london crawling: paul margree on alex ward, onin, yeah you, stephanie merchak, sebastian camens and miya masaoka, zeena parkins and myra melford

October 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Alex Ward Proprioception (Weekertoft)

Onin –Errery (Verz Imprint)

Yeah You – Krutch (Slip)

Stephanie Merchak – Collapsing Structures (Silent Method)

Sebastian Camens – Tan Object (Conditional)

Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins and Myra Melford – MZM (Infrequent Seams)

Given that my initial pitch to RFM was to become the site’s London correspondent, few of the bits and bobs I’ve reviewed thus have any link to the capital. These latest grunts of prose aim to address this imbalance, featuring some London-based artists and labels – as well as others from further afield. Read on, fellow voyagers, and enjoy.


Alex Ward – Proprioception (Weekertoft) CD and digital album

Alex Ward is a busy chap. In the past couple of years alone, he’s contributed to Charles Hayward’s This Is Not This Heat revival, reconciled the formal rigour of composition and the spontaneity of improvisation with group releases such as ‘Glass Shelves and Floor’, and given vent to ferocious jazz-rock-punk utterances in Forebrace. He’s also found time to pop up here, there and everywhere as a roving freelance improvisor.

More recently Ward has been rummaging around at both the micro and macro ends of his practice. With Item 10, he dives into the challenges of working with a large ensemble, again trying to square the circle of improvisational flexibility within a composed framework. But in‘Proprioception’, he focuses exclusively on the clarinet, with two acoustic improvisations and a third featuring amplification and feedback as a counterpart to his own dexterous playing.

The unamplified jams are as fluid and delightful as Ward has played.‘Vestibular’ honks and hoots with terrific, hyperactive energy, its maximalist trills tumbling into sharp-edged discordance, the full-on shredding peppered with tongue slaps and pained squeals. Phew. ‘Tiptoes’ is more languid, but grizzled too, with early scraping around the higher register morphing into gravel-pitted breaths and tubercular whoops.

If the third piece, ‘Chasm’, isn’t quite as assured, the sense of a new path being forged more than compensates. There’s plenty of this kind of stuff available for the saxophone – John Butcher still dominates the field, and Joe Wright (see below) is also worth your time – but switching in the clarinet here yields rewards. Ward uses the horn to taunt his amplification, almost, blowing just enough to trigger explosive, fuzzy yowls. Hollow breaths result in gas clouds of white noise. High-pitched squeaks draw out needling screams. At times, grit-laden globules seem to spew out into the air, claggy lumps of waterlogged ash hosed from a chimney by a crew of Victorian urchins, huffing and puffing as they clamber through the soggy darkness.

Onin – Errery (Verz Imprint) CD and digital album

 If Alex Ward’s experiments with amplification are provocative, reveling in the chaotic sounds they birth to, saxophonist Joe Wright takes a chillier, more considered approach. Onin, his duo with guitarist James Malone, is architectural in its scope, sketching out dry, empty structures pockmarked with occasional fine detailing that is both enigmatic and essential. Sounds don’t so float free from their moorings as are deployed with utmost precision to an unseen plan, working towards an unknowable, unreachable goal.

The five tracks on ‘Errery’ match dissonant feedback jags and atonal blowing from Wright’s horn with Malone’s reductionist approaches and extended techniques that turn his guitar into a sonic totem, his hollow knocking, ringing plucks and rodent squeaks emerging like background chatter from the aether.The grubby tundra of ‘Dark Star’ is a great opening salvo, Malone’s fibrous clangs echoing over the masses of Wright’s sub-zero sonics with unexpectedly emotional heft. And the album’s title track is full to the brim of things that go bump in the night, its poltergeist racket juxtaposed with almost comic stringy whoops and whistles for a big back of unheimlich fun.

But the highlight has got to be machine shop wallop of ‘Shrike’s Dance’, in which layers of oily syncopation and air-tube rattle jazz about in acousmatic fury. The title may well be a reference to ‘Pharaoh’s Dance’, the opening cut on Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’, and you can just about sniff out some that weaved interplay of instrumentation here – although the gassy thumps and drill-whine of an ancient central heating system in the process of being dismantled may be a better image. The physical pulse never goes away and may inspire spot of calisthenics in all but the most sedentary listeners. Work it.


Yeah You – Krutch (Slip) vinyl and digital album

 Attention all parents! However you view the messy, complex business of child-rearing, the business of sharing car journeys with those little bundles of joy must, surely, appeal only to the very hardiest. Put a bunch of humans of varying ages inside a metal box for any length of time and friction is almost guaranteed to ensue.

Yet there is a solution, thanks to father and daughter duo Mykl Jaxn and Elvin Brandhi. Instead of arguing about which playlist or radio station commands the vehicular airwaves, Jaxn and Brandi used their car trips as a creative spur,with journeys to the supermarket and further afield becoming opportunities to dream upabrasive bursts of stream of consciousness noise guaranteed to abuse your earlobes with their sheer broken-glass vitriol.

