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January to March 2020 – assorted London gigs – Holly Penfield at 100 Club (8th March) and with Ian Ritchie at the Fiddler’s Elbow (10th January); skewed surf, pop and acoustica with Kenny Process Team, Keith John Adams and The Happy Couple (13th January); Balkan/Gaelic folktronics with Arhai (18th January); plus Minute Taker’s ‘Wolf Hours’ in Manchester (24th January)

7 Jan

Holly PenfieldIf you missed Holly Penfield’s London launch gig for her ‘Tree Woman’ album back at Halloween last year – or if you attended and wanted to see it again – then she’s looping back on herself and staging another one at the 100 Club on 8th March. For those unfamiliar with her, here’s what I wrote (indeed, here’s what I recycled) last time.

“Raised in San Francisco (and a veteran of the 1980s LA pop scene with the scars to prove it) Holly spent much of the ‘90s writing and performing the psychodramatic one-woman pop show ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in London and elsewhere. A show with such troubled and intense undercurrents that it eventually blew itself apart, it’s now spawned a return… but under very different circumstances. The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken standing behind a keyboard (except for when a grand piano ballad calls for that set of skills).

“It’s funny, sad, uplifting and stirring all at once. Once the very embodiment of storm-tossed waif and precarious survivor, Holly’s now a wiser and much happier woman. She still absolutely owns the stage, though, helping herself to a big dollop of the jazz and blues flavourings which shaped her initial development, playing a dash of ukulele and engaging in some zestful shimmying (and some delightfully ludicrous party outfits, worn with wit and flair – it seems as if her recent steps away from cabaret involved at least one sly step back).

“What hasn’t changed is the quality of her singing, and of her songs. While old FHM standards like Misfit, The Last Enemy, puddle-of-grief ballad Stay With Me, and slinking fingersnapper You Can’t Have The Beauty Without The Beast have shed skins and made the transition to the new show, Holly’s also been dipping into a trunk of neglected and mostly previously unheard work, including the tremendous state-of-the-world song Confessions (based around a lyrical hook she once dangled in front of an intrigued Joni Mitchell) and the vivacious Tree Woman (a more recent effort in which she vigorously embraces both her own ageing and the resilience that comes with it).”



 
Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie, 10th January 2019If you can’t wait until March, Holly and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ian Ritchie (the latter an ex-Deaf School member recently fresh off playing sax on the Roger Waters tour) will be playing another London gig this coming Friday, up at the Fiddler’s Elbow. This one will be an “experimental thirty-minute duo gig of originals with vintage ‘80s drum machine… interesting, quirky,and challenging!”

Although Holly and Ian are going out under their Cricklewood Cats moniker (under which they’ve previously released a few synth-jazz swing songs), theirs has been a long and varied partnership also encompassing cabaret, out-and-out jazz balladry, noisy rock diva songs and the bewitching sequencer-torch-pop of the ‘Parts Of My Privacy’ album. So you could expect takes on all of the above and more, including some of Holly’s newer songs. At the moment she’s on a serious creative upswing, and there’s rarely been a better time to see her than now.


 

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Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple, 13th January 2020On the following Monday, the reunited and reinvigorated Kenny Process Team launch their own new album, ‘Travlin’ Light With… Kenny Process Team’. Actually, it’s an old one, recorded as a live session over twenty years ago with the band’s 1998 lineup but lost in the abstracted shuffle of the band’s history, which has seen members swap out, disappear, impale themselves on fences and even join Oasis.

Part avant-surf, part Afro-prog and compared in their time to both The Ventures and Captain Beefheart (while proggies will also find parallels with Television and The League of Gentlemen), there’s more on the Kenny Process back story here. In the present, with the addition of Rhodri Marsden as new guitarist (replacing the late Simon King) and thanks to his existing connections with Lost Crowns and Prescott, they’re further cementing their links with London’s current crop of art/prog/psych/cellularists.



 
Also playing is KPT labelmate Keith John Adams. Once Rhodri’s bandmate in zestful 1990s avant-skifflers Zuno Men, for twenty years now Keith has been a solo act coming at acoustic pop from a gently skewed angle, buffeting around friendly lyrical ideas like a sozzled housefly bumping against a lampshade and turning out understated little song-gems as he does so. His accidental forebears might include Robyn Hitchcock, Kevin Ayers; you might also pretend that he’d been dreamed up from some lazy Walthamstow afternoon when Leon Redbone shared a sofa with the young Bill Oddie.



