the medicinal quality of northern noise, its alloys and compounds

May 13, 2014 at 10:16 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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posset – friction rivers (tape, Singing Knives Records)

sindre bjerga / posset – split (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#123, edition of 25)

star turbine / inseminoid / fordell research unit / xazzaz – nundungeon (CD-r, gold soundz, gs#122, edition of 25)

I, Torquemada – The Book, The Eye, The Scourge (download, Oracle Netlabel, ORE106)

Oppenheimer – Oppenheimer (CD-r, molotov, 26)

oppenheimer – js/ls/ms, js/ls/ms/mks (tape, Matching Head, mh202)

Inseminoid – Vanessa Howard’s Night Light (3” CD-r, Sheepscar Light Industrial, SLI.022, edition of 50 or download)

posset - friction rivers

Surprisingly perhaps, given my status as long-term noise aficionado, I suffered my first ever migraine last week.  Silver worms squirmed into the top right of my peripheral vision, wriggling downwards until their glistening made it impossible to read the newspaper I was holding.  Then the left hand side of my face, upper jaw to receding hairline, seized up completely – as if a phantom of the opera mask was held clamped in place over the affected area.  The pain made me feel nauseous but, in denial about what might be occurring, I decided that a few painkillers and a lie down would be sufficient treatment.  The worst of it lasted about three hours.

During the following week my face and scalp remained ‘tight’ – the muscle under my left eye twitching like an oyster dripped with lemon juice.  Worse though was a near constant state of seasickness which had me imagining I was swaying from side to side and made it difficult to sleep, to stomach food or to concentrate on everyday tasks.  I took some time off work and visited my GP who was sufficiently concerned to prescribe some medication and insist that I saw her again if anything changed.  My Dad suffered a minor stroke when he was about my age so we all wanted to make sure my brain wasn’t exploding.

Unfortunately, things deteriorated over the weekend and I reported even more, even stranger symptoms – a sunburnt feeling on my arms and hands being the weirdest – to my GP yesterday morning and she referred me immediately to Accident and Emergency at Leeds General Infirmary for a neurological assessment.  I was at the hospital for six hours, four of which were spent waiting in A&E.  I’ve been before in the evening and seen the bloody, alcohol-soaked horrorshow but the daytime parade of elderly patients rubbing numb limbs whilst spouses laughed nervously, each trying not to let on how frightened they were, was even more upsetting.  Anyway, I eventually saw a bunch of doctors, had my noggin sliced with X-rays and got the all clear.  Nowt wrong with me that a few painkillers and a lie down won’t see to.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, it explains why I’m sat here typing instead of being out gallivanting.  Given that all has not been well between my ears, medical opinion (and common sense) suggests that I should probably not press ’em up against the speakers at Wharf Chambers.  The timing is heartbreaking as this week sees sets in Leeds from Neil Campbell, Popular Radiation, Spoils & Relics, BBBlood and RFM comrade Joe Murray as Posset.  It would, of course, be a glorious way to go out – to have my head literally explode at the peak of a Paul Watson racket-crescendo, say – but my worried wife would much rather I was around to, y’know, help with the baby n’ all that.  Thus here I am in Midwich Mansions, self-medicating my sulk with doses of noise from Tyneside, Edinburgh and Norway.

sindre and joe split

First then to my man Joe and his nom-de-gurgle Posset: a cassette monograph on the ever lovely Singing Knives and shared credit for a split with the ubiquitous Sindre Bjerga on the latter’s Gold Soundz imprint.  Between the pair of them we are treated to a symphony for spittle and poorly-lubricated door hinge, a Punch and Judy show as performed by the inmates of Charenton Asylum directed by the Marquis de Sade, a fleet of aquatic budgerigars trilling, gargling and discussing the price of kelp, trainers squeaking on a basketball court during a game played by the anthropomorphic animal croquet teams from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, a wheelie bin full of post-midnight, soggy gremlins plotting mischief and a chipped vinyl Oliver Postgate storybook LP playing forlornly on a faulty wind-up gramophone.  Occasionally in Sindre’s tracks some drone bleeds in as if his million other projects are leaking through a badly aligned tape head.  Tremendous stuff, full of verve, exuberance and humour as well as a surprising and touching emotional range.

nundungeon

Speaking of Sindre’s million other projects: Star Turbine, his excellent duo with Claus Poulsen, leads off a compilation that could well have been curated with me in mind as the ideal listener.  Four bands: Star Turbine, Inseminoid, Fordell Research Unit and Xazzaz – all favourites of mine – each donate a single 10(plus) minute track to a CD-r celebrating that line up playing the exquisitely named Nundungeon in Edinburgh earlier this year.  The Turbs are in a playful mood, bringing Sindre’s current solo style to stamp gleefully around in the space afforded by their usual spacey drone.  Inseminoid I will be coming onto shortly thus my later comments can be slotted in here: ‘______’.  Fraser Burnett of Fordell Research Unit simply cannot put a foot wrong and his confident, expressive drone work is as satisfying as remembering there is an uneaten Easter egg still in the cellar head.  Mike Simpson of Xazzaz is capable of exactly the same level of customer service but does it with added pedal-stomped, bristling loudness.  Sindre had this one for sale on his recent jaunt ’round the UK – you better drop him a line to see if it is still available.

i, torquemada - the book, the eye, the scourgeoppenheimer - molotov 26oppenheimer - mh202

