holding our treasure aloft: thoughts on facebook, rfm and the d.i.y. underground compiled by rob haylerMarch 21, 2017 at 7:42 am | Posted in musings, not bloody music | 3 Comments
Tags: chrissie caulfield, d.i.y, DIY, ethics, facebook, joe henderson, joe murray, luke vollar, marlo eggplant, no audience underground, rob hayler, sky high diamonds, sophie cooper, twitter
On Friday 3rd March, as I was enjoying the opening of the Crow Versus Crow/Malorymaki art exhibition in Bradford, Joe Murray (who had been invited down to play at the event) mentioned to me that new RFM staffer Sarah Gatter (known ‘round these parts as Sky High Diamonds) had offered to create a Facebook page for RFM.
Without thinking too hard about it I gave my blessing. By lunchtime on Monday 6th March the thing existed. Blimey. As the dust settled there began a lengthy and involved discussion amongst RFM colleagues about the merits, or otherwise, of Facebook and other social media. This has proved so interesting that I have returned briefly from my sabbatical to compile these thoughts (edited to remove repetition, small talk and logistical stuff) and add some of my own.
Let’s start with Sarah and the rationale:
A brief online chat with Rob and Joe over the weekend suggested that an RFM Facebook page would be a good idea as it would exist as a ‘go to’ site for interested parties to get a rundown on RFM and the latest blog reviews. I am happy to manage this page but if any of you are Facebook users and would like to be added as admin (meaning you can then also upload the RFM blogs, add photos, monitor, add and remove posts, including posts or comments from other people etc.) then find me on FB and I can add you as admin.
As agreed with Rob & Joe this page will be a ‘copy’ of the RFM WordPress blog in its use of words and images, both of which will simply be an echo of the already published blog info. No new material or personal posting to exist here as it then gets confusing.
All business, right? Nowt to worry about, eh? Well… Marlo kicks it off:
Woah, really?! I think Luke, Chrissie, and I use it. Both Joes, Rob, and Sophie don’t.
I was thinking RFM was purposely avoiding that platform…. Times are a-changing…
Rob and Joe, can I ask why? I mean, it isn’t really harmonious with what I though RFM mission statement? Or is it?
Chrissie is pragmatic:
I’m very much a semi-detached user of Facebook these days but I think the idea of a page is OK provided it doesn’t distract from the blog.
Is the plan just to post links to the RFM reviews when they appear on the Facebook page? This seems like the best way of doing it to me and allows for people to possibly discuss the reviews and share them easily on FB.
Sof then voices unease:
Know what you mean Marlo. I came off FB because I got so sick of everyone relying on such a massively corporate website to find out about underground DIY gigs etc (including Tor Fest – winds me up so much). Don’t see why everything needs to have a FB presence to exist these days.
…which allows Marlo to expand her point:
Thanks Sophie for understanding. I feel torn myself constantly cause I cornered myself into the FB for Ladyz in Noyz back in the day and am stuck now or take the risk of losing the international audience. I should have just done a proper page in the past. Myspace to FB…sheesh…
I know it isn’t a collective and whatever Rob and Joe feel is right, I go with [Editor’s note – heh, heh]. Just wanted to see why the shift?
I will be here either way!
Time for me to weigh in:
I wasn’t involved in any discussion as such but Joe M did mention at the show on Friday that Sarah had offered to mirror RFM on Facebook and I said sure, if she’s willing to do the work then let’s try it.
I have never had any personal desire to be on FB, nor have I ever had an account, but since the blog’s inception the majority of referrals have been from FB links (twitter is catching up but FB still in front) so, like it or not, a lot of our traffic has come from that direction. Thinking about the ubiquity and omniscience of FB makes my stomach flip but it is only one aspect of the corporate global evil that we are using for our purposes. PayPal, Google, Apple, Twitter – bleurgh – even Bandcamp takes a hefty rake and WordPress charges me more for keeping the site ad-free than it does for hosting our actual content! We wade waist-deep through the shit holding our little box of treasure aloft so that it doesn’t get caked in crap too. ‘Twas ever thus.
Also, should you be concerned about such things, the numbers are down. Mostly, I think, due to the breaks in regular posting last year caused by my burn-out/’real life’ issues, 2016 was the first year since RFM’s birth that number of visits didn’t increase. I’m not fussed about a plateau – this is a niche concern after all – but this was quite a dramatic drop (2015 = 32k, 2016 = 23k) and I’m not above a bit of rattling the stick in the bucket. Calling attention to your fine work is noble, and can be even if the format is grisly.
That said – some suggestions/requests. Firstly, I’m not sure I want that photo of (some of) us from Crater Lake to be so prominent. Makes me a little uncomfortable. Secondly, I don’t want the text of posts just reproduced on the FB page – pictures, lists of artists featured, little summaries like those we tweet are fine but I want people to visit RFM to do their reading (or subscribe to the blog and get each post emailed to them directly – currently over a 100 people do this). I don’t want the FB page to replace the blog. I see that posts are being made as I type [Editor’s note: Sarah was cracking on]! The format is fine like that I think.
Over two emails Sarah doubles down for practical reasons and stresses it can be a collaborative effort:
The page is easy to delete if having second thoughts. I personally think it is a good idea as FB really is the ‘go to’ site for getting information. Also, those of us on FB can like and repost the blogs (as we do on Twitter) giving each blog a bit more of a following and a bit more oomph and clout. Also, when blogs are just in a newsfeed (as on both Twitter & FB) they are easily lost and many people (myself included) don’t have the time to fully read a review, or even scan through it, when leisurely (or frantically) scrolling through a news feed.
However, if people are aware that there is a permanent page storing these blogs with a link to a whole heap of other blogs, then that instantly makes all of the blog posts more accessible.
I’m happy that everyone gets a say about layout and content and happier that there are many admin involved, also to make sure that everyone’s happy!
At this point Joe Henderson offers a forthright, brain-stirring intervention:
Will briefly say my piece. I think that, for me, the magic is instantly lost when Facebook gets involved in anything – to be honest. Given my own experience of it and the flow of research surrounding well being & social media I make a concerted effort to stay away.
I don’t mind using the word ‘poisonous’ to describe my attitude towards Facebook, however, I’ve seemed to deal a little better with Twitter, although I still have yet to use it myself (I went on there to get another News source other than the BBC, turns out I can’t get the app anyways on my old iPhone, so I haven’t ended up using it anyway).
Can I make a request that none of my articles are re-posted to Facebook? And on a far stronger note – I do not want any of my writing to be subject to Facebooks content codes and control.
Part of the charm of things like Radio Free Midwich is their unwavering principles in the face of peer pressure.
Sophie, I know what you mean about lazy promotion. I came to think of Facebook promotion as really exclusionary – like, that you could miss out on so much by not being in a link or social loop. I have no solutions, but I think in general… good old hand-made posters and nerdy art stuff like that appeals to my DIY, punk sensibilities more. Things shouldn’t be eazy..
I’m happy to hang back for a bit and maybe see how things pan out. Very sceptical right now, but open minded for y’all. My first article should be out this week (given a little tweaking in the mean-time). Am happy for it to go out on the website but please don’t put it on FB – I hate that place and it’s toxic, damaging glare. But, of course am happy for you guys to go ahead and frollick (in the dust & mirrors)
Oh, is that Sarah wavering a little? <winking emoji>
I also think that hitting the delete button on the FB page would be weirdly very satisfying, and quite anarchic, at this early stage of gaining a few ‘likes’ and ‘followers.’
“Now you see us, now you don’t.”
Not sure what else to say!
Joe Murray shouts encouragement from the window of a moving train:
For me this is all about spreading the word. No more. I think we are a valuable piece in the no audience crossword so a few more clues (like FB) help folk connect.
But still…we all have to be comfortable with it. I guess we can self-destruct this channel whenever we feel the need.
It’s always good to debate and have different views. Let’s keep an eye on things and review in a month or so.
All our viewpoints matter.
Speak soon, and if I may gush for a second…we goddamn rule!
Respect as always…
Sarah, like all good academics recognizes grist for the mill when she sees it:
I’m loving this debate, currently attempting to put a PhD proposal together on this very stuff- the relevance of social media to DIY, so the varying perspectives on how we use and control/are used and controlled by social media platforms is intriguing. Many of the artists I know go through long/short periods of deactivating profiles and deleting entire pages of personal data and then coming back to social media on their own terms and for their own agenda when it suits them, I like that.
Sof, bit now firmly between teeth, questions the stated purpose:
Slightly related / aside – I saw this band in London last week and at the end of their show they made a massive statement that “clicks get gigs” find us on Facebook! If we have loads of likes then we’ll get more shows! What a load of bollocks. Talent gets gigs not some website. People who work hard at what they are doing get gigs. It doesn’t make any personal difference to me if RFM has a FB page or not I’m just saddened that this is the way people think you have to be nowadays. I know it is the go-to for loads of people, the company I work for get loads of work via it but what a lazy state of affairs. As if the Internet doesn’t make it easy enough for people already why not condense the info in to one accessible website ? Twitter is just as bad – argh! Please meet me down the pub or the library / send me a letter for further ranting opportunity!
I’m actually in talks with a web developer to create a sort of Cops n’ Robbers website [Editor’s note: for non-UK readers Cops n’ Robbers is a legendary Yorkshire-based listings zine with oodles of DIY and N-AU swagger]that would cover West Yorkshire (and maybe nationally) gigs as an alternative ‘go-to’ site instead of FB. For this gig I did on Sunday just gone I really wanted to just advertise without FB but actually got a complaint! Forced Jake to make a page – made it more legit I guess. Fairly confident that most people who showed up were at Pelt a couple of weeks before and picked up a flyer but perhaps that’s wishful thinking.
Clearly a Luddite technophobe over here, where are my DDDD copies?