 

Opening the evening is The Happy Couple, the languid instrumental duo formed by Kenny Process drummer Dave Ross and his life partner Judith Goodman, born out of two decades of inseparable love mingling with the inspiration of the Epping Forest woodscapes where they live. Judith plays a variety of open-tuned guitars, predominantly a Weissenborn acoustic slide guitar but also a 4-string tenor and a 3-string cigar box model (plus a mysterious “early English” example which suggests a rewriting of instrumental history). Leaving his drumkit behind, Dave plays a variety of mouth-held lamellophones: a classic American jaw harp, Indian morchangs in both brass and iron, a Norwegian Munnharpe and a mouth bow harp created in Devon. As for the music, it’s a relaxed evocation of companionship, glissando and boing and intersecting rhythms: or, as Judith comments, “it’s about the sounds that happen when we put our sounds together. We just create a world we want to be in.”



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

The following Saturday, British/Serbian electronic folk project Arhai slip into the little cellar at the Harrison to deliver their own electro-acoustic atmospheres. A two-decade-long project led by singer/composer Jovana Backovic, they were a traditional Serbian acoustic octet for their first ten years, gradually shifting into electric terrain before dissolving and allowing Jovana to form the current duo with British multi-instrumental specialist Adrian Lever (mediaeval dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, guitar, tambura, Bulgarian lute etc). Now they’re Balkan-cum-Gaelic, intertwining ancient and technological: or, as they put it “rethinking the archetypal modes of music performance in the context of modernity”. Which sometimes means they’re ultra-accessible and synth-quilty in the familiar Clannad model, and sometimes means that they’re off and racing like a cross between izvorna and a hyperspatial hip hop track.




 
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All of the above events will be in London: for the next one, you’ll need to head up to Manchester, where singer, songwriter and electronic pop creator Ben McGarvey, a.k.a. Minute Taker, is unveiling his multi-media performance ‘Wolf Hours’. Ben is no stranger to mixing theatre and music, having already presented a love-and-ghosts story on tour with ‘To Love Somebody Melancholy’ featuring animations from Ana Stefaniak. ‘Wolf Hours’ is an even more ambitious undertaking – “a unique performance combining mesmerising film with a dynamic live soundtrack. From forbidden love in the First World War, to the pain and rage of AIDS, to contemporary hedonism and heartbreak, ‘Wolf Hours’ explores the stories of gay men at different points in time through their dreams. This series of stunning new short films (directed by John Lochland, Joe Stringer, Kirk Sylvester, Raphaël Neal and Ben McGarvey) are accompanied throughout by Minute Taker performing an intimate musical and vocal score that both builds the atmosphere and pulls on the heartstrings. Visually explosive and emotionally thrilling, ‘Wolf Hours’ transports the audience through pleasure, grief, lust, joy and our collective historical imagination.”



 
In this interview with ‘Superbia’, Ben expounds on the approach he took when putting together ‘Wolf Hours’, which he describes as “jumbled-up memories, fears and fantasies.. It’s presented a bit like late night TV from back in the ’80s and ’90s (when anything queer was relegated to an after-midnight slot!) with different programmes and images emerging out of the static as you drift in and out of sleep… I also decided to include lots of archive footage in the show, which explores the way homosexuality has been portrayed in the media over the years… all of the stuff that finds its way into the subconscious minds of the characters as they lie awake at night, having an effect on how they view themselves and the gay community.” He’s hoping to take the show out on a broader tour much later this year, but for now this is all that you’re getting…

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Dates:

Holly Penfield & Ian Ritchie: The Cricklewood Cats
The Fiddler’s Elbow, 1 Malden Road, Kentish Town, London, NW5 3HS, England
Friday 10th January, 2020, 8.20pm
– no information links, just turn up…

Kenny Process Team + Keith John Adams + The Happy Couple
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Monday 13th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Folk and Roots presents:
Arhai
The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Kings Cross, London, WC1H 8JF, England
Saturday 18th January 2020, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Minute Taker presents ‘Wolf Hours’
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Beswick, Manchester, M4 7JA, England
Friday 24th January 2020, 8:00pm
– information here and here

