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November 2019 – three Tuesdays of (mostly) femmetronica in London – Alice Hubble, Blick Trio and Merlin Nova (5th November), Carla dal Forno and Cucina Povera (12th November), Rachel K. Collier (19th November)

2 Nov

Following (and overlapping) the recent/current set of female poptronic gigs in London (with Caroline Polachek, Imogen Heap, Yeule and others), here are some more.

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Alice Hubble + Blick Trio + Merlin Nova, 5th November 2019

Alice Hubble (best known as half of tweetronic duo Arthur & Martha) has been striking out on her own this year and is playing at Servant Jazz Quarters on the 5th. Her debut album ‘Polarlichter’, driven by iPad workings on long journeys and transformed at home via Mellotrons and analogue synths, apparently stems from wistful envisionings of faraway places (including Ruby Falls in Chatanooga, USA, Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies and Dubai’s Atlantis Palm hotel) plus “a desire to work on a project without constraints, to move away from the traditional song writing process and to experiment with the form. Inspired by the ’70s recordings by Tangerine Dream, Ashra and even Mike Oldfield, Alice wanted to take a more delicate approach; a distinctly feminine take on (an) often pompous ’70s progressive synth sound. Other inspirations include Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Lee Hazlewood’s Swedish recordings and 80’s American synth pop band The Book of Love.”

A good set of reference points, although if you are going to snark about the pomposity of your male predecessors it’s best if you’ve built something startlingly different. Much of Alice’s work still cleaves rather closely to those familiar silvery Germanic/kosmische synth tropes, the cautiousness of several generations of post-Tangerine Dream acolytes, albeit with twists of post-punk melancholy and Stereolab-ilk avant-pop.

As for the femininity, it’s present mostly in the preoccupations of Alice’s lyrics, such as the stern reflections on male gaze and pedestal-placing on ‘Goddess’ (“a man idolising a woman to the point that he doesn’t see her as a person. His ‘love’ is all consuming and the focus of his affection is seen merely as an object. As a result he consumes her and takes from her until she has little left, but thankfully she finds the inner strength to walk away.”). All well and good to state; but, given that the song’s mostly concerned with climbing inside its misguided protagonist in order to critique him from within, leaving the woman in question almost as enigmatic, idealised and unexamined as he did, I’m not altogether convinced. But perhaps I’m snarking now – either way, I can’t help but feel that there’s better to come. Alice has a quiet, determined voice: maybe, at the gig, we’ll find out what else it has to say.


 
Support comes in two parts, one being from jazztronic array Blick Trio, made up of veteran polymathic brass-and-wind-player Robin Blick (from the sprawling Blick/Blake musical dynasty that also includes Mediaeval Baebes’ Katherine Blake), drummer Andrew Moran (who’s put in time in groups including The Violets and Not Cool) and bass player/synth programmer James Weaver (who already plays with Robin in Gyratory System). Prior to Gyratory System, Robin was also in Blowpipe; with both these and the Trio, he’s been building jazz/clubtronic/kosmiche meldings for a good couple of decades. The Trio, however, lean more towards “post-punk rhythms and straight jazz melodies” than the club beats and electrofuzz racket of the previous acts; with Robin’s musicality and wide genre-savviness in particular calling up aural and harmonic/melodic imagery from riffling snake-charmer music to pithead brass band melancholia.


 
The other support act is Merlin Nova, who vigorously straddles the space between musician and sound artist. Too tuneful to work consistently in the latter mode, and too flat-out sonically ambitious and diverse to be restrained by the former, she instead works both of them to the bone. She creates, records and broadcasts whatever comes to her mind, whether it’s surreal foley-bolstered persona narratives, soundscaped poetry or unorthodox fragmented songs across a vocal range from femme-baritone to skyscraping whistle register.

Merlin’s most recent pair of Soundcloud offerings illustrate her restlessness. Just Calling is one of her most straightforward works (a vocal and reverbscape’d love-song of faith, degrees of separation, faith and independence), while To The Sun is a drone-strings-and-vocalise solar prayer half an hour long, equal parts Alquimia and Sofia Gubaidulina. There’s plenty more to find there, evidence of an ambitious sound creator who’s tapping at the heels of multiple precursors… Ursula Dudziak, Cathy Berberian, outer-limits Björk, Maja Ratkje…

 
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Carla Dal Forno + Cucina Povera, 12th November 2019On the 12th, left-field synthpop writer Carla Dal Forno comes to Electrowerks trailing her newest album ‘Look Sharp’, in which “the small-town dreams and inertia that preoccupied (her) first album have dissolved into the chaotic city, its shifting identities, far-flung surroundings and blank faces”, thanks to her wanderings from her Melbourne origins to London via Berlin, telling “the story of this life in flux, longing for intimacy, falling short and embracing the unfamiliar.”

Sonically it’s frowning post-punk basslines and pearly sheens around subtle hollows; occasional touches of plainsong; arrangements stroked into shape by psychedelic-via-radiophonic synthesizer bends, swoops and flutters – a big step up from the queasy lo-fi wobble of her debut. As with Alice Hubble, Carla rarely changes tone vocally, etching momentary stories of subtle revenges, covert assignations and bleak reflectiveness with the same abbreviated unruffled whispercroon; delivering songs with the crisp, faux-reticent undertones and hardnosed observation of a finishing-school ace who’s opted to spend the rest of her life speaking softly but carrying a sharp hatpin. Simultaneously minimalist and expansive, sensual and austere, revealing and forbidding, the songs of ‘Look Sharp’ are measured diary entries enclosed in dove-grey leather, giving away little but hinting at much more. It’s as if one of the early versions of the Cure had agreed to back Jean Rhys during a venture into confessional songcraft, with Delia Derbyshire adding sonic filigrees.


 
The whole record sounds attractively antiquated. Not in terms of its harking back to early ‘80s proto-Goth, but in the way it feels as if it’s been written for (and in) a monochrome London of the 1930s: sparser crowds, the hiss of steam trains and the rattle of heels in empty housing courts. In fact, ‘Look Sharp’ functions best when Carla relinquishes the more obvious darkwave thrumbles, loses the bass and trusts to her electrophonic textures and spaces. This lends the instrumentals a touch of 5am light, an air of sneaking out into an unfamiliar town while it’s still slumbering unguarded, with a dream-frown shadowing its features. For songs such as Don’t Follow Me (with its deepening undertone of sexual threat), it allows a more sophisticated atmosphere to build, sound becoming character in the way that scenery and lighting do in film.


 
In support, there’s electronicist, live-looper and spatial explorer Maria Rossi – a.k.a Cucina Povera. As anyone who’s covered Maria before will tell you, “cucina povera” translates as “poor kitchen” – like “poor theatre”, a way of making the most of minimal ingredients and lean times: indeed, of making a virtue of the enforced simplicity, to the point of deliberately choosing it. Maria’s most recent project – ‘Zoom’, released back in January – had her strip back her already-minimal gear choices to just voice and loop pedal plus the digital recorder which gave the record its name: bar the very occasional bit of huffed or clinked bottlework, or synth bloop, that was it.

Last year’s ‘Hilja’ album applied the Cucina Povera methodology to a gaseous, beatless, haunting form of ambient art pop. It was full of folk-ghosts in the machine, bringing along hints of the ecclesiastic, of children’s songs and of traditional song fragments, much of it pillowed on vaporous keyboard textures and meticulous arrangements. In contrast, the Zoom pieces were recorded in “intimate spaces full of acoustic or ideological intrigue” and were a set of impromptu, improvised rituals-for-their-own-sake. Sometimes gabbled, frequently hymnal and monastic, blurring between established language and glossolalia, they build on the mysteriousness of ‘Hilja’ while venturing into more musically naked areas, taking from the previous album’s most cut-down moments without falling back on its cloudy synth-padded comforts or its pleasing banks of harmony.

Whether these pieces can be transported, translated and performed afresh in other locations is not so clear. Perhaps, for Electrowerks, Maria will improvise a new set in honour of the Slimelight’s fallen ghosts.



 
Also stirred into the evening’s menu will be a DJ set from darker techno/DIY/industrial specialist Kenny White of the Low Company record store.

 
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At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a splash of raucous female colour. Riding the momentum from the release of her debut album last month (if you’re a budding remixer or mash-upper, Bandcamp has it complete with sample and stem packs), Rachel K. Collier plays the Grand in Highbury in mid-November, with live percussion and interactive visuals augmenting her storm of sequencers, keyboards and Abletoning. Her house-inspired, undulating electronic club pop has been evolving over six years or so now, including bold intrusions into the world of adverts, collaborations with garage/house stars Wookie, Mat Zo and Ray Foxx, and more recently her current fearless-sounding solo work.

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

It’s a powerfully assured and complete pop sound, fusing full dancefloor momentum with righteous girl-power; although one that’s been achieved in the face of considerable bullying, scorn and condescension along the way from male musicians. (If the fuck-you beat and withering dismissal in her Dinosaur single is anything to go by. You can’t say that she didn’t get her own back. Success is the best revenge.)




 
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Dates:

Parallel Lines presents:
Alice Hubble + Blick Trio & Merlin Nova
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Upset The Rhythm presents:
Carla dal Forno + Cucina Povera
Electrowerkz @ The Islington Metal Works, 1st Floor, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Rachel K Collier
The Grace, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Tuesday 19th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
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Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz. That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity.”


 
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Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
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Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

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Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

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Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
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Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – more Woodburner world-acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – Laura Perrudin and Garance & The Mitochondries (3rd July); Muntu Valdo, Dahlia Sleeps and O Matæus (10th July); David Keenan, Lilla Vargen and Stephen James Smith (17th July); Rachel K. Collier, Marble Empire and Alexander Carson (24th July); Roscius, Three Laws and Zoë Phillips (31st July)

27 Jun

With the June sessions of the summer Woodburner season at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden now complete, here’s details on the upcoming July set (bringing further doses of world/international music, acoustic singer-songwriters and bubbling-under internet music sensations to the London summer nights).


 
Occasionally-tweaked official blurbs below.

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“The 3rd July show features sensational French harpist, singer and composer Laura Perrudin, and London’s eccentric genius Garance Louis & The Mitochondries.

“Seeing her harp as both an orchestra and a drum kit, Laura Perrudin creates a powerful personal universe in her compelling live performances utilizing an arsenal of laptop, sound-effect pedals and multitrack loops. Using her voice like an instrument, she believes that harp and voice are each an extension of the other. Brought up on a diet of jazz, she studied classical music in addition to composing and producing music using her home studio (influenced by a wide array of genres including electronic and traditional music, soul and hip-hop), and trained with many musicians from her birth region of Brittany to New York and Paris. A harpist from childhood, her mission became to open up the possibilities of the instrument to a richer harmonic language: she plays a custom-built electric chromatic/pedal-less harp with a single row of strings, constructed by harpmaker Philippe Volant and allowing her to give free rein to the sinuous harmonies and rich soundscapes of her unclassifiable compositions.​

“Upon the release of Laura’s debut album ‘Impressions’ in 2015, ‘Les Inrockuptibles’ proclaimed her a “young iconoclast blends jazz (playing) the thousand games of a tightrope artist (with) cheerful and spontaneous radicalism, definitely modern.” while ‘France Inter Paris Radio’ wrote “it’s rather as if Björk had chanced upon Herbie Hancock in a Dublin pub. Laura Perrudin is only at the beginning of her artistic career, but she has already redefined the framework of the harp and we are sure that her singular universe will become an example.” Laura recently released her sophomore album ‘Poisons & Antidotes’ on Volatine Records.


 
“Since moving to London from Perpignan in 2010, extrovert, eccentric composer, singer and accordionist Garance Louis (now usually seen fronting Garance & The Mitochondries) has established herself as a powerhouse of the underground live music scene. Her surreal performances have featured bizarre costumes and otherworldly themes, perfectly complementing songs about absurd abstraction, procrastination, star-crossed open relationships; intoxicating love, plus rebirth in the Amazonian forest. The playful Garance always wears a smile, finding humour in physical theatre, funny faces and the clown inside us all.

“Growing up in the independent ‘Cinémaginaire’ in the South of France, Garance spent her childhood travelling the world, her head filled with the sights and sounds of the movies. The nomadic spirit stays strong with her, with an impulsive trip to New Orleans on the cards, and her past history of running away with the circus. Continuing the creative journey, her current record ‘Balance L’Aurore’ shows off Garance’s discovery of music production, bringing a new vitality and direction to her sound, while staying rooted in French chanson, psychedelic folk and old Venezuelan mambo.


 
* * * * * * * *

“The 10th July concert features Cameroonian blues-and-jazz player Muntu Valdo and melancholic electronic group Dahlia Sleeps, plus the moody electric guitar stylings of O MATÆUS.

“Hailed as “the prince of Sawa blues”, Muntu Valdo says “my passion is African history; its past glory, present fragility and diverse riches. My ambition is to increase awareness, enlighten, empower people and invoke a positive future for Africa with the rest of the world. My music is a result of all of this; rooted in the blues, mixing African traditions with striking modernity and technical mastery.” The Cameroonian is indeed a master and his performance will be a rare treat for those present to experience his music.


 
“Over the last couple of years Dahlia Sleeps have risen from being Soundcloud sweethearts with over half a million plays on the platform to the UK’s next big pop band, stacking up almost 1.7 million Spotify streams and three million YouTube views in that time. Their second EP ‘After It All’ showcases their increasing pop sensibilities whilst retaining the intimacy and endearing fragility of their original Soundcloud demos. They continue to show a willingness to tackle difficult subject matter with grace and poise. Lucy Hill’s song writing is even more poignant than ever before, with the record covering deep and personal themes from grief and loss, to love and homophobia.

“Despite the EP’s tough subjects, the band delivers some of its most upbeat efforts to date. Rise – a future LGBTQ+ anthem saw success on Spotify when released as a single last year, which has as much to do with its addictive chorus and epic guitar melodies as its important message. Only You, an intoxicating fall into luscious synth arrangements and furiously catchy vocal samples, shows a band hurtling full speed towards mainstream success.


 
“Operating as O Matæus, Mat Roberts is a young singer-songwriter from Canterbury, an ex-chorister and classically trained cellist, exploring and developing his emotional connection to a life surrounded by music. Influenced by the likes of Daughter, Ben Howard, Marika Hackman, Lucy Rose, Enter Shikari, Bring Me The Horizon and a wide range of classical composers, O Matæus wishes to create a unique style of material to hear, whether it be heard in a small bedroom or echoing concert venue, music is his life, and he wants to share it with the rest of the world. Dark undertones and words filled with passion and trouble rule his creative style with every note being connected to a moment in time that has passed. He wants to make you feel what he has felt, and with soaring falsetto lines, simple yet intricate guitar licks and raw intensity he brings those feelings back to life in the short time-span a song gives.

 
* * * * * * * *

“The 17th July concert features an all-Irish lineup featuring rising star David Keenan, electronic/acoustic songwriter Lilla Vargen, and poet Stephen James Smith.

“An obsession with words and melody took hold of David Keenan at a very early age. Exposed to the writings of Behan, Yeats and Wilde (with a soundtrack of Dylan, Buckley and The Dubliners), his formative years were inspired by the storytelling and character creations of his grandfather. Later he took the boat over the water and gathered tales and tunes of his own, learning his craft and to express his love of language. Having been asked to play alongside the likes of Mick Flannery, Hothouse Flowers, Damien Dempsey and Glen Hansard, David is fast becoming one of Ireland’s most talked-about young artists.


 
Lilla Vargen is a singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland. Her name means “little wolf” in Swedish – an alias which encapsulates both her strong, soulful, evocative voice and the vulnerability in those honest, minimal songs of love and loss. Two years after her first couple of demos emerged online, she returned with her debut EP – the three-track ‘Hold On’, including an astonishing cover of Downtown (by Majical Cloudz) and the quietly memorable torch song title track (which showcases her beautiful vocal, offset against producer Nick Rayner’s warm, gently-building production). The critically acclaimed EP racked up just under a million listens online in a month, alongside plays from KCRW and further support from BBCR1. Live, she plays as a two piece alongside Derry composer and electronic musician Ryan Vail. Recent shows include supports for Lisa Hannigan and Newton Faulkner, with her debut UK dates happening in February 2018.


 
Stephen James Smith is a Dublin poet and playwright central to the rise of the vibrant spoken word scene in Ireland today. His poetry videos have amassed over 2.5 million views and he has performed at high profile events and venues such as the Oscar Wilde Awards in Los Angeles, Electric Picnic, other voices, Glastonbury Festival, the National Concert Hall in Dublin, the Barbican in London, Vicar Street and the London Palladium (alongside Oscar winner Glen Hansard). Stephen facilitates poetry workshops in schools around Ireland and is artist in residence with Dunamaise arts centre & Laois arts office. His poetry is included on the syllabus at Western Connecticut State University and his work has been translated into multiple languages. His debut collection, ‘Fear Not’, is published by Arlen House and will be launched on 14 June 2018 in Dublin at Poetry Ireland on Parnell Square.


 
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“The 24th July show features singer/producer Rachel K. Collier, synth collective Marble Empire, and downtempo songwriter Alexander Carson.

“A one-woman electronic production machine and die-hard Ableton enthusiast, Rachel K. Collier is known for using a multi-instrument technical setup to enable her to perform her song-focused, high-energy studio productions in a live setting. Performing on stage together with a live percussionist and interactive visuals, Collier has built and refined her live show throughout 2017 including sold-out shows at KOKO, Camden and 93 Feet East, headlining the Beats For Love Festival in the Czech Republic and participating in the Ableton Loop event in Berlin. With a string of high profile shows line up this year (including SXSW and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend as well as The Great Escape) Collier will follow up with her debut album, set for release in autumn 2018.


 
Marble Empire is twenty-one-year-old singer/songwriter/producer Matt Berry from north London: a multi instrumentalist who writes and produces all his own material, which he describes as a blend of “gritty bass-lines, jazz harmony and guitar lines soaked in effects.” Influenced by the likes of Ben Khan, Jungle, SG Lewis and Frank Ocean, tentative early single releases last year quickly gained him much attention. He invites you to celebrate the upcoming release of ‘Marble Empire & Friends’ a seven-track compilation mixtapes written and produced by Marble Empire himself with six featured artists. He will be welcoming many collaborators onstage with him and his band throughout the evening, including Katya DJ, KarimThaPeasant, Milo Gore, Kate Lomas, Tchengiz and Natalie Green.


 
Alexander Carson is a neoclassical/downtempo composer and songwriter, based in London, who has spent the better part of seven years as the lead singer, and songwriter for genre-fluid quintet Wooden Arms. Since Wooden Arms went on Hiatus in March of 2018, Carson has embraced solo work, with his debut single ‘Lovers’ being released on 4th May and being hailed as “a perfect blend of modern songwriting and classical musicianship” by ‘The Line Of Best Fit’, as “sounding at times like an Irish prayer and others a bit Bowie-ish, but never dull or less challenging” by ‘Where The Music Meets’, and by ‘Outline Magazine’ as possessing “a distinctive timbre and delicate working of the keys that always reminds slightly of Anthony and the Johnsons… the fragile vocals and piano playing are unmistakably Alex.”


 
* * * * * * * *

“The 31st July show features live producer Roscius, electronic/classical ensemble Three Laws, and singer/pianist Zoë Phillips.

“French-born/London-based underground composer, producer and live performer Roscius has spent the last year building an enviable reputation with the release of his debut EPs ‘WMD#1’ and ‘WMD#2’, as well as successful tours in France, the UK, the Middle East and Asia. Composing through improvisation, personal recording, live vocal sampling, bass looping, special percussion and piano skills, Roscius creates a unique and absorbing soundscape, genuinely innovative and emotional; a mixture of acoustic and intelligent dance music, organic techno and ethnic deep house.