Such formative experiences led inexorably to the birth of Yeah You. And, although the roadtrip jam sessions aren’t so central the duo’s creative process, the acid-bath ferocity of their instantaneous songcraft has lost none of its filthy lustre. ‘Krutch’ is the pair’s sophomore release for the London-based Slip label, after 2016’s astounding and essential ‘Id Vendor’, and the venom remains in full flow. From the pure headache yowzah of ‘Fall Freed’, through to dying seconds of ‘SOIK CHAT video’s’ burnt-circuit blip, this is aural poison of the most toxic kind.

Despite the anarchy, Brandhi’s majestic flow locks perfectly with Jaxn’s soundtrack. Get a load of ‘No More Metaphors, Hold Life Still’, where Brandhi’s distorted chat is all of a piece with Jaxn’s rough synth splatter. Like all good poets – Mark E Smith, YOL – Brandhi knows that the sonic impact of her syllables is as important as their meaning, just as Jaxn feels no need to prioritise her words, her corrosive utterances fighting for space in the titanium shoebox of his soundscapes.

‘Krutch’ is, if anything, even more virulent than its predecessor, whose crunching, trap-inspired beats provided a vestige of structure on which to hang Brandhi’s bottom-of-the-universe misanthrope poetry. “No affirmation needed, no affirmation needed” spits Brandhi on ‘Hair Moats’, her voice pitchshifted with such abandon that individual syllables warp in and out of focus, as scratchy electronic percussion bites like a nest of grumpy ants and thin splurges of atonal synth cast spraycan trackmarks all around. Set phasers to rinse.


Stephanie Merchak – Collapsing Structures (Silent Method Records) digital release

All of the pieces on StephanieMerchak’s Collapsing Structures were built from a single glockenspiel melody, reconfigured by the artists into this set of stark, compelling compositions. The way in which Merchak turns self-imposed limitation to her advantage is, frankly, astounding. From relatively humble sonic material, she fashions an array of glossy twinkles, ominous machine murmurs and deep drones, which then act as source material for her assemblages. The mood is sombre, Merchak’s metallic timbres evoking the chilly expanses of the void – although, according to her liner notes, that vast emptiness may lay correspond to inner, rather than outer space, with tracks like ‘Alone In My Head’ summoning the aimless hermetic drift and low-power neuronic glimmer of psychic breakdown as much as they evoke the freezing wonder of interstellar exploration.

If the subject matter is grim, the product of the ruminations is frequently thrilling (indeed, one could hope that focusing on such debilitating mental states provides some therapeutic as well as aesthetic value). ‘Repeated Patterns of Destruction’has a massive, alien heave, its glacial crescendos awe-inspiring and terrifying in turn. ‘Cold and Silent’, meanwhile, is almost anthemic in its wavelike shimmer and battery of clanging resonance.

There are times, for example in the sweeping oscillations of ‘Rupture’ or the layered reverberations of ‘147 Transformations’, where Merchak seems to be pitting herself against computer music heavy-hitters like Roland Kayn. However, unlike Kayn’s more system-based approach, ‘Collapsing Structures’ is very much the product of Merchak’s compositional intelligence, and the intensity and focus of her tracks is a result of her hands-on sound design and clear editorial sense. Still, listening to pieces like ‘Caught In A Loop’, it is difficult to believe that a tabletop full of Eurorack modules isn’t responsible for the multifaceted pulse and throb. That such sub-zero gorgeousness had its roots in an instrument used to teach young children basic nursery rhymes in primary schools across the land is testament to its composers’ talent. Ice cold.

Tan Object

Sebastian Camens – Tan Object (Conditional) cassette and digital album

Imagine a giant, multicoloured rubber band. Imagine two hands stretching and twisting it. But it never breaks – just gets longer and longer, gnarled into an ever-more impossible geometry. Imagine this as sound, and you’ve got a fair approximation of the nutty squelchfest that is Sebastian Camens’ ‘Tan Object’. Created using a minimal modular synth setup, Camens lays down ten slices of frenetic Dayglo electronica, each one a rabbit punch to the cortex that’ll have you seeing stars as your jacking body crumples to the floor.

Despite there being no drums in these chewy nuggets, ‘Tan Object’ is a stone-cold banger. Each track sees Camens setting up his parameters and letting them fly, the hiccupping, loop-like structures gurning into new shapes as they coil around onto themselves in the perfect combination of repetition and evolution. The upward jerk of ‘Tan Object 2’ has the shroomy hustle of Lee Morgan’s ‘Sidewinder’ after a bout of M25 motorway madness, but it’s the album’s mid-section that hits hardest.  Parts 4 and 5 marshal a motherboard full of Space Invader bleeps and bursts in a hectic, gluey morass. By ‘Tan Object 6’, fuzzy drops of white-hot sound are raining down like planet-wide invasion, ‘War of Worlds’ rescripted by Tomohiro Nishikado.

