the 2016 zellaby awards

January 27, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Posted in blog info, musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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zellaby award envelope

Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…

…I murmur, lying spread-eagled on the floor of the ballroom in Midwich Mansions.  I look up at the tragically withered balloons, still held by the net hung from the chandeliers.  I idly pick at the broken glass within reach and wonder if dry-cleaning can remove blood stains.  The banging and rattling of the locked double doors has stopped, mercifully, as the neglected guests have given up and gone home (although I suspect a few recorded the racket and I’ll be invited to download versions from Bandcamp soon enough).  When my beautiful Turkish servant boy climbed in a window left ajar and tried to rouse me I ordered him to flog himself for his insolence – I was too full of ennui and despair to raise the rod myself.  A wave of nausea washes over me again as I think back to the utterly foolish reason for this gathering:

Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?

Last year was a time when everything from the largest of world situations (American Election, Syria, Brexit, Climate Change) to the tiniest, most personal events (a red spot on the tip of my nose became a cancer scare) seemed unrelentingly hostile.  People important to me died including my Nan, my last remaining grandparent, aged 94.  People important to all of us died.  An anonymous tweet drifted past:

We cry when famous people die not because we knew them but because they helped us know ourselves.

…which I dismissed as trite, then was forced to concede the truth of it when I found myself reduced to a heaving, tear-drenched wretch by a pop song on the radio.  There is more, a lot more – life has been tiring and complicated – but it’s stuff that even a hopelessly indiscreet blabbermouth like me recognises would be unwise to talk about in public.

What about music and this blog?  In many ways it was a gala, firecracking year for the ideas behind this endeavour.  Some examples: the notion of the ‘no-audience underground’ was the subject of a paper by Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot (cultural heavyweights best known round these parts as Acrid Lactations) at a conference at Goldsmiths and was mentioned by conference organiser Stephen Graham in his book about underground music, my writing provided some context and inspiration for the Extraction Music all-dayer in Cardiff, organised by Ian Watson, which raised a grand for refugee charities, I was name-checked in the TUSK festival programme (more on that later) and interviewed at that event by Paul Margree for his We Need No Swords podcast.  I could go on.  All very flattering and inspiring, but much of my own writing from 2016 begins with an apology or contains a paragraph admitting I’ve been having trouble keeping up, maintaining enthusiasm.

I’ve been in denial about how burnt out I’ve been feeling and unrealistic about how much time I could commit due to work and, more importantly, family having to come first.  Things need to change, at least temporarily.  I’ll come back to this at the end of the post…

…because now, my reverie has been interrupted by a rustling noise!  I turn to see Joe ‘Posset’ Murray, chief staff writer here at RFM, crawling towards me.  I’m amazed that he still looks so sharp in his borrowed tuxedo despite his injuries.  He slumps nearby clutching a handful of papers.

End of year pieces from everyone, boss…

…he whispers and passes them over before collapsing.  Ah, excellent, I think – just the tonic!  Let’s see what my RFM comrades have to say about it.

[Editor’s note: due to the weirdness of 2016, and a desire to shake things up a bit, I’ve abandoned the usual categories of the Zellaby Awards and allowed my contributors free reign.  I’ve also cut down the number of links, tags and illustrations included to streamline matters – just keep your preferred search engine open in a nearby window.  There will still be an album of the year though, so don’t fret.]

—ooOoo—

Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:

capsules

Hi, I’m new here and quite discerning with music and also a bit stingy with writing about music. Nevertheless, I’m writing this sat next to a set of homing pigeons who have just given birth to a pair of tiny weirdo’s on New Year’s Eve. The father, Moriarty, has taken over parental duties now. This set of birds were ‘rescued’ from Birling Gap having failed their mission. Homing birds are supposed to fly somewhere. These birds ain’t going no-where and correct me if I’m wrong, but are we not also foreseeing the long-term preparations for the death of The Queen? It’s been a strange year…

In the blurred Hyperreality of 2017, where Halloween is celebrated three days before the fact – in this post-truth-information-environment, people have been watching David Attenborough’s final rainforest. Well, seems like here’s some of the creatures and microcosms that were found, discovered and captured…

The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)

Jessy Lanza – Pull my hair back (Hyperdub, 2013)

Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)

Blanck Mass – Dumb Flesh (Sacred Bones Records, 2015)

Pimsleur’s audio language lessons (German, Polish & Norwegian)

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2016)

The Chris Morris Music Show (BBC Radio One, 1994)

6Music & Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service (NOW) 

Time just doesn’t count anymore. It doesn’t. I doubt any of this could be pigeonholed as ‘no audience underground’. But none of this matters anymore, and you all know it. You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted. It’s 2017, and it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gonna be a long come down, like George Michael’s ‘Faster Love’ playing whilst more than a hundred divers scour the sea. Crews of immunity-freaks lumbering thru the Waste-Waters of Brighton. Across the ocean an assassin throws down his hand of cards as the world is watching. That Christmas trucker sounds like sleigh-bells. Or an Air-raid siren. Pulsing. It’s missing airman hums ‘The Missing Persons Boogie’ in a cul-de-sac. In the Upside-Down land. Miles away from Brian Eno’s caste system, attached to the moon. With a Selfie-stick. Low down and shifty. Only those with energy begin to reclaim The Playground. And cordon it off. And pave over it. Eno still stumbling flamboyantly thru the withered fronds of his iEgo. Framed by the Sistine Chapel recreated in an Old Woman’s second bathroom.

“In this post-truth-information-environment” – do you know what we look like? From a distance, it looks like we have lost control, and are swaying almost like dancing to it all…

Blimey, eh?  “You see, it’s fallen, it’s all tilted.”  Brilliant.  Quite some calling card.  I shall look forward to her future contributions with great interest. 

—ooOoo—

Next up, marlo de lara reminds us that the more personal it is, the more political it is:

as previously noted by my rfm family, 2016 was a doozy, a head spin, and a heartache.  so without further ado, my 2016 moments of note:

1. death of heroes

there has already been a ton of writing about this and a lot of needless controversy over the mourning of musicians.  to me, role models and inspiration are hard to come by and even harder to preserve as we watch these humans be human.  prince and pauline olivieros were both highly influential in my life.  prince’s ongoing, groundbreaking lived fusion of musical genres and his highly charged expression of androgyny and sexual desire was always intoxicating, all while self-identifying as a black musician.  totally inspiring for me as a marginalized musician growing up in racialized america.  pauline olivieros pushed me to reassess what I defined as sound, sound making, and intention.  my spirituality and the ability to breathe through the making of music is completely attributed to this amazing woman.  thank you for the inspiration.

