Writer. Sub-Editor. Punk. Red and black. Union apparatchik.
Written for Open Democracy, Fight Back: A Reader on the Winter of Protest, Sabotage Times, Student Times, Noize Makes Enemies, The 405.
Co-Hosted an Avant/Noise radio show.
Studied Multimedia Journalism @ Bournemouth University.
No good time goes unpunished, and surely as the sun pours vitamin D into our bodies and creates lens flare in the corner of shades on every person, thunderclouds must replace it to cleanse the air and churn the parched soil. Okkyung Lee’s ‘Ghil’ is the sound of those thunderclouds rolling in.
A trained classical cellist, Lee has collaborated with furious proliferation since becoming part of the NYC diaspora in 2000. Her mutant, abrasive playing style has appeared with Nels Cline, Chris Corsano, and C Spencer Yeah to name but a few.
‘Ghil’ was recorded on a near 40-year-old tape machine in various Norwegian locales by the artist Lasse Marhaug. In some ways, the rudimentary equipment acts as a second instrument to Lee’s playing style. The mixture of harsh bowing and free jazz influences create harmonics that are wildly distorted by the limited frequency range available on the recording equipment. What would sound muted and squeaky in one way is morphed into something altogether tumultuous and shrieking.
In ‘The Space Beneath My Grey Heart’, the cello is talking to you. A series of growls and moans, full of depth, become ritual chanting – a mantra, but of what, you don’t know. ‘Hollow Water’ is both immersive and subversive, with the sound occupying the large room it was recording in as though it were liquid. ‘Meolly Ganeun’ could well be one of the mega lo-fi recordings of Les Rallizes Denudes, with the extreme speed of 70s Japanese crust punk.
There are musicians who have such intimacy and understanding with their instrument that they are able to change the nature of the beast entirely, and Okkyung Lee is one of those people. ‘Ghil’ is out now on Ideologic Organ records.
Dead Wood has been excelling at microsound explorations and the harsher side of noise ever since his years as a junglist. ‘Plotting and Backstabbing’ is as harsh and heavy as they come, with the weighty mirror-plated tape casing seemingly reinforcing that fact. He does like a laugh.
There’s a playful balance between semi-carefully constructed rhythm and all out speaker abuse here, but maybe that’s just me. Maybe he just flipped the switches on a couple of ring modulators and fucked off to the pub, leaving the recording gear running, and me to sit here catatonic wondering if that’s the sensible repetition of Neu! played through an out of tune wireless, or Pandora’s childhood music box. Whatever. It’s fucking transcendent.
At the tail end of July I toddled to the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival, to represent syndicalists, hunt saboteurs, and the unaligned-yet-pissed-off, and to challenge the tired rhetoric and negative dialectic of Labour voters, TUC apparatchiks and those senseless enough to still be in the SWP. Shenanigans aside, the Dorset countryside was saturated with colour under the July heat wave, baking the ground to a dust pile and making furnaces out of tents. It reminded me of growing up in Somerset, all pastoral beauty and endless summers – the townie’s idea of a rural idyll. But you only ever remember the good parts.
Hacker Farm are from near enough the ends in which I got older, but their version of country living is closer to the truth. Using a mixture of found objects, circuit-bent toys and vintage electronics, they give sound to the depression of rural poverty, claustrophobia through boredom and a hint at the West Country’s revolutionary past (peasant’s revolt, and all that), though post-structuralist theory.
Everything on ‘UHF’ is as twisted as possible. There are hints of darkwave (and possibly Black Flag?) on ‘Deterritorial Army’, and a screeching mist on ‘Burlington’ that is reminiscent of the grimmer scenes in ‘A Field In England’. ‘One, Six, Nein’ is pure brain static bliss that has no place in half understood notions of Badgerwatch and sheep shearing contests. The computerised voiceover is a singular, digital, angry horde screaming discontent from the streets. “We reject your so-called culture, we reject your spectacle, we reject your flat, two-tone, touch phone simulation of the world, we reject your lies, we refuse your bribes, we refuse to participate in this pale simulation of reality… This world is ours” It’s your anger at the shallow spectacle of the western world realised in words and sound.
A special mention goes to Grinch, with its jungle riddim that changes tempo every four bars. I’ve tried it out on four or five people and the result was unanimous – the upper torso and head become locked in a fast slow fast slow fast slow movement not out of place in a cultish prayer scene. All that’s left to ask is, if the disciples are in the round, who is in the centre?
A quarter of the Chicago quartet, Implodes, Ken Camden has taken the guitar to figuratively stratospheric levels in the new, Kranky-released, ‘Space Mirror’. As a concept, the album refutes the popular idea of an extra-terrestrial future as dystopian, instead reveling in the ideas of future exploration of space as something that excites and thrills. There is joy and beauty in the infinite possibilities that come from exploring a possibly infinite universe.
It’s a tall order for the skeptiks, but Camden realises his futurist ideas with just a guitar and a few (ahem) effects. Wonderfully, there is a complete lack of tacky futurism here – the sort of ‘let’s make it sound like ray guns and shit’ noise that would bring such ideas to a grinding halt. What it sounds more like, is the shimmering duality of technological humming meeting the vast, black expanse of space, tied together by chord progressions that inspire some kind of awe, and excitement held back by the fear of the unknown. You might have to trust me on this one.
This is best expressed by ‘Eta Carinae’, which pulses to the beat of imaginary LEDs and navigation screens – or the eruption of solar flares in halftime. It is both loneliness and hope, and trying to understand the great expanse before you while still being excited at the prospect of exploring it. Likewise, ‘Trapezium’ is that hum of dark matter that supposedly exists, its central drone embellished by flourishes of rasping synth. Were I to travel the galaxies, I could but dream that it sounds like this.
