Metallic Shamanic: Joe Murray on a year with Usurper

February 2, 2017 at 8:13 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Usurper – Monthly Series: Jan – Dec 2016 (Giant Tank) 11 x CD-R and a card

Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives) C45 Tape

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You’d have to look, gosh, I don’t know where, to find a group more universally loved than Edinburgh’s Usurper.

Is it their high-concept but easily accessible approach; the media mix of what is strictly speaking, non-idiomatic improv, with goonish humour and fuzzy human warmth?  Could it be that their self-depreciation makes the razor-sharp, radical politics more comfortable to hug?

My theory?  It’s got something to do with their most excellent hair.

I know of no other N-AU group so popular with children and that, in itself, speaks volumes to me.

They label themselves as slackers but to my rheumy eyes they push harder than most, kicking across visual goofs and sonic adventures.  It is no surprise they started 2016 with a promise, to release a disc a month, and have delivered on this promise (fairly) reliably and with minimal drama.  That’s so Usurper!

So, into this swamp of ‘unreleased recordings, archival live jams and brand new bumf’; these twelve apostles of skronk, I dive into the dream…

January – Surprising noisy live jam breaks the fourth wall! Treated to a conversation about taping the damn show Usurper (with Grant ‘Muscle’ Smith) bollix an ironing board, drop tin cans and chuck a lapsteel into a free-form space.  It’s tingly sweet, it pops and clicks.  But there’s nae feart a NOISE with gutsy, rootsy string-wrangling whipping up an itchy hailstorm in an ice cream cone.

February – ALL GOB AND NAE TROUSERS it says and I get excited.  Not what you’re thinking man?  It’s a mouth jam alright.  This vocal jizz is all about maintained pressure so it keeps things tight and vibrating.  Fleshy lips and cheeks are pulled taut and greasy air passed through with force setting up unnatural hissing. Things ping, things pong.  One ‘surper is a red-necked rooster, the other a mollusc with stiff bristles; at the 8.30 mark the duck call sound and I collapse…completed

March – Classic bric-a-brac approach on vintage Usurper jam. 19 minutes captured (live) at The Chameleon unravel like a good detective novel.  Gentle shingle and rummaging, purposeful rattle and shake.  Some n.i.c.e. close-miked wriggles remove this from the no-input category but place neatly in the matchbox marked ‘interlocking sonics / gristle rubbers’.

April – The primary-coloured clown car implodes with loud brassy honks. Twin verbal routines decay as massive shoes stand on little necks. But the drivel drones on as a young lady twangs a buttered 12 inch ruler off the edge of a desk, secretly she makes goo-goo eyes at the sloppy Oppenheimer. Kapow!

May – Fantastic Voyage!  Ali & Malcy get shrunk to about 1cm tall and slide into a Euphonium’s sexy brass curves spraffing off their word-junk all the while.  Through the bright tubes and metallic hollows you get to follow a narrative of indistinct chunder.  A rare computer-glitch approach causes the kind of mille plateaux-shudder to make the beard-o’s sweat.  An exceptional month!

June – Like Radio 4 got took over by a case of mumps.  An inflammation of the glands live in London.  Sleeve notes say the boys were unsure, then sure, then unsure about this one.  I’m here to tell you it’s classic Usurper in the theatre-style.  Pure gibbering and insta-poems.  Pictures in sound and word become a menagerie (note: just noticed my copy gets to the 26th minute and then skips back to the 24th in a loop of dry clicks and sparse chair squeaks – it’s glorious!).

July – 11 minutes of fresh air.  This ultra-minimal instalment mixes feedback peals with slow steel rubbing and rickety clicking. You could almost mistake this for one of those Improvised Music From Japan affairs such is the pure and innocent clunking.  A checkers game of improvised sound structures?  GO with added electricity; a puttering moped farts into dramatic fade…

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August – Gadzooks!  This isn’t a record at all!  It’s a damn anniversary card.  Previously known as the month of Sextilis, golden August marks the melancholic end of summer…but for our bonny boys it’s all positive memory vibes, this card marking the start of their twenty (yes twenty) years together.  Bonding over the closing seconds of Twin Infinitives the like-minds hatch a plan: to throw over the traces of Britpop and Yankrock with sweet Scotjams.  Perfectly non-input, non-linear and non-sensical.  (Art by is by one M Duff ya Mr Saatchi)

September – These autumn leaves take The Ex’s ‘Scrabbling at the Lock’ to its ultimate conclusion with a symphony of jittering and creaking.  All things bow to the metallic shamanic.  So, at the 9 minute mark, it all clicks together like a Transformer reverting to its natural Gamelan status, stroking the bronze gong yet moaning like a Wookie.  (featuring Grant Smith on Turkish Bong)

October – (Track 1) An altogether more darker rumbling taking us to Henri Chopin territory. Not so much in the gob-tronics but revealing a hidden world; pencil sharpeners phase in and out of reality, one set of keys tolls like a death clock.  At one point an egg whisk shreds as hard as Slayer (\m/ \m/).  Usurper’s South of Heaven?  (Track 2) A general heaviness dissolves into rubber, faint electronics and a floppy Alice Coltrane. (featuring Grant Smith on ostrich feather)

November – A Usurper thought-piece in two rigid parts.  Firstly: gloves off, cocks out! Honk & palaver.  Duck calls trump free jizz all over the shop comparing notes like Dixie (80’s TV moustache – Magnum). Secondly: Adris Hoyos jams with an old school bell via the Tuvan Steppes.  A mellow, yellow, fellow spins plastic pipes and drinking straws making an otherworldly ‘khhhaaaaa’ scrape.  Usurper…never a jug band, more a fug brand from a chug land.

December – The true meaning of Christmas eh? Runny shite due to unusual food/zoned out on tinsel/greedy children/jingle bells ad nauseum/clattering crockery/overloaded sentiment/real cash poverty/anxiousness inflated by cabin fever/trapped wind/disappointment in general/creepy uncles/your favourite quiet pub is now full/kids gnashing, full of fudge.  But when else would you contemplate eating a whole chocolate orange?

AND while we’re at it…another Usurper release parts the veil of mist between strict discipline and Steiner-school freedom.  Room for one more readers?

Usurper – The Big Five (Singing Knives Records) C45 Cassette

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Believe this – the Usurper deal only in bravery and truth.

While other dingbat-bands try looking cool with their loud and unpleasant noises and dark glasses these two wee brothers rummage the depths of a Scottish collective-consciousness to bring you a crucial entertainment.

These wrinkled sonic-pages make no mention of the modern distractions (internet memes, flat white coffee) that foul up too many young brains.  And that’s important yeah as Usurper keep their focus exact on what makes us human-beans. It’s a real exploration of language; its meaning and our ability to understand.

So that pesky language eh?  That mixture of invisible air and sore lips is dropped by Ali & Malcy like a Lancaster Bomber crammed with ‘meaning grenades’.  Jerry-rigged for sure and improvised (of course) they explode slowly, freeing colourful shrapnel with the spark and fizz of a regular logophile.   No bones are broken, no arteries severed.  The aftermath smells of vague lavender and leaves a glowing smile on babe and parent alike.

