have cake/eat it: rob hayler on tusk festival 2017

November 4, 2017 at 11:34 am | Posted in midwich, musings, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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TUSK Festival 2017

[Note: for part one of this year’s TUSK story, in which I talk about the year past, how I blagged onto the bill, what I planned to do and what it meant to me, see here. This part is about the festival itself and begins on the morning of Friday 13th October. Also, I’d like to repeat the same provisos as last year. Firstly, I won’t be mentioning every act, not even all those I saw and enjoyed, as creating An Exhaustive List Of Everything That Happened is not my bag. Secondly, I won’t be mentioning everyone I spoke to because I don’t want to allocate some to this ‘highlights’ package and not others. Safe to say that every conversation I had with you lovely people I enjoyed very much. Finally, I’m not cluttering what follows with links, nor topping it with a cloud of tags – I’d suggest having the TUSK website open on another tab and hunting and pecking as appropriate. TUSK will fill the archives with videos of all performances in due course. If no credit is given then pictures are by me, apart from the last one.  OK, enuff – on with the show.]

FRIDAY

If I am not at least 10 minutes early then I feel late. Stir that perfectly rational compulsion into a gumbo of stress and excitement and it is no surprise that I was at Leeds railway station a full hour before the departure time for my train. I took the edge off by chatting to an amiable, middle-aged, Glaswegian rocker – all Chrissie Hynde bang and black and white spandex leggings. Her phone rang and the tone was the opening bars of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’. Beautiful. Once the train arrived, 40 minutes late due to ‘police attention at Sheffield’, I’d been sat there for longer than the journey would actually take.

But – ahh! – who doesn’t enjoy staring wistfully out of a train window listening to crystalline electronic music whilst pretending to be in a European art movie? Alas, this Kraftwerkian reverie was impossible. The carriage was packed, the seat cramped, the luggage rack a stack of cases as unviable as a jenga tower made of dog chews. Even a soundtrack of A480 by KARA-LIS COVERDALE couldn’t gloss the snores of the drunk bloke in front. Luckily the hotel was mere steps from the station and I was able to get there, check in and throw my stuff down in minutes. My dinky single room, with ensuite wet room and surprisingly large telly, was pleasantly functional, like a prison cell for hipsters. I imagine it’s like where you’d end up if you were convicted of burning down Scandinavian churches.

The reason I was in a hurry was that I wanted to get to Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead in time for the FESTIVAL IS SUDDEN performance at 3pm. I splashed into a cab (such rock and roll decadence!) and was there with mere minutes to spare. The show, organized by Giles Bailey and CIRCA projects (Dawn Bothwell, Adam Denton, Sam Watson – more on Dawn and Adam anon) was the opening event of their MY PART OF YOUR HOME exhibition and the de facto beginning of TUSK weekend. I’m afraid I clocked little of this compact, elegant gallery, or its contents, as I was too busy glad-handing and being overexcited beforehand, then too busy being engrossed by the ritual unfolding.

It was a very smart idea, perfectly executed: six artists, set up in different parts of the building, performed for ten minutes each. Dawn carried a cylindrical, portable speaker – emitting bird song – which she placed in front of the performer when their time was up, we then followed the chirping to the next station. Each segment seemed full, but not rushed, which was amazing as they included, for example, slowly evolving drone from CULVER (pictured) and two dance performances, one from BIANCA SCOUT framed within beautiful piano pieces and one from VICTORIA GUY in which she didn’t stop spinning even during a costume change. The experience as a whole was deeply satisfying and (this is not a bad thing) emotionally draining. After snatching brief ‘hellos’ with Dawn and some of the other stragglers/organisers I joined those ushered out into the sun so the gallery could close. I walked back through a bright, blustery afternoon, being nearly run over at every junction, burning my mouth on delicious fish and chips as I trotted in more or less the right direction. A knot I’d been carrying between my shoulder blades for who knows how long seemed to unravel. I found myself very, very happy.

Back at the hotel I had time to sort out my gear and despair at my useless packing. Given that I’d done nowt but think about TUSK for weeks how on earth had I managed to bring so few shirts and so much underwear? I mean DUNCAN HARRISON is a very beautiful young man but I wasn’t expecting to literally wet myself with excitement in his presence. Ach, no matter, time to stumble down the hill, across the swing bridge over the Tyne and up the other side to Sage.

I arrived to find DRONE ENSEMBLE in full flight on the concourse and, disgracefully, paid them absolutely no attention. Instead I wandered about saying ‘hello’ to people, shaking hands, babbling into ears – mainly those of long-suffering gentle giant Joe Murray, RFM editor and one of TUSK’s organisers, and Paul Margree formally of We Need No Swords, now plying his trade with RFM and anywhere else words meet noise…

…I even clapped at the end as if I’d been listening. What an arsehole, eh? Heh, heh. As I topped the stairs Duncan rushed past on his way backstage and I pressed a package into his hand. I shivered with pleasure as Joe helped me secure my Artist/Crew weekend wristband and, as it contained an introduction written by me, bagged three copies of the programme.

The evening’s entertainment in the prestige venue, Sage Hall 2, started with a right good kick up the arse. The expectant crowd were confronted with four – occupied – body bags and the performance began with a nightmarish sequence as the members of SWARM FRONT screamed, groaned, clawed and cut their way out. The remainder of the set was a theatre of cruelty: lines were intoned, sung, bellowed (“Get this into your thick fucking skull”, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”) and melons bearing the faces of Gateshead councillors were violently despatched whilst a power-electronic soundtrack rearranged my viscera.

Looking for clues in the programme (“…here with the intention to weaponize the banality of liberal institutions…”) and talking to Dawn afterwards suggested this was a protest/curse focused on those responsible for the imminent closure of important, much loved Gateshead venue The Old Police House and/or the faux progressive credentials of the Sage itself (bit more on this later). Fucking strong start.

DUNCAN HARRISON prepped his gear as the stage crew mopped up blood and melon pulp (ha, c’mon, being able to write sentences like that is why I’m in this game). I was pleased to see the present I’d given him – a framed photo of John Cage (explanation unnecessary) – looking over his table full of noise-making detritus. His set was a lesson from a virtuoso on how to collage subtlety and humour with mallet-to-the-knackers noise. The opening section of real-time tape rec and scruffle was masterful, the glugly pop and repeat vocals charming and intimate and the hard noise – a bunch of tinnitus enhancing key chain alarms laid out like a Pueblo clown’s protecting chalk circle – suitably punishing. The audience, including me, was rapt, delighted.

There was just time for a little professional jealousy before THE TEA TOWELS rocked up. This duo of Gavin Montgomery and RFM staffer Luke Vollar, both ex of no-audience underground legends Castrato Attack Group, happened to be in the right ear at the right time when SHAREHOLDER pulled out so two tapes and no gigs into their ‘career’ here they are filling a prime Friday evening slot at TUSK! Bollocks to that – 18 bloody years, I (half) joked and I had to beg my way into a Saturday bloody lunchtime show in a glorified school assembly hall! Huh, showbiz is cruel, eh?

Anyway, my inner David Van Day was banished as soon as they started playing. I was hooked, grinning at the guileless lo-fi thump and groove. I wrote a long list of possible influences but pretty much anything can be poured into the rubber jelly mould these chancers were using as a template. I had Bongoleeros as the sponge fingers at the bottom, rising to Camberwell Now as the sprinkles on the top with the intervening trifle liberally laced with crushed co-codamol and dark rum. You might as well just grab a big spoon and enjoy it. They went down a treat.

At this point tiredness, over-excitement and anticipation of a full-on Saturday began to smear my focus. I understand VALERIO TRICOLI was a festival highlight for some, but for me ten minutes sufficed and the rest of his set provided a handy break for socialising outside before headliners UNITED BIBLE STUDIES.