Finally, an extremely exciting prospect in the extreme music scenes has arisen. Noise In Opposition is a movement comprising of artists rejecting the right wing circle jerk that noise music can often be. It was inspired by Elizabeth Veldon’s statement that “she would never make harsh noise again after receiving threats against her, and those close to her, for the crime of being a feminist in a male-dominated genre”. I’ve already written about far-right ideology in extreme music, and Green Army Faction aside, I have never really seen a cohesive response to it. It is heartening, and beautiful to know that a group of people who share the same ideas about music, yet reject the ideology that pervades that scene are willing to fight for ownership of what they consider beautiful, on their terms.
The compilation is 31 tracks from 24 artists, including the aforementioned Hacker Farm, south coast noise-gazer Chuter, Libe Matz Gang, and The Implicit Order. It is free to download as of July 29th, and can be purchased as a low-price data DVD+R with an A4 insert.
All I can say to this is, ‘alerta, alerta… Antifascista.’
Growing up both is and isn’t hard to do. On a physical level, your body pretty much does it without your express permission, and all the cosmetic surgery in the world won’t slow the flourishing, aging, and dying of the trillions of cells that make you, you. Mentally, growing up is not so steady. The line graph of your life is full of peaks and prairies, with one grand-mal event moving you further forward in your comprehension than six months of coasting does. Music sticks with you through this, acting like a bookmark in the weighty tome entitled ‘stuff I remember’. A few weeks ago, I went through a great leap forward, by getting married. So what I’d like to do this month is bookmark that awesome day with some bands.
My wife is from Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’s essentially a small fishing town that woke up one day and was a city, just hanging oot (sorry, had to) on the far eastern tip of Canada. What with me being an absolute anorak when it comes to punk, heading to this small city filled my head with dreams of insular scenes – all-ages shows, edge and non-edge unity (because there aren’t enough people for a faction), and the one drummer with a van playing in four bands. And while I never actually made it to any shows (kinda had a wedding to attend) I did come back with some pretty sweet soundz.
Grump are masters of the 90-second agro-filled stomper. Their demo gets up, gets loud, and gets the fuck out of there before you can question anything. It’s Agent Orange’s snotty younger siblings who decided they’d rather their hardcore sounded like Rudimentary Peni than R.E.M. There’s something about this that is heaped in nostalgia too – though I may be hearing something that’s not there – and I think it’s the mug on the microphone’s straight-up howl. No vocal exercises for Marshall, he’s just gonna shout until it’s not very wise to do so, then shout some more. If there are any frills to be found here, it’s in the Black Metal-aping trill riffs used for extra melody. The closing track, ‘SPQR’ (which clocks in at an epic 2:29) does everything justice enough. The breaks are a bit more complex and beat is at full tilt, and anger is an energy.
Weed Thief are serious sludgy grindcore with cold, dead clarity in their purely rhythm section rampage (what, you want treble? Nah mate, no can do). The trio of Aaron (vox), Ben (bass) and Tri (kit) aren’t the creature in the dark pacing behind you – hanging back to avoid detection. They’re that son of a bitch that gets your heart racing, proving that yes – yes you will break into a run and you don’t care how it looks because this shit is serious and you’d like to end the night with your jugular vein intact.
Between the eponymous album and ‘Dead Dog’ EP, Weed Thief tear notes apart like they don’t owe them anything. The lack of guitar makes them punchy as hell too – it clatters, but with clarity. There’s so much space for the music to breathe, it doesn’t feel like the full-on noise assault you’d get with say, Pig Destroyer or Agoraphobic Nosebleed. ‘Thievery’ on the S/T and ‘All of them Witches’ on the Dead Dog EP show that the band can actually shift up massively in tempo, while ‘Advisor’ and ‘Smear It On’ are all over the shop – but still tighter than a gnat’s chuff. Proper octopus limbs and helter-skelter bass play.
EEKUM SEEKUM (named after the town, Ecum Secum) are queer, feminist, trans-positive and punk as fuck. The ‘Glitterbomb’ EP is everything the Daily Mail warns you about. It’s as joyous as it is righteous, and as lo-fi as it is hi-f.u…n (not a typo), and it will 100% make you wish you belonged to a gang of anarcho-vigilantes, walking around, trash talking racists and kerb-stomping those who legitimize rape culture into forever.
There’s a healthy mix of joie de vivre and proper feels on the EP, with ‘F.U…N’ lauding the merits of vandalism and Bill Cosby’s choice of apparel, and ‘Pink Dollar$’ trashing sellouts in the queer movement, and lamenting the fact that radical change is homogenized and moulded into something palatable (and sellable) by the cis-gendered establishment. Listen if you like your music dumb and your politics serious and ignore if you’re seriously dumb.
Aidan Baker’s release list on Discogs runs for five pages, and I can’t be certain that it’s either comprehensive or complete. He is an artist of such abundant output that it’s impossible to know where to begin.
His latest release, ‘Already Drowning’ is for the most part an enormous departure from the sound usually associated with Baker. Where most artists that are blessed/cursed with the shoegaze moniker aim for a fat, creamy mid-range, Baker is wont to focus on a crackling, trebly Velcro fuzz – especially with Nadja. However, ‘Already Drowning’ is a collection of more classically structured songs, each with a unique female vocalist interpreting, and often translating, the lyrics. The lyrics, incidentally, are all based on myths of female water sprites – because why the fuck not?
The songs often amble over lounge-jazz terrain, cemented by the chanteuses. The opening (and title) track (ft. Clara Engel) rolls out mercurially, with a slow, smouldering heat. Holes are poked in the almost disarmingly trad instrumentation by the tiniest, subtlest of electronic taps.
