“our way of shaking hands”: trades and largesse in the no-audience underground

November 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Posted in art, musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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I wonder: does my telling you to ‘buy here’ ever result in you buying there?  Anecdotally, I’ve heard that a little money has changed hands as a result of my wittering, which is very exciting, but I suppose the answer is usually a sheepish ‘no’.  Hey, don’t sweat it – I’m just the same myself (and I still think that my ‘articles written to purchases made’ ratio is probably better than The Wire).  I read thousands of words about music in an average month and how much of it leads to commercial transactions on pay day?  Almost bugger all.  This state of affairs is only partly to do with my poverty or apathy, however.  I rarely have to spend much money as I ‘earn’ my trinkets through ‘contributing to the scene’ or benefit from the generosity of my talented friends.  Allow me to expand…

Joe Posset, RFM’s North-East correspondent, recently completed a sell-out tour in which he took his improv-dicta-madness to the alterno-stadia of the UK (Posset live in Café Oto can be heard here).  After returning home and enjoying a vigourous rub down from his Ukrainian masseuse, Joe lit a cigar and relaxed by catching up with the RFM articles he’d missed whilst on the road.  My comment quoting Andrew Perry on trades – “it’s our way of shaking hands” – really rubbed his Tibetan singing bowl and he dictated the following to his beautiful Turkish manservant:

As ever, I read your last post with interest.  Perry has a knack of hitting things bang on eh?.  The trade thing is a bit like  ‘our way of shaking hands’.  It’s also a great way to keep the filthy lucre out of the equation.  I sold one CD-R on that last tour.  Just one; and if I ever find out who bought it I’ll give them the next posset slop report just for showing so much faith.  But I came back with a stack of CD-Rs, tapes and vinyl the height of medium sized milk jug through trades with other bands, DIY labels and well-prepared punters.  They will keep me spinning & smiling until December and I’ve spread the p-word to a bunch of homesteads and families across the UK.  Everyone is a winner.

I found myself nodding in vigorous agreement and murmuring assent.  I mentioned that I have become one of those ‘well-prepared punters’, already in the habit of slipping a few midwich/Truant CD-rs into my pocket before venturing out.  Joe replied as follows:

Sociologically ‘alternative economy’ is one of the many interesting things about the n-au.  I know this is a wild stereotype but how come everyone is really clever too?  I’ve seldom met a thick or obnoxious n-au participant. They tend to be clever, well read, open-minded, polite polymaths…but usually skint too.  The trade off between riches (or at least the established ideas of success) and building up a killer collection of tapes and CD-Rs.  Ah…maybe that’s why we trade!!!

Leaving aside the self/scene-congratulation (momentarily – I’ll be coming back to it), and the shortening of ‘no-audience underground’ to a groovy academic acronym, Joe is obviously on to something.  Trade is, of course, the lifeblood of the scene in both of the senses that Joe uses the word: ‘trade’ to mean barter and ‘trade-off’ to refer to the choice between different standards of success.

The swapping of object for object is only the most straightforward type of barter/trade.  It saves everyone involved money and provides a risk-free way of picking up something new.  For punters it is a reward for generosity and open-mindedness, for distributors a way of circulating stock.  More interesting is the object for services rendered trade.  For example, the promoter of a successful gig may be ‘tipped’ by a grateful act with a pocket full of product.  Likewise, sometimes I have written about something I like on spec only for the artist to get in touch offering a no-strings selection from their back catalogue.  This is a good example of the joy and reciprocity in the scene: an attentive and appreciative punter is worth nurturing.  To be a member of the family all one has to do is express kinship.

It ain’t exclusively prelapsarian bliss though – sometimes this exchange is more calculated.  “Hey I dig your blog,” says label boss, “would you be interested in receiving a parcel of our stuff with a view to writing a label review?”  “Sure,” I reply, “on the understanding that I only write about what I like,” and we shake on the deal.  This is as close to ‘promotion’ as it gets but there is, hopefully, no possibility of it creating rancour as expectation is managed and, crucially, no money changes hands.

If there is a currency in circulation amongst us it is goodwill.  A certain amount of goodwill capital can be amassed but it can’t be hoarded in Scrooge McDuck-style coffers.  It needs to be fed and nurtured otherwise it will shrivel and wither.  Maintaining a stock of goodwill is more like tending a garden.  Thus, for example, when Rob Galpin tells me he created his charming tape ‘Like a Diamond in the Sigh’ by Crochet with the express purpose of using it for trade I get exactly what he is up to.