(Top pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I’ve had an interest in UBS and affiliated label Deserted Village for years (check out Gavin Prior’s Always Summer Somewhere – one of my favourite albums of recent times) and was looking forward to being transported by these veterans of cosmic and free folk. The experience was sure to be enhanced too by the presence in the line-up of Sophie Cooper – genius musician, daring promoter, RFM alumni, all-round enthusiast and glorious credit to the species – on vocals and trombone. I have to admit to sniggering a bit at the ‘misty forest’ nature of the lyrics – never been able to take that seriously – but what I did see was presented with care, skill and passion. I’m sure if I’d been in a fitter, or perhaps more altered, state it would have been transcendent. As it was I had to admit that it wasn’t for me – or, more accurately, that I wasn’t for it – and slink away back to the hotel, feeling like a ghost as I picked my way unheeded through the chaos of chucking out time on the Newcastle side of the river.

SATURDAY

My artist info sheet requested my presence at the venue at 11am on Saturday morning so, of course, I was settled in Sage at 10. I sat at a window table on the concourse and distractedly tried to revise my notes. After about fifteen minutes of stress induced gastric tightening I risked lifting a cheek for what I hoped would be a discreet puff but instead I let rip with possibly the loudest fart of my entire life. Ricocheting off the plastic chair it reverberated around the vast atrium like the whole of yesterday’s DRONE ENSEMBLE set condensed into three wet seconds. I mention this event for two reasons. Firstly, it was well funny. I couldn’t help laughing, as did the bloke sitting three tables away from me. I was, after all, a stone’s throw from the birthplace of Viz comic. Secondly, it was one of those beautiful bodily sensations – like a hot shower after a day’s walk, like listening to Aqua Dentata, like eating a really good fish finger sandwich – that leaves you feeling absolutely content and in tune with the universe. Sure, I’d still be nervous but I knew the day ahead was going to be just fine.

At about ten thirty I trotted upstairs and over the next two hours I met the lovely Orchi and David the stage manager who were going to help me through the afternoon, had the great pleasure of shaking hands with ANDREW LILES, said hello to the ever-accommodating Joe who was to be my beautiful assistant during the show later, plugged in my midwich set up FOR THE LAST TIME…

(Pic by Duncan Harrison, @Young_Arms)

…and was bear-hugged by my old mucker Ben Young, university friend and Newcastle resident who had a day pass to hang out. I also chatted to Lee Etherington, TUSK head honcho, who was exhibiting his tidy knack of appearing at exactly the right moment to exude an air of relaxed confidence and say helpful and reassuring things. He is the Mr Benn’s shopkeeper of the avant-garde. I sloped out of ANDREW LILE’s satisfyingly chewy set at the halfway mark to meet up with my panellists and, all of a sudden, it was time for the WHAT HAPPENS UNDERGROUND discussion.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

We settled into our comfy chairs, toyed with the microphones we’d been given and I started proceedings by reading a round of introductions:

My name is Rob Hayler and I’ll be your host for this hour (Aside: yes, I did write down my own name – I can usually remember it, true, but I thought it best not to tempt fate in this high pressure situation). For the last 18 years I have performed and recorded as midwich and my LAST EVER SHOW using that name will follow this talk. I also founded the radio free midwich blog and coined the term ‘no-audience underground’ to describe the largely self-sufficient noise scene that some of us here are part of.

Next is Soo Fitz, or Susan Fitzpatrick as her Mam might insist. As well as performing as Joyce Whitchurch and as half of Acrid Lactations, Soo lectures in Geography and has written on such topics as the spatial politics of DIY gigs and the ways the term ‘community’ gets deployed and politicised in the context of urban mega events such as the European Capital of Culture. My RFM colleague Joe Murray described her as “one of the most frighteningly pure improvisers I’ve had the joy to watch.”

Hopefully everyone here will recognize Duncan Harrison from his gobsmacking performance in Sage 2 last night (Aside: I wrote that before Duncan’s performance, of course, but luckily he had smacked our gobs). Duncan is a skilled collagist in both visual and audio art and we love his work because as well as being properly thought through it never fails to be thoroughly entertaining. He’s no stranger to academia but is happy call out bollocks when he hears it and to get dirt under his fingernails with us no-audience scuzzbuckets.

…and here’s Dawn Bothwell. Dawn should be well known ’round these parts, not least for her performance in Hen Ogledd with Rhodri Davies and Richard Dawson at last year’s TUSK and for her other musical projects such as Pentecostal Party. She also curates for CIRCA Projects and The Northern Charter and those that visit The Shipley Art Gallery here in Gateshead during the festival can see the My Part Of Your Home exhibition that CIRCA Projects put together. Yesterday’s Festival is Sudden event there was a great kick start to this year’s TUSK too.

Finally, Adam Denton. A musician and researcher with a background in guitar noise and releases on many very smart labels, Adam plays solo as Swan Hunter, is half of the duo Trans/Human and has worked extensively with Nicole Vivien Watson of Surface Area Dance Theatre. Joe Murray’s one sentence account of his work runs as follows: “generally has a load of gear on the table and makes it all sound pretty gnarly.” (Aside: Adam groaned afterwards at how out of date this account of his activities was so I recommend interested parties get busy with Google to catch up.)

Interesting bunch, eh? I began by asking each panellist in turn for some ideas as to what it means to be ‘underground’ nowadays and we took it from there. As I have no notes or transcript it is safest to wait to hear what was said for yourself once it is available via the TUSK archive. I’ll just talk a bit about the experience and some thoughts that occurred to me as a result. Firstly, having a microphone and a large room full of people waiting to hear what you have to say isn’t entirely alien to me but I haven’t done it for years, nor have I ever had to do the cat-herding needed to keep a five-way, real-time discussion on track in front of an audience. I had, naively perhaps, imagined a light, celebratory hour during which we praised each other’s efforts, made recommendations, told d.i.y. stories and slapped a few sacred cows on the arse, and there was some of that, but there was also plenty of darker and more serious stuff about the appropriation of ‘culture’ and ‘community’, suspicions as to the motives and competence of funding bodies and concerns about the availability of venues and the overall future for d.i.y. art and music.

The topic that has stuck with me is the question of the availability of venues. What with the Old Police House being closed after TUSK weekend and the actions of Gateshead Council clearly causing anger and frustration – see Friday night’s SWARM FRONT performance for one righteously furious spin on it – this issue is currently an open wound. It seems to me that running a venue is not something I have given sufficient thought to in my, *ahem* ‘theorising’. As a promoter I follow the ‘Dan Thomas method’: work out what you can afford to lose on the event, plan accordingly, find ways of getting it done. As an artist I don’t think I’m owed a damn thing, not even by the very few people who give a monkey’s about my ‘work’. However, the lass from building regulations will not be satisfied with a vegan curry and taxi fare, nor can the electricity bill be settled with £20 from the door and a sofa to sleep on. This seems to be the place where all my punkish nobility and integrity gets bloodied by grim reality.

That said, there does always seem to be somewhere. In the decades I’ve been attending shows here in Leeds, for example, many venues have been and gone, or remain and go through phases of welcome or hostility depending on changes in management (The Adelphi – once a Tetley draymen’s pub and spiritual home of Termite Club is now a place where beardos nod approvingly at how reasonable ten quid is for a burger). One of the benefits of there not being many of us is that we don’t need a giant box to sit in. Adam suggested, in a despairing tone, that the future might be gigs in people’s houses but I think, well, yeah, on a temporary basis whilst we sort stuff out, why not? One of the finest shows I’ve seen in recent years was Ocelocelot in Kieran Piercy’s basement… We survive, like the rats we are.

But I digress…

At the end of the hour Sophie Cooper, sat out front, piped up with a glorious gush of love and enthusiasm for music, her friends and the scene and that gave me the opportunity to end on a high. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Soo, Duncan, Adam and Dawn for being game and joining me – I’m sure we could have gone on all afternoon once we’d got warmed up. It was a great thing to be part of and I’ve been pleased that reaction to the debate has been positive with many commenting that it provided food for thought.