30 Days / 30 Nights (ft. Jessica Bailiff) eases in ever so gradually with that murky, semi-reflective pond that Low do so well, before Bailiff’s forlorn spoken word steers it in the direction of Stereolab at their softest. Melusine (ft. Valérie
Niederoest and Maude Oswald) and Mein Zwilling, Mein Verlorener (Ft. Joanna Kupnicka) are both repetitive cycles. However, the former’s cut-up cymbals and floating vocals couldn’t contrast more with the plaintive guitar and Accordion of the latter, beautifully embellished by Kupnicka’s Germanic warble.
Tout Juste Sous La Surface Je Guette (ft. Geneviève Castrée) is a definite highlight. It’s the perfect marriage of the album’s somnambulistic pacing and Baker’s penchant for creating a ripping, fuzzy squall. For all its restraint, the crescendo is utterly consuming. Castrée’s vocals, nasal though they are, complement the music’s ‘ruhig blitzkrieg’.
The penultimate, ten-minute track ‘Ice’ (ft. Liz Hysen) revisits the steady-paced, jazzy refrains, with Hysen’s spiderweb-thin delivery barely making it over the fanfare chorus, and absent altogether in the pomp and groove of the remaining three minutes. Closer ‘Lorelei, Common Tongue’ (ft. Carla Bozulich) sounds as though it is the result of all previous experiments. Vocal manipulation, both organic and synthesised, is its glue, and the collage behind it is the regurgitation of all that has come before.
Back on harsher form, I picked up three stunning tapes from my good friend Tommuel. Tommuel is the proprietor of Scrape Tapes, which is becoming one of my go-to labels and distros for good power electronics and darkwave. Scrape Tapes are currently putting out some seriously nice sounds from the Winnipeg-based DIY label Male Activity.
The first tape is a split from Gashkadin and Wet Nurse, both Winnipeg natives. The tape is dedicated to Sidney Bradford, a man who went blind at ten months of age, and received sight once again after a Cornea transplant at 52. Just two years later, however, Bradford died of no specific cause. It is said that his perception of things through sight terrified him, as he had previously only understood them through touch.
The idea is, the riot and cacophony of sight drove him to his death. Power electronics is by design cacophonous, and if described synaesthestically (pretty sure that’s not a word, but you know what I’m getting at), it could be described as being full of broad brushstrokes, clashes, and murk. To hammer this home, the front of the tape’s insert features a naked and emaciated figure undergoing sensory deprivation, with his eyes covered and genitals taped up.
The Gashkadin side is full of pure disgusting harsh noise, with the final track “Gloria, Lara “je le veux, j’en ai besoin. Je suis ton vrai” providing full, explosive release. Lyrically it is the sound of a sad, lonely loser with control issues, screaming rape fantasies at an imaginary lover who just refuses to submit to his pathetic masculinity. The twisted thoughts of someone who has read too much of the Marquis to be allowed in a relationship are complemented perfectly by a deep, rumbling washed of shitstorm noise, made all the bassier on tape (seriously, compare tape with a bass boost to SoundCloud).
The Wet Nurse side begins by supplementing the static with stabs of feedback- ‘Trauma Hole’ (nice) is an atonal mess on top of an atonal mess for nearly nine minutes. Considering how formless it is, the lack of actual rhythm is unnoticeable – it has its own propulsion, its own means of moving forward without the speed dictated, it seems unstoppable, but nothing is. ‘The Man Who Found Out’ is an exercise of texture; seemingly random transitions between varying shades of sandpaper.
A second Gashkadin split ‘Size & Position’, this time with Assimilation, is on a totes chic purple tape. On the Gashkadin side, ‘T. Krishna’ is in no way going to procure enlightenment (or even a free curry), as it does its level best to render senses useless. A standard wall of noise drops before the gun is cocked and the track drops properly, its slow, measured pulse belying its crushing intensity. MOAR WEIGHT. Tones change, but the march on is steady, to the end. ‘Musk of a Man’ is bewitching in its repetitive hypnotism, a simple cut up sample repeating over and over and over and over before snapping into a wall of screams and sturm. The jolt it causes is almost enjoyable.
The Assimilation side offers a welcome reprieve from static, as ‘Prophylaxis’ is more of a microtone exploration that slowly, slowly, tortoisely, drops in pitch to become all more cavernous. Absolutely beguiling to the last, with repeated screams of ‘Do not resuscitate’
Saving the absolute best for last, the irritatingly obscure Bedroom Suite is a thing of absolute beauty. Limited to 20 copies on see through C91, the collection of field recordings, ambient synth loops, guitars, voices and kitchen sink musicality ebbs and flows between light and dark, gently pulling you from one way to the other. Not since I first discovered William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops have I felt so emotionally connected to a piece of ambient music. Its softly washing synths push and pull gently, until you unconsciously match your breathing to it and there is a connection between the body and the sound – from here everything external to the tape’s core feeds directly into your mind, turning the most incidental of noises into grand events, no matter how insignificant they may or may not seem. Listening to this body of work is an exquisite pleasure, of that there is no doubt.
Last month I harped on about how I was sticking with grim stuff because it was still dark and cold out, and not quite spring, and brighter sounds are for brighter days. Well, it seems we’ve been stuck into an extended chill, so allow me to continue with the pounding and the squawking and general unsettling vibes. There is some swagger though, so that’s something.
The swagger comes in the form of London/Scummerset sexytet Hey Colossus. Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo is their eighth LP, and earmarks a fascinating stage in the band’s evolution. If their early Butthole Surfers-meets-Can krautsludge had all the primitive harshness of cavemen discovering bright, hot burny stuff, then CLLLC is the Holy Roman Empire – sanitation, straight roads and central heating, but still with the joie de vivre of a Bacchanalian orgy. Coincidentally, CLLLC in roman numerals is 350, which is roughly how many members the band would have if all past, present and future reprobates played at the same time.
