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

16 May

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

Dates:

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

 

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

15 May

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

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

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

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



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



 

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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



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

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

6 May

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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




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

Dates:

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

 

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

5 May

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


 

May 2018 – upcoming London gigs – SOIF Soiree in Wood Green including John Moore, Society Of Imaginary Friends, Magdalena Grabher, John Glyn & Richard Bolton, Circulus’ William Summers and assorted poets and spoken-worders (May 4th)

29 Apr

It’s always nice to have free events bob into view, even if it’s at short notice. Into my face blows a excitable new balled-up missive from operatic art-pop auteurs and eclectic monthly salon curators Society of Imaginary Friends. Once I’ve opened it, smoothed it out and vigorously curry-combed it for loose grammar and punctuation, I’m offered a remarkable selection of goodies: a webbing of poetry and musicality which links together Shakespeare, The Jesus & Mary Chain, psychedelic folk troupe Circulus, Black Box Recorder, Rosa Mota, autism, X-Ray Specs and vegan cuisine.

I’ll let him/her/them do the talking:

SOIF Soiree, 4th May 2018

“I was taking the escalator over the hill… hang on… something’s burning… It’s our Beltane Birthday Soiree on the 4th May!!! The extraordinary Alfie Thomas (SOIF has hit a very significant number of earth years… Oh, what a dancing dragon of a party we have in store for YOU… Yee…


 
“Hah!!! Our star-studded night includes the fantastic John Moore (Black Box Recorder, Expressway and Jesus & Mary Chain) performing a couple of his hits from his new album ‘Knickerbocker Glory’ (“couched in shimmering rock, Sixties girl-group pop and even a touch of operatic soprano on Anne of a Thousand Days, this is a literary pop gem” – ‘The Times’) – guess who the operatic soprano is? Punk legend virtuosic saxophonist John Glyn (X-ray Specs and Wreckless Eric) will be astounding us with his magical improvisation, weaving his beautiful tones with the incomparable virtuosic guitarist Richard Bolton. Their inspiration is the vibe of the night: we all have a part to play in creating something totally original.


 
“The beautiful, soulful Magdalena Grabher will be looping her intricate musical motifs to create ethereal soundscapes and gorgeous songs; the wonderful highly acclaimed poetess Lady Amy Neilson Smith and master of woodwind Sir William Summers (Circulus, Princes in the Tower) will be astounding us with their Shakespearian-inspired set.




 
“Award-winning spoken-word performer Cian Binchy will be making us think (catch him before he takes his sell out show ‘MADHOUSE re:exit’ to Manchester for a month), urban punk goddess I Am Her will be performing songs from her brand new album; the superb Math Jones will be sharing his Beltane musings; welcoming to the Soiree mystery new poet Charlie and author Samuel Bates. Special guest DJ t.b.a, and special birthday songs from Society Of Imaginary Friends. Fabulous vegan cuisine by Roger and Kathy – it is also Roger’s birthday!! So much to celebrate. FREE ENTRY: Looking forward to seeing you there… xxx”

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
Beltane Birthday Soiree: Society Of Imaginary Friends + John Moore + John Glyn & Richard Bolton + Magdalena Grabher + William Summers & Amy Neilson Smith + Cian Binchy + I Am Her + Math Jones + Charlie + Samuel Bates + others t.b.c.
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 4th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here
 

April 2018 – upcoming London gigs – the BABY clubnight launches in Walthamstow with Warm Brains, David Callahan and ex-Evans The Death member’s Clingfilm project (18th April); 3Peace, Gentle Stranger, Great Dad and Suitman Jungle at DIY Space (26th April)

14 Apr

Warm Brains + David Callahan + Clingfilm  @ BABY #01. 16th April 2018

Eleanor Payne used to run the ‘Candyskin’ art/indie zine and its corresponding music night in Walthamstow – she’s now taken both of them away, shaken them out and restored them with a new name. This coming week’s debut BABY music night will also launch the brand-new ‘BABY’ zine (“featuring writing and art on culture from all kinds of cool people”) and carry old ‘Candyskin’ issues for those who want to catch up on the past. Eleanor and others – including Liberty Hodes from ‘A Comedy Night That Passes the Bechdel Test’ – will be DJ-ing with an inclination toward “the best of indie pop, disco, post-punk, pop and girl groups (and) the best songs for dancing”. The live acts, meanwhile, have a pleasing feel of reviving that envelope-pushing Too Pure ethos from the more wide-thinking end of 1990s British indie: the samplers, the wrenched guitars, the sharp non-conforming anti-complacent lyrics and the broad bench of snatched and recombined elements.