‘Tan Object’ is the second outing for Camens on London’s Conditional label, after his split release with founder Calum Gunn for the label’s debut, ‘Slant Deviations’. Since then, Conditional has delved deep into the more eccentric ends of experimental electronic music, with rkss’s ‘Brostep In The Style Of Florian Hecker’ – released as a video game and lanyard, format fans – and Ewa Justka’s searing ‘Efhksjerfbeskj’ (created entirely with homemade instruments and effects). But the Conditional release with whom ‘Tan Objects’ shares most of its DNA is Phil Julian’s ‘Clastics’. Like Camens, Julian uses his kit to set up repeating patterns that decompose gradually into bit-scrunched slurry, leaving a bunch of lovely wrecks behind. Take a look. That charred destruction is darned beautiful.


Miya Masaoka, Zeena Parkins and Myra Melford: MZM (Infrequent Seams) CD and digital album

Artistic freedom can be constricting as well as a liberating. When everything is up for grabs, it takes courage to face down the void. Understandable, then, that many artists don’t, retreating into the niceties of a sonic grammar established back in the day – a problem particularly relevant in contemporary free improvisation.Thankfully, the trio of Miya Masaoka (21 string Koto) Zeena Parkins (electronics, electric harp) and Myra Melford (acoustic and prepared piano)steer a safe passage through these rocky waters. You’d hope they would, of course, given their combined skill levels working in this field. And, although his debut isn’t the first time the trio has worked together, ‘MZM’ retains the sparkiness of an initial meeting of minds, scoring an impressive hit rate despite being rooted in classic improv traditions.

That said, ‘MZM’ takes a little while to get going. The aptly titled ‘Red Spider’ and ‘Bug’, for all their energized swarm, wouldn’t look out of place in a 1980’s Emanem release. But as the radiant hues of ‘Saturn’ beam out, things look to be heading in the right direction. Balletic harp and koto figures execute a courtly dance to subdued piano chords. Hermetic feedback wallpapers the space in glowing hostility, allowing the brittle strings and moody keys to skedaddle nervously across smooth, curvilinear surfaces.

Generally, the cuts named after astronomical features fare better than their entomological counterparts, the chilly spaces offering more opportunities to winkle out refreshing twists and turns. The woody plunks of ‘Spiral’ display an enigmatic loveliness, the crabwalk improved by a piano line nodding just far enough towards Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata II’ to summon some Kubrikian spookiness. Its final third is arrestingly lovely as it morphs into widescreen, creeping dread, with a growling bass drone that casts circling koto and harp motifs into uncompromising relief.


Verz Imprint


Silent Method Records


Infrequent Seams


abstract ivory plonk: zoe polanski, various hyster artists & robert ridley-shackleton

April 11, 2017 at 7:13 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Zoe Polanski – Inertia. Music from the Motion Picture (Hyster Tapes)

Various Artists- L’Incoronazione (Hyster Tapes)

Robert Ridley Shackelton – Atlas Banghouse (Cardboard Club)

Robert Ridley Shackelton – 0800 NEW CARD (Cardboard Club)

Hyster Zoe Zoe Polanski – Inertia. Music from the Motion Picture (Hyster Tapes) C40 one-sided & recycled tape

Real film vs fake soundtrack // fake film vs real soundtrack  // real film vs real soundtrack // fake film vs fake soundtrack

I started to ponder this conundrum and then just gave up.  This may or may not be a Zoe Polanski or a further pseudonym – Bela Tar – but what this is, 100% truthfully, is one damn fine tape of pushed-out synth/sampler swoop with the buttons taped down on the ‘ecstatic strings’ option.

Imagine taking one split micro-second of 10CC’s ‘I’m not in love’ and smearing that Brummy ‘ahhhhhhh’ all over 20 minutes of atmospheric and recycled tape.  Imagine catching a drip of MBV’s sampler-drek ‘hhuuuhhuuu’ and coating your atmos with that saucy ferric message.


Like an endless happy yawn the constant dragging of the orchestra pit makes me sleepy and lightheaded…but for such a brief soundtrack, moods and motifs keep emerging so I’m also on caffeine-soaked red alert.

The two note breathy faux-voice crops up hystering across the mix like a sea cow or something in ‘Mother’s Theme’.  A sepia-stained, 6th generation dub of (perhaps) a smoke-filled cinema organ adds rhythm to the beautiful yet creepy ‘TV Nightmare’.

Hyster Comp

Various Artists- L’Incoronazione (Hyster Tapes) C20 recycled tape

More ultra-lo-fi tape scrapings from the House of Hyster.

My copy is taped over a ‘Pallo Punainen’ release but sounds excellent and full and wobbly, especially as DEAR BELOVED HENRY hawk out a couple of wonderful untitled 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.

No clues as to what turns on DEBT OF NATURE  – bird sounds and cicada-menace haunt their dismal keyboard slouch like teenagers forced to go to Sunday School.  They may tit about in the kitchen but the leavings are pure Lambkin.