Anyway, back to tha album. CLLLC is the sound of shit falling into place. The HC rhythm section has always been tighter than a gnat’s chuff, but not like this. The old smashing grumble has been replaced by space and precision – locked fingers instead of a high five. Still, the three R’s (repetition, repetition, repetition) remain a vital part of the curriculum. Hey Colossus have never been a band that show you flashes of an idea, only to move on to the next thing; their MO is to smash it into your skull repeatedly, so that you really, really get the message.
A not very wise man once said to me: ‘Play something four times, it’s good. Play it eight times, and it’s shit. But if you play it a hundred times, it’s fucking great.’ That savant was the HC bassist. Figures. On Oktave Dokkter, the autobahn effect of straight and steady and don’t you deviate is hazy and low, with a gut-rumble the completely owns the song. The froggy vocals, three-note guitar and mosquito synth are allowed to come out and play, but it’s clear on whose terms.
Where Oktave Dokkter and the ‘roided English Flesh have groove and swag and menace locked down, How to Tell Time With Jesus shows the other way repetition can kill you. It’s not so assured and bolshy; it doesn’t live to loaf. It’s more a descent to madness as it goes in circles, and not big, looping grandiose turns – it’s a merry go round spinning just slowly enough for you to be aware that you will puke at some point, but you don’t know exactly when that point will be, you just know hat you don’t particularly want it to stop because you know the world will continue spinning and you won’t even have any company because your senses bailed at a sensible point.
Let’s talk about synths, baby, because they are CLLLC’s lustre and veneer. The sweaty sheen on the climaxed punter’s for’ead. Especially on Leather Lake – it’s a doomy Moroder for greasers and not the merely greasy. Or there’s opener Hot Grave, with its growled tale of a self-loathing slave, where the oddly sweet punctuations of ‘hooooooo!’ and ‘haaaaaaaaa!’ and ‘trrrrllllling!’ really are the raisin in the biscuit.
Hey Colossus are your goofy but righteous friend. Too jovial for the pomp and high camp that other, ‘doomier’ bands drown their presence in for grim authenticity, they are fun and crushing in equal measure and that is really quite OK with me.
Ensemble Pearl’s debut S/T is in equal measure celestial and cerebral. A meeting of four noise rock masters – Stephen O’Malley, Atsuo, Bill Herzog, and Michio Kurihara, theirs is a music that soothes and pierces like a broken glass massage to the soul. Its pace is a dazed walk through gently rolling terrain. Echoey slowly chugging guitars roll in like storm clouds and squalls of feedback and e-bowed shrieks are lightening bolts – or a four-minute warning. But this can, and does, all frequently die out into clipped drones that offer sudden moments of clarity, like sun through a parting in the storm front.
It’s not that the music itself sounds particularly organic – much effort is taken to modulate certain parts out of recognition, with guitarists gaining, losing, regaining, and losing control of what they are playing. More than this, it’s that the music reminds me of our environment. And by environment, I mean the modern environment – not some hippy dream of an ancient feudal existence.
Our environment is as much brutalist high-rises as it is the shady wooded copse or craggy northern coast. More so, even. And it’s this that Ensemble Pearl seem to capture so well. The wild, untamed elements of the human environment that are present in both built up and untouched places. There is the potential for horror and beauty in both. The joke is, you’re equally likely to get shit on your boots wherever you are.
Ensemble Pearl (the album) always seems to be going somewhere but taking a really roundabout route, until it hits Sexy Angle, its 20-minute terminus. Up until this point you are taken on a tour of what feels like a new and alien place, which ends up not being that at all. It’s just a new way of looking at the world around you. The reality of where you are and this is it and either come to peace with it or forever be trapped in the noise. The crawling pace persuades you not to stop, just to move forward in less of a manic pace and understand your surroundings. See them for what they are. See them for what they are for other people. See what is good and bad and what needs to be fought and what should be accepted. But sometimes, you have to let the noise in. Shutting it out is denying that it exists, and that would be a lie.
The light at the end of the tunnel – the Spring equinox – is always too far away until it actually arrives. So let’s not sugarcoat this glum time of year, and instead fill our heads with the kind of purgatorial filth that would have made Hieronymus Bosch consider painting landscape watercolours.
Gnod are ruthless bastards, and their Chaudelande volumes one and two releases have been out separately for a couple of years now, but some kind soul has finally compiled them into one double gatefold 2x12. Good. All the longer to stare tunnel-visioned and stunned, pinned to your seat or bed or bath or wherever you deem fit to bask in this hailstorm of freeform noise, riffs, and merciless, unrelenting beatdowns. Get out the house, burn Top Gear driving CDs and motor through the dark to anywhere with this hypnotic pound. ‘Deriving rawk’ isn’t fit to lick Gnod’s boots. Gnod don’t even have boots. Boots are for those worried about getting dirty and Gnod are filth incarnate.
Opener Tron is righteous repetitive riffage and utter groove worship, shamanic echoplexed vocals and tone abusing-phaser. The Vertical Dead takes 17 minutes to hammer three notes into your head, surrounding it with a glorious collage as it goes. Genocider does even more with even less. They create mastery out of so little and make it sound like so much.