Holly Penfield
The 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, Soho, London, W1D 1LL, England
Sunday 8th March 2020, time t.b.c.
– no information links yet
 

October/November 2019 – upcoming London classical gigs – ‘Venus, Women And The Guitar’ (27th October); Emily Howard curates ‘Ada Lovelace: Imagining The Analytical Engine’ (2nd November); Echo Collective present Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ’12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann’ plus Félicia Atkinson (3rd November)

21 Oct

‘Venus, Women and the Guitar’, 27th October 2019As part of London Guitar Festival 2019, the International Guitar Foundation presents ‘Venus, Women and the Guitar’ towards the end of October. A concert celebrating women’s relationship with the guitar, and featuring a wide roster of performers including many significant current female classical guitar players, it also showcases an entire programme of guitar compositions by women.

Of the two main composer contributors, Errollyn Wallen has written plenty of works for guitar over the past two decades as part of a career which includes seventeen operas, music for television and assorted works for chamber instrumentation and large-scale ensembles (as well as a musical willingness to explore both standard classical settings and experiments with tape, placement and other media, plus continual rearrangements of the ideas of how we think about music and its intersections with a broader, more diverse culture).

In addition to the IGF-repertoire Wallen pieces which are being played, she’s contributed two new commissions/premieres. The Housden-Tarlton Duo will be performing ‘Two Guitars’, while Tom KerstensG Plus Ensemble (a two-guitar, string quartet and percussion group, eschewing piano parts in favour of “the unique combination of the guitars’ quickly decaying plucked sounds, the sustained bowed string sound (and) a wide range of vibraphone, marimba and other percussion sounds”) will be performing ‘Road to Strathy Point’. As regards the repertoire pieces, Tom Kerstens returns later in the program to perform the solo Wallen piece ‘Canciones’ while up-and-coming classical guitarist Shannon Latoya Simon will perform a triptych of ‘Three Ships’, ‘Walking Me To Work’ and Night Passage’ (meanwhile, here are the Kerstens versions of a couple of these).



 
The other dominant composer of the evening, Laura Snowden, hasn’t been working for nearly as long but her career’s already moving from strength to strength. Also reknowned as an exceptional and versatile performer on guitar, she’s been described by ‘Classical Guitar Magazine’ as “linking guitar’s past, present and future” and will be performing her own solo piece ‘Anpao; L’étoile et la Rose’.


 
As regards her other pieces, the Mēla Guitar Quartet (Matthew Robinson, George Tarlton, Daniel Bovey, Jiva Housden) will play ‘My Clock Is Broken’ (which they premiered at the Purcell Room earlier in the year); VIDA Guitar Quartet (Mark Eden, Mark Ashford, Amanda Cook, Christopher Stell) will be joining up with concert saxophonist Amy Green to perform ‘Light Perpetuum’; and two VIDA members will be returning in their other configuration as the Eden Stell Guitar Duo to play ‘Damn everything but the circus!; The Snow Globe’.


 
The work of five other female composers will be performed as part of the concert. VIDA’s Amanda Cook will team with violinist Liz Cooney for Effy Efthymiou’s ‘Two Reflections’ of which “(the) elliptical movement and improvisatory feel are designed to create a seductive ambience – almost like being in a dream. The lilting phrases move easily from one time signature to the next, producing a free flow of sound and a subtle feeling of repose. Light interweaving melodies rotate with rough, percussive sonorities to evoke the whole spectrum of feelings that one might experience through reflection.”

Rather magically, Effy is half of a mutually supportive duo of composing twin sisters, along with Litha Efthymiou, and the two compose both together and apart. Litha, too, is represented in this concert. Her piece ‘States Of Ice: Diamond Dust’ (like ‘Two Reflections’, originally a 2012 IGF commission) will be performed by Johan Löfving. It’s “a poetic representation of the ice phenomenon “diamond dust”… its light, ponderous beginning exploits the guitar’s delicate timbral qualities, while the second, more aggressive section is quite percussive in texture, depicting the full gamut of elements that constitute this elusive state of ice.”

