midwichmas: live at the radiofreemidwich 5th birthday shindig

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

nov 29th gig poster

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

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

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

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

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

Heh, wouldn’t that be glorious, eh?

OK, on with the showbusiness…

hagman 29-11-14

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

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

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

…and then:

it's showtime folks

…it was SHOWTIME folks!

midwich 29-11-14

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

…better than the Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Surely, no rational observer could disagree.

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

uk muzzlers 29-11-14

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

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

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

The noise purists don’t like this…

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

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



Human Combustion Engine


UK Muzzlers (dunno – try via Astral Social Club)


Wharf Chambers

Sonic Circuits


new from empire ashnav: human combustion engine vi

March 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Human Combustion Engine VI: Games Without (CDr, Ilse, Ilse 34)

human combustion engine games without cover

When asked ‘Rob, what is your favourite band?’ I am happy to reply with frank conviction ‘Ashtray Navigations.’  I admit to being distracted occasionally by acts new to me – witness my fawning adulation of, say, Aqua Dentata or Helicopter Quartet or Spoils & Relics – but it is to Phil and Mel I always return.  Even the seemingly irresistible embrace of Culver can be shrugged off in their presence (aside: my devotion is just one of the many traits I apparently share with punk legend Henry Rollins, a fellow Todd collector).

So what a heady delight to be treated in quick succession to three new products from the extended AshNav Empire.  The compilation Knurr & Spell and the Ashtray Navigations / Pelktopia split vinyl LP – both excellent – will be dealt with in due course, as fatherhood allows.  For now we concern ourselves with a brief account of the release above.

Games Without is the sixth volume in the continuing saga of Human Combustion Engine, Mel and Phil’s krautrock/prog synth incarnation.  The package is entirely standard: pro-copied CD-r in jewel case with colour insert.  The content is one 45 minute track constructed from subtle tweaking and restrained knob twiddling.  The effect is to induce a maximal reverie just as involving as any of the preceding episodes.

I imagine it as a conversation between enormously powerful artificial intelligences.  The background buzz and throb being the sound of their daily planet-running business, the pulses being the information-rich exchanges between them.  Perhaps they are discussing the relative merits of the civilisations that created them, like demigods comparing worshippers.  The banter remains civil until at one point something offensive is said (“those Alpha Centauri twats smell of cabbage,” perhaps) and before tempers can be cooled a giant space rock is thrown at the Urals.  The subject is quickly changed and we finish more or less where we started.  Lovely.

Buy here.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: recent human combustibles

August 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations – Three Spots Two Circles (Medusa, 014, 2 x 3″ CD-r with poster, edition of 50)

Human Combustion Engine V – Bible Whistle (Total Vermin, #76, cassette)

Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides + Human Combustion Engine = Human Horses (Memoirs Of An Aesthete, CD in digipak, edition of 250)

So, Phil and Mel hand me some new stuff, right, and it is well smart so I decide to write about it, yeah, so I look back through the blog to find my last piece on the AshNav axis to make sure that I repeat any running jokes or overworked metaphors that I’ve annoyed them with before and, to my horror, I discover that I’ve said nothing about Three Spots Two Circles!  Nowt!

I’m not sure how/why this dodged the review pile but I suspect it was because I thought it had sold out at source – Medusa – almost instantly.  I might have been wrong (please check) but I don’t like to risk upsetting my sensitive readers by singing the praises of an unavailable item.  Still, as a terrific release by my favourite band I have to at least note it in passing.  From the eye-opening, Pendereckish scraped strings of ‘Forced Orchestra One’, through the more recognizably Ashnavian tropical psych of, well, the rest of it, the level of humour, invention and groove is maintained at a knock-out pitch.  The package is exquisite too – a lovely foldout poster in Renaissance gold, black and white hides two individually wrapped 3″ CD-rs.  Double mini-CD-r = format of champions.  Let’s move swiftly on to two items that are (almost) definitely available…

Human Combustion Engine V – Bible Whistle, is a one-lengthy-track-per-side cassette on the surprisingly-lovely-given-the-name Total Vermin.  The cover features the enormously be-conked, perma-grinning plaster face of Mr. Noseybonk – a nightmare-inducing mime from 80s children’s television series JigsawPerhaps the less said about him the better.

Anyway, this be the fifth outing of Phil and Mel’s synth duo incarnation (hence the ‘V’).  As you might expect given the instrumentation, there are tangerine passages but it isn’t overly krautish nor does it feel at all like pastiche, or even homage for that matter.  If you want layers of low-end robo-dystopian rumble or epic synth washes then you can find ‘em – especially on side two’s ‘The Importance of Whistle Boards’ – but there is also plenty of agile tweakery going on which pushes things forward in an angular and involving fashion.  Let’s examine, for example, the opening to side one’s ‘Holiday Bible Week’ which begins in a spacey manner but this isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey spacey, more knitted-out-of-pink-wool Oliver Postgate spacey.  As the atmosphere surrounding the trilling and warbling darkens the new genre of electro-doom-clanger is birthed before our very ears.

An excellent companion piece to the stuff by Cloughy recently reviewed below.  At the time of writing this isn’t up on the Total Vermin blog yet but you could always drop Stuart a line at smearcampaign@hotmail.com and enquire as to what is up.