2. ghost ship tragedy

despite living across an ocean from the noise family that helped me develop my sounds, i am constantly aware of the ongoing community struggles of those artists/musicians/promoters/supporters whose events and festivals create solidarity.  on december 2nd, the oakland diy live/art space ghost ship went ablaze, killing 36 people. well-loved individuals who made, created, and supported the scene.  as the noise community wept at the loss of our kin, america attacked warehouse/diy venues with a crackdown based on ‘safety’ whilst never addressing the underlying issue that those artists/musicians tolerate living spaces/venues like these because as a society we do not prioritize living wages and conditions for musicians to thrive.  so we endure, infiltrate society and emotionally thrive despite the lack of funds.

on a personal note I want to mention joey casio and jsun adrian mccarty, both of whom were deeply loved in my community for their music and their spirit.  joey casio was a mainstay of the pacific northwest electronic/weird music scene and i have always had a fondness for jsun’s art/music, particularly the live performance noise project styrofoam sanchez.  i wish i had gotten to know joey since he was so well spoken of and jsun’s kind smile at noise festivals is deeply missed.  love and respect always.

for-marlo

3. #pizzagate

the absurdity of politics reached an all-time high with the nonsense my dear friend arrington de dionyso (of malaikat dan singa and old time relijun) had to endure due to a mural he painted in a dc pizza parlour.  his aesthetic and artistic style were misconstrued while he and his family were targeted by clinton conspiracy theorists and trump supporting nobheads.  arrington survived by painting and creating sounds.  but let’s all have a think about the ramifications of art and the volatile, inflammatory, conservative hot mess that we could all be victim too.  arrington, you are a champion for dealing with it and blessings to you always.

stay awake. stay aware. make noise. xo, marlo

—ooOoo—

Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:

junk-seance

Here is my end of year list, sticking only to what was released this year – mostly ‘no audience’ with a couple of ‘some audience’ releases thrown in and in no particular order.  The low lights of 2016 were fairly obvious: the rise of the idiots and global face palm moments reaching new levels of guuh?!  On a personal note I’ve been through some ghastly work related gubbins so I’m hoping 2017 picks up considerably.  Music, as always, has offered a soothing balm and kept me (nearly) sane so here we go peeps I’ve probably forgotten some glaringly obvious choices as I often do. Such is the life of the discaholik.

Wormrot – Voices

Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time

Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?

Shurayuki-Hime – In the Beginning, Woman Was the Sun

Pudern & Vomir – Split

Error Massage – Rooby

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave

Moon – Diseasing Rock Who

F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase

Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise

Posset – The Gratitude Vest

Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5

Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness

Usurper – The Big Five

Culver / Fordell Research Unit – Culver: Prisoner of F.R.U.

Clive Henry – Hymns

The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience

Triple Heater – Aurochs

The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire

Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows

My highlight of the year was watching Ashtray Navigations support Dinosaur Jr.

xx

—ooOoo—

Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:

furchick

I’m quite glad that Rob decided to let us do a general review of the year rather than try and nominate several releases for awards. Looking back, I seem to have reviewed only three albums this year which would have made it merely a rehash of what I have already done. Sorry Rob. In my defence, I’ve had a busy year with gigs and filmmaking and several other things. Some of the gigs even had audiences, though they were usually the ones organised by other people, naturally. More on that later.

Of the three albums I reviewed it’s hard to pick a favourite because they were all quite different, and excellent in their own ways. But if pushed (and I was pushed, if only by myself, just now) I’d have to nominate Furchick’s “Trouble With a Capital T”. Its sheer joy and inventiveness, and joy of inventiveness is infectious and inspiring. If ever anyone wanted a masterclass on making music with found and/or mutilated objects, this was it.

My most memorable event of this year was a gig I played at, though that part is incidental, in Oxford. It was one of those authentic ‘no-audience underground’ gigs where the artists and their entourage outnumbered the paying audience by quite a large ratio. In fact the only paying audience was a relative of one of the artists and someone who rolled in off the streets half way through (He probably didn’t literally ‘roll in’ you understand, the street was cobbled, so that would be very uncomfortable). This lack of attendance was a huge shame because the gig itself featured two awesome acts – as well as ourselves, obviously. The great Lawrence Casserley was always expected to put on a fabulous show (in this instance with Martin Hackett) and certainly did so, but the act I got via the female:pressure mailing list exceeded expectations in a big way and I felt awful for not having delivered them an audience. TEARS|OV, led by Lori.E. Allen put on a great show of samples, synths and live played and sampled instruments that was just glorious, and I’m happy that at least I got to film it, even though I only had one decent camera and zero decent tripods with me. As almost nobody got to that gig I feel almost duty-bound to try and get as many people as possible to watch the video. You won’t regret it, it’s here.

Another special gig for me was also one I played at – and the fact that I did so was crucial to my understanding of what happened. This was “A Working Day of Drone”, put on by Dave Procter,  eight hours of overlapping drone performances. I’ve never regarded myself as much of a drone fan to be honest but this event was a real eye opener. I think a lot (though not all, of course) of the drone acts I had seen in the past were of the ‘I’ve got some gear and it makes some noise’ type which, as a musician with years of practice and training, I find uninspiring and lacking in effort. Put like that it was odd, I suppose, for me to accept an offer to play at a long drone gig … but I did because I like to try new things and to challenge my own preconceptions.

And those preconceptions were not just challenged. They had a calfskin leather glove slapped in their face and a large sword whisked terrifyingly close to their ear by Cyrano de Bergerac himself. Those preconceptions are now lying sliced, diced and blood-soaked over a, slightly grubby, drain in LS2, just down the road from Shawarma. What I experienced that day was, for the most part, a lot of very high quality artistry and discipline and, yes, musicianship. There were guitarists, multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and laptop players with expertise, patience and discipline. And discipline is the word I really took away from that gig which is why I have already used it three times in this paragraph and will say it again it now in an attempt to make sure that Rob doesn’t sub-edit it out [Editor’s note: Why would I?  Couldn’t agree more!]. Discipline, discipline, discipline. Playing for a whole hour while keeping the sense of a ‘drone’ requires intense concentration and a lot of improvisational forward planning that, to be honest, I felt inadequately prepared for when playing my set. For drone music as good as I heard that day, I am a convert.

