the 2017 zelleby awards

January 2, 2018 at 5:05 pm | Posted in musings, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Phew!  Another year over, a new one just begun.

It’s that time again eh?  Sharpen your pencils and look back to what it meant to be alive and listening in 2017?

Being non-competitive folk there’s no overall ‘winner’ here.  Each RFM writer has sifted through hours and hours of listening memories to come up with a list of releases (or in Sof’s case – a single tape) that have really meant something to us.  We’re all winners eh?

You’re welcome to clap us along, raise a glass of bubbly or disagree and comment – discussion is always good yeah.

So, while the haters diss the list we at RFM don flak jackets and stick our sensitive parts out there.

Comrades – I present to you the Radio Free Midwich Zellaby end-of-year-list (2017).

Rob Haylerrob hayler at tusk

First up, some thoughts from our esteemed founder – Rob Hayler.

2017 saw one of the mainstream’s periodic upticks in interest in the underground.  The coverage was, as ever, woeful.  The Guardian led the pack with a vampiric attempt to leech authentic lifeblood, presumably to lure back some of the hip readers, so beloved of advertisers, that it haemorrhaged during its shameful anti-Corbyn campaign.  Fuck that.  Most of The Guardian is now just a stream of hot piss being hosed into the face of its legacy.

The Quietus was as late to the party as ever.  Their ‘New Weird Britain’ shtick was weirdly embarrassing on several levels.  Evangelising in Vice (ugh) offshoot Noisey John Doran described a scene ‘impervious to all attempts at commodification’ – in an article containing seven advert breaks, a clickbait footer and a warning the site wanted to shit cookies onto my laptop.  I wish I was joking.

I could go on but why bother?  The best thing to do is turn your back and take a long walk in the thriving ecosystem operating entirely apart from this bollocks.

As if in response to the mainstream’s attempts to prove relevant, 2017 saw a spirit lifting surge in zine culture.  This year I caught up with some back issues of The Chapess, continued to enjoy the indefatigable grimness of Hiroshima Yeah!, marvelled at one-off art projects like Crow Versus Crow’s Ra Wept, photocopied detritus from Robert Ridley-Shackleton and knockout illustration by blog-fave Joined By Wire.  Notable new publications included Dukes of Scuba, a mini-zine fizzing with enthusiasm for the noise scene in Wales, and, of course, Andy Wood’s TQ.  Andy played a blinder here by creating a regular, substantial paper zine but promoting it via that fancy social media that everyone uses nowadays.  With only half-a-dozen issues published he already has a bunch of great contributors and a hundred subscribers.  More power to him.

The digital realm remains as inspiring as ever.  The quality and diversity of writing to be found on blogs, written largely for the love of it by people who are essentially hobbyists, still can’t be touched by ‘professional’ sources like those above.  #noisetwitter was a constant source of comradeship and good humour, despite the trying times, and CAMP radio deserves special mention for hosting shows by Sof Cooper, Crow Versus Crow, Neil Campbell, marlo de lara, Stuart Chalmers and other luminaries.  A terrific resource.

Away from the house the highlight was, without rival, this year’s TUSK festival in and around Sage in Gateshead.  Lee Etherington and the crew kindly hosted not only my final Midwich gig – a profoundly satisfying creative moment for me – but also Klein, who performed the best live set I saw all year.  She proved that even jaded, exhausted veterans such as myself could be left speechless with delight, hovering two inches above the floor, by something thrilling and new.

Away from the noise underground I found myself bewildered, charmed and excited by the woozy, euphoric, future R&B and hip hop introduced to me by 1Extra as I pottered aimlessly around the kitchen.  I returned to tracks like ‘Girlfriend’ by NAO (yes, I know it was released in 2016 – bite me) and ‘Yesterday’ by Noname (ditto) over and over again, following them down late-night YouTube rabbit holes.  One such journey ended with me dumbfounded alternating between ‘It’s OK To Cry’ and ‘Ponyboy’ by SOPHIE.  Holy shit.

The album from the ‘canon’ I Iistened to most in 2017 was Nightclubbing by Grace Jones and film of the year was Paddington 2.  Don’t come at me with Blade Runner or whatever, the bear won it fair and square.

OK, now the main event.  Those that correspond with me privately will know that 2017 was an extraordinarily difficult year for my family.  The jaunty persona I’ve maintained on Twitter, whilst never insincere, has been a prop to help me cope/escape during some very dark times.  Accordingly, the purpose music has served is analogous to those silver foil blankets given to crash victims waiting for an ambulance – comfort during a time of visceral shock.  This may explain why my choices are mainly by friends and familiar names and largely from two genres I’m always happy to immerse myself in: psych noise and drone.  Mea culpa.

First, the ‘oh, just press repeat and that’s the day sorted’ section:

tuluum shimmering

Tuluum ShimmeringLinus and Lucy

A 75 minute psych groove on the riff from the Peanuts theme tune.  Turns any train journey into a summer flashback.

Daniel ThomasKeep The Red Kites Flying

An evolution in Dan’s light-touch-heavy-analogue style.  Possibly his best work, endlessly revisitable.

Caroline Mckenziethe drowning of ophelia

Four hours of dark ambient inspired by Shakespearian suicide, sounding like a cross between culver and SAWII era Aphex Twin?  Yeah, I can get with that.

Next, the ‘everything touched by these people’ section:

Earlier in the year I chose not to go and see Sunn O))) play at Leeds University and instead spent the ticket money I saved buying the entire digital back catalogue on MIKE VEST’s Bandcamp site.  Pretty certain I did the right thing there.  For weeks afterwards I walked around, earbuds welded in, feeling like some kind of space wizard.  My nostrils still ache from the near-constant flaring…

If you like your psych noise a little more sasquatch-spotting and less spaceships-slowly-crashing-into-moons then may I recommend that you investigate EIDERDOWN RECORDS?  There are no releases on this wonderful label that fall short of intensely satisfying.  It’s the home of a fried-pastoral aesthetic that laughs as it warns you how strong the stuff is only after you’ve taken a hit.

helicopter quartet

Two RFM colleagues next.  Firstly, CHRISSIE CAULFIELD has had a remarkable 2017, though she would be too modest to agree.  Foremost amongst a number of releases are the solo album From the Carboniferous and this year’s album from the duo Helicopter Quartet, The Birds Discover Fire.  The former is a beautiful meditation, more drone in style than her usual output, and the latter is an exquisite carving, strung with taut emotion – like a Brâncuși sculpture translated into music.  Seriously, I’ve been banging on about how amazing and important this band is for bloody years.  Go and download it now.

Secondly, SOPHIE COOPER has also lit up everything she’s lent her considerable talent to.  I’ve seen her perform solo in a tiny art gallery to a handful of people and as part of the Friday night headliners United Bible Studies at TUSK.  She’s released her own Faust Tapes in The Curfew Tower Recordings on Crow Versus Crow and offers an occasional Dial-a-Bone service that, well… the mind boggles.  However, it seems that The Slowest Lift, her duo with Julian Bradley, has really caught everyone’s imagination.  The The Blow Volume 3 tape on Front & Follow (billed as Sophie Cooper & Julian Bradley) and the eponymous album on VHF are at once the obvious children of the pair but at the same time utterly alien and fascinatingly other.  ‘What the hell is this?’ you ask yourself, every track, every time.  So, so good – and its December release date has shamed all those who lobbed out their ‘end’ of year list prematurely.

Finally then, the two albums I was most surprised to see are, non-coincidentally, my two favourite albums of the year.


Firstly, A.Y. by itdreamedtome was slipped out in an understated but handsome package by no-audience underground veteran Chris Gowers on his label Trome Records.  A new release from Chris is always cause for celebration but, as it turned out that itdreamedtome was none other than Johann Wlight breaking a decade long silence, I couldn’t log in to Paypal fast enough.

Chris tells the story of JW’s work, influence and disappearance eloquently in the notes on the album’s Bandcamp page so you can catch up there.  I’ll just say that these pieces have a rare poise, an intricate delicacy that overlays much sub-surface activity.  Like paddling in the waters of a moonlit bay and feeling something large and scaly brush against your ankles.  His touch is as deft as it ever was – what a joy to have him back.

tbbculver box – photo by rob

Lastly, with crushing inevitability, we have the body beneath by culver.  The logistics are cyclopean: 65 previously unreleased tracks, spanning the years 1996 to 2013, named only for the year recorded, spread over 10 CDs (not CD-rs) and housed in a screen printed wooden box.  The total running time tops 12 and a half hours.  Its gestation has been elephantine; the set has been literally years in the making – hence my rejoicing at its birth.

Each culver release is another page in the atlas mapping out the territory that Lee Stokoe has claimed as his own and, despite already owning around 80, I was counting the cash in my wallet the second I finally saw this in the flesh.  The precision and seriousness of Lee’s purpose and the (maybe surprising to some) variation he works into the roar that is his art kept me rapt throughout.  This is my favourite album of the year 2017.

Love and best wishes to all – can’t wait to hear what you have in mind for 2018.

Rob x

Next we hear from the essential Sophie Cooper.

sam and the plants

Hello all! Hope you managed to get through Christmas and indeed, the entire year, ok. I’m alright. Started 2017 with a new year’s resolution to work hard and I think I’ve achieved this. Records and residencies, and y’know a job I love that actually pays. The other half opened a beer shop in our beloved Golden Lion pub (#TorBeers #VisitTodmorden) and that’s been an interesting addition to this strange life I’m living. The dog is doing well, thanks for asking.

Music wise I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of new stuff but not written about any of it for Radio Free Midwich (see above for excuses) so was surprised that dear Joe and Rob are allowing me to say my piece in the spectacular “best of…” list produced right here. I’ve only got one album to discuss today because it’s the only thing I’ve given my entire attention to and I have listened to it countless times over and over in the car while driving round West Yorkshire. It’s Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants.

