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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.

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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!”


 
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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.

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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:



 
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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…

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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.”


 

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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…

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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.

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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…


 

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