And finally, my favourite thing of the year – which is something I invented though I take no credit for it – is Feminatronic Friday. On a Friday afternoon when I’m winding down from a busy week at work and want some new music to surprise, tickle and sometimes assault my ears, I point my browser at the feminatronic Soundcloud feed and just listen. Of course, not everything is to my taste, but there is a lot of high quality work being produced by talented women around the world that seems to be ignored by the most of the outlets for even alternative music. It’s also an excellent source of material that I should be reviewing and, as it’s Friday as I write this, that’s where I’m going now. Happy New Year.

—ooOoo—

Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:

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Politically, economically and culturally 2016 has been a year of shocks, knocks and sickening lows.  It’s hard to look forward and see anything resembling a ray of hope.  Greater minds than mine will neatly package all this misery up into a bitter pill but me… I’m warming some delicate seeds in my palm.

Records and tapes of the year

  • Hardworking Families – BA/LS/BN (Beartown Records) Like tin-cans learned to talk: a sharp knife splices individual ‘instants’ to wrap new listenings head-ward.

  • Acrid Lactations & Gwilly Edmondez – You Have Not Learned To Play & Mock In The Psychic System (Chocolate Monk) Complex patterns and shifting sonic-sands from stalwarts and greats – a brave and ambitious concoction of Dixieland and pure munged goof. Instant calmer!

  • Oliver Di Placido & Fritz Welch – Untitled (Human Sacrifice) The most crash-bang-whalloping record of the year by far. Knockout energy like TroubleFunk playing in a ruined skip.

  • Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave (Chocolate Monk) Effortless creative juice drips all over these dirty, dirty ditties from the Cardboard Prince… his Black Album?

  • Lea Bertucci – Light Silence, Dark Speech (I Dischi Del Barone) Perfect like fresh frosty ferns, each sporangia a moment of potential beauty and enlightenment – one for all DJs.

  • Lieutenant Caramel – Uberschallknall (Spam) For me the Lieutenant was an unknown. Now? A well-thumbed friend.  Euro-collage/concrete that’s super classy and head-strainingly intense.

  • Faniel Dord –Valentino (Cardboard Club) Another dirty boy with song-y songs played with hearty gusto and a wide-eyed innocence not seen since McCartney II.

  • East of the Valley Blues – eotvb (Power Moves/No Label) Sun-bright double finger-picking that warmed up my cockles and fed miso soup to my rotten soul. Life affirming, beautiful and generous. No wonder it’s got a vinyl re-release for tomorrows people.

  • Acrid Lactations & Jointhee – Chest (Tutore Burlato) You ask me about the future of ‘the song’ and I point you to this little tape of huge invention and heart. Not afraid to mix yuks with the high-brow, dream-logic and academic rigour. Never been so charmed ‘ave I?

  • Tear Fet – Blabber (Chocolate Monk) Every single vocal-mung technique picked up and shaken like a snow-globe. One for all serious students of throat-guff.

  • Yol – This Item Has Little Or No Scrap Value (Beartown Records) The mighty Yol’s most swingingest record of the year (and they have been legion and they have been good) that almost broke my rib with its accurately focused violence. A symphony of cuts and bruises.

  • Shareholder – Five Mile Throwdowns (Know This) One of the few bands I get excited about. Blending the listless and freezing loch with espresso intensity; a pond-skipper balanced on the tricky meniscus – he’s not waving!

  • Tom White – Automated Evangelism (Vitrine) and Commemoratives (Tutore Burlato) Double-entry for Tom White’s peerless technique and wonderfully intelligent ears. This very physical tape manipulation is strong enough to move giant boulders yet freaky enough to warp space.  Without a doubt Tom wears the blue jersey in Star Trek.

  • Grey Guides – Beast Mask Supremacists (Crow Versus Crow Editions) Taking skuzzy guitar and skunk-potent tape to some place indistinct; this ghost-memory of a record made me dream of Wuthering Heights oddly. The AR Kane of the NAU?

—ooOoo—

sofs-video

…and penultimately Sophie Cooper.  Sof resigned her post on the RFM staff this year [Editor gnaws fist to hold back hot tears] but gamely agreed to contribute to the end of year jamboree anyway.  Much to my delight she has submitted a 14 minute video of her chatting over some gubbins she reckons is cool.  Watch it here.  I think it is well charming and, if you agree, please contact her to say so – I’d like to butter her up to the point where this kind of video piece becomes a semi-regular feature.  Hah!  There is no escaping RFM!  Gabba, gabba, we accept you! ONE OF US!

Oh, did I just type my evil plan out loud?

—ooOoo—

So that just leaves me.  I’m going to mention one prolificist, give a top three albums of the year, lay some news on you, then end on a high.  How’s that for showbiz?  I may even haul myself to my feet and brush off the marie rose sauce that seems to have dried on the side of my face.

vol-5

In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been 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.  I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.

The music of collagist, tape scaffolder and atmosphere technician Stuart Chalmers has been admired by everyone with a trustworthy opinion.  His recent catalogue – solo or in collaboration – is an avalanche of stylistically divergent, technically perfect, emotionally resonant work.  I highly recommend that you settle gently onto his Bandcamp site, like a probe landing on an exotic comet, and start drilling.  The dude recently moved to Leeds too, how cool is that?  He wins.

—ooOoo—

OK, now onto the main event: low numbers in reverse order.  This year, in a classy piece of statesmanship, I’m leaving the listing to my colleagues above and am going to focus on just my top three.

[Editor’s note: If I’m honest I love these three more or less equally but, y’know, drama innit?]

jbnc

Bronze: Julian Bradley and Neil Campbell – FOR LILA O

Flat out glorious from beginning to end.  This album has the texture of pistachio flavoured Turkish delight.  It is sweet, gelatinous, opaque, yielding to the bite but containing a satisfying savoury grit.  If I were a betting man I’d wager Neil provided the caffeinated hyper-psych which was then slowed, burnished and blurred by Julian’s patented murkatronik obfuscator.  Best to keep it mysterious though, eh?  I’ve listened to this so frequently that I think now I’d have trouble remaining friends with anyone who didn’t groove on, say, the disco-for-writhing-foot-long-woodlice vibe of ‘giants in the electric nativity’.