One last thing: I promised Lee Stokoe that there would be some biting of the hands that feed us and, aside from swearing at The Guardian, I feel bad for wimping out on that. So, for the record: fuck The Guardian (again) for its sudden and pathetic ‘interest’ in the underground, that rag has become a disgrace to its legacy. Fuck The Wire for being an unreadable, soulless, joy vacuum. Fuck The Quietus for being even worse: a relic of an irrelevant critical empire, a black hole of boredom. Fuck Sage for being a ‘liberal arts’ funding-hoover whilst hosting UKIP and licking up corporate vomit in return for sponsorship money. Fuck the Arts Council for, whoo boy, where to even start with that hive of corruption, that shameful gibberish factory? And finally, fuck TUSK for… heh, heh – nah, TUSK is alright. Sand in the vaseline, innit?

Up next was midwich. Excuse me quoting myself from my previous post…

Anyone who has spoken to me before or after any midwich gig of recent years has heard me complaining about the growing unreliability of the Roland MC-303 Groovebox that has been (almost) my sole instrument since 1999. It’s a remarkable machine but it has been hammered to the point that getting what I want out of it involves an ungainly combo of cajoling and brute force. I have long spoken of a ‘final’ performance. This would be a ‘Greatest Hits package’ ending with the tearing up of the manual and the dismantling of the machine, handing out keys, pots and components to audience members as souvenirs. What more satisfyingly perverse way could there be to end a long term man/machine relationship than with a ritual disembowelment at a prestige venue?

…as this is pretty much what happened. I took my boots off, announced what was to occur and pressed play on a recording of seagulls over Chesil Beach.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

I was having my cake and eating it here – sounds of the sea are a ridiculous ‘ambient’ music cliché but, even so, it does still set the mood and it is a lovely piece. When I was ready I slowly faded up into a drone and started wigging out to the rhythms emerging from it. The sound was perfect (hey, it can always be louder), the vibe immersive, the lighting sympathetic, the room full. Much to my amusement I even had a smoke machine. I was very, very happy – in the moment – enjoying myself hugely.

(Pic by Joe Murray, @joeposset)

As an interlude I used Joe’s piece as posset from eye for detail, the charity fundraiser album of midwich remixes. ‘a moment of stillness’ is a selection of my writing for this blog, read by Joe then subjected to his dictaphonic jinking. From this I began a version of the title track from Inertia Crocodile – this throb, collapsing in on itself, was the pan sonic tribute part of the set and, I thought, a fitting last track to play live on this beautiful, soulful machine. It ended with a crescendo as I used both hands and my forehead to hold down every key – this was my ‘A Day in the Life’ moment – before the final hands off.

(Above Joincey, @joincey, below Joe, @joeposset)

OK, now the theatre. I pressed play on my little mp3 walkman again, this time the brunt, a favourite lengthy drone I was going to use as cover and – because I thought it would be funny – put on a white crime scene investigation overall that I’d lifted from a murder mystery themed works away day, comically struggling to get my right arm in. As Sophie wailed…

DON’T DO IT!

I flipped the box and got busy with the screwdriver. The screws were tiny, black and fixed into a black backplate so under the dim stage light and with wildly shaking hands it took a moment to get started. For the obvious reason, I couldn’t rehearse this so I was going off some half-remembered service-and-repair pictures I’d seen on the internet. I had planned a gentle and respectful demise – surgery not butchery – but, as I couldn’t find a couple of hidden screws, I resorted to force to yank out the ribbons and snap the circuitry. It felt… good, complicated. Whilst this was going on Joe distributed the torn pages of the manual in school assembly style (“Take one and pass them along please, I’m afraid you’ll have to share.”). I slipped a couple of bits – including the volume control, bane of our relationship – into my own pocket and lined up the rest of the pieces on the floor in front of the stage.

(Pic by Joe, @joeposset)

To everyone’s amusement, David the stage manager lit them with a swirly lighting effect. And that was that: 18 years of midwich, done. I faded out the soundtrack, took a bow, dug the applause and invited all comers to snatch a souvenir. It was one of the most enjoyable and satisfying moments of my involvement with music, with the ‘underground’, with all of this.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey, note Andy of TQ fanzine in the foreground making off with a massive chunk.)

Fortunately, no other act was following me in the hall so I had a few precious minutes to gather myself together and pack up with the house lights on. David Howcroft of No Audience Underground tapes (see review below) took the entire contents of the bin I’d dumped my CSI suit into so look out for some interestingly packaged tapes from him. I walked out feeling triumphant and shamelessly fished for compliments amongst those milling around on the balcony (although I did make sure and ask Mike Xazzaz if he liked it because I knew that surly bastard would be honest and say ‘no’ which, of course, he did. Heh, heh – I love him so much). When sufficient approbation had been collected I wandered back across the river to the hotel with my pal Ben. At this point I began to notice the blood and cuts all over my hands.

Ben and I met at university in Leeds in 1991 where we shared digs and both studied philosophy. I will be forever grateful that being around the insufferable bell-end that I was at the time (can you imagine me in my early twenties? I shudder at my former twattitude) didn’t put him off me for life and was delighted when we rekindled contact a few years back after he discovered this blog. Now a Newcastle resident and the father of a young lad himself we had arranged to cane Saturday together, albeit in a gentle, tired, middle-aged manner.

The original plan was to go to everything, including the afternoon show at The Old Police House to see LUSH WORKER, but once we sat down in a hipsterish pizza restaurant (it had a full size model of a horse, painted gold, looking out of the doorway – its arse in line with two pizza ovens inside) it was clear we weren’t going anywhere. Ben listened graciously to me babble on about what had just happened – I was beginning to feel a little shaky as the buzz subsided and was replaced with a diabetic hypo – then we caught up on life, parenthood, the world at large. Ben’s unimpeachable politics and the thoughtful, generous way he deals with the insanity surrounding us is an inspiration. His company was perfect.

Eventually we hauled ourselves out and back to Sage for an evening of socializing, showing off my workplace injuries and one damn musical highlight after another. Aside from greatly missing our Mexican cousin Miguel Perez whose appearance had made last year such an unforgettable event (I understand he watched the livestream of my set – bless you, comrade!) the 2017 line-up felt much stronger and more consistent throughout the weekend than that of 2016.

Take, for example, KINK GONG. Laurent Janneau – looking cool as fuck in this wonderful photo by Joe – presented a forty minute collage of chopped and layered field recordings, ebbing and flowing in a near-psychedelic audio approximation of culture shock, of travelling far outside your comfort zone. He also invited us to sit down and relax at the beginning of the set which was very polite. I welcomed the opportunity to stare at my shoes and concentrate entirely on the music though looking up revealed that rarest of exotic birds: a lap top artist who looked genuinely transported by what they were doing. He stared intently, smiled, closed his eyes, nodded to a favourite rhythm internal to the cacophony. It was a beautiful, charismatic performance.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Following that was one of the highlights of the festival, one of those joyous ‘what the fuck?’ moments that are la spécialité de la maison chez TUSK. STARAYA DEREVNYA, a collective of Russian/Isreali anarchists, played in near-total darkness in order to shift our attention from their strange collection of instruments, some clearly home-made or adopted (a rocking chair?), to the work of the artist using iPad software (an app called Tagtool apparently) to create and animate a visual accompaniment projected onto the screen above. I later found out that the band had pre-planned beginning, middle and end points and the rest was improvised, albeit rehearsed in a very disciplined way for a week beforehand. The visual side was sometimes a prompt or spur for the music, sometimes an interpretation of or reaction to what was being played.