 
“An electronic band from the Big Smoke, Three Laws draw inspiration from the city, art, science, nature and the people they meet. Their first EP, ‘Convalescence’, combined haunting female vocals with classical piano, cinematic/military percussion and electronica. Three Laws have been compared to outfits such as Daughter, The XX, and London Grammar.


 
“Distinguished by haunting vocals and emotive sounds, Zoë Phillips is a vocalist and songwriter from Hertford. Her music is hard to box up, as she has dabbled in dance music but her ambient piano-based approach can nod towards the likes of Birdy and Rae Morris. Now gigging live with a full backing band, her music has previously been supported by BBC Introducing and BBC 6 Music, whilst live performances include Glastonbury Festival.”


 
* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • Laura Perrudin + Garance & The Mitochondries, Tuesday 3rd July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Muntu Valdo + Dahlia Sleeps + O Matæus, Tuesday 10th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • David Keenan + Lilla Vargen + Stephen James Smith, Tuesday 17th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Rachel K. Collier + Marble Empire + Alexander Carson, Tuesday 24th July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Roscius + Three Laws + Zoë Phillips, Tuesday 31st July 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

 

May 2017 – upcoming English gigs by or with Steve Lawson – Neil Murray masterclass + Steve’s Ley Lines trio in Kidderminster (May 2nd); Steve plays with Robert Logan (plus Surjit Sembi-Harding, Daniel Brooks and Dan Rogerson) in London (May 13th); Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu trio in Birmingham (May 14th)

22 Apr

Ever-gregarious solo bassist Steve Lawson (who’s been having a pretty busy spring already, with his earlier Birmingham Bass Night and a couple of new albums ready to go) has put out news of three further upcoming live appearances in England as solo player and collaborator. Collectively, they run the familiar Lawson gamut of jazz, ambient fusion, electronica, work with singer-songwriters… and plenty of talking.

* * * * * * * *

First up is a combined gig, masterclass and interview (with Steve on the interviewer end of the mic…)

Neil Murray masterclass + Ley Lines, 2nd May 2017

“Kidderminster College presents a masterclass with bass legend Neil Murray! Neil’s career is woven into the history of British rock, including his time as bassist for Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore & Brian May. His influential style helped shape the evolution of hard rock from the jazz rock crossover of the 70s in bands like Colosseum II through to Whitesnake’s era-defining ‘1987’ global smash. Neil will talk with Steve Lawson about his career, demonstrate some of the lines that made him one of the most sought-after bassists in the country, and share advice from his life in music.

“The second half of the evening will be a performance by Ley Lines – Steve Lawson, Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek are the bass/drums/guitar teachers at Kidderminster College, and have released two critically acclaimed albums as a trio. This is their long-awaited live debut outside of the college, and promises to be an enthralling high energy set of improvised music crossing many styles and sounds!”


 
* * * * * * * *

The Waiting, 13th May 2017

Steve continues:

“May 13th at The Waiting, in Hounslow will be a solo gig and a collaboration with synth genius Robert Logan – Robert and I have been talking about collaborating for a long time. I’m a huge fan of his solo work, and am really looking forward to seeing what we come up with!”

For those of you who aren’t immediately familiar with Robert, he’s a pretty outstanding talent in electronic music. Like many in the field, he earns much of his living from drama or documentary soundtracks (the kind after which you squint eagerly at rapidly scrolling credits. keen to catch the name of whoever’s responsible for the arresting background sounds) but he’s also made a backroom wizard’s name for himself via beats and texture work for the likes of Brigitte Fontaine, Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards and in particular Grace Jones’s ‘Hurricane’, as well as collaborations with Steve Roach and Raf & O.

Four albums into a parallel solo career (which began with 2007’s ‘Cognessence’, recorded while he was still a teenager), Robert’s music displays a startling mastery of broad and exciting strands, going from dubstep, techno thud and ocean-pop ambience to twisted beats, atonal arpeggiations and dark ambience via experiments with banjo and pocket trumpet tracks; plus a magisterial atmospheric and heft of intent drawing from reconstructed classical music.


 
As regards the host event, The Waiting is a monthly gig at Maswell Park Church, boasting particularly full evening bills with a Christian slant (if not necessarily in terms of lyrical fervency, at least in terms of the faith and society which drives and shapes the musicians). On the 13th, in addition to Steve and Robert’s contributions, there will be appearances by Surjit Sembi Harding (frontman with Chiswick pop band Under Control, currently leading his own Surj project) and by Daniel Brooks, a onetime Robert Logan production client who divides his own work between quizzical electro-pop (exemplified by the ‘Toys’ track below), grand digital popscapes and electronic atmospheres. Both men are sometime worship leaders, bringing some of those skills to their pop fronting and songwriting voices; and while it’s true that Christian pop can sometimes be a refuge for simpering blandness, neither Surjit nor Daniel subscribe to this, both being several cuts above.



 
Surjit’s Under Control bandmate Daniel Rogerson will also be on hand for a solo guitar set, plus there’s a two-hour open mic session before the gig for anyone who wants to try their luck.

* * * * * * * *

Back to Steve for word on the final May show:

Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu, 14th May 2017

“May 14th is a really special gig at Tower Of Song, with two of my favourite collaborators ever. Mike Outram (guitar) and Emre Ramazanoglu (drums) are true geniuses on their instruments – Mike and I recorded ‘Invenzioni’ back in 2010 but never played live. Emre and I met as part of a studio experimentation with Beardyman almost exactly a year ago. We played live in London last September and are really looking forward to playing again, and recording it properly for a live release.”

Here’s a trim of what I wrote last time the trio stepped out:

“Possessed of a boisterously convivial and adventurous set of guitar tones (as well as a spontaneous but eminently accessible creativity), Mike Outram is one of a number of contemporary electric guitarists who define themselves via the act of music rather than the reinforcement of genre. Although jazz enthusiasts will rightly admire him for his work with Nikki Iles, Tim Garland, Theo Travis’s Double Talk and Billy Bottle & The Multiple, Mike learns from and adds to whichever situation or artist he works with outside of jazz, be it soul pop with Carleen Anderson, latterday prog fusion with Steven Wilson or the classical/soundtrack work of composer Laura Rossi…. A committed solo performer since 2000, dedicated to presenting bass guitar as a standalone instrument, Steve has also been an enthusiastic and garrulous collaborator. His conversational fretless bass tones, Kaoss Pad rhythmic experiments and panoramic swathing loopscapes have meshed with a wide variety of partners from pianists, saxophonists, singers and drummers to electric kora players and a range of other amenable solo bassists. His own relaxed attitude to genre has resulted in a musical voice which strolls from place to place, touching on points from smooth-hipped jazz to art-rock, slick pop to noisy improv, dance electronica to ambient-aquatic sound painting, but never being tied down to any of them…. Emre Ramazanoglu, a multi-genre drummer, programmer, writer and producer… generally works (semi-invisibly) behind the scenes in the music industry, at the points where high-level musical chops, cunning production ideas and rapidly-evolving technology mesh with contemporary pop music production and bespoke event soundtracks. In between the demands of catwalk and chart, he fits in more esoteric, less overtly commercial work such as writing and shaping new records for reggae stalwarts Trojan, playing the Adrian Sherwood/remixological role on Martin France’s Spin Marvel jazztronica project, and co-running quirky sound design outfit Rattly’n’Raw.”

And here’s some of what they played on the night:



 
* * * * * * * *

Details on all three gigs below:

  • Neil Murray masterclass + Ley Lines – Worley’s @ The Swan, 56 High St, Stourport-On-Severn, DY13 8BX Tuesday 2nd May 2017, 7.00pm – free event – information
  • Steve Lawson + Surjit Sembi-Harding + Daniel Brooks + Robert Logan (& guests) + Dan Rogerson – The Waiting @ Maswell Park Church, corner of Heath Road and Inwood Road, Hounslow, London, TW3 1XN, England, Saturday 13th May 2017, 7.00pm (open mic from 5.00pm)information
  • Steve Lawson/Mike Outram/Emre Ramazanoglu – Tower of Song, 107 Pershore Road South, Kings Norton, Birmingham B30 3EL, England, Sunday 14th May 2017, 7.00pminformation

 

October 2016 – upcoming gigs – a busy Saturday (29th) – Vels Trio + Adam Betts + Sneaky at Jazz Market (London); Lucid Brain Integrative Project + PREHISTO’ZIK + Georgina Brett at Tuesdays Post (London); The Travelling Band + A. Dyjecinski + Arch Garrison + The Great Western Tears via Tigmus in Oxford

25 Oct

Well… another busy Saturday if you’re in London or the Home Counties. Sorry – despite the past weekend’s splurge on Bristol, I need to pick up on more of my coverage of events outside of the south-east. In the meantime, though, there’s these…

* * * * * * * *

Jazz Market, 29th October 2016Chaos Theory Promotions presents:
Jazz Market: Vels Trio + Adam Betts + Sneaky
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7.30pm

“We’ve got some stunning gigs coming up for all tastes, and this one is no exception. The Jazz Market at New River Studios features world-class musicians bringing us their brands of electronica, math rock, jazz, hip hop, fusion and serious grooves.

“After we saw the three young experimental jazz musicians of Vels Trio playing with Mouse On The Keys and Luo for Small Pond, we knew we needed more. Born out of collective obsession, emotion and improvisation, Vels Trio sculpt contagiously frenetic composition, channelling ingrained deep grooves, progressive soundscapes and contemporary hip hop productions. A band to challenge the psyche of jazz lovers and curious, broadminded and savvy music lovers.



 
Adam Betts is the drummer behind phenomenal math rock pioneers, (and Brian Eno’s favourite experimentalists) Three Trapped Tigers. Watch Adam flawlessly play intricate beats to perfection, while triggering his pre-programmed instruments live via Ableton: his appropriately titled album ‘Colossal Squid’, recorded in one live take, is out at the end of November, with a single out in October.

 
Sneaky (an extraordinary upright bassist who plays a gorgeous instrument designed by Mo Clifton, who also designed one for Lamb bassist Jon Thorne), was classically trained on double bass and cello and completed a music degree before getting involved with Manchester’s club scene alongside musicians like James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, Mr Scruff, Andy Votel and Mark Rae. After moving in with DJ, turntablist and beatsmith Peter Parker, various jam sessions led to them forming the unlikely band Fingathing, playing with beats, basslines and electronics to make ultimately danceable music.

“After seven years of worldwide touring, three albums, several singles and EPs released through Grand Central and Ninja Tune records, Sneaky moved to Berlin in 2007 to further his musical inspiration and has been making his solo mark ever since… ‘Feel Like A King…Pluck A String’ was released in 2009 on the Big Chill Label and follow up ‘Feel Like A Remix’ in 2010. Whether you’re after impeccable playing or a headnoddingly groovy beat, Sneaky and accompanying drummer Gianpaolo Camplese will deliver.”


 

* * * * * * * *

Tuesdays Post, 29th October 2016

Tuesdays Post present:
Tuesdays Post: Lucid Brain Integrative Project + PREHISTO’ZIK + Georgina Brett
The Muse Gallery, 269 Portobello Rd, Ladbroke Grove, London, W11 1LR, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7:30pm
information

“Emmanuel Reveneau is a French artist involved in music, video and theatre, whose work is deeply informed by self-organization theories, situationism and irony. As The Lucid Brain Integrative Project, he currently uses self-designed looping software, Noundo, to improvise wacky atonal groovy soundscapes influenced by free jazz and and the Canterbury scene. Emmanuel headlined at the Y2K International Live Looping Festival (Santa Cruz, California) in 2014 and curates loop festivals in France since 2013, notably the Loop Jubilee series.


 
“Before being a clarinetist, Nelly Meunier was an archaeologist: ever since, she has been searching for links between past and present. She currently plays with the collective Orkestronika and the circus company Tewhoola (amongst others) as well as developing her solo project PREHISTO’ZIK, in which she makes her own instruments (based on actual archaeological and ethnological knowledge) and loops them with a RC505 to create ancestral landscapes. As she puts it: ‘In music sets of PREHISTO’ZIK, I try to create an anachronistic mixture: one side is the looper, modern ethnocentric equipment of occidental culture, and the other side the timeless and universal sounds of materials like clay, wood, stone, bone.’


 
Georgina Brett’s music is created using her voice and effects pedals, creating instant choirs of sound, often in an hypnotic style. Georgina’s music adheres to some avant-garde principles, using harmonious parameters instead of the more dissonant style of its post WWII exponents. Georgina’s music is also gradually becoming a great vehicle for more experimental work, delving into expressive work which plays with the rich world of the media, politics and history using matrices, semiotics and phonetics. Her latest release, ‘The Eclipse Collaborations’, is an album featuring sixteen collaborative pieces: Georgina’s work also features in the recent movie ‘The Killings of Tony Blair’.”


 
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Finally, various Tigmus-affiliated artists (on tour or fancying a one-off) coalesce in Oxford for an evening of latterday folk directions.

Travelling Band @ The Bullingdon, Oxford, 29th October 2016

Tigmus presents:
The Travelling Band + A. Dyjecinski + Arch Garrison + The Great Western Tears
The Bullingdon, 162 Cowley Road, Oxford, OX4 1UE, England
Saturday 29th October 2016, 7.00pm
information

Manchester indie-folkers The Travelling Band are on an eighteen-date tour to celebrate ten years of existence and to map out future directions following the departure of founding guitarist Steve Mullen. The band have spent much of 2016 touring as support act and backing band to American country-rock singer Lissie.


 
The band’s main guest here (as on all current tour dates) is London-based Canadian A. Dyjecinski, frontman for garage-rockers Dracula Legs and current purveyor of gnarly backwoods alt.Americana: his debut solo album ‘The Valley Of Yessiree’ is out on The Travelling Band’s own label Sideways Saloon.


 
A gentler Anglo-psychedelic approach is offered by Arch Garrison, the compact song vehicle of North Sea Radio Orchestra‘s Craig Fortnam, who’s been singing nylon-string guitar songs about lost people, childhood and chalkhill psychogeography for two albums now. Usually accompanied by the knowing baroque-modern keyboard stylings of James Larcombe, on this occasion Craig’s playing solo and acoustic.


 
The opening slot on the show is taken by Oxford acoustic-country duo The Great Western Tears, augmented by pedal steel player Kurt Hamilton and backup harmoniser Fern Thornton. Expect an authentic dip into American roots music and the Ameripolitan ethos (or as authentic as you can get in Oxfordshire), citing Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, old time country tunes and late ’60s West Coast acoustica as its inspiration.


 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – Roger Goula at Foyles’ and Servant Jazz (20th, 28th); Dedalus Ensemble play the Machines of John White (20th)

18 Jul

Classical/electronica fusion composer Roger Goula will be performing at two London shows this month in order to promote his upcoming new album ‘Overview Effect’ – the first full-length release on the new Cognitive Shift record label (a joint venture between experimental pop label One Little Indian Records and commercial soundtrack music publishers Manners McDade).

Cognitive Shift & Foyles Bookshop present:
Roger Goula
The Auditorium @ Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT, England
Wednesday 20th July 2016, 7.00pm
information

Cognitive Shift & Chaos Theory Promotions present:
Roger Goula
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 28th July 2016, 7.30pm
information


 

On both occasions, Roger will be performing material from both ‘Overview Effect’ (due in September) and from the preceding limited edition EP ‘Something About Silence’ (which came out in March and featured remixes by Christian Löffler and Phaeleh). ‘Overview Effect’ is inspired by “the psychological phenomenon experienced by astronauts when viewing Earth from a distance, allowing them to see the entire planet surrounded by the endless black void of space. This can cause a cognitive shift in the minds of the astronauts, giving them a completely new perspective on life, Earth and humanity.”

Here are soundclips of the original and remixed versions of Roger’s piece ‘Awe’, as featured on ‘Something About Silence’ – nearly nine minutes of grand minimalist adagio conflating the methodology of sophisticated dance electronica with the slow, sparse development and atmospherics of the post-Morton Feldman California school (as exemplified by the work of composers such as Jim Fox), the gradual looped layering of Gavin Bryars (on works like ‘Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet’) and the holy minimalism of Henryk Górecki. Its growing arrangement steers simple modular elements towards a greater elegiac nature. Building upwards from sub-bass and clarinet and string harmonics, it adds strata of violas, then violins; developing a faster pulse and a skitter of electronic rhythm at the midpoint, with minimalist cross rhythms from the higher strings. The end sees a return of cone-rattling sub-bass, and a sudden jerk into silence as if waking.


 
It’s true that the latterday minimalist film scorer’s tricks are all in place; but those moving musical blocks are weighty, and the visual suggestions arresting and entirely in tune with the orbital view of the album concept. Placed back into the electronic dance world (remixed and transmogrified by classically-trained house/dubstep/electronica musician Phaelah) it becomes a stately, velvety downtempo effort; more mechanical; its squiggling monophonic crenellations stamped out as sequenced mirror-glints and chinking trance parts.


 
The Auditorium show is a full public event, while the Servant Jazz Quarters show is predominantly a music industry showcase (although there are twenty places available to the general public.

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On the subject of more mechanised forms of composition…

Dedalus Ensemble

‘The Machines Of John White’: Dedalus Ensemble + guests
Cafe Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Wednesday 20th July 2016, 8.00pm
information

John White had to wait until the mid-1960s to really make his name as a composer and conceptualist. Originally emerging in the late 1950s, with a powerful traditional-classical pedigree behind him, he was a student-turned-professor at the Royal College of Music he’d studied under Elizabeth Lutyens and Bernard Stevens and, from early childhood, had been on the end of a chain of person-to-person musical tutelage which he could trace back to Brahms. Already a fluent composer (and moonlighting as the conductor of various West End musicals) his growing involvement with the British avant-garde led to his development of “machines”. These were small and charming compositions based on various ordering systems (such as change-ringing patterns or numerical arrays), which, like industrial-age technology, performed considered and deliberately-limited functions.


 
While John’s described these works as “the result of a fully thought-out process rather than (something) subject to the changeabilities of inspiration” that doesn’t wholly capture their nature. Process-based they may be (a domestic English response to New York minimalism), but they also capture some of his personal qualities including the crucial leavening effects of his gentleness and humour (qualities which came in handy while sidestepping some of the more dour, Marxist/Maoist preoccupations of his avant-garde colleagues).


 

From the duets to the larger chamber works, there’s a sense of amiable workplace conversation to the White’s machines – like workmates managing to express both affection and connection despite their limited repertoire of gestures, tropes and local cliches; or like the chat of cartoon engines (it’s enjoyable to compare his compositions to the artful tootling of Vernon Elliott’s children’s TV scores.) Humour and irreverence certainly permeated pieces like “Drinking & Hooting Machine” (a text based score for musicians sipping from and blowing across bottles of “a favourite drink”, in which the potential for cheery drunken chaos increases depending on rehearsal time, length of cycle and opportunities for encore). John’s involvement with the Promenade Theatre Orchestra (the 1969 ensemble he formed with Hugh Shrapnel, Christopher Hobbs and Alex Hill) provided the opportunity to perform complex music on toy devices and outdated instruments, folding modernism back in on itself with Dada-ist irreverence and mischievous English whimsy while channelling serious intent through the fun.

“The PT Orchestra! The Orchestra YOU can afford for that extra special occasion! Restful reed-organs, tinkling toy pianos, soothing psalteries, suave swanee whistles, jolly jaw harps – NO noisy electronics! (Just the job for that lazy Sunday afternoon!) All musical material guaranteed thru-composed – NO hit-or-miss improvisation!” – Michael Nyman


 

Celebrating John’s eightieth birthday, Montpellier ensemble Dedalus Ensemble will be performing a selection of the machines at Café Oto. A collective in which every musician collaborates in the orchestration and interpretation, they specialise in flexible scores from across the United States and in European New Music from the 1960s to today. Noted champions of contemporary American experimental music, the Ensemble has premiered works by Tom Johnson, Christian Wolff, Alvin Lucier, Phill Niblock, Frederic Rzewski, James Tenney before French audiences.” (Here’s a clip of them performing James Saunders’ ‘things you must do, rather than must not do’ at the ‘Coïncidences – Music we’d Like to Hear’ festival at The Forge back in 2012.)