Two non-musical reasons to be entertained too.  Firstly, the Bandcamp photo is a nod to the cover illustration for an LP they recorded for American Tapes exactly one million years ago.  The no-audience underground remembers.  Secondly, it was released on 20th December, thus too late to be included on any of the ‘best of year’ lists published before the end of the year.  Seeing as the premature way these lists are ejaculated has long annoyed me I was delighted to see JB & NC stitching ’em right up.

hqef

Silver: Helicopter Quartet – Electric Fence

Yeah, yeah, one half of Helicopter Quartet is RFM staffer Chrissie Caulfield but, as I’ve said many times, there is no such thing as conflict of interest down here.  If we didn’t blow our own trumpets sometimes there would be no fanfare at all and, whoo boy, Mike and Chrissie deserve it.

Continuing a seemingly impossible run of each release topping the last, this album takes their austere, mournful aesthetic in an explicitly dystopian direction.  The bleakness described by previous releases has called to mind slate grey stone walls on ageless moor land but Electric Fence has a more Ballardian edge.

I listen to the thrilling, Tubeway Army-ish title track and imagine the strings of Chrissie’s violin animated by Ralph Steadman – whipping away from us to form the boundary fence of a desert Army base, or a mud-choked refugee camp, realities that we’d rather not contemplate.  Or maybe the fence is personal, invisible, internalised – a tragic defence mechanism that provides the illusion of safety at the cost of constant loneliness?

Powerful and important music, as ever.  That work of this quality is freely downloadable remains remarkable.

eotvb

Gold: East of the Valley Blues – EOVTB

The Zellaby Award for best album of 2016, presented in conjunction with radiofreemidwich, goes to East of the Valley Blues for EOVTB.  Joe Murray wrote about this one back in April:

Wonderful!  Wonderful, wonderful!

This tape was playing when the first rays of Spring sunshine shot like misty timbers through my window and the jazzy daffodils belched out warm yellow hugs.  And no, I don’t think that’s any coincidence brothers & sisters.

This tape is a truly innocent joy.  Why?  Firstly, it’s the simplicity.  We’ve got two guys, two Power Moves brothers, sitting on that metaphorical back porch finger-picking like the late great Jack Rose, improvising with a sibling’s sensibility at that slightly ragged speed we all associate with the beating heart in love.

Secondly, we’ve got notes that shimmer in a cascade; I’m getting nylon waterfalls as things tumble and tremble, roil and buckle as ten calloused fingertips gentle rustle the strings.  This is all about the movement, the restlessness of a leaf caught in an eddy, the churn of water spilling from a red hand pump.

Finally there’s that slight sense of anticipation, a yearning that’s probably something technical to do with the key it’s all played in.  But for a goof like me it just tweaks my memory zone; this music looks backwards at endless summers and looks towards bouncing grandchildren on the knee.  This is music of time, its passage and its baggage; the highs and lows, the dusty wrinkles and the fumble in the sheets.

And am I noticing a slight change in the way time is behaving around me?  Not so much time stopping but stretching, those strict minutes becoming supple like a cat’s arching back.  Maybe reader maybe.

Lovers of this plaintive guitar-pick often yell out a challenge:

So… can I play this next to Ry Cooder & Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s sublime A Meeting by the River?  Does it hold its own beans compared to Phil Tyler’s exquisite banjo snaffle?

Me?  I’m lost in the buttery light right now, light-headed with Beat road dreams,

If you heard it you wouldn’t have to ask… click the god-damn link and get heavy in the valley.

…and he is right, of course.

The brothers Joe refers to are twins Kevin and Patrick Cahill (the former best known ’round here for running Power Moves Label/Library) and the album’s genesis is covered in an excellent interview with Tristan Bath for Bandcamp Daily which can be read here.

All I need to add is that given the divisive and miserable nature of the year just gone, an album so beautiful, so spacious, so forgiving, so grounded in love and family could not be less ‘2016’ and thus could not be a more worthy winner.  Congratulations, fellas.

—ooOoo—

A discographical note: this album has now been reissued by the excellent UK label Death Is Not The End and can be had as a download, tape or – get this – vinyl album via their Bandcamp site.  For those wanting to take a punt without risking any dough, free downloads of some live shows can also be had here.

The prize for winning remains the, *ahem*, ‘great honour’ of being the only release on the otherwise dormant fencing flatworm recordings in 2017, should the brothers be interested in taking me up on it.  Nowt fancy – CD-r plus download would usually suffice given the absence of any budget.  Negotiations can commence anytime.

—ooOoo—

Right, let me just drag Joe Murray up into a chair as he needs to wave and smile during this bit.  OK: some news.  As of whenever we can sort out the logistics, Joe is going to take over from me as editor/publisher of RFM whilst I take an indefinite sabbatical.  No need to worry – I am not ill again – I just need a break to attend to the real life stuff away from music I’ve been alluding to throughout the year.  I have to apologise to those people who have sent emails, invitations to download, physical objects and whatnot and are still waiting for substantial responses.  I’ll slowly catch up with personal stuff, forward all the blog stuff and my colleagues will soldier on in my absence.  I’ll still be wandering around twitter and attending shows (Leeds people – see you at the Fractal Meat showcase on Feb 3rd, eh?) just won’t be at the helm here.  Feels weird to be saying this after seven years but I’m sure this will prove a healthy decision and I’ll be back before ya know it.

—ooOoo—

Finally then, my musical highlight of the year: Miguel Perez playing as Skull Mask at the TUSK festival.  Here’s an extract from my account of the weekend.  In particular, I want to finish with the word ‘fuck’ so I’ll say goodbye now – those who know me won’t be surprised to see me slope off before the end of the last set.

Best wishes for 2017, folks, keep yourselves and each other safe.

All is love, Rob H x

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Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … 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.

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!!!

—ooOoo—

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
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

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‘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

dark tusk: neckvsthroat, xazzaz, midwich, culver, la mancha del pecado live

September 30, 2016 at 9:53 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Dark Tusk, Saturday 15th October, 2016

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I’m delighted to be playing at the above event, taking place as part of the fringe of TUSK Festival, 2016.  Here’s the blurb from Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe:

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

Way cool. I’m still figuring out what my set will consist of but whatever I play will be called ‘NADA/ROTO’ which is cribbed from a tweet by Miguel and describes his daughter’s reaction to his music.  Once I post this I’m going to blow the dust off my MC-303 and edit some recordings of the faulty strip light in my cellar plinking and buzzing.  Sounds exciting, eh?

