp of group dynamics and a fearless trust in the communal brain.  No coincidence that the tape is released on Mantile Records – (the smallest Spoils member) Johnny Scarr’s label.

Abrupt cuts and volume drops entice the curious into the rusty thicket, it’s just you’re more likely to get a spoke in your ass than a sloppy kiss.  What starts as hesitant and probing gradually becomes the lopsided half jam of a cola slurping rusted robot making its way down a filthy, ruined corridor – a strobe occasionally lighting the dismal scene.

Yes, we could talk about the lineage of AMM and the principles of improvisation and experimentation being ingested and regurgitated by a new generation but something tells me that these boys would be more interested in yanking your pants down in public and laughing at your bare ass than discussing Eddie Prevost’s latest musings.

guttersnipe

Guttersnipe – Demo

Now this li’l disc arrived with me via a man who quite possibly has the most perfect name for a punk drummer ever: Rob Glew, a.k.a. ‘The Ginger Tornado; a.k.a. ‘Spaghetti Limbs’ a.k.a. ‘Bobby Sticks’.  Ex- of sadly defunct righteous punk squawkers etai keshiki, a band who shared a tape with my groop Castrato Attack Group (*ahem*, still available for gigs).  An unlikely comradery developed betwixt both bands: the skinny shit kickers and the receding, beer bellied sludgemonauts – a cosmic alignment if you will.  Hell, Bobby even guested on sticks for one Castrato show.  But enough of  Ol’ Vollars reminiscing, etai keshiki have ceased to be but all members have to my knowledge continued to pursue musical activities.  For instance…

Guttersnipe whip up a frightening noise on drums, guitars, electronics and howled vocals that will have you reaching for the light switch. The cassette fidelity smudges the freejazzmetalhaze into a fog of terror from which emerges the fangs of a gaping gob ready to bite you. I’ve been listening to a lot of black metal recently and these vocals could have the corpse painted hordes crying for their mama.  However, they are not the guttural grunts of the alpha male but more a feminine screech of desperation and disgust which the other two respond to by conjuring a blackened and unsettled miasma.  Calling this disc demo leads me to believe that Guttersnipe are selling themselves short.  This is impressively original material that comes over like a Xasthur/Skullflower hybrid with a hefty slug of secret ingredient.  Marvellous job.

xazzaz - descent crusher

xazzaz – descent / the crusher

Another missive from the North East primitives on the none-more-black Matching Head: tape only, no internet presence, all regular readers know the drill.  Xazzaz has elegantly stroked my lobes in the past with fine, nourished noise loopholes. This one coughed up in a plastic rectangle from the Northumberland swamps is a sidestep that shows another feather in his headdress.

The fidelity is gloriously wrong, as if a ball of fluff the size of a tennis ball was hanging off the needle of your record player. A hypnotic loop comes in and out of focus like the black oily cogs lowering you beneath the surface.  Frenzied string abuse compelling forward (or downward) motion also blurs and sharpens.  A similar theme is maintained over both sides with a strong atmosphere of anxiety, as if our man is descending into unknown and inky depths with only his battered guitar and amp on the plinth, trying to wring as much from the rusty strings as his cold damp fingers will allow. There is a darkly compelling isolationist bent to this tape that is as inviting as the warm glow of a stranger’s window on a pitch black night.  A bit of research tells me that Xazzaz has his first proper CD now available from Turgid Animal.  Just try and stop me.

—ooOoo—

Mantile Records

Guttersnipe

Matching Head

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