Tags: chrissie caulfield, death is not the end, east of the valley blues, helicopter quartet, joe henderson, joe murray, julian bradley, kevin cahill, luke vollar, marlo de lara, miguel perez, neil campbell, patrick cahill, power moves label, power moves library, skull mask, sophie cooper, tusk festival, zellaby awards
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.]
Firstly, RFM’s new recruit Joe Henderson takes the opportunity to introduce herself:
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.
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.
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
Luke Vollar now joins us via the open window to bellow about the stuff he likes:
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.
Next, Chrissie Caulfield with the trademark thoughtful enthusiasm that always has me clicking through:
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.
Joe Murray himself takes a bullet-pointed turn:
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?
…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?
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.
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.
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?]
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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!!!
Tags: tusk festival
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!
Tags: culver, joe murray, la mancha del pecado, lee stokoe, midwich, miguel perez, mp wood, neck vs throat, the soundroom, tusk festival, xazzaz, yol
Dark Tusk, Saturday 15th October, 2016
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.
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!
Tags: joe murray, miguel perez, neck vs throat, pascal nichols, skull mask, tusk festival, yol
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)
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.
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.
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.
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?
Tags: charles dexter ward, dr:wr, drone, electronica, fuckin' amateurs, improv, joe murray, karl mv waugh, libbe matz gang, libertatia overseas trading, loxley tapes, matching head, new music, no audience underground, noise, tapes, the new blockaders, tusk festival
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)
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!
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…
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 – 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’ 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.
Tags: christian alderson, free rock, jason etherington, joe murray, live music, new music, no audience underground, scott mckeating, steven malley, the horse loom, the long lonesome go, the unit ama, tusk festival, tusk records
The Unit Ama – The Mason’s Mallet (vinyl LP, Tusk Records, TUF001)
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…
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…
…and that, dear readers, is that. Allow me to draw proceedings to a formal conclusion and entreat you to buy here.