P.S. I really like Twitter btw. Not as personal.
In her typically quiet but laser-sharp fashion Chrissie makes the point that…
Contacts get gigs mainly – in my experience at least. It doesn’t matter how talented or brilliant you are, if no-one has heard of you then you don’t get gigs*. Facebook is just one of many places that can possibly be a help there. Ignoring it is a choice, of course, but you are cutting off a potential source of people. The platform on its own may, or may not, be evil. But the people on it mostly aren’t (with some exceptions).
* I’m not saying my band Helicopter Quartet are either talented or brilliant [Editor’s note: they are, both, in spades], but we don’t get any gigs because we don’t have any contacts and both of us are so painfully shy we never make any.
At this point Marlo and I both start thinking ‘there’s an article in this’ and ask if anyone wants to make a more formal contribution. Marlo suggests:
Perhaps we could all string something together around the question:
How do different social media platforms feed or weaken the ‘underground’? What associations do different social websites bring to the table? What is lost or gained in ‘opening the floodgates’?
Chrissie responds first:
One of the nice things about social media is that it can bring together people of niche interests together – it’s largely what I do on twitter – in a way that’s almost impossible or very difficult to do in other ways.
Yes – you can start your own website but how do you get people to use it in the first place: twitter/Facebook etc. are the funnel through which you can get access to people who might want to go there. Of course, there are all the arguments about centralisation and monopolies and I’m not happy about those things either. But principally I’m a pragmatist and that’s how these things are structured at the moment. To some extent they always have been, it’s just that the ownerships change over time.
As to ‘opening the floodgates’ – it doesn’t happen. Despite what I just said above, adding RFM to Facebook isn’t going to triple or even double viewing figures (if it does, please buy me a hat to eat). It’ll bring in some new readers, yes. But it’s not a magic potion and it doesn’t make you popular overnight or even ever – it’s a small help. I have Facebook pages for my two main bands, nothing has ever happened because of them. That’s partly down (as I said in a previous email) to the need to be ‘present’ to chat with people on there and make contacts, and partly down to having contacts on the IN THE FIRST PLACE to bring in others.
For my personal opinion, I hate Facebook (for non-political reasons), and I only use it to publicise (unsuccessfully) band things and chat in some obscure synth groups where it feels more cosy and safe. I don’t post personal things on my timeline any more, but plenty of people still do and I have chatted with lots of interesting people there.
Luke puts his head around the door to add:
Hey folks – well for what it’s worth I use Facebook every day. It has its drawbacks and I’ve sworn off it a few times. Having said that it does allow you to keep in contact with groovy people chat about music, films, books, gigs etc. I guess it’s about making it work for you and keeping it real. I can’t be doing with Twitter. So I guess I’m saying if RFM hits face-ache. I’m cool with it.
…then Sarah offers a more fleshed out statement of her position
My continued interest in the electronic DIY underground/no audience culture stems from the DIY rave movement of the mid 80s and early 90s.
I see the current No Audience Underground, as an extension of this movement and I am still fascinated by how it was documented through film footage, photography, music, art and printed/published writings by those who protested for the right to squat empty buildings, resist fox hunting, gather for music events etc. etc. I did attend some events back then however, it was always pot luck to get to those events due to no social networking and reduced publicity (for obvious reasons) except for well organised word of mouth-those guys were good!
Those DIY activists made thorough use of the tools that were available to them at that time to promote their beliefs, ideas, celebrations and defeats into a wider consciousness and I believe that without those wonderfully documented processes (e.g. the wibbly-wobbly film footage of squats being raided, dancers in the street protesting the CJA etc.) this representation, and therefore a current understanding and contextualisation of that scene, would not be available to us today. I see this as a cultural mapping of those times and I see social media as a contemporary tool available to us now to continue that cultural mapping.
Social Media is a site of production and reproduction but in many ways it responds to the DIY ethos in that it is free (most of the time), accessible (to the majority) and can be used to promote the individual, it is not entirely corporate like other sites of production and reproduction. However, I like to think that at some point DIY will turn away from social media and re- ground itself into a less available scene, but I would be happier with this only once much documenting has been achieved and exists in some kind of accessible form.
Things that nag me are: Does the DIY underground movement become less ‘exclusive’ and therefore less underground when its documentary style footage is available to all to access online? How do the ideas of audience/participation/spectacle/active and passive viewing fit in with this? We are all passive audiences when viewing footage/sound/writing of the underground through social media. I also ponder how an attraction to a much larger and wider audience may well undo the emblematic DIY underground counter culture status, such as witnessed in the growth of the Glastonbury Festival, as well as contribute to a more general and overwhelming saturation of the arts.
In summary: For me, social media is currently a way of culturally mapping the continued growth of the DIY movement and is a tool available for us to use (and abuse) right now, but I am not entirely sure that it should or will have a monopoly on documenting the DIY movements for the long term.
I propose that we find a way to occupy the dark web!
…and that was that until over the weekend of the 11th and 12th when Joe and I received the following volte-face from Sarah:
Hi, I was in two minds about RFM on Facebook.
- It seemed like a good idea to make use of it as a tool and to support the artists, whom I think want reviews about their work publicised.
- It might be free, it might be accessible but it is a limiting platform and I am beginning to agree with Joe H, it makes us lazy and passive.
This has been echoed within another group that I am involved with [Editor’s note: The Unexplained Sounds Network] who have today proposed ‘silence’ in order to find new ways to communicate and collaborate other than Facebook. I am in agreement with them. DIY must mean DIY and Facebook takes that away through its controlled use of data, amongst other things. I did say in my last email that we need to find new ways and jokingly suggested the dark web but I am starting to feel that more needs to be done with searching for new and less lazy & passive ways. Sorry for the complete 100% U turn!!!
Heh, heh – the irony that this doubt as to the appropriateness of one form of social media was sent via a twitter DM was not lost on me.
So, where are we now? Firstly, let me just comment on the loveliness of my colleagues – a multiway discussion carried out over the internet that remained civil and useful for an entire week. Have you ever heard the like? Secondly, it strikes me that there are three questions to consider with answers to the first two informing the answer to the third. I’ll begin with a stab at the moral/political question: is Facebook evil? Next, the pragmatic question: does it actually work as promotional tool? And finally, the overarching question of whether it is ‘appropriate’ for our slice of the DIY underground to use it.
Despite not holding an account I have, of course, spent plenty of time dodging the demands to sign up in order to see gig info or otherwise lurk. If RFM is being discussed then the hits coming from FB feel like a partially heard conversation happening in a room with the door ajar. I’ve never been tempted to walk in, however, because what I hear about Facebook outside of Facebook is predominately negative. I don’t doubt that there are lovely people using it (like those members of Chrissie’s synth discussion groups) but friends talk about it with exasperation, torn as to whether to cut ties as you might with a needy and bullying family member. The final straw for a mate of mine was when he was disinvited from a stag do following a row caused by him daring to confirm his attendance with, y’know, his actual voice and not via Facebook. It’s become like shopping in a supermarket, or reading The Wire – something none of us actually enjoy but which we grudgingly accept as part of modern life. Imagine spending the evening in a gigantic, soulless, city-centre chain pub, one which has an unsmiling bouncer on the door demanding ID before letting you in. The beer is crap, the décor unpleasant, neighbouring tables are full of braying idiots but, hey, it’s here that we have agreed to meet. Evil – on a personal, individual level? Probably not. Fuck that shit? On balance, yes.
That’s not to say that the information you provide to Facebook can’t be used for straight-up evil though. As these thoughts were congealing in my head I read this article, published on The Guardian website on February 26th. I’m genuinely concerned that if I name names bots will be released, like flying monkeys, to come and destroy us but the gist is that an off-the-radar software company is busy analysing hundreds of millions of FB accounts and using that data to target propaganda furthering the hard-right agenda of their billionaire backer:
These Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. […], the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says […].
This team worked both with the Leave campaign and with Trump. Was it enough to swing both elections? Maybe us complacent liberals wouldn’t have laughed so hard at those ‘dumpster fire’ campaigns if we’d known this Black Mirror style PSY ops was occurring in the background. Evil – on a worldwide, political level? Yeah, I’d say so. Fuck that shit? Absolutely.
But, the pragmatist asks, does it work? Leaving aside the moral qualms and given that everyone is in the crap pub, what happens if we put our poster up on the noticeboard? I think I’m with Chrissie on this one – the answer is: nowt much. The reason is, I think, to do with the size and structure of the scene and not where the noticeboard is located. In an article I wrote five years ago about the, *ahem* ‘economics’ of the no-audience underground I said:
OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs. 10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving. Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.
Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers. This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest (ignoring little blooms of hipster popularity every now and again) but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive. As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are (for example in Leeds we have the essential Cops and Robbers) then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.
…and, despite the Facebook gig listing becoming ubiquitous in the meantime, I still think this is about right. Had I been stood next to Sof when that band made their ‘clicks mean gigs’ announcement I would have groaned but at some level I guess it might make a difference nowadays – just not at our level. Chrissie is right about contacts to a certain extent too – those who hustle for shows do generally get more shows – but within the no-audience underground any attempt at hype or unwarranted self-promotion is usually met with at least a raised eyebrow if not all-out hilarity. Given the absence of money, the unit of currency ‘down’ here is goodwill and it is earned, exchanged and repaid through being active in the scene. Perhaps this is our equivalent of <dry boke> ‘networking’ <coughing retch> and it strikes me that this can make more of a difference than any particular means of spreading the word – look, for example, at the love showered on Crater Lake or Tor Fest (“Call something a festival,” says Jake Blanchard, mystified, “and people just turn up.”).