This album was originally released in May on cassette by Preston based label ‘Them There Records’ in an edition of just 35. The release came very nicely packaged in printed card and had an extensive insert containing song lyrics and notes that explain what’s what in each song. These sold out more or less instantly and in their own way these tapes caused a bizarre cultural phenomenon amongst those I knew who had heard it. Small talk turned into big talk down the pub, “have you heard that tape Sam did?” became a question asked over and over again usually answered with “yeah, it’s amazing” followed by an in-depth conversation about it. The reason I say this is bizarre is because this type of en masse interest in a record to me is a fairly rare thing. Readers of this will undoubtedly have some connection to the “no audience underground” and we all know that records come and go. In my opinion not that many of them produced on a scale like this tend to linger around for that long. Flaming Liar has become an actual part of a lot of people’s lives and in my eyes its not too hard to see why.

Sam has a wild way with words and I think at the core of this record’s success is the deeply satisfying song craft that makes each chord change and interplay between melody and lyrics sing beautifully. This artist clearly knows how to put a tune together and in a sense the song structures of the record come across as quite traditional however there is this overarching oddness tying it all together that really appeals to me. Despite being an hours worth of separate ‘songs’ they are presented as two continuous sides of music producing their own other worldly entity as one tune becomes unable to exist without the others. I’m talking from the point of view of someone who has listened to this umpteenth times, as each song essentially ends in your head you’re already hearing the next one and I think that’s the addictive quality of this album that has so many people hooked. Lyrically Flaming Liar really works the listener with things like incorrect grammar and by putting words together that shouldn’t make sense but in conduction with the melodies and genius rhyming couplets it just all fits and after a while you find yourself singing along to every word coming up with fake harmonies and imagery in your head as you’re doing so.

The album is tastefully unpretentious. The songs seem to be written from a personal place and I found myself wondering what could have inspired each one. The liner notes hold some hints at answers e.g. “an anti-hymn of sorts, written in a moment of cold clarity” but at the same time they keep you guessing. On one hand the writer seems incredibly open, most of the words written from a first person point of view with lyrics inviting you to dig deep into your emotions as Sam lays his out for everyone to see: “I light, I trip, I fall. I soil before you all”. There are mentions of deep love and tinges of sadness, there are several references to crying littered throughout the album. Yet on the other hand the messages are obscure and kind of harsh: “you’ve been down, I’ve been down. How are you supposed to sound?” It’s like the artist is messing with the listener in a way, perhaps you aren’t suppose to figure it out, making us come back for more.

sam and the plants 2

I heard about people writing to the label to say thanks for putting this out so I wasn’t surprised when Flaming Liar got another short run re-release this time 50 copies of a CDR. Them There Records did a really nice thing of honouring the tape format by releasing this version as a double CD containing one side of the tape on each so you didn’t lose that glued together effect. Similar attention was paid to the artwork, all hand typed and pretty.

This album was mostly recorded on tape with very few overdubs made later creating this warm and cosy vibe. Tape is celebrated as a contributing instrument throughout Flaming Liar, layered up between songs and over the top. You hear tape being played at different speeds and in different directions throughout sewing pieces of songs together. My copy of the tape had a weird feature during a song soon at the start of side B called “the net was never cast”. Somehow the volume of the song gets louder during a great banjo solo halfway through and initially it was a weird addition but after all those plays it just became part of the fabric. Eventually the label put the album on Bandcamp and I heard it digitally through studio monitors showing me this little “effect” didn’t actually exist. A perfectly placed mistake. I later found out this also happened on another friend’s copy, she loved it as well. I appreciate that this record was made to be heard on tape and it’s made me consider mastering approaches for different formats a lot so thanks for that Sam.

A good song lends itself nicely to this type of lo-fi treatment though and you can’t get away from them here. Clearly the songs have been loved and crafted to the point where they can be recorded in a one take, press play and record at the same time, to the point where they sound effortless. Sam is a skilled instrumentalist moving between notes on harmonium, piano, guitar and banjo like a path travelled many times before. His voice has a story telling quality guiding us through various ways of looking at the world and outsider observations. Musically he throws in notes that take you in unexpected directions and these moments really make the song sparkle making everything come together in a truly magical way.

I love this album! Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants is number one for me. Sorry I don’t have a top 176 album list for you but I’ve been working. Listen to this album in 2018, physical copies have all gone but the label have kindly put it up on Bandcamp. You can also hear an interview I did with Sam on my radio show Tor FM where I ask a lot of questions about his writing methods. Love be with you in 2018 x

wizards of oiwizards of oi – what it is not

A puff of smoke, a flash of light and genie-like he appears – Luke Vollar

And so marks the end of a pretty terrible year…

A time of anxiety and uncertainty about my future and what grim tribulations lay ahead (buy me a pint and I’ll share the whole sorry story with you). More time on my hands should have given me the impetus to dive into the review pile but alas I was constantly at war with grey and weary enui. I found the effort to provide sparkling insight into underground sounds just wasn’t there.

I still took a great deal of solace in music, be it the sombre post-metal of Neurosis or the self-loathing hip hop of Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt. The furious tornado of rage from the Power Violence/Grindcore underground offered me an outlet for the rage and injustice I felt.

As the request for end of year thoughts was put out I found myself musing over the year as I walked to the pub to meet a mate whilst listening to Fata Morgana by Stuart Chalmers. It dawned on me that my end of year list would include two artists who have been at the top of my end of year list for the past two years- Stuart Chalmers and Robert Ridley Shackleton. This in turn led me to mull over the ‘problem’ of the review pile and the sheer glut of (often fantastic) artists who want people to hear their work. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with Rob Hayler’s views raised on the punkness of bandcamp and the increased accessibility to peoples music that can bypass all the horseshit there is an undeniable risk of over-saturation.

On a purely personal level and as someone who has always been fairly (ok very) obsessive about music a certain amount of investment is required in order the reap the rewards from their work. Hence I have now spent a couple of years getting my head round a couple of artists who have been on an upwards trajectory with their work.

Robert Ridley Shackleton’s – The Opera – on Chocolate Monk is a culmination of all of the disparate elements of his art brought together into a sprawling masterpiece. Part absurd/awkward/ moving audio diary part cardboard noise work out part purple bedroom funk.

Stuart Chalmers has maintained his output of dazzling brain-music unshackled by earthly requirements and free to orbit the space ways. His disc on Chocolate Monk plus his collaboration with Neil Campbell and his self released Fata Morgana are all essential.

Towards the end of a grim year came an unexpected shaft of sunlight as my duo The Teatowels were asked to perform our debut at the Tusk Festival in Newcastle. Several sleepless nights were spent prior to the event asking myself was I really going to ‘sing’ in front of an audience? On the night all nerves were forgotten and the show itself seemed to be over in minutes, we had a blast.

The joyful experience of catching up with old pals and meeting new people all with a passion and intrigue for weird sounds was a wonderful thing, as was mooching about the toon with two of my best pals. I left with my soul enriched but my liver threatening to leave me. Highlights include Rob Hayler’s thought provoking panel discussion followed by a Midwich set as the perfect hangover cure and the dismantling of the trusty groovebox – absurd, funny and moving. The Brainbombs set was a ferocious nihilistic groove machine and I damn near dislocated my head from banging it.
so before a ramble some more here’s a list of things that I enjoyed this year in no particular order:

stuart chalmers loop phantasystuart chalmers loop fantasy 4

Drunk in Hell – s/t
Infernal Body Demo
Filthxcollins Demo
Of habit- Extended technique
Stuart Chalmers- Loop fantasy 4 , Fata Morgana, In the vicinity of the reversing pool (with Neil Campbell) , Mazes and Labyrinths (2007-2017)
T Mikawa- Rising Sunset
Blood Lewiis-The Toadstool Millionaires
Feghoots -Dwindling Correspondence
Fordell Research Unit- Octuary
Wizards of Oi- Wot it is not
Psanck- Psanck
Richard Youngs- Fibe Optic Ballads
Robert Ridley Shackleton- The Opera
Street Beers-Seriously Hot
Karen Constance- Gudgeon Snout
Karen Constance and Elkka Nyoukis- Bicker Sweet
Lust rollers- Grim reflections from the poetic spleen
BBblood/Posset/Stuart Chalmers- Delirium Cutlet Impaste
Kevin Sanders- Numb for Somethings
Skull Mask- La muerte es sabia
Culver- Prisoner of FRU
75 Dollar Bill- Wood/Metal/Plastic
Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society- Simultonality
Yeah You- Krutch

And in conclusion 2018 is already looking a lot brighter. Stuart Arnot’s prediction for The Teatowels blasting out a set from a boat on the Tyne for the next Tusk Festival might just happen. Anything is possible right?

Feet on the ground, head in the sky – it’s Paul Margree’s blurred memories

In 2017, I listened to and wrote about music, then stopped writing about and listening to music, and then started listening to and writing about music again. I spent the first third of the year swamped in dark ambient symphonies, drone shudders, computer music chatters and freely improvised squalls in a state of caffeinated befuddlement before throwing the whole lot in the (proverbial) bin post-Easter in an attempt to figure out what I actually liked listening to, if anything. And, while I still don’t have the answer to this, the investigations required have continued to prove rather fruitful.

Here are some good albums that I should have reviewed but didn’t in 2017:

maya and tom

Maya Dunietz & Tom White: Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

Nicole Mitchell: Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds (FPE)

Duncan Harrison: Preamble to Nihil (self-released)

Kostis Kilymis: A Void (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Yan Jun and Ben Owen Swimming Salt 游泳的盐(Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Jlin: Black Origami (Planet Mu)

Sloth Racket: See The Looks On The Faces (Tombed Visions)

Cristián Alvear / Seijiro Murayama: Karoujite (Potlach)

Organ For The Senses (Marginal Frequency)

Daniel M. Karlsson: Expanding and Overwriting (Conditional Recs)

YOL: Hand of Glory (self-released)

Kill Alters: No Self-Helps (Hausu Mountain)

It wasn’t all bad, however. In those jittery months, I got to speak to a set of talented, passionate experimental musicians about their craft, a process that was both a privilege and an eye-opener. Speaking to these artists added perspective and nuance to my own understanding of their recorded output and helped to free something in my own creative process, an unfolding which is still ongoing. Thank you Marlo, Colin, Duncan, Phil, Elizabeth, Gabriele, Petridisch, Andie, Sam, Dale and Cristián – and apologies to everyone I never quite got around to.