Familial to Gnod are this column’s live act of the year 2012, Queer’d Science, who have a new split 12” out with Year of Birds. The QS side is everything you’d want from them. They’ve taken what they did with the Girls Gone Wild CDr and done the same thing, but more awesome. That reads horribly, but basically, yeah. That’s what they’ve done. It’s everything I imagined ‘Death Disco’ to really mean. Not pale imitation punx’n’goffs listening to MCR and drinking snakebite, but bloody furious and angular and twisted. Drums are small-bore drills going through your skull. The guitar is so heavily modulated that playing more than one note at a time sends it into a primal scream. It’s the low end gutting you out to the high end of Vendela’s shriek, all white frothing rage at being born without out that mutated privilege-carrying chromosome.
Vaginal wrath is full of just that. America’s Next Top Modem is as loose as they get, which isn’t very. Denbigh Menstrual follows you down a dark alley just to mess with you. Just to freak you out. Blood Sabbatical would be an absolute party banger if we lived in a fair and just world – and it’s proof that if possible, QS are nastier when they show a bit of restraint. Requiem for Liberace Wolf is almost playful. Childs Play, but playful all the same. And then it’s over in under 12 minutes, and you’re left feeling a tiny bit shameful, like the dirtiness that crawls your skin after the first time you discovered self exploration as a kid. And like that moment, you know you’ll definitely be going there again.
A-Sun Amissa, of the Gizeh records parish we know so well here at Black Vase, have their second release out March 18th (though you can receive an instant download with a preorder), and it’s called ‘You Stood Up For Victory, We Stood Up For Less’. Let’s take a moment to admire that fine, fine title. What’s more, it’s a thing of beauty. Across two tracks, the record meanders not down many tributaries as their last release (reviewed in this very column) did, but through the different forms of one great long expanse – chopped in the middle.
Part one opens on a gorgeous, shimmering and shuddering guitar motif. It’s gradually joined over time by a slow swell of strings – to no crescendo – and meandering, trebly piano, before fading into nothing. Flat drones are borne out of its death that lead to something deeper and more substantial, a rumbling undercurrent whose surface is suddenly broken by a pure top note. Part two briefly contains the only reference to the jilted percussion on the previous album, before moving on to a more understated guitar pattern shrouded in hollower drones, occasionally punctured by woodwind. This eventually gets more serious, as a tenor (I think) sax begins its shamanic wailing over the top. Nothing is well any more, nothing is comforting, and the last 30 minutes have just been nice lies. This, of course, implodes in on itself with a whimper, not a bang. It’s a glorious whimper that stretches itself out until the very last breath. It wouldn’t feel right any other way.
In a fit of whimsy, I this month purchased two tapes that I knew absolutely nothing about, both from the excellent Turgid Animal Records UK distro (www.mutant-ape.co.uk). They seemed noisy, I like noisy things, and this column is often preoccupied with noisy things, so it seemed like a good idea. I was half right. The first is a dense C-60 of claustrophobic noise from A Vibrant Struggle. The Molten Snow Tapes Vol.5 was recorded in a cabin in the depths of Norway’s barren back garden and released on Lighten Up Sounds (lightenupsounds.blogspot.co.uk) in the US.
Side A, Soft Illusions seems more focused on discombobulation through layers and layers of unsettling things on unsettling things. If the tape is a canvas, they’re applying paint with a trowel. It crawls, mud-stuck with arms a-waving to contact-mic recordings of the house in which they stayed. Grandfather clock ticks and tocks, cutlery on cutlery action, what sounds like boots on bare wooden stairs; all of it descending into a manipulated and mutated hazy ether. The insanity of the occupying the dead north in the winter is documented with the ambient sounds of being there, knowing it’s futile to venture outside. Side B, Perfumed Nightmare, tries a different tack. Two voices are slowly drowned out by the same decaying drone, harsher than any of the gloopiness of the first side, before the cacophony is redoubled with dying eurosynths and the house itself.
The second tape was by Italian power electronics project ALO GIRL, AKA Cristiano Renzoni. Inspired by the sexploitation, depravity and gore of Giallo films and harsh noise as a primal release of “mania that threw out his blood, his flesh… his uncleanness”. Why always Satan, guys? Any road, the 2009 c-30 Gently Before She Dies is a PE purist’s delight. Two sides of straight, rumbling, microphone-in-a-gale, walls of noise. The only enjoyment I can personally get from these kinds of releases is if I just let it take over and get into my head. To switch off and let it do its thing. Which is apt, as the thrill of submission is horrifically prevalent in this kind of aesthetic, and the line between exploratory and unhealthy violence-worship is a thin and blurred one. And with that, I am seriously out for the month.
(N.B. Like an award from me means anything…)
Fieldhead - ‘Neon, Ugly’
Back in October I said of this track: “‘neon, ugly’ especially captures that Selected Ambient Works… era Aphex Twin vibe to a tee, with the most understated drop that’ll make you shiver your goosebumps off.” A few months later and it still does exactly that. It’s a song that, if you allow yourself to submerge into it, feels like a plunge into liquid velvet, with lights a-popping all around your face and limbs swaying in weightlessness.
QUEER’D SCIENCE, Supernormal Festival
I’m trying to think of a better way to describe QUEER’D SCIENCE’s set than I did at the time - “like Marnie Stern goes Mindflayer and banshee (not Siouxsie) wails from Vandela on the mic” - but I’m not sure I can think of one. There are so many factors that make a set memorable for the punter other than the music, and this had the vibe of an excellent festival with excellent people and an excellent vibe all piled on top of a band that were as playful as they were abrasive. Fuck Buttons meets Funkadelic. I think.