You a toucher sir?  A stroker madam?  If you’re into the feel of things it all get fairly knotty with the soft buttermilk voices wrapping four cheeks around single syllables; twisting cadence and meaning without no interfering electronics.  It’s just wonderful flesh and gas (and the occasional traffic shwish).   A greasy mink has never been so slick.

Then Robertson and Duff employ outrageous simile-tennis that degenerates, quickly, into a game of (insert current culturally accepted good guys) versus (insert current culturally accepted bad guys).  And even though I class myself as an athletic listener my neck needs a good old rub down with liniment after this routine.

Hear that rattle and pop of unamplified junk?  It’s a classic Usurper tactic making a listener strap on an extra ounce of grey matter, all the better to get inside, move around this truthful music that rejects all the fripperies and fancy.

This essential tape comes pure from the inside of a twin soul.  Usurper – insider art!

Duff and Robertson / Giant Tank

Singing Knives

 

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

vowel tax, headtangle: luke vollar on ali robertson and dylan nyoukis

September 4, 2015 at 9:12 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | 1 Comment
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Ali Robertson – Ali Robertson & His Conversations (self-released CD-r in card booklet, edition of 100)

Dylan Nyoukis & Ali Roberston – Every Man Deserves A Juice (CD-r, Giant Tank/Chocolate Monk, choc.312, edition of 50)

ali

Can you help me out of bed? I need a pee…

…is how we get started on this disc. Robertson is addressing his wife Collette who willingly obliges, we even get to hear the sound of domestic bliss: a morning kiss.  Aww.  After this though it just gets stranger…

Ali Robertson is one half of long serving Edinburgh odd balls Usurper.  I’ve been listening to Usurper for about three of my son’s life spans now and I remain as confused, amused and baffled as when I first encountered them.  Imagine a wobbly screen moment as I take you back to the heady days of 2006, a time of floor-core-loop-pedalling-eye-rolling-sun-worshipping-ecstatoprovisation and… Usurper.  Two scruffy Herberts rolling marbles, bowing polystyrene and making a very quiet, pointillistic improvisation with gaping mawz of silence.  Brave, absurd, funny and frequently beautiful they seemed to defy categorization.  The good news is that they’re still going strong and haven’t gone shit.

Solo adventures from Ali Robertson have been a rewarding side step from Usurper with Ali delighting in the sound of his own voice, simple overdubbing and the hidden sound of junk brought to life.

Ali Robertson & His Conversations is awesomely packaged in a kinda booklet thing with a poem inside that hints at the dissatisfaction and turmoil under the surface, or even on the surface for much of it.  A post Tory election win meditation on austerity Britain or a ‘What’s Going On’ for the no-audience underground. The first track sees Ali and Collette repeating mantra like hymns to working life and the cyclical nature of it all, there is the soft patter of feet walking to work and occasional noises: slurping, crunching.

On to track two and we have Sacha Kahir joining Ali for conversations about Karl Marx, employment, the media, the economy, the class system and more.  There’s also swearing.  The discussion fades out and Ali is making like an overworked auctioneer who’s had his vowels removed as he couldn’t pay his vowel tax.  As we return to the discussion the recording quality has deteriorated and the speech is taking on a harsh buzz.  We are sitting in a room with two Scottish men, talking.

Track three features more Sacha and more lippy furbles from Robertson.  Allowing speech to clash, overlap and intermingle.  It’s a headtangle for sure as the discussions are pretty interesting with a fine streak of misanthropy running through them, but by this point it becomes nearly impossible to follow the threads.  Odd words, sounds, chortles poke out from the wordage creating a lulling effect that, while not exactly soothing, is pretty hypnotic.

ali and dylan

Every Man Deserves A Juice is Ali Robertson in collaboration with long term buddy Dylan Nyoukis and was put together for a short European tour.  Text recital, object tinkering, tape scuttle and the like have been recorded and edited separately then somehow stitched together. Shit, I don’t know how but it’s certainly less ‘weighty’ than …Conversations and more of a family knees up for the weirdies with a game of trivial pursuits included amongst the flotsam, a tape recorder left to document lovely moments or maybe a submerged aside on all no-audience endeavours (‘trivial pursuits’?).

A drop into a discussion between our heroes about power stations, holidays (?!) is cut off by a gumbone solo (I’m guessing Robertson – I can  hear the cut of his jib you dig?)

They didn’t get it cause they’re Americans and they’re fucking stupid

…in a slowed voice amongst a plethora of objects rattling, untuned strings and other ephemera dragged into a corner by Dylan and Ali to be mauled and slathered in noxious yellow goo, quite a potent aroma as you can imagine.  Ain’t no sense in trying to make sense of these recordings.  I picture Ali and Dylan grinning like demented educators as they pour the wine of confusion from a great height just to see what patterns will emerge. You can be damn sure that I will continue to lap up that sweet berry juice cause it tastes so fine.

—ooOoo—

Ali Robertson

Chocolate Monk

rfm attends colour out of space part one: joe murray ruminates

November 22, 2013 at 8:38 am | Posted in live music, new music, no audience underground | 2 Comments
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COLOUR OUT OF SPACE / 6

INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL SOUND FESTIVAL

Performance Weekend: 8th – 10th November, 2013, Brighton, UK

COOS poster

Editor’s note: RFM had two roving reporters present at this year’s Colour Out Of Space festival down in that Brighton. Regular contributor Joe Murray, who also performed, enjoyed himself enormously.  Pascal Ansell, whippersnapper and occasional guest of RFM, ahh… not so much.  Copious enthusiasm from Joe first, a more exacting response from Pascal to follow.  Over to Joe:

—ooOoo—

Ahhhh Brighton…the sun, the sea, the squalor!  I’ve had a soft spot for Brighton ever since I was a wee kiddie with a vivid imagination, trying to piece together the violent Mods & Rockers legend with the twin-set & pearls crowd that strolled slowly down the pier huffing camphor-scented liniments.

These days of course it’s all about the hipsters and Bubble Tea but I’m not complaining; I’ve got my freak on as I meet my gracious host Bod for a pint or two before we lurch expectantly to the main venue, The Old Market.  Immediately adopting ‘Brighton time’ I missed the mysterious Occult Hand and outrageous Acrid Lactations who I both really wanted to see – please accept my apologies Occult Lactations, I was with you in spirit.

It was sometime around pint four I met up with my co-reporter Pascal Ansell and we immediately set ourselves up in a Hunter S Thompson style press-pack; silver-eyed Tuna darting purposefully through the flitting shoal.  We rejected the usual journalistic conventions to move straight from gentle ‘forming’ to chaotic ‘storming’ within minutes, swapping war-zone anecdotes, snippets of esoteric record knowledge and the loudly proclaiming the relevance of Sammy Davis Jr.  The result of such firm-calved bonding and reckless drinking resulted in a beery bonhomie for sure but also meant I pretty much missed every act to play on Friday.  Oops…I did it again!  The one that got away was the Enzo Minarelli.  Dressed in dark jeans and tight black T shirt, his hair scraped back, there was an air of the ninja in his vocal guffings.  Assisted with backing tracks of further mouth-chaff the precise and deadly Enzo sliced the air with steel-edged hissing and lippy smacks.  This was no po-faced sound poetry lark but a right old hootenanny with his piece ‘Poem’ being turned into ‘PoemMacaroni’ in the curdled air.  The rest of the bill was crammed with exceptional acts of legendary avant-gardary but to my shame dear reader I spent the remnants of Friday propping up the bar catching up with old friends and making new ones.  I’ve never been a good mixer Midwichers but I made up for 43 years of insecurity and introversion with full-strength good cheer and love for my fellow travellers.  You’re (hic) my best pal (hic)!