Top of the bill is the urban-psychedelic post-punk of Warm Brains, a.k.a. Rory Atwell from Test Icicles, KASMs and Die! Die! Die! We hadn’t heard much from the Brains since 2015’s ‘Big Wow’ album, but last month’s new Circles Of The Scythe single (Rory’s first Brains material for several years, following his relocation to current London creative hotspot South Tottenham) – really ups their game. It’s a sardonic study of cultural and personal immolation: Rory whistling as he walks into the darkness, kicking a sardonic rolling can across a pile of gasping, trash-spawning consumerism and asocial/dysfunctional personality disorders, while marshalling a washing-machine judder of half-hinged guitars and rhythm pulses.


 
Although indie pop heroes Evans The Death called it a day last autumn, former guitarist Dan Moss has quickly whirred back into action with Clingfilm, who make their live debut here. Over the course of their three albums, his old band weren’t short of ambition and seemed increasingly eager to evolve and to unglue themselves; but they could never quite wriggle more than an arm and a shoulder out of the indie straitjacket. That said, the increasingly belligerent, beautiful, noisy gesturing they managed with that one free limb suggest that anything which sprouts from an ex-Evans will be worth paying attention to.

Dan isn’t the first to surface – that’d be his brother Olly, who started his work as Smiling Disease while still in the band – but the debut Clingfilm EP (which popped up at the beginning of the month on Bandcamp) is a fascinating thing. Collisions of Motown, pitchbend My Bloody Valentine wail and experimental noise planecrash; industrial broadsides and glocktinkles, electro-noise shotgun pop and dry sneers. At points a pocket Foetus dancing with Pere Ubu, at other times sounding like a more meticulous-aimed junior PiL, Dan’s subject matter includes nightmares, secrets, and friends with misogyny problems.


 
At points, Clingfilm sound like nothing so much as the early ‘Eva Luna’-period Moonshake; so it’s appropriate that Moonshake’s own David Callahan is also on hand, representing the older guard and providing a link with the original Too Pure attitude. Coming fresh from a support slot with The Mekons last week, David’s historically a ludicrously undersung hero of that brief phase when British post-rock meant more than endless, blanked-out repetitions of FX aurorae and crashing guitar cadences; when it focussed instead on powerful welds of motivating force, a revolving palette of jabbing noise, and lyrics which locked and engaged with complicated inner and outer worlds. Not that he sits and mopes about that. While he may be gradually incubating a fresh batch of post-Moonshake sampler-churn on the quiet, David’s solo sets are currently acoustic or near-as-dammit; focussing more on the bristlingly intelligent, if more conventional, breed of art-pop which he continues to hone with his other band, the revived Wolfhounds.

Here are some songs from a Callahan appearance at The Hangover Lounge a few years back. They’re brisk acoustic skeletons compared to his bandwork and his past recordings, but they reveal an artist who’s not hung up on either style or reputation, and who still steers his exploring curiosity through whichever mood and influence inspires him. In this case, the piquant satire of Thanks; the surprising journey into ancient-sounding dronefolk on She Passes Through The Night.



 
Whatever David’s got in mind for the BABY evening, he’s promising plenty of new material… plus appearances by assorted and unspecified special guests. One advantage for people with impeccable work behind them, who were active at pivotal times, is that they tend to have interesting contacts lists. Start speculating now.

If you want an even fuller evening, Eleanor and co. have timed the BABY gig to fit around Walthamstow Rock n Roll Book Club’s event, earlier on the same evening at the Walthamstow Waterstone’s. Journalist and cultural commentator Jeff Evans will be reading from and discussing his book ‘The Story Of Rock & Pop On British TV’, a study of the blossoming and withering of pop music programmes which offers “some warm memories and some surprises” from a time when culture was about deferred anticipation and the thrill of events fixed in time, rather than a vast body of instant downloadables. Jeff starts at six, the BABY live sets at nine.

BABY presents:
BABY #01 – Warm Brains + David Callahan + Clingfilm
The Victoria, 186 Hoe Street, Walthamstow, London, E17 4QH, England
Wednesday 18th April 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

* * * * * * * *

3Peace + Gentle Stranger + Great Dad + Suitman Jungle, 26th April 2018Assuming that you don’t already have a date with the industrial dub techno world of Justin Broadrick and Kevin Martin by treating yourself to the Zonal and Moor Mother gig in Elephant and Castle on 26th April, it might well be worth your while casting a little further south-east to the Bermondsey/Peckham borders and the DIY Space. Two sets of promoters (Parallel Lines and GLOWS) are pooling gig resources on the same night: the first of two “Middle of the Room” shows blending all manner of musicians and art sparks…

Saxophonist Nat Phillips, drummer Pike Ogilvy and synthman Sam Bates make up the jazztronic trio 3Peace, merging semi-minimal pop electronica and jungle/techno/ambient club beats with jazz ideas. So far they’re just scratching in the sandbox of their potential talent: on their demos, they sometimes sound like bedroom dreamers on grey English days, dreaming of sunswept bay beaches and trying to conjure them up by making downtempo grooves on a phone.

