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February 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – Kammer Klang: Taylor Le Melle’s Afrodiasporic spectrum with Venus Ex Machina, Morgan Craft and Shenece Oretha (5th February)

31 Jan

Bah. I’ve got a swelling head cold and am consequently as thick as a cement omelette. Not the best time to try to preview a complicated experimental evening. Sorry for the vagueness in this post… even more than usual, this is hidden music to be sought out and learned from.

Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha, 5th February 2019

The first Kammer Klang of the year unites various sonic experimentalists from the African diaspora under the curatorship of Taylor Le Melle. That’s probably the best way of putting it: the lack of a portentous event title means it’s not pinned down to any more specific narrative. Though predominantly a writer, Taylor spends a lot of time as a creative enabler (co-running independent publisher PSS and artist/workers’ audio-visual cooperative not/nowhere, and facilitating debate), and this isn’t her first Oto event. I’m assuming that it’s going to throw up ideas from across a broad spectrum of ideas and identities, some of which are outlined here.

Venus Ex Machina (a.k.a. Zimbabwean emigre Nontokozo F. Sihwa) is one of an ever-more visible number of interdisciplinary artists and computer coders eliding non-binary gender ideas into the worlds of music, games and visuals. Interested in “mythical and borderless” radio communication, she’ll be performing her own ‘Anno Lucis’ piece from 2018.

I’ve no idea whether this other Venus piece, ‘Paraquat’, is any reflection of what’s to be performed on the night; but here it is for illumination (with its mixture of Geiger counter industrial twists, ringing friction noise apparently siphoned from the bearings holding up the music of the spheres, and arrestingly vocal synth parts summoning up both heavenly European chapel choirs and complex African alarm whoops).

 
Attempting to place solo electric guitarist and sonic mystic/realist Morgan Craft involves multiple questions about geography, roots and discovery. A Minnesota-born African-American, he’s an escapee from the New York experimental scene of twenty years ago; but rather than questing directly into Africa he sought refreshment and new paths in the Tuscan mountains of Italy for over a decade (before settling in Amsterdam, where he works with Giulia “Mutamassik” Loli on the Circle of Light label and the Rough Americana project. Now he’s an “Afro-American Viking futurist”, whatever that means. Drawing on the classical legends and contemporary politics of African, European and American cultures alike, his essays sift and fold his multi-positional overview: an expatriate American black man querying his background, a critiquer of capitalist and street culture, a person with one eye on a new dawn due to rise over the muck.

Morgan’s textural guitar pieces are expansive and questioning personal monologues, abstracting manifold concerns into detailed shades. He will be performing his 2018 piece ‘Godel’: here are several earlier pieces from a big releasing burst in 2016.




 
Montserrat-born Shenece Oretha mostly concerns herself with polyvocality and immediate listening – as she puts it, “choreograph(ing) layers of music, voice, recordings and noise to shape moments of communion and ceremony.” Land-tilling metaphors of potential and nurturing pervade her definition of herself – “hypothetical gardener, future farmer, speculative horticulturalist.” Her sound work, or at least, that of it which I’ve heard so far, is much less pastoral; simultaneously dicing up and unifying strands of black experience from the wounded and fierce to the ecstatic and congregational, from the lone voice ululating to the whumphing in-your-face assertions of co-opted technology.

 
In addition to Oretha’s Fresh Klang performance – a piece called ‘to plot together, to breathe together’ – Testing Grounds (her “installation with multiple openings”) makes a temporary home at Oto for three days in advance of the show. With spaces for invited guests available (to “accompany the sound and participate in the sounding out”), it’s a live-performed sonic stew “present(ing) and incorporate(ing) her ongoing research project, black whole…, orchestrat(ing) a series of interruptions/interventions ‘in the breaks’.”

 
Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
(‘Testing Grounds’ – Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th February 2019, 5-9pm)
 

May 2018 – two rare London showings for Chinese punks Birdstriking (20th & 22nd May) with Radar Men From The Moon, One Unique Signal and The Wolfhounds

16 May

I hate punk. No, scratch that. I hate what punk too often turns into – the institution of punk, the ossification of what ought to be immediate, the sense of discovery and an armful of bright options that stales and turns into an array of choking conservative forms; the way it all ages too quickly and turns into the faded favourite shirt you wear out of stubbornness.