So why is goodwill so important?  Because money isn’t.  And here we need to consider the idea of trading off the standard indicators of success against others which may be more philosophically interesting.  Fame and wealth, as commonly understood, are not available to those pursuing fringe interests.  There is no screaming mob of fans to be milked dry of their pocket money with Astral Social Club 2012 calendars, there are no oligarchs wishing to be our patrons and, annoying as it may be when the rent is due, I suspect we sort of like it that way.  It means our ‘art’ and our ‘scene’, for the want of better words, can groove their own way uncompromised by non-artistic concerns.  I don’t want to come over all Bill Hicks here but money does tend to corrupt what it touches and its influence is insidious.  Whilst it would be nice, of course, to be able to sell-out a meagre run of CD-rs, if only to fund the next forlorn project, garnering the commendation of our peers can be way, way more important and satisfying.

Now on to us (almost) all being ‘clever, well read, open-minded, polite polymaths’.  Again, and at the risk of sounding incredibly self-serving, Joe is correct.  I think the only time I have encountered anyone really unpleasant and/or with money is at the power-electronics end of things which, especially on Continental Europe, seems to attract dilettantes and would-be decadent trustafarian idiots who feel they have to put on an air of misanthropy to impress their inexplicably beautiful, porcelain-skinned girlfriends.  Otherwise drone/improv/noise/whatever seems to be full of exactly the type that Joe describes in such flattering terms.  There is plenty to find maddening if you are the easily maddened type: individuals may be ripe with preciousness, woefully disorganised and/or ambitious to the point of delusion but I don’t consider those flaws to be unforgivable.  Much noise is the sound of its participants struggling to chew the unwieldy lumps they have bitten off and there is something hilarious, charming and heroically noble about that.

So why are there so few arseholes?  My guess is that there isn’t that much in the scene that an arsehole would be attracted to, or get off on.  There is no fame to abuse, no hierarchy to enforce, no money to waste, no club full of beautiful young things* to enthral with shallow glamour.  Not much room for an arsehole to really flex its sphincter.  Now, it would be wrong to say the scene is without vanity but prestige and respect are earned from a down-to-earth crowd of hard-working and dedicated artists and punters and any attempt to assign it prematurely, or hype it up to unwarranted levels, will be met with a scoff.  Ridicule is used to puncture pomposity but not in a sneering, back-stabbing, hipster way.  Instead wry amusement is used to call shenanigans on any attention seeking behaviour.  In short: our standards of success are unfathomable to the average fuck-knuckle and instead attract the fine, upstanding citizens who see the value in sharing their book-smarts and fancy-pants ideas with other fine, upstanding citizens.

Don’t it make you feel proud, eh?

–ooOoo–

*Aside: our Mexican cousin Miguel – of Oracle Netlabel and La Mancha del Pecado – has been perusing online photographs of eminent participants and has noted a no-audience underground equivalent of the Innsmouth look.  He wondered, tongue in cheek, if there could be such a thing as ‘genetic drone disorder’.  Admittedly this notion is hilarious, almost irresistible, but I don’t think that there is a biological reason for us being a bunch of oddballs.  I suspect instead that if we were all tall, handsome and cut like a freakin’ steak we’d be too busy being idiots and/or ruling the world to worry about booking the Fox & Newt and struggling to get a nine volt battery into that fuzz pedal…

bang the bore celebrates fencing flatworm recordings part two

November 12, 2011 at 10:51 am | Posted in blog info, fencing flatworm, midwich, musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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I am delighted to announce that part two of Bang the Bore’s article about fencing flatworm recordings, oTo tapes, midwich and this blog is now available to peruse.  I was in an expansive mood throughout this interview so it may be wise to don your smoking jacket, mix a martini and replenish your chip’n’dip before settling down.  I hope you find much of interest.  It was certainly a lot of fun to do and has inspired my recent creative endeavours (of which more anon).  Thanks again to Seth and Pete for doing an amazing amount of homework and asking some incisive and entertaining questions. 

Whilst I’m in self-congratulation mode, may I also note that RFM recently enjoyed its 11,000th ‘hit’ – a total up 175% on this time nine months ago.  The last 1000 hits have come in less than a month!  I am quietly proud of this modest result and would like to thank all those who have visited and contributed.  Cheers folks – I’m touched. 