Johan will return with his Flauguissimo Duo partner, flautist Yu-Wei Hu, to play another previous IGF commission, Charlotte Bray’s ‘Here everything shines’ (apparently “largely inspired by Cesaria Evora’s ‘Petit Pays’, sung in Cape Verdean Portuguese. The title comes from the translation of the line ‘ki ca ta brilha’, an idea which resonates throughout. A gritty and impassioned fast section opens the piece, the non-stop flute/violin line dashing around being punctuated by stabbing chords on the guitar/piano. The intensity grows until a lush slow section takes over, the melody singing vibrantly over an arpeggiated figure. Similar material to the opening then returns in an extended version, with the piano taking on the fast energetic figure and violin interrupting. Expressive and very free, a quiet section follows. The pace slows and lines glimmer as if caught by rays of sun bouncing off the ocean. Abruptly, the opening material intervenes one final time, with the lively melodic line heard once again in the flute/violin part, the guitar/piano seemingly edging it on.”)

Opening the concert, G Plus Ensemble will be playing Anna Meredith’s ‘Spook (for string quartet, guitar and marimba); and finally, there’ll be another premiere. Kevin Daniel Cahill (G Plus Ensemble’s other guitarist, and a passionate musical emissary and fosterer in his own right) has commissioned and will be performing a Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade piece called ‘Wallflower’. Unlike the evening’s other pieces – resolutely acoustic – this one will feature electric guitar and electronic looping (perhaps capturing in its sonics Ninfea’s love for composing for “old, new, and damaged musical instruments.”)


 
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At Milton Court on 2nd November, as part of the Barbican’s ongoing Life Rewired season, composer Emily Howard will curate ‘Ada Lovelace: Imagining the Analytical Engine’, an afternoon which she devised as “an uncompromising musical tribute to a woman who united the worlds of 19th-century romanticism and cutting-edge science… thinker, computer pioneer and enchantress of numbers…”

The concert will combine words and music to offer a post-millennial perspective on the legacy and achievement of the woman often considered to be one of the world’s first computer programmers and a considerable Victorian mathematician, as well as someone who enthusiastically united the concepts of maths, music and poetry. The Britten Sinfonia and mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons will be performing various specially commissioned works of “scientifically inspired music by Howard and her contemporaries plus music created by artificial intelligence written in tribute to Lovelace.”

‘Ada Lovelace: Imagining the Analytical Engine’, 2nd November 2019

As well as a brand-new Howard world premiere (which I can’t find anything on, but which, under the circumstances, you can expect to be replete with involved and enthusiastic scientific or mathematical references, as much of her other work is), there’ll be a performance of her 2011 speech-song work ‘Ada Sketches’ (for mezzo, flute, clarinet and percussion, with a libretto by Laura Tunbridge in which Lovelace dreams of Babbage’s Difference Engine producing notes instead of numbers).

 
There will also be world premieres of new works by sound artist/composer Patricia Alessandrini, by composer and turntablist Shiva Feshareki, and by Royal Northern College’s PRiSM Team directed by Emily Howard and on this occasion led by Robert Laidlow. There’s not much news or commentary on these either, yet; but you can expect further intersections of orchestral playing with contemporary technology, and with scientific motifs and themes.

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On 3rd November – also at Milton Court – Belgian ensemble Echo Collective will perform the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s ‘12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann’.

Unfinished at the time of Jóhannsson’s death last year (although an earler or work-in-progress version does seem to have been performed at Conway Hall three years ago), and exploring “arts, politics and unity” and “the communal transfer of artistic ideas beyond borders”, this string quartet piece was inspired by four years of dialogue with Jóhannsson’s friend and German painter Thilo Heinzmann (a sensual minimalist who works with more reluctant materials than most such artists – including unbound pigment, absorbent cotton, styrofoam, fur and porcelain as well as bursts of feather, fossil or other found and planned-in objects – with the aim of expanding technique and of raising the textured work off the flat plane of the canvas to present its details in a more three-dimensional manner). Unusually for a Jóhannsson piece, it doesn’t incorporate electronics, drones or treated instruments; instead relying on the unadorned strings alone.

The work was finished by the Echo Collective under leaders Neil Leiter and Margaret Hermant. Reviewing their studio recording in ‘The Guardian’ last month, John Lewis noted that “the spartan setting often enhances the grave, stately beauty, particularly when Jóhannsson starts to invokes early music. ‘Shell’ resembles a Bach partita played in ultra-slow-motion; ‘Low’ sounds like a Gregorian chant transcribed for strings; ‘Lacrimoso’ is a heartbreaking, Vivaldi-like canon. There are a few moments where Jóhannsson hints at complexity – the baroque waltz ‘Danse’ sees him shifting time signatures to disconcerting effect – and it’s tempting, if a little depressing, to imagine how he might have developed and matured in this setting.”