It’s not supposed to be that way: it should always feel like a shot of energy into the moment, or a flare of wising up. I sometimes feel that it should only be a transient thing, but a transformative transient thing – a kind of liberating wind-tunnel which you hurtle through en route to finding who you are, so that you can be someone whom you’d never otherwise have had the imagination and purpose to become. Stretching out that moment, that process, somehow seems to stop the result. I get bored by most punk, energy or no energy. When it does get a grip on me, it’s when it drags me in to witness that firing of possibilities. I always wonder why, and how, it should last any longer.


 
Chinese punks Birdstriking have been together since 2009; some way off the sixteen active years of Fugazi, let alone the forty-two of UK Subs, but a span which, in terms of the early punk waves, would have practically rendered them elder statesmen. Despite this, they still sound as fresh as if they were in their first flush – a glorious, splintery, shimmery noise like an rotary engine made from flying gobbets of molten silver, topped with a stormtossed thrill of Sino-Anglo vocal. On their rare trips over here they’re the subject of documentaries, or are fêted in word-of-mouth samizdat as if they were princes from the East: their shows immediately garlanded as must-see events. It’s tempting, I guess, to treat them as something exotic – different from the Western malcontents we’re used to – and whenever you hear a thrilling echo of Chinese folk melody ringing through the smog of guitar bash or shaping a vocal line, it’s even more tempting to pursue that angle.

It’s also tempting to try to cast them as rebels against the suffocating monocultural paternalism of the latterday Chinese state, but that’s not easy to make stick. Having had their debut record banned due to a single, fairly unspecifically political song, Birdstriking have shrugged their shoulders, said a few things about anger being for people’s younger days, and are now opting for more innocent-sounding themes – sports enthusiasm, the thrill of personal energy, the mixed soothings and pain of family. You could, if you squinted, cast them as apologists for a kind of positive Chinese conformism. I’m guessing that that’s not true either. I suspect that a kind of subtlety is at work amongst the noise – discussions in the timbre of arguments, and in the implications of personal joy within a collective . They want to keep on doing what they do, to become something more. It’s not in the rhetoric, it’s in the sound.


 
Regardless, in each of the two London gigs they’re playing over the coming week, Birdstriking will be interfacing with a different Western counter-cultural mindset. At the Sebright show (where they’ll be at the bottom of the bill), the tone’s definitely leaning towards the psychedelic, the noise-surfy and the shaggy rebel-academic. Gnod-affiliated Dutch avant-garde music collective Radar Men From The Moon will be deconstructing psychedelia and acid house: part of the group curating the Eindhoven Psych Lab, they’re currently touring and touting ‘Subversive II’ (the last in a triple-run of themed albums). London psychedelic droners One Unique Signal (who also moonlight as the instrumental backing for The Telescopes) will also be joining in, continuing their sixteen-year voyage into noisy minimalist repetition with added layered impulses from space rock, post-rock and kosmische.


 
At the Windmill – where Birdstriking are headlining – expect a dip into the more stripped, loquacious end of post-punk smarts, since they’re being supported by The Wolfhounds. Post-punk veterans from the mid-’80s, currently thirteen years into a resurrection, the Wolfhounds are now grizzled smartarses in their early fifties. Smart enough to embrace their middle-agedness without succumbing to it (meaning that they’re in a place where they can sing about self-parody rather than just becoming one), they’re also armed with a lean, laser-guided wit and a deceptively sophisticated perspective. Although they’d hate the comparison, they’re proof positive of that old bastard P.J O’Rourke’s adage about age and guile beating youth, innocence and a bad haircut.


 
If The Wolfhounds are garage rock, theirs is an omnivorous man-cave of a garage. It’ll be rammed with books and time-tested music, and inside it they’ve honed a pitch-perfect blend of sarcasm and hidden sincerity, and a way of loading their snarling guitar chassis with bursts of soul, a capella political folk and digressions into the digital sound palette which frontman David Callahan mastered during his interim years with Moonshake. Though the songs on their current album ‘Untied Kingdom’ (one of 2016’s finest, sharpest records at the punkier end – perhaps a ‘Sandanista!’ without the sprawl) echo, and probably intentionally, Brecht, Blake and Shelley they’re never pompous or swotty. An equal template, at least in terms of directed smarts, are the wise, rowdy Mekons, whose own forty-one year career evolution is an example of how punk doesn’t have to tumble into the pickling jar; proof positive, as The Wolfhounds continue to prove, that those punky impulses don’t have to turn into flab and complacency.


 
One more thing – in case you thought the psychedelic-noise side of things had been left behind at the Sebright Arms, the interim DJ sets at the Windmill come from Sterling “Rosco” Rothwell, the onetime Spacemen 3 and Darkside drummer who’s sometimes resurfaced as himself (for 2004’s The Psychedelic Ubik) or as a guest performer with various acts from Sky Saxon to Geraint Watkins and Martin Belmont.