At the time, stood in the dark, I knew nothing of these logistics and was simply and absolutely rapt. It was psychedelic and truly dream-like in a way that so little art described as ‘surreal’ gets anywhere near. It was fluid and varied in tone but consistent in atmosphere and never felt unsure of itself. Their was something folkloric about the vibe – like listening to a recording of your great great grandmother telling stories about what lived in the woods on the outskirts of her village in the old country, slipping in and out of a forgotten dialect as she reached back for the details. Ben and I chatted to the lovely Gosha, STARAYA DEREVNYA’s head honcho (for want of a better description), afterwards and he was humble and gracious as we gushed with praise.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Decades of involvement with noise have left me cynical and suspicious of costumes (likewise mess. As a former promoter I rarely enjoy it – this weekend’s melon pulp excepted, of course – as my first thought is ‘oh great, someone is missing the last bus to clean up that crap.’). There seems to be a zero sum relationship between the elaborateness of the set-up and the generic averageness of the actual music: ‘oh great, Mr. Blobby has heard a Merzbow CD’. With that in mind I stood at the back near the stairs for HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET but I needn’t have worried – it was ace.

Their squalling racket had an exuberant bounce to it, the rubbery al dente texture of a highly processed, alarmingly coloured food stuff, allegedly of ‘natural’ origin but about eight times removed by the laboratories of food science. The outfits – they were basically dressed as a gingerbread village – suggested the same folkloric setting as the tales interpreted by STARAYA DEREVNYA but this time described by a four year old after binging on cheese strings.

Finally then, Saturday was topped by BRAINBOMBS. At this point I was grey with tiredness and all set to split but the most un-TUSK-like behaviour of the crowd spiked me with something I remembered from my teenage years as a skate punk. There were a lot of people, mainly serious looking dudes in black t-shirts, intent on getting to the front. This was clearly a much anticipated event and when they started playing people moshed, shook fists and (unique in my experience of TUSK) threw a drink at the band. Blimey! This last led to the frontman making a twat of himself by walking off for a comically short time. Aside from the trumpet player looking a little nervous the rest of the band didn’t even stop playing. They were loud, heavy and fortunately the lyrics were inaudible but I’d had enough after three songs.

Walking through Newcastle at that time on a Saturday night proved pretty spicy. Nowt worrying – the only threatening behaviour I saw was one bloke challenging two coppers who were hassling a homeless guy. Good for him, I thought, as I scuttled past – it’s just that I’ve never seen a crowd so pissed. Everyone seemed distressingly young too. It was like walking through a Little Mix video but with all the participants drunk to the point of being unable to stand.  And screeching.

Back at the hotel I bathed my stinging hands, retired to bed and stared at nothing until well into the early hours, unable to sleep, processing the day.

SUNDAY

Sunday I woke early and raw – head thumping, hands aching – but in a buoyant mood. Needing air, I headed to the railway station shops for supplies, skipping merrily over the broken glass, discarded chips and pools of vomit that were already being swept up and washed away by weary looking council guys in a fleet of Scarab street cleaners.

I’d arranged to meet Ben again, this time with his partner Kadie and two-year old son Wynn, so was soon weaving my way through Quayside Market (clocking all the hipster-bait street food stalls with an eye out for my future lunch) and parking my arse on a railing. It was another glorious, blustery day and as I sat waiting I enjoyed the view and the satisfying whirr and clatter of bikes crossing the river using Millennium Bridge. We adjourned to Sage to indulge in more politics/parenthood chat over expensive flapjack before exchanging farewells. I had to hurry to get to Workplace Gallery in time for CLUB PONDEROSA LIVE at midday.

As I stood at a pedestrian crossing, mentally absent, my reverie was punctured by a fellow Tusker, later introduced as Emma, telling me that she’d enjoyed my set of yesterday. I considered this an inspired opening to a conversation and was instantly impressed by her taste and credibility. Indeed, my step got springier as I realised this event might have attendees that I hadn’t already milked for praise. On our arrival it appeared that things were running late, presumably due to the presence of jazz musicians, so pockets of support hung around outside chatting bollocks and wishing each other ‘good morning’. You must have noticed that the first event of a festival day is always considered the ‘morning’ whenever it occurs.

(Pic by Joincey, @joincey)

Following herd instinct, there came a point when we knew it was time to crowd in and succumb to the all-enveloping embrace of BRB>CULVER. Kev (Wilkinson, crouched) and Lee (Stokoe, hunched) brought forth a roar of such depth and profundity that I don’t hesitate to use the word ‘perfect’.  This kind of thing is a shortcut to nirvana for me – time and desire are obliterated, I want nothing but to be here now experiencing this noise.  It is primal, without scale, yet full of detail – like the sea pulling a beach down the coast one wave at a time, every pulse dragging uncountable pebbles over each other.  That the pair magicked this into being with such (seeming) nonchalance was too much for me.  I lost my shit.

(Aside: coincidental accompaniment for the performance was a projected slideshow of photographs taken by JOINCEY, which were being shown as part of the TUSK/Workplace Gallery CLUB PONDEROSA exhibition.  JOINCEY’s beat is the beshitted pavements of crap town Britain and his deadpan documentation of the depressingly ridiculous, the comically underwhelming and the occasional, surprising moment of beauty or symmetry is brilliant.)

As nothing was going to follow that (with apologies to ARCHIPELAGO, who did) I let me stomach lead me back to the market, scored some sort of authentically Spanish/Geordie chicken wrap and warmed another of Newcastle’s fine railings with my backside.  Forgetting the film programme and enjoying the clement weather I decided to wander the city centre for a couple of hours.  I was looking at Batman outfits in Primark when I realised that it was time to return to the art.

At 5pm two of Saturday’s favourites got together for a collaboration in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall.  Playing again in darkness, and again accompanying / accompanied by live animated painting, STARAYA DEREVNYA and HANS GRUSEL’S KRANKENKABINET (this time without costumes) pooled resources to return us to a dream of staircases in the forest.  I can’t tell you much about it for the same reason I can only guess at what was passing through my mind as I fell asleep last night.  However, beforehand people sat behind me were discussing William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland and this performance was a glove-like fit for the hypnagogic experience of losing yourself in that surreal masterpiece.  It was great – we stumbled out onto the balcony discombobulated, refreshed.

During KARA-LIS COVERDALE’s skittish and distracting (in a good way) set I found myself getting increasingly skittish and distracted (in a bad way) as I couldn’t find my wallet.  After checking every pocket in my clothing and every flap and cranny of my bag ten times during an extended self-fondle I resigned myself to an unwelcome walk back to the hotel.  It was there, of course, where I’d left it – an indication of how blown my mind was by this point of the weekend.  I arrived back at Sage in time to be ushered out again due to a fire alarm.  I would have really enjoyed a bellowing siren bouncing around that atrium but all we got was:

mahwahbwahmawahbawahanaamahwah

…only quieter and less distinct, which was either some early-NWW sub-vocalising or a safety announcement made through an inadequate PA.

(Pic by Paul Margree, @PaulMargree)

Anyway, fuck all that shit because next for me was KLEIN.  She had a microphone, two metal lecterns – one for a laptop and a mixer on the other – and played with beer can in hand, parka hood (mostly) up.  The set was a rush of disorientating cross chatter, of glistening bubbles and of high velocity, jolting noise.  If KINK GONG had summoned the nature of travel, KLEIN held up a punched mirror to contemporary existence right where we stood.  It was arresting, beautiful, hilariously deadpan, unfathomable.  I grinned, helpless.  During one section – a shining glass pyramid built from shards of techno pop – I felt myself welling up:

THIS IS THE FUTURE!

…I thought.

Afterwards I was buzzing, hyped, gobsmacked, hovering two inches above the floor and all conversations descended immediately into teenage hyperbole:

Me: HOLY SHIT, DID YOU SEE THAT? IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER!