Irregular tappings and knocks play us out the first side with R.S.T. seemingly rattling some old rubber-junk while a tape of Max Roach gets more and more distorted in one ear.

Old school hock-rockers GREY PARK reveal a decayed piano tune that doesn’t even reach the 3 minute mark but for me could have continued all afternoon – abstract ivory plonk – what’s not to love?

Without a single Ray Davies riff the AUTUMN APPRECIATION SOCIETY sweep up a baffling collection of grim found sound and added scuzz-electronics.  If this is an autumn scene in Finland then it seems to be heavily industrial Snow-Plows clunking apart to transform into gilded robots.

You looking for proper Northern European, DIY, no-audience, no-frills tape action reader?  Be sure to check out the Hyster.

RRS Atlas Banghouse

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Atlas Banghouse (Cardboard Club) C30 tape and digital album

It’s no wonder Robert Ridley-Shackleton’s recent move to the thrillingly vibrant city of Bristol has accelerated a change in his distinct ‘pocket-jazz’ sound.  Bristol has long since produced hip outsiders and wierdos to bother the mainstream; now the N-AU get’s a new Bristol lickin’.

In recent conversation with the Cardboard Prince he spilled that Techno was a great and deep love and I’m delighted to report this banger is technological with a distinct hissy twist.

Thin claves and handclaps are a shifting matrix for some pretty heavy squelching and hollow plastic thumping.  In particular ‘No Peaking’ moves jigsaw pieces of rhythm so they fit neat and tight – then wrench them apart so the percussive tabs and blanks get bent out of shape and deformed.

Side two opens with ‘Don’t Worry’ –  a donk, most certainly, ‘on it’ bleating in the sort of time signature Sunny Murray would love as the pots get twisted, letting soft grease flood the headphones.

Fans of the RRS old-school sound need not worry as the subtle and strangely euphoric sounds of the inside of his tape recorder and stressed fruit punnets are writ large on ‘The Ohh Ahh and ‘Duplo goes Chatty Crazy.’

But it’s the closer ‘Birthday Card’ that melds the fine granular huss of classic RRS with the nu-skool beats in new and dangerously exciting ways.

“I think it’s about 140 BPM I think…if you were wondering.”

The Prince helpfully tells us as a feeble clip-clop-clip-clop makes this more paranoid-Fall-album-interlude than filthy-Detroit-floor-filler.

Crackle, crackle…scooouuurrrrrr….hummm (with added sniff).

RRS New card

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – 0800 NEW CARD (Cardboard Club) tape and digital album

Seven new tracks from the Cardboard Prince.  In praise of the skeletal style a skeletal review.

  • 0800 New Card – Brittle drum machines are back / Phat keytar is back / Sex Rap is back
  • Eye Gonna B Rich – Sweet and low tech-experiment-no. The ‘whump’ gets progressively deep
  • Oh Lord – Stream of consciousness, back-room clutter clearance – of the mind. “A microchip or some shit.”
  • My Fashion – 45 seconds of jerry-rigged funk with popgun accents
  • Call me up, Tell me how U feel – delay reaction techno with an ‘I like to party’ baseline
  • Cuz I’m Cool – wrapping party wrench from a sleepy RRS. Dream-logic-plea for Power Rangers
  • Waltz 2016 – Reluctant Jazzie B soundcheck.

Dig a fucking pony!

Hyster Tapes

Cardboard Club

Hyster Both


apfrod and aphasia: a review, a story, a request

November 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground, not bloody music | 4 Comments
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As I am fond of mentioning, one of the great rewards for writing this blog is to have someone I once knew stumble across it, get click happy trawling through it all, then drop me a line to re-establish contact.  Paul Money is the latest to do just that.  Paul was an associate back in the fencing flatworm days and contributed two oTo tapes to that crazy project: T10 freshwater angling in britain (‘a robot menagerie documented with electro collage’ I wrote at the time) and T19 bla (‘four/floor techno as she was supposed to be’).  He also ran the short lived but high quality micro-label Blank Audio which presented, amongst other things, more frenzied, hilarious, collage noise by Le Liberateurs and The Argos Fiasco (a band name that still makes me laff now).

Paul tells me that he is still involved in music, now mainly under the name apfrod, and also writes games and apps for them fancy iThings too – more on that in a minute.  The badly-in-need-of-updating apfrod SoundCloud page contains some entertaining tweaks, variants and homages to various sub-genres of bass music.  May I recommend ‘Ken u Bleep‘ which is a loving and accurate recreation of one of my favourite moments in the history of UK techno.  If it doesn’t make you smile then I can only throw my hands in the air, roll my eyes theatrically and exclaim: “gah!”