Mike Simpson also plays a part, I think, in both I, Torquemada and Oppenheimer – the former being a duo of Frater J (Jamie of Wrest?  Jerome of Charles Dexter Ward?) and Frater M (Mike, probs), the latter being mainly a quartet of Jamie, Jerome, Mike and RFM heartthrob Lee Stokoe of Culver and Matching Head.  I’m sure the omniscient Scott McKeating will set me straight if I have the details wrong.  Both acts perform an industrial strength improv noise rock, or free punk, or doom skronk or harsh guitar wall or whatever – subgenre post-it notes won’t stick to this surface caked with filth.  There is a perverse relish in referencing the Spanish Inquisition or the Manhattan Project with your band name and a dark, hopeless abandonment is certainly celebrated with the music too.  It’s as morbidly beautiful as the glistening wings of a sea bird caught in an oil slick, as terrifyingly faceless as a coin eaten smooth by a corrosive fluid.  I am reminded, quite purposefully I suppose, of the famous quote from J. Robert Oppenheimer following the Trinity test:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

These Tyneside nihilists would have been amongst those laughing.  They see the big – the biggest – picture.

inseminoid - vanessa

Inseminoid, the duo of Lee Stokoe and George Proctor (of Mutant Ape and Turgid Animal), are connoisseurs of horror cinema, vintage porn and exploitative art in general but their heavy drone pieces are importantly different to the gore-splattered gusto of their colleagues above.  They curate a carefully sustained atmosphere of unease, understanding that true terror is often found not in the act but in its consequences, not in the situation but in its implications.  Repeat listens brought to mind haunting, half-remembered, dream-troubling passages from my own limited experience with horror fiction.  For example, I always found the reveal in Ringu 2 that Sadako was actually alive and sealed in the well for thirty years before dying to be as viscerally nauseating as any of the deaths portrayed.  Or how about a scene from one of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood stories where a guy foolishly pokes a seemingly dead monster and has his hand bitten off?  In a moment of genius, Barker steps back from the gore for a couple of sentences to let us in on the shock and dismay this moment of idiotic bravado has caused.  We see the awful, disproportionate consequences and are appalled.  This is what Inseminoid are up to: cool, considered, implacably hostile – absolutely compelling.

—ooOoo—

Singing Knives

Gold Soundz

(Editor’s note: there are various Gold Soundz resources revealed by a quick Google/Discogs search but none seem current.  As such, I’ve linked to Sindre’s own page and you can ask him about these releases directly.)

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Oracle Netlabel

Molotov

Matching Head

(another) fortnight with lee and miguel, part two: conspiracies

February 12, 2014 at 9:36 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 3 (tape, At War With False Noise, ATWAR140, edition of 50)

culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 4 (CD-r, Turgid Animal)

culver & la mancha del pecado – collaboration 5 (tape, Narcolepsia)

The Dead End Street Band / La Mancha Del Pecado – El Mercado De Las Brujas (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes, #25)

Crown of Bone / La Mancha Del Pecado – split (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes #26/Occult Supremacy OSP040)

the collects & culver – untitled (tape, Matching Head, mh203)

la mancha - culver - collaboration 3culver - la mancha - collaboration 4

OK, see part one for an extensive preamble.  This second half showcases a bunch of Lee and Miguel’s collaborations and split releases.

—ooOoo—

Firstly, the ongoing team-up between our two heroes sees their powers squared by being combined.  Three more products:

#3 is the final moments of a desperate refugee attempting to escape certain death by clinging on to the landing gear of a passenger jet.  As the aeroplane climbs to cruising altitude, and hypothermia takes hold, this doomed soul hallucinates he is entering a kind of aviation heaven.  The roar of jets, the ‘whup-whup’ of rotors, the burrr of propellers all condense into a single throb carrying him upwards.  This pulse fades along with his own and a slow-picked refrain on acoustic guitar mourns the frozen.

#4 is a single 48 minute long track in three movements.  First is the chugging clatter of a damaged piston furiously rattling its housing as the engine it is part of belches out acrid black smoke.  Secondly, great swathes of the sound are blown away by a cooling wind leaving a rumble as the seemingly broken engine settles, components fusing.  Finally, surprisingly, as it cools the engine bursts back into life in a suicidal last gasp but then – spoiler alert – the piece ends in a relatively upbeat state as the rhythm calms and smoke is replaced with a pleasing iridescent glow.  It is a genuinely unexpected conclusion.

#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.

All great.

dead end street - la mancha - split

I know Miguel is proud of this one ‘cos it’s his tape label Agorafobia’s first transatlantic split: The Dead End Street Band hail from exotic Newcastle.  Their track, ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’, has the greasy, queasy electronic pulse that made the best of first wave industrial music such uncomfortable listening.  It also adds a viscous layer of inescapable stickiness.  At twelve minutes long it is the perfect length to lure an unsuspecting fly into the monkey cup…

The La Mancha track, ‘Raza Crapulienta’, has a forward motion I am tempted to describe as ‘roaring’ but in this case ‘gushing’ might be more accurate.  There is a wetness to the torrent that suggests subterranean rivers coursing through pitch black limestone caverns.

crown of bone - la mancha - split

It took me a while to warm to ‘The Chapters of Judas’ by Crown of Bone, their contribution to this split release.  At first it seemed too fierce for my tastes, too easily described with clichéd adjectives such as ‘harsh’, ‘relentless’ etc.  I was won round by its ridiculous, visceral, irresistible momentum.  At around the 16 minute mark pedals are stamped on which adds variation to the blowtorch ferocity.  With a few minutes to go we are transported instantaneously into the centre of a black mass before the noise returns just as suddenly to play us out.  I don’t listen to this type of stuff very often but I would if more of it was like this.