 

For what it’s worth, I’ve got my own John White memory. He once turned up at Alquimia’s Electronicage concert series at the Spitz in 1999, a time when I had no idea when he was. Young-old elderly, besuited, neat and tidy, he had the amiable, comfortable air of a specialist on a home visit. He was carrying a medium sized suitcase, which he opened up and laid out to reveal a set of little readymade devices. He wound them up, pressed their buttons, set them off, and watched benignly as they ticked, clonked and squeaked through a small machine work of their own; then closed up the suitcase, waved and departed – a genteel, dining-room carney. Here’s twenty further minutes covering his world and his history.



 

To close, here’s a clip of a John White piano sonata in performance. If anything in what I’ve written above suggests that he’s a playful charlatan who threw his original skills away for art-prankery, this will prove otherwise. One of the hundred-plus sonatas he’s written (in addition to many more pieces of music in many other fields) it’s an enthusiastically busy, tuneful and melodically sophisticated romp in which both his humour and his extensive musical ancestry are fully to the fore.


 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers’ dream pop evening (13th), Jausmė with Nicole Collarbone and Sian Magill in Battersea (13th); Cecil Sharp Choir’s Appalachian evening (14th)

11 Jul

…And in the middle of the week it’s about dream pop, folk music and the margin in between…

* * * * * * * *

Our Friends Eclectic presents:
A.R. Kane + Plastic Flowers
The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, Kilburn, London, NW6 7JR, England
Wednesday 13th June 2016, 8.00pm
information

This Wednesday, resurrected dream pop pioneers A.R. Kane play one of only two small, indoors British gigs while they ride the wave of worldwide summer festivals. This little London show is the guaranteed best opportunity to see them for the foreseeable future, especially if you missed their Manchester gig at the Soup Kitchen back in May (an event which, I’ll admit, I myself was too disorganised to even flag up) and especially since ’Kane leader Rudy Tambala has been enthusiastic about his preference for “a small crowd loving it, getting it” (as opposed to a fieldful of musical floating voters).

The original A.R.Kane were many things before those things became more commonplace – Afropean art-culture swaggerers, dissolvers of rock and pop’s hierarchical structures, sound-melters in whom dancefloor politics met punk threshing, electronic upsetters who played equally with roots and the bewilderingly synthetic. Rudy formed the band in 1986 with his childhood friend Alex Ayuli – two east London black kids with family roots in west or south-east Africa; a pair of eclectic clubgoers and self-confessed cocky chancers with broad listening habits, enough gab to make their brainwaves sound seductive (notably, Alex’s day job was in advertising), and a post-post-punk whim for running with ideas rather than technique. The idea of A.R. Kane was conceived as a backfiring party boast that Rudy and Alex felt obliged to follow up. Citing Cocteau Twins, the Velvet Underground, Miles Davis and Joni Mitchell as a range of influences might have been a handful of arty clichés then – it would certainly become so later. For two men who approached music as something envisaged rather than something played, however, it was a recipe for building a project from the ground up.

A.R. Kane’s work is often cited as pop reinvention. In fact, it’s more of a sprawl of jouissance – anti-formalism, a dab of abstract expressionism, and a joy in capturing moments on the fly. All of this should have been in the air when (early on in the journey) they joined forces with experimental dance duo Colourbox for the M|A|R|R|S sessions, leading to a number one hit via the British house classic ‘Pump Up The Volume’. As it happened, an experience that should have felt like a triumph of creative opportunity ended up as a bruising, short-lived encounter with hit factory frenzy, mutual intransigence and a blizzard of copyright litigation. These days Rudy dismisses ‘Pump Up The Volume’ as straight cultural theft from black and gay American club culture, but keeps a soft spot for the flipside – ‘Anitina’ (a confection of careening, planing guitar feedback and joyous narcotic pop vocal over hammering Colourbox industrial drums).

It’s this track that exemplifies ‘Kanework, rather than the pulsing plunderphonics of ‘Pump Up The Volume’. When Rudy and Alex played pop, it sounded like toy music or a process of on-the-spot discoveries. Nurtured along the way by the production suss of Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and Gentle Giant’s Ray Shulman (with the latter’s post-prog bass often adding a subtle touch of spine and structure to the core cavortings), A.R. Kane seemed to achieve their aims by recreating music from around its edges rather than heading up through the centre. Paradoxically, they deracinated while remembering exactly where the roots were grounded, as if rock music was a complicated hairstyle which they were ripping the pins out of, sending them rattling onto the floor.

Sometimes they’d sound like what would happen if someone had had the gall to strip all of the blues out of Hendrix’s ‘Third Stone From The Sun’, leaving just the cosmic frizz, fragmentary whippling stringwork and mind-opening vocal fragments; like a disembodied, chromatically-dappled sci-fi Afro. Ecstatic hollers might chase sleepy narratives over chamber strings. Gnarly Guthrie-esque guitar noise, hell-gate heartbooms and refracting-knife feedback would bob around dashes of funk and house (which Alex and Rudy were onto long before the Madchester boom). From Jamaica, they gleaned dub-echo bursts of clipped piano or high snare. From American psychedelia, they drew jelly-baby lyrics that bobbed around dancing synth basslines (as if ‘60s acid casualties were making healing pilgrimages to New York electro clubs). From the underground currents of their hometown, they took their conceptual irreverence, their underlying cheek and their mix-and-match mercantilism. (It’s also where they gained their hard-knocks guile and ingenuity, that second-or third generation immigrant pluck that Western city racism forces back onto even the smartest of its homeboys).

Despite all of this sonic ensorcelment, on the early albums you could (if you wanted to) cock your head, peek underneath the noise and find a couple of guys who could barely play or sing; who were keeping it all afloat via acts of will, wit and weather. Most of the time, you’d wink back at them, then return to the bliss and forget the slender mechanisms holding it together. However, by the time of their sun-kissed swansong album, ‘New Clear Child’, A.R. Kane had skilled up and drifted towards a more coherent pop music. Apparently inspired by Alex’s move to California, the later songs meandered up to both Love and Talk Talk via West Coast funk, with daisy petals matted into their nappy hair. As was only appropriate for a band driven by an elusive and amorphous ingenuity, the more A.R. Kane solidified, the more they dissolved. Alex went solo; Rudy teamed up with his sister Maggie (an occasional ‘Kane backing singer) in Sufi and for twenty-odd years, that was that.

As is often the case, the band were finally tempted back into action via the nostalgia engine which fuels pop festivals. Last year Rudy was coaxed into weaving A.R. Kane back into existence, although he had to do it without his erstwhile partner (apparently busy with his own perspective on dream pop, Alex Ayuli opted to sit this one out). 2015’s ambitious Alex-free septet has now been trimmed to the core trio of Rudy and Maggie Tambala plus new cohort Andy Taylor; a mess of three guitars, three voices, computers and synths. While they originally billed themselves as “#A.R.Kane”, with Rudy optimistically explaining that “should Alex come out-to-play, we can easily drop the ‘#’..”, they’ve subsequently dropped the hashtag anyway, along with the distinctions and (it seems) the hope that Ayuli’s said no, gave no reasons refusal wouldn’t be permanent.

The flipside of this disappointment is that the band’s new lease of life has inspired and toughened them into a more committed playing unit fired up by contact with both fans and heirs. Back in the ‘80s, few bands used A.R. Kane’s methodology and thinking. Nowadays you could pull together a huge, snaking, intercontinental conga line of the fuckers. One of them’s playing at the Good Ship alongside Rudy and co. – Plastic Flowers, the London-based dream pop project of Thessaloniki-born George Samaras, whose grand skeletal lushness (bare-bones drumbox echo, threaded vocal and towering ripcurls of melodic guitar noise) is an almost pure mainlining of the ‘Kane lineage.


 
Now a revitalized Rudy is talking, with giddy enthusiasm, about future recordings and about the new material he apparently brought to the Soup Kitchen gig the other month. (I’ve checked for reviews of that, but found nothing unless it’s been reduced to telegrammatic burbles on Facebook – being off-‘book at the moment, I wouldn’t know). We’ll have to see how his intentions pan out. With planned American coastal tours cancelled (due to date and commitment clashes rather than lack of interest), there are still a couple of showings at the Siren and Half Die festivals in Italy later in the month; and then back home for On Blackheath in September. After that, the future’s both blank and open – which, in a way, is where A.R. Kane came in in the first place.

* * * * * * * *

If vindicated dream pop discombobulation doesn’t float your boat for Wednesday, then perhaps you’d prefer a free event at Battersea’s delightful acoustic playground on the same night…

Jausmė (with Nicole Collarbone) + Sian Magill
The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England
Wednesday 13th July 2016, 9:00 pm
– free event – information

Transplanted Lithuanian singer-songwriter Jausmė – Vilnius-born, but Milton-Keynes-based – will be performing a set of her own material accompanying herself on the kanklės (a twenty-nine string Lithuanian zither with a sparkling sound) and aided by Liverpudlian cross-disciplinary cellist Nicole Collarbone (whose myriad projects and collaborations include the Neil Campbell Collective and folk ensemble Sonnenberg).

Jausmė describes her work as “urban etherealism”. Translated, this seems to mean a half-invented, half-archaeological folk music (like a less grandiose, less Gothic, closer-to-the-source Dead Can Dance), and one in which the focus is shifted thirteen hundred miles northwest to the Baltic states; it also means that Jausmė listens to, and can slip into, the work of sub-bass, garage and techno producers. On this occasion, though, it’s all wood and no electronics, and the roots are northern. For evidence of what Jausmė and Nicole can do together (and of Jausmė’s skills on her own), see below.



 
In support is another no-less-impressive Milton Keynesian, Sian Magill, who honed her subtly immersive, highly literary folk songs at venues both there and at Oxford, where she studied English Literature at degree level. If the latter suggests someone whose work’s likely to wear its intelligence as clever English hauteur, think again. Sian’s songs draw on more distant traditions, coming across as a more Irish-toned echo of the dense, individual American song-tales of someone like Dayna Kurtz, although she sounds less likely to venture to bars on the wrong side of the tracks, or to lean quite so much into the urban blues. Instead, Sian makes her own way into a story through a quiet and continuous flow of detailed observation and consideration, atop a busy, depth-inducing weave of fingerpicked guitar (see below).


 

* * * * * * * *

Appalachian 100: Cecil Sharp House Choir (with Alice Cade + Pete Cooper + Ed Hicks)
Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Road, London, NW1 7AY, England
Thursday 14th July 2016, 7.30pm
information

If you missed the Cecil Sharp Choir at the Union Chapel last Saturday (singing songs for a Daylight Music marine afternoon), they’re back on home turf at Cecil Sharp House for another show on Thursday. This time, they’re celebrating the centenary of musicologist Sharp’s first folk-song-collecting visit to the Appalachian Mountains of America, a region replete with influences from sixteenth-century England and from the tough feuding culture of the Scottish Borders, as well as (at least in the Ozark region) a great line in dirty stories.

I don’t know whether any cheerful smut is going to be reeled out at the concert (in song or in asides), but the choir are promising “a selection of glorious a capella harmony arrangements of traditional songs, including some collected in the Mountains”, in new arrangements by leader Sally Davies. Three special guests will be adding to the show- flatfoot dancer Alice Cade, fiddle master Pete Cooper and multi-instrumentalist Ed Hicks (banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, Anglo concertina and voice).



 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – Merz’s English tour with Julian Sartorius (12th-19th) plus The Sound Book Project, Hayley Ross, Megan Carlile and Christopher Anderson

9 Jun

In 1999 Merz popped up, apparently out of nowhere, with the Many Weathers Apart single. It was delightfully bizarre – there were deck scratches, a warbling rubber-guitar lick, a screaming soul sample. Merz himself was a crowy, androgynous pop squawk riding on a reverbed conga boom as big as the circling horizon. A hippy priest with a boombox, plugged into the metaphysical mainline, he sang in fluttering scraps about separation, connection and rainstorms and somehow tied them all together. The equally out-there follow-up, Lovely Daughter, was a sideswipe at subjugation and exploitation – ostensibly about young brides, but perhaps also about outflanked cultures. It sounded like Anthony Newley trapped in a tropical aviary, sprinkled with reggae-dust while tussling with Prince and Beck. Refreshingly, both songs were modest hits.

A bold debut album followed, on a Sony subsidiary. Merz surrounded the darting, hummingbird heart of his songcraft with paper-chain folk guitar, string orchestras and rain-dewed colliery brass bands, as well as what sounded like tips of the hat to Public Enemy, Sinatra and Van Morrison. He also added psychedelic flourishes, looted with elan, from a range of sources (be they worldbeat, Eurodance, the buccaneering edges of late-‘90s club culture, or acid-fuzzed corners of the Incredible String Band’s cottage). Unfortunately, 1999 wasn’t the best year for innovative eclectic-pop. However unfairly, Merz seemed to be at the tail end of a wave of experimentalists riding in Björk’s cooling wake. In the face of a much bigger wave of Latin disco and lighter entertainment, the hoped-for bigger hits didn’t happen for him. The album sold indifferently, the record deal foundered, and Merz walked. In music business terms that should have been the end of a familiar and often-repeated story. A&R takes a punt on something unusual; it rapidly runs out of steam; and the pet eccentric promptly drops back into obscurity, a footnote for geeks.

Merz (photo by Tabea Hubeli)

For Merz, in fact, all of this was simply one chapter of work; and it hadn’t even been the first chapter. Under his real name, Conrad Lambert, he’d been recording and releasing songs for over a decade before Many Weathers Apart broke cover. Even though that stage monicker turns out to have been a chance appropriation (rather than a nod to Kurt Schwitters), Merz had, from an early age, followed the connective prompts of a Bahá’í upbringing and a personal artistic bent (which had had him picking up the bagpipes as a first instrument at the age of six). His own restless nature spurred him on to early travelling, and would later drive the adult Conrad to make homes from town to town and from country to country. Ultimately, parting company with Sony and with an audience of turn-of-the-millennium hipsters just seems to have been another thing to shrug off. Merz had different things to do. Even if he didn’t quite know what they were yet. Then, as now, open possibilities beckoned… and security was a straitjacket.

As for the obscurity, that’s a matter of perspective. Merz seems to been quietly and steadily embraced by continental Europe (perhaps one of the reasons why he now makes his home in the Swiss Alps). His albums – including last year’s ‘Thinking Like A Mountain’ – are persistently and publically hailed across magazines and online review sites as the welcome surfacings of an inventive, tuneful and touching mind. If, in spite of this, he still remains cult it’s partly because it seems to suit him. Musically, he’s mellowed without slackening. As with Geddy Lee, what was once a strident corvine vocal has matured into a warmer, more human sound without losing its fundamental chirp. Across time he’s delivered songs which might only rarely touch the earth but which flutter and roost in stray corners of the mind for years; from the Northern-brass love-call of Lotus to the offset rhythms and flamenco fairing of Goodbye My Chimera, the melding of baroque harpsichord waltz and bubbling phuture-pop on Dangerous Heady Love Scheme, and the melding of Buckleylalia with blootering, breakneck industrial techno in the recent Ten Gorgeous Blocks.


At the core, today’s Merz is a roaming twenty-first century folk troubadour – centred around voice, a keyboard or laptop and a single fingerpicked guitar, making the most of both local ingredients and things intercepted en route. He’s based around instinctive heart rather than roots, and around spontaneous initiative rather than the solidity of tradition; spurred on by intuitive choices of collaborators, such as British electro-concrète producer Matthew Herbert. His current musical foil, wingman and licensed disruptor is Swiss drummer and sound artist Julian Sartorius, whom Merz met while recording his ‘No Compass Will Find Home’ album, and whom he subsequently allowed to strip out and repurpose his songs to form a further album’s-worth of startling drum-and-vocal renditions

As for his tours, they manage to be both quietly exhilarating and easy to miss. Ducking around and under the radar, they mount a clear challenge to the business of tired pop promotion. He seeks to make concerts – like live art works – unique and permanently memorable to the attendees, taking care over matters like time, place and involvement. In addition to fairly familiar arty venue types (picture galleries, music churches and house concerts), last year’s ‘In Intimate’ tour took in a village chapel, a working-men’s club and an Air Force Legion hall: even a cow barn, a Scottish castle, a yurt, a forest clearing, a railway arch, and a snooker club. This season’s tour isn’t quite as unusual, although it returns to a couple of In Intimate venues (in Middlesbrough and Oswestry). Elsewhere, Merz seems to have gone where he was invited… and made sure that it was either somewhere interesting or somewhere that strives (sprouting rock clubs in transient locations, or the sites of hopeful songwriter nights).

For many of the shows Merz will be playing as a duo alongside Julian Sartorius, who’ll also be playing a solo drumkit set to open the concert. On some evenings, support acts will be drawn from more straightforward singer-songwriter turf – in Hinckley, sixteen-year-old local open-mic promoter Megan Carlile; in Newcastle, local acoustic bard-of-observations Christopher Anderson; in Brighton, Hayley Ross (who leans towards a classic ‘70s style and expression but with a darker, cruel-hinting edge and occasional bursts of garage rock).


 
To counterbalance, at Oswestry support comes from the altogether stranger Sound Book Project, a sextet of multimedia artists and musicians (including a pair of Pram members) who use books as noisemakers and instruments – “wound, sprung, strummed, slapped and thrown” as well as being modified or miked-up – in an experimental, slightly fetishistic celebration of the sensuality of bound text as opposed to digital media, and the way in which sounds trigger memories and associations.

Similarly, the opening show at Middlesbrough’s MIMA is somewhat different from the others: it marks the closure of ‘When Now Becomes Then: Three Decades’, MIMA’s exhibition of the work of British abstract/gestural painter and printmaker Basil Beattie. Over two hours spread across the ground floor galleries, Merz will play songs from his repertoire which “allude to Beattie’s paintings both from a visual and spiritual point of view” and promises “a roving and impressionistic solo set.”
 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – picking through BBC Music Day

29 May

BBC Music Day

The annual BBC Music Day comes up this year and this week on Friday 3rd June. It’s a generally beneficial nation-building exercise in typical BBC style, informed by magazine-style news, middle-range tastes and light entertainment. Much of what’s on is comfortably communal – plenty of light music choirs, familiar regional touches of brass and pipes.

In all fairness, there’s plenty here to like. There’s a scheme organising gentle live shows in hospitals throughout Scotland and England. There’s a focussing on church bell ringings around the country which is free of gimmick and simply lets the art speak for itself (emphasising both its national status and its localism). There’s the ‘Take It To The Bridge‘ programme, during which the nation’s bridges will be briefly overrun by symbolic musical meetings, community choirs, time-travelling orchestras and local songwriters.

Twelfth Doctor with guitar

Sadly not joining in with any time-travelling orchestras…(© BBC 2015)

There’s also a strong sense of that other nation – the one which the BBC still encourages in the face of rumbling political dissatisfaction, manipulation and discomfort. It might be a non-partisan wash of generic English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish decency which doesn’t offer much to scare the horses, doesn’t break a sweat breaking new ground, and doesn’t ultimately provide much event-by-event challenge; but it should still be applauded for at least trying to encourage common ground and (at a time when art is being squeezed out of schools) a culture of engagement with music. For the full programme – and for British readers who want to find out exactly what’s going on in their region – check the links above.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been sifting through the programme with my jaundiced, picky eye and selecting out what I feel are some of the more unusual or rewarding events dotted around the comfy musical quilt (more or less in order of occurrence), starting in the middle of another festival in Hay-on-Wye…

BBC Radio 3 Live/Hay Festival presents:
Hay Festival Guitar Jam with Morgan Szymanski
Friends Café @ Hay Festival Site, Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5PJ, Wales
Friday 3rd June 2016, 9.30am

BBC Music Day - Get Playing!“Prior to his Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert (a collaboration with the Cremona String Quartet at 1.00pm, and already sold out) classical guitar ace Morgan Szymanski will be inviting amateur guitarists to join him for a morning guitar jam. Help create and perform a brand new piece for a hundred guitarists to be featured in the concert. Morgan will lead you through the process, whatever your level, from beginner to advanced. The event includes a special master class from Nitin Sawhney on playing the guitar.”