He has also recently ventured onto that Bandcamp and posted a rather lovely album of drifting electronics called Fog Caching.  I’m very taken with this title and the impossibility it describes, like trying to file smoke.  It captures the difficulty of expressing reality via art or, indeed, the more humble exercise of writing about music.  Like what I do.   The music is dense, bassy but not heavy – it passes through billowing clouds but without ever becoming waterlogged.  It is robust enough to survive being listened to on the walk home in the rain but delicate and nuanced enough to reward a bit of close listening in more comfortable surroundings.  The central track ‘Draft Capture’ is a nine minute epic of tuned-down, quarter-speed, clockwork rave.  It is basically a glorious pull-back-and-reveal as the clouds part and you realise that throughout the album you have been the guest of Lando Calrissian.  I recommended you check it out.

Another of Paul’s projects that might be of interest to readers of this blog is his musical instrument app ShapeSeq.  However, before going any further with that I need to change tack and tell a story.

In the Summer, my friend Rob had a very serious stroke.  Aged 28 and apparently fighting fit this was shocking and unexpected.  One week he was helping us move house and taking part in lengthy fun runs, the next he’s collapsing at work.  Given that the condition was life-threatening and that he was subject to a near-miraculous, experimental medical intervention in the early hours of his treatment, his recovery so far has been remarkable.  As well as having a team of experts, friends and family swarming around him much credit must be given to his (heavily pregnant) partner Sarah and to Rob himself for the determined way he has tackled the consequences.  No-one knows the limits of his recovery but, being realistic, I suspect he’ll never be back to exactly how he was.  The situation has changed irrevocably and it is up to us to negotiate and redefine what is ‘normal’.

Relevant to this story are two issues that need accommodating: Rob’s right arm and hand do not work and Rob has aphasia.  Aphasia is a common consequence of brain injury and entails difficulty with language and with communication.  It appears that all the knowledge of language that Rob had prior to his stroke – his vocabulary, his unique web of associations that gives words the meanings they have for him – is still there.  He just doesn’t have any kind of easy access to it.  Reaching for a word is a frustrating, occasionally fruitless business for him.  He must feel like he is trying to file smoke, to cache fog.

With this in mind, I’d been thinking of things we could do together.  He is a big music fan, well into electronics, Krautrock etc., and has always been interested in midwich so I invited him over to do some recording.  It was a very pleasant, non-verbal (well, for him – I talked non-stop) activity where we could communicate by laughing, nodding and pointing.  I thought beforehand about what I could do with three hands at my disposal, rather than two, and we got busy with the MC-303 and duelling monotrons.  The results were genius, obviously, but rather too guided by what I’d already planned to be a proper collaboration.  He has an iPad, I thought, I wonder if we could shift some one-handed/aphasia friendly software on to it that he could play with in my absence and then bring to the party the next time we got together.  If only someone had recently emailed to point me at just such an app…

But they had!  Serendipity, no?  Paul’s app ShapeSeq totally fits the bill and was apparently downloaded and enjoyed by both Rob and Sarah (although Sarah has understandable misgivings about Rob now being bleep-enabled).  I asked Paul for recommendations of other apps that might be suitable and he suggested the following:

Singing Fingers might be good. Also Nodebeat (very ambient), Sampletoy (very glitch), Figure (very techno). Figure is by Propellerheads (Rebirth) and pretty much makes techno for you when you hit it.

…which I’ve passed on and now I’m asking you lot the same.  Any ideas?  Just think: with one small comment you could amuse my friend, annoy his missus and possibly even contribute indirectly to a new midwich sound…

a shamefaced confession, and more recent electronics

April 8, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Posted in musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Oh dear – I have a confession to make.  Despite my assurance that I would desist from such disgraceful behaviour, a couple of weeks ago I indulged in a semi-discriminate binge during which I greedily amassed a pile of free stuff.  A promo in The Guardian offered £21 of no-strings credit to spend on mp3s as an incentive to sign up to emusic.  This got bounced up to £26 by the bonus fiver I was offered the first time I tried to cancel, then doubled when, *ahem*, ‘my wife’ also signed up using a different credit card.  That is some shameful shit right there, eh?  And how did it feel as I sat on my arse in the mud watching the wagon I’d just fallen from trundling into the distance?  It felt good, unfortunately…  I will be having a stern word with myself later but, in the meantime, here are some thoughts on a portion of the booty.

Actress – Splazsh

Buy here

First a few words on the above.  What you get for the money is a couple of fully realized tracks surrounded by a lot of unfinished sketchiness, no coherent identity as an album, nothing emotionally engaging, nothing particularly forward looking.  Much of this could have been recorded by any number of artists at any time during the last twenty years.  It isn’t that it’s bad, it’s just, y’kno: OK.  “Why am I even bothering to type this up?” you may be wondering.  Well, it’s because I’m bewildered at the plaudits that this release has garnered: it was The Wire’s album of the year and got medal positions in lists elsewhere.  The verbiage has been baffling.  Oh well: one of those mysterious moments where critical consensus anoints the mediocre as divine.  Anyway, on to the good stuff…

Nicolas Jaar – Space is Only Noise

Buy here

This is more like it.  Jaar has created a collection of strangely involving almost-songs employing a carefully controlled musical palette.  Traditional instrumentation is used amongst the electronics, not in a tokenistic or gimmicky way, but to complement and enhance the feel.  Motifs are repeated (it is top-and-tailed by variations on the same theme) and as such it really coheres as an album despite containing much to intrigue and surprise.  I suppose some of it could be accused of pretentiousness, if you were feeling uncharitable, but I’d argue instead that this is clever, that it has integrity, that it rewards repeat listens and that it makes me smile and nod my head.  This music is melancholy, wryly comic and expansive – often all at once.  Lovely.