The La Mancha track, ‘Helena’, is an example of that super-advanced music for alien races that I mentioned in part one.  To feeble ears attached to feeble brains like ours it sounds like metal played by a flock of drunken geese.

collects and culver

…and finally we have the collaboration between Culver and mysterious, new-name-to-me The Collects.  Scott McKeating, the omniscient third voice here at RFM, reckons this is the best of the latest crop.  His verdict, pulled from the pneumatic tube system we use for office communication, is:

shit hot

…which is undeniable.  The cauldron of boiling black liquid provided by Culver is what you might expect, I guess, but a spell is cast by the carefully chosen ingredients tossed into the mix.  There is insectoid filter whine, viscera-rearranging generator throb and reedy, fluting near-melody amongst the other earthy and unplaceable flavours.  Stepping away from the witch’s brew metaphor and into the suburban living room, I am reminded (again) of the little girl in the film Poltergeist, speaking to voices only she can hear via a detuned television.  The first two tracks of this C30(ish) album, ‘clutch fed’ and ‘you are never going home’, could well be what is heard by her during gaps in the conversation: the background noise of a dead realm.

Given its title – ‘do you remember her last moments?’ – and the bound figure illustrated on the cover, it would be easy to interpret the side-long third piece as some kind of torture-porn soundtrack but who wants to linger on that thought, eh?  Not me.  Instead let’s imagine the Culveresque rumble as the mud colouring a drop of dirty water.  Now put that drop on a microscope slide and take a closer look at its contents.  The uniform dirt is separated into boulders suspended in solution and a teeming ecosystem is revealed, thick with monsters.  This is the noise they make as they strive without sense, unaware of how beautiful and terrifying they are.  Flagella thrust clumsily, cilia ripple rhythmically, translucent blobs are attacked by floating mouths.  It is a grotesquely, magnificently alien scene.

Scott is, as ever, correct.

Matching Head

Agorafobia Tapes / Oracle Netlabel

Turgid Animal

Narcolepsia

At War With False Noise

Occult Supremacy

(another) fortnight with lee and miguel, part one: two (hundred) matching heads

February 9, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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culver – plague hand (2 x tape, Matching Head, Matching Head 200)

Culver – Angel Obsolete (CD-r, Molotov, molotov 25)

La Mancha Del Pecado – A Triple Fetichistic Treatment – Tribute to Raoul Valve (3 x CD-r, Altar of Waste, AOW 138, edition of 15)

La Mancha Del Pecado – Domina (2 x CD-r, Occult Supremacy, OSP027)

Wehrmacht Lombardo – El Vicio Tiene Medias Negras (CD-r, Agorafobia Tapes, #24)

Wehrmacht Lombardo – Tyrant (self-released download)

 culver - plague hand 1culver - plague hand 2culver - plague hand tapes

(Editor’s note: some of the releases above were sent to me as pre-release mp3s by an overexcited Miguel, thus format/label information might be incomplete and some cover pictures may be stolen from the internet.)

Radio Free Midwich is delighted to offer heartfelt congratulations to Lee Stokoe on the occasion of the 200th release by his mighty label Matching Head.  It is an unrivalled achievement, I think.  Others may have been around longer or produced a greater number of releases but who can boast such focus, such unerring coherence?  Over the years he has stuck to tapes whether or not bearded hipsters were enthusing over the format.  He has no interest in the online world.  His black and white aesthetic makes each individual package a counter used in an occult variation of the game go, played on a non-Euclidean goban.  His musical project has been, to reuse a metaphor I have leaned on before, a type of cartography.  Each of Lee’s releases on Matching Head, or elsewhere as Culver, is another detail of the map completed.  The landscape abstracted can be bleak, inhospitable but its geography is endlessly fascinating to me.  Click on the ‘Lee Stokoe’ or ‘Culver’ or ‘Matching Head’ tags above to see how many ways I’ve managed to describe what to the uninitiated might appear to be 40 minutes of mere ominous rumbling.  I am, in short, a fan.

As is our Mexican cousin Miguel Perez.  Miguel is a great friend of this blog and, via the magic of the internet, has become an enthusiastic contributor to the noise scene in the North East of England despite living on the other side of the world.  Modern life, eh?  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me describing him, with my tongue in cheek, as a disciple of Lee’s.  The influence is clear in his music, his fiercely independent stance and his awesome work rate.  However, I consider Miguel to be a notable artist in his own right, a skilled musician (with a background in metal guitar) and an open-minded and enthusiastic collaborator who brings out the best in those that work with him, including Lee.  Oracle, the netlabel that he co-runs, chalked up its 100th release last year.  Not to be sniffed at.

(An aside about the horror/fetish/porn imagery used on the packaging of these releases: I’ve tutted prudishly at these two perverts on several occasions in the past and can only throw my hands in the air again.  Oh well, boys, whatever floats the boat…)

OK, on with the show.  As I have a bunch of stuff on the pile from these chaps, much of which crosses over thematically or collaboratively, it makes sense to tackle it en masse. In part one: solo stuff from each, part two: collaborations and splits.

—ooOoo—

First, of course, I need to account for Matching Head catalogue number 200: plague hand by culver (covers above), a twin cassette set containing four side-long tracks totalling, you guessed it, 200 minutes.  Each of these four untitled pieces (the sides are labelled a,b,c, and d and that’s all you get) is a sombre Culvanian documentary: a long, wordless panoramic camera sweep taking in the scenery with an unblinking 360 degree turn.  Each is different from the last, all are wholly involving and will have the attentive listener crowing ‘aww… man, I was digging that!’ and reaching to flip or rewind as soon as the track ends.  I say ‘attentive listener’ but really there is no other kind because you have no choice in the matter.  This isn’t background music – allow yourself to get caught and your ego will be dissolved like a fly in a pitcher plant.  It is a masterwork and a fitting celebration of the numerically notable point it represents.