For us, Facebook is now one of the ‘usual places’ where we find stuff out but its prominence has not noticeably affected attendance numbers either way. When not specifically concerned with discussing Facebook itself I think most people consider the format transparent and ‘see through it’ to the information itself in the same way you don’t consciously think ‘this is a poster’ but instead just register the date, venue etc. To be honest, I’d have been grateful to have it back in the Termite Club days when I was stuffing envelopes with flyers (<Noel Fielding voice> Imagine that!) to send to a postal mailing list or badgering magazines knowing full well that their attention was far less important than whether or not it rained on the night of the show.
To the last question then: given that we are at least justified in having misgivings about using Facebook and that as a promotional tool it is little better than other means (necessarily so given the nature of the scene we are part of) how appropriate is it to use it at all?
Firstly I’m going to dismiss a couple of related concerns more or less out of hand – that it is inappropriate because it is ubiquitous or ‘mainstream’ and that it is inappropriate because it ‘makes things easy’ – then I’m going to end the whole thing really abruptly.
If something so nebulous and subjective as ‘mainstream’ culture can be usefully defined (I’m not sure it can, but that is for another day) then Facebook is unarguably part of it. Your mum is on Facebook right now, discussing her favourite tracks from the Stormzy album. I don’t care. One of the great strengths of the no-audience underground is that is does not define itself in opposition to ‘mainstream’ culture but largely just turns its back to it and cracks on with the work. The belief that DIY culture needs to be antagonistic to popular culture is a quaint stained-glass window surviving in the Church of Punk – very pretty, but I can’t help thinking it is orders of magnitude more radical to not engage with popular culture at all. I’ve rehearsed these arguments several times over several years (starting here) so I needn’t say any more right now.
I also have absolutely no time for the argument that Facebook, or any other form of social media, ‘makes it easy’ or ‘lumps it all together’ as if that were a bad thing. I’d be delighted if access to everything we do was made as easy as possible so that anyone who is interested could find it at their fingertips. When I think of the golden age we live in now and compare it to the time and resources I had to spend as a teenager getting even part-way sound-literate I could cry at the waste.
For example: I grew up in a small seaside town called Littlehampton on the South Coast of England, near enough to Brighton for me to misspend much of my youth there. As a teenage fan of Spacemen 3 and Loop, Can loomed large in legend. My fellow heads and I did what we could to track down stuff from libraries, second hand shops and borrowed stuff from the rich kid whose dad bought him the first batch of CD reissues. In that way we built up a patchy knowledge of the band and their context. Contrast this to the situation in January of this year when Jaki Liebezeit sadly passed away. In celebration of the man and his unique achievements links to YouTube clips went flying around twitter and anyone could listen to hours of the band’s music for free whilst reading exhaustive accounts of its history and influence via Wikipedia and innumerable blogs. May I respectfully suggest that anyone who thinks the former situation is preferable to the latter (not with regard to Jaki’s passing, of course, I’m talking about access to the material) is, at best, misguided. There is a tendency, especially amongst middle aged beardies, to cry-wank over their box-sets and pristine collection of Melody Makers from the late 1980s whilst whimpering nostalgically about finding a copy of Fun House under a hedge and ‘discovering’ The Stooges. Jesus wept. I could go on but I presume my feelings about anything that could be perceived as ‘gatekeeping’, or the raising of artificial barriers, are perfectly clear.
But what about RFM? Reading through the above I see much of what I’ve written is fairly abstract or from the perspective of gig promotion. Does it help answer the question as to whether a blog dedicated to documenting weird music produced by a fiercely independent d.i.y. scene should have a presence on Facebook? Well, much as I understand Sof’s frustrations, Joe H’s reticence and the personally negative feelings shared by me, Chrissie and others I’d hesitate to say, as Joe H does, that Facebook drains the magic from everything it touches. I don’t find it fun, for sure, but I’d like to think that the magic of the art we cover (and, let’s not be too modest, our descriptions of it – we are part of all this) shines through the murkiness of the medium. If we proceed with caution then …nnnnggghhh… OK.
We are camped way uphill from the floodgates, a few signposts can’t hurt.
Tags: depression, improv, new music, no audience underground, noise, robin foster, say cheese or die
Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon (download, say cheese and die)
Robin Foster – ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB (download, say cheese and die)
Regular readers of this blog will know of my troubles with depression and, more lately, anxiety. I am suffering at the moment: what seemed at first to be a mild dose around Christmas took firm hold during four months of rolling physical illness and I am now proper fucked. A coincidental run of poor luck has only exacerbated matters. So what can I do? Hmmm… I know! I’ll count my blessings and cheer up.
Any fellow sufferer will shudder and/or crack a rueful smile at that last line. Heartfelt sympathy from the well intentioned is often harder to deal with than simple, uncaring ignorance. Any antediluvian HR idiot who tries that ‘well, we all get tired’ bullshit gets a curt and well-rehearsed critical beatdown from me and is banished from the room with a face like a well-slapped arse. But what do you say to a friend or loved one who is genuinely, if ham-fistedly, trying to help:
You have so much to live for! Your life is great!
…yeah, and yet I feel like this so why go on?
But what to you have to be depressed about?!
…you are mixing up two meanings of the word. I’m not depressed about something, I’m ill. Would you ask someone with diabetes what they have to be diabetic about?
…and so on. I’ve had polite, firm-but-gentle versions of this conversation many times over the years and it is getting easier as understanding of the condition widens and deepens. However, just recently I’ve been acting on a revelatory suggestion from my counsellor: maybe I should acknowledge what I have to live for. Maybe I should count my blessings. Maybe I could even pussyfoot around the idea of ‘cheering up’…
The idea goes something like this. I can’t stop having these thoughts and feelings but I do have some control over how I react to them. Consciously fighting them off is one tactic but can prove counter-productive. The illness loves a pagga because even if I win it knows I’ll be in a weakened state for the return bout. Depression doesn’t mind playing a long game. Better perhaps to crowd it out, to fill the headspace available with more positive thoughts. It’s akin to the much debated tactic of ‘no-platforming’ a political opponent – sure, I can’t ban you from expressing abhorrent opinions but you won’t be doing it at my rally – and each time the grimness is denied and the positive celebrated the latter is reinforced. Conversations with my counsellor have followed this pattern:
So how have you been?
Well, mostly pretty bad, I’m afraid.
‘Mostly’, not all?
I guess there have been a few good things, amongst the bad thi…
Let me stop you there – tell me about those good things.
On my own I have, somewhat sheepishly I admit, been consciously, literally (even out loud sometimes) counting my blessings:
1. Anne and Thomas, 2. radiofreemidwich, 3. jam doughnuts…
It doesn’t work all the time but it feels like steps in the right direction – into the light, away from the dark….
*Phew*, anyway, forgive me, it helps to write it down. The 500 words above was meant to be a brief introduction to a few reviews of what could be called ‘joyful noise’ and an explanation of why I might be receptive to a bit of cheering up at the moment. Shall we crack on?
Robin Foster – Shitty Noise Moon & ADHD NEOWZ SCHWAB
The charming Robin Foster got back in touch at the start of the year to steer me towards his new Bandcamp site (all aliases are his) and introduce his notion of ‘Happy Harshcore’ which he described in an email as:
…basically harsh noise without the dead babies and Nazi themes.
I was tickled by this as his label is perilously close to ‘happy sadcore’, one of the mythical sub-genres that Chris Morris used to befuddle witless interviewees when talking about the mythical drug ‘cake’ on Brass Eye (I think). Heh, heh – every possibility in music will have its day. I downloaded a bunch and… lost them down the back of the hard-drive for six months. Mea culpa. Anyway, their rediscovery was at an opportune moment.
Shitty Noise Moon is eleven genre-spanning short tracks from Robin’s fun-fur lined studio. Kinda like one of my toddler’s energetic crayon drawings converted to electrostatic squigglecore. Like the chatter of noise-punk dolphins disgusted at the new age appropriation of their culture and reclaiming the sea for break-fin, blowhole-flaring racket – that dreamy sunset poster mum and dad are on can fuck off. Like groaning, out-of-phase EVP muttered by a spook bumping along the virtual fences of the Ghostbusters containment facility. Plenty to make the listener smile here – not least the invitation to join a recording of a family enjoying what sounds like a backyard display of home-made fireworks.
Despite the title, the seven tracks of noise improv that comprise ADHD NEOWZ are longer and at least as coherent (make of that what you will) as those on …Moon. Perhaps this album is its older brother, perhaps the Ritalin is starting to have some effect? A couple of these tracks are addled and Usurperish, some feature a nostalgic gristly throb. The best of it is paddling in electric foam burped onto the shoreline by a mysterious, glowing shipping container, crowbarred overboard by suspicious crewmen. You open a soggy document wallet bobbing in the surf and read ‘Caring for your Shoggoth’ at the top of the waterlogged paper. Urgh, what’s that fizzing into being in the jelly around your flip-flops? Eyes?! Teeth!! RUN!!!
Heh, well I thought it was funny and I am very grateful to Robin for the distraction. Plenty more where that came from, thankfully.
Tags: david keenan, mainstream versus underground, no audience underground, shameless self-congratulation, simon reynolds
I haven’t written anything substantial about the term ‘no-audience underground’ for a while. When asked about it I’m still referring people to the response I wrote to Simon Reynolds which was posted in October 2012 (and sometimes this post too from July 2013). Plenty has changed since then, not least my own mind with regard to certain details, so here I’m going to rub the notion to a shine on the crotch of my cricket whites. Let’s see if it still bounces in a usefully wonky manner.
[Note: this article is about 4000 words long so get comfy before proceeding.]