Live – when they have space and time to work their way out of the cramping effects of budget recording – it’s a different story. Perhaps it takes a while to build (and perhaps there’s still a little too much chill-station reticence to their current chemistry), but whenever Nat’s saxophone kicks in with its cryptic Wayne Shorter commentaries, 3Peace take a step towards becoming a squat-scene Weather Report, with rolling grooves in the vein of a MIDI-ed-up ‘Sweetnighter’. Someone needs to tell them to cut loose from the easiness: to start scaring a few horses, start jousting each other, allow themselves to burn a little. There’s the option for so much more here.

 
Enigmatic, extrovert and deep underground, Dada jam band Gentle Stranger don’t give out much in terms of information bar their gig dates, their deliberately ludicrous attempts to tag themselves as “post clown”, and a succession of bungled, enigmatic, absurdist haikus about television, teething or caterpillars. I’ve not seen any of their gigs yet, but ‘Subculture‘ webzine – quicker off the mark than me, or just, with its Fred Perry tie-ins, better connected) tells me they’re dressed all in white… the Gods’ jam group, the Mount Olympus house band. Sprawling prog riffs meet footloose brass motifs and contrapuntal vocals from each heavily made-up member. A spectacle, to say the least”, while UCL’s ‘Savage’ reports back with “brash brass shenanigans coupled with shout-pop spleen“, and ‘Gigsoup‘ has them down as a performance-art blend of megaphone chanting, furious singing, folkiness, free jazz, no wave and funky noise”.

Billed like this, they could be a jazz-rock Fischerspooner, a post-Gentle Giant/Zappa/Zorn cataclysm, or a London take on – say – the art-prankery of a.P.a.T.t. I’ve seen photos of them gallivanting about in white burnouses and giant dunce caps; they’ve sometimes been part of the wave of cunning bacchanalian art-gigs hosted by the shapeshifting HMLTD… and here’s the video evidence. A trio (or trio-plus – it’s difficult to tell who’s in the band simply from who’s onstage) with a Jesus-robed drummer and a pair of ADHD multi-instrumentalists continually swapping between saxophones, trombone, flutes, guitar and bass. One of them regularly grabs an accordion, to wander the venue like an amnesiac busker. There are frocks and yelps and tinkling bells; there’s what looks like a stage invasion by a Riverdancer; and the music itself follows a curving, crazed path like a growing flood in a gutter, catching up little singalongs, burst of death metal and Balkan folk, nursery ditties and hornpipes along the way. They may well do everything differently next month.


 

Two-thirds of promising genderqueer alt.punk band Worm Hears also operate as Great Dad. It’s an excuse for drummer Gabriel Manzi and singing guitarist Charlie Loane (both currently broadening their horizons on the Popular Music course at Goldsmith’s) to set guitar-rock approaches aside in order to investigate a subtly disorientating slew of experimental pop. They played support to Charles Hayward last year; this year ought to see them getting recognition in their own right.

For my money, their electronic bricolage and sparse bleat-burrs of guitar make for a far more interesting, far more transformative project than does Worm Hears. It frees up Charlie, in particular, to apply those plaintive epicene Belfast-punk tones (a transitioning choirboy enraged by a broader world) across a variety of pedal-assisted pitches and registers including R&B queen, lonely Autotuned cyborg and cynical grouch-rock baritone. The songs, meanwhile, phase through walls and frameworks in a series of weird, wide-awake narrative arabesques – the glitchdream of Spanish pop in Wasp Honey; the seasick blippery, ringing organ shadows and voice-tweaking of Walk Around are free-associating mashups of love, political paranoia, consumer anomie, salty language and an ever-strange out-of-step physicality half-trapped between distress and wonder.



 
Suitman Jungle’s particular schtick is that he’s a humble financial-sector worker consumed by a rabid love of jungle/drum and bass beats. In character, decorously sheathed in formal jacket and tie, he’s meek and sweet-natured; eager to make a connection with his audience but just as eager to let rip on a set of stand-up drums and a sampling pad. Suitman sets are semi-theatrical performance pieces, crossing gently satirical spoken word with hammertastic live-beat mash-ups and a rave aesthetic. Through all of this, he threads sound pictures of London life – the rituals and private rebellions of commuting, the bearpit bellicosity of the Houses of Parliament, and so on.