Various singles

I find myself well into mp3 singles.  One track may not be enough to form an opinion on, but two is a statement of intent.  Especially if those two have been previously deemed worthy of the time and expense of a release on 12″ vinyl.  Shows some faith in the work.  There is a thoroughness to the format too.  A 12″ allows for 7-8 minutes to really work through the ideas contained in a track, but you can only do that twice: side A, side B.  The throwaway two-minute squiggles that artists like Actress flabbify their albums with have no place here.  On a more prosaic note, another reason for digging mp3 singles is their cheapness.  All these releases can be had from Boomkat for less than two quid (links above) or for as little as a laughable 84p as part of an emusic subscription.  84p is just a few pence more than I was paying in the mid-1980s for ex-chart 7″ singles in the Woolworth’s bargain bin.  Crazy.  Anyway, enuff about the medium – what of the message?

The New Life EP by Claro Intelecto continues Mark Stewart’s unswerving mission to filter everything extraneous from the interface of house and techno and present us with the purified results.  Nuanced, disciplined and beautiful – as ever.  Scuba are playing in another corner of the same ball-park but with a bass-heavier, steppin’ swagger.

The stuff by Pangaea and Untold just slays – especially ‘Won’t Hurt’ and the remix of ‘I Can’t Stop This Feeling’ which have rhythm lines that are breathtakingly pummelling and throw-down funky and ‘Stereo Freeze’ which weaponizes the kick drum/hand clap combo.  This is really smart, innovative stuff and totally feet-friendly too.  The remix of ‘Stop What You are Doing’ by James Blake (another decent enough artist getting inexplicably extensive press adulation) is a monster: utterly alien but somehow so right it is almost… cuddly.

The pick of the bunch, however, is the relatively unsung Koreless.  Two tracks that both use expansive bass, snapping percussion and vocal samples clipped and looped into a delirious glossolalia.  They share the complicated atmosphere of nostalgic euphoria that I imagine I’m hearing in other recent dance music.  I like this very much.

Next: enough of this hipness, RFM returns to the hand-crafted artifacts of the no-audience underground.

recent (to me) electronics from the some-audience underground

March 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Posted in musings, new music | Leave a comment
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A while ago I reported that I was was going to stop using the internet to steal things and instead pay for what I wanted.  The idea was to rekindle the joy of discovery, deepen my commitment to stuff I was hearing and sharpen my skills of discernment.  The latter had grown flabby having gorged on instant access to everything.  And whaddayaknow: it’s working.

It ain’t all drone cdrs and noise cassettes here at RFMHQ.  Occasionally I may put down my whittlin’, pick up my ear trumpet and pay attention to what is happening in electronics.  What with the FACT mixes, the Bleep and Resident Advisor podcasts and the Boomkat newsletter I certainly have enuff information coming in to mitigate the worst of my confused-old-uncle-syndrome.  The following releases were all bought as mp3s from either Amazon (forgive me, I had a voucher) or Boomkat.  The links are to the latter, who are probably more deserving of your dough.

Three singles by Lone


Having awarded Lone the prestigious RFM album of the year for 2010’s wonderful Emerald Fantasy Tracks I felt duty bound to check out the rest of Matt Cutler’s back catalogue.  The earlier stuff, like 2008’s Lemurian, is well worth hearing but contains too much Flying-Lotus-style skittering wonkiness for my liking.  I admire that genre – I’m sure the  programming is technically demanding and time consuming – but I can’t love it.  The problem is that I am a fairly unreconstructed head-nodder when it comes to beats.  I find it impossible to maintain an emotional connection with a track unless it allows me to get my groove on.

Obviously sensing my uneasiness, Mr Cutler wisely decided to jettison that approach around the time of the Joy Reel/Sunset Teens single and everything he has released since has pushed my buttons faultlessly.  Whilst contemporaries such as Zomby are harking back to early 90s ‘ardkore and jungle, Lone takes the vocabulary of rave and double filters those tropes through a woozy, soft-focus nostalgia.  Both Pineapple Crush and the sublime Once in a While have a perfectly realised utopian better-living-thru-dry-ice-and-ecstacy vibe.  Both contain knowing nods to the daftness of the genre – Pineapple Crush dares to reclaim that ‘wow! yeah!’ sample that plagued every bloody pop dance record released 88-91 – but both are as heartfelt, warm and sincere as anything by Boards of Canada.  A six track EP released by the resurgent R&S records is coming in April and I am very excited at the prospect.  Get me: I’m following a band!