Here are some good albums that I did manage to review – or at least talk about – in 2017:

daniel bennett roil

Seth Cooke: Triangular Trade (Suppedaneum)

Me, Claudius: Reason For Balloons (Dinzu Artefacts)

Phil Julian: Clastics (Conditional Recs)

Maria W. Horn: Excitation – Frustration – Excitation (Conditional Recs)

Dale Cornish: Aqal (Entr’acte)

Bredbeddle: Stackes (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Sophie Cooper: The Curfew Tower Tapes (Crow Versus Crow)

Irreversible Entanglements: s/t (International Anthem)

Mark So … And Suddenly From All This There Came Some Horrid Music (Caduc)

Trupa Trupa: Jolly New Songs (Blue Tapes/X-Ray Records/Ici d’aileurs)

Elizabeth Veldon: Laika & Other Works (Third Kind Records)

Guiseppe Ielasi: 3Pauses (Senufo Editions)

Mami Wata: s/t (Wild Silence)

Missing Organs: Old Speakers (Umor Rex)

Daniel Bennett: Roil (Organized Music From Thessaloniki)

Diurnal Burdens: Inaction/Extinction (Invisible City Records)

A lot of labels had a good year, too. You’ll all have your favourites, but, for me, the dedication of Tombed Visions, Linear Obsessional, Sacred Tapes, Potlach, Wild Silence, Crow Versus Crow, Entr’acte, Singing Knives, Organized Music From Thessaloniki, Chocolate Monk, Invisible City, Beartown Records, Baba Vanga and Structured Disasters was crucial in achieving a kind of mass immersion in weirdo sonics that has helped rewire my brain. Don’t go changing, y’all.

Threaded through all of this, of course, is the warp and weft of everyday life. Getting up, going to work, coming home, cooking, cleaning, washing, giving people lifts, getting stuck in traffic, filling in forms, going on holiday. You know the drill. During these bursts of activity, I’ve listened to Stormzy, Sza, Princess Nokia, St. Vincent, The National, Neil Young, Drake and Halse . I’ve heard ‘Despacito’ more times than I thought I would ever hear a song (and that includes Wet Wet Wet’s version of ‘Love Is All Around’ and all those Christmas songs that never, ever go away). Sometimes music is a consolation in all of this, sometimes it’s a distraction. Sometimes it’s both.

However, I can recommend a period of abstinence from music. This may seem like an odd thing to say on a website devoted to uncovering organized, disorganized or just plain unorganized sounds, but this absence really did make the heart (and ears) grow fonder. My hiatus came to an end when I was welcomed into the Radio Free Midwich fold, a move that helped me chart a path back to thinking about music again. So, Joe, Rob and all the RFM squad, thank you.

There was plenty of live stuff this year, although individual gigs do tend to slip away from my lobes like custard down a plughole unless I make specific notes. Some things have stuck, however –TUSK remained one of most welcoming and sonically adventurous festivals around, closely followed by Glasgow’s Counterflows, whose city-spanning locus matches the diversity of its bill. The London Contemporary Music Festival felt a little highbrow in contrast although sets by Joan La Barbara, Moor Mother, Yeah You and the Elaine Mitchener Ensemble were definite highlights.

Here in the big smoke, Café Oto continues to be a beacon for weirdo sound junk of all stripes, with newer locations such as Sonic Imperfections and Rye Wax in Peckham, Iklectic in Lambeth and New River Studios in Manor House offering up tasty morsels themselves. Even better, scenes around the UK are asserting themselves –Dylan Nyoukis and the squad in Brighton springs immediately to mind, but there are fruitful nodes of improv, electronics and noise in Gateshead, Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Cheltenham and loads of other places. This cannot be anything but good news.

Here are some gigs that have rocked my 2017:

Ian Watson, Marlo Eggplant, dtub; New River Studios (February)

Aaron DIlloway; Hope & Ruin (February)

Posset; Café Oto Project Space (March)

Les Filles de Illighadad; Counterflows (April)

Farmer’s Manual; Counterflows (April)

Phil Maguire;Sonic Imperfections (July)

Dead Neanderthals/Sly & The Family Drone; Café Oto (September)

Beachers / R Elizabeth / Dan Hayhurst/ Missing Organs; New River Studios (September)

Duncan Harrison;TUSK (October)


The Seen; Hundred Years Gallery (November)

New Intimacy III; London Contemporary Music Festival (December)

Sharon Gal and Paul Watson; Café Oto (December)

philphil maguire at sonic imperfections (photographer unknown)

What does all this mean? It is possible to synthesize all this sizzle and noise into something meaningful? Should we even bother? After all, isn’t all this list making and ranking just another way to instil FOMO and get you to part with your hard earned?

Well, maybe. I reckon most of these artists deserve your coin as they battle on through financial hardship and general indifference. So, let’s raise a mug of peppermint tea to all those cultural workers whose idiosyncratic, dissonant lurches up various one-way streets brings a little bit of joy to our lives.

Here’s to you, one and all.

We would not be complete without a word from Marlo Eggplant.

It has felt like a super long year. Constant turmoil in the world left me completely disinterested in making music and listening in isolation. And for me, to appreciate and create music and art without social context has been particularly difficult. So, in light of folx calling out the misogynistic white washed, I propose to you some music that I have been enjoying. I am absolutely certain I missed some great music released in 2017. But these releases are more than enough for me to feel like other folks were feeling similarly.

C. Lavender – “Vanishing Light” (Hot Releases)

Where does one go when they are feeling overwhelmed by life? Do we choose to be studied through a two-way mirror in hopes those behind it have our best interests in mind or do we choose to live as outsiders and let our internal conflicts unfold without help?

Freaking good. I love an album that you feel compelled to listen to from beginning to end. The recording quality is nostalgic and analogue-ish. While the tracks are ordered, the sounds are not confined. Her orchestration is unpredictable but melodic and zeroes in on the irritation and desire to feel something. Hudson, New York based C. Lavender has been killing it for years but perhaps this album’s juxtaposition with the fascist irritants of the times is particularly medicinal and accurate.


Stackes – “Bredbeaddle” (Fractal Meat Cuts)

Nottingham’s Rebecca Lee’s work is charged with playful intent. It feels good on the ears with a late-night radio channel surfing quality. Rolling the dial between the fuzz of a well-loved vinyl collection, the tenor of instruments, and the more mathematical computer sounds, Lee distracts us from the dis-ease of current events.

dead machine

緊那羅:Desi La (Kinnara : Desi La) –  “Dead Machine”  (Afrovisionary : Dark Matter)

The always excellent Afrovisionary: Dark Matter label promoting the black avantgarde brings a treat with a full-length album by the label’s admin LA BRUHA DESI LA. I was tuned into this particular release with the Tokyo based artist’s current geometric video art accompanying the tracks. The album is electronic harpsichords and sci-fi visions. I have been sent a homing signal back to my home planet and escape from this sur(reality) contemporary society.

edit history

Sterile Garden – “Edit/History/Erase” (Self released)

Portland, Maine artist Jacob DeRaadt describes this release as music concrete explorations of the human condition. Accurate. Seeing the masses as grouped individual experience, this long form cassette is aesthetically pleasing and epic. Experiencing both nothing and momentous. With each side, atmospheric discomfort DeRaadt articulates the ephemeral.

Helictitie in the Studiophoto of typical nau live equipment

What do I think about the last 12 months?  Here’s Joe Posset’s list plus a riff about live music.

A gradual change in live performance seems to have reached a peak in 2017.   While the NAU is pretty much built on the idea that performer and audience are one and the same, when we get down to it, in the live arena, the old invisible contract between active, single-discipline performer and passive single-discipline audience holds sway.   You know the sort of thing I’m talking about: the ‘artist plugs in a box and plays, the audience shuts up and listens’ scenario.

For years Usurper have been redrafting this contract, busting out of a single-discipline improv mode by adding elements of humour, visual art, dada-winks, audience participation, drama, repetitive movement and sharp political comment to their increasingly abstract(ed) work.  And for me some of the most electric performances of the year have brought a similar polymorphic structure to the NAU.

To be clear…I’m not just on about Bob Dylan painting his own record covers here – another key element of the NAU is the multi-skilled nature of its proponents.  What I’m talking about is bringing those multiple energies and disciplines straight into performance where what we thought was one thing becomes the other.

renerene mcbrearty (photographer unknown)

The penny dropped for me while watching Rene McBrearty perform Hesitation, Deviation, Repetition.  This prompted my listening companion to say – ‘kinda reminds me of Malcy Duff’ which of course was a spot on comparison.

Rene’s vocal rollercoaster had all the hallmarks of a vocal jaxx / sound-text piece. Repetitive sounds, sense and meaning were explored and performed with a wonderfully straight face.  But if some beard walked in halfway through they would have struggled to place the setting and root of this marvellous piece.  It stood in a new patch of grass; not chin-stroking sound art, or visual art + .  It was a slippery performance delighting in sliding between exciting places.

Granted…a few acts branching out does not a movement make.   But this year, when I think back, I’m seeing more and more of this polymorphism.

Rob Hayler’s well documented final Midwich performance was both an artistic farewell, a greatest hits medley and a safety-conscious Metzger action.

Headless Pootluke poot in gateshead

In their solo guises, and in an occasional duo, Duncan Harrison and Luke Poot have left audiences with their jaws loose and flapping.  Physical comedy, tape interruptions, fourth-wall collisions and a deep, deep investigation into the nature of the uncomfortable have made their performances bristle with meaning way beyond the purely sonic.  They react in the moment to the moment.  It seems you don’t need shock tactics to blow open the doors of perception – just a well placed joke, a clever mind and carefully choreographed movements.