Finally, we have a proper pressed CD in a larily coloured digipak released by Phil’s own label Memoirs of an Aesthete.  Usefully, the project is explained by its own title: Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides + Human Combustion Engine = Human Horses so there you go.  Pascal Nichols (percussion) and Kelly Jayne Jones (flute, electronics and piano) join the HCE synthers for an improvised 40 minute performance recorded by RFM-chap-of-the-year-contender Andy Jarvis, Heathen Earth style, in front of a select audience.

I was very interested to hear how this was going to fit together.  Would the synths of HCE be mobile, reactive and spacious enough to accommodate, say, the delicacy and emotional potency of KJJ’s flute?  Would the remarkable, rolling, free drumming of PN really get its claws in or would it just skitter over the surface?  Silly me for even asking.  All the elements augment and amplify each other, creating a multi-faceted whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Imagine you are about to embark on a giant jigsaw (I’m talking about the tabletop time-killing activity now, not Mr. Noseybonk) of a tropical jungle scene.  The picture is always there, in prospect, from the moment you tip the pieces out of the box, before you even start to solve the puzzle.  However, it won’t resolve itself until you make some progress in assembling it, then it gradually becomes clearer and clearer until it is fully revealed by the satisfying placement of the last piece.

OK, now picture yourself as retired and therefore a fiend for jigsaws.  This is some distance in the future, of course, and now jigsaws are high tech things with shape-shifting pieces that change each time you waggle your iBrain implants.  Also, not only does the picture gradually take shape as you put it together but an immersive scene of lush plant life, strange insects, heat haze and exotic bird calls – stuff you can hear and see – is created at the same time.  Repeat listens to Human Horses is like that.  Buy here.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: etai keshiki – etai or die

February 23, 2012 at 8:52 am | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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ETAI KESHIKI – ETAI OR DIE (hypnowave records)

When a chap turns 40 years old, as I recently did, it can be an occasion for reflection.  I couldn’t help but look back (with some pride, some huge embarrassment) and look forward (with trepidation) but mainly I took a detailed stock-take of the present.  My conclusions were thus: I am, by and large, happy and content.

How my teenage self would have sneered at this overweight, balding hipster pitifully shielding his diminishing relevance: “Content?!  What?!  You sell-out!!”  Once I would have cowered defensively but now I recognize this kid for the callow bully that he was.  I’m partly exasperated at his daftness, partly in awe of his uncompromised ideals, undiluted by the universal solvent: reality.  Was that really me?  Thus, I find myself not resenting ‘the youth’ but instead charmed, sometimes frustrated, but mostly inspired by their antics.  I’m sure this comes across as condescending and patronising, despite my feelings being heartfelt and sincere – one of the hazards of cross-generational conversation, I suppose.  Oh well.

Being so wretchedly old and lazy, I rarely go to gigs.  I prefer to spend the evenings lounging on the chaise longue whilst my beautiful Turkish boy reads aloud from Lautréamont.  However, back on the 30th of January there was a reason to harness the horses: Human Combustion Engine were playing at the Fox & Newt.  This is the Krautronik side-project of Phil and Mel of Ashtray Navigations.  They sit facing each other, on either side of a table full of electronics, and perform an almost motionless game of knob-twiddling space-chess whilst filling the room with prostate-tickling throbs.  Great.

Their presence on this bill was somewhat odd because the rest of it was made up of *cough/splutter* actual bands, many members of which appeared comfortably young enough to be my children.  To be re-immersed in this crowd was as refreshing as a slap in the face and my favourite of these acts was Etai Keshiki.

Firstly: they act the part.  D (guitar, vocals) spent most of the set hovering a foot above the stage, toes pointed towards the floor.  Kayleigh (vocals, weevil) crouched on her haunches bellowing and screaming.  The lyrics were entirely unintelligible to me, of course (that might be an age thing too – long gone are my teenage skate-mutie days when I thought nothing of following the lyric sheet through Napalm Death’s Scum).  At one point inbetween songs she stopped, blagged a tissue from the audience, blew her nose into it, then showed us the contents.  Charming (it was!).  They look like a live action version of a band from Love and Rockets comic.

Secondly: they sound the part too.  Tight but not rigid, this band understand that even in the thrashiest, screamiest punk there needs to be room to move around.  The rhythm section of Rob (drums) and Tony (bass) have exactly the right loose-limbed style for this stuff.  Play too stiff and all you have is some dreadful metal variant, play like Etai and you have the rolling, queasy heaviness of early Butthole Surfers.  They are self-described as dadacore and screamno, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, I was smitten.  After the gig I had a look around the internet, found their Bandcamp page and downloaded the (freely available) album above.  It is terrific – just as dynamic and furious as the live show.  In my newfound role as patron of the arts I felt duty bound to purchase a physical copy too.  It arrived a fortnight later, very carefully wrapped in this (click to enlarge):

…and accompanied by a note written on the back of a flyer for the gig mentioned above.  They sheepishly apologised for the delay in getting it to me.  This was caused by them spending my payment on food then having to wait until some other form of income refilled the tank before they could post the tape.  Heh, heh – kids today, eh?

Download and/or buy here.  More downloads via Hypnowave Records here.  Etai blog here.

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