An appeal to authority
Firstly, I’m going to lay out a brief CV. I wouldn’t normally bother – appeals to authority are both fallacious and a wanker’s move – but hopefully this piece will be read by people new to the blog and I’d like to summarise where I’m coming from. OK, three paragraphs of cold, hard fact:
Hello. My name is Rob Hayler and I am the editor of radiofreemidwich. I am 43 years old and live in Leeds, UK with my wife and two year old son. I work a moderately responsible, poorly paid clerical job in the public sector. My politics are a confused mixture of hard left, anarchist and libertarian sentiments that can be summed up as ‘hypocritical ageing punk’. For what it is worth, I have a masters degree in philosophy and a dilettante’s interest in economics and various aspects of culture away from music. Despite being ‘high-functioning’ most of the time, I suffer with ever-present depression/anxiety which is occasionally debilitating (I’m off work with it now, for example. This article was put together in lucid moments over a three week period).
Always a music fan, I became aware of noise, sound-art, experimental and free music (etc.) in the late 1980s and became seriously involved in the late 1990s. I spent three or four years around the turn of the century helping run Termite Club, the legendary Leeds based gig promoter. Around the same time I co-ran the influential CD-r micro-label fencing flatworm recordings and its tape-label offshoot oTo (a time documented by Bang the Bore here and here). I have been recording and performing electronic music, mostly under the name midwich, on and off for fifteen years, have collaborated with the likes of Paul Harrison, Neil Campbell, Lee Stokoe, Daniel Thomas and Miguel Perez, have been part of the band Truant with Phil Todd and Michael Clough, and so on. I have had a hand in well over 100 releases on, I dunno, 20 to 30 different labels.
After what was meant to be a brief break from music due to health reasons (that stretched on for nearly five years) I returned in 2009 with this blog. RFM now garners between 2500 and 4000 visits a month and I have a team of five comrades contributing as well as writing myself. The number of posts approaches 500, the number of releases reviewed is comfortably in four figures and the total number of words so far published is somewhere between 350,000 and 400,000. Sometimes people say:
You should write a book!
…and I reply:
I already have, a fucking long one too.
There are other things I could mention – the eye for detail compilation, The Barrel Nut microzine, etc. – but you get the picture. All these numbers, all this vigorous trumpet blowing, is presented as anecdotal evidence for the claim that I have some idea what I am talking about.
What it means
In the year 2000 I coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ as a shorthand, catch-all description for the music scene I found myself in, specifically the type of gigs I was attending and the network of micro-labels, invigorated by the availability of cheap CD-rs, that fencing flatworm recordings was part of.
The music I was hearing ranged from the most delicate bowing of singing bowls to hour-long, incense-choked psychedelic happenings to three-minute PA-busting squalls of hideous feedback. Nothing seemed to link these disparate sounds and performance styles other than they could be loosely banded together as ‘noise’ and that very few people seemed to be interested. Thus, at first, the term was merely descriptive in a tongue-in-cheek manner. I hoped the implied self-deprecation would counter its smart-arsed irreverence. It was of a piece with other slogans that I entertained myself with at the time: fencing flatworm’s tagline was ‘loss leaders of the neo-radiophonics’, for example. Sigh. I look back with a weird mixture of pride and embarrassment, both as profound as each other.
Anyway, over the years, especially when revisiting the notion for this blog, the term has taken on, I hope, further depth and explanatory usefulness. Here there’s no reason not to quote myself from the Simon Reynolds piece:
…first I need to say more about another important meaning of ‘no audience’. [Simon Reynolds] is worried that that a ‘transmitter requires a receiver’ and that there are too few of the latter around. I’d reassure him that his concern is misplaced – it doesn’t work like that down here. There is no ‘audience’ as such, in the sense of ‘passive receivers’, because almost everyone with an interest in the scene is involved somehow in the scene. The roles one might have – musician, promoter, label ‘boss’, distributor, writer, ‘critic’, paying punter and so on – are fluid, non-hierarchical and can be exchanged or adopted as needed. I must stress that this is not a snobbish clique of insiders obsessively tending to every aspect of their hobby (not a dirty word, by the way, who makes a living from experimental music nowadays?) but a friendly and welcoming group who have realised that if they want it to happen then they have to make it happen themselves…
…or, in a nutshell:
Thus, there is no ‘audience’ for the scene because the scene is the audience.
Catchy, eh? I’ll spell out a couple of aspects of this in greater depth before going on to tackle some of the criticisms made and problems arising.
Self-sufficiency, goodwill and relation to the mainstream
It goes without saying that there is next to no money available to prop up these endeavours. Some may have principled objections to funding and sponsorship, all will agree that securing funding or sponsorship is no guarantee the final product will be any good (whilst shuddering at the memory of one Arts Council supported fiasco or another). Most would probably dig a little help but can’t be bothered playing the game and find ways of getting it done regardless. Thus saying the no-audience underground is self-sufficient is not to say that it is financially balanced. If only.
There is a currency in circulation amongst us, however: goodwill. From a piece called “our way of shaking hands”: trades and largesse in the no-audience underground I wrote in 2011:
…A certain amount of goodwill capital can be amassed but it can’t be hoarded in Scrooge McDuck-style coffers. It needs to be fed and nurtured otherwise it will shrivel and wither. Maintaining goodwill is more like tending a garden…
So why is goodwill so important? Because money isn’t. And here we need to consider the idea of trading off the standard indicators of success against others which may be more philosophically interesting. Fame and wealth, as commonly understood, are not available to those pursuing fringe interests. There is no screaming mob of fans to be milked dry of their pocket money with Astral Social Club 2012 calendars, there are no oligarchs wishing to be our patrons and, annoying as it may be when the rent is due, I suspect we sort of like it that way. It means our ‘art’ and our ‘scene’, for the want of better words, can groove their own way uncompromised by non-artistic concerns…
Hence the prevalence of barter and other types of reciprocity that help keep the blood of the scene oxygenated. This is a mechanism that nurtures self-sufficiency in the absence of money.
The term ‘self-sufficient’ can also be used to describe the drive with which many of these artists produce the work they do. Some – most of the best – are compelled to create. The absence of standard recognition might grate occasionally but is largely irrelevant. These people do it because they have to or they love to or both. That someone other than themselves might appreciate their art is great, of course – none of us are without vanity, but not necessary. I know several people who, if shipwrecked on a desert island would be distracted from the business of survival by finding a shell that made an interesting noise when blown into…
Which brings me to the final point of this section. If you asked our marooned friend what they thought was the relationship between their art and the mainstream I doubt they would even look up from the strange instrument they were fashioning from driftwood and seaweed. There is a quaint, folk belief that a true underground should have some connection to the mainstream, ideally antagonistic – that underground culture should wish to change the mainstream, or at least to be a nuisance to it. However, even allowing that such a nebulous, subjective thing as ‘mainstream’ could be usefully defined, I disagree. There’s nowt noble about being a flea in the ear of an elephant. Why waste time with the inevitable compromises that engaging with it, even negatively, necessitate? I’d suggest that it is far more radical to ignore it and that is what many practitioners in the no-audience underground do – either as a matter of policy or, largely, by just shrugging it off as irrelevant. What the fuck does the ‘mainstream’ matter? We’ve got things to be getting on with.
In summary, plus last toots on the self-congratulatory trumpet
So, the term ‘no-audience underground’ denotes a sub-section of the noise and experimental music scene which is largely self-sufficient due to its members being prepared to take on the roles necessary to get things done in a fluid manner, being receptive to the exchange of goodwill in the absence of money, being driven to create for reasons other than the standard measures of success and being largely indifferent to the mainstream, however you wish to define it. Oh, and the number of people interested is enough to sustain it, more or less, but very small.
Exciting, eh? I’m delighted to say that this notion has caught the imagination of some who have found it useful and/or, dare I say it, inspiring. It has wormed its way into at least one PhD thesis and one MA dissertation that I know about and has been adopted for the title (and as one of the informing principles) of an ongoing research project that I have been interviewed for. The idea has featured in sympathetic magazine articles and blog posts several times and, as has been previously noted, was mentioned in passing by the writer Simon Reynolds in his keynote speech on DIY culture at the Incubate festival in Tilburg. My pride at the term being used by the Washington DC Sonic Circuits festival burst into unseemly joy when a parcel from musician and Twitter comrade Phong Tran arrived containing this item of clothing:
What greater approbation could I desire, eh? My contribution to cultural discourse immortalised on a T-shirt. Nowt more affirming than that.
Criticisms and problems arising
That said, it hasn’t all gone my way. When I first presented a fully fleshed out version of this idea I was, somewhat naively, unprepared for challenges. I thought what I was doing was merely describing something I was involved with and found interesting and was expecting, if anything, wry smiles of recognition. Pats on the back – that kind of thing.
Apparently what I was advancing, though, was actually a theory and one that some considered not to make sense, or to contain controversial normative aspects (translation: I was being a punker-than-thou prick) or, well, you know what that internet is like…
I have to admit I took it badly, personally – especially when my mental health wasn’t great – and my reactions have varied wildly from the highfalutin’ to way aggro. It was, as it were, a picture painted from life and I didn’t relish people standing behind me going ‘nah, mate, your perspective is off‘. I’ve calmed down now though, so in what follows I’ll attempt to be fair and measured as I think there has been plenty for me to learn.
i. Genre labels are unnecessary
I’ve had this a couple of times. ‘I hate labels like this’ runs the criticism, ‘you just like something or you don’t’. I admit I have some sympathy with the view that there are only two types of music: music that rocks and music that sucks. Defining genres is a game played by critics (myself included) to provide the comforting delusion that they are guiding musical development and thus relevant and useful. If the point had been ‘I hate labels like ‘extraction music” I’d have had to take that on the chin (yes, that is one of mine). However, the term ‘no-audience underground’ does not refer to a genre of music – quite explicitly. It refers instead to the assumptions and working methods of a group of practitioners thus this criticism doesn’t apply. It would be like saying: ‘I hate labels like ‘stamp collecting’ or ‘racquet sports’ or ‘diagnostic radiography’, you either like it or you don’t’ – a mild type of what philosophy calls a ‘category mistake’.
ii. My characterisation of the scene is defeatist, negative and insular
Because I focus on self-sufficiency, indifference to the mainstream and so on I have been accused of being negative and defeatist. ‘Surely,’ the argument goes, ‘there could be a wider audience for this work and turning your back to it is wilfully perverse.’ Whilst I wish anyone showing evangelical zeal the best of luck, I’m afraid I can’t agree for two reasons.