When discussing Lee’s music (and Miguel’s and others like it) I often lead with metaphors of decay.  If I’m in a fancy pants mood I’ll throw in terms like ‘entropy’, thus suggesting Culver depicts a world in the process of rusting shut.  However, today I think I might have been looking in entirely the wrong direction.  Perhaps instead Lee is composing for a super-evolved race living in a parallel universe where Culver is pop and our most sophisticated, technically accomplished mainstream musical efforts sound to them like a sick pig farting into a tin bucket.  Nice to think that somewhere at least Lee is a star…

culver - angel obsolete

Angel Obsolete, released on Mike Simpson’s wholly reliable Molotov imprint, begins with a few seconds of a doomy bass riff and ends roughly 38 minutes later following an onslaught of electric weather.  This is the sound of being trapped under an upturned giant glass fishbowl as a desert storm gradually blasts it to an opaque white.  Every grain of sand, every scratch and abrasion, documented by the texture of Culver’s roar.

la mancha - raoul valve

This three disc epic both appears on US label Altar of Waste and takes its inspiration from the work of Cory Strand, the label’s head honcho.  Cory is known for his multi-disc noise/drone extrapolations from favourite film soundtracks and, following this lead, Miguel has chosen to interpret the work of Raoul Valve, best known for scoring the high-gloss art-porn films of director Andrew Blake.  The sheer nylon/patent leather glamour is abstracted through the crooked lenses, peepholes and clogged filters that define the La Mancha vibe.  Cory’s own description of the album is compelling:

…a frightening excursion into the deepest realms of the glisteningly erotic illuminating the horrid emptiness lurking behind boudoir noir. Utilizing the eclectic soundtracks composed by Raoul Valve for three Andrew Blake films, “A Triple Fetishistic Treatment” sees La Mancha Del Pecado transforming the vaguely banal and unobtrusive into blackest night clouds of uncertainty and self-doubt. The artistry in Blake’s films reveals layers of suggestion not oft found in standard gonzo pornography, teases of themes and relationships oft left unexplored by the mainstream in favor of quick release and exhaustive bouts of fucking. La Mancha Del Pecado takes that artistry and rips it open, exposing both the emptiness at its heart and the lurid technicolor expanse of the images it approximates.

The guy can write a sizzling blurb, f’sure, but I don’t agree.  Miguel’s perversion does not seem sleazy or hollow.  His submissive worship of the stocking is not an expression of existential malaise.  Rather it is joyous, celebratory and engaged.  His band name translates as ‘The Stain of Sin’ but there is no judgement implied in this – Miguel just doesn’t mind getting dirty.

The first disc, ‘Subtle Exhibitionism (Kyla Cole)’, is a mere 43 minutes of blood in the ears – what you might expect to hear after an hour being strapped upside-down in a dominatrix’s dungeon, your brain an electrical storm of consciousness drowning discharge.  My theory is best supported by the second disc, ‘Slaves With Stockings and Heels (Kelly Havel)’, which is a glorious, sense heightening, scything buzz.  Profoundly, heavily psychedelic, it writhes at a furious fever pitch throughout and seems nowhere near spent even after over an hour of effort.  The third disc, ‘Industrial Girlfriends (Justine Jolie)’, is the toughest.  Clocking in at 55 minutes, it begins, appropriately, with hydraulic rhythms and pneumatic hiss and continues with a pummelling tour of the factory floor where molten plastic is injected into amped up, anatomically suspicious moulds of the human form.  The second half eases up a little as a series of satisfying metallic clatters are picked up, rattled, dropped and replaced until all that is left is echo steeped in static.

la mancha - domina

Domina is another epic, this time two tracks spanning a double disc set.  ‘Enfermera a Domicilio’ is a La Mancha cocktail built from one part Geordie-style free-rock noise and two parts drone: Matching-Head-style ice cavern atmospherics complimenting desert scorched organ psychedelics.  It is structurally ambitious and consistently engaging.  After a short burst of fast talking voices (a news report?  Lo siento, no hablo español…), ‘Ciudad Sangre’ steps up into a brash, abrasive fuzz with slower moving undertones.  It’s like rain on the surface of an oily lake obscuring the shadow of a monster swimming menacingly beneath.  The opening, the title (‘City Blood’) and the short burst of sombre percussion that appears near the end all suggest the piece is influenced by the never-ending, senseless drug war that blights Miguel’s home town of Ciudad Juárez.

wehrmacht lombardo - tyrant

Wehrmacht Lombardo is the pseudonym usually saved for the harshest of Miguel’s noise.  You might expect panic-inducing, deep-into-the-red Geiger counter static, an icy arctic wind whipping across the tundra and rumbles as the inhabitants of a nearby city are reduced to burnt tar by aerial bombardment.  These components will ebb and flow within the baseline roar.  However, that said, neither of these releases follow the blueprint exactly and differ quite markedly from each other too.  Tyrant is 23 minutes of wandering around the innards of a semi-organic, mountain-sized machine – its purpose unfathomable, the variations in its rhythms heavy and mysterious.  El Vicio Tiene Medias Negras is largely standard Lombardian business: earthily visceral throughout with a particularly effective last few minutes during which Miguel cuts the low end completely.  Was that the generator finally breaking down?  Is the electric fence surrounding the compound now just a few strands of harmless, flimsy wire?  Have we come to The End?