I may write more about the rave revival at a later date.  For now I will just urge you to watch the video to Blind Faith by Chase and Status which reduced me to a blubbering wreck with its point perfect recreation of the era in question…

Mika Vainio – it’s a muthang/mutant midnight

Buy here

I slept on this when it came out last year but a serendipitous bit of clickery made sure I didn’t miss out.  Two tracks, originally on a 7″ single, by that bloke from one-time heroes of mine: pan sonic.  ‘It’s a muthang’ is three minutes of hissing hi-hat substitutes, distorted submarine sonar pings and a slimy, stomach-churning bass noise with the consitency of plasticine mixed with axle grease and toothpaste.  Great fun.  Mutant midnight is a bit of inconsequential post-industrial plinky-plonk noteworthy for being in 3/4 time.  Not many noise waltzes out there.

Deaf Center – Owl Splinters

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Deaf Center’s Pale Ravine from 2005 (available for the comically low price of £3.99 from Boomkat) has been one of my favourite albums for years and this belated sequel may be even better.  Deaf Center produce cinematic instrumental music, ambitious in scope, full of emotional resonance and immensely dramatically satisying.  An extensive palette of sound – fragile cello to gristly slabs of electronic noise – is blended with delicacy and assurance.  There is no need to write more – googling ‘deaf center owl splinters review’ already produces 13,000 hits – just go and have a listen.  Record of the year so far from outside of the no-audience underground.

Two singles by Blawan

Ah, the joy of discovery!  This is exactly what I was after.  Blawan, or Andrew Ryce as his mam calls him, gave me my first ‘what the FUCK was that?!?’ moment of 2011, my second favourite of all the sensations music can provoke.  Fram/Iddy from last year are a pair of rhythmically ingenious dubstep tracks with beautifully programmed and recorded drums made mysterious by a layer of whispered vocals.  Great stuff but nowt compared to what was coming next…

The three tracks that comprise the Bohla EP show that drum programming can be breathtakingly elastic but still totally feet friendly.  Take note all you skittering hipsters – this guy is as good as you *and* you can dance to it so HE WINS.   The bass drop about a minute into Bohla, ingeniously using a kettledrum for added impact, had me laughing out loud with delight.  The 303 line is given new space and vigour by the percussion programming and tweakin’ acid hasn’t sounded so fresh for yonks.  The humour, inventiveness and sheer brain-pummelling thump of these tracks calls to mind the very early Aphex Twin 12″s collected together on the ‘Classics’ compilation.  A comparison made all the more apt because the two releases share a label in R&S.  And he’s from Yorkshire too.  Famous.

martial 909s and garage psyche: best of 2010 part one – music

December 10, 2010 at 11:35 am | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Yes, list season is upon us!  Despite being old and largely disconnected from culture, especially anything yoof-oriented like music, I can’t resist leafing through the end of year polls.  At least in the age of the internet I can convert my blank incomprehension into hipster knowledgeability with a few clicks of the mouse.  See for example the FACT magazine best of the year which links to streams of the tracks in question.  Being an underground scenester has never been more convenient…  Anyhow, here’s my own short list of notable releases.

Ashtray Navigations – The Beak Stuck Out of the Snow

Galena – Grave News For You

Voices – Aporia

I have reviewed each of these releases at length in previous posts so please scroll down for the detail of my sage opinion.  The Voices tape was the most immediately impressive thing I heard all year.  The immensely satisfying Ashtray CD contains you’d look good as a 5 pound note, my favourite track of the year.  Billy Sprague’s Galena tape was possibly my most played album of the year.  It’s simplicity and emotional depth makes it endlessly revisitable.  It helped me through some tricky months.

In guitar related matters I bow to the the wisdom of my lifelong friend and arch-druid of punk musicology, Tim Hall.  His recommendations this year have been as smart as ever.  First up: Off!.  To say this band would not sound out of place on the Repo Man soundtrack is high praise but, as it contains ex-Circle Jerks, stating the obvious.  This is not a LA Hardcore heritage act: each one minute track is a vital and relevant punk masterclass to school the young pretenders.

Next: Moon Duo.  There are many winkle-picking hairies producing Mary-Chain-ish garage psyche at the moment but this lot are my choice.  I do find myself digging the whole scene though – if you echo everything out, mumble your lyrics and replace the hi-hat with a tambourine then my love is almost automatically guaranteed.

OK, thanks Tim.  Now on to my two albums of the year.  First up: Paisajes by Tristeza.  I had the privilege of hearing this remarkable record prior to its recent official release on blog-fave label Sanity Muffin.  Billy asked me to write some liner notes type stuff to aid in promoting it.  Unfortunately, I was very mad indeed at the time and he got a nonsense epic comparing Tristeza to pretty much every musical genre of the last fifty years.  Please ignore the ravings and allow the newly medicated radiofreemidwich to soberly recommend this beautiful, thoughtful and absorbing set of instrumentals.