Firstly, many years’ experience as a promoter, artist, writer and whatnot have shown that it isn’t true. There are peaks and troughs, of course, and special events such as festivals do attract more punters now that at any time I can remember, but a wet Wednesday night at the Fenton, say, has attracted a remarkably consistent number of paying punters for at least 20 years. From an article I wrote called the rewards of no rewards: musings on no-audience economics:
OK, leaving London to one side as it has its own rules, experience has shown me that most UK conurbations of city-ish size can rustle up 20 people interested enough in the type of experimental music RFM covers to turn up to gigs. 10 or less if you are unfortunate, 30 plus if your scene is thriving. Should you wish to perform in this ‘arena’ then these people are your audience: the subset of this crowd who can turn up on that evening.
Marketing and promotion do little to alter these numbers. This is because music of this type will always be a fringe interest but that fringe is well-informed and inquisitive. As long as the gig is plugged in whatever the usual places are then the cognoscenti will find out about it and do their best to roll up.
Secondly, I see being realistic about this situation not as defeatist or negative but as liberating. From the same piece:
…because no one is interested in what we do. There seem to be two possible reactions to this undeniably true conclusion: a) shake your fist at the gods and complain about the unfairness of your genius going unrecognised and unrewarded or b) take strength from its gloriously liberating implications. I say go with the latter.
…if you are driven to create by an urge independent of possible rewards then you can do whatever you want purely for the love of it and only subject to the constraints that we have to accommodate in every other aspect of our lives (money, family, employment etc.). This simple, eye-opening fact is truly heartening and this blog is testament to the many terrifically talented artists who are grasping this opportunity and wringing as much joy as they can out of it, sometimes in difficult circumstances.
The charge of insularity comes from those who worry that what I am describing looks like a clique or club, forbidding to the newbie. I can understand that concern and attending a gig with a single figure audience comprised of people who all seem to know each other can be uncomfortable. However, again, experience shows that the crowd, whilst undeniably odd, are a friendly and welcoming bunch. People have their own way of doing things but offers of help are met with gratitude. In fact, I have a little theory about why there are so few arseholes knocking around. From ‘our way of shaking hands…’:
My guess is that there isn’t that much in the scene that an arsehole would be attracted to, or get off on. There is no fame to abuse, no hierarchy to enforce, no money to waste, no club full of beautiful young things to enthral with shallow glamour. Not much room for an arsehole to really flex its sphincter. Now, it would be wrong to say the scene is without vanity but prestige and respect are earned from a down-to-earth crowd of hard-working and dedicated artists and punters and any attempt to assign it prematurely, or hype it up to unwarranted levels, will be met with a scoff … In short: our standards of success are unfathomable to the average fuck-knuckle and instead attract the fine, upstanding citizens who see the value in sharing their book-smarts and fancy-pants ideas with other fine, upstanding citizens.
*Sniff* I’m welling up…
iii. Who wants to go to a show where the audience are all musicians?
Ermm… yeah, this is a weird one. Last December RFM started getting hits from the Italian language version of Vice’s music off-shoot Noisey. Investigation revealed a link in an interview with David Keenan about his piece on the death of the underground published in the Christmas edition of The Wire magazine. Noisey ask Keenan about the ‘no-audience underground’ and he replies something like:
…But that definition – No Audience Underground – note basically it means that the public going to the concerts is composed of people who are themselves involved in musical projects. And this is shit, let me say. If you want to go to a rock concert, I not necessarily have to be a musician, too, in the same way if I go to a movie, do not necessarily have to be a screenwriter. This is just another of the current issues of the underground: go to the concerts, and the public are all musicians … Fuck! When I go to a concert I want to turn off the neurons, listen and let me take the music, I’m not there to “study” because I am a worker of the sector.
(I say ‘something like’ because my Italian is fairly hopeless so I am relying on translation by web browser…)
First things first: props to Noisey for knowing about the notion and thinking to ask – very thorough – and to David Keenan who is a writer I have always found very inspiring even when I disagree with what he says. However: this is bonkers. Look back at my definition and you’ll see I am careful not to say ‘all’ but to qualify it with ‘almost’. I also include ‘paying punter’ as one of the roles. It is perfectly possible to be involved and/or show your support just by paying in and digging the show. It is also, of course, possible to turn off your mind even if you are a musician. Part of what I enjoy about drone, for example, is its capacity to dissolve ego and that I ‘know how it’s done’ doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it on the most visceral level. I can lose myself even when performing. Isn’t that the point? Also, wanting to study doesn’t mean the experience can’t be freeing and joyful. I remember Termite Club putting on Sunny Murray and half the drummers in Leeds literally sitting at his feet at the front – many were treating it as a lesson from an old master, all were ecstatic. I’m afraid Keenan’s characterisation of my position is just wrong, as are the conclusions he draws – he doesn’t even knock over his own straw man. I’m hoping that there was some sense in the original that has been lost in the translation.
iv. My definition is tautologous and thus has no content
…in other words: all I’m saying is that the people who make up the scene are the people who make up the scene and that isn’t very helpful is it? The ol’ philosophy graduate in me was momentarily troubled by this one as it has the look-and-feel of a ‘proper’ objection from a dissertation supervisor. However, I think there is enough information contained in the extended definition – implications about attitudes, working practices and the like – such that I can be confident I am saying something. Whether it is of use to you is a different question of course. A more philosophically interesting criticism is…
v. My definition could be applied to other endeavours and only relates specifically to this noise scene because I specify that it does
This is my favourite objection, in fact I consider it less an objection than an invitation for further anthropological study. The idea is that the definition of ‘no-audience underground’ contains nothing that intrinsically links it to the noise scene I am using it to describe apart from my say so. It could just as well be used to describe groups engaged in other endeavours with a similar spirit.
My response to this is to wave my hand dismissively, say ‘yes, yes, whatevs’ and demand to be shown these other no-audience undergrounds. What an exciting idea. Sure, I can see broadly comparable groups in, say, mail art, fanzine culture and other musical sub genres I come into contact with but what of, say, trainspotting? Is there a group of self-supporting trainspotters, driven by a dedication to their hobby, indifferent to the false dichotomy of mainstream versus alternative trainspotting, just grooving their own way? Wouldn’t it be intriguing if there was? Well, it would be to me anyway. I’m happy to concede this one and just ask that in return you send me a link to your research.
The well-connected outsider
OK, so what now? I suppose the biggest developments unaccounted for above are Bandcamp and social media.
There has been some grumbling that there is no true underground any more because everyone is busy with the social media circle jerk – being friendly, connecting with each other around the world, sharing things unmediated by the former gatekeepers and so on, but I think this is a red herring. I consider myself to be fairly well connected with an email address, this blog and a Twitter account followed by around 300 people. Given that Twitter has half-a-billion users this fraction is statistically indistinguishable from zero. Seriously, with my social media presence if I really did want to antagonise the mainstream I’d annoy more people by coughing at a Laura Marling gig. And yet here I am: punk as all fuck. So, yes, it is possible to use social media without tarnishing your underground credentials.
Bandcamp is more interesting. In the ‘documents of a golden age…‘ post I poke the notion of punk as ‘year zero’ with a stick then go on to say:
In contrast, the freedoms offered by the internet are greater by orders of magnitude. Via services like Bandcamp any sound at all can be made available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection, at no unit cost to either the artist or the listener, within minutes of it being completed. Punk couldn’t compete with that: it’s as transparently democratic, anarchic even, as it is possible to be in a ‘music-related’ context. Sure, engage with traditional elements if you like (running a label, for example, is a fun thing to do and still one of the best ways of organising a cluster of artists who share similar objectives) but you don’t have to. The extent to which you commit yourself is entirely your own concern.
Emphasis added. The consequences of that freedom are still being worked through now, two years after I wrote that, in a scene that has never been healthier (couple of examples here – not without precedent, I admit, but you get what I’m getting at).
Exciting times, eh?
Y’know, I was going to end with a stirring, poetical, rhetorical flourish but the more I think about it the more humbled I feel to be part of the scene I have been describing and the more simple I’d like to keep it.
So: should the term I have been defining and defending be of use to you then feel free to make use of it. More important is to acknowledge the amazing work that I am attempting to crowbar into this pigeon-hole and the amazing people creating it. What a fucking great crowd this no-audience is.
Tags: altar of waste, cory strand, domestic recording, drone, field recording, invisible city records, joe murray, luke vollar, midwich, new music, no audience underground, noise, screaming party, shameless self-congratulation, swifts, tapes
Midwich – The Swift (tape, Invisible City Records, ICR11, edition of 40 or download)
RFM is delighted to announce that The Swift by Midwich has been reissued by the essential Invisible City Records and is available as a beautifully packaged tape or convenient download.
The album was originally released as one 65 minute track on CD-r, presented in another beautifully designed cover in a tiny edition of 15, by highly-regarded American noise label Altar of Waste. Here is the very flattering blurb written by AoW head-honcho Cory Strand:
Gorgeous and tidal cascade of gentle droning sounds that become something akin to a crushing roar from the between the cracks in the sky and the broken limbs of trees, Midwich’s epic construction “The Swift” is a piece that flirts with both natural ambience and HNW severity without fulling giving over to either. Created from field recordings of swarms of swifts procured by the artist, the sounds here recall both the bleak pastoral harmony of the English landscape and the encroaching rumbles of black clouds swarming the sky. Similar in tone to the work of Richard Skelton with a goodly dose of Daniel Menche’s and Clive Henry’s approaches to manipulated field recordings, “The Swift” is an amazing composition that demonstrates both the awesome power of the natural world around us and the possibilities inherent within electronic manipulation. An incredibly creative work that blurs whatever genre lines you’d care to draw.