He’s an oddly-positioned character: a kind of pre-escape, post-millennial Peter Pan, musing quietly on the absurdity of adult life and office etiquette, one ear constantly cocked to the utopian call to fly away into the heart of the drumming. I’m not sure how far all of this develops, or if (like 3Peace) Suitman’s being held back by format; but on spec he’s worth checking out to see how far he’ll go, and to see just how those frictions are going to play out.




 
As with the BABY night, there’s more here to make it more of an event – an in-the-round setting, DJ sets from organisers GLOWS and from electronic musician Lucaufer, plus presence of various kinds from zine/radio/gigzone gender-egalitarians The Femme Collective, haunted electronicist GG Skips, design company Spit Tease and Slow Dance, Autre Half and Grandma (the last three of whom operate in the blurred imprint area between, and encompassing, gigwork and record release). There’ll also be “a continuous circulation” of art – films, objects and images – curated by Felix Bayley-Higgins and finding room for material by Luis Jacobs, playful designer/repurposer Harry Grundy, irreverent sculptor/former ‘Spitting Image’ headbuilder Wilfrid Wood, and theatrical designer Willa Hilditch among others. And if you like the sound of all of this, it seems as if they’re repeating it a month later on 24th May; but for now, see below…

Parallel Lines & GLOWS presents
3Peace + Gentle Stranger + Great Dad + Suitman Jungle
DIY Space For London, 96-108 Ormside Street, South Bermondsey, London, SE15 1TF, England
Thursday 26th April 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

April 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental/folk gigs – Caterina Barbieri solotronic set at Kammer Klang, plus Zwerm Ensemble and the RAM’s Experimental Music Ensemble playing Feldman, Dowland, Brown and Baillie (3rd April); the ‘What is England?’ festival including Bishi/Jeff Cook’s ‘The Good Immigrant”, Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers (20th-23rd April)

28 Mar

Dips into the mid-twentieth century New York School (including its work with graphic scores) and into unintentionally sprightly electronica characterise a surprisingly sober, instrumentally-based April show for Kammer Klang.

Kammer Klang, 3rd April 2018Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Caterina Barbieri + Zwerm Ensemble (playing John Dowland, Earle Brown and Joanna Baillie) + RAM Experimental Music Ensemble (playing Morton Feldman)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 3rd April 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Opening, the Royal Academy of Music’s Experimental Music Ensemble present Morton Feldman‘s rarely-performed, highly textured septet piece ‘The Straits Of Magellan’. Dating back to 1961, the piece’s graphical score is an array of coded time boxes, each containing representative symbols for single or simultaneous notes/durations/colourations; while the dynamics of the composition are explicitly and sternly noted (with minimal note attacks, a generally quiet approach but multiple instructions for glissandi, harmonics etc), the pitches are left entirely up to the players’ choices. Here’s one of the many possible interpretations:


 
In the middle of the bill are Belgian electric guitar quartet Zwerm Ensemble (avant-garde favourites whose collaborations and performance credits include Fred Frith, Mauro Pawlowski, Larry Polansky, Eric Thielemans, Yannis Kyriakides and Etienne Guilloteau) The four members (Toon CallierJohannes WestendorpBruno Nelissen and Kobe van Cauwenberghe) will present arrangements of ‘Semper Dowland, Semper Dolens’ (by peerless Renaissance lute composer John Dowland), ‘December 1952’ (by twentieth century “open form” pioneer Earle Brown,and, like the Feldman piece, sourced from a graphic score) plus a performance of ‘Last Song From Charleroi’, a new seventeen-minute work for four electric guitars and tape composed by Joanna Bailie. Examples of playing, pieces and general composer tone below…





 
Headlining, Italian composer and voltage-controlled-sequencer specialist Caterina Barbieri will perform a solo electronic set of her “ecstatic computation” music. Berlin-based, she explores “themes related to machine intelligence and object oriented perception in sound through a focus on minimalism” and “psycho-physical effects of repetition and pattern-based operations in music, by investigating the polyphonic and polyrhythmic potential of sequencers to draw severe, complex geometries in time and space.”