Saturday morning was an exercise in sickness, pain and remorse as I sheepishly ate brunch with family Bod and took the drizzly bus in disgrace to witness Gen Ken Montgomery in a Hove Oxfam shop.  The steamy windows of the Oxfam obscured the ‘standing room only’ crowd as I inched in and stood, stomach lurching, for this exploration of the 8-track tomfoolery.  Gen Ken, dapper in vintage Op Art shirt and tie manipulated old portable 8-tracks filling the damp air with warped 70’s AM rock all mashed and rotting.  The warbles and trembles on the tape gave the Bee Gees et al a sepia fuzzed-out logic as loops were found and layered up into the consistency of dusty blancmange.  He was a right card too, playing it up for the steaming crowd, making asides and throwing out hula-hoops of pulsating ‘waaahhhhoooosssshhhhh-voooshhhhhh’.  After Gen Ken’s performance I wandered round Brighton for a bit, drank some peppermint tea (swearing off the demon drink for the rest of the weekend) and soundchecked with the great Gwilly Edmondez & THF Drenching.

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At about teatime I found myself outside the very proper St Andrew’s church for some right high culture. Old-guy Produktionsprozesse composer-guy Dieter Schnebel was interviewed by Ilan Volkov about his approach to music and personal history.  Dieter seems a game old bird, humble and gracious but with a sharp sense of humour…he somehow manages to call the audience stupid and make them love him for it…dude!  A bunch of doofs play some Schnebel pieces: Maya Dunietz world premieres the ass off a beautiful and catchy piece for piano, voice and tambourine.  Ilan and Maya throw some shapes in a gestural piece where composer and pianist struggle for supremacy like Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.  Then Maya and Dylan Nyoukis get all serious and tackle a vocal piece for restricted mouthshapes and we end up with the most spellbinding piece of the afternoon.  Like air hissing through naked ribs, dry and crackly.  The pair, dressed in formal black, embrace at the end of the show, cracking hearts at CooS and letting pure love flow.  The only way to follow such an intense and refined performance is of course with some chips so I headed to Bankers (Brighton’s best Fish & Chip shop) for sustenance.

Energised by hot potato and grease I walk into the Old Market to see the friendly and familiar face of Sindre Bjerga coaxing gentle tape loops out of his mess of wires and objects, polishing them up and floating them on the breeze like water-filled balloons pulling gruff-clouds out the air.   Stepping round his desk he carefully wraps up a few people in abandoned cassette tape, hurls a miniature cymbal onto the deck and politely waves marking the end of a neat little set.  Next up were a bunch of A-Band/Ceramic Hobs/Zero Map/Smell & Quim refugees calling themselves The Y Bend.  The programme describes ‘no-mind sounds’ which pretty much sums up the Hawkwind out-takes vibe.  Personally I’m transported back to the days of Anti-Poll Tax benefits as this jam band takes a note and jiggles it proper between guitar, keyboard, violin and eccentric hand percussion making incidental music for the revolution.

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Roman Nose take the stage behind them and win the rosette for ‘best band of Saturday’.  These days Roman Nose are very much a ‘band’ bridging the gap between rock’s looseness and tape/noise/jam’s love of overload. It’s almost funky with a pushing and pulling, a wrapping and un-wrapping of tape-fuff mittens across fluttering drums and breathy intrusions via flute and black-bamboo sheng.  Throw some horns for the Nose!

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Huge wineglasses are set up amid electronic doo-hickery for Sharon Gal and Andie Brown.  These glasses are Jeroboam massive, pregnantly full; delicate but comprising a thousand potential shivs.  Like an inverse Justice Yeldham the glass is thumbed to produce deep rasping drones.  It’s great to watch the deft hand movement turn into such singing and bassy mulch.  Gal uses her voice like some terror-choir re-enacting a trauma.  Electronic squash makes a Black Metal grunt adding to the dungeon gloom.  Wow…a Carpathian Forest sprouts from the floor as the thin rays of a dismal sun rise slowly in the East.  The bald guy with all the pedals is M. Stactor; his mask is a composite of Her Majesty Betty II and Saddam Hussein.  Slowed down speech goes ‘burrrrrrr’ and get shoved through a variety of whizz-bangs to come out ‘BURRRRRR’ anointed with contact-mic crackle and hand-palming crunch.  Brand new CooS trio Edmondez/Posset/THF Drenching adopt the dual Dictaphone position like a crouching Judas Priest. Gwilly bangs his head like Halford.  And seeing as I’m involved modesty prevents me for saying too much about this fine-legged beast.

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I caught about 20 seconds of Bridget Hayden’s set but within that 20 seconds I heard the entire history of overblown fuzz-guitar from the Sonics to the Velvet Underground to the Dead C.  Rusty chainmail began clanking out the walls; rolling thunder crashed from the ceiling.  The very gods showed their pleasure in ancient, animalistic ways.  Oh boy!  I was still kicking myself when Greg Kelley & Dylan Nyoukis sat erect and purposeful on a pitch black stage.  Side by side they were, with Greg’s tubes augmented with cold brass and Dylan’s with moist flesh.  Snide hiss and scything tones crept almost guiltily from trumpet and gob, playing merrily between wet-mouth slappings and full jowl squelch.  This was no dramatic, overwrought, performance piece nor academically apologetic. The “my voice, your voice” mantra summed up a lot of the days sessions in a simple repetitive phrase.  Some jokers joined in on coughing and started a response group reflex (koff-KOFF-koff).  The optimist in me thought the spontaneous outpouring would lead to a scratch feral choir but no…it was a piss take…yet troupers Kelley & Nyoukis toughed it out cackling and blowing the third eye till it blinked all yeasty.  Lovers Ritual (Maya Dunietz & Ilan Volkov) used voice and violin to beguile, encouraging minimal and thin tones out the cracks in the light fittings. Not content with sticking to the stage both Maya & Ilan ended up on the floor, among the punters, stroking and keening their flexible bones in a tangled tableaux.