Hapless Tusker: Yeah, it was pretty g…

Me [interrupting]; NO!! YOU HAVE TWO OPTIONS: THINKING IT WAS THE BEST THING EVER OR BEING WRONG!!!

Heh, heh <deep breath>…

OK, whilst putting this piece together, I’ve been torn as to whether to talk about KLEIN being a young, black woman and, if so, what to say.  But I think I have to.  Reading reviews of her recent EP for Hyperdub on sites such as Resident Advisor, her being young and black is not discussed, or even much remarked on, because in a dance music context being young and black is unremarkable.  Unfortunately, in the context of experimental music, especially ‘noise’, it is still unusual.  Looking around at the audience to make sure everyone was appropriately delighted, it occurred to me that KLEIN might be one of only a handful of young, black women in the building, possibly the only one.

Back when dominant trends in noise included leather-coated idiots screaming on about serial killers and race hate the absence of BME voices was entirely understandable – I didn’t really want to be part of it myself – but now, as that side of things has waned, or that anger refigured in more politically and artistically interesting directions, the lack of diversity is more puzzling and shaming.  I think that ‘we’ are a welcoming, open minded crowd with positive, progressive politics but then I would say that wouldn’t I?  I’m white, male, middle-aged, middle-class (more or less) and cis-gendered – and it is probably base assumptions still held by even well-meaning libtard snowflakes like me that are the problem.

For example, one of the most thrilling things about KLEIN’s set had been wondering where the hell it had come from.  I’m not usually fussed about biography but I couldn’t help wondering what influences and experiences led to her expressing herself in this manner.  I began thinking in dad-who-listens-to-1Xtra-when-he’s-washing-up clichés: R’n’B, YouTube, minicabs, pirate radio (showing my age there – is that even still a thing?) because it couldn’t be ‘the canon’ could it?  Then I took a step back and was embarrassed – I don’t know a thing about KLEIN (her hilarious, deflecting blog is no help with ‘facts’ either).  She could spend her evenings discussing plunderphonics and listening to Throbbing Gristle bootlegs, who knows?  Not me.  Sexism and gender bias is in there to.  In the programme notes I described KLEIN’s music as:

…cut-up soul futurism – all silk and pinking shears…

I meant to convey, in a quick and entertaining way, the idea that her smooth source material is chopped into jagged pieces then layered and rearranged by whatever processes she uses to compose.  So why did I use an analogy to dressmaking?  Fucking hell, I’ve got some thinking to do.  Would I have been so stoked had the same set been performed by a middle-aged white guy?  Probably not – I think the music was objectively exhilarating but I’m certain that it was given an edge by the feeling that I was witnessing something new and forward looking.  Mulling it over afterwards, that edge has only been sharpened.  I’m going to use it to cut away some of my mental flab.

By now I was pretty much delirious and sprawled out downstairs with Joe and friends wondering where the energy for the rest of the evening would come from.  Luckily, at that exact moment Joe received a message via the TUSK politburo whispa-ma-phone alerting him to a pizza delivery for the crew.  Using his magic lanyard, he whisked us backstage where we shamelessly stole food from the lovely staff and volunteers who had spent all weekend helping us.  For some reason this moment of naughtiness has stuck with me – a funny little irreverent highlight.  The sustenance was very welcome too.

I surfed the carbs and fat rush to the final set of the festival…

(Above pic by Mike Winship, @MikeWinship, below pic by Kevin Geraghty-Shewan, @deadheaduk)

So, at 11.30pm on a Sunday night in Gateshead I stood at the lip of the stage (no unseemly Brainbombs-style moshpit today) and watched NURSE WITH WOUND. There’s James Worse, dada prophet reciting his own twisted psalms and incantations. I feared the theatricality of his performance might prove hammy but, ach fuck it, his physical gusto – and terrific facial hair – won me over. There’s Andrew Liles, exuding confidence and adding some rock and roll swagger. I don’t know if the stance is ironic – his Bandcamp picture suggests it is – but he is charismatic enough to pull it off in any direction. There’s Colin Potter, co-responsible for Salt Marie Celeste, one of the most-listened-to-albums of my adult life. He looks as jittery as he did when performing a wonderful solo set at a disastrous, poorly attended Termite Club festival years ago (yeah, sorry about that Colin). His frantic concern that everything is working just so, even under huge swathes of clamour, is as charismatic in its way as Andrew Lile’s nonchalance. Finally, there’s Steven Stapleton, the main man, an unassuming presence on the left quietly getting on with his part in the racket whilst a slideshow of his collages is projected above.

I’ve already written about what this act means to me here so I’ll leave that largely to one side. The set itself was a swirling ball of poached noise coloured blood red, concrete grey and the iridescent green of graveyard moss by psych/dada elements. One particularly satisfying all-in tethered crescendo was a highlight. I dug it, it left me satiated. The applause at the end had that multi-faceted meaning it always does when you are in the same room as your heroes, as living legends: relief that they didn’t disappoint (c’mon, you know that is always a worry), congratulations on the actual set and, most importantly, thanks for the decades of work that led to this point.

We also clapped for TUSK – a fitting end to a terrific, beautiful, exhausting weekend. Thank you so much to all that made it happen.

CODA

Despite being a Monday there was a much more cheerful vibe on the train home: better seat, secure luggage and good eavesdropping:

Did you open your presents this morning?

Didn’t get any.

WHAAAT?! NOT EVEN A TUB OF HEROES?!!

Heh, heh.  Once everyone settled down I put Tuluum Shimmering’s Linus and Lucy on my mp3 player, a glorious 75 minute kraut/psych groove on the Peanuts theme tune, and stared backwards at everything that had just happened.  Finally it seemed time to give some serious thought to the question I’d been asked over and over again since Saturday afternoon:

What next?

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

TUSK to TUSK: rob hayler on the year past and the ‘final’ midwich show

September 22, 2017 at 11:42 am | Posted in midwich, musings, new music, no audience underground | 8 Comments
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TUSK 2017 poster

Shit.  Who would have thought that 2017 could turn out to be worse than 2016?  At the global level, possibly irreversible man-made climate change is screaming ‘I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO’ as it flattens, floods or incinerates.  The leader of the free world is a ham-faced, racist, narcissistic idiot who appears happy to boast about the prospect of nuclear war.  I started typing ‘I could go on..’ but I’m not sure I can.  I feel the same stomach-flipping foreboding that kept me awake as a teenager in the ‘80s.

On a more personal level, my plan to ‘sort everything out’ whilst on sabbatical from radio free midwich has yielded mixed results.  Without going into detail, months have been sliced from the year caring for elderly relatives following a ‘things will never be the same’ level accident.  My own life has been complicated by learning to cope with diabetes and other long-term, soul-withering nonsense that would be unwise for me to discuss on a public forum.  Everything is either an emergency or delayed indefinitely.

As I write, waves of rain are crashing against the back windows of the house, and Warehouse: Songs and Stories is playing quietly in the background, commemorating the untimely death of Grant Hart.  I look up at a post-it note with ‘fencing flatworm 2017 release: East of the Valley Blues’ written on it, placed at an optimistic angle on the wall nine months ago (sorry fellas)…

So [takes deep breath] what to do?  As always: count my blessings, be realistic, look forward. It ain’t all bad.  Living with my wife Anne and our four year old son Thomas is an inexhaustible source of strength and inspiration.  Family switches the light back on when it grows dark in my head.  Joe is doing a staggering job at the helm of this beautiful blog.  The #noiselife area of Twitter I frequent has offered an easy way of maintaining connections even at the busiest times.  And then there’s music, always music.  From bangers heard on 1Xtra whilst I’m cooking to the glottal pops and retches of the latest gurglecore tape as recommended below.