 
Opening the concert will be French electro-acoustic musician Félicia Atkinson. Previously known as Je suis le petit chevalier, her own compositional voyage was originally rooted in sculpture and visual arts: it has built up from her quiet near-ambient early albums based around guitar and Rhodes electric piano to more detailed and demanding works involving (according to lastmusic.fm) “concrete music, ASMR voices, minimal electronics, field recordings, improvisation with guitar and piano, abstract distortions and infra basses, always held by a strong sense of musical harmony… The problematics of sound installation, multichannel diffusion, and performance are starting to play a key role in her musical practice.”

 
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Dates:

International Guitar Foundation & Kings Place present:
Errollyn Wallen & Laura Snowden (Venus, Women and the Guitar)
Hall Two @ Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Sunday 27th October 2019, 3.00pm
– information here and here

Ada Lovelace: Imagining the Analytical Engine
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, 1 Milton Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 9BH, England
Saturday 2nd November 2019, 6.30pm
– information here and here

Echo Collective: 12 Conversations with Thilo Heinzmann
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, 1 Milton Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 9BH, England
Sunday 3rd November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

October/November 2019 – Moor Mother’s ‘The Great Bailout’ with the London Contemporary Orchestra in Kraków, Gateshead, Ghent and London (6th, 12th, 16th, 23rd October), with Galya Bisengalieva and Klein joining in London. Plus further Moor Mother dates in Utrecht, Helsinki and Madrid with Zonal, Eartheater and Cruhda (7th, 11th, 15th November)

1 Oct

The unnerving, brilliant Afrofuturist beat-poet and sonic manipulator Camae Ayewa – a.k.a. Moor Mother – swings back to Europe for a brace of concerts during October and November, during which she’ll showcase her latest project, ‘The Great Bailout’. This is a collaboration with the London Contemporary Orchestra (arguably the capital’s most committed ensemble to both new classical concert music and its intersection with other musical forms and disciplines). It follows Moor Mother’s earlier work this year as part of liberation-jazz group Irreversible Entanglements and her recent contributions to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s fiftieth anniversary album ‘We Are All On The Edge’ (in which she layered her poetry over the exuberant live improvisations of the surviving members of the original resistance jazz band.) For a more in-depth summary of her explosive protest-griot work, click here.

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: 'The Great Bailout' tour, October 2019

There’s not much advance publicity regarding ‘The Great Bailout’. What there is lays the ground for performances of “a free-verse poem that acts as a non-linear word map about colonialism, slavery and commerce in Great Britain and the Commonwealth.” Given that Moor Mother’s previous work has consistently exploded conceptual/emotional bombs underneath the economic, social and psychic legacy of slavery and racism in America, you can expect her to have come up with something ferociously critical of the cherished white-British myths and veilings around the history and repercussions of Empire. As the organisers put it, “we can’t help but expect the first few rows… to leave this performance with singed eyebrows and melted glasses at the very least.”

I’m guessing that the project title refers to one of the most miserable semi-secrets of the eventual abolition of British slavery – this being the handsome payoffs eventually delivered (post-emancipation) not to the freed slaves themselves as backpay, apology or recompense, but to their indignant and haughtily entitled British former owners as property compensation. This kind of withering, righteous black interrogation invading white concert halls (in fact, being invited in) is in keeping with the necessary re-examinations of the roots of modern Western culture. I’m reminded of Doris Salcedo’s colossal ‘Shibboleth’ installation at the Tate Modern, in which she slashed the gallery floor with an ever-widening crack standing for the original Tate sugar money, its dirty roots in plantation slavery, and the consequent ethical undermining of the gallery and its history – a microcosm of white Western culture and wealth and the exploitation underneath.