It’s Sunday.  The Lords day.  And me & Bod celebrate with a visit to a typical Brightonian Car Boot sale; he picks up some Colombian tapes, I nab a Fantasy Island fridge magnet and we both head happily to the Sallis Benney Theatre for the famous CooS film screenings.  I really loved what I saw but I soon discovered it’s hard to take notes in the dark so am relying on musty recall only.  Standouts…the bonkers The Handeye (Bone Ghosts) by Anja Dornieden & Juan David Gonzalez Monroy which coupled 19th Century taxidermy with digitized commands and the bumbling chunter from Patrick Goddard’s charming Free Radicals.  As the films ended, us gaggle of cinema-goers milled around, checking maps and GPS systems to find the next venue, giggling over being able to genuinely say, ‘See you in church later man.’  A walk along the cold, crisp sea-front takes us back to St Andrew’s Church for a session of spooky Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) from CM von Hausswolff & Michael Esposito.  I’m really excited about this one.  Since I was a kid I’ve been in love with that flexi disc that came with the first edition of ‘The Unexplained’.  Of course I never knew these supposed ghost voices were EVP but I totally dug the hissy weirdness.  The two gents open with about 15 minutes of static tape hiss with the occasionally clunky ‘chump’ like ghosts dropping wooden marbles in a bucket.  The fuff was pretty damn immersive and had some of the flagging hordes crashed out on the pews.  CM and Michael then took us through some of their EVP recordings (cue demonic chuckle) made in this very church.  What could have been (possibly should have been) spectral and creepy turned into a bit of a laugh as the particularly chirpy Michael introduced second-long sound-clips of the dead calling us ‘assholes’, urging us to ‘get out’, that they ‘are in love with married men’ and…to much hilarity…‘it’s all shite’.  Wow the ghosts sound like angry jakeys!

COOS Jooklo Duo 1COOS Jooklo Duo 2

Back in the Old Market I strained limbs to find my comrade Pascal.  It was Jooklo Duo next and I was pretty sure he’d be right up the front for this.  Some lazy sleuthing revealed Pascal had packed up and gone.  He’d had enough and trekked back to Leeds earlier in the day.  Oh Pascal…you would have loved what came next!  Jooklo Duo were absolutely amazing.  Now I know that’s trite, lazy journalism but I was too busy picking my eyeballs up off the floor to concentrate on clever words.  This was a 100% lung-bursting blowout with drumming as agile as a crack-fuelled squirrel.  I’m no jazz buff but I like my brassy honks and squeals.  Jooklo one, Virginia Genta, plays like Pharaoh Sanders with some nifty Arabic scales quickly releasing that cheeky kundalini from the base of my spine.  Woah boy, I said Woah!  Not one or two but three casual acquaintances said this was ‘better than Brotzmann’. Heard that?  Promoters…book ‘em now.

COOS f ampism

Brighton local f.Ampism loops and loops and loops domestic clunk, mbira tones and gentle sighing all engaging and releasing softly like the briny blue sea just 100 meters down the street.  A film is projected behind his hat and beard; cut-up collage sourced from what seems to be the family Nyoukis archive and Martha Colburn’s paint splattered horror-core.  I have to admit I’m a total fan-boy of Amp’s choogle-leech-warp but this was a whole new saltine!  Fordell Research Unit sat like a couple of chess masters and manipulated a pretty damn heavy drone with micro-movements.  So far, so good.  In tiny, tiny increments the drone gets grunty and somehow slower and fuller until we’re faced with a monolith – a black slab, playing the theme tune for the world’s most evil super villain.  There’s a growing feeling of excitement for the next set from noise-monkeys Spoils & Relics with Karen Constance.  Faced with a table full of gizmos and wires the quartet sat in quiet contemplation building a Jenga house of quivering tones and darkly-twinkling steam.  Like some giant engineering puzzle, pieces are interlocked; a spark starts a fire and is extinguished ruthlessly by the hobo fire brigade.  After a time the factory klaxon calls and the workers down tools and melt into grease.

COOS Usurper

It’s no secret; I’m a little in love with Usurper. Ali Robertson and Malcy Duff have been making the most singular no-input music for half a decade at least.  Writing about Usurper is always a tough gig; their total lack of any of the regular handholds makes the amateur pamphleteer work hard, busting chops to describe their occasional cutlery pings and tales of Auld Reekie.  Tonight they are joined by Dora Doll, one half of the legendary Prick Decay, on scissors as a circular story unfolds on twin tape recorders.  Narratives intertwine as a regular haircut turns into a meditation on the seaside and seaside ritual.  A grumpy Ali gets wrapped in ribbon like a maypole, Malcy crawling on the floor streaming the red and white tapes behind him.  Hairy objects are presented to Ali & Dora for snipping.  A guitar FX pedal, a pair of glasses, a descant recorder are shorn of hair and (in some cases) indecently rubbed beneath the barber’s shawl.  Apart from the taped stories, folding in and out of phase there is a rare skronk-interruption on contact-miked yard brush ‘Shussssh, shusssh, shussssh’ as Malcy coughs up hairballs.  Any traditional ideas of what performance is are dashed.  Any preconceptions of what underground art should be are delightfully roasted.  Usurper are right out on a limb, doing their very own thing and making up a whole new set of parameters.  What on the page seems like random vignettes has a strong sense of direction and pace…and most importantly fun.  I’m laughing like a drain and looking round to see a crescent of bemused yet joyful faces.  No one is really sure what they have witnessed but pretty much everyone agrees it was damn fine.

The tapes spool to an end, Usurper and Dora bow and grin, and my CooS adventure comes to an end.  It’s been a trip and a half Midwichers.  Brighton itself is a beautiful backdrop to this very psychedelic weekend, the bands/acts/performers have all brought their own slice of oddness with a spice and professionalism the naysayers often miss.  But for me it’s all been about the people…the floating and transient chats, the laughs and the in-depth conversations.  There’s that quote about the Velvet Underground isn’t there?  They didn’t sell loads of records but everyone who bought one formed their own band.  Well this weekend might have been an intimate affair but I wonder how many projects and plans were hatched, how many ideas were sparked and alliances formed.  CooS brings the no-audience underground together like a giant think-tank…but what’s gonna occur?  I can’t wait to find out.

Editors note: a comprehensive selection of band bios and links can be found on the COOS website here.  Photos by Joe or Marc Teare.

group mind clank: the murray dynasty on ua yenoh cry cry, le drapeau noir and various various artists

October 2, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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space and order

Ua Yenoh Cry Cry – Space and Order (C40 tape, Orl Records and Paraphernalia, orl17, edition of 100)

Ua Yenoh Cry Cry is some Shon Mahoney dude from the USA doing his solo jizz on the cheeky Greek label, Orl.  Who sez the no-audience underground doesn’t get around eh?  Well packaged with some lace/plant cell motif this sexy little tape slips into bed and spoons you without any small talk.  Headline…degraded loops of keyboard mung and gentle brown distortion fug round the corners of some proper tunes that repeat and loop and repeat.

Now then, reviewing tapes can be a lonely business so this time I enlisted young master Posset for his views.  We did the Burroughs/Bowie/Gysin method to create a two-mind, stream of consciousness thing.  You get the drift.  So catch this one:

Soft waves of chords and notes travel to you from another space as black rubber drone pipes get huffed leaving a sooty halo round the gob. The ever growing drone wobbles and shakes; micro-syringe sounds swagger like mercury badgers waddle.  ‘Verberating beacon flashing highs and lows bridging the gap between no-audience underground and the hipster set…a crossover hit?  A meditation on ferric construct?  The incessant ringing becomes more eerie and sinister as kindergarten keyboard melodies (played by stubby fingers) lighten up a blowfly hum.  The sci-fi organ continues to bless us with more notes and patterns as the drone pauses and sound pierces the atmosphere.  The ominous furious-classical rusts and decays.