Dates:

  • Radar Men From The Moon + One Unique Signal + Birdstriking, The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England, Sunday 20th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Birdstriking + The Wolfhounds + DJ Rosco, The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Tuesday 22nd May 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here

 

May/June 2018 – upcoming London experimental music gigs – Shatner’s Bassoon and Man From Uranus at Stour Space (26th May), Author & Punisher, Trepaneringsritualen, Vera Bremerton at Electrowerkz (28th May); Stevie Richards’ Buchla workshop (2nd June)

15 May

Shatner's Bassoon + Man From Uranus, 26th May 2018

Shatner’s Bassoon + Man From Uranus
Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Old Ford, London, E3 2PA, England
Saturday 26th May 2018, 8.00pm
information

Leeds jazz-punk quintet Shatner’s Bassoon are returning to London a couple of weeks later to play a gig at reclaimed Lea-side venue Stour Space.

A band who’ll happily admit to being “steeped in malfunctioning improvisation, passive-aggressive minimalism, surreal avant-punk and free jazz trances”, they’re touting their first new album for three years. ‘Disco Erosion’ features “intricate yet often evasive song structures, angular rhythms and anxiety inducing psychedelia. The distinct featured instrumentation includes circuit bent delay pedals for keyboard, a myriad of off-kilter sax, a slice of Theremin, clarinet, cowbell and a pinch of Transylvanian organ. The result is a glitchy and deranged carnival of paranoia, which blends influences from the likes of Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, Cardiacs, Tim Berne, John Zorn, Man From Uranus and Fred Frith.”



 
Speaking of Man From Uranus, he’s playing the support slot. An “experimental library musician” and rogue psychedelic improviser, he’s spent fifteen years on the fringe rampaging on analogue synths, theremin and assorted devices to create music reminiscent of fantastical backroom mind-voyages or antique afternoons of strange kid’s telly.



 

* * * * * * * *

Author & Punisher + Trepaneringsritualen + Vera Bremerton, 28th May 2018

A couple of days later, there’s “an evening of heavy electronics, innovative drone, ritual ambient doom and industrial music” courtesy of Chaos Theory in one of their more synthetic, swampy and cthonic moods.

Author & Punisher is “the solo project of Tristan Shone (hailed by ‘Noisey/VICE’ as a “staggering genius in (his) ability to transform the auditory pollution of industry into music”. A mechanical engineer who wandered from native Boston to California to pursue his artistic interests, he ended up using his scientific skills to build custom musical instruments, which give added depth to the term “industrial”. The mechanical processes that give life to the music aim to reproduce the rhythms of industrial machinery and its relationship to their human operators; a merging of the flesh and the steel.”


 
In support, growl-and-hiss “solo visionary” Trepaneringsritualen will be delving into “themes of religion, magick and the occult realms of consciousness, taking musical cues from the old school of ritual ambient and death industrial. Rhythmic and seething at times, oozing forward with a creeping sense of desolation, Trepaneringsritualen conjures forth bleak but mesmerising visions of the end-times.”


 
Opening the show is Berlin-and-London resistance siren Vera Bremerton, “a visionary vocalist, producer and composer, who weaves dark tales of the female experience under religion, the patriarchy and general cultural hatred, using superhuman screams, industrial beats and gritty lyrics… A harrowing, enlightening and extreme experience.” Her work crosses a gamut between dark, driving, angry protest-pop nuggets and extended swathe-y textural clouds of hanging noise and vocal lacerations – see below.

 
Broken beats/London bass act With Towards Collapse add to the overall stew with DJ sets throughout the evening.

Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
Author & Punisher + Trepaneringsritualen + Vera Bremerton + Towards Collapse DJs
Electrowerkz @ Islington Metal Works, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Monday 28th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

* * * * * * * *

Stevie Richards' Modular Synthesis Workshop using Buchla Music Easel, 2nd June 2018

Meanwhile, if you’d like to dive deeper into electronic technology – or just hone or diversify the skills you already have, Stevie Richards (a.k.a Cleaninglady is hosting a noontime open workshop at IKLECTIK in early June, based around a legendary West Coast “suitcase synth” – the Buchla Music Easel. Dating back to 1973 (and, in recent years, reincarnated as software emulations by Arturia) the Easel is part of a family of electronic instruments created by Don Buchla, who avoided the word “synthesizer” since he believed that it implied a cloning of existing instrumental sounds. Instead (in parallel with the more conventional creations of Moog, Korg and others) he evolved a line of devices dedicated to creating new sounds; sometimes – but not always – avoiding the use of a standard tempered-scale keyboard, and incorporating a much more complex method of tone generation than those of his rivals. This has led to his creations being the instrument of choice for certain electronic musicians who demand a deeper, more detailed control of tone and timbre as well as the different thinking patterns which the instruments encourage.