When talk of TUSK Festival 2017 started appearing on social media I recalled what a life-affirming blast it had been in 2016 and vented my frustration at our current lack of funds via a handful of joke tweets (read from bottom to top):

tusk tweets

This caught the attention of Lee Etherington, TUSK head honcho, and – fuck me – he only went for it!  So, at the moment it looks like I’m going to be hosting a discussion about the state of, ahem, ‘the underground’ then perform immediately after.  GET IN!  I’m delighted and as this is such a relatively high profile gig that I could use to springboard my career to the next level I’m going to… nah, only joking:

I’m going to use it to kill midwich.

NWW - A Sucked Orange cover pic

Some context.  One of the headline acts is Nurse With Wound.  I imagine virtually all readers of this blog will be familiar with at least some of the music of Steven Stapleton and his numerous collaborators.  As such, it is unlikely to surprise you that his work is an enormous influence on me, maybe one of the two biggest on my output as midwich.  The magickaldronetronics of Soliloquy for Lilith – constructed from recordings of self-playing pedal loops manipulated hands-off like a Theremin – is something I have pathetically tried to harness numerous times.  What might raise an eyebrow, though, is how much of the dada and whimsical side of Stapleton’s catalogue I’ve absorbed too.  In amongst the drones I’ve always used skittish interludes, sometimes jokey, sometimes intentionally irritating or deliberately on the verge of being so.  This is all the fault of albums like A Sucked Orange – a collection of off cuts that I adore – which is a perfect manifestation of Stapleton’s inspiring unconcern with the mucking about that comes with being, y’know, an actual musician.  It might genuinely be the case that the track ‘Pleasant Banjo Intro With Irritating Squeak’, a mere 43 seconds long, is the biggest musical influence not only on midwich but on how I think about what is possible in ‘the underground’.  Chew on that.

To be on the same bill as this band (albeit as part of a weekend-long festival and in an adjacent room) makes me feel rubbery with excitement and nerves.  This is pretty much all I wanted to happen one day.  Now it will, so I’m done.

(An aside on the other biggest influence on midwich: Pan sonic.  Oh god, how I loved their heaving rumble that had me gluing a coin to the cartridge to stop my prissy needle jumping off the record in disgust.  Just as impressive though was how they threaded this cyclopean density with intricacy, thought and playfulness.  Like an obsidian carving of Cthulhu shaking its polyps to Miami Bass.  The removal of the second ‘a’ from their name, then calling the following album ‘A’, is perhaps the most deadpan, thus funniest, ‘fuck you’ to corporate bullying I can think of.  Inspiring on so many levels.  I was truly saddened by Mika Vainio’s passing this year and, in my own hopelessly inadequate way, my set will be in tribute.)

pan sonic a

What then does it mean when I say ‘I’m going to kill midwich’?  Anyone who has spoken to me before or after any midwich gig of recent years has heard me complaining about the growing unreliability of the Roland MC-303 Groovebox that has been (almost) my sole instrument since 1999.  It’s a remarkable machine but it has been hammered to the point that getting what I want out of it involves an ungainly combo of cajoling and brute force.  I have long spoken of a ‘final’ performance.  This would be a ‘Greatest Hits package’ (I’m semi-serious – any requests?) ending with the tearing up of the manual and the dismantling of the machine, handing out keys, pots and components to audience members as souvenirs.  What more satisfyingly perverse way could there be to end a long term man/machine relationship than with a ritual disembowelment at a prestige venue? This finality has not yet been finalised – scheduling constraints may force a rethink – but if it proves possible I’m well up for carrying a much lighter bag back to the hotel…

groovebox

So: the prospect of a fun discussion followed by a unique performance with a self-sabotaging, tragic-comic finale, maybe even a physical souvenir!  And the same ticket – very reasonably priced weekend or day options available – sees you right for all the other choice oddness occurring too.

Unmissable, eh? See you there.

TUSK Festival 2017, Sage Gateshead, 13-15 October

midwich Bandcamp site

—ooOoo—

 

the 2016 zellaby awards

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

Ugh, those canapés must be really stale by now…

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

Who on Earth would want to celebrate 2016?

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of year pieces from everyone, boss…

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

capsules

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

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

The Balustrade Ensemble – Capsules (Ominous Recordings, 2007)

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

Dangerous Visions radio series (BBC Radio4, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

1. death of heroes

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

2. ghost ship tragedy

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

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

for-marlo

3. #pizzagate

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

junk-seance

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

Wormrot – Voices

Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Lovely Honkey – Completely Wastes Your Time

Dylan Nyoukis & Friends – Mind Yon Time?

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

Pudern & Vomir – Split

Error Massage – Rooby

Robert Ridley-Shackleton – Tupperwave

Moon – Diseasing Rock Who

F. Ampism – The Resolution Phase

Posset – Cooperation Makes Us Wise

Posset – The Gratitude Vest

Stuart Chalmers and yol – Junk Seance

Stuart Chalmers – Imaginary Musicks vol. 5

Stuart Chalmers – In the Heart of the Wilderness

Usurper – The Big Five

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

Clive Henry – Hymns

The Skull Mask – Walls of Convenience

Triple Heater – Aurochs

The Custodians – Moribund Mules and Musket Fire

Yume Hayashi – What The Summer Rain Knows

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

xx

—ooOoo—

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

furchick

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:

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

Records and tapes of the year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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In previous years one of the Zellaby Award categories has been the Stokoe Cup, given for maintaining quality control over a huge body of work making it impossible to pick individual releases in an end of year round up.  I know I said I’d ditched these honours but this year there is such a clear winner that I cannot help but unlock the trophy cabinet.

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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Bronze: Julian Bradley and Neil Campbell – FOR LILA O

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

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

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Silver: Helicopter Quartet – Electric Fence

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

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

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

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

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Gold: East of the Valley Blues – EOVTB

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

Wonderful!  Wonderful, wonderful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and he is right, of course.

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

All is love, Rob H x

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Next up it was Miguel Perez, playing as Skull Mask … This was what I was here to see and his set – just man and guitar – was astounding. Flamenco flourishes, desert folk, improv spikiness and metal hammering flowed, pressed and burst like a time-lapse film of jungle flowers opening, like lava flow, like clouds of starlings at dusk, like liquid mercury. Miguel is one of the most technically adept guitarists I have ever seen but all that virtuosity is in service of one thing: the truth. To say the music of Skull Mask is heartfelt or sincere is to understate the raw beauty of what it reveals: a soul. Miguel’s soul.

Stood at the front I found myself having an out of body experience. Part of me was enjoying it on an absolutely visceral level, unwaveringly engaged, but another part of me was floating above thinking about what the experience meant.

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

HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!!  FUCK!!!

—ooOoo—

radiofreemidwich goes to tusk festival 2016

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

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

Let’s just start with the car.

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

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

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

Is this Rob? This is Rob!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOLY FUCKING CHRIST!! MIGUEL IS SAT RIGHT IN FUCKING FRONT OF ME PLAYING THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF THAT FUCKING GUITAR!!  FUCK!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

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

Right then, NOW let’s go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus sound installation by MP Wood.

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

Free with Tusk pass, £3 without.

The Soundroom

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

Nah, that kind of thing just happens around here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and it wasn’t even 5pm.

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

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

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

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

Now I know why everyone loves them!

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

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

C’mon Miguel you’re on!

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see each other again sometime, right?

Yes.  We will.

—ooOoo—

Postscript:

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival

tusk arrives…

October 14, 2016 at 9:54 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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tusk poster

Right then folks, I’ve packed my bindle and I’m off to TUSK. Because my ‘phone is carved out of wood I shall have no access to Twitter, email or this blog for the duration so if you need to contact me you will have to stand in my presence, extend your hand for shaking and make some kind of greeting noise with your actual mouth. Hugs may be acceptable – gauge the mood.

My midwich set for Dark Tusk on Saturday afternoon is in the bag (figuratively and literally) and will, I hope, sound whip-smart at silly volume. The other three acts on are unmissable anyway.