Unlike the walk-up nature of most of the other events listed here, a Hay Festival ticket is required for this one.

In Cambridge…

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presents:
English Pocket Opera vs. Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K
Silver Street Bridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB24 5LF, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 11.30am

English Pocket Opera will be performing on a punt through the waterways of Cambridge. As they approach Silver Street bridge the opera will be joined by a local ‘BBC Introducing’ hip-hop duo Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K, on top of the bridge. Hip-hop and opera will merge to create a brand new sound.”

Christ, this one could be a car-crash in multiple senses. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle a Cambridge punt at the best of time – it’s an unhappy marriage of Newton and Zen – let alone try to synchronise it with anything else. Still, given the sunny, positive and playful nature of both sets of musicians involved (don’t expect a collision of ‘Wozzeck’ and Kanye), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt… and just to put it into perspective, I‘m an appalling puntsman and these guys know their music.



 

In Nottingham…

Afro Therapy, 3rd June 2016Can’t Stop Won’t Stop presents:
Afro Therapy: featuring Jourdan Pierre Blair + Ella Knight + Early Bird + Garton + D Dot + others tbc
Rough Trade Nottingham, 5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.00pm

“Live music and DJs will be putting music of black origin in the spotlight. Unsigned and independent artists Ella Knight, beat maker Early Bird, and MCs Garton, D-Dot and Jourdan Pierre Blair (the last better known as Jah Digga) will represent a range of R’n’B and hip hop styles with a British stamp on global music. This free event is open to people over the age of 14.”

I’ve got to say that – for all of the community ethos being trumpeted elsewhere – this show is probably the most proactively street-level event on a day which needs to be about everyone in the country, not just people who like choirs and crumpets. (I’m not trying to bitch here; I just… noticed.) Here’s a run of video and soundclips for most of those involved.





 

Sheffield also deserves credit for working outside the comfy box…

A Law Unto Ourselves, 3rd June 2016

Yellow Arch Studios present:
A Law Unto Ourselves: The Eccentronic Research Council (featuring Maxine Peake) + The Death Rays of Ardilla + Sieben + The Third Half
Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30pm
– free event – more information

This is probably the most experimental event of the lot: an opportunistic but rewarding live spotlight on Sheffield’s unique independent music scene. There should have been more events like this dotted up and down the country – not necessarily with an experimental pop thrill, but emphasizing local current indigenous music which could only have happened in particular towns and at this particular time. All respect is due to Sheffield musicians, to the Yellow Arch venue and to curator Sophie Toes for taking the trouble to spot this challenge and rise to it.

Probably the biggest draw for A Law Unto Ourselves are the headliners – The Eccentronic Research Council, barbed and crafty exponents of their own scenic and sample-heavy “library/soundtrack, experimental, folkloric/non-populist pop”. They’ll be accompanied by their own established muse and mouthpiece – Maxine Peake (actress, declaimer, proud overturner of complacent applecarts) – and are the most questioning act across Music Day, bringing a touch of dissent, argument and the British radical tradition into its general cosiness. In support are spaced-out and (literally) brotherly garage-rock duo The Death Rays of Ardilla, Sieben (a.k.a. beater, plucker, tickler and layerer of voice and violin Matt Howden) and The Third Half (a duo who combine and alternate harp, celeste, guitar and voice in “twenty-first century neo-pastoral rare groove”).

ERC


There will also be DJ sets from representatives of some of Sheffield’s other interesting underground or experimental bands – spooky lysergic-child-song folksters Antique Doll, progtronicians I Monster, psychedelic country-and-western band The Cuckoo Clocks – plus one from Sophie Toes herself. There’s limited capacity for this show, so early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment.

* * * * * * * *

In Bristol…

Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra
Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 8.00pm

“After the success of last year, the ground-breaking British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, return to Colston Hall to perform for BBC Music Day. The group is headed up by Charles Hazlewood, a genuine pioneer and innovator in the world of classical music. In a unique show, the Paraorchestra will be joined on-stage by performers from Extraordinary Bodies, the professional integrated circus company and partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City. The combined effect of The British Paraorchestra and Extraordinary Bodies playing ‘In C’ by composer Terry Riley, promises to be cathartic and uplifting. The aural equivalent to climbing inside a giant lava lamp.”

On spec, this may sound like a case of worthiness over content – but while it’s true that (despite the Riley) the Paraorchestra plays its fair share of light-ent pop transcriptions to sugar the pill, albeit in its own way – it’s also worth noting that the ensemble isn’t just about the state of bodies. The Paraorchestra also explodes a lot of ideas about how an orchestra might work, in terms of instrumentation and approach: likewise, Extraordinary Bodies has plenty of challenges and delight to offer. See below:

 

…and finally…

Shaun the Sheep

Aardman Animation/Colston Hall/Bristol Museums present:
Shaun the Sheep’s Vegetable Orchestra
Studio 2, The M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN, England / Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016
Workshops and rehearsals at Studio 2: 10.15am, 11.15am & 12.15pm (tel: 0117 352 6600 for details)
Veg Orchestra Finale! featuring Shaun the Sheep and his Vegetable Orchestra at Colston Hall: 1.40pm

“In celebration of BBC Music Day and Aardman’s 40th anniversary, children are invited to join Shaun the Sheep and become part of his Vegetable Orchestra for a live performance at Colston Hall. (There will also be an Aardman birthday singalong and cake presentation.) There will also be pre-performance workshops at M Shed to decorate your veg instruments and learn how to play your part, all set to the ‘Shaun The Sheep’ theme tune. Workshops presented by Farmer characters & Shaun himself, it’s ‘flock ‘n’ roll’ for all ages and all set on Mossy Bottom Farm!”

Sorry. For a variety of reasons (parenthood, humour, a taste for experimentalism and a love of everything Aardman-esque) I just couldn’t bloody resist that last one… and it turns out that the foremost practitioners of the vegetable orchestral art are as cheerfully experimental and conceptual as anything else I tend to feature in here…


 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – pianos all over the world for Piano Day 2016

27 Mar

Piano Day, 2016

Following the previous post’s coverage of the Daylight Music prelude for Piano Day, here’s all of the information that I could gather up about the main event, which is taking place all around the world on Monday 28th March.

This is the second Piano Day, following its very successful launch in 2015 by Berlin-based pianist and piano specialist Nils Frahm as a day for musical unity. As Nils puts it: “why does the world need a Piano Day? For many reasons, but mostly because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most important, the listener.” For anyone who plays, or loves, or has wrestled with the wood-strings-felt-and-levers monster, or its digital facsimiles, this is a day for you.

The event kicks off in Germany with a piano marathon…

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Justė Survilaitė presents:
Piano Day | Berlin: ‘24 Hours Piano Non-Stop Session’
Michelberger Hotel, Warschauerstrasse 39/40, 10243 Berlin, Germany
Sunday 27th March 2016, midnight, to Monday 28th March 2016, midnight
more information

Twenty-four pianists play through a full twenty-four hour period, beginning at midnight on Sunday 27th March, and going all the way through into Monday, finishing at midnight on the 28th.

The contributors come from the wide range of creative musicians who make their home in, or are drawn to, the energised art scene of contemporary Berlin; and represent its cultural breadth. There are classical players (Víkingur Ólafsson, Marina Baranova); there are jazz and improv players (Declan Forde, Jo Junghanss, Rieko Okuda, Marco Maria and Amine Mesnaoui, the Moroccan jazz/New Music electric pianist who specialises in playing inside his Fender Rhodes). There are musicians from the dance scene – techno star/DJ/label boss Lucio Aquilina, electronica producer-composer Florestano (whose musical ideas all start on “an old black piano”) and Sonar Kollectiv mainstay Arnold Kasar (whose work is informed by dance music, Arthur Russell and prepared piano).

Extra genre spice is added by English singer-songwriter and crossover multidiscipline musician Tom Adams, Anglo-Czech prodigy Emika (whose work spans from dubstep to classical), , Claudio Donzelli of folk trio Mighty Oaks, Doron Burstein (the composer/player behind the ‘Don’t Shoot the Pianist’ speakeasy event at Berlin’s Fahimi Bar) and Eike Schulz (who as well as being a pianist is one of the three scriptwriters behind recent one-take heist film ‘Victoria’) Other contributors to the day are more difficult for me to track and pin down from five hundred miles away (Kolja Ulbrich, Ellas, Janek Prachta, Christian Badzura, Solaris 4.1, Susann Helm) and even more special guests are promised for the twenty-four hour stint.


 

In addition, there’s a second associated Berlin event:

Raw Classic Podium presents:
Raw Classic Podium #1, featuring Martin Kohlstedt
Art Loft Berlin, Gerichtstrasse 23, 13347 Berlin, Germany
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information

“When is something old actually something new? Does music evolve in the imagination of the composer, in the hands of the musician or the listener’s head? And do these questions have a practical application in the concert hall?

On Piano Day, composer Frieder Nagel and Jochen Küpper (founder of Stattbad) will launch their new discussion series ‘Raw Classic Podium’, which offers the public the opportunity to enjoy art unpolished – together with selected artists from the neoclassical scene. Martin Kohlstedt opens the new series of events with an insight into his creative process. The idea of the finished work is abandoned – a workshop starts. Working on techniques of modular composition, the pianist draws the audience into his activity. One way or another, expect an intense experience.”

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There are three concerts in England (all of which are in London):

Alev Lenz presents:
Piano Day | London: Alev Lenz + Lucy Claire + Yuri Kondo + Marie Schreer
One Good Deed Today, 73 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8AG, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

“Last year, Alev Lenz and Lucy Claire brought us two new Piano Day tunes fresh from Alev’s London studio. This year the two have decided to celebrate Piano Day with a special acoustic piano concert together with Yuri Kono and Marie Schreer. You will not only be able to hear the four women’s collaborative tracks premiered at the celebration (all of which you will be able to find on Lucy Claire’s new EP, ‘Collaborations No. 2’), but also short solo sets from all four artists: and you will have the opportunity to buy their respective works (including the brand-new EP) in a one-day-only special Piano Day pop-up shop.”

Float PR/Drowned in Sound/LateNightTales present:
Piano Day | London: Anna Rose Carter + Ed Harcourt + Lily Hunter Green + Michael Salu + Robert Kaniepien + Felix Faire
De Montfort Suite @ Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green London E2 9NF, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– more information here and here

“Float PR, the Drowned In Sound webzine and the Late Night Tales label team up for an evening of piano, art, film and honey.

Anna Rose Carter (the modern classical/ambient/minimalist pianist who’s one half of Moon Ate The Dark, in which her piano is fed through guitar signal processors and amplifiers by Christopher Brett Bailey) will perform a solo piano set made up of new compositions, existing pieces and works in progress. Chamber pop singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ed Harcourt will premiere some piano version of new material from his forthcoming seventh album, set for release later this year. Artist and musician Lily Hunter Green (accompanied by violinist Tom Moore) will perform on the piano against a backdrop of bee recordings. She will also present to the audience how her project ‘Bee Composed’ (which saw her placing a beehive inside a piano) has helped increase awareness of the declining bee population.

Musician and creative coder Felix Faire (whose work explores embodied and synaesthetic experiences of music, space and image through the media of light, sound and code) will presents a real-time audio-visual performance using the ROLI Seaboard RISE, a radically new musical instrument that reimagines the piano keyboard as a soft, continuous surface and puts expression back at the player’s fingertips. (Felix’s previous work with ROLI technologies has included a Oskar Fischinger-inspired ROLI Seaboard GRAND ‘motion experiment’ designed to audio-visually illustrate the instrument’s delicate sensitivity and continuous expression: every nuanced sound created by contact with the Seaboard was translated into a swirling plume of ink, responding directly to the haptic expression of the performer).

In addition, Michael Salu (an award-winning creative director, writer and visual artist) will present the exclusive first play of ‘Nocturnes’ (a specially commissioned short film created for Piano Day) and artist Robert Kaniepien (a.k.a. R.K. Polak) will create a bespoke piece of art across the evening on a 160cm x 160cm canvas using oil pastels, acrylic, enamel and pencil (a continuation of his ‘Tendencies’ series).”

Erased Tapes Records presents:
Piano Day | London: Peter Broderick + Michael Price & Peter Gregson + Douglas Dare
The Courtyard Theatre, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
more information

An intimate evening of piano performances from Erased Tapes artists and associates, with experimental folk musician and multiple collaborator Peter Broderick, film and television composer Michael Price (in duet with cellist Peter Gregson), and piano/glitch singer-songwriter Douglas Dare. All proceeds raised will go towards the donation of a piano for the World Heart Beat Music Academy, an organisation whose mission is to provide music training and mentorship to disadvantaged youth in London.

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Across the Channel, there are two concerts in France…

Souffle Collectif & Les Rendez-vous Contemporains de Saint Merry present:
Piano Day | Paris: Alvise Sinivia & Sabine Rivière + Melaine Dalibert + Frederic Blondy + Marina Voznyuk + J.G. Matthews
Église Saint-Merri, 76 Rue de la Verrerie, 4e, Paris, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

Église Saint-Merri will host a dance-and-piano performance by Alvise Sinivia and Sabine Rivière (“Le son n’a pas de jambes sur lesquelles se tenir’, or ‘The sound has no legs on which to stand’); a program of American minimalists performed by Melaine Dalibert (which may also include her own ‘Cortège à Véra Molnar’); piano improvisations by Frederic Blondy and Alvise Sinivia (one piano apparently “suspended in the air”, the other “on the ground”) and Marina Voznyuk of Murailles; plus ‘Capricorn’ a poetry-and-piano performance by J.G. Matthews.


 

La Route Du Rock Booking presents:
Piano Day | Nantes: T. Beach + Rasim Biyikli
Le Lieu Unique, 2 quai Ferdinand Favre, Nantes 44000, France
Monday 28th March 2016, 4.00pm
– free event – more information

T.Beach is the Lopez sisters (two voice, four hands) who play a piano music of water and love, inspired by the poetry of beaches and featuring recreational and melancholic French-language songs set to primitive rhythms.

A self-taught multi-instrumentalist, Rasim Biyikli creates free-spirited music in multiple formats for film, art installations, software and so on. He is the founder of the research studio and multi-media resource center Studio d’en Ô, and – as a pianist – has worked and collaborated on many albums. He is best known for his project Man, which sits at the crossroads of pop, jazz, contemporary and electronic music (in the tradition of composers such as Brian Eno, Yann Tiersen, Angelo Badalamenti and Ennio Morricone).

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Canada offers something virtual…

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Piano Day | Montreal: Jean-Michel Blais
Online (details tbc)
Monday 28th March 2016
more information tbc on Facebook

In a special virtual concert (recorded live in Radio Canada/CBC Music’s Studio 211) Montreal-based pianist Jean-Michel Blais will perform compositions from his forthcoming debut album ’II’(out on Arts & Crafts Records on 8th April), a collection of piano pieces and textures influenced by Erik Satie, Lubomyr Melnyk and Philip Glass and incorporating subtle touches of electronics and field recordings.


 

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There’s also an event in Israel…

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Piano Day & The Zone present:
Piano Day | Tel Aviv-Jaffa: Maya Dunietz + Deejay Shuzin + Tomer Bar + Dani Gottfried + Shlomo Gronich + Yonatan Daskal
Haezor/The Zone, Harechev 13, 67771 Tel Aviv, Israel
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information (in Hebrew)

The Israel event for Piano Day features two jazz pianists separated by sixty years but linked by their musical enthusiasm (veteran and Red Sea Jazz Festival founder Dani Gottfried and the up-and-coming Tomer Bar), Yonatan Daskal (keyboard player for Castle In Time Orchestra, Quarter To Africa and many more) and a contribution by Deejay Shuzin.

In addition, there are performances by two of the broadest and most industrious of Israeli musical talents – Shlomo Gronich, a gifted pianist who, for four decades, has composed and delivered pop songs, soundtracks, television and dance music and orchestral/choral work (from a palette of jazz, classical, soul, prog rock and original Israeli songs, and working with a host of collaborators of all ages and backgrounds); and his latterday parallel Maya Dunietz (whose work covers and excels within a remarkably broad range of musical styles and approaches – free jazz, art rock, punk, polka, “circus-core” and classical; plus choral conducting, stints with the bands Eatliz, Habiluim, The Midnight Peacocks and the creation of sound installations).

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There are two very different concerts taking place in Australia…

Piano Day | Brisbane: Alistair Noble + Momo
Private house concert, Brisbane, Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.00pm
more information – direct booking here

“Brisbane-based pianists and composers Alistair Noble and Momo Hamada will host an intimate living-room concert, playing their own pieces as well as some by Nils Frahm. Organic vegan finger food and selected teas will be provided.”

Bennetts Lane Jazz Club presents:
Piano Day | Melbourne: Luke Howard + Nat Bartsch + Timothy Coghill + Timothy Stevens
Bennetts Lane Jazz Club, 25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, 30000 Australia
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.00pm
– pay-what-you-like – more information

“A special evening of solo performances by Melbourne-born jazz pianist and composer Luke Howard and his friends: trio leaders and soloists Nat Bartsch and Tim Stevens, plus instrumental scenic-pop composer Timothy Coghill. They’ll be playing their own compositions, including several new works of Nat’s. You will also have an opportunity to hear a few of Luke’s favourite compositions by Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Nico Muhly. Entry is by donation with all proceeds to Entertainment Assist, supporting the mental health of Australian entertainment industry workers.”

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Lithuania and Slovenia are providing one concert each…

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LOFTAS presents:
Piano Day | Vilnius: Hauschka
Vilnius Art Factory & LOFTAS Club, Švitrigailos str. 29, Naujamiestis, Vilnius, Lithuania
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

LOFTAS will host a performance by German pianist Volker Bertlemann, better known as Hauschka, an experimental/pop crossover musician who’s also one of the most recognizable twentiy-first century proponents of prepared piano.

Kino Šiška presents:
Piano Day | Ljubljana: Bowrain + Nace Slak
Kino Šiška, Trg Prekomorskih Brigad 3, Ljubljana
Monday 28th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Kino Šiška is hosting an exclusive solo piano perfomance by Bowrain, a.k.a. Tine Grgurevič, whose music usually incorporates jazz piano, modern classical elements, electronic beats and textures, and cunning uses of cultural and philosophical sampling. The evening will be opened by Nace Slak, a 17-year-old student at the Conservatory for Music and Ballet Ljubljana, who will perform piano pieces by Nils Frahm.

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Finally, there’s a show in Japan…

Sonorium/ Kitchen Label presents:
Piano Day | Tokyo: Haruka Nakamura Duo/Trio
Sonorium, 3-53-16, Suginami-ku, 168-0063 Tokyo, Japan
Monday 28th March 2016, 7.30pm
more information

The Piano Day celebration in Tokyo will host a show by pianist Haruka Nakamura playing in duo/trio setups with two other members of his regular ensemble (Akira Uchida on saxophone and Isao Saito on percussion).

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If all of this is making you feel a little left out – perhaps your country or city isn’t represented, or perhaps you’re feeling that you might have put something together yourself – then what’s stopping you? This the day when you don’t have to walk past that piano on the street, or in your workplace, or even gathering dust in your home. This is the day when you can strum a stray melody, pick out a single note, or indulge yourself with a full performance of anything at all, and know that you’ll be in touch with all kinds of players (from the remarkable to the casual) across the globe. And – if you missed the day altogether and are reading this too late, head back up and check out some of those links. Pianos everywhere. If I have a bit of time, I’ll flesh them out with a few more.