Finally, I have also updated the ‘About me and this blog’ page (tab above) to give a more accurate account of what this blog has become over the (almost) two years of its existence.

architects of the no-audience underground: andrew perry knows what he is doing

November 12, 2011 at 10:31 am | Posted in live music, musings, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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  • Andrew Perry / Dead Wood – The Sweetest Meat (Striate Cortex, S.C.04, CD-r, 80 copies)
  • Andrew Perry / King Rib – Split (We’re gonna get fucking drunk tonight boys, CD-r)

As with so many other quality acts, Andrew Perry first came to my attention via Joe Posset, RFM’s North East correspondent.  Joe forwarded a copy of their split CD-r on Fuckin’ Amateurs, which turned out to be literally unlistenable (grumpiness here) then triumphant (happy ending here).  After the party, Andrew wrapped a large creamy slice of his back catalogue in coloured tissue and I carried it home, still feeling giddy from drinking too much pop.

Over the intervening months I have become a fan and was delighted both to meet the man and see him perform at that gig in October I keep banging on about.  Seeing his shtick live really helped coalesce a bunch of previously nebulous thoughts, as did hearing a couple more CD-rs of his that I blagged on the night.

Andrew is a prolific creator of music in his own name, with others – either in collaboration or as part of split releases, and has a label of his own too: the gloriously named ‘We’re gonna get fucking drunk tonight boys’.  The stuff released as ‘Andrew Perry’ is a mix of fuzzed-out 18-tog drone, balls-out noise, guitarish shimmer, lo-fi field recordings featuring snatches of conversation and tickly contact-mic closeness that makes you pull out your earphone and wiggle a finger in your aural cavity.  Indeed, you may get all of this within the same track.

Don’t expect a smoothly stirred cocktail, however, as this is more like a glass lighthouse filled with layers of different coloured sand by a distracted child thinking about ice-cream.  Some of the transitions between styles jar, and sometimes I wish he’d have a little more patience with a groove or blissed-out fuzz that he’s established only to dismiss, but on the other hand nothing outstays its welcome, nothing is allowed to bore, the ‘jukebox’ quality makes it good for repeat listens and the hit and miss ratio of the segments is weighted heavily in favour of the former.  It is really good walkman music and often accompanies me on the route to work, augmented by the sub-bass rumble of the bus idling at junctions.

When in collaboration with others, or under other names, Andrew reins in some of his tiggerish impulses and, whilst painting from a similar palette, long-form tracks are allowed to grow and mutate in a more leisurely fashion.  I am unsure of the personnel involved in Gish, King Rib, Dead Wood etc. but a fairly consistent aesthetic is at work throughout all the stuff I’ve heard and I suspect the diagram of their overlap could be drawn on a page torn from an exercise book.

Meeting the guy helped explain and flesh out his solo approach.  He was bouncily enthused, entertainingly sweary, wary of producing anything longer than 15 minutes for fear of boredom, and seemingly able to tweet on his ‘phone whilst nodding in vigorous agreement and remaining engaged with the conversation.  The performance was likewise: three different segments picked from the list in paragraph three, all performed with equal verve, which left the audience grinning madly.  His instructions to the sound guy: ‘loud as you like’.  The following day he met us for lunch and was wearing the same t-shirt.  Some years ago you might have worried that they guy had ADHD, now he just looks well adapted for life in the modern world…

So, why not cop hold of the two CD-rs above?  The one on Striate Cortex is of a quality and consistency you’d expect from that impeccable label.  Three tracks: 1/a guitar quiver similar to the opening seconds of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ stretched out into a lilting, climbing shimmer, 2/fire blankets of fuzz thrown over the flames, 3/crackling noise that is both spacey (as in open) and increasingly spacey (as in cosmic).  The other one is brand new and can be had dirt cheap via WGGFDTB.  Andrew’s half is an excellent example of the genre hopping I describe above and is balanced nicely by the uncomplicated dronetronics of King Rib.

Musing on the wilfully no-fi, punk-as-fuck packaging for the King Rib split – a photocopy of hand-written scrawl – leads inevitably back to a thought which has occurred to me several times whilst listening to Andrew’s work: “wow, he couldn’t give a monkey’s…”  This is not to say that Andrew dislikes our simian cousins – he may volunteer at a gibbon sanctuary for all I know – I am referring to the well worn idiom meaning ‘he doesn’t care’.  This may seem an odd thing to think as Mr Perry is obviously deeply passionate about his music, his performance, about the network of similar artists that he finds himself a part of, about engaging with the world via his drive to create, and about getting those creations heard – so allow me to explain.