While the workshop will be performed on, and led from, the Buchla Music Easel, apparently everything being taught and communicated is “applicable to all hardware in the modular synthesis world, and will hopefully help give you confidence and a deeper understanding of your instrument and it’s application in recording and live performance contexts.” Here’s a Loopop guide to the Easel, plus a video of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith working her own Easel. I’ve also added a recording of Stevie running a modular synth set in New York four years ago.



Modular Synthesis Workshop using Buchla Music Easel
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 11.00am
– information here, here and here
 

May 2018 – experimental rock, hip hop and strange-pop in London – Black Midi, Shaun Sky and Omelet (10th May); Farai, Black Midi, Jockstrap, TONE and more (24th May)

6 May

As of yet, no-one’s really successfully categorised south London under-bubblers Black MIDI – something which I reckon they’re quite pleased about – but there seem to be an increasing number of people who get them, responding to the band’s perverse flinty reverberations with outright delight.

Here’s what I wrote about them last time our paths crossed:

“Teenage Croydonians Black MIDI (subtitled, variously, “the decibel boys” and “purveyors of the loudest dreamscapes”) managed to win over a pubful of Cardiacs cultists. Not the easiest thing to do and they didn’t do it with post-punk virtuosity or effusive psychedelic complexity but by dogged, determined presence. Artful and awkward (or gawk-ward), in some respects reminiscent of key post-hardcore bands such as Slint and Jesus Lizard (and in others a muted, utterly pared-back Huge Baby), they also sound as if they’ve got there without listening to the records. While a generation of shoegazer revivalists annoy me by clogging up my inbox with ersatz sonic cathedral cliches, Black MIDI arouse my interest by whittling sparse piles of breeze-blocks into mysterious cranky monuments… I found them elusive to follow, and follow-ups are no easier (their Soundcloud’s vanished down the back of the rehearsal room sofa; their Facebook page currently consists of one post).


 
“Still, they offhandedly own their space onstage: perhaps their secret ingredient might be impeccably fit drummer Morgan Simpson (who might look as if he’s timewarped in from the young Fishbone but seems absolutely at home where he is now) but when you’re dealing with a bandful of stubborn square pegs like this one, any or all of them could be…. Between holding the low notes down or strumming out wooly baritone chord-clouds, (the) bass player maintains ambiguous eye contact with the audience, like an onstage imposter letting us in on his stunt. One of the guitarists (blessed and cursed with the arched, cruel, elfin eyebrows of Thomas Sangster) looks perpetually affronted, but instead of screaming out tortured emo wails he enunciates rambling, precisely-formed, utterly incomprehensible digressions: like a fiercely introverted baby Peter Hammill, or an exiled punk senator addressing a horde of penguins…

“With a rumble spreading about their south London rumble, this feels like the start of something. Just as much as I find it hard to place where Black MIDI come from, I have no idea where they’re going; but they’re the kind of band which excites me via that blank-slate art-punk feeling that they could go anywhere.”

Wu-Lu Curates: Black Midi + Shaun Sky + Omelet, 10th May 2018

Having demonstrated both a preternatural confidence and a healthy genre-crossing “play-with-anyone” attitude ever since their emergence, Black Midi continue their London encroachments via two very different gigs in May. For the first (on the 10th), they’re playing at a Shacklewell show curated by South London artist and tastemaker Wu-Lu, a trans-Thames event aiming to “showcase some of the most exciting acts currently breaking through South of the river, all the way up in East London.”

Billmates for this one are a pair of hip hop talents. South London rapper Shaun Sky is the kind of affable jack who sounds as if he’d rather spend his time ambling round the top of a hilly park, greeting and free-associating, away from street corners. Semi-acoustic and spacious, his work’s balanced atop a London sundowner groove of sunwarmed beats, acoustic guitar and soul murmurs; his thoughts are a constant, light-touch note-to-self to pick up and get focussed.