(Editor’s note: woah… can you dig it?!  Whilst they were being super-jive hep cats Joe and son created a visual review of this tape too.  Check it out.)

Hope that’s all useful my dearest reader.  And if not Orl have a snazzy website with all the sounds so you can do a judge for yourself.

le drapeau noir - whalley range

Le Drapeau Noir – Whalley Range (C30 tape, Krayon Recordings, KR020)

A whole family of mungfarmers: Chora, Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides and The Hunter Gracchus team-up like DC’s finest to beat up swollen-headed bad guys.  This is reconnaissance blues.  A stealthy assault, silently slipping a dagger between the ribs…you don’t know you’re cut till you drop to your knees.  My head was here, there and everywhere when I first jammed this one so I bribed Master Posset again to give me a hand with the cut-up technique:

Group-mind clank and free reed drone; quivering waves and harmonic screams with cymbals thrashing, drums beating.  Imagine the Edinburgh tattoo populated not by purple rinsed matriarchs but the very you and me; but there’s subtle feedback behind the violence.  They shriek, “A river flowing out to the sea embraces the thick salty arms of wild current.”  Whooping and gentle rings pierce the heavy beat of a solemn drum but among the soft rock, soldiers march in concentric patterns – shifting your gaze starts the sands to pour down one channel.  Slight shakes can be heard but they’re not alone in the sound of this dark opera.  The grain of moans is rough, a feral call to prayer.  Then the noises clear and all that is left is the drums and metallic, echoing howls.

Yup.  That’s it.  It’s been out for a while now but still available via the ever reliant bandcamp.

RFM_CM Tour Tape 1RFM_CM Tour tape 2RFM_CM tour tape 3

Infinite Gaaah / Blood Stereo / Usurper / Pengo – Summer 2013 Tour (cassette and inserts, Giant Tank)

I missed my opportunity to get one of these on the actual tour but later was cock o’hoop to slam it in the tape drawer and dribble on the eiderdown as it gushed.  Infinite Gaaah takes a couple of loops of sweating machinery, roasts ‘em up nice and hot and plunges them in ice-cold cider.  Bright and refreshing.  Blood Stereo take a nice set of domestic cackles and record in the garden (it has been a great summer eh?) bending and shaping loops like they were silvery zinc.  A dinosaur’s tears roll down scaly cheeks while a caveman mungs on.  It could be that I have all that Opal Tapes stuff locked in my head and I’m making unnatural connections between things.  Check out your nearest hipster coffee room.  Are they playing Blood Stereo?  Thought so…the tide is changing and the Blood shall inherit the earth.  The Usurper employ egg whisk and bottletop-rattle, twanging ruler and various dull ‘clunks’ to make a pastoral piece of gentle loveliness.  Like listening to the breathing of a new born baby this has an innocent rise and fall with sweet chirrups of milk-sour breath making your nose wrinkle and say, ‘Ahhhhhhhh-bless’. Pengo come across like a beefy Spacemen 3 raised on good old beer rather than that nasty heroin.  But the routes to transcendental bliss are buffeted and bruised by honking geese and wild fowl as the kind of echo-action King Tubby saves for extra strength dub gets hurled about.  A mighty tape document of this season’s tip-top sounds baby.

…and if these sounds were not enough there is visual tosh to viddy while you listen.  Karen Constance & Dylan Nyoukis collaborate on a tidy cardboard box cover (that squeaks pleasingly on opening) and four C-30 sized postcards printed with a kind of kinky Victoriana that raise a variety of chin-strokers around the medical aesthetic.  Release the foxes!

See the Duff and Roberton tumblr and email ‘em for availability.

RFM_Blue Spectrum comp coverRFM_Blue Spectrum Comp 1

Blue Spectrum Tapes Artzine #4 (Various Artists Patterns Grown Like Crabgrass CD-r and 30 page art-book, Blue Spectrum Tapes, edition of 50)

Another intriguing package from Brum’s Blue Spectrum.  The zine cradles a selection of ‘cut ‘n paste’ collages from Mr Blue and the occasional photo-copy blurr/photo shot from some of the other collaborators.  I’m no expert but I’m guessing the zine as we know it is celebrating it’s 40th birthday right about now. But there’s no grey hairs or paunch for this slim-hipped package…it crackles with punk energy and sticky edges.

As for the disc, there’s 17 jokers on here all pumping it hard and bursting forth with variations on scorched-earth noise, rusty-metal-clanging noise, throat curdling noise and black ambient noise.  For reasons beyond my ken there seems to be a hard drinking theme to this comp; it all starts off pleasant enough but before long you’re wobbling on your heels and puking down someone’s neck.  A guilty knee tremble round the back then it’s nosh first into some deep-fried nightmare.  Most notable mentions go to the Gas Mask Horse for recording a bouncer’s dark thoughts pre kick-off, Yol for an increasingly unhinged closing time lament (to Kebabs it seems), Kapali Carsi’s subtle mic bumble that wanders into sound poetry, Robert Ridley Shackleton’s enraged ripping sound stretched low and slow and the extra-violent, knuckle duster kerfuffle from Blue Spectrum himself.  There’s over an hour of sub-underground noise and drone in this sleek edition of 50.  Don’t wait ‘til they ring last orders.

Buy here.

accidental music: joe murray on richard youngs and ali robertson

August 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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kazoo actionthe other week

Richard Youngs & Friends – Kazoo Action (Union Pole, download)

The charming  Union Pole label have been tweeting about this release for a few weeks and to be honest I’ve been thinking of luddite reasons not to buy it.  Both pieces of the equation sound dandy: a long lost recording of Richard Youngs with A Band associates helping out; a single sound source, in this case kazoos, blasted, blown and banjaxed in a Rhys Chatham style mass orchestra.  Yeah…all pretty spicy.  Originally planned as a 7 inch this is now only available on download.  I may be an old greybeard and I’m not adverse to the odd download, especially if it’s out-of-print whack off or a companion piece to the more present and physical record, tape or CD-R.  But a download only!  Man, this is clear blue waters for yours truly.

So, early one Sunday morning, the rest of the house swaddled in slumber I cough up the $1 (effectively 67p), hit the button and wait an anxious 20 seconds for the internet magic to happen.  The download settles itself into a comfortable position on my hard drive in two dainty parts (a nod to the 7 inchness of the intended release I guess).  There. I’ve done it.

I had enough faith in Richard Youngs to know that this was never going to stray into Temple City Kazoo Orchestra  kitsch.  And for once – I’m right.  The blasts of kazoo are raw and rude for sure, with waves of spittle crashing over each other, ramping up the volume and intensity all over ‘side’ one.  The brash, multiple tones, hum and fizz and shimmer until some synchronised changes in pitch break the cacophony and lend a primitive orchestral air.  In fact it’s the primitive that seems to be celebrated here.  Like some pre-history ritual, all tucked up in the tumulus, slack vibrations of pig skin shudder moist loam into nostrils and ears.  I’ve had a long standing affection for the drawn-out huff of the sheng and its global relations and with this kazoo piece (yes learned reader – I know kazoos are membraphones and more closely related to the drum than it’s free reed cousins but shit man…this honks like a goddamn goose parliament!) Richard & co have captured the sweaty blast of tropical bamboo and then munged it out like Tamazepam shivers in the cold Edinburgh morning.  ‘Side’ two has a Borebetomagus-esque structure of noise on/noise off with scarlet arses bent over and farted in brassy unison.  There’s less structure, more freedom and instead of waves the honking cyclones up, up, up into the hard blue sky.  It all ends with a chummy ‘Bravo…encore…’ that seems to come more from performers than audience, but you know what?  I pressed that button and played the file again as instructed and it tasted gooood.