Mirrorring (Grouper+Tiny Vipers) - Foreign Body
Underground music is full of collaborations, and this year has been no exception, making it extremely hard to pick one that to me, rose above all the others. Yes, Carter Tutti Void’s Transverse is incredible and getting all the plaudits it deserves, but for me, this meeting of softer, less glitchy minds from the Pacific Northwest deserves higher praise. And that’s because, at once it is obviously the work of two artists entwining their sound, and at the same time it is also the work of a complete who – something that becomes apparent over the course of its six tracks. The clue is in the title – working with someone else can feel like having a foreign body in your creative space. Fortunately for us listeners, that is something that completely works here. Stunning.
Supernormal Festival, Brazier’s Park
"A small community of artistically minded people intent on being thoroughly excellent to each other. With riffs." – I need add nothing to this.
Content Nullity - Scorn of Totality b/w Witness My Decay
One of the most interesting acts in the UK power electronics scene, Tommuel Reynolds aka Content Nullity released this lovely bit of C16 back in the summer on Audial Decimation Records. ‘Scorn of Totality’s grim Taxi Driver sample is made even grimmer by the squelch and sludge coursing underneath it like a river of shit. ‘Witness My Decay’ takes the leitmotif of a blaring horn (in my mind it’s in an abattoir) and bears it along on top of a 40bpm pounding drum and vocals so heavily affected they stray into Seventies sci-fi chic, but are rescued by the fact that it’s just plain rotten to the core. Really quite pretty stuff.
Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Not having properly reviewed this album, I will try to do a précis of sorts in this short space. Making somewhat of a trio with previous two releases The Drift and Tilt, Bish Bosch… Christ this is hard. It’s hard to have a thought about the album that’s as original as anything on the album – but then that’s business as usual for a man who irregularly releases the most uncompromising compositional work around. Walker’s quasi-operatic tenor is on more puncturing form, especially hurling court jester insults to no one on ‘SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)’. The instrumentation is as imaginative as always, with producer Peter Walsh managing to procure the means by which they can record the noises going on in Walker’s head, as per.
The extremities being machetes and a human sphincter. Nowhere but on ‘Epizootics!’ is the absolute bredth of ideas so apparent. Over the course of its nine minutes it turns at acute angles through so many phrases, running off on sonic tangents that always seem to find their way back to the root of the song. If it is indeed influenced by the beat era, as he has alluded to in interviews, then there’s something awfully wrong with that Benzedrine strip. Bish Bosch does to you what the last couple of Scott Walker albums manage to do. Make you reevaluate exactly how you think about music. Whatever benchmarks you were leaning on before this, they’re going to look pretty pathetic and useless afterwards.
Swans - The Seer
Best rock band in the world finally make the album that makes them the best rock band in the world.
Grimes - Visions
Because haters gonna hate. Then they’re gonna look really stupid when they realise it’s the best electronic album of the decade so far.
Let it not be said that this column has its finger anywhere but on the pulse. Small But Hard records is a new indie label, split between Berlin and London. It’s the collective efforts of Shigeru Ishihara (DJ Scotch Egg, Devilman), Daisuke Imamura (DJ Die Soon), and Simon Fowler (Cataract Press).
Currently on the soon-to-expand roster is the jarring dubtronic ensemble Devilman (read our review of their debut here ); DJ Scotch Bonnet (one of Shigeru’s other monikers); techno-dragged-through-the-mud outfit C_C; and finally, one-time-Jungle Brother and rightful forefather of Death Grips, Sensational.
SBH’s current releases are a tape from Scotch Bonnet and Sensational, the aforementioned s/t from Devilman, and their inaugural mixtape (now sadly sold out).
After two incredibly well received showcases at Supersonic Festival and Berlin’s infamous Berghain megaclub, the guys are keeping future events under wraps. In terms of future releases, there’s going to be another mixtape in January, a Walter Gross EP, a C_C 7” and a Devilman EP – but that’s as much as they’re saying for now.
I spoke to Simon briefly (he’s a busy bloke) about the label’s inception, its modus operandi, and free collaboration.
What’s your relationship with Shige and Daisuke?
I met Shige at Supersonic festival in 2010, seeing Devilman in the Old Library. We became friends over the course of the festival, and soon after we began discussing me producing the artwork for Devilman. I met Dysu last year when Drum Eyes played London. Now we work together closely on the overall vision and direction of the label.
Who approached who with regards to starting the label?
Dysu asked me about it after Shige, Kathy (Alberici, operations manager) and he discussed the idea of starting a tape/7” label. This then quickly grew to include graphic artist/photographer Bryce Davesne with whom I am now art directing with on all aspects of the label identity.
What connections are there, if any, with yourselves and the artists you put out (Apart from Shige being/being in/working with some of them)?
The connection is in our shared enthusiasm and passion for what we do as individuals.
As a label, do you intend to be pretty insular with regards to who you put out, or would you take demos from anyone?
Due to the size and nature of how we are running things right now we don’t have time for demos, we are dealing with a stable list of releases leading up to next summer. However, I wouldn’t want to rule out listening to demos as such but we are going to be pretty selective as to what we chose to be part of the roster.
There’s a pretty defining sound to the label at the moment, would you ever branch off into releasing other genres?
We are definitely into branching out in any direction with regard to the ‘sound’ of the label, we don’t want to be lumped into any one genre; this reflects the diversity of interest we all have in music and art. I think this is strongly evident in our recent showcase performances at Supersonic and Elevate festival.
Do you intend for the label to stay as one thing that you guys are working on out of many, or could you see it getting to a size where it could become a full-time commitment? Is this something you’d ever want?
I have no idea at this stage. I spend my time working as a freelance illustrator; that’s what I have been doing for six years and intend on continuing with this work and taking it to a higher level. If possible, this would in turn allow me to invest more in the label and expand to the point of it becoming a fully-functioning company.
Is there anything in particular that inspires the label?
Feedback, distortion, a shared sense of humour. Bad jokes. Cooking. I’m personally inspired by all the people I’m working with in SBH and the new faces coming into the fold.