Andrew appears to be refreshingly unconcerned with the twiddly peripherals of ‘finishing’ (meant in a sense akin to how the word is used in interior design) that others like to waste their time on.  The recording is lo-fi and I doubt any of the instruments used cost a fat lot either – I imagine travel to gigs involves backpacks, bubble-wrap and carrier bags, not flight cases lined with wavy grey foam.  Songs occasionally have beginnings but endings are usually arbitrary snips.  Many of Andrew’s track titles are throwaway funny or Dadaist goofy…

(Aside: nowt wrong with that, I suppose, but I can’t help thinking that it sometimes undermines the seriousness, beauty or quality of the music they refer to.  Does it show a lack of faith in the material or an energizing irreverence?  I’m not suggesting that being po-faced would be better – god forbid everything was called ‘Composition No. 112’ or ‘Lament for the Oppressed’ – just that, well, oh I dunno…)

…The biography on his wordpress site reads, in its entirety: “Andrew Perry has had no idea what he’s doing for a very long time.”  Amusingly, at the time I write this, all the events listed in the ‘Future’ section are now in the past.  And so on.  It is an attitude I’ve come to see a lot in what I lovingly refer to as the no-audience underground and it is personified by people like Andrew, like Fuckin’ Amateurs, like Hiroshima Yeah!, like Dex TapeNoise etc.  It’s the idea that the central pursuit – the MUSIC, the WRITING, the ART – is all that really matters and the rest can look after itself.  I don’t share it completely – I’m way too uptight for that – but I love it when I see it.

the infinite ‘betley welcomes careful drivers’ catalogue, part one

October 8, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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La Mancha Del Pecado – Gélido Horror Obscuro (Oracle ORE 69)

In the comprehensive interview with yours truly that forms part two of the Bang the Bore ‘investigation’ into my activities (coming soon) Seth and Pete ask me various questions about how the internet has changed no-audience related endeavour.  To summarise, my answer is: not as much as you might think.  At one point I say (and please forgive me the narcissism of quoting myself):

This music is produced and appreciated by a tiny number of people who are driven to make it, driven to distribute it and driven to seek it out.  They’d be doing this with or without myspace or the like.  The internet has occasionally made their lives a little easier but the difference is purely practical, not a difference in kind.

This week I’ve had cause to reflect on that thought and, whilst I stand by the comment which I still think is correct, I realise that I may have underplayed just how large this ‘purely practical’ difference can be.

To illustrate what I mean let us examine the case of Miguel Pérez who records as La Mancha Del Pecado (“The Stain of Sin”) and runs the ‘non profit net label’ Oracle based in Mexico.  La Mancha Del Pecado featured in the last piece I wrote lauding the music of Lee Stokoe, famous throughout the land for his long running solo noise project Culver and his inspirational tape label Matching Head.  In an article which ran to over 1000 words Miguel’s music got just one sentence in which all I say is that, well, it sounds like Culver.

This lack of attention has proved embarrassing to me as the chap both found this blog and left a charming comment thanking me for the mention (see ‘about me and this blog’ page – tab above).  He provided a blog address for his label and out of a mixture of curiosity and politeness I downloaded one of the many releases available there.  I’ll talk about this in a minute but first I must address your growing impatience.  “yes, yes,” I’m sure you are thinking “Rob clicked on a link.  Big deal: we all know how the internet works – get on with it man!”

Well, to this I have two responses.  The first is that reporting on finding something interesting is all I ever do so I’m not apologising for that – go find a blog where someone posts cynical reports about stuff they think is boring and read that instead.  And secondly: well, you say you know how the internet works but the younger reader may not realise that, in this context, the internet is working exactly like a flyer that fell out of a jiffy bag in the 1990s.

Imagine this thought experiment: a scene in pre-millennial Leeds.  Lee sends me a parcel of tapes, included in which are a selection of flyers from other no-audience underground types.  The one from Miguel looks interesting so I send some of my stuff, maybe with a few dollar bills hidden inside, to his postal address and a few weeks later parcel number two arrives covered in exciting looking stamps and customs labels.  The result is absolutely the same: I get to hear Miguel’s music after being alerted to it by another node in the network.  In that sense the internet has changed nothing at all – that’s what I mean when I say it is not a difference in kind.

The practical difference, however, couldn’t be more pronounced.  A process which would have taken weeks before and involved the shifting of physical objects from continent to continent is now more or less instantaneous and involves no more effort than typing this sentence.  This is wonderful, of course, as we can all be instant connoisseurs of whatever whim presents to us.  It’s not even a problem for me that the Oracle website is in Spanish now that we have Google Translate to help.  However, it is also dangerously seductive.  So awed are we by the process that we forget the purpose and are tempted into amassing vast unlovable archives just because we can.  In my humble opinion it is healthier for your glands of musical appreciation to treat each download as if it were the contents of a hand-addressed jiffy bag and show it some love.