But now I’ve played and enjoyed the little fella I had to think what I wanted to do with him.  Leave it all binary on the computer or allow him a better life, wild and free.  So I stuck him on a CD-R with some other waifs & strays from that UbuWeb etc.  May I suggest the gorgeous sounds of Dariush Dolat-Shahi and a selection from the superb Excavated Shellac site for company?

Ali Robertson – The Other Week (self-released, tape)

There’s no discernible title on the cover of this handwritten tape but a bit of detective work reveals this missive from Ali Robertson is called ‘the other week’.  I guess the stream-of-consciousness diary entries, describing the recording process could have given me a clue ‘the other week:bought:afour-track recorder:in a pawn shop:on Leith Walk’.  Sharp eyed readers will see Ali’s name and immediately link him with no-input/no-music interlopers Usurper.  Yep.  That’s right: it’s Ali going it solo.

Side one opens with multi-tracked plunking, rather like mice crawling over taut violin strings.  Then we get some trouser-pocket-drop with coins pushed around the sort of glass-topped coffee table last seen in Miami Vice.  Toffee is chewed with saliva squirting out a dribbling mouth as a biscuit tin (with tartan design) shuffles lonely squeaks and dull rattles.  I imagine a midnight trip through the house, heavy feet trying not to wake folk with the occasional explosive stair ‘crack’ and cupboard ‘bong’ in the gloom.  Muted percussion gives way to a milky cornflake munch and twanged ruler solo so careful and measured it becomes instant basic channel dub.  Oh…to hear this through a 2k soundsystem!

Side two commences with the unwanted pissheid salutation. ‘erhm…mate…hear me…mate…erhm’ all chopped and munged to form a beautiful choir of purple tin.  This is worth the price of admission alone.  More quiet rumbles suggest the midnight kitchen again with a nudged spoon gradually coming to rest on a worktop.  Coins add brilliant metallic flares like a mini John Bonham while Robert Plant mumbles off mic, ‘aye, aye’.  The roadies continue the kerfuffle backstage, grumpily comparing string gauges and pyro etiquette simultaneously ripping up polystyrene packaging from the never released boxed set, ‘Zepplin…awkward murmurs and empty breaths’.

This is accidental music.  By that I don’t mean it’s haphazard or thrown together.  It’s like the sort of sound that lives between other musics….a milkman’s improvised whistle or the lavender humming of an old lady darning socks.  This is the unconscious intent and dreaming rattle that unites all humans.

(Editor’s note: the web address for Ali’s label Giant Tank now appears to be squatted by some odd Japanese clickbait.  According to a post on the Giant Tank facebook page the label is being wound down.  Thus I’d suggest contacting the guy via the Duff & Robertson tumblr or facebook pages.  If your life could do with more kazoo – is there ever enuff? – then Union Pole can be found at Union Pole.  Easy.)

holy confectionery: joe murray eats chocolate monks with a singing knife

August 2, 2013 at 7:57 am | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Usurper – Fishing for Tripe (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.261)

Blue Yodel & Lovely Honkey – Poppies & Cocks (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.249)

Marvo Men – Give Some Idea of the Boys at Work (CD-r, Chocolate Monk, choc.251)

Human Heads – The Beauticinist (C38 tape, Singing Knives, SK020)

usurper - fishing for tripeblue yodel and lovely honkeymarvo men - give some idea

human heads

Usurper – Fishing for Tripe

The Hinge & Bracket of the no-instrument underground break the fourth wall in the opening seconds of this tasty McNugget.  A noisy enamel-mug clash ends with a giggle and the beardy-burr ‘Shall I stop it and start it again?’

We are in Usurper territory instantly where tables, cutlery, marbles, cardboard boxes, billiard balls all become an orchestra for this pair of Ritalin Simon Rattles.  The skringle is close and dense but with enough room to breathe and flex with layers of fuss and bother laid over Tourette’s tick and shiver.

Things are neatly compartmentalised with track one (there is no song titles baby!  Malcy’s drawings depict a series of numbered stomach aches in lieu of numerals), the aforementioned symphonic scratter, setting a firm and reliable base layer.  Track two is pure vocal radge with mouth farts snuggling up brownly with warm guffs and moany choams.  This dark throaty gurgle is kept, pretty much, behind the teeth balancing control against the promise of chaos.  Track three…a play in three acts (1) if rats were made of polythene they would recognise their brothers squeezing through the plumbing and answer in kind,  (2) dry twigs evolve sap-like fingers and stretch blindly down narrow ginnels, (3) the idea of hard electric weather.  Track four is Usurper’s Take Five, like Joe Morello traded in his traps for a ‘pencil rattling in jam jar’ solo but ends up in a space previously occupied by Zaire’s cacophony of electrified mbiras and full moon moaning.  Track five is a proper sound poetry blow-out exactly halfway between Alvin Lucier’s ‘I am sitting in a room’ and a round of ‘London’s Burning ‘sung by year 4 of the Ivor Cutler Primary School.  Not only does this sound delicious and minty on the ear it delivers a brief history of the group leaving us with a shy but heartfelt ‘cheers man.’  Fishing for Tripe – music to stack a dishwasher to.

Postscript…I’m writing this in the cafe of a snooty Health Club (just don’t ask) and next on my crap laptop playlist, after Usurper, is Venom and their legendary between-song banter from their first US tour (1986).  I almost leap out my chair as Cronos dribbles his bullshit about Newcastle Brown Ale, ‘kicking your balls off’ and mixing up the names of his own songs, ‘Blood lust?  Blood what?’ We don’t have a song called that.’ I don’t know how but this somehow strangely fits into Usurper’s world: making magic out of nothing, rejoicing in the vernacular, pointing at windmills and laughing at their ridiculousness.

Blue Yodel & Lovely Honkey – Poppies & Cocks

This is going to be a weird one to write about as Yodel & Honkey make up the Sheffield arm of my underground family and have housed me, watered me and popped falafel into my weary gob-hole on many an occasion.  What if I don’t like their offering?  Will I be able to face them again?  I’ve always been a worrier, and as usual, it’s a groundless concern.  Poppies & Cocks is a piquant little caperberry overflowing with sour juice!

A true pairing.  This is no trad jazz duo, out-honking each other, desperate for the solo – the group mind has taken over.  Practiced over endless cups of herbal tea Poot/Honkey is less snotty than usual suggesting a new linctus approach.  Yodel’s joyful humming is downtuned, dark and graveyardy.

A quick note on the recording quality.  Some people have unfairly tarred the sub-underground with the ‘lo-fi’ brush.  While I’m a fan of lo-fi’s qualities this little disc is by no means low in fidelity or intent.  It fairly roars out the speakers and fills the room with clotted curses.