There is much to look forward to!  I am light and rubbery with excitement!  See you there!

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus sound installation by MP Wood.

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

Free with Tusk pass, £3 without.

The Soundroom

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

See you all soon!

—ooOoo—

TUSK Fringe events

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

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

Skull Mask – Alzhared (self-released download)

Skull Mask – Sin Nada (self-released download)

Skull Mask – Aura (self-released download)

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—ooOoo—

TUSK Festival (Miguel plays on the Friday 14th)

Cafe OTO (Miguel plays on Thursday 13th)

Skull Mask

NECK VS THROAT

patina of yuks: joe murray on the new blockaders, charles dexter ward, libbe matz gang, dr:wr

December 16, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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The New Blockaders – Everything You Ever Needed (tape, Fuckin’ Amateurs, edition of 12, FA90)

The New Blockaders – A Beginner’s Guide to TNB (tape, Loxley Tapes, edition of 45)

Charles Dexter Ward – CDW 111014 (TUSK) (self-released download)

Charles Dexter Ward – Past Lives (tape, Matching Head, MH208)

Libbe Matz Gang – Infantilised Britain EP (7″ single, Libertatia Overseas Trading, LMG4S, edition of 150)

DR:WR  – Trippin’ Daggers Inner Skull Metal Blade Musique (self-released CD-r with ‘original gonzo artwork’, edition of 20 or download)

TNB beginners 3TNB beginners 1TNB beginners 2TNB beginners 4TNB everything

The New Blockaders – Everything You Ever Needed and A Beginner’s Guide to TNB

A warning.  Art-jokers The New Blockaders like to keep folks on their toes right?  They’ve toyed with ‘blank’ tapes, live performances that contain no actual Blockading and recordings that never see the light of day.  The question on many lips seems to be…

Will this be a real Blockaders recording or some grimy stunt?

The extra patina of yuks comes from the labels themselves, Fuckin’ Amateurs & Loxley Tapes.  In Blyth parlance they are most definitely, ‘cheeky fond’.  Translation – loveable rogues, with a long history of bootlegged, unofficial and deliberately misleading recordings dubbed quickly and distributed for free.

This time F#A! and Loxley have really nailed the presentation: A Beginner’s Guide… is encased in a rusty metal tin, dripping with foul-smelling bitumen.  The tape itself smeared with grime and grit.  Everything You Ever Needed is less dirty, the monochrome artwork sporting a spot-on-grim smeared photo of local graffiti, but more or less playable.

Both of these tapes were originally dealt out personally to folk at Newcastle’s TUSK fest by F#A! frontman Martin dressed as a police officer.  The remainder were shoved in a bag and left near the bins behind the Star & Shadow cinema for people to stumble upon.

1. How does it sound?  The title gives us a clue of sorts.  Side A, ‘ACAB – Changez Les Blockeurs vs Live at Morden Tower’ sounds to my tin-ear like two live recordings jammed together.  These kind of extended noise jams are always tricky to describe.  Here goes…

SKKKEKKKEKK…approximately 30 minutes of mega-amplified squeaky plimsoll on hardwood gym floor…HHHHHUUUUMMmmmmm…moving furniture, painful feedback squeals…KUUMMSSKKkkkkkkSSSSS..broken-glass shatter, spurting electric springs…BuuuuuuummmmBBBB…rusty metal shearing all delivered with hectic energy.

It’s soooo frantic.  Any pauses are brief oases and end sharply as things get broken and kicked with renewed vigour.  Say what you like about this dark art: it’s really exciting.  I can see my teenage self jamming this full-throttle alongside Suicidal Tendencies whilst disastrously skating the local parks.

Side B is labelled ‘Blank’ and seems to be really, like blank man.  Totally silent without no background hiss or nothing to judder or hang on to.  OK…given the TNB history that’s all very fitting.   I’m fine with all that.

As I deconstruct The Beginner’s Guide I swoon for this is indeed a beautiful object.  From the insert replicating the famous TNB manifesto to the detailed sleeve notes (hidden inside the tin) it just hums attention to detail.  Shining a torch inside the thing suggests this is a TNB approved compilation of their greatest hits; a handy taster for any up-and-coming noise fan.  The only problem is I can’t play it.  Some of the blue grit (the sort of thing you find at the bottom of a fish tank) has gummed up the spools so my cheap-o-stereo just whirred uselessly and looked at me whispering…

Really?  Are you sure?

…under it’s cheap-o breath.

So, dear reader, I’m no further forward with my original ponder: is this TNB or some stunt?  I’m not sure – it seems genuine enough but I’m no expert.  I reckon as long as everyone goes into things with their eyes open we’re all good.   Yeah?

What are your chances of picking one of these up?  Slim I’m afraid.  But in true New Blockaders style… why would you?  Reject the Art!  Use the above blueprint to create your own.   I’ve got a hot nut for some amplified baking tray action just right for this one.

Mamma…we’re all Blockaders now!

CDWcdw tusk

Charles Dexter Ward – CDW 111014 (TUSK) and Past Lives

Brace yourself for a clutch of psych/drone/kraut-tronics from the wonderful Charles Dexter Ward (the tweedy beast).  First up this super-hectic live piece from CDW’s storming set at this year’s TUSK festival.  Things start all relaxed alright: water bubbling, birds singing and Greensleeves style plucking afore…

Yonder!

The analogue synths start to mist up your eye mask with long-haired groaning lurchers.  Slowly, so slowly, new textures (a two note keyboard hum) are added, like peeling an onion in reverse, with each papery skin folding up nicely over the next all neat n’ tight.

Content to let this scene build for over ten minutes the patient Mr Ward starts adding guitar riffs, each loaded with potent chemicals.  The rhythmic strumming builds up and up into rapier-sharp soloing clearing the vapours like menthol.  And it’s this electric soloing, ecstatic and optimistic that makes CDW my contender for the No Audience Crossover prize.  I can picture this, in my giddy mind’s eye, going down in hearty gulps at shindigs like the Liverpool Psych Festival or Islington’s Union Chapel.

There’s a universal in the grain of that guitar sound…a forward motion that’s as unstoppable as evolution.  Don’t believe me?  Watch with those beady eyes!

The title of the Past Lives tape is a cheeky wink to the age of some of these recordings.  Two of the four tracks are from circa 1996 but are in no way patchouli-scented juvenilia.  Both dark and gloomy ‘Pathfinder’ is one of the back catalogue offerings; a brief but richly fertile drone building up into a drumlin – a soft-boiled egg in sound.

‘131213’ starts all Carlos Castaneda with that wide-open-spaces-desert sound; shimmering guitar and gritty synth as distant and insistent as the mid-day sun beating down on your naked pate.

But, as the analogue storm slowly blackens and brews, I’m transported to an alternate space.  The sense of heat and desolation remains but it’s altogether more sinister now.  An abandoned drive-in stands lonely as a poisoner.  The tattered screen flickers and springs into life, washed-out colours are slightly unfocused as a Mexican version of Assault on Precinct 13 plays to its audience of one.  The slowly shifting colours on screen smear out the violence behind.

Side B opens with ‘010612’; a synth-led warble and fritter.  All the juddering warps the stereo-vision like a mirage in sound.  Tones flit in and out of focus, showing a partial shape but content to tease until a pair of tamed sea-lions honk in harmony (errr…probably a guitar played with e-bow in reality but please grant me this indulgence).  The mantra continues as a raga based on charred notes from Rugby’s space programme but by upping the noise quotient this moves beyond any stale rock music and closer into the tumbling chaos of Edgard Varese.