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Coming up soon… a look at gigs in early April…
 

March 2016 – upcoming gigs – London murk and sarcasm – an industry-baiting evening of 30-second songs by the Pocket Gods and mystery buddies; plus noise rock from Arabrot, Shitwife and Godzilla Black at Corsica Studios

15 Mar

Two London gigs for Thursday…

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Pocket Gods @ Zigfrid von Underbelly, 17th March 2016

The Pocket Gods (’30 Second Song Set’) + tbc
Zigfrid von Underbelly, 11 Hoxton Square, Hoxton, London, N1 6NU, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 7.00pm
– free event – more information

Here’s the chirp – ”London lo-fi indie popsters The Pocket Gods play a free St Patrick’s Day gig in Hoxton, London to promote their groundbreaking album ‘100×30’ – which features one hundred songs, all of which are thirty seconds long and some of which will be featured. Free entry and some great support bands!“

Sweet, isn’t it?

Here’s the rest of the story.

‘100×30’ was released last December. It’s a sharp, timely yet self-mocking broadside aimed at the music industry as a whole, and also at the amorphous greed’n’gratification culture that’s gulping down what remains of it. Masterminding this collection of half-minute jabs are The Pocket Gods – shabby knowing masters of multiple styles, mix’n’matching shreds of chart pop, punk, synth-blurb, soggy psych and outright pisstakes (including Blur, and Dappy from N-Dubz). Sometimes they sound like a back-bedroom Zappa Band operating on cheapjack equipment from a small-town branch of Argos, and sometimes like a more eclectic Half Man Half Biscuit aiming more of their jokes at the towers of power.

Threaded through the whole album is a sense of indignation at the implosion of music as a workable career (“my royalty statement is a thing of wonder, and keeps me in a state of permanent hunger”) and the dismissal of artists who can no longer be counted as fresh and malleable meat. One lyric points out, with sardonic but righteous indignation, “I can write songs about anything, because I’ve lived a little longer”; and there’s quite a bit of moping about the prospect of a future which involves little more than making unwanted music on a laptop. Across the tracks, the subject matter paints a scathing, resolutely unimpressed picture of vulgarity and short-termisms. Songs attack the rent hikes which force music venue closures; lampoon the encroachment of multinational corporate interests into independent business (the entwinement of Orchard and Sony takes a pounding, which – since Orchard is releasing the album – is a particularly fanged move); and pour sarcasm onto side topics like the sorry parade of boss-pleasing reality-TV contestants, the cluelessness of A&R men and the ludicrous table prices at the Brits (apparent sideshows which point towards the bigger problem). The Gods even slag off laptop music and mount a harpsichord-driven assault on the memory of Steve Jobs. So much for the individual being independently empowered by technology.

With the proven flexibility of the Pocket Gods, it’s tempting to assume that the brace of performers elsewhere on the album are just pseudonyms. Not a bit of it. Some – including oddball pop mutterer Michael Panasuk and fuzz-guitar flourisher Brian Heywood – appear to be rogue film, television and library music composers. Two more are former chart stars (Owen Paul and Mungo Jerry’s Ray Dorset, each damn near unrecognisable).Some veer towards cabaret (the semi-genteel, character-vocalled acoustipop of The Low Countries) or sarky contrarian Scottish dolour (Bill Aitken). Others even sound like glossy successes in waiting, including power-popper Katy Thorn, gobby R&B-er Tricey R, immaculate faux-Californian rockers Dead Crow Road, countrified Elvis-alike Osborne Jones, twinkling white-boy hip hoppers Foxgrease and full-bore electropop drama queens Hands Of Industry. The burnished countrified chart-pop of Heywood Moore even sounds as if it could make a killing in the American Bible Belt (sweeping out of the same CCM radio playlists as the likes of Lexi Elisha – not bad for a band that’s actually from Dunstable). None of this seems to stop any of them from joining in. Some of them may be taking a long-delayed, heartfelt chomp at the hand that feeds so grudgingly, or refuses to feed at all; or which they see starving others, from audience to artist, both fiscally and spiritually.

Despite all of this justifiable resentment, it could all turn precious and self-righteous were it not for the jabs of anti-pomposity which the Gods and their friends turn in on themselves (the musician-skewering of ‘Small Town Musos’ and ‘Mac Book Ho’ made me laugh out loud, as did a song about the natural progression from ambitious Radio 1 listener to experienced Radio 2 couch-fogey). There are also the other moments – the flip side to the flipness – in which the half-minute song limit becomes a lesson in how much can be achieved in a short time. John Rowland’s plunderphonics and piano instrumentals; upROAR’s quick echo-laden harp passage, Orb collaborator Another Fine Day’s gorgeous burst of echo-soused kalimba; or when writer and narrator Michael Hingston (who’s already spent two tracks guesting with the Pocket Gods, bidding goodbye to the swelling ranks of closed-down London music venues in a hardbitten wise-barfly drawl) gently blows thirty seconds of tentative, unaccompanied saxophone.

Finally, there’s the persistent realist-absurdist wit of The Pocket Gods themselves – party hosts, project backbone and the only act formally confirmed as performing at the Hoxton gig on Thursday (yes, I was going to get back to that…) Come along to see who else makes it. Meanwhile, you can play through the whole album below; and even buy it (if you feel that that won’t somehow spoil either the joke or the protest).

 

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Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Arabrot + Shitwife + Godzilla Black
Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, Elephant & Castle, London, SE17 1LB, England
Thursday 17th March 2016, 8.00pm
more information

Arabrot + Shitwife +Godzilla Black @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 17th March 2016Norwegian noise-rockers Arabrot have spent a decade and a half feeding classical, Biblical, existential and surreal tropes through a grand and gothic avant-rock mangle. As you can imagine from this, both their gigs and records have had an immediate raw-lifed, raw-liver feel to them, despite what ‘The Quietus’ describes as the band’s “velveteen grace”. More recently, group leader Kjetil Nernes spent two years recovering from throat cancer, during which he’s fought off and defeated encroaching death not just via hospital treatment and homestay but by hurling himself back into Arabrot recording and touring. Having admitted that the experience was “as close to real physical and psychological hell as you can go”, Kjetil has spun his reactions into Arabrot’s latest album, ‘The Gospel’, which is suffused with spectres of death, illness and his own defiance.

Shitwife have possibly the most discouraging band name in history – an evil grunt of a handle, a surly trucker’s growl of a monicker. We last encountered them in the listings for a Christmas gig, in which they were described as an “astonishingly brutal drums/laptop/electronics juggernaut fusing rave, death metal, noise and post-hardcore.” As far as I know, they’ve had no reason to mess with that formula in the intervening three months. Here’s a clip of them in action at a different gig last September (just a short walk away from ‘Misfit City’ HQ, not that I knew it) plus a more recent video showing laptop/keyscruncher Wayne Adams engaged in a painting session (and looking far sweeter than he ought to, given that his other band’s called Ladyscraper).


As I’ve said before, Godzilla Black seem to have made themselves into London noise-rock favourites while not actually having much to do with noise-rock at all. Most of the latter’s in the brawling muscle which they apply to their John-Barry-writes-for-Ruins-or-King-Crimson tunes; and in the garnish of hiss and fry lying on top of that muscle, adding a pitch and pinch of disintegration to their drums-and-horns pimp-roll. Otherwise what I’m hearing is spy-movie glamour all the way, albeit gone slightly weird: extra panicky descends and clangings, sax stranglebursts and sampler squeals. Brand new single ‘First Class Flesh’ sounds as if its about some kind of disassociative disorder: singer John McKenzie boggling, all glazed and juicy, about body parts but not actually about bodies (ending up neither sexy nor creepy, but away in a skewed and disfocussed branch-off of both).


 

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More March gig previews shortly…
 

December 2015 – upcoming gigs, London & elsewhere – Serafina Steer & Bas Jan at Kings Place; assorted Others cabaret from punk to accordiana with The Bohemianauts and Bad Fractals; a Lost Map afternoon with The Pictish Trail/Seamus Fogarty/Tuff Love/Kid Canaveral at Daylight Music; Thumpermonkey, The Mayors Of Miyazaki and Lolita Laytex hit The Albany in Deptford; and the 2015 London Contemporary Music Festival part 1 (sounds for and from London, West Coast America and the time continuum). Plus the return of Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward in a Scottish village hall; Olga Stezhko in a Staffordshire chapel; and Rocket From The Tombs in London and Leeds.

6 Dec

The end of the month, and the year, is nigh – so what are we looking forward to this week?

Mulholland, Ward, Sissoko & D'Hoine @ Ford Village Hall, 8th December 2015

Mark Mulholland, Craig Ward, Yacouba Sissoko & Hannes D’Hoine (Ford Village Hall, Ford, Argyll, Scotland, Tuesday 8th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.00 minimum – information – tickets on the door

Back in 2012, two wandering Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarists – Mark Mulholland (ex-Two Dollar Bash) and onetime dEUS member Craig Ward – quietly released one of the finest records of the year. A compelling murmur of acoustic guitar folk, ‘Waiting For The Storm’ was soaked in the Scottish and British folk-baroque of Davey Graham, Pentangle and John Martyn but, in its settings of moist heat, tin roofs, typhoons and dark forces, it was also informed by the Haitian setting of Port-au-Prince, Mark’s home for the previous two years. Some of you may remember that I liked it.

With Mark now relocated to Mali and Craig settled in the little Argyll village of Ford, the duo are collaborating on a follow-up (provisionally called ‘The Darkness Between The Leaves’) on which they’ll be joined by Flemish double bass player Hannes D’Hoine – who played the Danny Thompson anchor-cable role on ‘Waiting For The Storm’ – and by Mark’s newest collaborator, the Malian djely and multi-instrumentalist Yacouba Sissoko, a master kora and ngoni player. The quartet have been preparing and recording in a number of different countries, and the end of the Scottish sessions will be marked by a Ford performance both taking place in and raising funds for Ford Village Hall, with prices set on a pay-what-you-like basis starting from five pounds.

In its quiet way this should be one of the gigs of the year, so if you’re in western Scotland and have a free Tuesday evening, consider heading over to Ford (at the south-western end of Loch Awe, north-west of Glasgow, with the nearest substantial town being Kilmartin.) If you miss this one, they’re playing again in Glasgow at 7.00pm on Wednesday 9th; a low-key gig at the Hidden Lane Gallery in Finnieston.

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After that – for me – the week doesn’t pick up until a very busy Friday and weekend. Too subjective, probably. Here we go, anyway.

Serafina Steer & Bas Jan (Hall Two @ (Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.50-£12.50 – information & tickets

The hitherto independent worlds of contemporary harp music and experimental kraut-pop will collide – or at least bump each other – in this concert of two halves by harpist/songwriter Serafina Steer and her new band Bas Jan.

After a few years of mainly only using the harp for her own writings, Serafina went on a roadtrip around Eastern Europe busking, discovering and rediscovering pieces along the way. The result of this experience will form the first half of the programme, which will feature compositions by Richard Barratt (‘tendril’), Benjamin Britten (‘Suite For Harp’), Stephen Dodgson (‘Fantasy’), Rhodri Davies (‘Aqcua Alta’) and Serafina’s own father Michael Maxwell Steer (‘Grovelly Wood’)

The second half of the show will be a performance by Bas Jan, Serafina’s latest collaborative project in which she plays bass guitar and keyboards and writes minimally arranged songs about the Essex coast, the Anglo-Saxons, sex, part-time work and love; with sound artist Sarah Anderson playing violin and OP1 mini-synthesizer and performance visual artist Jenny Moore playing drums (all three women also sing). Bas Jan’s first gig was to six thousand people at Brixton Academy and since then they have gone on – via support slots for Xylouris White and The Decemberists – to entertain smaller and smaller audiences.


 

On the same night, one of ‘Misfit City’s favourite classical musicians is spreading her own particular musical gospel up in Staffordshire:

Olga Stezhko (Abbotsholme Arts Society @ Abbotsholme School Chapel, Rocester, Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, ST14 5BS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm)information – limited number of tickets available, phone 01543 263 304 for details

Olga Stezhko, 2015Following up her recent debut performances at both the Wigmore and Bridgewater Halls (at which she performed full or partial versions of her ‘Lucid Dreams‘ assemblage, a programme of music exploring people’s changing perception of reality from childhood through to adulthood), classical pianist and multi-disciplinary thinker Olga Stezhko is bringing her sophisticated, metaphysical perspective and repertoire to the audience at Abbotsholme.

On this occasion, her choice of music is a little more conventional (leaning on well-established favourites by Mozart, Bach and Prokofiev rather then stretching to the Sophia Gubaidulina pieces she was playing last month). However, there’s still room in the programme for work by one of her compositional touchstones, Alexandr Scriabin; and you can be assured that whichever pieces Olga plays will have been carefully thought out and put into context as part of a programme intended to inspire thought and broader conceptual connections as well as straightforward musical enjoyment.

Programme:

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Sonata in B flat major, K.570
Johannes Brahms – Six Pieces, Op.118
Alexandr Scriabin – Two Dances Op.73; Five Preludes Op.74; Vers la flamme Op.72,
John Adams – China Gates
Sergei Prokofiev – Sonata no.4 in C minor, Op.29

Back in London, meanwhile, there’s cabaret afoot, plus breathless press releases.

Bad Fractals vs Bohemianauts @ The Others, 11th December 2015

The Bohemianauts + Bad Fractals (Bohemiocracy @ The Others, 6-8 Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 5SA, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.00-£10.00 –  information & tickets here and here

An epic face-off between two amazing, unique and bizarre bands.

Bad Fractals are shaman gangsters shooting bullets of love, tearing their way through acid punk, malevolent music hall and trailer-trash blues in a world gone mad. Join us at the crossroads, in a theatre of the absurd: hear story and song shift with the wild wonder of fractals! Watch psychedelic punks get drunk with clown kings! Glare at artificial angels dancing with deadbeat demons! Gasp as astral travellers gather in galactic taverns!

The Bohemianauts are decadent divas of demi-monde carnivalism, playing weird waltzes, pithy polkas and rollicking rhumbas: they will take you on a theatrical musical journey through strange landscapes with absurd humour, exquisite noise and songs of unrequited dread. Tonight they will unleash their female alter-egos, as they parade in their geezer-bird finery, performing for your pleasure as the rarely-seen Bohemianauts – Drag-ed on Stage. (Trigger warning: Bearded Drag.)

PLUS – Visuals and projections from Jaime Rory Lucy‘s Rucksack Cinema and half-time performance interventions from Oleg the Mystic.


 

Friday also sees the start of the London Contemporary Music Festival, which (as if it were part of a conspiracy theory) is lurking in a giant underground bunker near Baker Street…

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’

LCMF 2015: ‘Collective Capital’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Friday 11th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.25 – information – tickets

London takes centre stage in our opening night, as we celebrate the exploratory fringes of the city’s music scene and the collective imperative that has been a spur to some of the capital’s greatest experiments. The proliferation of collectives among young musician-composers is reflected in new commissions from some of the most adventurous of these musical laboratories. The night will include premieres from Charlie Hope and Jamie Hamilton   (a.k.a. Topophobia), Neil Luck (performing with his Squib Box ensemble) and John Wall & Tom Mudd (Utterpsalm and Contingent Events). We hear recent work by composers Edward Henderson (Bastard Assignments), Shelley Parker and the artist duo Claudia Hunte. We welcome an iconic figure and chronicler of London’s musical edgelands, David Toop, and offer a live improvisation from Poulomi Desai (Usurp), who started the Hounslow Arts Co-op at the age of 14.

We also offer a world premiere from artists Richard Wilson and Anne Bean. In the 1980s, Anne, Richard and Paul Burwell formed the legendary Bow Gamelan Ensemble, enthralled by the aural poetry and parallel visions of the Thames. Now, Wilson and Bean enter the territory as W0B. Theirs is a world that cracks and splinters and grinds into being as it races backwards and forwards through friendships of forty years. ‘NALEMAG’ becomes the totemic incarnation of their endless scrabbling around boat-yards, scrap-yards, gas depots, pyrotechnic munitions, voyages on many rivers in countless vessels and a frenzy of carrying, welding, investigating and making across the planet. The trajectory culminates with a landmark new AV performance from south London’s Visionist, whose singular language emerges from the fragmentation of dubstep and grime.

Programme:

David Toop – Many Private Concerts
Anne Bean/Richard Wilson – NALEMAG (world premiere)
Poulomi Desai – Vermillion Sands (world premiere)
Neil Luck – Via Gut (world premiere – LCMF commission)
Jamie Hamilton/Charlie Hope – New work (world premiere)
Edward Henderson – Tape Piece
Claudia Hunte – The Elephant In The Room Is Afraid Of Dying
Shelley Parker – Live set
John Wall – Live set
Tom Mudd – Live set
Visionist – Live set (AV)

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On Saturday, there’s what looks like a particularly engaging Daylight Music afternoon, with the return of a familiar face…

The Pictish Trail & other Lost Map artists at Daylight Music, 12th December 2015

Daylight Music 210 – The Pictish Trail + artists from the Lost Map label: Seamus Fogarty + Tuff Love + Kid Canaveral (Union Chapel, Saturday 12th November 2015, 12.00pm) – free (suggested donation £5.00) – information

Wrapping up this season of Daylight Music are Lost Map; a loose-knit DIY label/collective from the Hebrides founded by alt-folk troubadour, Johnny Lynch, a.k.a. The Pictish Trail. For this special Christmas show, Johnny will be ice-skating back to the mainland, bringing a selection box of pals from his Lost Map roster, for a cosy festive afternoon of stripped back acoustic merriment, frost-bitten Casio hymns, and mulled-tea fuelled carols.

While The Pictish Trail often comes across on record as an eerie digifolk creation (like a Scottish oil-town-and-fishing-port David Lynch, with that surreal supernatural undertow suffused by Gaelic angst rather than Americana), anyone who’s caught one of the live acoustic shows will know that Johnny has an altogether more joyous side as unplugged strummer. Many of his tales may be based on shyness, grief and confusion, but I’ve seen few people who take such unalloyed pleasure in warming up and including an audience the way he does. For a reminder of this, have a read of my review of his last Daylight Music appearance back in January… and see below.

Mayo-born but London-based, Seamus Fogarty plays and sings his own soulful version of contemporary Irish folk, dabbled with electronic found sound. His output’s been described as “songs about mountains that steal T-shirts, women who look like dinosaurs and various other unfortunate incidents” and as “summoning all manner of odd noises and audio ghosts”. Taken from his current album ‘God Damn You Mountain’, here’s Rita Jack’s Lament, which showcases all of his various tendencies to the maximum.


 

Glaswegian fuzzy-pop duo Tuff Love represent Lost Map’s more-out-and-out indie rock side, although their cottage-industry approach (recording and producing everything at home themselves rather than chasing studios and jaded professional engineers) reflects the label’s d-i-y philosophy. Julie Eisenstein and Suse Bear (augmented for concerts by Phantom Band drummer Iain Stewart deliver “dazzling, sun-streaked guitar pop songs with mesmerising lyrics, heart-wrenching vocals and dreamy melodies like the sound of pure summer.” Over a scant few years of existence, they’ve already supported Paulo Nutini and Ride and played several overflowing handfuls of rock festivals. ‘Resort’ – a not-quite-debut album pulling together the three EPs that Tuff Love have put out so far – is out in January, but meanwhile here’s what will either be a reminder of their existing delights or an introduction to their world: somewhat shoegaze-y but with mischievous glimpses up through the eyelashes.

Edinburgh four-piece Kid Canaveral (whom Lost Map described as “ADHD pop splendour”) met at university in St Andrews and have been playing together ever since. Imaginative alternative pop, they manage to recall the early-‘80s cleverness of Postcard Records pop or the ramshackle poignancy of Belle & Sebastian without actually sounding much like either. It’s more a matter of spirit, a discreet but inclusive sophistication which reaches out, brushes your arm and invites you along. Two albums in, with a third in preparation, they’re a delightful discovery whenever you happen to encounter them. Their clever videos are a treat, too – here are a couple of tastes below, the first of which had my four-year-old son continually tapping the replay button.