There are several approaches here. The open-mouthed mung-out that seems to be chuffed direct to tape and then played back at volume (although your ears may pick put more than my cloth cabbages) revelling in the spittle-flecked abandon of hurling your head back and letting the pre-language gasps and hucks spring fresh from the subconscious.  On occasion there is a more feather-light feel with barren electronics needling horse-faced snorts with toothpick-thin shards of feedback gilding the outer reaches of the spectrum.  The clever use of hiss and near silence makes these humps almost painterly.  And then, and this could be totally off beam, there seems to be a secret recording thread; like some pieces were recorded in the dark, alone, trying not to wake the sleepers camped out next door.  In this case frantic gasps and exhalations seem to stretch and mutate, expanding to fill the scant space between gob and condenser mic.  Fingers search blindly for buttons to nudge and pause, smudging the grain further leaving a burred snapshot.  Those dicks on The Apprentice might say – ‘Yodel & Honkey – multiple mouths make morbid murmurs!’  Fuckin’ saps…this is an essential disc for all students of the wild northern weird.

Marvo Men – Give Some Idea of the Boys at Work

More mouth-based lunacy.  But don’t automatically think glottal coughs or lippy trimphones!  The untitled opener is pure cut-up tape abstraction.  Beautiful and brilliant the ‘aughs and absenthh, wah’ sing chicken noodle soup into my ear, nourishing my jaded soul and filling me with pearl barley goodness.  I’m beaming like the golden shimmer on saffron infused rice.  Track two is a more physical attack with two mouths jamming up against each other, like roof tiles they interlock but it’s not fragile.  This sound bends and forms new rude shapes in expanded foam.  The cloisters are never far away as monk-like  groans hiss like hot drizzle on a freshly shaven tonsure.  Half the fun of this kinda goof is the theatre of it, the gurn and posture, the sinews standing proud on effort-rouged neck.  But the Marvo Men have marked their territory well with a strongly scented musk leading you like a pissy Bisto kid, round the saplings and into the glade they have prepared with dusky boughs and cracking grass.  The closer takes us back into a multi-tracked tape nightmare that sounds like…and I’m not kidding here…some nugget from that Beatles Anthology cash in.  You can hear the Fab Four, directed by the ever-correct Yoko, to lose their inhibitions and ‘make like the universe’.  Ringo gets it first (of course) neighing like a Bootle donkey then letting Mr Martin rewind and play the noise backwards.  George gets in on the transatlantic ‘Ohm’ leaving bloody John and bloody  Paul to throw their caps into the ring; reluctant at first but with rising confidence whispering harmonious nonsense with one hand on the Abbey Road Ampex (then state of the art, now retro/vintage).  The voices and chortles are corralled together to create one neon stream of liquid sound, rising in density, a dark-eyed sister to that orchestral bit in ‘A Day in the Life’.  Hey man…this is what Revolution Number Nine should have sounded like.

Human Heads – The Beauticinist

Classic and domestic fung-poetry!  Like a pie chart: stream of consciousness verb & strum (37%), interrupted field recordings (45%) and aching vowels (18%) this pretty pink tape clearly displays the everyday psychedelic for all to see.  The faint whiff of petrol (aphrodisiac to some, emetic to others) clings to The Beauticinist with its see-sawing collection of spoken word rambles and delicately knitted tones and recordings.  Tarnished beauty seems to be a central theme; from the hard gloss of grotty nail bars to the washboard stomach of a tabloid personality we are asked, as beholders, what do you see?

Among the stuttering speech patterns lays a rotating burr (slo-mo dentist drill?) and wheezy brackets (harmonium?) as dice are casually thrown and a ghost leaves by the squeaky door.  Sometimes words are picked apart phonetically; each snatch of un-sound rolled round the gob like a fine brandy then spat unceremoniously into the festering slop-bucket beneath the table.   Although these sounds are presented simply, sometimes with the gentlest of echoes, there is a steely confidence here.  Human Heads brush a demure fringe to one side and look you straight in the face…worship me like you worship the distant buttery sunlight of youth, it seems to say!

If you are looking for easy references and comparisons the closest cousin would be sub-underground giants The Shadow Ring whose slack halfarsedness rattled brain boxes before I started shaving.  But, make no mistake –  this is no backwards-looking retro shit…I’d put a dollar on Human Heads lasting the full 12 rounds with a Hype Williams style outfit any day of the week.  In other words – it’s tasty.

In this post-noise world it’s the tiny things matter most and Human Heads put an expert eye to the microscope.  Like boffins they examine the brittle grain of speech patterns, greasy tape huss and the clatter of finger bones, presenting them, ‘OU style’ to you dear listener.

Note: Human Heads…contain two Helhesten Heads/Psykick Dancehall bods too.

Chocolate Monk

Singing Knives

guest post! extracts from the joe posset end-of-year round up! part one of two: clotting and unknotting

December 9, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Posted in musings, new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Posset - Mump Grumpy

One of the finest and most welcome signs of the festive season – along with mince pies, carol concerts and the whimpering of my beautiful Turkish boy as he ascends the step ladder to affix the Ian Curtis doll atop our giant Christmas tree – is the arrival in Midwich Mansions of the annual round-up by Joe Murray, best known here as Posset, RFM’s North East correspondent.

All through the year Joe keeps his nib licked, pointy and ready to scribble down his thoughts on the music that he encounters. These terrific reviews, steeped in gonzo enthusiasm, are not published on the fly but saved up for a ginormous splurge in late December. A monster email is fired off to the elite whilst the whole caboodle is simultaneously plonked onto the all-but-secret Posset Myspace blog.

This year, in what I hope will become an annual occurrence, Joe has very kindly allowed me to preview a couple of hefty extracts. I trust your fancy will be tickled. Modesty prevents me from reprinting the very kind words he had to say about the brilliance, importance and significance of my own release ‘eaves’ but I reckon I can wrestle modesty to the floor and link to it later.  Joe tells me the whole thing will be finished for the lull between Christmas and New Year so I’ll nudge you in that direction then.  For now, the below:

(with apologies to those whose pictures I’ve stolen.  Click on linked bits for more info and/or how to purchase)

—ooOoo–

Although I might mug & blush to be bagged the North of England correspondent by Rob it’s a responsibility I take deadly seriously.  Through wind & rain, dodging rats and burned out wheelie bins I stumble to check out as much of the no-audience underground (Newcastle division) as I can for you my dear reader.  This year it’s all been about the live spectacular: Rhodri Davis’ electric big-muff harp versus Harry Smith’s abstract films, The Unit Ama redefining the power trio, Hapsburg Braganza’s slow unravelling of time and space, Hassan Gaylani ripping up a bully-boy beat as Popular Radiation, The return of Lobster Priest making me throw the horns, Edwin Li playing the Guzheng and vibrating to the infinite twang, Wrest’s sustained campaign against wood, concrete and metal, old boys Zoviet France’s meta-performances featuring shows within shows, Richard Dawson singing ‘Poor Old Horse’ with tears like hot gravy, Will Edmonds wiry gruffalo stance and bluster…and of course the Pharaoh of gloom, Culver, perfecting his dark, cold sarcophagus music.