For now.  Continued in part two…

Matching Head

Agorafobia Tapes / Oracle Netlabel

Wehrmacht Lombardo on Bandcamp

Molotov

Altar of Waste

Occult Supremacy

sorting the lego part three: further soundtracks for graded tasks

December 13, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders – Four More Cosmic Jams from Daniel Thomas & Kevin Sanders (CD-r, Cherry Row Recordings, CRR001, edition of 50 or download)

Xazzaz – Kin (CD-r, Molotov, 23)
Xazzaz – Untitled (CD-r, Molotov, 20)

Crowhurst – Memory / Loss (self-released download)

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – The Butterfly Farm (C30 tape, Beartown Records, edition of 31)

cosmic jams

We’re all huge Tour de France fans here, right?  Good.  Then you’ll share my excitement in watching the build up to a sprint finish at the end of a flat stage.  With about five kilometres to go the teams of the star sprinters pull into formation and chains of identically jerseyed links draw the peloton forward, protecting and positioning their man, reeling in any group of breakaway riders with a heartless, machine-like efficiency.  Under the flamme rouge (a red flag indicating one kilometre to go) and the tactical jockeying is largely complete.  Now it is a matter of timing and anticipation.  A train of the strongest, fastest riders sacrifice themselves one at a time to maintain a superhuman pace for their potential stage winner until, with the line in sight, the last peels away and the bullet is fired from his slipstream.  Bikes are thrown from side to side as pedals are mashed and a day-long, hundred kilometre race is boiled down to 100 metres of pure athleticism, competition in its most distilled form.  In terms of tactical teamwork, heroic sacrifice and sheer fucking muscle it is, in my humble but correct opinion, the most exhilarating spectacle in sport.  I’m embarrassed to admit how much it moves me.

Now imagine this glorious sight utterly perverted and ruined.  The frontrunners are clearly drugged, hunched, steroid-addled monsters, barely recognizable as human, slobbering and growling as they approach the finish line at speeds no earthly creature could match.  No one is watching but me, appalled, no one cares any more.  The lead out train of two riders protect their sprinter by kicking over competitors to cause pile-ups as they pass.  “Three months of viruses” finally peels out leaving “Utter self-hatred” as the trigger man who launches “Bottomless depression” to thrash for the finishing line.

When this analogy for my current mental predicament occurred to me it struck me as powerful and telling (if a bit overwrought perhaps).  It does feel like Team Depression have been preparing for the attack of their star performer, and that preparation has been ruthless and unstoppable.  Over the last couple of years I have been starting to understand my relationship to the illness in terms of a fight, a confrontation, a war of attrition, an ebb and flow of insurgency and counter-insurgency, a Spy vs. Spy cartoon etc.  Thus this cycling analogy, in which I just look on helplessly, is a disappointing throwback to a more passive time when I thought all I could do was batten down the hatches.  I daren’t even think about what ‘the finish line’ might symbolise.

Whoo boy.  Suffice to say: I am down in it this week.

Thus my abilities to both complete graded tasks and think to some purpose have been cruelly curtailed.  However, I’d still like to get some reviews down, for morale purposes if nothing else.  For what it is worth, the stuff you have all sent me has been of incredible help during what continues to be a very difficult time.

—ooOoo—

Firstly, then, I bring you glad tidings of great joy for, lo, a new Leeds-based microlabel is born!  Yes, Cherry Row Recordings has been created by a moonlighting Daniel Thomas as a home for releases too long to be comfortably housed on 3″ CD-r – the format of choice in his day-job at Sheepscar Light Industrial.  The inaugural release is… well, the title is self-explanatory but it may be worth spending a moment defining what Dan and Kev (of Petals and hairdryer excommunication renown) mean by ‘cosmic’ here.  We aren’t talking long hair and body paint, nor is this retro-futuro-utopio-dystopio Krautrockish cosmicheness.  Rather, this is ‘cosmic’ in the existential sense Lovecraft uses it – to refer to an unfathomable and indifferent universe.  This is like exploring some suspiciously intact Cyclopean ‘ruins’ armed with only a guttering flash-light, a clenched jaw and a profound sense of foreboding.  The angles are all wrong.  The birdsong that appears at the end of ‘three’ and reappears in ‘four’ is a cruel joke, a last gasp of fresh air before a gnarled claw draws you back into the throbbing occult machinery of the ritual.  This is, as Nietzsche might put it, some heavy shit, bro’: stare into this and it stares right back, unblinking.  Really terrific and a superb way to kick off the label.

xazzaz - kinxazzaz - 'untitled' molotov 20

With a lack of fanfare typical of his brethren in the North East scene, Mike Simpson of Molotov Records is quietly producing the finest in ego-shredding, guitar-led noise.  The two releases above by Xazzaz, his (mainly?) solo project are not so much attention-grabbing as everything-else-obliterating.  For example, I tried to listen to Kin again as I wrote the preamble to this piece but had to turn it off after a few minutes because Mike’s music causes my edges to crumble, then crevaces to open, then huge thoughtbergs to calve from my mental glaciers.  He isn’t averse to roar, of course, and can stamp on pedals if need be, but it is the subtleties and nuance that make it so compelling.  He listens patiently, he understands what is going on.  He knows what to do.

Check out the Molotov catalogue now distributed by Turgid Animal.

crowhurst - memory-loss

Here’s another release I have been sleeping on unfairly.  Crowhurst (which I dearly hope is named for Donald Crowhurst, subject of my all-time favourite non-fiction book The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst by Nicholas Tomalin and Ron Hall) is American artist Jay Gambit.  Notably, this six track album downloadable from Bandcamp, has been stitched together by him using contributions from no less than 24 collaborators.  This approach – lone mad scientist assembles monster from numerous sources – is not unprecedented (indeed I was among 27 credited on the Birchville Cat Motel album With Maples Ablaze.  Beat that!) but is very unusual and deserves high praise for its ambition.