‘Stereo’, the final piece and another offering from the crypt, is a roughly psychedelic theme tune.  Slowly descending chords wreathed in glistening effects remind me of that AR Kane lot when they spoke about remaking Bitches Brew but with guitar feedback.  This is a questing sketch (at about 2 minutes long, it makes me want to hear more).  An ode to yearning.

libbe matz gang

Libbe Matz Gang – Infantilised Britain EP

Raised as I was on the heady tripod of Jazz, Heavy Metal and US Hardcore I’ve always felt slightly uneasy around electronics.  I mean, I dig all that kind of thing now; but I still have to take a deep breath when faced with anything resembling a plastic keyboard.

The Libbe Matz Gang have no such aversion as this neat little sevener is heavy on the ‘tronics right from the off.  This back of the bus rave on a Blackberry Bold with a cracked screen vibe is both harsh and heavy.  Each short track is a rap over the knuckles and cosh to the conscience with evocative titles like ‘Casualty to Custody’ and ‘Punterhunt 2’.

The sounds?  Well, like I said it’s electronics that rule.  What I hear in my ears is: bedpans emptied down a steel tube, concrete burrs over a rubber glove and guttering wobble.  The ghost of Chrome hollas a tune…and even forms a rhythm for a few bars.  Sonic bombs explode – a scurrying hustle of a contact mike dropped into a tin can, an elbow cracking a tender collarbone are all captured and served on brushed-steel platters.

While that takes care of your percussive needs be prepared for some snatches of speech that are World-in-Action grim/red-light district grotty. They add a dark heart to the bleak, fractured blasts of twisted noise rumbling under the surface.

Available now from their intriguing blog/news/update site.

dr-wr - trippin'

DR:WR – Trippin’ Daggers Inner Skull Metal Blade Musique

This is one of them discs that doesn’t like to sit about too long.  It’s itchy, it’s twitchy and keen to get up, pogo, lie down, roll on the floor and pretty much do everything in its power to grab your attention.  This is just the sort of slap I need from time to time.  Sure…I’ve got the patience for a 50 minute plus drone workout but I often favour the sugar-rich rush of folk who just want to jam an idea, stop, re-set their equipment, than jam another as quick as silver.

DR:WR have an attention solution.  And so in that very spirit I’m going to write this as each track plays.  No filler or bumf.  No navel gazing or theorising.  Just first impressions hammered home on the keys as quick as these folk make ‘em.

Mung Crow: Guitar scree played in forbidden harmonics.  Lumping beatbox high with cowbell and handclaps.

Hyper Tile: Super-burnt-electrics ripple like hot water then turn to freezing Napalm.

Lumbargo Extraction: The sort of beat Basic Channel reject for being too out-there played in the dark…no lasers!

Blood Rental: Fizzing electric squid.

City Storms: Oi Eno?  Is this what you’re up to these days?  Ambient for the terminally uneasy.  Seagulls solo.  The cliffs crumble in slo-mo.

Sherbet Delay: Tubular Bells heard through the chill-out room door.  A 4am vibe when my nerves are shredded by 16 hours or drum & bass and … I drift … slowly … … off.

There you go.  An instant reaction to this frothy disc just champing to be played.  You’ve got some time don’t ya?  I urge you to click here for this and more speedy enlightenment.

—ooOoo—

heft and chemistry: scott mckeating and joe murray on the unit ama

August 9, 2013 at 7:36 am | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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The Unit Ama – The Mason’s Mallet (vinyl LP, Tusk Records, TUF001)

 the unit ama

Ladies and gentlemen, your editor speaking.  There now follows an epic, mould-smashing experiment in tag-team journalism.  As both RFM staffers Scott McKeating and Joe Murray attended the gig at which this performance was recorded, and as both love the record, they decided to split it between ’em and review a side each.  Who am I to stand in the way of such bromantic celebration, eh?  See Scott’s opening paragraph for the hard facts of the matter, the rest is poetry…

—ooOoo—

Side A reviewed by Scott McKeating

Arriving onstage to a strong welcome from the in-the-know and familiar, and playing as a part of Newcastle Upon Tyne’s second Tusk Festival, The Unit Ama are another one of the North East of England’s unsung heroes. A trio comprising of bassist Jason Etherington, drummer Christian Alderson (who you can both find as members of the Miles-esque improv unit The Long Lonesome Go) and guitarist/vocalist Steven Malley, The Unit Ama are a ‘rock band’ in the same way Sonic Youth were/are a ‘rock band’. While these three players might work with tools of a power trio, they play fast and very loose with that particular setup’s conventions. For the record, and what its worth, Malley’s better loved by me for his outstanding folk project The Horse Loom than through this band or his rightfully lauded past as a member of both Crane and Kodiak, but there’s no denying the heft and the chemistry of The Unit Ama’s sound.

The opening track ‘Sycamore’ swiftly cranks itself up on its metallic guitar part, a muscled Husker ragged edged crunch that allows the rhythm to flex underneath. A push-and-pull of guitar and bass, there’s a lot in Ama’s rhythms that recall the sharp turns, mathness and force of Fugazi’s famed Lally/Canty engine. There are enough moments of structure melting under exploration to pull ‘The Mason’s Mallet’ away from being a straight-faced live document affair. Their post-punk flecked racket is mauled as it continues its momentum, the guitar ram raiding its way between Lee Ranaldo string wrangling one minute and micro Derek Bailey indebted investigations the next. Steven Malley’s voice is a mix of roar, wail and bullishness but there’s something tender and exposed in there too. The second track, ‘Sable’ is a more expansive piece though not without its wild bear at the limit of her chain ferocity. With warm lulls of  wide horizons and cauterised desertscapes, here The Unit Ama nod to their dissassociative side (recalling quiet Slint) without getting all post rock snoozy on us.

Side B reviewed by Joe Murray

This side opens with a knotted clump of notes tugged from the greasy strings of a bass guitar (penk…pendle-de-tumg) and accompanied by the dry-mouth gulps (glumm-broof-AW-Aowl) of Henri Chopin choking on bread sauce.  Soon drums have a look round the corner and say, ‘what about me then eh?’ and drop a tart ‘tub-tub-ping!’ all over the gaff.  Guitarist starts the harmonic star-light shine with a shimmering vocal (extracts from Miranda Grey’s diary perhaps?) into one of those muscular riffs that all rock groups wish for…like a Jordon/Minnesota, a Sunshine of your Love, a Flip yr Wig…one of them beauties.

And you know where you are for a bit.  The Power Trio doing that Power Trio thing…bass, drums, guitar all equal, all levels balanced, no bully-boy boss-man to stomp on your buzz.  Call me a bleeding heart but this is living, breathing musical socialism in practice.  I know where I am man.  This is going all the way man.  This chunka-chuka-chunka riff is going on forever man…right on down the freeway.  Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy.  The wind’s in my hair and my fist thumps the leopard-skin print steering wheel in time to that heavy, heavy riff.  Let’s fucking go man!  Hunter S Thompson and the Brown Buffalo.  Sure, we’ll stop for Gas and Tacos and a ‘worship at the altar of Quetzalcoatl’ guitar solo on the way but what we’re gearing up to is the inevitable BIG ROCK AND ROLL ENDING – cymbals crashing like Talos crashing to his knees, guitar & bass strings scoured for fair won victory.  I know where I am man.  Put your foot to the floor baby.  I ain’t never gonna stop.

But the Unit Ama have thought ahead and know the only way to stop this supernaut is not with a crash but with a change of medium.  With gentle love, love, love the blacktop turns to clear blue water, the highway becomes a placid lake.  One by one the guitar, bass and drums drop out to be replaced with shaker/mbira/percussion scraps…the propulsion is still there but this is more of a pedal power vibe, swish, swish swishing through English country  lanes…take your feet of the pedals to hear the ‘sccccciiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrr’ of cogs relaxing and freewheel to a stop. Tik tik tik tik…

—ooOoo—

…and that, dear readers, is that.  Allow me to draw proceedings to a formal conclusion and entreat you to buy here.

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