Sophie Coopersophie cooper in thornton

More and more examples are released from my memory banks; Sophie Cooper’s trombone performances have merged highfalutin’ reductionism with laff-out-loud honks, electronic loops and heartfelt covers.  Yeah You, Acrid Lactations and Sippy Cup are pushing at the long and illustrious history of ‘tabletop improv’ by balancing primitive electronics, domestic non-instruments with dangerous, unhinged drama – gloves are off, rules are broken and anything can happen.

All-in-all 2017 has been an outstanding year for live music and I’m confident 2018 will continue to stretch genres and rubberise boundaries.


Witch Blood – Xenie (Invisible City Records)

“There’s an aching to the sound that’s more than the sum of any hiss or lo-fi tape wobble. It’s the marbled end-papers in a leather-bound book; it’s the smell of cigar smoke on a blue velvet jacket.”

Katz Mulk – Husks (Singing Knives)

“Below the chanting it squats waiting for the echoing ‘clack’ balancing the freezer burn amp-huffing on Andrea Kearney’s perfectly timed Cuban finger clicks.  High on rum I feel gloriously wasted.”

KWC – Fruit Rosary Sacred Hour Service (Power Moves Library)

“Hail Marys and ritualistic bingo / self-help becomes text-sound gumbo / Fylkingen with lap steel blunts”

Various Artists – L’Incoronazione (Hyster Tapes)

“…tracks that seem to bridge the gap between Gastr Del Sol’s sweetly-composed minimal whimsy and the raw burst of anger unleashed when you realise your car’s been nicked.”

Spoils & Relics – Threadbare Adult Life (Second Sleep)

“A constant churn of soft and gentle, an avalanche of chinchilla fur envelopes an unsuspecting listener warming the cockles like a fine brandy.”

King Kungo – Da Ist Der Rhein (Spam)

“The shouts and hollas let us gnarly-old adults revisit that pure innocent joy of shouting into the wind; you can hear his excitement as these sounds reflect back his practiced squeals and effectively rolled ‘r’s and trills.”

yol wanting less

Yol – Always Leave Them Wanting Less (Self Release)

“The carefully controlled mayhem, the steel toe-capped attack and shuddering decay sprints though the ten minute set.  But as the balti bowls are hurled about for one last time, and in the instant before the cheers begin, one set of booted feet swiftly exit stage left.  Their work cleanly and precisely done.”

Dale Cornish – Aqal (Entr’acte)

“Ear-cuppingly intimate, a conversation between bass-crustacean, measured in bright bubbles and underwater static (If such a thing is possible).”

Shapeless Coat of Arms – Early Protection (Self Release)

“This is a repeating cascade of sonic bladderwrack – all pop-able blisters and gummy textures.”

Blood Stereo – Where There’s Raw Grace in Garbage (Chocolate Monk)

“Dry, echoing ‘clonks’ and ‘squarks’ are placed carefully into the mix – but not with a dictator’s swagger stick.  Rather the gardener’s crisp carrot!  These, sounds are encouraged to grow, swell and bloom.”

Maya Dunietz & Tom White – Summer Crash (Singing Knives)

“Outstanding Quatermass freakery from these two living dovetail joints…leapt like a flea from the back of a 2016 tour with Maya Dunietz (voice/piano/harp) melting butter all over Tom White’s (reel-to-reel tape) witchcraft.”

Duncan Harrison

Duncan Harrison – Prelude to Nihl (Self Release)

“It’s like staring into a fly’s eye; multifaceted and crazily reflective.  The movements come thick and fast collapsing into each other like drunken Henry Moore nudes.   It is god damn ripe my dearest reader.”

Feghoots – Dwindling Correspondence (Chocolate Monk)

“The flickering and flighty splutters mimic a barista’s recurring dreams of hot steamed milk.  At one point I swear a double bass makes an entrance and I realise I’m getting randy for Feghoots and John Edwards to collaborate.”

Stef Ketteringham  – More Guitar Arrangements (Crow versus Crow)

“…all arthritic knuckles and sunburned hands, shiny as polished chestnuts with its ham-fisted flamenco flourishes bruising the strings.  This is most certainly hardcore!”

artem spar

Artem Spar – Kassettenwerk 13-15  (Falt)

“The end result is part solo-tape slosh, a wonderful brain-scramble of pinched wheels and FFW scree, part free-jam in a No-Neck style; untutored, informal and confident.”

Tea Towels – We are the Deadness (Beartown Records & Tapes)

“The rehearsal room ambience is thick with amp fug and ideas blooming in the moment. It’s a secret shared in hot breathy gasps.  The shamanic use of repetition and lowest of all known ‘fi’s’ becomes a grey carnation shuddering in an autumn storm.”

Ezio Piermattei – Tre Madri Ludopastiche (Discombobulate)

“…things are kept purposefully beautiful and wobbling: voice crackle in fake-stereo, tape jizz squirts it’s hot mayo, TV gossip chatters to no one except the caged songbirds.”

The Slowest Lift – The Slowest Lift (VHS)

“Their coupling of (on one side) shocking distortion, tape noise and blistering huff with (on the other) soft slow voices and gentle unhurried compositions make the act of listening like dreaming through an electrical storm.”

Ali Robertson & Guests – S/T (Giant Tank)

“Without any of the oddball yuks this is a beautiful tape/performance piece of gentle clicks and solitary word play.  The whirr of the tape engines adds one hundred tog warmth to the creaks, recorded footsteps and groans.”

power moves

Various Artists – You/In/Be/Arc (Power Moves Library)

“Like that gold record they sent up into space on Voyager; a recorded message of humanity’s desperate need to make sound, to communicate in the most natural way possible – to make music.”

Aqua Dentata – One Day, You Will Be a Painter (Echo Tango)

“…my ears register the electronics tones as haw frost shimmering on silver birch or endless exhalations roaring from bronze lips.”

OK my dearest reader.  Blimey!  Are you still there?  We’ve almost reached the end of this massive, massive memory gong.

As this marks my last post as editor I’m going to grant myself permission to be a bit soppy so a HUGE heartfelt thanks to everyone who has sent us music, read our scribblings and gone on to check out exciting and daring new sounds.

A big and particularly sloppy kiss to the whole RFM team – the absolute best of humans.  Your support and energy has been o-o-o-ou-ouu-outstaaaaaanding.

And please remember RFM will continue to champion the new, the bold and the plain weird – just at a slightly more sedate pace in 2018.

You’re wonderful ya’hear!


a balm on our viral souls: paul margree on john butcher, umbra, brandon lopez, lodz, black hat and elizabeth veldon

November 17, 2017 at 7:12 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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John Butcher – Resonant Spaces (Blume)

Umbra – Unglued (Baba Vanga)

Brandon Lopez – Holy Holy (Tombed Visions)

Lodz- Settlement (Wild Silence)

Black Hat – Impossible World (Hausu Mountain)

Elizabeth Veldon – Laika and Other Works (Third Kind)


Sniffling through the universe seems to be a seasonal guarantee for me at this time of year, as regular as my pilgrimage to Gateshead to wallow in the freshly-minted outbound sounds at the always-fantastic TUSK festival. Fortunately, the sonic blessings documented here pour down like silver from across the no-audience underground firmament. These artefacts are a balm on our viral souls. Atishoo. Much obliged.


John Butcher – Resonant Spaces (Blume) vinyl LP

Originally released on Mark Wastell’s Confront label back in 2008, this is a welcome reissue for this astonishing work of improvisation. It sees Butcher visiting obscure parts of Scotland to play gigs in sites – including an old military fuel tank in the Orkneys with a 15-second echo, as well as an abandoned reservoir, a sea cave, a mausoleum and so on –chosen for their specific, idiosyncratic acoustic properties.

If Butcher’s response to these locations is frequently astonishing – witness the serrated foghorn blasts that moan across the void in ‘New Scapa Flow’– so is the way that these places seem almost to answer his forays. In ‘Wind Piece’, recorded at the Standing Stones of Stenness on the Orkney mainland, the eerie pitch-shifted coos that merge with birdsong and Butcher’s own gurgling breaths could be emanating from the rocks themselves. This is a series of duets, really, Butcher not playing the spaces as much as tussling with them, each performance existing in an ongoing state of modification as he negotiates the different sonic qualities of each of his unusual venues.

And, while there’s a sense of Butcher being nudged constantly out of his comfort zone, there’s an accompanying feeling that he digs the brinkmanship that this requires. Raw and hypnotic, time has only increased Resonant Spaces’ power.


Umbra – Unglued (Baba Vanga) cassette and download

Umbra ,aka Serbian sound artist Marija Balubdzic, weaves ghostly vocals over layers of abrasive electronics. Her work balances intricate, melancholy constructions with rougher-edged cuts, all created via a relatively simple setup of voice, laptop and a few pedals. ‘Unglued’ charts these opposing poles in Balubdzic’s aesthetic, casting a mysterious charisma that rewards sympathetic listening.

Occasionally, as on ‘Bear Bone’, Balubdzic resolves her disparate ingredients into a kind of quirky, jagged synth-pop. Elsewhere, her poetic monologues and growling sound design cast dark, nightmarish shapes (‘Self’). At the centre of the album is ‘Bone Madamme’, its overcast beauty like a Nick Cave murder ballad beamed through a cracked mirror. The folkish melody is half-Portishead, half-Blixa Bargeld as it shifts from despairing whisper to full-throated lament, “Don’t let him drown me down,” she implores, a thudding drum machine marking her recitation like the tolling of a funeral bell.

‘Unglued’ is another hit for the Czech Baba Vanga label, whose output encompasses dank, industrial crunches, Muscovite sound art collage and battered, head-spinning techno. Drawing most of their releases from the fringes of the eastern European underground, it’s essential listening for anyone into the global diaspora of weirdo sounds.