What formats are you releasing on?
It seems there’s a lot of movement between what you put out and the people in it – almost like music bed-hopping. Would you consider Small But Hard a collective?
In some ways, there is a strong family vibe going on; we all share responsibility. It’s also natural for the artists on the roster and involved in the label to collaborate freely, as this is part of the nature of how the label came together and is being run day to day.
Apologies for the break in communication, but I promise you won’t be disappointed with what I’ve accrued in my short absence. Well. You might. But hey ho.
One of the most exciting pieces to come to my attention was the ICA’s Soundworks exhibition. The online repository of some of the most interesting and engaging sound art around works in tandem with a live installation at the gallery that ran up between the middle of June and the middle of September.
Luckily for us who couldn’t make it to London in that time, there is an online repository of every work produced, using the stimulus of Bruce Nauman’s ‘Days’ installation, which ran in tandem with the event. The unbelievable amount of work that has been put online is a great example of the web democratizing art – there is an inclusivity to it that simply cannot be present when geographical/financial/ability/forewarning/ignorance situations are taken into account.
There random successes and failures of just diving the fuck in and seeing which pieces are great is also fun – you could end up with Cosey Fanni Tutti’s (of Chris & Cosey/Throbbing Gristle) ‘Biochismic’ – a miasmic and modular piece, or Factory Floor’s uncharacteristically restrained ‘M T W T F S S 7’. Or, there’s Luke Fowler & Richard Youngs’ ‘Zoning’, which appears to operate by sliding in and out of tempo and form, before turning into something that’s, well, blissful synth pop.
BTW. In the last para are three places you could start. Aren’t I nice to you?
And now for two albums out soon, both on the dependably excellent Gizeh records based in the top-right of the country. The first is from Fieldhead, a Leeds/Vancouver ambielectro outfit of about five years. ‘A Correction’ is the follow up to their 2010 LP ‘They Shook Hands For Hours’. The combination of droning studio electronics and two violinists really elevates the album onto a plane where the two disciplines are mutated into one, with the boundaries blurred between what is acoustic and what is electronic. The track ‘neon, ugly’ especially captures that ‘Selected Ambient Works…’ era Aphex Twin vibe to a tee, with the most understated of drop that’ll make you shiver your goosebumps off. It’s really, really fucking magical.
The second Gizeh release is from Glissando, a(nother) Leeds duo whose ambient lay in more classical textures, with spiderweb-thin falsetto vocals that work at counterpoint with assorted strings, keys and the occasional shimmering chime. ‘The World Without Us’ is hard to place, because while instantly familiar, and there are reference points your brain is making to the music, there aren’t any concrete ones – it flits between shire-born gothic folk, but with more menace, and equal amounts of fragility, and… Well, it’s great. One to burn a candle to.
‘A Correction’ is out October 22nd, and ‘The World Without Us’ is out November 5th, both on Gizeh records. What’s more, you can catch them both, plus Richard Knox and Frederick D Oberland performing Rustle of the Stars at Café Oto on November 18th.
Loscil, AKA Canadian Scott Morgan, released his 6th LP on Kranky records (Belong, Stars of the Lid, Grouper) at the beginning of September. ‘Sketches from New Brighton’ is not an homage to his home, more ideas that come through the spaces he occupies and his surroundings in that place. It’s full of synthetic textures and scatterbrain, squelchy beats that cometimes put you in mind of longer, lusher, more drawn out and spacey minimal techno, but with none of the occasional propensity that genre has for coldness. I mean, the sound invokes that isolated, freezing, wintery claustrophobia that must be present in the Canadian winter, but it has depth in the undulating soundscapes that break through from the regimented rhythms.
‘Sketches from New Brighton’ is available now from Kranky records.
Speaking of Kranky records (and with an alumni consisting of Godspeed and Low, it’s good to speak of them), there is a new label swimming around the ether from Brian Foote (of Kranky) by the name of PEAK OIL. After a listen to its first two releases, I can confirm that they are destined to be a label of note (like my opinion counts for anything). But seriously, bare tunes.
Strategy’s self titled is one in a slew of releases he’s (Paul Dicklow) put out recently, and everything about it is pretty much wrong for this column, but it’s also totally right. At times it’s full of unbelievable funktronica, the severely diluted form of which is currently gracing NME pages as Everything Everything, but stylistically it has much more in common with John Maus’s ‘We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves’ in so much as you can tell the ideas are using that potentially populist dancefloor-smash template as a wireframe to base some imaginative and innovative music on. In an interview with Resident Advisor (www.residentadvisor.net/feature.aspx?1574), he told of how the human ear seeks out imperfections in sound, and you can hear that on ‘Strategy’. There’s always something subtly, or not so subtly, jarring – and juxtaposed with the straight up funkiness of it, it’s pretty awesome.
The second PEAK OIL release is ‘Spontaneous Generation’ by PERSONABLE – the alias of psych hound M Geddes Gengras. This is a straight up monster of a psych-techno release, designed to keep you on that indefinite transcendental plane where endorphines flow at a leisurely pace from your pituitary gland like a double fucking rainbow. I hate dancing and I can’t handle comedowns any more, but Jesus H Jones I want to go out and face the dank hole of all comedowns right now just to dance to this.
This weekend past I, complete with more than a few friends, popped to Supernormal festival (not to be confused with Supersonic, which I previewed for this very site a few weeks back). The event is billed as the ‘alternative’s alternative’, which both roused my suspicions and stroked my ego a little. “Yes, I could go for that,” I thought. The festival is set in the rather quaint surroundings of Brazier’s Park – a 55-acre secular community and listed building in the middle of Oxfordshire. They also have Red Kites. They are ‘near threatened’ (The Guardian of species; not quite fucked, but on the way there), and beautiful.