This is why I have only downloaded one of Miguel’s releases so far – Gélido Horror Obscuro (“Dark Frozen Horror”) – and why I have listened to it several times through before pressing a key.  ‘De Noche’ (“Night”) starts by following the Culver blueprint: a melancholy, echoing riff is slowly swallowed whole by distortion and noise.  At this point Miguel departs from the monomania of Lee’s recent releases and instead takes us through several movements using a carefully controlled palette of harsh sound.  Over a total running time of nearly 37 minutes it remains intriguing, refreshingly ambitious and almost wholly successful.  I’m not sure about the twanging guitar coda or the final burst of lounge pop though, as the lyrics are presumably in Spanish, I may be missing some contextual irony.  At least Miguel dodges one charge often levelled at ‘dark ambient’ or noise: that it is humourless.  He is not guilty – there is obviously a wry wit at work here.

A moment’s research informs me that ‘Rita Guerrero’, the second track, is named for a fellow Mexican musician who died tragically young earlier this year.  There is no sentimentality to this tribute, however.  Instead we get nine minutes of roaring combustion occasionally augmented with an unforgiving, scything screech.  This is a document of grief at its most angry and painful.  Before returning us to the world, the third and final track provides five minutes of palate-cleansing, nostrils-flaring, balls-out noise.  The whole release is effective, engaging and available for free download.  I’ve enjoyed it very much.

Scrolling through the other (70!) releases available through Oracle reveals themes familiar to those into noise: death, misanthropy, apocalypse, altered states of consciousness and so on, but this isn’t just dyed-black teenage nihilism.  The quotes on the front page from Pessoa and Lyotard suggest a philosophical and literary underpinning.  They propose salvation may be possible through creation, especially single-minded art-for-arts-sake undiluted by concerns of accessibility.  The notion appeals to me.  You too, I hope.

bang the bore celebrates fencing flatworm recordings part one

September 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Posted in blog info, fencing flatworm, midwich, musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Hello to anyone visiting after reading Pete Coward and Seth Cooke’s lovely article posted at Bang the Bore about my work with fencing flatworm, oTo and this blog.  I hope you find much of interest here, not least many free-to-download mp3s of FFR releases.  Should you be a regular reader wondering what I’m talking about then mix yourself a drink, settle down and click here.

Part one is an article written by Pete Coward (described by Seth as: “bootlegger/blagger and Wire website tech guru”, known only to me as “that guy who used to buy stuff that I met at that one show once”) about FFR and its philosophy.  His thoughts are insightful, generous and laid out with panache and I am grateful to the point of jaw-dropping amazement that he gave my (*ahem*) legacy (*snigger*) such considered consideration.  Part two, to come in a fortnight or so, is a lengthy email interview with yours truly conducted by Seth with Pete chipping in.  I hope you find the exchange as entertaining to read as it was to write.

Being involved in this project has been great fun and, of course, enormously flattering.  I enjoyed having to think hard about what motivated the Rob of ten years ago; it was a very interesting experience to apply the benefit of hindsight to the FFR/Termite Club days.  Sorting all that out in my head is one of the major factors inspiring my continued reactivation of midwich (watch this space).  Should you not be aware of Bang the Bore I heartily recommend frequent and substantial visits.  It is a force for the good.

beyond ‘harsh’: as loud as possible magazine and the art of reviewing noise

June 13, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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As Loud As Possible: The Noise Culture Magazine

What is the point of music reviews, eh?  That may seem like a surprising question for me to ask, given that I spend so much time reading and writing the bloody things, yet I remain ambivalent.  Reviews seem to me to serve two main purposes: the first is to convey the author’s impression of the music in question, the second being to inform the reader as to what it sounds like in order to convince them to buy it, or to save their money for something else.  There is a tension, a kind of quantity theory, at work between these reasons to be: the more impressionistic the more interesting but the less informative, the more informative the less interesting but the more useful.

For example, imagine a review that reads in its entirety: “this lot sound like Gang of Four, their album is not as good as Entertainment but it is better than Gang of Four’s later stuff.”  Succinct, useful, informative: you know exactly where you stand immediately and you are either reaching for your wallet or turning the page.  Not a very gratifying read though is it?  Hardly swells the breast with enthusiasm.  Worse, in the era of streaming this kind of review is almost totally unnecessary because within a few seconds of learning of the record’s existence you can visit Amazon or emusic or myspace or grooveshark or wherever and actually hear it for yourself.  I often wonder why, say, Boomkat put so much effort into the blurbs written to differentiate between new releases when those blurbs also contain links to the music itself.  Why not just write “hey, here are links to the tracks we dig this week” and leave it at that?