Presumably those invited to submit were given a remit because this does not feel like a collage.  A consistent mood is maintained throughout via a magnificent feat of editing.  Jay has realised a clear-headed and focussed vision: this reads as a six part meditation on the finality of death and the shadowy impermanence of everything else.  That the final track in this sequence is called ‘No Visitors’ could not be more perfect.

The noise here is mainly electronic, deep-set and, as you’d expect given the source material, multi-layered, but room is left in which to think.  Even in the roar the surprise augmentations – a slow piano line, the trilling of a robotic aviary simulation – tint the vibe like a beam from a lighthouse outlining treacherous rocks at the mouth of a bay.

I realise that I am making this sound bleak, which it is, but it is also compelling.  “I wonder if I like this?” I thought as I pressed play for the eighth or ninth time, my actions answering my own question…

r r-s - butterfly farm

…and finally, as has become the custom in these pieces, a selection from Robert Ridley-Shackleton.  This will be the last of his work that I mention this year because, ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner.  The Butterfly Farm (a C30 tape available from Beartown) is, I reckon, my favourite of the innumerable RR-S releases I’ve heard so far.  On first listen with notebook in hand I managed to write down two words: ‘motherfucked pop’ and many repeats later I’m not sure I can improve on that.

It sounds like nothing else: ultra lo-fi clatter-pop, largely indecipherable lyrics sung with the lip curl of a fourteen year old Elvis impersonator through Suicide’s echo pedal. ‘La, la, la’s gargled into whatever recording device is to hand then looped – that’s your backing track.  It’s like a mongrel pup produced by the unlikely union of two wildly different breeds of dog.  Fuck knows the mechanics of it but the odd shaped yappy offspring is cute as all hell…

an astringent lullaby: joe murray on muscletusk and xazzaz

June 22, 2013 at 9:55 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Muscletusk – No Hink (2 x CD-r, Unverified Records, UN039)

Xazzaz – Untitled (CD-r, Molotov, Molotov 20)

muscletusk - no hinkxazzaz - untitled molotov 20

Muscletusk – No Hink

A double fucking album from Muscle fucking Tusk.  This jaunt takes the noise-band to a bunch more destinations with some extreme lo-fi aesthetics and short, sharp raps across the knuckles.

In my mind’s eye there is a little Hornby OO scale set of Muscletuck, delightfully detailed and set in their characteristic pose of wild abandon, just right for the Station Master’s office.  Why so?  Maybe it’s because so much of this ‘No Hink’ excursion seems to be an exercise in miniature?  Cast your mind back to a more innocent time when one childish distraction was for a newspaper to publish a picture of something small (say, a fly’s eye) then blow it up big so you could see all the little scales and hexagons.  It looked different all big didn’t it?  The detail was beautiful and unexpected – an unusual mixture.  Parts of this brave record sound like a tiny performance that has been expanded and enlarged to massive portions.  The scale and detail goes all squiffy and you’re left with an alien and decaying landscape; some things remain familiar yet strangely tweaked.

You want examples yeah?  Disc one opener ‘Rattray Rat Tray’ comes across like mid-period Chrome disguised in scratchy tweeds. ‘I found it in the piano’ sounds like hot sand riffling through a rubber sieve – but magnified 1000 times.  ‘From frozen’ takes a metallic rattle and stretches it out like a greasy ink smear across fresh linen.  Don’t worry, The Muscletusk still do the stun-volume-noise-avalanche…and do so with aplomb.  ‘Spare the fractal’ starts with all that moon-faced moaning but when the drums kick in…whoa boy!  It all gets super-hot and tight – badda-boom, badda-bing!

Disc two instantly stands to attention, rigid and trembling on ‘Cuthome Carethroat’ with a sense of an unstable intro looking for a staircase to hurl itself down.  ‘Bogus Specimen’ is hardcore, to the max, all the time, 24/7, oops-upside-your head rock ‘n roll; like a locked groove on the vinyl of the apocalypse.  The heavy industry continues with ‘Melk of the Steamtube’ as a gurning lathe turns, spirals of gleaming metal slice viciously through the frigid air.  ‘Night of the Hot Knives’ (my personal top pick!) zones in after the action has taken place; the debris is collected in scruffy pools and the dribbling has started in earnest.  It’s a total sponge-opera mang!  Slack-string guitar flops lazily around a fag-ash rainbow as people start to rouse themselves and collapsing machines are punched vigorously into life. After a time, all semblance of order is dropped through a hatch and drums and electronics lurch about, stamping heavily on your dreams, shattering them like dry spaghetti.

As with their last long longplayer (Ask the Universe on Braw Records) Muscletusk are still rockin’ but the rollin’ is coming with a distinctive lop-sided squint.  Noise is at least a decade old as a sub-genre and these good ole boys are taking their grimy noise footprints onwards to soil up another fresh pasture.  Take me with you Muscletusk!

Buy from Unverified Records here.

Xazzaz – Untitled

Mike Xazzaz regularly makes the long drive into Newcastle to support the no-audience underground and conjure dark, ugly music under a whole bunch of evil monikers.  But it’s beneath the ornate cloak of Xazzaz that this thirty-minute piece; constructed from (Buster Crabbe era) rocketship fizz and the best bits of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless played with power tools, that has been mussing up the stereo for the last few weeks.  So regular has been by airing of ‘Untitled’ Mrs Posset asked if this was one of my favourite domestic recordings of her mowing the lawn.  Close but no cigar!  (BTW – If you think me un-gallant letting her do all the manual work I just need to remind you that these records don’t review themselves bub!)