See you all soon!

—ooOoo—

TUSK Fringe events

credit where it’s due: skull mask, neck vs throat and tusk festival 2016

September 2, 2016 at 12:22 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 5 Comments
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TUSK Festival 2016, 14-16th October, Sage Gateshead

Skull Mask – Alzhared (self-released download)

Skull Mask – Sin Nada (self-released download)

Skull Mask – Aura (self-released download)

NECK VS THROAT VOLUME 3 (self-released CD-r and download)

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HOLY LIVING FUCK!!  MIGUEL PEREZ IS COMING TO THE UK IN OCTOBER AND PLAYING AS SKULL MASK AT CAFE OTO IN LONDON AND TUSK FESTIVAL IN GATESHEAD.  CLEAR YOUR DIARIES, BOOK YOUR TICKETS!  BE THERE, BE THERE, BE THERE!!  JESUS FUCKING CHRIST IS THIS FOR REAL?  BLIMEY, FOLKS: IT IS!

*Ahem, OK, deep breath, damp flannel on forehead*

Let’s have a little think about what’s happened.

—ooOoo—

Why are the stamps on post from Hull never franked?  A mystery I pondered as I carefully opened the latest jiffy bag from yol and tipped his letter and a CD-r copy of NvT3 onto the kitchen table.  He wrote:

How are things?  Here is the NVT physical thing, figured you should be one of the first to get one seeing as it’s your fault.

This made me laugh.  To what extent can credit (or blame) be claimed in what this blog refers to as the ‘no-audience underground‘?  Most of the work we cover is the product of the singular vision of artists driven to create on their own, or in small groups, yet the whole thing exists as a (more or less) self-sufficient network.  We are friendly and sociable loners, well-connected outsiders – it’s a satisfyingly odd set up.  To claim credit for the work of others, for making something happen without actually booking the acts, folding the J-cards or whatever yourself, is to place yourself above the milieu.  This doesn’t seem right – I loath writers who consider themselves ‘gatekeepers’, the pretension is nauseating – yet things have happened/are happening partly as a result of radiofreemidwich. It feels a bit wierd.

vol 3

Take NECK VS THROAT for example.  It was perhaps inevitable that compulsive collaborators yol and Miguel would sext up a transatlantic relationship.  All RFM did initially was drunkenly encourage the swapping of numbers.  However, once the first volume won the prestigious Zellaby award for album of the year in 2012 and Vol 2 was released on my own fencing flatworm recordings they have been a house band.  The addition of Joe ‘Posset’ Murray on squigglephonic dictaduties strengthens the RFM connection and makes Vol 3 an even more bizarre experience.  Hilarious and unnerving in turn, like a gestalt switch duck/rabbit picture, this is essential listening and unlike anything else.  If this is my fault, it is in the same sense that the baboon turned inside out by a gone-wrong transporter experiment is Seth Brundle’s fault.

sm

But all this is burying the lead isn’t it?  Check this out from the TUSK festival website (review quote by Joe):

SKULL MASK is Mexico’s Miguel Perez, emitting stream-of-consciousness compositions via steel-strung acoustic guitar, melding with dub and found sound interactions. Residing squarely on the US/Mexico border, Skull Mask came to us via the fevered advocacy of the Radio Free Midwich blog (you all need to bookmark that site when you get home). As RFM describe his sound:

“Miguel Perez … packs his atlas and strolls the deserts of this world (and the next) on the sun-damaged Artificio y Fetiche. The taught and springy acoustic steel-string has a slight reverb warble as Miguel conjures up the skitter of a green lizard’s quick limbs, the poisonous spines of a cactus and the glassy psychedelics found in handfuls of sand.

This is a desert that’s teeming with life, studded with microscopic activity, scuttling and slithering between the bone-dry gullies.”

There are parallels with Sir Richard Bishop but Perez’s approach is more languid, starkly sun-baked and deeply preoccupied with his own journey to wherever he’ll take the guitar and his audience. He comes to the UK for the first time to perform at TUSK.

Wow, ‘influence’, eh?  Some of you may be amused, or rolling your eyes, at how blown my mind is by these circumstances.  Sure, you may think, Rob knows people who know people who all read RFM occasionally.  It’s a small pond so this kind of thing is likely to happen sometimes, right?  It’s also the case that Miguel hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands waiting for that big break email – he’s the hardest working guy in dronebusiness.  So what’s the big deal?  Well, it’s that the opinions expressed by this blog – alongside the actual hard work of many other people – have led to a commitment to transatlantic travel, to an expenditure in the hundreds of pounds and, most importantly to the opportunity for the ‘scene’ to meet one of its most enthusiastic members in person.  I’m going to shake the dude’s hand for five minutes straight.  I’m going to shake EVERYONE’s hand!

So, feet back on the ground, what should you expect?  Miguel’s Skull Mask project is succinctly described above and plenty of reviews of his releases can be found by clicking on the tag at the top of this article.  With a background in metal as well as improv, Miguel is an exceptionally talented musician and whilst fans of, say, Jon Collin, will recognize the vibe Miguel’s take is uniquely colourful and richly textured.

The three releases listed above are his most recent and representative.  I’d recommend taking these daily, like medicine.  Miguel will be looked after during his brief visit but he will have to meet some unavoidable expenses himself.  Thus, if you can afford to donate a couple of quid, a few euros or dollars for these downloads via his Bandcamp site then I’m sure he would be very grateful – as would I.  If you enjoy RFM then you could consider buying something from Miguel a type of ‘subscription’ to the blog.  Go on, everyone’s got a wierd little amount in the bottom of their PayPal account – give it to him.

This feels like a fresh start.  Those following the blog will know I’ve had a bit of a crisis of confidence which, coupled with a gruelling time in ‘real life’, has kept me quiet and the blog more or less inactive for a few weeks.  My roving reporters have been busy filing copy whilst I’ve been ‘out of the office’ so I’ll try and use this energy to get a bunch of their posts published.  In-between now and TUSK I’m hoping for a flurry of articles.  Can’t let the blog idle now can we?  We’re awfully important, don’tchaknow?