This issue increases in severity when reviews go the other way and are entirely impressionistic.  “Yes, yes, all very poetic,” you might think as you read some ponce going on about castles and shipwrecks and rhododendron bushes, “but, given the fact that I can actually hear this with no more effort than a few clicks of the mouse, this wittering is entirely self-indulgent”.  It’s like someone standing next to you at the art gallery and going on and on about the picture you are looking at.  You would justified in shouting: “I KNOW, MAN, SHUT UP!  I’M STANDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF IT TOO!” before being bundled out by security.  Here is the hidden, shameful third purpose for the existence of reviews: so that the reviewer can drown out the music with the sound of his or her own voice.

However, and this is going to sound incredibly self-serving, there is an area where reviewing music remains a noble and worthwhile occupation: in the experimental music underground!  (Hah, do you see what I did there?  I validated my own critical endeavours!)  The best reviewers will strike a balance between information and impression and in so doing bring interesting stuff to your attention in an interesting way.  Also, their efforts will not be immediately nullified by technology because the stuff in question will not be widely available or only available in unstreamable formats.  The Culver back catalogue, for example, a monumental body of work, is almost entirely absent from the internet due to the majority of it being housed on cassette tape.

So who manages this?  Well, Mark Wharton over at Idwal Fisher springs to mind immediately.  He writes about difficult music with humour and invention combining a fan’s eye for detail and context with a wry Yorkshire scepticism.  I recommend regular visits.  But what about in print?  What if you need a 166 page, perfect bound, A4 sized magazine featuring a terrifying picture of that bloke from Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock on the cover to scare your office colleagues with at lunchtime?  Well, fret not because now your need can be fulfilled…

I realise that in punting As Loud As Possible magazine I am way behind the times (the aforementioned Idwal Fisher featured a review in November 2010) but, hey, I didn’t get it until recently and it has taken me weeks of dipping in and out to read even most of it.  I’ll let co-editor Chris Sienko explain what is going on here:

We created this magazine to solve a problem: to offer a contrast to the fumbling coverage of noise and experimental music found in glossy music magazines.  While there’s a fair amount of lip service given to ‘noise’ and its various sub-genres in the popular press, the reporters, though earnest in their desire to explain what’s happening to their ears, seldom have a deep or wide background in noise listening or the ability to contextualize one record in relation to another.  To them, all Merzbow records sound more or less the same and are for the same use…

…or to put it in one simple statement of intent:

There are differences between good and bad noise, and there are ways to explain this in print.

Both quotes from Chris’s opening editorial.  To the layperson noise culture must appear utterly impenetrable.  Even those sympathetic to other areas of experimental music must at times be tempted to chuck it all in the same squirming sack and label it with the single word: ‘harsh’.  What Chris, co-editor Steve Underwood and their numerous contributors have attempted to do is get beyond this and instead provide a deep context and a rich vocabulary for the description of noise.  In forging these tools for differentiation Steve and Chris have allowed a little light into what can be a dark, dark business.  Check out the following snippets chosen literally at random from the extensive review pages:

The title track is a fiery hit of robust distortion, the occasional low-end rupture set amidst slashing doses of feedback and hissing vocals smeared across the end result

…or:

Upon immersion, you’re immediately caked by static washes, wretched screams, and total junk metal savagery…

…and from the same review, a line that made me laugh out loud:

There is nothing that keeps this archival masterpiece from being an absolute necessity if you have even the slightest interest in depraved noise filth.

Well, who hasn’t, eh?  But enough of my flippancy.  As well as the review section there are equally comprehensive interviews and articles featuring the like of The Haters, Putrifier, Broken Flag, cover stars Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock and, as they say, much, much more.  This has weeks of use as a bedside companion, at least until your freaked out partner insists you keep it on the shelf.