(For anyone who wants a more substantial dose of Kid Canaveral, note that they’re playing a full set at the Shacklewell Arms on the evening of the same day.)

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On the Saturday evening, you’ve got your pick of twisty London rock and West Coast American art music (plus Rocket From The Tombs, but I’ll come to them shortly…)

Thumpermonkey @ The Islington, 30th July 2015

Thumpermonkey + Mayors Of Miyazaki + Lolita Laytex (Something’s Gonna Happen @ The AlbanyDouglas Way, Deptford, London, SE8 4AG, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 7.30pm) – £3.00-£5.00 – information – tickets on the door

Welcome back everybody: and once again we have two superb outfits centre stage, Thumpermonkey (heavy progressive music) and Mayors Of Miyazaki (DIY 3-piece based in south London, guaranteed to spit and sweat on us at close quarters). The lovely Lolita Laytex will be joining us to add the flavour of burlesque. Yes, people of the universe, with all those ingredients in store, you know the score: £3.00 concessions and a fiver on the door. Bring ya skin!

I’ve said quite a bit about Thumpermonkey over the course of the year. Grand, clever and atmospheric, they also have enough sly, self-aware wit and humour to undercut all of the previous. They’re also tricky to pigeonhole – a band who create intricate catastrophe epics (part Radiohead, part Van der Graff Generator) but also trill the occasional Mastodon cover in the style of early Kate Bush; a prog band with a singer who sounds like an old-time theatrical knight, but also a noise band who happen to wrap their wildness into tightly-composed structures; geeky popcorn information omnivores drawing from Jodorowsky to Lovecraft to William Gibson, but salting it with Chomsky and science magazines before whipping it up into artful tornados of song. This little sample here is both characteristic and unique within what Thumpermonkey do, which in itself probably tells you all you need to know.


 

I don’t think Mayors Of Miyazaki have been in here before, but they should have been. In their way, their music’s as grand and complex as that of Thumpermonkey and even more enthused by its options. It’s punk with all the chains blown off, joyriding math-rock, de-Ritalined bratprog. A typical song sounds like both chase sequence and protracted explosion: spiky, switch-and-swap assemblages of guitar parts doubling back through alleys and charging halfway up walls, over which sibling team Gareth and Claire Thomas declaim a punky boy-girl barkathon, a speaky-drawl of sparking thoughts. Fugazi and The Fall both might be in there, though you could also pull Bis and long-lost ‘90s psych tanglers The Monsoon Bassoon out of the root cluster.


 

I don’t know much about Lolita Laytex except that she’s a fetish model as well as an alternative burlesque performer and fetish model. Not much information about a third-stream digression into music: so perhaps you should expect something sensual and mobile, which squeaks a little when it flexes. (UPDATE, 10th December – Well, that’s that laboured gag wasted. Lolita’s off the bill, replaced by Deptford punk-poppers The Kill Raimi’s. Some video evidence below…

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The second London Contemporary Music Festival night sees the series take a broad stylistic and historical sweep across twentieth and twenty-first century California (with one digression to Alaska, so it’s not all sun.)

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’

LCMF 2015: ‘West Coast Night’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

The second night of LCMF 2015 is dedicated to the music of the American West Coast, an exploration of 100 years of musical non-conformism, from the piano insurrections of Henry Cowell to the deep listening of Pauline Oliveros (performing her own music on v-accordion). Oliveros is joined by another founding legend of the pioneering San Francisco Tape Music Center, Morton Subotnick, who presents a solo Buchla set and the UK premiere of a 1960s Tape Center composition with a film by Tony Martin. Another composer associated with the Tape Center was Terry Riley, whose ‘Keyboard Study No. 2’ gets a rare outing.

Alongside this we zig-zag through the experimental landscape, calling on John Cage‘s concussive ‘First Construction (In Metal)’, which premiered in Seattle in 1939, John Luther Adams‘s monumental ‘Among Red Mountains’ and Catherine Lamb‘s subterranean ‘Frames’. We excavate two gems from California’s 1980s computer music scene, Maggi Payne‘s ‘Flights Of Fancy’ and Carl Stone‘s ‘Wall Me Do’. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Watts Uprising we present an extremely rare performance from Otis O’Solomon, whose collective The Watts Prophets emerged from the rubble of that uprising and helped lay the foundations for hip-hop.

Programme:

Henry Cowell – The Banshee (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
John Cage – First Construction (in Metal) (for percussion ensemble) – performed by PERC’M and Serge Vuille
Morton Subotnick/Tony Martin – PLAY! No. 3 (1965) (UK premiere)
Terry Riley – Keyboard Study No. 2
Maggi Payne – Flights of Fancy
Carl Stone – Wall Me Do
John Luther Adams – Among Red Mountains (for piano) – performed by Gwenaëlle Rouger
Catherine Lamb – Frames for cello & bass recorder (UK premiere) – performed by Anton Lukoszevieze/Lucia Mense
Otis O’Solomon – Selected poems
Pauline Oliveros – Pauline’s Solo (1992)
Morton Subotnick – solo Buchla set

 

 

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On Sunday, the third LCMF event has a polycultured and temporal feel:

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways to Kill Time’

LCMF 2015: ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’ (London Contemporary Music Festival 2015 @ Ambika P3, University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 5LS, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 6.30pm) – £11.75 – information – tickets 

Time is stretched, bent and finally dissolved in ‘Five Ways To Kill Time’. Sound artist Ellen Fullman opens the night with a UK premiere of The Watch Reprise, which will be performed on her 50-foot Long String instrument that one writer compared to “standing inside a giant grand piano.” Ethiopian composer, pianist and nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou makes her first visit to the UK to perform a selection of her intimate piano miniatures that seem to drift through space. Plus Minus Ensemble, meanwhile, offers up the intricate and disorientating world of Bryn Harrison‘s ‘Repetitions In Extended Time’ (conducted by Mark Knoop and featuring strings, organs, piano, guitar and clarinet). Mixing spoken text and music, theatre maker Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment) and violinist Aisha Orazbayeva offer a set of fragmentary improvisations in ‘Seeping Through’, a work fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the Edinburgh Fringe. We end with a time-obliterating live set from doom pioneer Stephen O’Malley, whose work within and beyond his seminal group Sunn O))) exists in a kind of transcendent stasis.

Programme:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – selected piano works
Bryn Harrison – Repetitions in Extended Time
Tim Etchells/Aisha Orazbayeva – Seeping Through
Ellen Fullman – The Watch Reprise (world premiere)
Stephen O’Malley – live set


 
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And finally…

Rocket From The Tombs, 2015

Rocket From The Tombs + Luminous Bodies (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ The Brewhouse, @ London Fields Brewery, 369-370 Helmsley Place, South Hackney, London, E8 3SB, England, Saturday 12th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £19.25 – informationtickets

Rocket From The Tombs (Brudenell Social Club, 17 Brudenell Road, Leeds, LS6 1HA, England, Sunday 13th December 2015, 8.00pm) – £17.60 – informationtickets

In their initial lifetime they never got past a series of scorching mid-‘70s gigs in their Cleveland hometown (plus a handful of demos and radio sessions). Yet Rocket From The Tombs have long been counted as proto-punk ancestors, kicking up a frumious Velvets-and-Stooges racket long before every other garage band was doing it. These days, onstage rock rage is quotidian; when Rocket From The Tombs brought it to the gig, it was a revelation. Following a headstrong and punchy split, they even spawned several other key bands. Main ranter David Thomas, doomed-and-driven guitarist Peter Laughner and soundman-turned-bass-player Tim Wright would create the first lineup of Pere Ubu. Second guitarist Cheetah Chrome and drummer Johnny Blitz hooked up with Stiv Bators and others to form hardcore punk pioneers Dead Boys. The rest was bootlegs and rumbling mythology. Rocket From The Tombs became one of the ur-bands, a surviving impression holding its ghostly mark but pushing onwards, providing inspiration above and beyond its initial ideals.

Rocket From The Tombs/Luminous Bodies @ Baba Yaga's Hut, December 2015By the ex-members’ accounts, being in the band had been a short, brutal and vivid experience; but it seems that there may also have been an unspoken, slow-burning sense of unfinished business. Twenty-eight years later, in their grizzled early fifties, and with plenty of other experience clocked up, most of the surviving band members (minus the retired Blitz and the long-dead Laughner) reunited for piss-and-vinegar-fuelled gigs, a long-delayed debut album and an actual afterlife. Although Laughner’s initial replacement (ex-Television guitar star Richard Lloyd), left in 2011 and a tour-burned Cheetah Chrome is now opting to sit out the live gigs, Rocket From The Tombs are still going – very much the garage end of Cleveland’s infamous avant-garage, making the most of this ornery self-driven second shot while bleeding in lessons learned from Pere Ubu and elsewhere.

The band have never played in Britain before, something which is being remedied with these two gigs in Leeds and London. In an interview with ‘The Guardian’ earlier this year, a currently chair-bound David Thomas growled “I’m approaching the end of my life, I’ve got my foot to the floor and I’m going to be going full speed ahead when I hit the wall.” It’s probably worth your while coming to one of these shows to check out his main accelerant.

There’ll be no support band at the Leeds gig, but in London things will be warmed up by Luminous Bodies, a “knuckle-dragging rock & roll” supergroup stealing members from Part Chimp, Terminal Cheesecake, Ikara Colt and others. See below.

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And that’s that. More coming shortly with the remaining December gigs and the seasonal parties… keep warm…

 

November 2015 – upcoming gigs – Illuminations London present Holly Herndon, Jam City and Claire Tolan in Bethnal Green and Josh T. Pearson, Richard Dawson, Briana Marela and Let’s Eat Grandma in Hackney; Laura Moody plays solo in Cardiff and Sheffield; Jenny Hval and Briana Marela tour the UK

2 Nov

Some more concert dates for the current week. If you’re thinking that these have a definite female slant to them, you’re right. I’m indulging my latent X as well as stretching my perspective.

Holly Herndon expanded A/V show (featuring Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self) + Jam City + Claire Tolan (Barbican & Rockfeedback present Illuminations  @ Oval Space, 29-32 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, UK, Wednesday 4th November 2015, 7:30pm) – £15.00

Having already made a showing at Liverpool and Bristol during October, peripatetic techno-pop/IDM composer Holly Herndon brings her expanded show to London. This is a full multi-media experience including the usual music, visuals and dance elements but with an interactive component that goes far beyond Holly’s onstage collaborations with programmer/life partner Mat Dryhurst and with interpretative dancer/additional singer Colin Self. In particular, Mat’s adaptive and conceptual SAGA software reaches out beyond the stage to work – consensually – with the audience members’ own browser histories and Facebook content; mixing it all into the visuals (and, potentially, the sounds) as a communal mashup, both representational and communicatory.

Intriguing as this factor is, it’s an adjunct to Holly’s music; which remains the core material of the show. Continually glitched, tweaked and deconstructed, her compositions are a cool, complex, thoughtful and exhilarating mixture. They’re informed by post-classical forms, dance techno, and anthemic synth pop; they utilize experimental textures and broad vocal stylings (from standard singing to semi-voluntary sounds) and they bury philosophical queries deep within their tunes. Holly’s soundwork is as immersive as her stagings, full of implied questions and reflections regarding our access to and immersion in technology and how this affects the way in which we think and express ourselves, leaving comet-trails of information, interaction and yearnings.

All of these additional subtexts and pointers are there if you want them, but Holly is first and foremost a communicating musician, and her pieces are as melodious and accessible as they are multi-layered. Drawing on her ongoing music studies (doctorate level at Stanford) , her time as a precocious and enquiring teenager steeped in the heat and fun of the Berlin club scene, and her work with everything from choirs to customised laptop software, they sometimes sound like particularly complicated pop songs, stuttering their way through myriad changes of attention and focus. Sometimes they sound like accelerated dream-state dances; sometimes like madrigals sung during earthquakes (see Unequal, below). At other times, they’re like the chatter of path-switching in a circuit; or like carefully-directed cultural channel-surfings which quick-step deftly back and forth across a breadth of urban art and experience (from grand opera house to downloads in cramped bedsits). Brain food which encourages you to wander.

Also on the bill are Jam City and Claire Tolan, both of whom share Holly’s interest in interactions and in the results of our being embedded within a dense informational culture, although each has their own way of approaching the situation.

Jam City is the alias of dance-electronica producer and deconstructionist Jack Latham. Though Jack’s background in fashion and “corporate espionage” sounds almost too good to be true, as if it’s been dream-tailored for counter-cultural media discussions and for high-end elitist posing, he doesn’t use it that way. As a musician, he’s evolved from collaging various dubstep tropes towards using his work to develop and express questioning, outright political critiques of neoliberal capitalism (such as the Unhappy single, which explores the dulled angst of online porn consumers while juxtaposing it with riot footage). In the process, Jack’s also developed as a performer – backgrounding the laptops and the passive role of the standard electronica performer in order to retake the stage as guitarist and singer, and delivering a new phase of material described as sounding like a Prince record constructed from cold, chunky industrial sounds”.

Claire Tolan is an artist, programmer, sampler, writer and soundscaper specializing in autonomous sensory meridian r – a psychological process in which carefully-arranged sound and speech – usually a blend of themed, targeted whispers and quiet diegetic noises (scratches, scuffs, intimate room sounds) – triggers euphoric physical and mental reactions in the listener. With sharp wit, Claire links all of this to new developments in programming and acoustic surveillance technologies, exploring the question of how it might be applied: from simple mood enhancements and healing systems through to neurolinguistics and perception and to the potential manipulation and control of people. Her recent Holly Herndon collaboration Lonely At The Top (see below) might give some clues as to her concert performance. A cosseting monologue, coffee-pot dribbles and the close-up noises of small rooms are interspersed with the rubs and slaps of massage, fingernails ticking on keyboards and screens, and increasingly intimate sounds of hand and mouth: the language, desires and end results of relaxation tapes, executive relief, socially-reinforced senses of entitlement and prostitution blend and overlap to sardonic, disturbing effect.

Information and tickets for the concert are here  while the Facebook event page is here. At the end of the month, Holly will also be appearing at All Tomorrow’s Parties at Prestatyn.

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There are some similarities between Holly Herndon and Laura Moody  – not least an overlap with classical music and a sense of being on the outcrops of songcraft, delving up malleable truths and questions. Yet whereas Holly’s a post-classical theoretician (reconciling her education with her human instincts, and with life outside the college bubble) and works primarily on computer, Laura comes from older and more familiar traditions, and is almost exclusively an acoustic performer. Possessing outstanding talent both as a singer and as a cellist – and able to cover both fields simultaneously, as well as beatboxing and cello-drumming – she pounces into her own music with the terrifying, exhilarating technical skills of a top-drawer classical soloist.

Laura’s songwriting instinct, meanwhile, seem to come from multiple directions at once. Tense twentieth-century string figures (from her earlier years playing avant-garde pieces with the Meredith Monk Ensemble, and her current work with the Elysian Quartet); ancient, eerie folk airs; expressionist opera; P.J. Harvey’s cleaver intensity; the clever, idiosyncratic and individual art pop of a Kate Bush, a Tom Waits or a Bjork. Everything that she delivers sounds immediate, whether it’s the savagely equivocal hormonal take-down of an older man on Creeping Alopecia, the raindrop attenuations of Call This Time Love, or the stormy dissections of love-gone-wrong and betrayal on Turn Away and We Are Waiting.

The live gigs are enthralling wonders: supple switchings between Laura’s own welcoming personality and the performance persona which handles the songs, blurring the line of physicality which separates woman and cello. She’s out on a brief tour now, playing outside London for a few events. Go see for yourselves.

Laura Moody:

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For many female pop musicians, an increasingly outright or explicit public sexuality is both a marketing point and the prime hook. To an extent, this is also true of Jenny Hval. Many people will have initially heard about her thanks to what seemed to be a head-turningly saucy lyric:“I arrived in town with an electric toothbrush pressed against my clitoris.” Curious (and possibly a little numbed by Rihanna, plus memories of lubricious Prince party-funk), many of us will have followed this expecting a licentious slow jam, only to find something very different – the opening line of a mirror-calm songscape of hovering bells, limpid murmurs and breathed-on acoustic guitars which dealt with the secret worlds of strangers within cities and, in particular, their self-reliance.

A polymath whose methods blur as artfully as her perspectives, Jenny doesn’t write songs so much as drop carefully-charged texts and pointers, and then explore and adorn these recitatives with chantlike melodies and poised minimal instrumental textures, pulling them apart and working in and out of the word-rhythms. Her guitars, keyboards and samplers (as well as her heavy-lashed, light-tongued vocals) work like soft-edged sculpting tools. Her lyrics are the lines of resistance.

For both new listeners and previous converts, sexuality remains a prime Hval hook. It’s what we expect to hear from her, although we’ve quickly learnt to appreciate that she turns the expected approaches on their heads and back-to-front. She revels in the unfixed: in the course of a single song, lovers will pass fluidly from mysterious passion to friendship to absence, and between gender, ages, species or state. Even when singing of cupping her own cunt (while cupping the blunt, unadorned and troublesome word itself, delivered throughout her songbook without a hint of shame, taboo or aggression and with a succinct matter-of-fact poise) she’ll let the action lead her somewhere that doesn’t fit the usual expectations and commodities – appreciating its centrality at her body’s core; being inspired to cup in turn a lover’s “soft dick… accepting restlessness, accepting no direction, accepting this fearful wanting that isn’t desire… can we just lie here being?”; or imagining a world of peaceful masturbators (“a million bedrooms with hands softly lulling… without telling anyone, a million ships come alone out on the calmest seas”) while asking, with a sense of disquiet “are we loving ourselves now? Are we mothering ourselves?”

Also running through Jenny’s work (whether entwined with or separate from the sexual themes), are ambiguous accounts of bodily disintegration. Opening her second album ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ with an account of watching online porn, she moves from commodified enervation into an eerie and exultant dream of escape, relinquishing her own body and its passive needs, and finally symbolically destroying the eyes with which she consumes the images. Yet this song and its sisters aren’t quite nightmares. Sometimes they’re triumphs – disassociative fantasies of freedom in which the wrack and ruin seem to be the natural rites of passage of a cool mind walking free, unconcerned, its passions become processes.

Jenny’s writing casts a wide net – violent upsets echoing classic French surrealism; deep-running strands of myth both classical and original (from the “Oslo Oedipus” of Innocence Is Kinky to the dark, quasi-pagan tree-figure in Amphibious, Androgynous that stands as lover, doppelganger and the next phase of self); and musings on the ambiguous trap of language (“the tongue is upon for the restless /An indecipherable alphabet / Each word an island less… And we speak in tongues from part to parts, broke all to parts / From invisible state, to invisible state…”). Most recently, on her latest album ‘Apocalypse, Girl’ the political subtexts have broken cover to become direct challenges (“You say I’m free now, that battle is over, / and feminism is over and socialism’s over. / Yeah, I say, I can consume what I want now..”). So too have preoccupations with ageing and survival (in the breathless narrative of Heaven, surrounded by loops and fractures of cemeteries and childhood choirs, Jenny wrestles with the pull of memory and the drag of mortality) and a increasingly solid approach to identity. “What is it to take care of yourself? Getting paid? Getting laid? Getting married? Getting pregnant? Fighting for visibility in your market? Realizing your potential? Being healthy, being clean, not making a fool of yourself, not hurting yourself? Shaving in all the right places?”

All of the above – the obliqueness and the rapier hits – makes listening to Jenny’s records akin to haunting her apartment at 2am (or some similar time  when manners and manneredness come unstuck and the shapes of other truths come walking). I’ve not been fortunate enough to see what her music is like live – though I know that past concert showings have seen her play bolstered with  guests or simply alone, surrounded by laptops, devices and ideas. On the five quick dates of her current UK tour, you’ll be able to see for yourselves.