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival (Miguel plays on the Friday 14th)

Cafe OTO (Miguel plays on Thursday 13th)

Skull Mask

NECK VS THROAT

nada es perfecto: joe murray on skull mask, spoils & relics

June 1, 2016 at 11:32 am | Posted in no audience underground, not bloody music | Leave a comment
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Skull Mask – Artificio y Fetiche (self-released download)

Skull Mask – Musa (self-released download)

Spoils & Relics – Private Garage Collection (tape, Feral Tapes, 010, edition of 40 or download)

fetichemusa

Skull Mask – Artificio y Fetiche / Musa

If you asked me, and I’m taking your continued reading as a straight affirmative, I would say the guitar is a desert instrument.  Think Jon Collin, Cian Nugent and Loren Mazzacane Connors – they’ve all explored the lonely sound of the desert scorch.

And you can certainly see why.  Those spare six strings can mimic the warped shimmer and the emptiness of a desert landscape in slow simple plucks.  The baking heat lends a laziness and fractured timing to the dusty fretboard.

Miguel Perez, another amazingly important guitarist to the N-AU, packs his atlas and strolls the deserts of this world (and the next) on the sun-damaged Artificio y Fetiche.

The taught and springy acoustic steel-string has a slight reverb warble as Miguel conjures up the skitter of a green lizard’s quick limbs, the poisonous spines of a cactus and the glassy psychedelics found in handfuls of sand.

This is a desert that’s teeming with life, studded with microscopic activity, scuttling and slithering between the bone-dry gullies.

The Flamenco influenced ‘Cortometrajes’ explodes with energy fingers rippling like a buttery dawn.

So clear and precise is Miguel’s vision and playing it takes the majestic ‘Piezas’ to remind me of what I’d forgotten- this is an improvised guitar album – as it shuffles between bliss-out sun worship and knotty string bending.

But it’s the closer, the soon-to-be-classic ‘Sangre,’ that makes you come back again and again for a rusty fix.  The imagined opening credits to a lost Western it rolls like a Django with an extra thumb; it’s acid-blasted and 70’s-day-glo jaunty in equal measure.

At around 15 minutes Artificio y Fetiche is a trip too brief and yet the much longer Musa still leaves me with an empty craving.

The two lengthy tracks on Musa stretch things like perished rubber.  The surface of these recordings is littered with stress-lines and furrows, clicks and bumps that show a real human bent over double, hands blurring with speed.

On the title track notes are spat-out rather than neatly placed.  A disorder and chaos reigns.  But to judge this expression random would be foolish.  Ever so slowly, ever so gently a sense of order is constructed in small sections, each folding into each other.  A Moorish pattern, all azure-blue and cream emerges in egg-shell tones.  As you stand back you pick out familiar patterns and lines.  A map?  But to where?  But before your brain can muster a reply you find your feet shuffling forward, unable to resist.

Somehow Miguel has broadcast ‘Nada es Perfecto’ from a distant Ballardian future.  Course red sands have crept into the cities leaving only the minaret’s thin towers, poking through the desert-creep, looking for all the world like giant abandoned onions.

The wind blows his haunting raga through the arrow slits; a rosewood moan, a restless questing.  A sound so dry that it goes on forever.

garage

Spoils & Relics – Private Garage Collection

Knowing the Spoils & Relics I wasn’t expecting any pebbles or nuggets but, make no mistake, the garage is in full effect.  It’s chock-a-block with tin trays of screws, half-empty paint cans and a broken TV…

o///oo////o////At first it’s a jumble of unusable parts, scraps and ephemera\\\\\\0\0\\0\0\ooooo\o\o\o\\////ooo//o/oBut that of course all melts away when you add the human, the flesh ~~~~~and blood machine that takes the tightly-sealed jar of turpentine, beer towels and an XXXXXXXX old projector and turns that into a compelling narrative_____))()()The ghost >><<<<of memory haunts these dark ruffles and smeared hisses)(((((ooo>>A hum becomes a glass of fizzing alka-seltzer))))))A shifting ‘shish’ is folded into a matrix of voices)><><>Machinery hums and whirrs – a busy crackle industry but incredibly delicate+++Aural flytipping?+++The dynamics are kept XXxxXXX low and introverted, almost shy, with only the occasional brassy honk>>><<<…

The side B is ever-so-slightly busier>>><<>><>> with sounds overlapping and ()()(    (())meshing messily rather than lining up ‘straight like a soldier’o00o)Oo0)Oo This added dimension takes away none of the quiet menace; in fact it OOOO adds layers of subway/\underpass paranoia like a sudden face at the window)()(***()))(((((((((()))ooooiiiiiiiooooOOOOOO>><><><<Snatches of art-core jams involving mahogany and ivory pieces slapped down in unknowable rhythms()(()””””!><><0000)0IT LIVES IT’S OWN LIFE, BREATHS IT’S OWN BREATH    000<<>><><)()())                         )(())0o0o0o))

…This private garage is truly abstract and at times could be a ‘lost’ futurist recording from 1913 with all it’s sepia clanking and rattling. At around 10 mins per side this is a perfect power-listen for the busy radical.  Get busy people.

—ooOoo—

Skull Mask

Spoils & Relics

up to the surface: culver and la mancha del pecado

September 29, 2015 at 12:15 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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la mancha del pecado and culver – “collaboration vol. 5” (tape, Narcolepsia, narco 039, edition of 80)

Culver – Saps ’76 (tape, matching head, matching head 210)

collab5

Ah, Lee Stokoe and Miguel Perez – two old friends of your humble editor and of this blog. What have they been up to I wonder?

Well, it appears Miguel has been conjuring a no-audience attracting, improv noise racket as one half of the duo ZN, has been recruited as bassist for proper (corpse paint, cowls – the lot) black metal band Funereal Moon, has retired his labels Oracle and Agorafobia (over a hundred releases! Many still available via Archive.org – be resourceful), started a new one dedicated to harsh noise called Collants Noirs Releases (NSFW – unless you work in a sex dungeon, I suppose), engaged in numerous collaborations, rethought his major solo projects – Wehrmacht Lombardo, La Mancha Del Pecado and The Skull Mask and maintained a release schedule that would give Sindre Bjerga heartburn. Oh, and he has two new, excellent tracks on this compilation raising money for the Syrian refugee crisis – a cause well worth your donation. Despite all this Miguel assures me he is following some advice I gave him a while ago: to slow down. Heh.