Holy Holy

Brandon Lopez – Holy Holy (Tombed Visions) CD and download

I first came across bassist Brandon Lopez as part of Amirtha Kidambi’s amazing Elder Ones band, lending his fluid licks to Kidambi’s ‘Holy Science’, an inspired mixture of classical Indian music and portal-opening jazz. Here, Lopez teams up with drummer Chris Corsano and pianist Sam Yulman to form a free music perpetual motion machine whose limber voyaging takes in abrasive furrows and airy melodic flights.

Although Lopez provided several composed melodic fragments for these pieces in lieu of a full score, which act as launch pads for the band’s expansive journeys, the trio is given plenty of freedom to take things in any direction they want. The fact that we can’t detect the points of transition only adds to the potency. A highlight comes two thirds of the way through the opening cut ’15.43’, when the trio coordinate in the higher register in a cascading, ululating wail, before hitting a surging torrent that recalls the maximalist swell of The Necks in full live force.

Corsano’s presence is generally an indicator of quality, and Lopez’s pedigree is assured post-Elder Ones, but it’s Yulman who’s the real delight here. His flinty clusters of notes shower ‘8.05’, the album’s closing track, in tough, glittering shards, opening up the trio’s frantic rhythmic glowers to let the sunshine in. His intro to ’21.21’ is dissonant and stately, initially restrained enough to let the other two drift by, then gaining pace to kick off a fractious knees-up. Holy jazz, Batman, this is really free.

 Lodz – Settlement (Wild Silence) CD-R and download

Like a photograph of beautiful countryside that on closer inspection reveals a hooded figure skulking in the woods, Lodz – aka musician and philosopher Pauline Nadringy – mixes pastoral calm with spooky unease. Piano and female voice, often signifiers of deeply-felt emotion, are transformed into affectless, skeletal chants that would be disquieting even before grumbling electronics and prickly guitar figures eat away at their frayed edges.

‘Settlement’ offers us 10 of Nadrigny’s otherworldly soundscapes, with several matching reverb-laden piano figures with poems from writers including Guillaume Appollinaire and Hilde Domine. Nadringy’s treatments of these poems is elegant and inventive, often double-tracking herself singing and speaking the lines as well as providing wordless backing vocals. The texts come to us as if through a labyrinth of voices, their exact meaning less important than the sonic qualities of the syllables themselves.

‘Kasper Hausar Lied’ sets the Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet’s text among a subtle cacophony of prepared piano and squeaking electronics, John Cage meets Vashti Bunyan.

‘Que fait la mésange?’ by contrast seems to be aiming for a kind of chamber Troplicalia, with birdsong, children’s voices, toys and flutes cloaking Nadrigny’s murmurations in an agreeable hubbub. The whole thing is reminiscent of ruined Belle Époque ballroom populated by elegantly wrecked ghosts. Time for my quadrille, mon chere.

Black Hat

 Black Hat – Impossible World (Hausu Mountain) Cassette and download

As Black Hat, Oakland’s Nelson Bean sculpts gummy electronics into viscous, smooth-edged lumps. These glistening pulsations are beatific and mysterious, somewhere between Aphex Twin’s ravey wickedness and Autechre’s crystalline sierras in the firmament of nonconformist electronics.

‘Impossible World’ is Bean’s second release on Chicago’s Hausu Mountain, after 2014’s ‘Thought of Two’. Although ‘Impossible World’ papers over its predecessor’s scuffed mechanics with a dermatological sheen, both albums have a precision-tooled edge that reveals the intricate depths beneath their curvilinear shapes. It’s head music I think, and even the drum-marked cuts such as ‘Cucullu’ that punctuate ‘Impossible World’s’ sticky ambient puddles hold back from full on beat fury, their off-centre cutups setting a flight path for the head rather than the hips.

Bean’s secret is to balance his love of detail on tracks like ‘Headband’, whose spongy synth chords and pastel bloops lock together like the tiny gears of a dayglo wristwatch, with empathy. Thus the soft, beaming explosions that smatter ‘Heliotrope’ add a spacey lyricism to its growling arrhythmia, prompting ever more giggles on each listen. Maybe we aren’t the robots, after all.


Elizabeth Veldon – Laika and Other Works (Third Kind) Cassette and download

Digital services such as Bandcamp may be better at matching Elizabeth Veldon’s prodigious rate of release – an album every day or so, usually – but this lovely cassette package from Brighton’s Third Kind Tapes is a welcome reminder of the riches that lurk in this prolific artist’s back catalogue.

‘Laika and Other Works ’is a collection of drone based pieces, short piano improvisations and spoken word cuts that showcases both the diversity and quality of Veldon’s discography. It’s all very good, basically, although the two ‘Laika’ tracks (originally released in 2015) are the highlight for me, their slices of gravely, phasing drone coming on appropriately cosmic and ominous. On ‘Like Babies Who Cannot Speak’ a recurring metronomic pulse adds an extra element of tension, as if a squad of militant woodpeckers had taken over mission control.

That things never descend into retro-hipster-kitsch (Russians! dogs! Space! Communism!) is due partly to ‘Work With Animals’, a new spoken word piece. Veldon recites then loops a quote from Oleg Georgivitch Gazenko, part of the Sputnik 2team responsible for Laika’s mission: “Work with animals is a source of suffering for all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it….We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.”

The four sentences get more fragmented with each repetition, descending finally into a kind of heartbreaking digital gibberish. It’s short but powerful and shifts ‘Laika & Other Works’ from being a historical curio to a lament for the forgotten victims of the space race and a despairing castigation of the ways we treat those species with which we share a planet.


John Butcher

Baba Vanga

Tombed Visions

Wild Silence

Hausu Mountain

Third Kind Records


clicking down the delta: paul margree on mikroton recordings

September 10, 2017 at 6:05 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings)

Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel -Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings)

Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings)

Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings)

Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings)

The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings)

 Kurt Liedwart’s Mikroton Recordings has been broadcasting dispatches from the outer realms of aural voyaging since 2008. Its discography takes in luminaries of abstract improvised sounds such as Keith Rowe, Jason Kahn and Burkhard Beins, as well as newer voices such as Lucio Capece or Miguel A. Garcia.

Mapping the label’s aesthetic would probably encompass the slow ruptures of Crypt-era AMM, the bruising subtleties of Berlin Echtzeitmusik and the glacial intensity of reductionism and its adherents. Electroacoustic improvisation is the phrase you’d reach for, I guess. But take a few steps into this Moscow label’s back catalogue and it becomes clear that this term is about as useful as mapping the ever-widening delta of these musicks as a paper cup is for boiling an egg.

Keeping up with Liedwart’s release schedule can be exhausting. But it’s rewarding, too. Time spent with a Mikroton release opens your brain and ears to the wonders of unconventional sound. Everyday objects are reconfigured into talismanic sonic generators and the orthodoxies of conventional instrumentation are subverted. Hurricanes in the bathtub. Prickles on the skin of a bubble. Scuffles in the grey dawn.

Most of the releases under review here came out earlier in the year. There have been several more since. But as entry points into Mikroton’s fascinating discography, they can’t be beat.


MKM – Instants//Paris (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

Back in 2012,the Swiss trio of Jason Kahn, Günter Müller and Norbert Möslang assembled in Paris for a lively session of hustle and grind. It wasn’t the first time they’d played together – their debut release was back in 2008 – but sufficient vitality remains here to counter any familiarity.

Kahn has since put his analogue synth and radio setup to one side in preference for longform vocal extemporizations, but this performance never feels like a museum piece. His contributions lock together with Müller and Möslang’s cracked consumer electronics to produce bursts of junkshop argy-bargy in which individual contributions are subsumed into the overarching grey drizzle.

Early sections are a bustling farrago, the collection of gritty burps and high, needling tones not dissimilar to ‘Valentine’, Kahn’s head-to-head with Phil Julian from a year or so back.

It’s chewy, tangible stuff, the irregular bursts of noise like some slo-mo Super 8 footage of a trio of dune buggies carving up the terminal beach. The crew swerve away from any kind of crescendo or manipulative sonic topography, instead allowing the vicissitudes of their kit and caboodle to create natural peaks and lulls. They can’t help building up a head of steam towards the end, though, with a full-spectrum chunter that would give a factory full of boiling kettles a run for its money, before cutting out for an appropriately deadpan finale.


Burkhard Beins / Lucio Capece / Martin Küchen / Paul Vogel – Fracture Mechanics (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

An allusive take on multidimensional improvisation from this collection of veterans, most of whom exist as points on the Echtzeitmusik/reductionist/electroacoustic axis.

Where ‘Instants//Paris’ was rough-edged and impolite, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is enigmatic and considered. Long, breathy saxophone hoots waft across a jittery bed of interference. Glottal clicks rattle between glassy tones like a spittle flecked metronome in a temple. In ‘Pebble Snatch’, two saxophones – Capece on soprano and Küchen on tenor – moan in prehistoric lament. ‘Pendentive’ sets a cavern of ritualistic percussion against lattices of frowning gurgles and hand-bell tinkles.

There’s a lot going on under these unruffled surfaces. A wide-ranging array of equipment – the usual speakers, iPod, radios and objects you’d expect from this milieu, plus saxophones, hand oscillators, e-bowed zithers, monotron, snare drum and, best of all, ‘air from another planet contained in terrestrial glassware’ – yields a rich matrix of effects, but the space is never crowded. Restraint is as important as variety, the cumulative experience of the four players giving them an intuitive sense of when to hold back and when to push out.

Recorded in Ljubljana in 2014, ‘Fracture Mechanics’ is a prime example of the Mikroton aesthetic, with the slow-burn epic of ‘Transmogrification’ a highlight. An ear-rinsing squeal is a low-decibel, high-frequency endurance test, its groan as insistent as a fridge left open in the middle of the night. Godzilla rumbles drag themselves across a vast plain. Its 30-minute runtime resembles an aerial flythrough of a sleeping hive mind, occasional neuron flashes lighting up the dreaming nerve-centre. When it ends, you awake, refreshed.