BUT!  Wrenching the RFM album of the year award from the hands of Tristeza at the very last minute is Lone’s Emerald Fantasy Tracks.  This release rounds up all my favourite tropes in electronic dance music: the martial 909s of first-wave techno, the woozy rush of jackin’ acid house, the stabs and sinuous synth lines of Underground Resistance (think Jupiter Jazz) and the post-rave meditations of Polygon Window.  All this goodness is cooly and concisely filtered through a properly modern sensibility and the result is an uplifting 40 minutes of damn-near perfection.

OK, that’s all for now folks.  Part two to come once I’ve answered a few emails and gone to buy a Christmas tree.

machine soul: namke and tungsten grasshopper

June 4, 2010 at 12:30 pm | Posted in fencing flatworm, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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ff020 available from namke communications

  1. polaxemer
  2. seen from beneath the waves
  3. foursquare (and that’s just fine)
  4. not all there
  5. radiophobic

ff011 tungsten grasshopper – pyrrhic victories

  1. brittle
  2. dog
  3. everyone i knew is dead
  4. one for cats
  5. plastic dinosaur
  6. starry wisdom
  7. surface noise
  8. urticaria
  9. urticaria 2
  10. narwhal
  11. urticaria 3
  12. it was sunny the day she died

The best thing about shepherding this blog for the last six months has been rekindling contact with a bunch of people that I had drifted away from whilst sat on my ice floe.  Two of these are Graham Williams, a.k.a. tungsten grasshopper, and John Tuffen, a.k.a. namke.  Both have kindly agreed to me posting their FFR releases and I thought it might be instructive to compare the two. 

At first hearing they are radically different; in fact it could be argued that they illustrate opposite ends of the spectrum labelled ‘electronica’ back in the day.  Namke have an analogue simplicity, a fuzzy charm and an ego-dissolving groove that borrows a little from both the robots-and-spaceships futurism of early 90s IDM and from the echo chamber of dub techno, which was super-fashionable at the time.

Tungsten grasshopper is a less comfortable proposition.  Shorter tracks, an emptier vibe and an occasionally grating sound palette make this a more difficult listen.  However, your effort is rewarded ten-fold as these imperfect crystals yield to your contemplation and give up their secrets.  Where namke is analog and groove, tg is laptop and glitch.

That said, they also have plenty in common.  Both albums can draw you in until the thud of your book dropping to the floor reminds you that you haven’t read a word in twenty minutes.  Instead the ‘background’ music you put on has overwhelmed the foreground.  This quality is something I always wanted in FFR releases.  Most importantly though, and not unconnected to their attention-grabbing powers, both have an unmistakable human content.  That is: both connect with, and draw on, some deep emotional associations buried underneath the numskulls operating the frontal lobes.  This music has, for want of a better expression, soul.

EDIT: John Tuffen tells me he is grooving on the idea of producing more music but recently his creative endeavours have been of a photographic bent.  Check out his flickr photostream.  The namke website is also due a tidy up but is worth a quick visit for audio-visual goodies and some flatwormesque grumpiness.

More from the FFR heritage archive (including posset, Neil Campbell and the second tungsten grasshopper album) to come soon…

a little heartache on the dancefloor

January 16, 2010 at 4:06 pm | Posted in musings, new music | Leave a comment
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Check out this mix from the charmingly named Deadboy courtesy of FACT magazine.  And this quote from the accompanying short interview:

Your mix for FACT seems to have a lot of melancholy in it – from ‘K-I-S-S-I-N-G’ to the Theo Parrish cuts, to your own stuff like ‘U Cheated’ and ‘If U Want Me’. Is that a vibe you particularly go for in your music?

“Yeah I don’t think I ever sit down and think “how can I make this tune sound sad”, I’m generally trying to make something hype, but I’m always naturally attracted to sad girly vocal samples in hype music. I love all those sad old garage tunes. Bassline is good for it as well. Everyone can relate to a little heartache on the dancefloor.”

Chimes with something I’ve been noticing in my ill-informed-almost-middle-aged way about current trends in electronic dance music (and by that I mean music produced to be played at high volume in clubs – not home-listening electronica).  Here’s three short paragraphs of gross oversimplification:

Continue Reading a little heartache on the dancefloor…

surgeon operating

December 21, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Posted in new music | Leave a comment
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Well, new-ish…

Anthony Child has been producing beautiful and uncompromising techno, mainly under the name Surgeon, for over well over a decade. His focus, attention to detail and understanding of the genre, particularly its percussive side, are pretty much unrivalled.

This week I’ve been enjoying this mix, courtesy of FACT magazine, at brain-wrenching volume on my walkman. Free to download for three weeks as of about three weeks ago but these things tend to hang around. For more of his own work download the cheap-as mp3 comp from Boomkat’s 14 Tracks offshoot.

Techno as she is written.

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