…and Lee remains Lee. Solo as Culver, or in collaboration with others, released by his own label Matching Head, or elsewhere, Lee is the truly underground musician I sometimes wish I could be. Indefatigable, unruffled, he continues to explore the contours of a rigorous, uncompromised aesthetic. He dupes tapes, he sends handwritten letters, he shows a disdain for digital culture that has gone past anachronistic, through wilfully perverse and become almost heroic. His work – a distant but ever present ominous rumble – attracts a handful of acolytes (myself included) who tend their ridiculous collections with obsessive care. The newbie should not be intimidated, however – you can start raking the sand anywhere. Here will do.

I first encountered this fifth (of six?) collaboration between the two early last year when an overexcited Miguel sneaked me a preview via the magic of the internet. I reviewed it thus:

#5 is 38 minutes of scouring radio static as heard in the cockpit of a single propeller aeroplane surveying the bomb damage inflicted by Wehrmacht Lombardo’s war machines.

[Editor’s note: quote taken from a pair of articles posted 9th and 12th February, 2014. Wehrmacht Lombardo being Miguel’s hardest noise project – see links for context. Also, whilst inlay card states this is narco 038, internet says: narco 039]

…and, yeah, I’ll stand by that. Interestingly, despite being almost entirely static there is an attention-diverting rasp that stops it becoming mere background. The listener (well, this listener at least) is not allowed that ‘warm bath’ ease that the experience of much ‘harsh’ noise quickly devolves into. Even when played quietly, volume knob dressed to the left, it still sounds like incidental atmospherics from the tension building corridor scene in an otherwise relentless gorefest.

saps

Saps ’76 has a (relatively) elaborate four part narrative structure that describes a (more or less) upward trajectory.  There ya go – that’s the sort of classy musicological analysis you read RFM for, eh?

The first section is muscular and discordant guitar abuse.  Imagine a laboratory set up deep in the Martian caverns of Abomi to study the vampire jelly creatures that slither the walls there.  Alas, these nightmares have figured out how to melt through the helmets of the scientists, have affixed themselves to their hapless heads and have dissolved everything from the nostrils up.  Now bloated on this broth of brain, bone and hair they urge their new host bodies to smash up the lab’s equipment.

[Editor’s aside: if you don’t know ‘The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis‘ (1932, also known as ‘The Vaults of Abomi’ in an extended, restored version) by Clark Ashton Smith then settle down for a treat.  It’s a brilliant Lovecraftian weird tale with a disgusting schlock finale.]

In the second section, led by a simple, melancholy synth riff, horror-struck colleagues lock, bolt and brick up the lower levels knowing that no-one down there can be saved.  Later, those that are able to sleep will wake sweating and screaming but for now the only thought is of escape.

The third section is a grey rumble – more felt than heard – experienced by passengers in the cramped elevator to the surface.  The sound is partly the grinding of overloaded lifting machinery, partly the roaring of blood in their ears.

The fourth and final section opens out with the return of the guitar – this time it is keening, psychedelic.  The landscape the survivors stumble out to is crepuscular, desolate.  The air is thin, cool.  People breath as heavy as it will allow and glance around, silently noting who is here and who isn’t.  The first nervous laugh is cut short when the doors of the empty elevator close and the ‘down’ arrow is illuminated.  Who called it?

—ooOoo—

narcolepsia

Matching Head (no internet presence as such but contact details for Lee can be found on this Discogs page)

 

invisible city records

April 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Death Register – Phonaesthesia (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR03, edition of 40 or download)

The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR04, edition of 30 or download)

Black Thread – Autumn Flowers (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR05, edition of 30 or download)

Culver – The Abductress (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR07, edition of 60)

Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR08, edition of 40 or download)

Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR09, edition of 24 or download)

Philipp Bückle – Drawings (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR10, edition of 50 or download)

death register

I may have asked this question before but, fuck it, it’s worth asking again: if given a choice between listening to a release new to you or to one that you are familiar with and know is good which do you choose?  Apart from when I’m repeat listening prior to writing a review, for me it is the former nearly 100% of the time.

I’ll go further: by ‘new’ in this context I don’t just mean ‘previously unheard’ but also mean ‘recently produced’.  I’ve been a music fan for over three decades now, including many years patrolling the fringes and an overlong stint as a variation on the type of insufferable asshole I am soon to describe.  Sure, there remain gaps in my knowledge – some vast – but I’m past caring.  I’ve heard enough of the classic, the important, the ephemeral, the popular, the unduly overlooked etc., etc. to justify an opinion, an opinion backed by thousands of hours of ‘study’.  I still spend every moment allowable listening to music but, y’know – for now at least, I think I’m done with the past.

Box sets and reissues nauseate me (apart from the two I’m personally involved with at the moment, of course, which are rad) as does collector/completist culture.  With a couple of noble exceptions – I recommend the transcendental journey documented by Phong Tran via the @boxwalla twitter account, for example – every ‘have you heard <old recording X>?’ conversation or twitter thread just reminds me of a certain curly-haired obsessive that became the bane of Termite Club nights around the turn of the century.  This nut – I’m not naming him, slowly incant the Nurse With Wound list and he shall appear – would limpet onto an unfortunate attendee and engage in the most tedious yes-but-have-you-heardism only stopping at 3am when him yelling ‘yes, but what do you think of Lemmingmania?’ through their letterbox was the final straw and the police were called.  I exaggerate for comic effect of course, but not by much – ask Michael Clough about it.

Whilst I’m being fussy, newness in the two senses above isn’t enough on its own.  For example, I recently purchased one of them proper CDs they have now by an actual band on the recommendation of a friend whose tastes do not map onto mine but whose judgement is trustworthy.  The album is brand new and by a respected metal act with an unimpeachable DIY ethos but, with each episode of crushing riffage telegraphed bars in advance, I found myself struggling to get through it twice.  It’s newness was more than offset by it being structurally boring.

That said, innovation on its own isn’t enough either.  Safe to say that I’ve never heard anything quite like current darling act <name redacted because I can’t be arsed arguing with disciples wounded by my blasphemy>, for example, but my opinion as to the worth of that work is, shall we say, in the minority.  Whilst I cherish moments when a gleeful smile cracks my grumpy visog and I wonder out loud ‘what the fuck is this?’ I have nothing in principle against tropes, conventional sound-palettes, standard instrumentation and so on.