Altar Of Waste is very pleased to release this latest missive from one of the UK’s finest practitioners of underground drone. Succumb to the swarm and feel the tense beating of thousands of wings buzzing around you. Breathe in the awe.
My colleagues here at RFM dug it too. Joe said:
The Swift is a single hour long piece in three distinct movements.
Movement one: It starts like the soundtrack to ‘Evolution…The Movie’ as grey gloop is replaced by lazy cellular dividing and static, internal egg-memories. Things settle on Mothra’s mating ritual – long drawn-out breaths gradually moving out of synch as feathery lungs push huge volumes of air through Sperm Whale baleen.
Movement two: A rhythmic ticking and the clatter of ghostly forklift trucks start to creep in. The Swifts chirrup, skittering in the air warmed by the horny Mothra. Listeners note: this section accompanies the flock of stately wind turbines near Chesterfield spectacularly.
Movement three: The final five minutes heave like the tides, slowly encroaching on an abandoned city; washing through the deserted streets, clearing the human junk for a stronger, fitter civilisation floating slowly through the brine.
No question this is Rob’s most immersive and ambitious piece of Midwichery yet. You gotta have it!
..and Luke made it his album of the year:
Utterly sublime floating tones, get your cranky toddler off to sleep in minutes, limited to 15 copies only?! Madness.
Teacher’s pet, eh? The lad will go far. Positive comment written by those outside the RFM ‘office’ can also be found but, you may be surprised to learn, there are limits even to my vanity. You get the picture: it was well received and I am proud of it.
Despite the eye-watering cost of shipping copies from the USA, the edition sold out sharpish. I might have been happy to leave it there but I had one or two enquiries about reissuing it and, after falling in love with North East noise label Invisible City Records, I just couldn’t resist reaching out to label boss Craig Johnson and planting a seed. Given the catalogue already amassed it seemed like the perfect home for The Swift and, to my delight and relief, Craig agreed. The track has been carefully halved to accommodate the change in format and the new artwork captures the atmosphere of the piece exactly. It is a high quality item and, in my entirely trustworthy, un-conflicted, un-self-interested opinion, an essential purchase.
Finally, a word to those trusting souls who swapped hard cash for a copy of the original edition. If you are among that elite please forgive me for diluting the experience with a reissue and 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. If you are mad enough to buy both editions then as well as the Aqua Dentata CD-r I’ll see if I can secure you a freebie of the next midwich project which, in stark contrast, is likely to run 18 minutes and contain 12 tracks. Punk rock, eh? More news as it breaks, but for now…
Tags: crackle box, improv, lo-fi, new music, no audience underground, noise, patrick cain, phong tran, power moves label, tapes, true bedroom recordings
THE SHOUTS FROM THE SEA – s/t (tape, Power Moves Label, PML 010, edition of 53 or download)
The UK General Election result is a disaster. On a personal level, as a clerk employed in the public sector and suffering from a long-term, disabling medical condition, that’s me fucked. A few ‘challenging’ years ahead, no doubt. For society as a whole, well, there are many commentators far more astute, articulate and stronger-stomached than me picking apart the implications and the internet is awash with their analyses. Suffice to say I follow the Zanntone line when it comes to the Conservatives and their supporters. Ugh. Shall we throw open the windows, change the subject and hope to find some small solace in the work of our friends? Please.
Noise is a joyous, life-affirming, heart-bursting business. At least it can be – I know there is a reactionary old guard who insist that true underground noise has to be ‘transgressive’ and ‘confrontational’ but fortunately they are dying out (auto-asphyxiation accidents whilst wanking over Japanese bondage porn, mainly). Anyway, those cantankerous curmudgeons are, as ever, missing the point. In these troubled, jaded, cynical times what could be more revolutionary than heartfelt and sincere enthusiasm? Radical, eh?
Speaking of which, if friendliness and public displays of appreciation were crimes then Phong Tran would be trussed up like Hannibal Lecter on a day visit to the fava bean farm. Here the Washington DC based musician, digi-crate digger and twittervangelist for transcendental sound is joined by fellow traveller Patrick Cain and between them they tear it up over nine tracks of relentless noise improv.
The tagline of Power Moves Label, the host of this party, is ‘true bedroom recordings’ – a spirit that is gloriously represented by this release. Problem tooth? Can’t get an appointment at your dentist? Stick this on, lean your jaw against the speaker and the aching peg will be shaken out of your head before you flip to side B. In a tradition within lo-fi music stretching back to at least the 80s/90s tape underground there is no bass to these recordings – just a scouring, cleansing wash of electrostatic treble. I don’t know if this approach was a result of shonky recording equipment, choice of instrumentation (crackle box, prepared guitar, electronics etc.) or an artistic decision to simply not give a fuck. It doesn’t matter. Once recovered from the initial shock of the spanking, the listener’s cheeks begin to glow red with a warmth that is, *ahem*, strangely ‘stirring’.
Don’t expect a uniform chalk-white cliff-face though. Flinty protuberances catch the light and texture the skronk. The nine tracks are easily differentiated on repeat listens and there are gaps between them in order for you to clear your throat and straighten your tie before P&P crank it up again. At a couple of points the chaps even (almost) settle into what I believe is called a ‘groove’. Overall the album is like harsh, shade-defying, mid-morning Summer sunlight, come to boil away your hangover and leave you invigorated enough to consider restarting the session at lunchtime.
The last couple of seconds are noteworthy enough to merit their own paragraph. The racket cuts to an amused/bemused voice asking:
What are you guys doing?!?
…and Patrick or Phong replies:
Just playing music, heh, heh
…in the half-sheepish/half-defiant tone of an already stoned teenager who has been caught rolling a joint by his mum. Aww… busted! It is a beautifully self-deprecating celebration of bedroom recording and tickled me as hard as listening to Robert Ridley-Shackleton talk to himself as he struggles with his kit or, a favourite moment from back in the day, Rob Galpin audibly deciding to answer a ringing phone mid-track.
I chuckled as I repeatedly rewound this moment before flipping the tape. What was that tingling sensation cutting through the fug of depression? That sudden lightening of my spirit? Could it be? Yes, I think… Despite everything I just might be… Yes! It is! I… am… having… FUN!
Tags: council of drent, david birchall, dictaphonics, improv, joe murray, new music, no audience underground, noise, phillip marks, thf drenching
David Birchall, THF Drenching & Phillip Marks – The Ludic Clamp (CD, Council of Drent Recordings, CoD007)
MTHRFCKR! FSN HS BN DRTY WRD FR LNG TME. FCK STNL CLRK & HS BSS SL SHT. THS S TH RL DL FSN-WS. DPE S CDE MNY DD.
BRCHLL – GTRS: XPLSN, CRCKL & SQL. FST & RSPNSV. DRNCHNG –DCTPHNS: FFW SCR, FDBCK WHN & DFT THMB. TH GNRL. MRKS –PRCSSN: TNKL, CRSH & SNSTV FLTTR. CNG N TH CKE. SPR-FZZNG BLL F RMSHKL NRGY; LK WTHR RPRT XPLDD N CLD F CRSTL MTH!
FNS LKE BTCHS BRW? THRS SMLR VB & FL, GRT PLRS BNG LLWD T PL T TH TP F THR GME MTHRFCKRS!
CSCDNG CLTTR, SKTTR, N NSCTS N TH FRTZ. WHN TH GRP PPS RGHT LKE PP-TRTS TS N RGT HLLCNTN – PRWNS SHVR. WHSKRS TWTTR.
WHN BTFL STPS, MKNG SNS F LD PNTNGS JST DNT CT TH MSTRD – NW JGGD STHTC, SHRP S STR.
FRSH LKE RN-RCH SPNCH. RSPCTFL CHS.
DNT B SQR. BY BY BY AT CNCIL F DRNT.
Tags: andrew fearn, bird people, bridget hayden, c. joynes, claire potter, dervishes of khartoum, drone, electronica, extnddntwrk, fort evil fruit, free folk, improv, jose guerreo, new music, no audience underground, noise, rastrejo, sleaford mods, sophie cooper, tapes, the restless dead, ulrich rois
Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF036, edition of 100)
The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF034, edition of 75)
Extnddntwrk – By (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF035, edition of 100 plus download only extra tracks, second edition of 100 in preparation)
Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos (tape, Fort Evil Fruit, FEF033, edition of 75)
Bridget Hayden & Claire Potter – Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child
Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child is a new collaboration between author Claire Potter and musician Bridget Hayden that gives a voice to text from Potter’s 2014 publication Mental Furniture. On this tape, extracts from the text are read by Potter, combined with sounds from Hayden and the results are fascinating. This deeply considered union works to produce a very whole sound and together they inform the narrative rather than it being a straight forward ‘words read over the top of music’ approach. On ‘Still Woman Cold’ Potter reads the text in hushed tones and creaking floorboards are heard in the background giving the impression that she is hiding from whoever is making those sounds happen. It’s a difficult and unsettling listen but uniquely compelling.
Potter and Hayden address trauma and deflection during Mother To No Swimming Laughing Child. It’s hard to discuss trauma, both your own experiences and those of others. It’s difficult because in some cases people are so quick to hide what they are actually feeling rather than address things that are not OK, choosing to internalise the experience and protect others from hearing it, which is an easy way to hide from judgement. The track, ‘Brendan Brady’ is named after a tragic character from the soap opera Hollyoaks. Brady is a murderer, a drug dealer, an abusive partner, a typical bad guy who the writers of the show later revealed was the victim of incestual abuse. The album takes this, and other examples from the show, as source material through which to deliver the topic of trauma and projection of unknown events. In addition to the words, static, aggressive guitar and incidental sound are included maybe to mask the story and stuff it down the back of the sofa.