Ease – No No No, No (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

I have a soft spot for handmade or custom-built instruments. They force innovation through defamiliarisation. Lacking history, tradition, convention, players have to bend their usual techniques into new shapes, or adopt new ones.

In electronic music, where easy-to-use interfaces combined with infinite variety results in comfort zone-produced cliché, self-made or hand-coded systems are an essential part of keeping things fresh.

And so it goes with ‘Ease’, a Viennese duo of Klaus Filip and Arnold Haberl, aka Noid. The pair uses ppooll, an open-source software tool, to create eerie and minimal computer soundscapes. Both musicians are programmers and are deeply involved in ppooll’s development community (indeed, Filip was one of the founders of the system) and so both are adept in manipulating their system to achieve astounding results – the compositions here are elegant, dense and compelling, moving with the unpredictable implacability of a weather system across a mountain range. There’s an occasional resemblance to fellow countrymen Farmer’s Manual’s live-coded suppleness in the constant, gradual shifts of these two long tracks. There’s also a gritty edge, recalling Kevin Sanders’ briefcase synth cosmologies.

In fact, of all Mikoton’s recent releases, ‘No No No, No’ is the one that fits best into the No-Audience Underground or Extraction Music taxonomies. It’s thanks mainly to the way in which Filip and Haberls’ individual contributions come together – the former moulding sine waves and high tones into beautiful forms, like a glassblower creating a set of skeletal, numinous sculptures, while the latter processes field recordings and natural sounds into rough, low-end rumbles and soft beachy huffs. An addictive, immersive recording.


Alfredo Costa Monteiro / Miguel A. Garcia – Aq’Ab’Al (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

If that all sounds a tad refined, Aq’Ab’Al might just be aggressive enough to whet your whistles.

These four chunks of intense cyborg aggression from this Iberian duo balance driller-killer vibrations with a seismically-potent low-end, all rendered in terrifying hi-definition clarity. Skynet tone-clouds meet earthmover grumbles in abrupt, dystopic visions of posthumanity. It’s thrilling, visceral stuff, brutal enough to shatter the gallery politesse of much art-music, yet retaining sufficient detail and ideas to keep you interested through repeated exposure to its tungsten surfaces.

The title comes from Mayan astrology and refers to opposites, change and renewal. While it is strange that something so unnervingly futuristic should take an ancient religion as its touchstone, Monteiro and Garcia are only the latest in a line of experimental artists reaching back through the past for inspiration. Think of Eliane Radigue’s ‘Song of Milarepa’, (inspired by the teachings of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist scholar), Morton Subotnik’s ‘The Wild Bull’(the title comes from the Epic of Gilgamesh) or Milton Babbit’s ‘Philomel’ (based on a myth from Ovid’s). In any case, listeners familiar with Mayan ideas about the end of the world – remember 2012? And Mel Gibson? – won’t have to try too hard to find the duo’s high-velocity screeches and catastrophic thunderclaps appropriately apocalyptic. These guys have seen the future. And it is murder.


Kurt Liedwart / Andrey Popovskiy / Martin Taxt – Hjem (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

The ppooll system makes another appearance here, this time in the hands of label boss Kurt Liedwart, in a trio with Norwegian tuba player Martin Taxt and St Petersburg violinist Andrey Popovskiy.

This is quiet noise of a superior kind, Taxt and Liedwart ganging up to create laminal extended horizons through which Popovskiy scratches rough and ready paths. Taxt’s tuba is great, its long brassy parps calling out like the mating calls of mysterious sea monsters, the affectless playing unable to banish the final traces of the instrument’s characteristic pathos. Liedwart’s electronics fizzle and splutter in parallel, muddy splatters morphing into frothy sploshes before emptying into micromanaged arpeggios.

If this were a duo, this would all be rather too symmetrical for me. Fortunately, Popovskiyis a wild card, his viola, electronics and objects adding welcome wayward notes to the meditative jam. At one point, a sound like a rusty gate cuts through the cool drones, soon followed by a load of bashing and banging, as if the janitor of the Dom Cultural Centre in Moscow (where this was recorded) has chosen the worst possible time to repair the central heating system. It’s a cue for things to get scrappier, with various rustles and clonks prodding Taxt into exhausted, erratic honks, while by nervy gusts of electronics chatter their support.


The Holy Quintet – Borough (Mikroton Recordings) CD and digital album

 Recorded in the Welsh Congregational Chapel in Borough, southeast London, this quintet of Johnny Chang (Viola), Jamie Drouin (suitcase modular and radio), Dominic Lash (double bass), Lazaridou-Chatzigoga (zither) and David Ryan (bass clarinet) takes on an appropriately spectral quality as their manifold creaks, strikes and crunches fade in and out of hearing.

Like a lot of Mikroton releases, the link between the players, their instruments and the sounds that we hear on the record are mysterious. Here the disconnect is even more pronounced. Sure, those stringy bumps could be Dominic Lash’s bow bouncing across his cello strings and that hollow, silvery tone could David Ryan’s bass clarinet. But, on the whole, sounds float free from their moorings, sonic manifestations divorced from their physical aspects. As a result, these two sets exist somewhere between possession and haunting, the personnel mimicking a Victorian spiritualist meeting, the attendees channeling the ghostly music of the aether even as they’re taunted by cheeky, restless spirits.

The uncredited sixth player in this quintet is silence. There’s a talk a lot about silence in the experimental music world – how much of it to allow in a performance or a recording, whether we can ever achieve true silence, how to banish it, even.  Yet we rarely acknowledge that silence is not a fixed, immutable entity. It can be blissful, mysterious, meditative, depending on the context. Here it is oppressive, claustrophobic, bearing down on these ghostly voices like a force field. Absence becomes presence, and sound becomes a last barrier against oblivion.

 Mikroton Recordings (news etc)

Mikroton Recordings (stuff to buy)


radiofreemidwich goes to tusk festival 2016

October 23, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Posted in live music, midwich, musings, new music, no audience underground | 8 Comments
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TUSK Festival 2016, Sage Gateshead, October 14 – 16


Hmmm… ‘Long, Authoritative List Of Everything That Happened’? Nah, not really my style. How about ‘Epic Musing On Life, Music And What It All Means’? Oof, maybe later.

Let’s just start with the car.

Dan(iel Thomas – well known in this parish) kindly agreed to drive me, Sarah and Lisa to our digs in Newcastle. Here we are setting off:


Dan looking handsome, a vision in stubble, Sarah in holiday mode, Lisa appalled at Sarah’s story about someone whose retina fell out and me giving it some cheek. What could go wrong, eh? Well, Dan’s back is crook and went into spasm on the A19. At one point I had to shift gears for him because he couldn’t reach down to the stick. Given that I only hold a license to drive an automatic this was a fraught moment that I had to be talked through. Still, my slight embarrassment was as nothing to the agony Dan was clearly suffering. After gliding into some grim services so Dan could walk it off, Sarah drove the rest of the way.

Luckily, when we arrived a retinue of servants rushed to carry Dan into the fluffy opulence of Malmaison and I was roughly directed to Premier Inn, where I would be KEEPING IT REAL. As I trundled the wheelie case containing my band and my clothes along Quayside the air started to crackle. I looked up and saw – fuck me! – the trio of Mike ‘Xazzaz’ Simpson, Lee ‘Culver’ Stokoe and MIGUEL ‘SKULL MASK’ PEREZ walking towards me (all in black, natch).

Is this Rob? This is Rob!

Miguel said, lunging in for the bear hug.  Mike, who refuses to be photographed despite being a strikingly handsome guy, helpfully took this soon-to-be-iconic picture. Left to right: Miguel, me, Lee.  Tyne Bridge in the background.  Cool, eh?


I’ve already written something about how important Miguel’s visit is to me and will return to the theme later so for now I’ll keep to the narrative.  Suffice to say I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone so pleased to be somewhere.  The huddle broke up so Miguel could soundcheck and I could settle into my (actually very pleasant) hotel room.

Soon I was trotting back over the Millennium Bridge to Gateshead and up the fuckloads of steps you need to climb to get to Sage:


My feelings about Sage were fluid and contradictory.  On some levels it is profoundly impressive – an arts-for-all enterprise on a huge scale, proudly publicly funded, run by friendly and enthusiastic staff – but at other times it felt like a vast airport lounge from a Ballardian near-future dystopia.  From across the river it looks like a reclining figure from the title sequence of a cheapo James Bond knock-off (‘Silverfinger’?), on the inside it’s a Duplo play set, lit in sugary, boiled sweet colours.  For a structure so enormous it has little heft.  I could easily imagine the giant struts (one is cutting across the corner of the first picture below) hauling back the whole silver facade on a sunny day, like opening a roll-top bread-bin.  I did get pretty comfortable (institutionalised?) over the three days but there was definitely culture shock to contend with.




An example: as I entered Hall 2, the main TUSK venue (middle picture above), for the first time on Friday an usher used a torch to show me down the stairs.  The room was dark aside from the stage lights illuminating the band currently playing.  Oh, I thought, it’s going to be like that is it?  Theatre.

Feeling discombobulated and out of my element I leaned myself up against a tousle-haired giant and enjoyed the crunktronik drama of Bad@Maths.  When the house lights went up at the end of their set I realised I was clutching onto:


…Joe ‘Posset’ Murray – my RFM comrade-in-arms!  Always a delight to be in his company, likewise:


yol!  Another who fears photography will remove biopsy snippets from his soul but I was NOT TO BE DENIED.  We soon became festival buds and hung out throughout proceedings.  Now though, I was so excited about seeing Miguel play that all I could do was babble and take photos of my new boots.  I’m not joking:


[Editor’s note: at this point, after I’ve started introducing people but before I start rhapsodising about Skull Mask etc., I’m going to apologise in advance for not mentioning everyone I spoke to. This is partly because my notes are sketchy (and my memory worse) but mainly because I’m uncomfortable assigning some conversations to this ‘highlights package’ and some not. The social aspect of this trip was a thrill – from meeting people for the first time, to catching up with rarely seen friends, to chewing the fat with the regular crowd but outside of our normal context. It was all very inspiring. In short: if we talked, rest assured that I enjoyed our conversation and want to talk to you again.  Likewise I’m not busting a gut to account for every band, nor provide comprehensive links and tags – that isn’t the purpose of the exercise.  A quick net search should fill in any gaps.  There will be one Get Carter joke.]


Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask (apologies for crappy picture, I still had the flash on my camera from the boot pics and once he got started I didn’t think to try again). This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.

Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant. I’ve had a hard time with music this year. I’ve not listened to much and have been in denial about how burnt out I’d got keeping this blog afloat whilst juggling the demands of ‘real life’. I’d been hoping that this event would prove to be a big purge and cleanse and that I’d be returned to music rinsed clean and ready to GO. That didn’t happen, but something better did.

Watching the performance unfold, I started thinking about how beautiful life can be despite, sometimes because of, how hard it can be.  I thought about the miraculous combination of factors – hard work, friendship, sheer bloody luck – that led to us all being in this room at this time.  A strange, accepting calm enveloped me whilst at the same time the more present, grounded part of me was yelling (internally – I do have some control):


At the end of the set I felt myself tearing up.

Outside, shortly after, Miguel was holding court talking ten-to-the-dozen.  I’ve never seen anyone more stoked – his heart must have been beating like a sparrow’s.  He explained his philosophy of life, about living in the moment but appreciating the steps that have brought you to it, about the Mexican relationship with the dead, about the music he had just played.  I couldn’t keep up – my mind had been blown – but luckily it didn’t matter that I couldn’t say anything, as Miguel, beer can in hand, couldn’t quiet down.  And why the hell should he?  It had been a triumph.



A short time later I found myself stood next to Miguel watching Guttersnipe (how wonderful to be able to type that sentence).  I had predicted that their set would be amongst the most talked about at TUSK and they certainly left the crowd open mouthed, wide eyed, ears ringing.  I feel like I could write reams about this band, scribble profane codices, letterpress manifestos, paint placards to be carried in protest or celebration but when I actually sit down to type… it’s confounding.  The strength of Gretchen’s personality – gentle, thoughtful, keenly intelligent, enabled by a seemingly (to this fat, middle aged man) unbounded energy explodes on stage into a writhing conduit for, what?  Rage?  Despair?  Whatever it is, it feels like unmediated access to the same rooms that Miguel opened doors to.  Likewise, Rob’s unassuming, cheerful manner translates into the most glorious, life-affirming, pushing-a-shopping-trolley-down-the-concrete-stairs-of-a-car-park, free-punk drumming I’ve ever heard.  Afterwards, Paul Margree, of the We Need No Swords blog, tried to praise his technique and, in typical self-deprecating fashion, Rob disagreed:

My technique is shit, there is just a lot of it, and fast.

Love it.  This pair are unique, the band are important and you have to check them out.

Wandering in a daze after this I was collared by the very lovely Jen Parry who wanted to show me the exhibition of Matching Head artwork that she had put together, which was hidden under a staircase around the corner from the main entrances to Hall 2:




I really dug this and thought Jen had captured the vibe of Lee’s cut-and-paste aesthetic very cleverly.  The exhibit was interactive in that you could make yourself comfortable and listen to Matching Head releases on the tape recorders provided.  On the leather sofa (bottom picture) there was a hammer (and some goggles – health and safety!) which I assumed was also there for punters so I used it to whale on some of the tapes and tape cases that were artfully scattered about.  It seemed appropriate at the time, though I’ve noticed a disapproving tweet from Andy Wood about the smashed cases since.  In my defence the artist was there egging me on and taking photos of me doing it!  My apologies if I got the art wrong – difficult to tell nowadays <winking emoji>…

About this time I realised I was shot for the day and silently drifted away.  Back at the hotel I half-watched Dredd on Film4 whilst sorting out stuff for the next day’s gig.  In my pants.



On Saturday I woke from from the dream-free sleep of the righteous and padded downstairs to gorge on obscene amounts of breakfast in a room with a view of the underside of Tyne Bridge.  Glorious.  As I was tucking into my second plateful, I noticed that I had been name checked by Dawn Bothwell in the introduction to the festival programme.  Blimey!  I nearly spat out my bubble and squeak.  It all added to a cheerful, woozy calm, a kind of blown-out relaxation that I hadn’t felt since sitting on Low Newton beach in Northumberland with my wife Anne and son Thomas back in May:


Aside from feeling sheepish about instigating a complicated, 6-way conversation about how we were all getting there (the more tired I am the more insistent I am about knowing WHAT HAPPENS NEXT), I was also relaxed about performing.  My band was packed (see picture above, midwich fits in a rucksack), I was sweet smelling, fully medicated and my cheek pouches were bulging with spare breakfast.  LET’S GO!

Well, let’s all see Wolfgang Voigt first.  This involved sitting in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, feeling like I was in a dream version of a school assembly, with the headmaster replaced by an anonymous, unannounced middle-aged man giving a wordless, non-performance whilst illuminated by his laptop screen.  The sound – an ambient, computer-musicish drone, augmented by airy and/or brittle vibes familiar to those who know his work as, say, Gas – was perfectly lovely but I doubt it would have held my attention without Rachel Lancaster’s terrific visuals.

Rachel’s film was perfectly measured to draw out the best in the music.  We were reminded that there is nothing more sublimely beautiful than smoke rising in still air (‘Patrons are requested to smoke only on the right hand side of the auditorium’ – remember that?), unless the smoke is thick enough to resemble glaciers calving, or liquids of different densities spiralling into each other, or the pearlescent quality of crocodile scales as the creature lies semi-submerged and glistening…

Right then, NOW let’s go.


‘Dark Tusk’ was set up by Lee Stokoe as a fringe event to help make the most of Miguel’s visit.  Here’s the blurb:

With the arrival of Miguel Perez in the UK to perform as Skull Mask at TUSK, it would be unthinkable to let him escape back to Mexico without congregating with some of his closest conspirators from the Northern noise void.

Culver & La Mancha del Pecado: with six collaborations to date and numerous splits and joints amassed, a live collaboration between these 2 horror drone obsessives was inevitable…

Midwich: one of Miguel’s most ardent advocates via his Radio Free Midwich blog, this is a mega-rare live performance from Rob Hayler’s solo electronic machine-dream.

NeckvsThroat: an ongoing postal duo of Miguel and Yol, binding guitar and voice with barbed wire and discarded steel.

Xazzaz: sinkhole drones, guitar fog and harsh dives from darkest Northumberland.

Plus sound installation by MP Wood.

2pm till 5pm at the Soundroom, Cuthbert Street, Gateshead, NE8 1PH. 15 min walk from Sage Gateshead.

Free with Tusk pass, £3 without.

The Soundroom

Cool, eh?  I love a matinee performance, me.  Miguel, yol and I met up with Jamie (if you don’t know his recordings as ‘Wrest’ you should check them out immediately) and his pal Steve who had kindly offered to drive us to the venue from Sage.  Miguel spent the journey telling us about how he had fended off two shitfaced Glaswegians in the hotel bar the night before.  They had offered him drugs (‘the hardest in Glasgow!’) in full view of two coppers who also happened to be there.  He wanted no part of it, fearing he was being set up, but Jamie assured him:

Nah, that kind of thing just happens around here…

…and expanded on similar topics whilst Steve forlornly tried to get him to concentrate on the journey and offer directions.  Never mind, we got there.

The Soundroom is a community centre/rehearsal space/gig venue sat in isolation in Gateshead.  I suspect most of us scuzzball, dog-eared, D.I.Y., no-audience underground types found it much easier to breath there than in the airy atrium of Sage and it is well equipped with a very decent PA.

Turn out was good, including – fuck me! – is that…


…erstwhile RFM colleague, Discogs obsessive and near-hermit Scott McKeating?  Yes, it is!  Just one of many hands from the pantheon of the righteous I shook during proceedings.  You know who you are.

Once underway, the gig proved a joy.  First up was Neck vs Throat, the duo of Miguel and yol, playing with the lights on for full kid’s-birthday-party-at-local-church-hall effect:



I needn’t say too much about this one as, amazingly, a video exists of the performance – filmed by Pete Cann (who, being an absolute darling, had come up from Leeds just for the afternoon) on his ‘phone.  Sound quality is hardly crystal but fuck that – it’s a document.

What truly boggled the noggin was how fluid and natural the partnership appeared.  Prior to that very afternoon the project had only existed as a transatlantic file swap.  Now it felt like a psychic connection, the product of long hours of rehearsal.  Miguel’s fingers-in-the-soundhole grappling, like a wheelbarrow of gravel being dropped into molasses, perfectly in sync with yol’s clattering, guttural retching and bleakly comic exhortations.

Next was Xazzaz and Mike treated us to the best set-that-wasn’t-Skull-Mask of the weekend.  As has already been noted, he forbids photography so all I have is this snap of his set-up, snatched prior to the show beginning:


Mike used two (maybe three?) guitars and three (maybe four? Five?) amplifiers to create a drone/roar of ego-obliterating purity and intensity.  All the Xazzaz recordings I’ve heard have been exceptional but actually being there as it unfolds live was a shortcut to… I dunno?  Enlightenment?  For something as heavy as watching a gigantic dinosaur thrash its last and slowly sink into a tar pit it was a strangely life-affirming, awe-inspiring experience.  North-Eastern drone-metal of this quality is pretty much my favourite thing in all the world.  Fucking hell, I thought, I’ve got to follow that…



…and so it came to pass.  I thanked all who were there and those involved in setting it up, had a quick word about the two tracks I was about to play – one inspired by a dismissal of our music by Miguel’s daughter, one a version of my track from a split CD-r I shared with Miguel, dedicated the set to him and… faded up a recording of my son snoring.  The rest was thick, chewy, throbbing drone at pleasingly high volume that would have gone entirely to plan if I could have stopped myself fiddling with the cut-off.  Anyway, it seemed to go down well and I was rubbery with relief once all was packed away.  Enjoyed the opportunity to bounce about on my seat too.