 
On the flipside, Omelet (usually the beatmaster and orchestrator for the brooding, phantasmal Neverland Clan, the Catford-to-Hackney crew he also calls, with full irony, “the world’s gnarliest boyband”) steps out from his dayjob for a solo appearance. Taking something from the drunken-sounding, unbalanced, falling-asleep-on-the-spindle urban veil-dances he uses as Neverland backings (who generally sound as if Massive Attack had taken a couple of draws from their own future, straight from the post-split Tricky, and begun to disintegrate) he sharpens them up. Minus the MC murmurs of Daniel OG and Ryan Hawaii, they’re still narcotic and weird-eerie, but now more on pitch – disassociated minimal beatscapes made as much of space, echoing wafts and inconclusions as they are of hits and pindowns; uncomfortably sedated, with drift-in samples of dream-recountings and distant orgasms.

 
GLOWS presents Middle Of The Room: Farai + Black Midi + Jockstrap + TONE + more, 24th May 2018The second Black Midi outing of the month is at the second PL x Glows “Middle Of The Room” event at DIY Space for London. It’ll be a big sprawling evening of mixed media and art, in which they’ll be sandwiched between the adventures of two experimental pop duos – Farai and Jockstrap – on a bill completed by TØNE, who fires off slinky-robot salvos of latterday electro (veering between a kind of warm, distracted isolationism and scattered hints at the black experience).

 
Similarly oblique is what’s going on within Farai. Basil Harewood Jnr provides the sounds (deep-buzz, sawtoothed synthpop) while the superbly named/renamed Farai Bukowski-Bouquet provides the voice and the identity; the whole concept stitched together with lashings of Afropunk attitude and beady Berlin-art blankness. Farai herself yells small-voiced, cryptic/obvious nuggets into echoing dub-chamber space (“I am a warrior, but even lions cry too”, “Chasing the dragon, inhale exhale”, “I roll with the hell’s angels”) and always seems to be glancing off bigger statements, leaving pointers or shreds of clues rather than outright explanations or challenges; exchanging meaningful nods with Robert Johnson or Prince Far I while swiping past them on the autobahn. Perhaps there are more clues in the group’s videos – flat, pop-up art-gallery/fashion shoot reframing of introspections or street-market scenes, in which Basil and Farai seem to be part of a contracting and expanding collective of talkers, arguers, dancers and hustlers.

I can’t tell whether it’s all a deliberately difficult slit-view onto a bigger world, with them demanding that you make up all the running to gain understanding; whether it’s all codes and pre-initiations; even whether there’s substance behind those sketched references and implications, or whether its a handful of slogan-poses around an empty core. Sometimes it’s all frustratingly impenetrable – Farai makes fleeting eye-contact from under her lids, challenging you to speak or to question, without ever indicating that she’ll provide a reply – but she and her group are a compelling presence, a bewildering mix of shyness and stage-owning, resilience and passivity.



 
Jockstrap are easier to get. Despite the sweaty hardcore name, they’re another boy-girl duo: Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye, a couple of Guildhall grads who start out with ’60s MOR pop – orchestral, bossa, ye-ye – and then promptly put it through the weird wringer. What starts out straightforward ends up strange – pitchwarped; almost atonalised; drag-g-g-ing; like Portishead being dragged through a Nordic-narcotic slurry of slowed-down electronic jazz. Their pocketful of recorded songs come across like minor bossa classics being waylaid by experimental electronica, or by the teasing strand-by-strand rearrangements of contemporary classical. Full of drop-outs, cheap pocket blips and strange celebratory jump-shifts of tone, mood and pace, they’re prey to interfering sounds and rude, speaker-prodding mixes. Think of a more gleefully insane Elephant, a more mischievous Broadcast, the balefully intelligent murmur-whisper pop oddities of Anja Garbarek; or (going back a bit further) the mocking deconstructive treatment of old jazz standards on Django Bates’ Quiet Nights.

Live – with a two-man rhythm section and Georgia pulling triple duty on treated viola and stylophone – they’re deprived of the absolute mix control which makes their recorded songs so startling. On the other hand, they become a little more accessible – still subtly pranky with their interjections of weird sound processing and attention-deficit mood shifts (listen as a lounge-pop string part goes weirdly Chinese!), but with their disruptive futurism now fighting a rearguard action to their nostalgia. The other bonus is the added prominence given to Georgia’s breathy leaf-on-the-wind vocalising and her “now-I’m-slinky, now-I’m-friendly” performance persona: unveiling the subtleties and human touches within their songwriting from the offbeat thought processes to the shots of blunt, frustrated eroticism.




 
As with the previous Glows party, there’ll be DJ sets, a meetup for assorted zines and alternative promoters, and a steady stream of art curated by Felix Bayley-Higgins: “a pool of films, objects and images in continuous circulation, presented through a process of rotation.” No word yet on who’s contributing to this, but last month’s event had irreverent, ingenious and sometimes just plain beautiful sculptures and designs from a basketful of artists including Wilfrid Wood, Willa Hilditch and Harry Grundy.