In practise, this is surprisingly accessible. Her work (including her recent ‘Patterns Of Consciousness’ album, composed entirely on Verbos Harmonic Oscillator and ER-101 Indexed Quad Sequencer) initially sounds closer to the pop-synth airiness of Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream records from the ‘70s; even to the rhythmic clink of Larry Heard or the warm chitter of Jean-Michel Jarre. But even if there are similarities to ‘Pong’ or ‘Popcorn’ – especially live – this is merely a side effect of structure. Caterina’s work is intended as an austere examination of qualities: its primitive but plaintive blippery coming about due to her wish to avoid signature synth sounds, concentrating instead on careful shifts of accenture, attack and shaping on basic sine tones, accelerating and decelerating. The emotional content – like the unexpected danceability – apparently comes despite her intentions. Live, she fits right in with populist EM; sometimes, though, in the studio, she can come across as more raw, glitchy and forbidding. Perhaps in the tougher Kammer Klang environment, more of this side will will emerge.


 
* * * * * * * *

Information’s starting to come through on a defiantly heterogenous and diverse festival springing up in Stoke Newington towards the end of the month, delving into electroclassical and folk music forms, queerness, multiculturalism and the concept of English nationality in (and in spite of) ugly times. Details on this are still taking shape, so I’ll drop in what I’ve got now and add to it later, when I can…

The Old Church, The Nest Collective & others present:
‘What is England?’
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England,
20th-23rd April 2018, various times
– information here

'What Is England?', 20th-23rd April 2018“A four-day festival in the run up to St George’s Day, ‘What Is England?’ offers a chance for everyone to reimagine ‘Englishness’ in an inclusive, welcoming way, at a time when a toxic form of nationalism is on the rise.

“The festival includes the European debut of ‘The Good Immigrant’, an electroclassical song cycle for voice looper, sitar and electronics about race and identity by vocalist/composer Bishi. Co-produced with composer and sound designer Jeff Cook, the song cycle received its world premiere at The Ferus Festival in January 2018 in New York. The music is inspired by ‘The Good Immigrant’ by Nikesh Shukla, a collection of essays by 21 BAME writers, ruminating on race & identity in contemporary Britain. Each song is a response to a particular essay in the book, with special audio quotes sampled in from personal interviews conducted with writers Nikesh Shukla, Salena Godden and Darren Chetty, ending with a choral setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Where The Mind is Without Fear’.

“In this work, Bishi takes a personal & intersectional journey reflecting on her experiences. As a British-Bengali daughter of immigrants, adopted by London’s community of alternative queer nightlife, she has lived through a unique cross-section of London’s contemporary urban landscape. ‘The Good Immigrant’ is a call to arms to explore our differences so that we may find more unity and empathy in a divided world. Having been trained in eastern and western classical music, and experienced performing in a Bulgarian choir, Bishi takes her influences from a variety of musical styles. Major musical influences include electronic producers Burial and Arca, and vocalists such as Meredith Monk and Lisa Gerrard.


 
“Also as part of the festival, modern folk initiative The Nest Collective presents a very special St George’s day involving established and merging talent in English folk, again looking at the idea of Englishness. Confirmed artists so far include Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan and John Spiers.

“Believing that “music spreads throughout the environment like a perfume.. it soaks into the fabric of other things and people”, Ansuman is an Kolkata-born percussionist, interdisciplinary artist and composer who has been commissioned by Tate Modern, National Theatre, English Ballet and has worked with Bjork and the London Philharmonic Orchestra and in world music hybrid quartet Newanderthal (“four humans, three continents”). Suna is a Kurdish/Alevi singer based in London whose family moved to Smyrna (Izmir) in her early childhood (meaning that much of her formative years were spent surrounded by traditional Kurdish dengbêj music and Kurdish-Alevi laments within a rich cosmopolitan cultural environment). Her main focus is Kurdish folk songs from the four regions of Kurdistan, namely Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey, but her repertoire also includes Armenian, Greek, Sephardic and Turkish songs. John Spiers, known better in folk circles as Squeezy, has made a name for himself as one of the leading squeezebox players of his generation, playing with Eliza Carthy’s Ratcatchers band, Bellowhead and the duo Spiers and Boden (with Jon Boden).”




 
Rough details on the festival dates and events below: with panel events, DJs and an as-yet-unrevealed event for the Sunday slot, expect things to expand. With ‘The Quietus’ involved, I wouldn’t be surprised if a New Weird Britain strand began to weave its way into proceedings…

  • Friday 20 April, 7.00pm – festival launch: ‘The Good Immigrant’, plus NTS and The Quietus DJs and What Is England? panel eventtickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 10.30am – OPEN: Morning including “make-you-own-flag” event with OPEN:Art/Output Arts tickets
  • Saturday 21 April, 7.00pm – The Good Immigrant, with DJs and ‘The Good Nationalist?’ panel eventtickets
  • Sunday 22 April – details t.b.c.
  • Monday 23 April, 7.00pm – Nest Collective’s St George’s day event featuring Ansuman Biswas, Suna Alan, John Spiers and others t.b.c.tickets

 

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