Given the topic, it’s not an easy listen. Someone described this tape as “distasteful” on Rate Your Music (my most hated music website) and although I disagree I can understand why they might have written that because bringing up subjects like abuse are considered distasteful by some. This is an uncomfortable subject but this tape doesn’t worry about that. I congratulate Potter and Hayden for broaching this issue and for creating one of the most intriguing and thought provoking recordings I’ve ever heard.
The Restless Dead and Bird People …Meet the Dervishes of Khartoum in the Confluence-of-the-Nile
The concept behind the creation of this release is really interesting. The story is that UK folk musician, C. Joynes, during one of his many travels round the world spent some time in Sudan where he recorded a weekly Sufi Dervish conference. These recordings provided the basis for this release which were dubbed over by two groups – Side A by a curious sounding improvising collective that operates as part of a commune in East Anglia called The Restless Dead and Side B by ever evolving Austrian free folk and drone collective Bird People. Bird People, for those who don’t know, are ‘fronted’ (I’m sure he wouldn’t like that word but for want of a better phrase…) by founder of Feathered Coyote Records, Ulrich Rois. Feathered Coyote and Fort Evil Fruit share a lot of common interests in the artists they work with (and the managers even look alike!) so the partnership makes sense.
Side A is probably the more successful in achieving a seamless collaboration between the Sufi recordings and the UK artist’s contributions. Listening carefully you can pick out additional out of tune guitars (I suspect homemade versions), drums, repeatedly bowed strings and percussive elements jamming along to the original recordings. The recording is respected and the ebb and flow of the piece is considered well within these jams resulting in a great, but not ragged, clatter.
Side B sees Bird People take the recordings and make something quite different with them, which I’m into. We hear gorgeous Indian instruments produce drones that accompany the Sufi singers but also come into their own throughout the 23 minute piece. At one point the drones perfectly match the volume of the original recording rising and falling then eventually leading to a point of silence before coming back to the vocalists, this time with even more drones and an audible banjo solo. This is brilliant and thoughtful music.
Extnddntwrk – By
Extnddntwrk, aka Andrew Fearn, is now best known as the guy who makes the music for Sleaford Mods but he has been making music since well before he joined Jason Williamson. I’m really pleased that he has started to release his own solo music again including this new one on FEF.
This huge collection of songs spans about an hour and a half (if you include the bonus tracks from the digital download) and a lot of ground is covered in that time. My first thought on hearing it was that it would make an excellent soundtrack to a futuristic horror film and in the way that some great horror soundtracks, like Marc Wilkinson’s Blood on Satan’s Claw for example, have an overarching theme running throughout so does By. This is seen not least in the track titles, which all have the word ‘by’ contained in them, but also in the grim, downbeat, and sometimes outwardly scary atmosphere these pieces conjure. I want to be the first to be told when the film to accompany this tape comes out.
On By Fearn employs a range of acoustic instrumentation and high quality production to evoke dark imagery. His computer generated beats are of a subtle brilliance that provide a base for a variety of other components including piano, harp, bells and worked-in field recordings to name just a few. Some of the tracks such as ‘By Myself’ sound like they could have been generated by lo-fi software. This track has a weird and unsettling melody line that wouldn’t be out of place if found in an early version of the video game Doom (wow, the memory of that game just made me shiver!). In another moody track, ‘Death by’, Fearn plays subtle guitar lines that complement light keys. I can’t get over how delicate this release is and what a stark contrast is it to the music Fearn makes in his other band! This is very intense work and shows Fearn to be an accomplished musician and producer.
Rastrejo – Fractura de Miramientos
Rastrejo is a new artist to me but a quick look at Jose Guerreo’s back catalogue reveals he has been involved in several projects in Valencia, Spain for a long time. Rastrejo serves as his experimental dance project and this release is really toe tapping. It’s a short but sweet affair, totalling only 19 minutes.
Guerreo uses stark drum machine patterns and sings in a dramatic way on ‘Malgastando’ before launching into a wild, droney, synth solo that all works really well. The fully-fledged songs that involve singing are definitely this album’s strongest point and these are sandwiched between other musical ideas. I kind of wish the release was a bit longer because the last track ‘Mercader de Sencillos + Ballesta sin Fisuras’, which seems be influenced heavily by Talking Heads particularly in the vocal delivery, is a real banger and it feels like the album really takes off at this point. Oh well. I’ll be checking out other music by Rastrejo for sure.
Tags: brian lavelle, drone, dust unsettled, extraction music, hairdryer excommunication, ian watson, kevin sanders, new music, no audience underground, noise
Ian Watson – Caermaen (CD-r, Dust, Unsettled, DU09, edition of 50 or download)
Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations (2 x CD-r in gatefold sleeve, self-released, edition of 50 or download)
Ian Watson – Caermaen
Dunno why I’ve slept so long on this one. An intriguing album of heavy electrics by the second most charming guy in noise released by the most charming guy in noise – you’d think I’d be all over it, wouldn’t you? My apologies for the inexplicable tardiness. Allow me to make amends.
What we have here is a four track CD-r (long gone – sorry) or free download (still available – woo!) by Ian Watson – artist, polymath – released on Dust, Unsettled, the label run by definitive good egg Brian Lavelle. It was composed using ‘cymbals and feedback’ manipulated through bosky layers of electrics and is apparently inspired by the writing of Welsh mystic and Lovecraft influence Arthur Machen. So far, so perfect.
A satisfyingly viscous low end and a refreshingly untamed crackling at the top act as river banks containing the current’s flow. Could that be a torrent of fluorescent ectoplasm combed clean by the bones of skeletal fish? Sure, if you like. I can certainly imagine Ian’s kit producing a cool, flickering, ghostly green light:
Brian: err… is that supposed to be happening?
Ian: mate, it isn’t even plugged in! Perhaps we should leave the room…
Brian: press ‘record’ first though.
Ian: oh yeah, of course, NOW RUN!
…but what this called to mind for me were happy times I’d spent as a teenager staring at a lump of dirty metal.
One of my first jobs was operating a solder bath in a factory that manufactured printed circuit boards. Boards were loaded onto a conveyor belt, subjected to a terrifying liquid that cleaned the copper (so corrosive that I dropped two pence coins into it to see the queen’s face dissolve), covered in slime to help the solder stick, hung on a hook by me, dunked into a bath of liquid metal about three feet deep, blasted with air blades on the way back up, then placed on another conveyor belt. Repeat for eight or nine hours with frequent breaks to sit on chemical drums outside and smoke cigarettes.
On Fridays we would be paid in cash in little brown envelopes around 11am. At lunchtime I’d race to the nearest pub, drink as much as possible, smoke a spliff on the way back and spend the afternoon cleaning this machine – heated to 250 degrees centigrade – in my shirtsleeves because, y’know, it was too fucking hot for overalls and a certain amount of scar tissue looks manly and suggests character doesn’t it? The spray and overflow of hot solder dripped down into the guts of the machine and coagulated there into something magical.
This mass of waste solder – the size and shape of a child’s torso, almost too heavy to carry – was a mesmerising landscape of clustered globules, of organic micro-castles blistered with irregular crenellations, of needle sharp, filigree wire work. All glistening a muddied silver, hopelessly polluted with the scorched scum that boiled from the boards as they were dunked. These random accumulations of melted metal remain some of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen, even accounting for how stoned I was at the time. Something about this album took me back to that sight and that made me very happy.
Messrs. Sanders & Watson – Cumulative Undulations
Also available from a neighbouring stable is this two hour long, two track, two CD-r set, by two collaborators: Mr. Ian Watson (as above) and Mr. Kevin Sanders (see below).
Imagine a large ruined house in a forest, swamped in ivy – each luscious leaf as deep green as cooked spinach, as shiny as patent leather. Now imagine the root severed and the gradual death of the above ground plant, its draining vitality and increasing brittleness. A high quality digital camera is making a time lapse film of this process. Once complete the memory card is removed and Kev and Ian bath it in a a cool, flickering, ghostly green light. This ‘develops the film’ with an occult power that reveals the usually invisible creatures of woodland folklore that live around the ruin: dryads, fairies, elves, horrifying, robotic horseshoe crabs, their scrabbling legs the stuff of nightmares, their carapaces as black as a dominatrix’s whip, and so on. Now play the film in reverse and compose a soundtrack to it using just rust and magnets.
Tags: ben morris, chocolate monk, disillusion.dot.dot.dot, duncan harrison, field recording, improv, joe murray, karl mv waugh, lost wax, musique concrète, new music, no audience underground, noise, reckno, tapes
Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) (download, disillusion.dot.dot.dot)
Karl M V Waugh – Varnish Crease EP (download, disillusion.dot.dot.dot)
Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God (tape or download, Reckno)
Lost Wax – The Poacher (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.304, edition of 60)
Karl M V Waugh – unnamed murk (coagulated detritus may 2014 – january 2015) and Varnish Crease
A lazy, taking a line for a walk, kind of listen. That’s no criticism readers. I’m loving this particular ramble with Karl; round the town, out past the betting shop and onto the Downs, chatting and shooting the shit as we wander.
These unnamed murk pieces are poor orphans (coagulated detritus indeed) with no home to go to. And for me that makes things all the more interesting. Are you telling me these pieces don’t fit into your soundworld Karl? Man…I gotta check out these oddballs – they are going to be the nuts.
The modus operandi remains classic K M V Waugh – an object or technique is picked up and fiddled with for a while and each possible combination of rubbing, striking, bowing and blowing rained down until all options are exhausted.