Dates:

  • Wu-Lu Curates: Black Midi + Shaun Sky + Omelet, Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, Dalston, London, N16 8BJ, England, Thursday 10th May 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • PL x Glows present ‘Middle Of The Room’ featuring Farai, Black Midi, Jockstrap, TONE + more, DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England, Thursday 24th May 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

May 2018 – a punk and groove womansplosion in London – ILL, LibraLibra and The Ethical Debating Society (11th May)

5 May

ILL + LibraLibra + The Ethical Debating Society, 11th May 2018

CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH. presents:
ILL + LibraLibra +The Ethical Debating Society + CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH DJs
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

There’s an evening of feminist-slanted dance, rock’n’rave coming up in Bethnal Green next Friday, as delightfully gaudy post-punk Manchester shoutmonsters ILL (following up two previous self-released EPs) light the blue touchpaper under their debut album ‘We Are ILL’.

ILL, 2018Admired by ‘The Quietus’ for their “kinetic force” and describing themselves as “a genre-evading band which believes in the power of disobedient noise… with a repertoire of precarious pop songs and frequent improvised departures”, the all-female, fiercely feminist four-piece “revel in the right to be weird, exploring the borders between the funny and the sinister, the personal and the political, the mundane and the surreal.”

Between making a racket at Quietus events, Supernormal and the Raw Power Festival, carrying out relatively standard support slots with the likes of British Sea Power, and splurging out improvised audio-visual work at assorted art galleries, they’re certainly making a mark of their own choosing. In true Situationist tradition, ILL conceive their debut album as much as event as record – “…a call to action, a disobedient protest in the face of passivity, wrestling with the personal and political issues of identity and gender, mental health, the disintegration of social services, capitalism and misogyny. Subversive, surrealistic, humorous and fighting fierce, ILL warmly invite you to join them in kicking some ass!”



In support are Brightonian four-piece LibraLibra, a live mash of “exotic melodies and frenetic, lyrical flows meet(ing) tribal beats and broken guitars” fronted by striking singer Beth Cannon, whose recent credits include work with post-rockers Nordic Giants and co-writing/singing the riveting dream-pop-soul track Bones for Simon Raymonde’s Lost Horizons project (which she delivered like a magnificent tri-point cross between Etta James, Kate Bush and Liz Fraser).

LibraLibra’s debut single Animali (out since mid-March) is a rip-roaring renegade slosh of sub-bass-oozing world-beat carnivalia. As vigorous as the height of a Brighton Pride parade – or a volcano-cresting sabre fight between Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt – it’s chockful of animal namechecks, wild-woman party-leading, and a cavalcade of ferocious summoning lyrics (“you sting, you pierce my skin like a razor,” “monsoon of blood-flood, she’s calling”, “save me from the bullshit boy”) suggesting a writhing in-the-moment package of shape-shifting, menstrual sorcery, and assorted seize-the-day don’t-give-a-fuckery.

Completing the set, matter-of-fact London riot pop trio The Ethical Debating Society bring street-level DIY art-punk to the evening. Having originated as “a pseudonym for Tegan Xmas, writing anti-love songs on her hooty piano” it blossomed into “a full band, now with Kris Martin on guitarrr/vocals and Eli playing pots and pans. If we’re trying to prove anything, it’s that music is for everyone to have fun with, not just a chosen few.” Expect no frills; but do expect noisy non-nonsense songs about ethics, choices and the travails of the leaned-on, hard-bitten end of the London community.


 

April/May 2018 – some more immersive London gigs of various kinds – brain voyages with You Cry Wolf, Joe Corbin and Bokoyono (23rd April); righteous resistance with ‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’ (6th May)

19 Apr

Concerts which go a little deeper… a trip to the heart of the illuminated brain in Brixton and a remounting of past dissent in Poplar, both of which you’re invited to soak yourselves in.

* * * * * * * *

You Cry WolfMath-rock usually constructs and communicates meaning from the abstraction of numbers, even though it’s generally played to non-mathematical people. Ducking underneath song forms, it communicates less through stories, textures and timbres than through its attempts to mine the ecstatic human response to pattern-building. For Brighton math-rock trio You Cry Wolf this clearly isn’t enough. From the start, they’ve not followed the usual mathy practise of turning their back on vocals and words, with guitarist Owain Arthur delivering a near-continuous murmur of cryptically anxious lyric over the bare-bone instrumental notes.