Jenny Hval:

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On the Glasgow, Manchester and Bristol dates, Jenny will be joined by her on-off tourmate Briana Marela, a singer-songwriter from the Pacific North-West who’s currently working a string of European tour dates in support of her second album ‘All Around Us’. As you might expect from something recorded in Iceland and co-produced with Sigur Rós associate Alex Somers, ‘All Around Us’ is ghosted and garnished with touches of Hopelandic enchantment (with beautiful smeared, paper-thin sounds intruding on the edge of the mix, like lost amnesiac ghosts or distant pipes), but it’s very much Briana’s inspiration – a luminous, thoughtful work blending layered melodic sample-patches and banking her petal-delicate vocals into choirs and a capella counterpoint.

Though Briana cites Björk, Laura Veirs, Vashti Bunyan and Meredith Monk as influences (she has something in common with Laura Moody, then), I can also hear the same kind of all-round sound-mastery that’s on display and working away in the songs of Imogen Heap; deep-level sonic exploration and sound curation tied to the urge to tell you a story and sing you a straight earworm. In the album’s lead single Surrender I can even hear something of the pure pop of ABBA, while the midnight lushness of the follow-up, Dani, recalls a Julee Cruise ‘Twin Peaks’ ballad.

Though Briana’s voice is soft, it’s never wispy – never insubstantial. If there’s a hint of girl-next-door to what she does, she’s the quiet, observant girl full of thoughts, going her own way but ready to let you walk alongside.  Like Jenny, though less explicitly, she explores possibilities of intimacy. Her songs hover carefully on the borderline between selfhood and loneliness, a delicate staking out of possible togetherness, subtly resisting the pressures to put out or submit, to be deformed by needs and expectations (“What does love mean in this day and age? /  To me it’s a moment where we resonate at two frequencies close in phase… /  It’s not a competition /  Everyone has music within them.” ). Meanwhile, the perfectly-pitched American-visionary tone of the album (its hallucinatory fairy-tale sonics, leaflike piano falls and misty country swells) suggests that there’s common ground between Briana’s dream pop and the ostensibly cleaner work of breakthrough CCM-pop singers like Lexi Elisha, which in turn suggests that there’ll be a lot of people who’ll end up liking this.

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In between dates with Jenny Hval, Briana Marela will also be joining the bill at another Illuminations concert in London, this one a stew of assorted flavours which also includes the battered Americana of Lift To Experience frontman Josh T. Pearson  and the skewed Tyneside noise-troubadour work of Richard Dawson.

Probably because of the female orientation of this particular post, I’ve got to admit that I’m more intrigued by the youngest act on the bill, and the only other female one. It’s difficult to work out just how tongue-in-cheek the psychedelic rag-doll sludge-pop” duo Let’s Eat Grandma are, assuming that they’re joking at all. Eyes down, singing from beneath and behind tumbling pre-Raphaelite locks, and tucked into stolen Stevie Nicks dresses, Rosa and Jenny rummage with various instruments like toybox-divers and play songs as if it’s only occurred to them to do so. Two Norwich teenagers who’ve known each other since childhood, they’ve sustained, into near adulthood, that mysterious blankness of two little girls who are ignoring your interruptions to their game. The songs themselves are tangled musical fairy stories, or (as with ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms Into Chocolate Sludge Cake’) extended wooden-legged instrumental mantras owing more to Faust or Beefheart: spontaneous-seeming, utterly absorbed in themselves. The band feels like a musical chrysalis twitching what might become an astounding breadth of wing. It’s all to discover.

Josh T. Pearson/Richard Dawson/Briana Marela/Let’s Eat Grandma (Rockfeedback present Illuminations @ St. John Church at Hackney, Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0PD, UK, Saturday 7th November 2015, 6.00pm) – £20.00 –  informationtickets

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More concert previews coming shortly for November…

October 2015 – upcoming London gigs – electro-industrial (Necro Deathmort, DeadFader and Cementimental), intercontinental at Café Oto (Maurice Louca, John Bence and Sam Shalabi), fringe jazz (The Geordie Approach and A Sweet Niche), noise-rock (Hey Colossus, Lower Slaughter and Kogumaza), acoustic/alt.country at Daylight Music (Applewood Road, Holly Macve, Arborist) and the Fidelio Trio with Beethoven, Ravel and a Benjamin Dwyer premiere

4 Oct

More gigs for the coming week…

Firstly, Baba Yaga’s Hut are running an evening at Corsica Studios, which takes in the London date of an electro-industrial tour.

Necro Deathmort/DeadFader/Cementimental @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 5th October 2015Necro Deathmort + Deadfader + Cementimental (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Corsica Studios, 4-5 Elephant Road, London, SE17 1LB, UK, Monday 5th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £6.00

As if Necro Deathmort‘s name didn’t tell you enough about them, over an eight year career they’ve released albums called ‘This Beat Is Necrotronic’ and ‘Music Of Bleak Origin’ (although more recent albums have seen a shift towards a less morbid and more science-fictional outlook. Dark electronica festival veterans with a drone, doom and noise approach, the project entangles electronic instrumentalist AJ Cookson (The Montauk Project, Medes, Sol Invicto) with Matthew Rozeik (guitarist from post-metal/post-prog band Astrohenge). Their music rises from gurgling boneyard beats, medical-equipment breakdowns, squishy miasmas and faux-sax drones towards something ruined and regal – a grand deathbed vision.

Sharing Necro Deathmort’s current tour is Berlin-based dubstep/noise/electro fusilladeer DeadFader – memorably described as “chainsaw-step” by Baked Goods Distribution (who went on to rave about how the project coughs up “the most seismic grooves imaginable” and that the music “sinks its teeth into your arm and refuses to let go”). I can’t top that as a description right now – have a listen below and see if you agree with it.

Joining Necro Deathmort and DeadFader for the London date are CementimentalEverything I can dig up about these guys is a barking blur of ludicrous disinformation: almost the only lucid facts coughed up from their promotional flotsam is that they’re led by a “noisician” called Dr. Age (or Tim Drage, who may or may not have a daytime/surface job in cute Lego animations) and have been doing “harsh noise, circuit-bending, rough music since 2000AD”. The Dr. is supported by a cast of obscure and possibly imaginary characters – a guitarist called Toru, a part-time turntablist, a man called Mrs Columbo (who handles the incoherent screaming), and “additionalists” called Murray the Eel and Sir Concord Discount (the latter’s a “rock goblin”). Maybe this makes Centimental sound like the joke band on the bill, and there’s plenty of humour in what they do (a couple of early tracks were called Too Long and Merzbow It Ain’t, while a more recent one’s called Commendable Amputation Of An Excessive Gargoyle), but the fact remains that they’ve been going for nearly half again as long as their gigmates. Draw your own conclusions.


 

Up-to-date info here, tickets here.

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On the Thursday, there’s a Cafe Oto convening of music from Cairo, Bristol and Montreal, running in parallel to events in Egypt and Lebanon and covering a broad variety of influences and outcomes.

Maurice Louca + John Bence + Sam Shalabi, October 8th 2015

Maurice Louca + John Bence + Sam Shalabi (Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, UK, October 8th 2015, 8.00pm) – £12.00/£14.00

Cafe Oto, in collaboration with Thirtythree Thirtythree   and Nawa Recordings, bring you the second edition of the five-part event series entitled ‘Labyrinths’ (or ‘Mātāhāt’ in Arabic) and based in London, Cairo and Beirut over October and November.

Maurice Louca is an Egyptian musician and composer born in Cairo where he lives and works. As well as being the co-founder of the bands Bikya, Alif and Dwarves Of East Agouza, he lends his sound to numerous projects, composing for theatre, film and contemporary art. Inspired by many influences, from psychedelic to Egyptian shaabi, his second album ‘Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan (Salute the Parrot)’, released on Nawa Recordings in November 2014, shattered the confines of musical and cultural labelling and was dubbed by many as a game-changer for the region’s bustling independent music scene. Amidst his collaborations and inconspicuous touring across Europe and the Arab world in the last few years, Louca has sought a richer and much more complex sound. ‘Benhayyi Al-Baghbaghan’, the fruit of such intense reinvention and a departure from his first solo album ‘Garraya’, is a work that leaves ample space for fluidity and improvisation, paving the way for unique live renderings.

From a family background rich in classical pedigree and firmly embedded in Bristol’s forward-facing electronic music culture, John Bence has pooled a breadth of influence scarcely credible for a composer only entering his second decade, and now he is starting to put his inspiration into live and recorded motion. As a producer he is already thinking ten steps ahead, often incorporating voice or home recorded percussion into his cyclical technique of scoring, recording, manipulating, re-scoring and re-recording in waves, creating heady, intoxicating ripples of harmony and noise. An obscure snippet of dub-plate drone under a previous moniker was enough for Nicolas Jaar, who instantly approached him about a release on his Other People label. Six months on, ‘Disquiet’ was released – a masterful hybrid of classical and electronic clocking in at a tantalising ten minutes. More, much more, is coming. Mercurial, elusive and of seemingly limitless imagination, John Bence is rising to the surface.

Sam Shalabi is an Egyptian-Canadian composer and improviser living between Montreal, Quebec and Cairo, Egypt. Beginning in punk rock in the late 70s, his work has evolved into a fusion of experimental, modern Arabic music that incorporates traditional Arabic, shaabi, noise, classical, text, free improvisation and jazz. He has released five solo albums (including ‘On Hashish’- a musical mediation on German writer Walter Benjamin; ‘Osama’, an audio collage on Arabophobia in the wake of 9/11; and his most recent ‘Music for Arabs’), five albums with Shalabi Effect (a free improvisation quartet that bridges western psychedelic music and Arabic Maqam scales) and three albums with Land Of Kush (an experimental 30-member orchestra for which he composes). He has appeared on over sixty albums and toured Europe, North America and North Africa. Recent projects include the release of the sixth Shalabi Effect album, a duo album with Stefan Christoff, two albums on the Italian label Sagittarius with Beirut, Turkish and Egyptian musicians and a tour in the eastern U.S with Alvarius B (playing solo oud). He is also releasing ‘Isis and Osiris’ (a new composition for oud and electronics) on Nashazphone as well as releasing an album with The Dwarves Of East Agouza (a Cairo based trio with Maurice Louca and Alan Bishop) while currently working on his sixth solo album.

Tickets and up-to-date information are here and here.

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“More accomplished musicians have a loud argument about what ‘jazz’ even is these days,” say Chaos Theory Promotions. Their Jazz Market evenings continue to provide space for such arguments, and here’s another one…

Jazz Market - The Geordie Approach + A Sweet Niche, 9th October 2015

The Geordie Approach + A Sweet Niche (Chaos Theory Promotions present The Jazz Market @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday 9th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £5.00/£7.00

The Geordie Approach is possibly the oldest secret from three internationally renowned musicians who’ve been working together for over ten years. It features acclaimed Leeds guitarist and producer Chris Sharkey (Acoustic Ladyland/Shiver/TrioVD), and Norwegian musicians Petter Frost Fadnes and Ståle Birkeland, best known for playing sax and bass respectively in Stavanger Kitchen Orchestra. This uncompromising and experimental trio pursues music within loose improvisational structures, adding a surprisingly broad range of flavours to their overall sound world. The trio has a reputation for adapting and utilizing their performance space in an extremely effective and engaging manner. Birkeland, Frost Fadnes and Sharkey produce musical elements that often are contradictory in shape, moving between melody and noise, ambient grooves and abstract textures. They have performed across Europe, Japan and the UK in churches, art galleries, improvisation clubs, squats, abandoned tobacco houses, jazz festivals, concert halls and flamenco clubs. Each performance is a unique experience.

We hail the return of jazz punk trio A Sweet Niche to The Jazz Market after a seriously impressive performance in 2013. Band composers Keir Cooper and Oliver Sellwood (on guitar and saxophone respectively) explore an aesthetic of intricate rhythms & song-structures within a punchy energetic rock band format. The nature of their collaboration is unique; Keir is an award-winning non-academy artist and Oliver is an award-winning PhD composer and academic. Despite their two tangential angles of experience, they have a shared musical vocabulary honed over nearly two decades. With new album ‘EJECT’ on the way in 2016 (and the recent addition of Big Beat Manifesto drummer Tim Doyle to the band), it’s high time we pulled these performers out of the murky underworld they reside in.

Tickets are available from here, and up-to-date information is here.

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There’s another Baba Yaga’s Hut evening on the same night as the Oto gig, this time concentrating on various noise-rock angles (from the reformatting of classic rock to the restructuring of sound to the straightforward joy of a gibbering hardcore racket.) See below.

Hey Colossus/Lower Slaughter/Kogumaza @ Baba Yaga's Hut, 9th October 2015Hey Colossus + Lower Slaughter + Kogumaza (Baba Yaga’s Hut @ Electrowerkz, The Islington Metal Works, 7 Torrens Street, Angel, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, UK, 9th October 2015, 8.00pm) – £9.00

Variously from Somerset, Watford and London, six-piece Hey Colossus https://www.facebook.com/heycolossus have spent a decade gradually becoming alt.rock darlings thanks to their   journey through assorted doomy noise rock avenues. Their current recipe involves slowing down and narcotising their alleged classic rock influences (Fleetwood Mac is one of those cited) via psychedelic echo and a certain post-rock dourness. It works well too – much of the time they sound like a guttering Led Zeppelin on strong cough mixture, or feed crunching brass-riff processionals and Stoogesque whomps through an amber-toned ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ filter.

I suspect that the concept of supergroups doesn’t fit into noiserock and post-hardcore. Nonetheless, Brighton’s Lower Slaughter  does sort of fit into that category, uniting people better known for other bands (bass player Barney Wakefield for Shudder Pulps, guitarist Jon Wood for “harsh party music” outfit Fat Bicth, Max Levy for vertiginously nervy singing in King Of Cats) and welding them together into a noisy, queasy-confident, raw-scream whole.

Creating hypnotic drones and grooves via two guitars and tom-centric drumming, Nottingham quartet Kogumaza have their feet in sludge metal and in post-rock; but while the latter’s become an increasing predictable and conservative genre Kogumaza have set out to reclaim some of its earlier, more inventive ideas (such as the lapping sonics of Seefeel) via their fourth member, live sound mixer Mark Spivey, who brings in dub-inspired approaches and old tape-looping techology to further manipulate and displace the band’s sound both live and on record. Fond of collaborations and split releases, they’ve also been known to bring in an unexpected banjo (although they probably won’t tonight).


 
Up-to-date info here, tickets here.

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And finally, from all of this noise to something acoustic for a Saturday noontime…

Daylight Music 202

Daylight Music 202: Applewood Road, Holly Macve + Arborist (Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, UK – Saturday 10th October 2015, 12.00pm-2.00pm) – free entry, suggested donation £5.00

An early afternoon of songwriter-folk, America and alternative country from one of ‘Misfit City’s favourite free/pay-what-you-like events:

Applewood Road is an Australian/American alliance of three solo songwriters – Amy Speace, Amber Rubarth  (also known as one half of The Paper Raincoat) and Emily Barker (also known for her work with the-low-country and The Red Clay Halo). In September 2014, they all met for the first time in a cafe in East Nashville. Two hours later they had written the song they called Applewood Road. They booked studio time at Nashville’s super-cool analogue studio Welcome To 1979, and the following week recorded the song live to tape, with just double bass as accompaniment. So excited were they by the song, they decided to expand the idea in to a whole album. Six months later they reconvened in Nashville to write, rehearse and record songs to make up a full album, with the project and album all called ‘Applewood Road’. This is their first show in the UK, with the debut Applewood Road album due for an early 2016 release on Gearbox Records.

Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde says, of Holly Macve“little is known of Holly other than she is a 20 year old from Yorkshire who appeared out of nowhere in Brighton late last year. I had a tip-off to go to a basement bar where she was playing. In a room full of beery boys chatting across all the music beforehand, the minute Holly opened her mouth the room fell silent. Hers is a rare gift.” Simon signed her shortly afterwards. The label has yet to release anything formally, but Holly herself has posted a demo track onto Soundcloud (see below), and she’s already won support slots with Ben Howard and Mercury Rev on the strength of what she’s offering.

Having previously worked as a songwriter around France, London and Dublin, Mark McCambridge played his first show as Arborist in February 2013, opening for James Yorkston in Belfast. A solo tour of Ireland followed before impressive performances led to notable support slots alongside Low, Cat Power, Echo & The Bunnymen and Alasdair Roberts. In May 2015 Arborist released the country-tinged ‘Twisted Arrow’. Recorded during dark winter nights in Belfast and in Dayton, Ohio (and featuring vocal harmonies by Kim Deal). A debut album is due this coming winter.

 

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Not finally, in fact – there’s a chance to squeeze in a last-minute classical addition, since it’s always a shame to miss a premiere.

The Fidelio Trio, 2015

The Fidelio Trio @ The London Chamber Music Series (Hall One, Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, UK, Sunday 11th October 2015, 6.30pm) – £9.50 to £29.50

The celebrated Fidelio Trio – Mary Dullea (piano), Adi Tal (cello), Darragh Morgan (violin) – perform Beethoven’s hugely popular ‘Ghost Trio’, with its iconic eerie slow movement, and also Ravel’s remarkably imaginative and colourful ‘Piano Trio’, premiered 100 years ago this year in Paris in 1915.

In between comes the premiere of Irish composer Benjamin Dwyer‘s ‘Nocturnal’, inspired by Benjamin Britten’s famous own ‘Nocturnal after John Dowland (for solo guitar)’, and drawing upon a theme from Britten’s opera ‘Gloriana’, as well as a madrigal by English early seventeenth-century composer Thomas Wilbye. There will be a free pre-concert talk at 5.15pm in the St Pancras Room at Kings Place, in which composer and LCM Series director Peter Fribbins interviews Benjamin Dwyer about his new work and his interest in the music of Benjamin Britten.

More information here and tickets here.

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More October gig previews coming up shortly…

August 2015 – upcoming gigs – the Manchester Jazz Festival (31st July to 9th August)

31 Jul

One of the reasons that I’ve been posting so many concert previews recently is simply that (being mostly homebound at the moment) I miss going to gigs. Looking at the lineup and scope of the 2015 Manchester Jazz Festival (which starts today and runs rampant for ten days through until 9th August) reminds me that not only do I regret not attending the wealth of music that takes place here in London, but that I miss more freewheeling days of music elsewhere. Discovering unexpected, treasurable bands at random while on holiday in Brugge, for instance; or immersing myself in a week of concerts and more in Edinburgh or Leeds (such as the one I reviewed here, over a decade ago.)

We know that, as a British pop and dance city, Manchester punches well above its weight. Despite a bubbling undercurrent of improvised music, its reputation as a jazz town is hazier…. or, more probably, I’m just ignorant. The Festival’s been going for twenty years, long enough to gain enough gravity to generate its own traditions. (One such is ‘Surroundings’,  a longer-form ensemble piece by Salford composer Neil Yates. Commissioned for the festival in 2010, it seems to have become the event’s unofficial signature – this year, it’s being revisited as a quartet performance in the Central Library Reading Room.)

Even a quick sift through this year’s programme reveals a jazz party that any city would be proud of – diverse, inclusive, inviting and multi-levelled, an exciting noise ranging from the stately to the vividly scraggled and all the better for it.  With many tickets going at only four pounds, (with a ten-pound all-events daily ticket and free-entry deals if you stump up as a low-level event sponsor), they could hardly have made it any more inviting to the casual walker-upper. Excuse me for a moment while I strip-mine press releases and YouTube, and check Soundcloud pages and Bandcamp links.