So what do I want?  I want something previously unheard by me and recently produced, ideally in an uncompromised DIY manner.  Surprises and innovation are always welcome but not necessary, genre conventions can be absolutely fine as long as they don’t lead to a formal dullness that drags me away from the experience.  In short, I want something that transports me to a different place.  It does happen – surprisingly frequently – and over the last few months the place I’ve been taken to has often been the Invisible City.

Following the sad demise of Tyneside’s Basic FM last year, Craig Johnson – host of RFM-on-the-radio-type show Unknown Surroundings – started Invisible City Records partly as a way of plugging that hole.  The guy has an irresistible, and wholly laudable, urge to plug the music that he/we love and chose to continue doing so using the now almost standard ‘business model’ of limited edition tapes for the remaining object fetishists and pay-what-you-like downloads for the sane.  Yes, yes, I know I got the hump with this approach a few months ago but hypocrisy is the least of my crimes and, hey, quality content conquers all.

ICR specialises in long(ish) form drone/noise with a penchant for fuzzed out entropic decay and dystopian synth soundtracks.  Releases are not without moments of wry humour and the odd jump scare but all have an attention to detail and seriousness of intent that makes for an immersive and transporting experience.  It is a tough label to use as background music for chores and many’s the time I have found myself sprawled out, staring at nothing, task forgotten as one of these visions unfolds.  The catalogue already features several RFM regulars: Culver, of course, people-eaters, Miguel Perez (alongside J.C. Meraz as The Will of Nin Girima) and releases reference literary house favourites like Lovecraft, Ballard and (to my delight) the Strugatsky brothers.  Tailor made for me, eh?  It is even based in Gateshead.  Perfect.

OK, given the exemplary quality control already exhibited by Craig I could just say: ‘go buy the lot’, give the link and await your expressions of gratitude.  But that would be a dereliction of duty.  Instead here’s a summary of the ICR story so far:

curwen - shunned house

ICR01 Joseph Curwen – Shunned House was due to be reviewed by ex-staffer Scott McKeating but unfortunately he fell into a non-Euclidean angle between walls whilst exploring an Antarctic archaeological site.  Alas.

caisson - high rise

ICR02 Caisson – High Rise inspired me to put together a review-as-photo-essay featuring pictures of celebrated concrete brutalism taken on the campus where I work.

death register

ICR03 Death Register – Phonaesthesia comprises three tracks of drawn out ragged synth lines propelled by loops of machine hum.  The final track, ‘R’, is seventeen minutes of augmented dream state which calls to mind Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II and is more or less perfect.

The Will of Nin Girima - Two Cycles of Incantation - cover

ICR04 The Will of Nin Girima – Two Cycles of Incantation is a duo of Miguel Perez and J.C. Meraz and is quite possibly the finest recording that Miguel, my good friend and inspiration, has been involved with.  A series of six ‘dark ambient’ rituals, it has scope, ambition and imagination and its lengthy running time just flashes past.  Unlike most noise of this type it also contains passages that are genuinely unnerving too.  Terrific.

Black Thread - Autumn Flowers - cover

ICR05 Black Thread – Autumn Flowers is a short, beautiful album of loops eroded into noise.  Yes, I understand this process will be familiar to many readers but this is a fine instantiation, full of emotional content.  Like a time-lapse film of a cherished wind-up toy thrown into the ocean, destroyed by salt and the motion of the tide.

only thing left to fear tape

ICR06 people-eaters – The Only Thing Left To Fear got the treatment by me not long ago in a piece about the terrifying, nihilistic idea that there are no such things as monsters.  It can be found here.

culver - abductress

ICR07 Culver – The Abductress is another schooling from the master Lee Stokoe.  Following a pattern familiar from several recent releases, melancholy guitar is swamped by a gathering electrical storm of fuzz drone noise.  However, this descent is more distressed/distressing than usual.  This is less Ballard – ultimately accepting of the entropic drowned world, more Wyndham – a fight against the alien forces causing the rising waters.  ‘ruby ford’, the last of the three tracks is such an epic, all you can do is admire its teeth from a safe distance.

stratospheric

ICR08 Saturn Form Essence – Stratospheric Tower is a work of special power.  Via a series of sculptures crafted from brooding analogue electronics it conveys the gargantuan, unclouded patience of a planet-wide AI that just knows it has this fucking right.  If we could hear the ‘music of the spheres’ it would sound like this: implacably hostile, utterly indifferent to your existence.

roadside picnic

ICR09 Roadside Picnic – Watership Drowned provides a whole bunch of those ‘what the fuck is going on?’ moments.  Comprising two tracks totalling about an hour and a half, we have movements (too leisurely to be called ‘collage’ I think) incorporating, amongst other things: heavily filtered scrabbling, pastoral tropicalia and electronics that range from the soothing wail of a slowed down, pitched up alarm to the chirrup and whirr of robotic insects.  It would be a great soundtrack to an adaptation of that famous children’s story about rabbits.  You know the one where prehistoric rabbits find a monolith and fight each other, then find another one on the moon thousands of years later, then go on a space mission with a mad computer that deliberately gives the astro-rabbits myxomatosis.  Yeah, that one.

…and finally:

drawings

ICR10 Philipp Bückle – Drawings which was released today as I wrote this!  Haven’t heard it yet but you gotta admit the streak is hot.  Here’s your quote Craig: ‘This album is great!’ – Radio Free Midwich.  Fuck it, why not?

So that’s it.  Well, not quite.

Whilst not wanting to steal Craig’s thunder I think I might know what ICR11 will turn out to be.  Y’see early last year the American noise label Altar of Waste released ‘the swift’ by midwich in a criminally limited (and quite expensive due to shipping costs) edition of 15 with no digital version available.  It was well received, I was proud of it and I was very grateful to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy.  I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and just couldn’t resist reaching out to Craig and planting a seed.  What a recommendation, eh?  This label is so good that I found a way to be on it.

More news as it breaks!

(…and if you are one of those kind purchasers of the original edition please forgive me.  Remind me of the fact when the Aqua Dentata CD-r on fencing flatworm drops later in the year – I’ll sort you out proper.)

—ooOoo—

Invisible City Records

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