Building from their earlier, more straightforward mathwork (and from their occasional taste for plaintively en-mathening mainstream pop such as Coldplay’s Trouble), You Cry Wolf have broadened out into their own brand of rock theatre projects – ingenious and immersive low-budget affairs in which projected film, sound, venue decoration and even live scent have become integral to the work; a sort of DIY 4D cinema. Their quarter-hour piece ‘A Fresh Start (for Peter Russo)’ (which toured around various fringe festivals in 2015) delved into the psyche and day-to-day experiences of an obsessive, alcoholic middle-aged gardener.

On spec, it sounds like an earnest ‘70s-to-‘80s collision between a lost piece of melancholic English prog and a stern German art cinema – or perhaps a glummer, hushed take on a Mars Volta extravaganza. The proggy theatrical elements were increased by the fact that the band played inside a pod of angled sheets, obscured from view by projected filmwork (from video artist and onetime Polar Bear collaborator Jacek Zmarz) and bolstered by wafts of floral scent as they tried to induce their audiences into following the story through Peter’s eyes and senses: sharing his day-to-day impressions and actions, coming to understand his personal search for meaning and a possible redemption.


 
From the accounts I’ve heard, it was quite an experience, moving from the earthbound and mundane to the magical. Here’s what ‘The Line Of Best Fit’ made of it during its home stint in Brighton, and see above for a video clip of the film and music content, (though it’s evidently a pale shadow of the mirrored and scented storytelling environment which the band summoned into being for each performance.

Transcendence was the climax and key to the ‘Fresh Start’ show; heartened by the success of ‘A Fresh Start’, You Cry Wolf expanded to a related but even larger conceit for 2017’s ‘Only God’ (which ran to a couple of shows in Brighton and south London in June last year and now makes a return to Brixton as the centrepiece of a three-hour concert tagged as “a new fantasy to lose yourself inside”).

You Cry Wolf + Guests
Upstairs at the Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG London, England
Monday 23rd April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

In many respects, it sounds like a souped-up twenty-first century take on those 1960s psychedelic gigs which attempted to induce altered states with oil-slide projections and the flickering low-tech visual pulses of dreamachines. With ‘Only God’, the band are attempting to stage “a lurid dream-world, a hallucination comprised of fragments of a waking-life reordered into dreamy irreality… a vivid journey inside the dreaming mind.” As with ‘Fresh Start’, the live band setup is augmented by a custom-designed set (this time devised by club installation specialists Moonstone), video projections (specifically commissioned from Cargo Collective artist Agathe Barré) and scene-setting aromas.

According to the band “the concert marks an exploration of the significance of dreams and their effectiveness as tools for introspective self-discovery. As we are prone to futilely create meaning from our dreams, so too is the audience encouraged to create their own conclusions from the fragments of the story provided in its performance. Making use of pithy and surreal lyrics, sensational abstract imagery and fresh emotive rock-music, You Cry Wolf invite the audience to take centre-stage as they are transported inside the narrative, to see through the eyes and into the soul of the sleeping protagonist. There is no stage, no spot light; You Cry Wolf have created a window into their music and inside their protagonists’ fictions, where human experience and narrative supersede traditional performance convention, where concept and character-construction form the all-consuming conditions for this music-based escapade to unfold.”

In support – and perhaps at least partially integrated into the bigger idea – are Bokoyono (an “instrumental psych/desert/surf-rock band, ready to rip you a new one”) and modern electric blues guitarist Joe Corbin (on this occasion armed with “a set specially prepared to rip open the doors of perception until all inhibitions disappear and your mind is malleable for the moulding!” Moonstone member Cal Lewis (also of and loft-party specialists Solis and Palooza) pulls double duty by taking over the DJ slot, which is intended to be as immersive as the rest of the evening…


 
* * * * * * * *

From psychedelic innerspace to direct action and a spot of tea… a change of tone.

Over at Poplar Union in early May, there’s what appears to be an insurrection boutique. Deptford’s Black Smock Band (“South London’s premier gay socialist folk band”) are collaborating with Bethnal Green’s Daedalus Theatre Company to revive a spot of English radicalism and invite you to participate.

'Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile  Incitement', 6th May 2018

“The Black Smock Band and Daedalus Theatre Company have worked with Tower Hamlets residents and students from the Applied Performance course at Queen Mary University to create a truly unique, local gig-theatre performance, teaming up with a seventeenth-century rebel to uncover England’s history of protest and ask what it all means today. Expect a song, a dance and perhaps the start of the revolution! They also invite you share your thoughts on East London life over a cup of tea at their pre-show tea party, along with a spot of placard-making and protest-song writing too, if you fancy.