In summary then: As Loud As Possible is a massive success.  It is absolutely chock full of the best type of music journalism – knowledgeable and informative yet enthused and entertaining.  I can pay it the highest compliment available to music reviewing: it made me want to hear the music in question.  And, when that music is described as depraved noise filth, that gives you an idea of the masterclass we are dealing with here…

To buy your copy visit the website.

wired for sound part 9: tapenoise

March 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Posted in art, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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tapenoise – south west weird live 2010

Some comments in a thoughtful email from Dex, also known as Tapenoise, sparked off my recent musings on the mainstream versus the underground.  This tape, and a little further conversation, has set me off again…

Like a caterpillar munching the edge of a giant leaf, Dex has been working around the fringes of the noise and sound-art scenes for many years.  He is interested in standing apart from fashion and examining the way sources, ideas, technology drift in and out of vogue.  His art and music have a definite ‘outsider’ vibe.  The tape above came to me in a jiffy bag that had been covered in birthday present wrapping paper and also contained a Tapenoise postcard, fridge magnet (?!) and a scrap of card with a personal message for me.  The insert is obviously a hand-crafted one-off.  A little bleep of 8-bit nostalgia caused me to press thrust and fire together when I realised the cassette was a C20 that used to contain computer games.

…and the music?  Well, I didn’t connect with it, I’m afraid.  I’ll say no more than that.  Plenty of examples can be found on the Tapenoise website so, if you are interested, head on over and make up your own mind.  I get the feeling that Dex’s hide is pretty thick and, whilst he’ll enjoy your praise if you feel inclined to offer it, his ego will survive if you don’t.  Like the most genuine outsider art, Tapenoise appears to be produced as a result of an unstoppable drive.  Its existence does not need the rubber stamp of our approval.  Dex summed this up beautifully as follows:

All my stuff is like growing hair- it just keeps coming whether I like it or not -until one day it will all have gone I guess?

 Brilliant, eh?  Heh, heh.  Visit before he goes creatively bald!

rfm in print – reviews featured in latest issue of The Jackdaw

February 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Posted in art, musings, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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To any readers of The Jackdaw following the link to this blog published in the latest issue: hello, and thank you for visiting.  The usual topic of discussion at radiofreemidwich is experimental music, rather than visual art, but I hope you will find some musings of interest to you here.

To explain for the regulars: I have a lengthy and largely negative review of two recent art exhibitions featured in the March/April issue of The Jackdaw.  I lament the hopelessness of the Northern Art Prize at Leeds City Art Gallery and am a little less dismissive of Undone next door at the Henry Moore Institute.  The review expands on my suspicions of contemporary visual art, briefly alluded to before in the post about mainstream vs. underground below.

The Jackdaw describes itself on its website as follows:

…a bi-monthly paper founded in 2000.  Its purpose is to keep interested parties informed and entertained about aspects of art which are in the news.

By and large it’s pretty nasty and critical of many things, and especially of the art establishment which stinks like the rotting carcase it is.  If The Jackdaw isn’t amusing in parts then it has failed. It’s pretty childish sometimes too and do beware because parts of it are not entirely true – I’ll leave it up to you to believe whichever bits you like and to disregard the rest.

Some of it is serious. Some of it is just downright bad. Some issues are better than others. But no other art publication dares to be like it.

The last thing I want you to think is that The Jackdaw has an agenda. On the contrary, it doesn’t believe in anything at all…

This is largely accurate but overly self-deprecating.  The Jackdaw casts a deeply suspicious and refreshingly cynical eye over the contemporary art world.  The writing ranges from hilariously irreverent, scabrous satire to nostril-flaring polemics to closely argued, calmly considered reviews and articles.  I don’t always agree with everything it says, nor would you be expected to, but it is (almost) always well-informed and deeply passionate about its subject matter.  I usually read each issue from cover to cover on the day it arrives.

At £7 a throw for a black-and-white newsprint journal you may consider it expensive but, for obvious reasons, it carries few advertisements and attracts zero subsidy.  I suppose Private Eye is the closest comparable publication.  In the field of art, however, it is unique and your money is more wisely spent on this inky organ than on any of its vacuously glossy competitors.

the myth of underground versus mainstream, or: cool isn’t cool

February 6, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Posted in art, musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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I recently had the pleasure of rekindling contact with another former no-audience underground comrade: Dex, of Tapenoise.  Following what is becoming a well-worn path, he discovered the blog and dropped me a line.  I was pleased to hear from him as this effervescent chap always seems to have an exotic blend of sound/art in the cocktail shaker.  He also belongs to the elite group that donated an oTo tape too.

In a thoughtful message written in response to my recent musings he raised the point that (to paraphrase) the internet is altering the nature of the ‘underground’ as what is deemed ‘cool’ can now be instantly appropriated by an all-consuming, market-led mainstream intent on exploiting whatever hipness it can suck dry with its prehensile feeding tube.