So, into the ‘Untitled’ zone we go!  First impressions come with the record sleeve itself…displaying a distressed circuit board design that hints of data malfunction and screaming machines.  Plop the silvery disc in and you’re pretty much assaulted from the off with the cool electric fizz of light sabres clashing.  Like I hinted before there is an accelerating rush to this (the Flash Gordon reference) and a melodic pitch-shifting that recalls those tremolo-heavy vibes from MBV…except this time the jazz electricity comes via belt sanders, floor polishers and hammer-action drills rather than sappy guitars.  The crashing continues, churning up plankton and hurling it on the zinc-coated rocks until, at around the 11 minute mark a large rusty anchor is thrown overboard and is dragged nosily (sic – it was more fun to keep the typo than correct it – RH) across a rocky sea bed.  Grrrgrgggrgggrgghhhhhh!   After a while your ear hairs can bristle no more and I had to settle back to accept this Black Metal take on Frippertronics as an astringent lullaby…in fact at 26 minutes in a woozy-sounding chrome bubble of feedback repeats on and on and on and on making me sleepy despite the high volume battering.  But this is no Harsh Noise chest-beating…the dynamics are tested at times with the loud and heavy electronic stew being peppered with thin metallic ‘pings’ giving a different focus and perspective on things.  Like when you walk down a familiar street at 4 am.  The exhaust-rattling whoosh of traffic is replaced by chirping birds recalibrating your ear-memory.

Towards the end of your allotted half hour, the dark soundworld begins to draw to a close with a teased out comedown that gently floats you direct into Buddha’s benevolent palm, all fat and beaming.  Om!

(Editor’s note: at the time of writing this isn’t yet up on the Molotov site but check it out and drop Mike a line to pre-order.)

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

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

Witchblood – Eponine (tape, Matching Head, MH193)

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

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

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

The Skull Mask – Delbene (tape, agoraphobia 21)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matching Head

Oracle netlabel/agorafobia

Molotov

Ruido Horrible

Grindcore Karaoke

El Canzancio Records

artifacts of the no-audience underground: molotov label review

October 11, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Xazzaz – s/t (CD-r, Molotov 04)

Funeral Dance Party / Xazzaz – MMXI (Vinyl album, Molotov 08/Fuckin’ Amateurs #62)

F.D.P. R.I.P – Under Stone and Trees (Vinyl album, Molotov 09/Fuckin’ Amateurs #68)

I, Torquemada – Asesinato Total (CD-r, Molotov 10)

Oppenheimer – s/t (CD-r, Molotov 12)

Xazzaz – Black Hearts and Brittle Bones (CD-r, Molotov 13)

Blimey, it’s like the ‘hampster dance’ or something.  For a couple of days my response to Mr. Reynold’s talk garnered three times the usual average hits for this blog.  Crowds are flocking to read my spirited defence of this odd little world (although I’m amused to see it isn’t all one way – almost no-one was watching the video prior to me mentioning it, now hits on it at Vimeo are bubbling along healthily).  I’ve had so many referrals from that facebook that I momentarily thought about creating an account there.  Luckily sense overcame vanity and I left it well alone.  May I ask a favour?  If anyone out there has made or read interesting comments then could you please email them to me, or comment on this blog, because otherwise I’m unlikely to see them.  Cheers.

So, how to consolidate this new readership?  Point them at something joyous and relatively accessible in order not to scare them off?  How about a round-up of releases by a relatively ‘big name’ in order to ease the alienation?  Nope: neither.  Next up on the review pile is a whole mess of impenetrably hard, semi-anonymous noise, covered in skulls and on a more-or-less secret label hidden up in the wilds of the North East.  Perfect!  It’s the no-audience way…

Cherry Vampire by Culver is a mighty release and I said as much in my last worship-piece about the work of Lee Stokoe.  However, when I came to exhort you to ‘buy here’ there was no ‘here’ to be found.  No contact details on the CD-r or packaging, a partial Discogs listing for the label – Molotov – that was no more informative.  In the end the ever-accommodating Scott McKeating of Bells Hill, omniscient in the North East noise scene, pointed me at a guy called Mike and a gently probing email was sent in his direction.

Yes, he admitted, he was running Molotov but had been keeping it strictly on the QT whilst it was mainly recordings by him or close associates.  Amazingly, he’d built a notable back-catalogue of nicely packaged releases whilst very few outside his circle even knew it existed.  Should you wish to examine truly hardcore no-audience underground behaviour in its natural habitat then the North East is hard to beat.  Here is where a label such as Fuckin’ Amateurs can push out scores of releases, sometimes without even the featured band’s permission, and then just give them away at the shows they so cheekily bootleg.  Even if the music, which is varied but tends towards a heavy guitarish/psych/metal inspired noise, isn’t your bag you can still find the attitude and self-sufficiency of the scene inspirational.

My nudge was well timed as it neatly coincided with Mike adding some information about Molotov to the website dedicated to his solo project Xazzaz – thus giving me something to point you at.  He was also kind enough to send a generous parcel of his warez too – thus giving me a reason to point you at it.

Firstly, Mike has co-released two albums on the heritage medium of 12” vinyl with the aforementioned Fuckin’ Amateurs.  One is a split called MMXI featuring live sets from Xazzaz and scene legends Funeral Dance Party.  I imagine this will contain recordings of varying quality, maybe spitting with energy, top and tailed with excitable Geordie chatter.  The other is, I think, a compilation of punk/noise hybrids called F.D.P. R.I.P. Under Stone and Trees.  I say ‘I imagine’ and ‘I think’ because I haven’t been able to listen to either.  My turntable is protesting by making a nasty grinding noise whenever switched on (all by itself – no need for HNW) so apologies to Mike and note to potential submitters: no vinyl until further notice, please.  I’ll take it to bits at the weekend.