‘Bread Failure’ dances with some close mic rustle, jazz-gob, fake sine wave feedback loops and acoustic guitar fumble as crispy as an early 2000’s Usurper jam. ‘Close Net’ starts with a slo-mo rave synth trapped in a bathysphere; the two Navy SEALS having it large while contact with the surface is registered in day-glo Morse and trippy emoticons. Outside the Angler Fish get anxious with stress-harps. Blimey, Jacques Cousteau couldn’t get this low. ‘Nada Test’, the most lovely one of the lot, is an untutored, unconscious guitar/balalaika/mandolin (?) improvisation heavy on the Korean and Rembetika influences. There’s pure innocence in this playing, a passionate exploration and experimentation that’s scrabbling but at all times searching for a melody to grasp out of the clear blue sky. The last 2 minutes of this 21 minute piece add a slight distortion giving you a soft landing destination.
This mini-album, the wonderfully titled Varnish Crease, is an 18 minute smeared collage, a bold painting in Bovril hues.
Industrial grot (a malfunctioning PEZ dispenser perhaps?) and novelty dice dropped into a chunky whiskey tumbler form the base coat to KMVW’s meta-poetry. Like several porridge-slugged mouths reading their dreams simultaneously this has a head-fudge quality. Ever been lost in a crowd? This mimics that slight panic and claustrophobic feel exactly.
Wonk-hop snatches of sound are introduced like RZA’s all blunted on Funeral Dance Party; a South Coast One Wobbly Egg. In fact this whole crease has a real Cidershed feel with that slight tint of threat added to the vulnerability.
Essential listening for any young dream-voyager.
Duncan Harrison – Others Delete God
Pearls dipped in butter swirling round the palm of a brown giant. The slick tones fill the smooth handful; fingers wiggle to spread the flutter.
This is a disarmingly charming and hypnotically beautiful opener from his holiness Duncan Harrison.
Gurble-gobs, slop and slobber the lazy consonants and sighs that very skitter with finger-manipulated tape skank. It soon turns into pigs grunting quick enough (oink oink oink) and a sonic Richard Scarry cartoon of crash-bang-wallop.
A water butt slowly fills with rancid treacle as tiny black imps dance around the bloated barrel, slapping their bulbous bellies and blowing crimson smoke rings. A watchful Duncan scoops up the imps and ingests them all a-wriggle, recording their hapless plummet down his gullet.
But please don’t take my sub-Stan Lee dribbling as evidence of sonic goofiness, cynically used to leap-frog to the desired ends (freedom, bliss, ecstasy etc). Repeated listens to this humble tape reveal this to be a mature work, a self-assured work, a personally resonant work floating slowly into my consciousness. There’s no reliance on underground clichés here. The psychedelic-domestic of bus number recital, buffeting wind noise, slow chip-pan ‘pop’ and throaty Gatwick roar have filled my heart with honey and my head with sleepy nutmeg.
Side one ends with another real-life vignette, this time trad-jazz busker (think bowler hat and pinstripe waistcoat) overlaid flinty guitar pluckage (think sloppy Arran jumper and orthopaedic shoes) bringing two worlds together – the beach front and the bedsit – into a tangy-sharp fragment.
Side two opens with a wanking mumble, a half remembered dream of the time John Noakes applied Chopin’s poesie sonore methods in the Blue Peter garden (don’t bother to ‘YouTube’ it. This nugget was never televised and then destroyed on direct instructions from Biddy Baxter.) as the tape edits flutter around his West Riding glottal stops.
Valhalla opens its gates to welcome another fallen hero. For a time the drunken revelry quietens and the bard’s horn plays mournfully through the mist. Shields become bronze gongs beaten with a soft as the captured skald drones on.
Back in the studio Duncan dons his silk gown and adopts the Crane stance blowing on flesh bassoon until a feeder tape of allotment gristle joins the sound mix like it was the most natural thing in the world. Birds aimlessly chirrurp and flapper and cast iron tools are tinkled like collectible glass bells. I can feel the late afternoon sun in this recording baking my neck and making me sleepy. This. Is. Delicious.
A game-changing tape from D Harrison. It looks innocent enough for sure; but this tape’s got a confident swagger that’s unmatched right about now.
Lost Wax – The Poacher
Super-classy Musique Concrete from Ben Morris that takes full advantage of the far-flung places he’s laid his loveable mop-top over the last couple of years (China, Vietnam and even Derbyshire).
The Poacher is split into three parts, each third revealing a different side to Lost Wax, that unlock and fold out on hidden brass hinges. Let’s look inside…
The first third, ‘The Sun is a Hammer’, takes clear recordings of tin parakeets, smoke-train rumble and happy-clapping ritual and slices them up nice with a razor like some heavy radiophonicia dripping secretly out of 1970s Bulgaria.
The pace is stately, like a nurse on a bike, as Ben adds layers of hiss and schloop weaving them into a tapestry fit for a medium-sized town hall. But before we can even jiggle a heavy chain of office beautiful voices creak out of the floorboards. They soar and float like rainbows. Flutes trill. I swoon.
Next we visit the watch menders convention for ‘Time Travel Corrodes the Mind’. A hired drummer fiddles with his high-hat (fairly obsessively tiss-tiss-tiss) as the cummerbunded MC beckons in a phalanx of beach balls full of gaseous hippy crack. The massed horologicalists look up from their chaotically ticking handfuls but relax as Ben, safely at the controls, squeezes out a rhythmic pulse for the cast-iron disco crowd. Tapes of paranoid mumbling (source: CIA bugs, Cuban Missile Crisis?) bookend the track as several men bend aluminium picture frames in your left ear.
This tasty trio is completed by ‘Home, Exhuming a Shed‘. Imagine F.M. Einheit getting ready for a date (checklist – red rose, lump hammer, rusty chain, trumpet, gas canister) dressing in his best dungarees with bear-grease controlling his wanton quiff.
Gnarled hands rip up steel casings and pummel a brass boiler with oranges. The bright zest fills the air and this sudden change in atmosphere calms our man…his fingers caress the splintered keyboard moving from black to white. Digit-shapes transfer from 3D geometry into calm sound-pools that sit gently rippling in the citrus breeze.
Tags: drone, extraction music, hairdryer excommunication, joe murray, kevin sanders, new music, no audience underground, noise, petals
Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh (CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)
kevin sanders – a study in pink (3” CD-r or download, hairdryer excommunication)
kevin sanders – live in berlin, 2015 (3” CD-r, hairdryer excommunication, edition of 9 or download)
Kevin Sanders – Aladdin, al-Bireh
High-in-the-mix scraping, like I’m scooping the last remaining smears of thick yogurt from an earthenware bowl, beckon me into Kevin Sanders’ felt yurt. I remove my shoes and adopt a cross-legged pose to match my host whose steely gaze has not left mine.
His intensity is replayed in the heavy fugging drone that sweeps gently over the initial scrape. Two notes are lazily fingered, ‘AHHHhhhhhhhhhhh OHHHhhhhhhhhhhh’ – a cosmic call and response to a distant god.
All the while a ball of tangled steel wool is unravelled at a snail’s pace. Watching the slim pale hands move with purpose, but without fussy haste, manipulating the thin wire, unwinding, untwisting and smoothing it out is…making me….s…l…..e…….e………p………….y.
Dreams, so often a blessedly heavy velvet vacuum, are now full of distant howls of creatures yet-imagined. The fear of the fear jams my mouth open and eyes wide. Roaring voices pour from my throat as I am the vessel of the lost souls. Each life left in limbo protests limply at being held like a fly in amber. But the numbers! The countless number of them leave my throat sore as the last snivelling heckle dribbles down my damp chin.
But all things must pass and I awaken beneath the poplar trees, glittering with marvellous frost.
kevin sanders – a study in pink
This is no-nonsense stuff. Some electro cardiogram briefly splutters and we’re catapulted into a see-sawing sinewave swoon. It’s dogtooth check rough up close but smooth as alabaster from a distance.
And that’s the stand-out thing about this 3 incher. There really is so much going on in here you can, in the right state of mind, project yourself into the landscape, stand among the slowly peaking waves of static or ride the rolling ocean of thundering grumble like a tiny Norrin Rad.
The space analogy gets stronger as about half way through this 19 minute piece planets and stars begin to hurl themselves about, bending gravity and swooping perilously close to each other. The solar whoosh of the near miss is felt as gentle pressure on the balls of the feet. The last two minutes slowly unfold like some docking sequence; two rusty old Soyuz modules that got pimped-out by Grateful Dead fans to better honk the Dark Star-brand kif pipe, kiss silently with a sigh of compressed air. Two become one.
Kevin Sanders – live in berlin, 2015
OK readers. So far we’ve had two different approaches, two different moods showing two different sides to Mr Kevin Sanders.
But this micro-diskette, recorded in a flat on Sonnenallee is my personal pick of the bunch. The notes say:
A broken organ in the flat was used to create two tape loops which were processed.
This all seems simple enough eh? But the super-exciting thing about this 21 minute set is that the process is left clear and unadorned. The tape loops are cut with confidence and make an extremely satisfying gristly crunch each time they turn back on themselves. This becomes both rhythm and off-kilter melody as the singing-bowl-ring builds in intensity in the background.
Overtones become undertones become slumber-tones. Each successive loop, as bright as copper, slides down a shapely neck to rest on lightly furred shoulders. They collect in metallic piles on top of each other, shifting with faint tinkles.
By the 14 minute mark everything gains a superheavyweight quality. What once was sunny and bright becomes black like lead with a similarly dark purpose. What seems like the dawning of a dark inevitability eventually plateaus out into a shimmering crystal desert. Geysers spew their hot dust, the polished sand flickers with heat haze. The organ spits its last dirty electric cough and sadly clicks off.