The records I’ve enjoyed the most have been mostly Northern too.

terroir-pissoir

Akke Phallus Duo – Terroir/Pissoir CD  (Apollolaan Recordings)

Spreading greasy butter over the cracks between primitive-electronics, free jazz, ethno-forgery, noise and vocal mush to form a queasy soundworld like the un-song incidental pieces from the very fellows This Heat.  And now i’ve got that lot jammed in my head I can’t help noticing a tasty 80’s avant tinge to this.  Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my first forays into the underground… a fist full of fanzines and flexidiscs as my guide that excites me about the disc so.  There’s a lot of ground covered here.  Tracks can be composed from miniature loops of banjo clash sliding into sick sounding melange with connector crackle and fizz mixed to the fore.  Or then it’s a rude tin-can clatter, duck call shangle and doddering violin (like an OAP on black ice) all building up into unexpected peaks.  There’s an almost OCD quality in some of this with fresh chunks layered precariously on top of each other like some dark Jenga nightmare.   Opener ‘Futhorcs Meat Contorts’ is a ten minute epic of screech, homemade waterphones, tape avalanche and pained vocal holler.  Compare this to the all too brief ‘Gut Macs’ recorded down a mucus-cogged oesophagus with analy inserted double ‘A’s.  ‘Bid’ah’ rewires my head and all its middle-class World Music appreciation by sneakily layering vocal chants both gossamer haunting and Black Sabbath heavy.  The closer ‘Clather’ sounds like it was played on thick black rubber bands which is even more reason to hit play and wade thru this memory robber again.

yol - pushtoshove

Yol – Pushtoshove CD-R (No Label)

An out-of-the-blue email from the mysterious Yol ended in this humming disc being shoved through the door – direct from Hull.  Like ‘power electronics without electricity’ is how it was billed in the fevered e-conversation and you know what…that’s pretty much spot on.  But there’s more to this than a serial killer obsession and badly copied pornography sir.  Featuring one of my favourite sounds: filing cabinets being dragged across a concrete floor; this is like a field recording of psychotic house-movers arguing with themselves over the finer points of town planning, medical dilemmas and rodent holocaust.  Yol beats up resonant metal boxes and chucks spanners about while coughing out a scream of anguish, soon to descend into shopping-list poetic repetition.   ‘Disconnected’ is a duet of gurgled threats and squeaky door…I mean what a paring, it even has a key jangle solo.  ‘Limb’, a live piece judging from the smatter of applause at the end, is a raw bellow against an invisible whinger, accompanied by a crate of milk getting kicked across a courtyard.  Fans of Blyth’s mighty Wrest are gonna cream over this new rasping square peg.  A few years ago I coined the term ‘pocket jazz’.  Somewhat arrogantly I set up to recreate the classic jazz trio (drums, bass, sax) played on the contents of a gentleman’s trouser pocket (coins, rubber band, cigarette papers).  No one was listening of course and it never caught on, but that’s not the point.  Taxonomy is important and Yol seems to have come up with the new classic; ‘reprographics jazz’, the sound of busted photocopier and curdled yell.  It even comes in a real nice 50’s Blue Note style cover too.  Go daddy go!

usurper - the big four

Usurper – The Big Four CD-R (Giant Tank)

You’ll have to forgive me.  I am off work sick with that horrible bathroom unpleasantness thing and feeling a bit other worldly.  Not sure what I want to do, TV’s a drag, not got any films I want to watch, can’t focus on a book so I thought I would write.  So this isn’t exactly a missive from the flu frontline, more a general weepy malaise.  Read on reader!  For me Usurper are one of the most intriguing groups around at the minute. I can understand why their slack rumble and rattling can come across as a joke on the audience.  But listen deep and you’re rewarded by a map of micro-sound; familiar scrapings and gurpings that are a welcome relief to all that reductionist mump.  In fact, while remaining strictly no-input, this has an ultra Spartan quality that I would have thought would have dragged the micro-improv world to the Auld Reekies duo’s sound years ago.  The Big Four has four stretched out tracks of extended elastic band pluck, fizzing alka-seltza, polystyrene twist, rubber ball bouncing, wotsit munch, tin clicking, occasionally throating glock, dropped coin, wrenched bubble wrap etc.  As ever it’s how this sonic detritus is piled up that reveals the art.  Nothing so corny as building to a junk crescendo…this is all about joining and dividing, clotting and unknotting, rubbing sounds vs percussive sounds, natural sounds vs man-made honk.  My recent deep descent into the world of Sound Poetry/Mouth Guff has revealed the works of Jackson Mac Low.  A poet, performer and fellow rattling fidget in the style of Usurper.  I guess if you have to draw a parallel or you feel the need to legitimise this kinda fuff here’s your chance.  Jackson’s celebrated hump ‘A piece for Sari Dienes’ is almost indistinguishable from some of the jams Usurper treat us to here.  The final track (representing either Anthrax, Metallica, Slayer or Megadeth) is even more based in mouthjizz terms with fireside homilies and pre-language yelps delivered against mung mumbling, lippy hissing and distant pre-recorded voices.  They capture a moment of Bruce Forsyth ‘ggggggggg’ in an uncanny tribute to the chinny entertainer that cuts through like a knife.  Brilliant.  What Usurper bring to the table isn’t just this post Sound Poetry vibe but also a gritty purity that’s just right for a double dip economy.  This speaks to Berklee Grad Students with the vocabulary of the JML catalogue or Poundshop chic.  All recorded in one day (October 7th…henceforth know as Duff/Robertson day).

whole voyald

The Whole Voyald – Circumambulations parts 1 & 2, 7 inch vinyl (Winebox Press)

A rare vinyl release from Winebox Press/Serfs/Whole Voyald/Vampire Blues jam-master Jon Collin.  The cover sports a bleak grey seascape, minimal info and blank labels.  Not much to go on at all.  But slap this platter on the turntable and you get sucked into a 3 dimensional kaleidoscopic dream.  Psychedelic in the broadest sense of the word the sticky money shot here is the soaring, ripping, taunting guitar soloing that seems to hover slightly above the lazy, grainy strumming…the only thing keeping this from flipping right out the room.  It starts off easy enough, a bluesy vamp, a simple gob-iron riff (classic protest song chord changes) and then this vital, shaking hell of a solo tears the roof off. Tonally this is like a tinfoil pie case being crushed in a weathered fist.  Structurally it’s like a harmolodic Neil Hagerty; all lightning fast ‘sense’ U-turns and mercurial fingerings.  I’ve compared Jon to Sonny Sharrock before and yet again I think the comparisons are justified.  There’s something unhinged and unschooled here.  More like a stream of consciousness lava flow than prissily measured note clusters.  The other side is a churning ocean current; you listen though a layer of silt to Prince Namor’s underwater blues for a destroyed Atlantis.  Giant structures assemble then fall, scattering rocks down the abyss…silently.  Yup…this side is easier on the ear, it’s more rounded and less metallic…like a drizzly geography field trip on wax.

–ooOoo–

Cool, eh? More to follow in part two…

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