Finally then: Culver and La Mancha Del Pecado.  Another unique opportunity to see a transatlantic tape-swap project in the flesh and this time the one that kicked it all off.  Miguel later told me that, like so many of us who end up in noise, he found himself looking for something without knowing exactly what that something was.  He discovered Skullflower, read up about it, saw Culver mentioned, found a rip of a CD-r in a shady spot on the internet, listened to it and heard the contents of his own head reflected back at him.  Soon they were collaborating on a series of beautifully sustained, utterly nihilistic, implacably menacing ‘horror drones’ and the rest is willpower and logistics.  This set was an absolute masterclass.

…and it wasn’t even 5pm.



I have to admit that the evening programme back at Sage was something of a blur after that.  My highlights were the early doors sets from Usurper (above above) and Ashtray Navigations (above).

Surprising myself, I realised that this was the first time I had seen Ali and Malcy go at it live despite having heard many of their releases and eyeballing numerous zines and comics over the years (indeed, one of my collages can be found in Giant Tank Offline #4).  My usual reaction to their work – amused bewilderment – was swept away by a far more concrete admiration for the Dada lunacy of the performance.

For example: crouched under a table, each took a turn deliberately and repeatedly banging their head as if trying to get up and forgetting the obstacle above them.  I thought that the yellow objects taped to their heads were something like washing-up sponges to soften the blow but was later informed by Stuart Arnot (of Acrid Lactations, who was roped in to their gig at the last minute) that it was butter and that the stink in their hair afterwards was rank.  Idiocy or commitment to the art?  Or both?  Oh, you decide.

After the first few minutes of Ashtray Navigations starting, Miguel, who had been leaning on the stage, came over to shout in my ear…

Now I know why everyone loves them!

…and I had to grin because he was right: it was, from the off, a performance full of heart that encouraged a reciprocal response from an eager, affectionate crowd.  Phil pulled out one heart-stoppingly preposterous solo after another whilst Mel – resplendent in glittered Converse – held down the electronics and laughed at the site of Gretchen Guttersnipe and RFM’s own marlo eggplant wigging out front and centre.  Much as I enjoyed the bubbletroniks and nostril-flaring bombast I think my favourite track was a lengthy ambient piece halfway through during which Phil folded himself up and sat on the floor.  It was spacious and woozy but had a crisp brittleness to it that kept it fresh and engaging throughout.  Have I heard this before?  Probably, but I couldn’t name it.  Shameful, I know, considering my placing in the AshNav fan club.  What can I say?  I’m a big man, but I’m out of shape.

The evening culminated with me, Dan, Lisa and Sarah reconvening and rolling up to my second fringe event of the day.  This time at The Old Police Station (a venue I was told is ‘borrowed’ from the council?), a ten minute walk up the hill behind Sage.  The place was already full when we got there at about 1am and there was a great squat gig vibe with people spilling out into the street, sat on the pavement talking loudly, drinking and smoking.  For me it felt like travelling back in time 25+ years to my misspent youth in Brighton, a bittersweet feeling I was reluctant to embrace until someone appeared, like Scooter in the Muppet Show, shouted…

C’mon Miguel you’re on!

(or something like that) and we all piled in to a tiny front room to see Oppenheimer play.  Seriously, there must have been 30-40 people plus a four piece band in a space more suited to two sofas and a telly.  Once over the initial crush panic, it was awesome.

Oppenheimer are the aforementioned Jamie (drums), Lee (bass) and Mike (guitar), this night augmented with Miguel (also on bass) and they play, Christ, how to describe it?  Super-basic, long-form, thug-punk, primal-metal.  Whatever it is, it had the packed crowd bent at the waist, rocking in unison.  It is a crying shame that Mike doesn’t allow photos because when he was stepped on by a drunken and oblivious punter the look of lupine ferocity he threw was fucking terrifying.  I did get this pic of Jamie, Miguel and Lee though, which, as a piece of reportage, is my favourite of all the photos I took over the weekend.


After the set I waved goodbye to my sweaty comrades and walked back to the hotel.  I put a music channel on the TV as I got ready for bed.  Every video looked like a film by Matthew Barney.  Lights out: 3am.



On Sunday morning I felt exhilarated after the remarkable day before but old and tired after the late night.  Oof, I don’t intentionally go to bed at 3am ever nowadays.  Thus another war-on-the-buffet, gargantuan breakfast was warranted before I stumbled to Sage in order to meet Paul ‘Pops’ Margree, still of the We Need No Swords blog, who wished to interview me for his podcast.  I’d met Paul for the first time this weekend, we’d hit it off and were already chatting in a free and easy fashion.  However, when the tape recorder was switched on something stamped on a fuzz pedal between what I was thinking and what I was saying.  Oh well, here’s hoping he can salvage something coherent.

We adjourned upstairs to the Northern Rock Foundation Hall (where Voigt played) to see yol at midday.  This was easily the weirdest programming kink of the festival – both venue and timing – but a fair few people had turned up to see yol take his turn as headmaster-gone-wrong at the front of assembly.  The gig was intense, muscular, poised.  The venue adding a unusual theatricality to the bulging veins and growling stutters.  I always look around at the audience during a yol show, relishing the expressions of appalled fascination, but the stage lighting made it difficult to gauge reactions.  His comic timing was faultless though, plenty of half-laughs as we appreciated him diffusing the tension with a funny line then realising that what he had just said was easily as bleak, nihilistic even, as the rest of the performance.  To describe his total commitment to expressing his vision I need to reclaim a debased word and re-inflate it with meaning:  yol is an artist.

Feeling some trepidation about lasting the day I decided to accompany the men in black (Jamie, Mike, Lee, Miguel) back over the river and had a laugh walking with them through the Quayside market as far as my hotel.  I cocooned myself there until it was time to go see Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present.  Cuddling up with Joe Murray in the back row, this turned out to be a beautifully measured and life-affirming documentary about a charming and fascinating artist, surpassing all my (fairly high) expectations.  I loved it, and can only praise the transparency of the film-making – the director Tyler Hubby does an excellent job of standing back and allowing the story to be told by Conrad himself, a wise decision when your subject is such an intriguing raconteur.  With a voice and demeanour like a cross between William Burroughs and John Waters, Conrad chuckles through a life of iconoclasm, innovation and determination in a way that can’t help but be awe-inspiring.  There is also an hilarious section about what a total bell-end La Monte Young is.  I don’t want to get into any more detail about the content as you really should track this down – you’ll be rewarded.  The film was clearly a hit with Tuskers and provoked much discussion afterwards.  I was lucky enough to see Conrad live twice and boasted of it many times during the rest of the night.

During the evening programme I made the effort to give every act a fair shake, a decision made easier by the fact that my brain was shot and I found myself in a state of happy bewilderment wherever I was standing.  Highlights for me were probably Silent Servant and the final act Senyawa.


Tall table for a short guy, eh?  Must share Dan’s back problems.  Silent Servant – American producer Juan Mendez – was notable for changing the atmosphere in Hall 2.  Suddenly all the middle-aged beardies (like myself) found themselves at a club night.  Advertised in the programme as ‘grinding, irresistible techno’ I actually best enjoyed the bits where he veered into Electronic Body Music territory – the kind of high camp, leather bound pounding that our Belgian friends were so good at in the late 80s.  yol was tempted in, amused by the prospect of seeing me dance, and guarded my handbag and coat whilst I stomped and flailed in tragic approximation of my twenty-something self.  The ‘pit’ of Hall 2 was soon lined with middle-aged beardies (like myself) leaning on the wall, sweating and clutching at their chests.  Whoo boy, haven’t danced for any length of time in a while.  The young and beautiful looked on in amusement.


The last act on Sunday, and thus of the festival as a whole, was the Indonesian duo Senyawa.  Vocalist Rully Herman powered through a scouring range of timbres and techniques, hands grasping the mic stand or raised up in Black Metal claws.  Fuck me, the swagger on this dude.  Wukir Suryadi held his own playing an apparently hand-made instrument called the bambuwukir which resembled a giant phallus, stringed and pegged, which he could pick or bow to create anything from the most delicately augmented silence to brutal shredding.  I suspect they personify exactly the type of high-quality, cross-cultural, what-the-fuckery that TUSK wishes to promote and that their place on the bill was no accident.  Having them headline the whole shebang was programming genius.  After their set, under the cruel house lights, Lee Stokoe and I exchanged the kind of blasted/delighted look that Lee Etherington, creative director of TUSK, must design the festival to provoke.  Congratulations, mate – mission accomplished.

All that was left to do was say goodbye.  Handshakes were exchanged, gratitude expressed, Miguel was hugged, wished well, hugged again, wished well again but now with a distinct wobble in my voice.  I nearly fell down the stairs in my hurry to get into the fresh air.

We’ll see each other again sometime, right?

Yes.  We will.



a) We got home safely, as did Miguel.  Dan recovers.

b) Two Skull Mask tapes were made available to coincide with Miguel’s visit, one released by Invisible City Records (hello Craig) and one on Lee Stokoe’s Matching Head.  I’ve been listening to them as I typed this article and I reckon you should buy both.  Lee also has some rad Skull Mask t-shirts for sale.  Hit him up via the contact details on the Matching Head Discogs page.  All the discerning blog editors are wearing ’em – an Autumn wardrobe essential.

c) Last year the live-streamed sets from TUSK were made available after the event via the Archive page of the TUSK website.  I shall be keeping an eye on this, and on Lee Etherington’s Twitter feed (@tusk_music), in the hope of similar generosity with this year’s recordings.


TUSK Festival

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