“Part of a long-term project to explore past and present stories of protest and dissent, this performance has been made with a special focus on current and historical protest and dissent in Tower Hamlets. It was developed at Ovalhouse in South London through a series of scratch performances leading to a commission to create a full production for Brixton City festival. The project is an ever-changing, locality-responsive piece of gig-theatre using historical texts and songs alongside new material, using gatherings over tea with local people to inform each new version of the performance.”

The piece is inspired by Gerrard Winstanley, an oft-obscured figure from English history. As one of the founders of the Diggers movement, he led the squatting and constructive reclamation of enclosed private land during that seventeenth century period in which England teetered between the traditions of monarchy and the possibilities of communitarianism. Viewed back through the lens of a twenty-first century London (one being gradually consumed by the kind of landgrabs and land-banking which insidiously push out and exclude its long-term occupants), he and some of his arguments have gained a new resonance and timeliness.

Expect current issues to seep into the story, primarily the erasure of working-class home neighbourhoods and the displacement of their communities by gentrified developments (the transformation of the Heygate Estate into the gentrified Elephant Park, the looming threat of a similar outcome via the Haringey Development Vehicle, and – for Poplar residents – three decades’ worth of the marginalisation of poorer householders and tenants by the glittering elite massing of the Dockland developments).

Travelling around with band, actors and crew is The Mobile Incitement Unit – “a portable installation by artist Andy Bannister containing everything needed to stage a performance, run participation workshops and, of course, foment revolt”. Art is a hand grenade, but sometimes it’s a tea urn.

All going well, the piece should tour nationally in 2019 – for the moment, you can be a part of it here in London, or get more involved by inviting them over to your neighbourhood via the page here.

Black Smock Band & Daedalus Theatre Company present:
‘Gerrard Winstanley’s True and Righteous Mobile Incitement’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Sunday 6th May 2018, 1.00 pm-2.30pm (tea party), 3.00pm (performance)
– information here and here

Here’s a video explaining some more about the project (and offering a peek at the M.I.U.)…


 

March 2018 – The Ecstatic Music Festival in New York (part 2) with Bent Knee, big dog little dog, Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir, Mahogany L. Browne, Glasser acoustic trio and Mantra Percussion (1st, 22nd, 29th March)

19 Feb

Over in New York, the Ecstatic Music Festival continues throughout March with three more concerts across a brace of Thursdays, criss-crossing contemporary classical percussion, slam poetry, choirwork, experimental pop and progressive industrial metal in a thrilling cross-genre splay.

Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir & Mahogany L. Browne
Thursday 1st March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Dronechoir is the latest innovation by Arone Dyer of Buke And Gase. Since February 2015 she has been examining dis/comfort within performance through a series of long-durational choral pieces, and has assembled a group of talented women from completely different musical backgrounds to engage in spontaneous performance that bridges the gaps between them.

“They’ll be joined by the celebrated poet and spoken word artist Mahogany L. Browne (Cave Canem Fellow and Programming Coordinator of Black Lives Matter Pratt @ Pratt Institute) for an evening of powerful vocal performances addressing Black Lives, gender equity and racial equality (featuring poets Imani Davis, Shanelle Gabriel and poet and singer Camonghne Felix).”






 
Glasser (acoustic trio) + big dog little dog
Thursday 22nd March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Glasser (aka Cameron Mesirow), known for her ethereal vocals and atmospheric electro-pop, will venture into fresh sonic territory with her new all-acoustic trio, which features multi-instrumentalist Robbie Lee and bassist Eleonore Oppenheim.

“They will be joined by big dog little dog, Eleanor’s new duo project with composer-violinist Jessie Montgomery. Each band will perform sets of their own material, then together they’ll premiere a new piece written for the Festival.”



 
Bent Knee & Mantra Percussion
Thursday 29th March 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“The “silo-smashing” sextet Bent Knee “taps into chamber pop, industrial rock, metal and prog-rock” (‘Wall Street Journal’). This hard-hitting experimental Boston band comes together with the visionary, “superhuman” (‘Time Out New York’) Mantra Percussion for new works expanding their already enormous scope and sound. The two ensembles will perform separate sets and then come together to premiere a new work by Bent Knee that weaves influences from across the rock, pop and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole.”

 
As with the previous month’s worth of EMF concerts, all of these will take place at Merkin Concert Hall @ Kaufman Music Center, 129 W 67th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York, NY 10023, USA.

If I was in New York, I’d see you there.

Ecstatic Music Festival, 2018
 

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