I share his concerns: who wants their hard work stolen by a coke-addled ‘creative’ (oh, the irony of that job title) and used to shift units?  However, in framing my reply I was feeling mischievous and decided play Devil’s advocate.  Thinking on, instead of renouncing all his works, I started to find the Devil’s position to be more nuanced than I previously thought and occasionally quite attractive.  That’s how he gets ya.  Thus an email reply has spiralled out of control into this patchily argued blog post.  Here goes…

I actually quite like the way that anything can be co-opted and exploited to death.  At least it means that a) some artists get paid and b) it spurs the remainder on to create something even newer to replace it.  Without boredom and disgust would things change?  Sure, it is tempting to take the Bill Hicks / Stewart Lee line that allowing your art or integrity to be used in advertising is necessarily corrupting because, well, they are right.  But from this it doesn’t follow that getting paid, even becoming popular is necessarily bad for the art, nor does it mean that popular art and entertainment can’t be good and/or challenging, nor does it mean that all good stuff originates in the underground only to be stolen or watered down by the mainstream, nor does it mean there has ever been a golden age of ‘pure’ art unsullied by commerce.

The idea of the underground, or art free from commercial concerns, is a very new one.  The renaissance was paid for by wealthy patrons and the church, artists have always lived by commissions.  Even Pollock, the quintessential, paint-spattered, ‘pure’ artist had Peggy Guggenheim paying the bills.  In visual art the thinking has become hopelessly muddled.  Allegedly difficult, challenging, conceptual art is the mainstream and has been for 40 years.  ‘Challenging’ art fills galleries the world over, is awarded prizes, acres of press, public subsidy and is bought for government collections.  A recent issue of The Jackdaw revealed that the public now own four copies of Jeremy Deller’s amusing but art-free flow diagram History of the World (courtesy of The Arts Council, The British Council, The Tate and The Government Art Collection – see above).  Supposedly radical art is clutched to the bosom of the establishment.  Thus if you want your work to be ignored, if you want your funding applications to be torn up, if you want to be a truly radical outsider… then paint pleasant watercolour views of the Yorkshire Moors.

In music, attempting to define an underground in defiance of the mainstream is similarly fraught.  The grime scene seems to have cracked it as artists like Wiley produce both club-oriented tracks and those obviously designed to make money.  There is no need for cognitive dissonance here, no need to cry ‘sell out’ – this is just how savvy artists work nowadays.  I don’t want to get all postmodern but it could be argued that the idea of ‘integrity’, as introduced by punk, may have run its course.  The idea that it is the underground that pushes things forward is simplistic too.  Yes, in some genres, this is the case but in, say, R&B, the new new thing is more likely to come from a ga-jillion dollar studio in Los Angeles than a bedsit in Beeston. 

The notion of cool is suspect too, I reckon.  In fact: I hate it.  To be considered cool is to be considered part of an elite founded on (by definition) superficial principles – what you wear, who you know, what snippet of secret knowledge you are privy too.  Is there anything more punchable than early-adopter-smugness?  I was at a party years ago where today’s hipster was moaning about The Arctic Monkey’s blowing up.  They were ‘his’ band and he liked them better that way.  It was as if their newfound popularity actually changed the way the music sounded to him.  Why would I want to be cool?  It’s awful.  And from the very beginnings of cool as commonly understood (late 40s?  50s?  Miles?  Elvis?) it has been used to sell stuff: “whaddyagot?” sneers the leather clad rebel, played by a movie star in a Stanley Kramer produced Hollywood picture…  The same ‘attitude’ has been used to poochie-up anything ever since (see Alvin and the Chipmunks rocking a B-Boy stance).

When I use the phrase ‘no-audience underground’ it is meant as an affectionate, tongue-in-cheek, catch-all token encompassing an impossibly large array of experimental music – the only connection between these disparate artists being that not many people are interested in what they do.  Is this necessarily a bad thing?  No.  Sometimes it is helpful to be left alone to get on with it.  Is this necessarily a good thing?  No.  Being on the fringes is no guarantee of quality.  Would I mind if Ashtray Navigations became as popular as Justin Bieber?  No.  I would be delighted for Phil and Mel, and delighted that the world has come to agree with us right-thinking people as to their greatness.

All that matters is whether a piece of art – music, painting, whatever – is good or not.  Who decides?  I do.  This is not an expression of know-it-all arrogance, just a blunt way of expressing my confidence in my own taste which I have worked hard to develop through experience and open-mindedness.  Where a piece of art originates may be a concern, yes, but merely a secondary one.

EDIT: Groan!  Before I even finished typing this I discovered that a major exhibition of watercolours is due to open at Tate Britain soon.  Heh, heh – bang goes the thesis. 

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