I can’t, however, pass these records by without commenting on the excellent sleeve decoration.  MMXI is wrapped in a gloriously psychotic white-on-black screen print of three creatures from a Lovecraftian bestiary, doodled by a mad artist during the psychic storm caused by the raising of R’leyh.  That the spear point at the end of the goat/devil’s tail is a guitar headstock and that one of the Cthulhoid creature’s tentacles ends in a jack plug is well ROCK too.

Now some CD-rs – we’ll start with the toughest.  Asesinato Total by I, Torquemada is as unforgiving as the title, cover and band name suggest.  I imagine this stuff is fun to make and, at one third the length would make for an exhilarating live set, but an hour long CD-r is too much for me.  Not that nothing happens – it does.  Not that it isn’t good – it is.  Passages in the final third are terrific but by then my attention had been sandblasted to a nub.  This may be savoured by those with a taste for such things but I usually order from a different part of the menu.

The self-titled Oppenheimer is almost as brutal.  The components of metal are crushed and smeared until all that remains are distorted guitar and clattering, pummelling percussion.  ‘Tests’, the first of two lengthy tracks, is relentless: a gang of droogs mug some defenceless krautrock motorik, wrestle it to the ground and give it a 29 minute kicking. ‘Consequences’ starts with a little swing to it (who woulda thought the Manhattan Project would be so… groovy) before settling down to more ego-mashing, eventually finishing with a swirling mechanical loop and, unnervingly, a child’s giggle.

Best of the lot though is Mike’s own solo work as Xazzaz.  This is also noise coming from a metal direction but is all the better for making some concessions to the listener: shorter tracks and much more movement in tone and texture.  You may even hear the odd riff or bassline, albeit one with a foot on its neck.  Track six of the self titled Xazzaz is the one I keep coming back to.  It is made up of a guttering bottom heavy wail, like a slowed-down, pitched-down recording of an orgasming dalek, a riff that breaks the waves like the back plates of a monstrous sea creature and bursts of whistling thrown into the air like snorts of mucus from a blowhole.

Black hearts and brittle bones crams the lot into an efficient thirteen minutes.  A mournful opening, an organ drone for the shipwrecked, gives way to a sludgy guitar attempting to squall, like a giant carnivore trying to free itself from a tar pit.  It ends with a haunting player piano tinkling away to itself deep under the rubble of a saloon destroyed by an earthquake.  I dig it.

Ordering details can be found on the Molotov page of Xazzaz.com.

artifacts of the no-audience underground: culver – cherry vampire

September 8, 2012 at 8:04 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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Culver – Cherry Vampire (CD-r, Molotov, 14)

If I was to answer the question ‘what is my favourite band?’ by merely naming the act I own most releases by then it would be Lee Stokoe’s Culver.  By a mile.  Even a cursory tot-up of vinyl, CDs, CD-rs and tapes uncovers around 60 items in the collection.  The fairly hefty Ashtray Navigations pile – house fave band calculated by my preferred method of time-spent-listening-to – is dwarfed in comparison.

Why so many?  Well, plenty have accumulated via trades or simply as a result of Lee’s generosity.  But that doesn’t tell the whole story, obviously.  I cull my possessions occasionally and am unsentimental about gifts.  Nothing is safe from my beady eye when I’m in a purging mood.  What then?  Perhaps it is because each dispatch illustrates a facet of the whole, mammoth project: another dark corner of another room of the strange and foreboding Culver mansion is briefly illuminated.  This is a life’s work unfolding and Lee’s tireless dedication to documenting every nuance of the task is, to an elite of aficionados, endlessly fascinating.

I suppose this must seem daunting to the newcomer, even to the novice clutching their first batch of Matching Head tapes.  Where to start with a back catalogue that amounts to days of seemingly indistinguishable roar?  My answer is: it doesn’t matter.  Whilst an obsessive might be able to chart the rise and fall of Lee’s preoccupations, his use of particular kit or recording techniques or the levels of variation and violence in the music itself, it makes no odds.  If you imagine each of these releases as a chapter in Lee’s ‘book of Culver’ then they are published in no particular order.  They add up to an aesthetic in the same way that the pieces of a jigsaw add up to the picture on the box.  So: amass what you can, start where you like.  For example…

Cherry Vampire is a single track, 36 minute CD-r released by the mysterious Molotov and packaged in an incongruously glossy 80s-style cover.  A low, pure electronic hum is allowed the time and space to envelop the listeners head.  It is then shaken slightly, teased out a little towards fuzz and augmented with the lightest of crackling and a top end of quiet but needle-sharp feedback.  The pace is perfect.  The patience and control evident in its construction are magisterial.

I first heard it during the early hours of last Saturday morning.  I had been woken by troubling dreams and needed to derail an unpleasant train of thought before being able to go back to sleep.  Remembering this piece, I reached for my walkman and gave it my full attention whilst lying motionless in the dark, teetering on the edge of consciousness.  Ideal conditions to appreciate its austere beauty.  Having returned to it since I’m happy to say it holds its own in more robust listening situations too.

Now the tricky part: getting hold of it.  No contact details are included on the disc or packaging, nor on the Molotov Discogs page.  My perfunctory Google-based ‘research’ revealed, as you might expect, a million creative endeavours that use the word ‘Molotov’ but the intersection of the Culver/Molotov Venn diagram is almost empty.  Lee sent it to me so you could try him: email and postal contact details are on the Matching Head Discogs page.  If anyone from Molotov is reading this please leave a comment or drop me a line.

EDIT: The always well-informed Scott of Bells Hill tells me that Molotov is run by a chap called Mike who can be contacted at: xazzaz@yahoo.co.uk.  So now you know…

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