It’s also in keeping with the ongoing rumblings and debate regarding the slave-trading roots of Bristol, the strategic heartland of the Middle Passage’s triangular trade – with the slave trader imprints on the names of its great buildings and statuary (some of which were recently and pointedly encircled with diagrammatics of slave ships and their suffering human cargo). You can’t help thinking that the organisers of ‘The Great Bailout’ really missed a trick by not scheduling a Bristol date, and perhaps a Liverpool one, alongside the London one. Gateshead – which does get a ‘Bailout’ date – has less of a stained history in this matter, along with its sister city Newcastle: distanced from the heart of the trade, and with the Tyneside anti-slavery movement being an early starter. London, though, grew fat on the profits, with its own triangular trade bigger than anywhere else in Britain.

There may be different resonances associated with the two continental European venues on the tour. Kraków is a little detached from diasporan agony, its own kind of historic slavery having been in the form of homegrown serfdom (Poland’s class savagery was traditionally applied to its own peasants, and its colonialist oppressions visited on the nearby Ukraine rather than on Africa). Ghent, on the other hand, hosted and shaped the 1814 treaty in which, in part, Britain and Belgium applied themselves to ending African slavery and the Middle Passage trade (albeit on their own terms, part of the strategic power-plays of the age as much as it was through any humane impulses).

It’ll be interesting to see if Moor Mother will have taken note of these things, dredged up these uncomfortable stains and compromised atonements and woven them in too. Whether each city on the tour route is given its own case to answer – hidden bones coming to light after two-and-a-half centuries of obscuring and snowjobbing.


 
There will be extras at the London show. Experimental violinist and London Contemporary Orchestra member Galya Bisengalieva will be performing an opening set of her own electroacoustic chamber music, duetting live violin with cunningly sculpted electronic sound-shaping. What I’ve heard so far is elegant and highly dramatic: sonic booms, string drones, eerie hard-eyed processional melodies against harshly majestic electronic architecture and steppe-scapes reflecting Galya’s own Kazakh background.

 
A second opening set is being provided by British-Nigerian south London glitch artiste Klein. An abstractioneer for three years, she started out being hailed as a kind of reinventor of gospel. Certainly her early recordings dipped into the form and she’s admitted that for many years it was her only reference point. It didn’t take her long, however, to move far beyond it. Other early tracks came across as a collagist log of the sounds of her community: not straightforward field recordings, but crafted patchworks of impressions and implicit meaning, finding vocal and musical fragments as important, in themselves, as actual complete sentences and phrases. Her ‘Tommy’ album, in 2017, was a kind of vaporously dissolved Afro-London laptop opera.

These days, memories of black church music continue to drift and prowl through Klein’s increasingly adventurous recordings, but they’re only part of her palette. While she keeps a toehold on more mainstream black musical ideas (a track like Changes sidles up to drill music, a shuffling slide of plate over plate, of violent masculine monologue recounted), most latterday Kleinwork is miasmic re-sortings of black vocal fragments over dark ambient dreamquakes and feathertwig beats: sometimes sobs or dramatic breaths, or slivers of story (somehow bigger than they appear, the way that individual black stories so often seem to trail implication entire cultural histories). Either that or they’re ribbons of dirty noise, swirls of demonstration with strange vocal glitches playing across them – gasps, lip noises, inchoate expressiveness.





 
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Moor Mother’s own roots are in gospel too, although she’s previously qualified that “my family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place”…” There’ll be more evidence of “negro spirituals flipped, remixed, and recaptured” on the second full Moor Mother album, ‘Analog Fluids Of Sonic Black Holes’, which is emerging on 8th November. In keeping with her work so far, the record will cover the themes of “myth, black mothers, vodun, quantum futurism and post-colonial street narratives.”


 
I’m guessing that this material, or spins on it, will be in strong evidence in the three further European dates Moor Mother will be playing in November following the ‘Great Bailout’ events. The first of these will be in Utrecht, as part of the Le Guess Who? Festival. Here, she’ll be rejoining Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick‘s “smacked-out hip hop” project Zonal (as one of two featured vocalists, alongside “fire-and-brimstone dub poet” Nazamba).



 
The second event is her headlining show in Helsinki. There, she’ll be supported by Alex Drewchin – a.k.a. non-binary multi-media art’n’music hopper Eartheater: who, over a five-year span in New York, has graduated from straightforward, deliquescing dreampop covers of Kate Bush songs to flittering unorthodox trance pop and sprawling, deconstructed anti-manifestos of collaged noise and brain-jumps. Beyond the electronics, current Eartheater work reflects the idea of body as instrument, psyche as testbed, ears and memory as record-and-playback devices.