The vibe of the festival was commune-esque. It seemed you were never more than two or three degrees of separation from knowing someone you’d just bumped into, and there was a total lack of separation between artists and punters. Musicians are always trying to prove that they’re normals too. Supernormal puts that into practice. The ‘you are nothing special’ vibe, paradoxically, makes everyone feel a bit special. Promoters take heed, if the artist makes any demands that you wouldn’t meet of a punter, fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em onto the street. I managed to see quite a few bands at Supernormal, in between bouts of beer-in-the-sun madness, so here is a pretty much blow-by-blow account.
Having not made it in time to catch the wunderbar Workin’ Man Noise Unit, I started my weekend with Fat Bicth (no typo), who had all the non-brass skronk of US Maple but with that little bit more structure. In essence, dissonant riffage that you can bang your head to without violent time changing confusion that leads to a neck brace. The perfect little aperitif of a band that set us up for a weekend of the weird.
Joeyfat were sold to me as ‘the band Enablers wish they were as English as’. Ker-ching. They combined a guitar trio that caressed each other (metaphorically) before leading slashes of riff that made full use of their trifecta of sonic possibility, with drums that could move just as swiftly between rolling jazz licks and straight up four-to-the-floor. Also, vocals that were a bit Jarvis doing spoken word. But not in a bad way, like your mate who’s listened to too much Beefheart.
Slow and doomy, which is never bad, with the most affected dual-drawl of a pair of vocals you could find, staggered between thunderous chords (at least, they would be if they weren’t at 50db). Undersmile lurched towards you like a backfiring milk-float playing a chewed-up Queenadreena tape on a broken hi-fi. Filled with napalm. Or something.
More doom from a more conventional source (ie dude with pointy guitars and a long haired bassist), Ramesses were totally full of the dry ice and growling that decades of wake-and-bake do for people. Ramesses are full of the doped up heaviness and riff worship that makes doom genuinely fun and crushing to listen to, leaving aside all the macho bullshit associated with plenty of metal. You could sacrifice a virgin to them, but they’d probably tell you that was really uncool and to have a hit on the bowl. Top sludge.
From the outset, Hey Colossus typified everything that is great about the UK noise rock scene. A bunch of guys who have been doing it long enough to know better/have a crapload more recognition, but still looking like this is the most important thing in their lives (though their wives/kids might take umbrage at me saying that). They played plenty of material off their last album RRR that showed that they know exactly what they are doing, and they locked into the groove so hard it was almost a relief when the set came to an inevitable grinding halt. Almost.
You may know him as DJ Scotch Egg, overlord of Chiptune, or from Devilman, Drum Eyes, and countless other incarnations, but that day the craziest man with a laptop had everyone throwing the wildest of shapes to some intense motorik mashups under a haze of scorching sun. A particular highlight was him admirably meeting a request for ‘Reign In Blood’. Both spectacular and bonkers.
Born from Wetdog, Peepholes and Trash Kit, Covergirl play that kind of itchy, urgent leftfield post-punk that makes you wish people still thought two minute jitter-tunes were the bee’s knees. As the sun set over the campsite it was that exact thing that entered my mind, which was surprising, as it was pretty preoccupied with what my feet were doing.
What a glorious pun. And what a glorious set. Drum kit dismantling and thumping tribalism with consistent drones and an air of absolute rapture. Also: audience participation, the use of a green VW van, showers of red wine and an impromptu kick about. Go see this band live, now.
Puntacular MKII. Potentially band of the weekend, these guys. All the snappy, lightning Bolt drumming with twisted, heavily modulated guitar like Marnie Stern goes Mindflayer and banshee (not Siouxsie) wails from Vandela on the mic. Seriously, if I were walking down the street at night towards these guys I’d cross over to meet the skinheads shouting “COME ‘ERE SO I CAN SMASH YER BAWS IN YA POOFTAH”.
Whelp, seems Sunday was Punday. SY nestle in a nice comfy crevice between the dark twee of Veronica Falls and The Shitty Limits’ agitated garage. Not sure they were fully on form this day, or if the band above had just broken me, but they just seemed a little out of step. Still, their saccharine edge gave quite a nice little sugar rush.
It was with no prior knowledge that I went to see these guys. A trio of minimal drums, bass, and Electric Bouzouki and Elektrosaz (Google it), they started out playing some nicely atmospheric Balkan folk, then ramped it up by morphing the familiar Eastern Bloc scales and rhythms into some kind of trad-prog frenzy. It was quite the sight, and I hereby rename them Emerson, Lake and Polichnya.
As James Blackshaw had bailed, and I really didn’t fancy Seefeel (sue me, OG shoegazers), it was to be Bilge Pump who saw out my Supernormal experience. Going nearly two decades strong, Bilge Pump have all the hilarity of Span and McLusky speared with all the awkwardness of Devo. But less hats. It was their repetiton of almost nonsense and complete nonsense phrases backed by My First Gang of Four rhythms and chicken scratch guitar that completely won the crowd over. There was nary a glum mug to be seen as the set faded into the muggy night and canvas-clad feet scuffled through the grass to the bar. Ace.
Supernormal, to me, felt like I’d imagine a safe space at a protest camp to feel like. Being a white, straight, dude I’ve never had the need for one, but there was a definite feeling of being able to act as you wanted to, free of any pressure or unreasonable social expectations. And by this, I don’t mean the homogenized freedom of a corporate festival where you can double drop and burn a few tents because ‘there are no rulez maaaan!’, I means it felt like a small community of artistically minded people intent on being thoroughly excellent to each other. With riffs.