Starting with the higher-end, bigger name events…  Acclaimed Blue Note pianist Robert Glasper slips away from his experimentations with latterday R’n’B to get back to basics with an acoustic trio;  John Surman re-teams with the Trans4mation String Quartet to revive the thoughtful, tidally-deep music from his ‘Coruscating’ and ‘The Spaces in Between’ albums. Norma Winstone, Klaus Gesing and Glauco Venier bring along their trans-European project DistancesPartisans bring their transatlantic swing storm; Christine Tobin  her ‘Thousand Kisses Deep’ jazzification of Leonard Cohen songs. French Jazz Musician of the Year Airelle Besson makes an appearance with her Quartet for a set of “gently experimental songs animated by heartfelt lyrics, plaintive melodies and rolling harmonies.” backed with pinballing rhythms and punchy countersyncopations.

There are heavyweight two-headed summit performances by acclaimed British jazz talents – one by frequent quartet buddies Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock, another by the more recent pairing of Tori Freestone and Alcyona Mick.  Two further British scene fast risers – Stuart McCallum and Alice Zawadzki – bring string-enhanced performances of ongoing projects (the former offering contemporary soul jazz and bass-heavy electronica with surprise guest singers, the latter a fantastical Mancunian song cycle influenced by various shades of love and fairytale).

There are also several of those gentler, more literate projects which seem to blossom best in a festival atmosphere away from a hot core of gutsy brass.  Andrew Woodhead and Holly Thomas’ Snapdragon trio specialize in chilled, ethereal song-settings of literature and poetry (Larkin and Bukowski-inspired) and bursts of vocalese. Mark Pringle‘s A Moveable Feast mates orchestral strings with a bold horn and rhythm section to explore “themes of wildlife, literature and city chaos.”  The “fractured Anglicana” of Hugh Nankivell’s multi-instrumental/four-part vocal quartet Natural Causes means that they perform “curious compositions with  improbable but poignant texts” including “psychedelic lullabies, pinprick-precise ballads, unpredictable group improvisation and brotherly harmony across the board”, and music which draws on classic and contemporary art pop (Robert Wyatt, XTC and Björk) as much as it does on jazz sources.

Elsewhere, much of the polyglot diversity of jazz today is celebrated. The Cuban tradition is represented by the Pepe Rivero Trio and Orquesta Timbala; the Congolese by Eddy Tshepe Tshepela‘s Afrika Jazz. Central and South American ideas are brought along by Agua Pasa (who, with  Dudley Nesbit’s steel pan project Pan Jumby,  also touch on the Caribbean).  The Quarry Hillbillies (a teaming of Ulrich Elbracht, Ed Jones, Jamil Sheriff) from European contemporary jazz, while the frenetic whirl of Eastern European folk elements are covered by Makanitza.  The Gorka Benítez Trio move between Basque-flavoured small group jazz and compelling free-form impressionism. David Austin Grey’s Hansu-Tori ensemble is inspired by natural, elemental and cinematic” ideas, as well as a fascination with Eastern world culture.  Percussionist Felix Higginbottom’s Hans Prya  provides genre-hopping jazz-dance and Jim Molyneux’s Glowrogues favour funk and hip-hop flavoured pieces. Trumpeter Lily Carassik‘s fusion group Yesa Sikyi take ideas from the ’50s and blend them with popular standards and soul arrangements; while The Stretch Trio include glossier elements from ’70s jazz rock, progressive rock and ’80s pop along with sinuous gusts of wind synth.

Those who prefer classic jazz – more traditional by-the-book American styles – might prefer Russell Henderson and Jamie Taylor’s Ellington-and-Strayhorn tribute ‘The Intimacy Of The Blues’, or the Dan Whieldon Trio‘s salute to Gershwin. The Dave Kane Quartet take inspiration from the knottier ambitions of Charles Mingus, John Zorn and Eric Dolphy. Two groups of students from the Royal Northern College of Music provide live celebrations of the history which they’ve been learning – the James Girling Quintet  spans jazz, blues and funk from New Orleans roots through to the 1960s, while the Nick Conn Octet (a self-described “trombone choir”) interweaves re-arranged jazz classics with original material.

Fans of New Orleans jazz can check out genuine New Orleaners The Session (who offer a past-present take on their hometown’s music), or look out for the street sounds of the New York Brass Band (actually from old York, the cheeky buggers) or see how the Riot Jazz Brass Band dust up old New Orleans sounds with dancefloor, dubstep and drum-and-bass incursions. Hot jazz/Gypsy/jazz manouche aficionados can go for the loving recreations of 52 Skidoo (who promise you prohibition speakeasies, rent parties and Tin Pan Alley) or for Gypsies Of Bohemia, who manouche-ify latterday pop songs such as Heart Of Glass, Toxic and Hot In Herre. (Being Mancunian, they also do This Charming Man – I’ll bet that that high-life opening riff translates pretty well).

Of course, much of the fun of a jazz festival involves catching a lesser-known, or even unknown, band carving away at the edge, furiously discovering – and there are plenty of those here. Since they drew me into covering the festival in the first place, I’m going to put a particular word in for Jon Thorne’s Sunshine Brothers (playing at Matt & Phreds on 4th August) in which the double bass/laptop-wielding Jon teams up with drummer Rob Turner (of Blue Note-signed breakbeat jazz electronicists GoGo Penguin) and looping poly-genre bass guitarist Steve Lawson (a ‘Misfit City’ regular) for “a cutting-edge trio of genre-defying musicians mixing jazz, improvisation, electronic and filmic soundscapes to euphoric effect, evoking sounds far removed from their bass origins.”

However, you could just as easily catch a full performance by GoGo Penguin themselves; or by Lauren Kinsella’s Blue-Eyed Hawk, who offer “art-rock, jazz and electronic soundworlds: imaginative and emotive, from pindrop to powerhouse.” The Madwort Saxophone Quartet play intricate four-part math-jazz. “Power-jazz commando team” Taupe (a triple-city trio from Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh) punch around themes from jazz, hip hop and heavy metal. Craig Scott’s Lobotomy seem determined to take the cake for upfront experimental exhilaration this time around, delivering shout-outs to John Cage, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, proclaiming a performance in which “experimental jazz rubs shoulders with electronica and DIY alternative rock in a bubbling cauldron of live and recorded sounds” and promising to sample and reconstruction their own improvisations live on stage.  There’ll also be a improvised summit involving bands associated with Manchester’s Efpi Records and Paris’ Onze Heures Onze collective.

One way into discovery is to take advantage of the free showcases for emerging bands. Care of the BBC’s ‘Jazz On 3’, London offers three bands – Nérija ( the all-female creative septet from the Tomorrow’s Warriors jazz school), the award-winning piano jazz of the Ashley Henry Trio and the decidedly psychedelic Phaze Theory (a quartet of drums, tuba, voice and guitar dedicated to “exploring the vastness of the musical cosmos”).

But perhaps it’s Jazz North’s Northern Line series that you should be checking out, showcasing bands from the north and the Midlands. Manchester offers the Iain Dixon/Les Chisnall Duo (whose repertoire of self-defined standards stretches from Messaien to Gracie Fields) and the John Bailey Quintet  (guitar-led, and similarly inspired by twentieth century classical music). Newcastle provides barrel-house blues and ballads from The Lindsay Hannon Plus and the tricky free jazz/folk/rock/dancefloor entwinings of the Graeme Wilson Quartet. Lancaster and Liverpool provide one act apiece – Andrew Grew’s “total improvisers” The Grew Quartet and the “gothic bebop” of Blind Monk Trio, who claim to fuse the spirit of Thelonius Monk with Persian traditional music and the heavy-rock attitude of Led Zeppelin and Nirvana’s heavy-rock attitude.

However, it’s Leeds (still underrated as a musical powerhouse despite the world-class output of its music college and the vigorous inventiveness of its bands) which dominates the Northern Line. As well as providing the previously-mentioned Pan Jumby, Leeds brings the Portuguese/African/Latin  and Indian song-fusions of Manjula, the Django Reinhardt swing of the Matt Holborn Quartet, Cameron Vale‘s ferociously energetic melange of jazz, metal, electronica, Afrobeat and Klezmer and the semi-electric “extreme, eerie to comic” improvisations of Tipping Point (featuring perpetual bad-boy pianist Matthew Bourne).  Friendly rivalry aside, there’s also co-operation: Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool all join forces in The Bugalu Foundation for a Latin barrio take on northern soul.

Around all of this jazz there’s the usual happy agglomeration of related music – not quite jazz in itself, but possibly sharing a drink or a roll-up somewhere along the way. The festival covers various popular outcropping such as soul (in assorted Northern, jazz and diva forms courtesy of The Juggernaut Love Band, Terry Shaltiel & The Soultroopers, Charlie Cooper & The CCs) but also ’60s/‘70s funk (Buffalo Brothers), ’70s Afrobeat and Ethiopian pop (Kalakuta), ska (Baked à la Ska) and mbalax (Mamadou & The Super Libidor Band). There’s even an alt-country act (Stevie Williams & The Most Wanted Band) sneaking in at the back door. As for rock’n’roll/folk/reggae/swing scavengers The Flat Cap 3… well, for starters, there’s only two of them, so you can be dubious about anything else you might read, but don’t let that put you off.

Three female songwriters are also bringing their bands, coming from a folk or world music zone and overlapping into jazz. Kirsty McGee leads her Hobopop Collective through a “joyful, dirty” sound drawing from gospel, blues and a collection of found instruments (including musical saw, waterphone, Humber hubcaps and metal buckets). The constantly shifting song landscapes of the Zoe Kyoti Trio draw from their leader’s Armenian and Greek heritage (as well as Cajun, European and Indian ideas). Saluting home-brewed British polyculture, Shama Rahman‘s ensemble explore her London home, her Bangladeshi roots, and her childhood memories of Middle Eastern desert landscapes in a “sitar,stories and song” melange of  jazz-inspired improvisation, classically-inspired melodies and folk-inspired storytelling accompanied by energetic rhythms of swing, funk, hip hop, bossa nova and drum’n’bass.

For parents of very young children, needing to balance a jazz fix with family responsibilities, there are a couple of fully interactive kids’ events with activities, storytelling and improvisations.  The Living Story Music Ensemble and illustrator Ann Gilligan collaborate on ‘I Have A Duck Who Can Roar’; the blues-and-roots-tinged Hillary Step Quartet work with storyteller Ursula Holden Gill and dancers from The Dalcroze Society for ‘How Monkey Found His Swing’. Once the kids are attended to, there are still interactive events for the grown-ups, whether you’re talking about the all-in jazz vinyl night, the mixed-genre dj sets by Mr Scruff, Franny Eubanks‘ open-door blues jam or (for the more technologically inquisitive)  Rodrigo Constanzo‘s showcasing of his dfscore software. The latter’s a creative music tool, cueing improvisers via graphical, visual and written clues: on this occasion, anyone with an instrument and a connectible smartphone/tablet/pad should be able to roll up and join in with the roar, joining some leading improvisers in performing music in tandem with the system.

For those remaining soundclips which I’ve not already snatched and pasted, visit the MJF Soundcloud page here … but better yet, if you’re anywhere near Manchester over the next few weeks, drop in at the festival (it’s hard to miss, considering that it’s not just hiding behind club doors but has effectively taken over the town’s main square for a fortnight). Seeing something this impressive light up and roll on fills me with delight – even if on this occasion I’m also filled with rue at not being able to go myself.  But never mind me…

July 2013 – EP reviews – Jimmy The Hideous Penguin: ‘Colours’ (“a harbourful of soused and bobbing vinyl”)

7 Jul
Jimmy The Hideous Penguin: 'Colours'

Jimmy The Hideous Penguin: ‘Colours’

With a name like that, you expect an MC with a slew of stories. A brilliant, squat little microphone hassler compensating for his own lack of sleek, straightforward charm with a quacking, manic inventiveness and left-field imagination. You expect one story, at least.

Instead, Jimmy The Hideous Penguin is a turntablist; using that ludicrous name as a billboard to cover the heads-down, ’phones-on business of scratching, filtering and triggering. A member of DJ quartet Vince Mack Mahon (and one of the masterminds behind the Community Skratch turntable initiative) he’s from Galway. Appropriately, ‘Colours’ sounds like a sketch of Galway on a moderately bad day – soggy and drizzled-misted, but still bright and creative – but you can only stretch his hometown associations so far.

Ducking any of Galway’s high-culture Eire-isms (and, to be fair, many of Vince Mack Mahon’s hip-hop inspirations) Jimmy’s music instead listens eastwards towards Rhine-Ruhr electronica, while picking up occasional bits of English scruff on the needle. It also listens downwards (into well-travelled vinyl grooves) and inwards (through a radio dial set to a perpetually-displaced rural 1970s). Its electrophonic wanderings owe a fair bit to Kraftwerk, a little bit to BBC Radiophonics and quite a large bit to those early Jimmy Cauty-era Orb recordings. Adding a raw backbone of analogue synth-steps and thick, flittering drones to his eddies of turntable work, beat loops and found noises, Jimmy works up some interesting slop behind that cartoon billboard. Instead of those MC stories, you get scenery to make stories – an occasionally playful plunderphonic montage; a harbourful of soused and bobbing vinyl; a frown of uneasy concentration.

While there are some visitations from the drum-burrs and rhythmic grapples of drum and bass, dubstep and techno, Jimmy’s music prefers to wander off on its own. Moving along messier roads, it kicks up a little historic debris as it goes. Red, in particular, sounds like flotsam; washing up out of swells and reversals of wadded-up torch songs, old shellac albums part-drowned in the tide. Jimmy moves the music drunkenly around a European receiver, shuffling aural zones. First he’s playing frail electronic trumpets against twanging, nasal staccatos; then he’s manhandling a sneaking strand of funk drum, a hungry worm of double-time rattle accelerating it from within. Then he’s meandering through abandoned dockscapes at the back of a dark wind, and finally ends in a bend of misdirected psychedelic organ.

On much of the EP (in which one piece strays into another in jostling transitions), ’70s fantasy seems to be rubbing up against ’70s slump. When a stray Dalek shows up at the end of Green – grating out “they are approaching” – it sounds both menacing and surly. It even sounds impotent; like a grumpy gate-guard on the inside of a power-station picket line, slouched in its own little pocket of hate and with a tepid thermos of well-stewed tea clamped onto its sucker, watching strikers slouch into position for the start of a day of mutual glaring. The rest of the piece feels similarly boxed-in – a pained, brontosaurine lumber of panel-beating snare drum and warping sub-bass, weighed down by an oppressive dark-ambient echo and drifting off into a carbon-monoxide grind.

On the subject of ‘Doctor Who’, I could have sworn that I heard a far more obscure ’60s Whovian critter show up, too – ECCO, the incomprehensible computer from ‘The Ice Warriors‘ with the infuriating papery stutter which (even in 1967) made it sound like a remix victim. Presumably, Jimmy’s too young to remember this first-hand: if he’s not been crate-digging deeper into the Beeb’s sound library, maybe he’s been digging up and scratching someone else’s memories.

It’s equally likely that Jimmy’s stumbled across a bit of the Galway countryside that is forever 1978, or at least has a damp box of that year’s proggier vinyl dumped there. Quite early on during Blue’s multi-part sprawl, some of the more oceanic swirls from Jean Michel Jarre’s ‘Equinoxe’ waft through the mix. Later on, Jimmy will varispeed a eerie floating snatch of psychedelic folk (reed-boned flutes and acoustic guitar, like a conjunction of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Ommadawn’, Popol Vuh and ‘The Wicker Man’) before trickling a clip of muffled Rakim-esque rap-and-chatter over twinkles of fairytale guitar lifted straight from Yes’ ‘Circus Of Heaven’.

At the start, however, Blue is lo-fi, dodgem-car techno with a bassline like someone clubbing moles with a car door It’ll make a shift into chugging steamtrain funk, some rare old-school DJ scratching (“wicky-wicky” and all) and the sort of downbeat synth stagger that groans “hangover” at you. Wobbling out from the layering, voices sing with so much gauziness that you can’t tell whether they’re Irish or Lebanese. Others mutter wanly and stagger around the kitchen, failing to fry some eggs. From the latter, one glum mumble of “bugger…” turns into a single-word mantra. It travels mournfully round and round the turntable like a dropped glob of peanut butter: part of the soused, engaging sloppiness that gives the EP its own distinctive flavour.

Jimmy The Hideous Penguin: ‘Colours’
CS² Recordings, CS²-009
CD/download EP
Released: 2nd July 2013

Get it from:
CS² Recordings.

Jimmy The Hideous Penguin online:
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November 2012 – EP reviews – One Thousand Lucky Cranes’ ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’ (“restful hiccups”)

28 Nov
One Thousand Lucky Cranes: 'One Thousand Lucky Cranes' EP

One Thousand Lucky Cranes: ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’ EP

From Tennessee to the heart of the mountains of central Japan is a long way. I’m not sure what’s brought Ben Bryant from one to the other, but his debut offering as One Thousand Lucky Cranes shows the stretch. While these four tunes are nominally in the box for downtempo chillout electronica (with a side helping of glitch), they’re also attenuated, deconstructed tunes. Untitled agglutinations. Restful hiccups. A feeling that’s a little like that moment when, relaxing on a beach somewhere, you’re momentarily jolted into realising just how far from home you are.

Despite the tumbling data-flop of its intro (and the corrupting glitch atmospherics which score creases and interruptions into its texture), No.1 quickly reveals itself as deconstructed soul. More specifically, a Philly-inspired slow jam; from the lustrous breath-sighs to the jazzy climbs, to those Air-style analogue doodles with their pitch-bending vocalisé effect. Everything in it has that cushioned lushness and summertime daydream feel to it, with electric piano pads stroked and lovingly distorted into tiled, fuzzed chillout chimes. Notes and sounds have a fallaway feel to them, as Ben toys with wavering queasy pitching or leaves us in expectation. Japanese trinket tinkles worm their way into the mix: toys wearing down their batteries on the console.

There’s a little bit of soul in No.2, though only the slightest taste. One of Ben’s sounds is sourced from the sweetest electric organ sounds, but sliced off the top of the frequencies and rendered from gospel hints into an artful saccharin. Most of the other sounds are flickered by processing – treble-sharpened melody gurgles, a sweet baby-tone climb glimpsed through a strobing blur of reverb. Even the drum sounds (despite keeping a thread of industrial funk running throughout) are inverted and upended, imploded beats and cymbal hits trapped in a thicket.

On No.3, glitched beats are dropped into the music like someone dropping random glass beads into a Geiger counter. A slow phased sweep of synth pads (like the luminous cloud-roll Prophet-noise of the late ‘70s), offers something slightly meditative and slightly irritated, cross-legged but glaring sideways. Layers of glitched percussion twists and carpet-bomb bass distortions are folded into the mix. If you’ve still kept hold of that beachy simile from above, imagine the same, but with little smoke-shells bursting in mid-air above the mellow golden sands.

No.4 rises out of a sea of finely sifted white noise, revealing an ominous minor-key structure behind it. There’s something here that’s similar to the sweetly-sung anxieties of Horace Andy at work with Massive Attack on ‘Mezzanine’: a hint of ghost-town industry, of grand soul with the security sucked out of it… perhaps an echo of Detroit despair imprinted on in the architecture. Rather than Andy’s sensual suede-creak of a voice, though, the vocal here is an accelerated burble, part-housefly and part child-babble, stretching and meandering around the slow-stepping arches of fuzzy melody. Glitch-taps and dubstep activity fire about in the percussion, data-screeches kick some cold sparks off the chords. Throughout, the white noise comes through in hose-spurts; or tide-smacks, pushing its way through the buildings – a dream of the first drops of the flood. As with all of the tracks on this EP, the sense of solidity, dislocation and imminent upset come bundled close together, blurred over like a multiple exposure.

One Thousand Lucky Cranes: ‘One Thousand Lucky Cranes’
One Thousand Lucky Cranes (self-released, no catalogue number or barcode)
Vinyl/download EP
Released: 26th November 2012

Get it from:
Nimbit Music, Bandcamp.

One Thousand Lucky Cranes online:
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