The most recent Eartheater album, ‘IRISIRI‘, is a simultaneous explosion and dismantling of sonic and conceptual ideas across the spectrum. Plunderphonic chamber music samples, scraping noise effects, dance beats and thoroughly masticated chunks of ruined pop spat out and left on New York lamp posts, in apartment stairwells and practise spaces, leaving a scattering of recombinable fragments for other people to get stuck on and to mull over; flitting word associations and deconstructions of gender, of memories, of momentary definitions. There’s even the occasional joke (“I have no metaphor for you today – I’m off work…”). It’s both impersonal and entirely personal in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em running of personal insights and questions through a mill of big city information overload. Yes, it raises more questions than it provides coherent answers, but at least it’s intent on chopping out a space of possibilities in the first place.




 
Moor Mother’s other headliner is in Madrid, where she’ll be supported by emerging Spanish eclectician Cruhda. The latter’s work is softer and in some ways more accessible than that of most of the other people covered in this post, but that’s selling it short. It’s disruptive, just in a subtler way.

Crudha’s debut EP ‘Íbera Morte‘ is founded on selections and deliberate echoes of Spanish folk music, refracted through any number of home-studio cut-up-and-stick-in methods and stylings – musical box clinkings, Dead Can Dance Gothicity; Autotune and didgeridoo buzzes; structural interruptions and glitchtronics. Sylvan organ-drone folk gets carved into by straying intrusive beats like a prowling beast on a campside sortie; by warping bass synth growls; and by vocal cut-ups and lead lines from raw railing roars to dovelike sighs and monastic harmonies. It’d be crass simply to call Crudha a Spanish Björk, but there’s a similar breadth of imagination and reconstructive willpower here, as well as a similar reluctance to abandon melody.



 
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Dates:

Moor Mother v London Contemporary Orchestra: ‘The Great Bailout’

Zonal feat. Moor Mother & Nazamba;
Le Guess Who? 2019 @ TivoliVredenburg, Vredenburgkade 11, 3511 WC, Utrecht, Netherlands – Thursday 7th November 2019, time t.b.c.
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Eartheater
Tavastia Klubi, Urho Kekkosen katu, 6 Helsinki, Finland – Monday 11th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Moor Mother + Cruhda
Siroco, Calle de San Dimas 3, 28015 Madrid, Spain – Friday 15th November 2019, 9.30pm
– information here and here
 

October 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – a London visit for Asuna’s ‘100 Keyboards’ (2nd); psychonauts UnicaZürn step up to save the Horse Hospital (5th); Andrew Heath & Anne Chris Bakker play an ambient evening with Matt Atkins, Andrew Sherwell and Kevin Buckland (6th)

28 Sep

As part of London ambient sound festival MODE 2019, Japanese sound/drone artist Asuna will bring the occasional travelling installation in which he arranges a hundred battery-powered budget (or toy) analogue keyboards in concentric circles within a studio space (in this case, South London Gallery’s Clore Studio) and plays, sets up or alters single notes or clusters off each of them (usually sticking keys down with Sellotape) to produce “waves of overlapping sound”.

The results are a chorused spatial drone which you can wander through, in which the intention is to “generat(e) an undulating sonic harmony both mesmerising and mysterious. Sound waves on the same frequency multiply and bounce off in myriad directions, creating a complex sonic field of interference and reverberation that swells and changes over time. Subtle acoustic variations emerge, hover and retreat based on your location in the performance space.” The cheapness of the technology, the variability of battery performance and other factors will also provide additional variations to the setup. The three-minute excerpt below gives an idea of its grating shimmer.


 
On 5th October, psychedelic trio UnicaZürn (uniting members of Coil, Cyclobe, Guapo and Shock Headed Peters) will be playing at Bloomsbury avant-garde stronghold The Horse Hospital, showcasing music from their recent ‘Sensudestricto’ album plus brand new pieces created especially for the concert.

UnicaZürn, 5th October 2019

I’ve previously described their work as a “scenic but chilly slow-evolving boil of waterside atmospherics and psychedelic sound-painting”. ‘Sensudestricto’, explicitly based around situational revolt (“has there ever been a better time to fuck off to the stars? Is a prison breakout “escapism”? Crisis carve some wound-space to let the dreams back in…” ) continues to build on that promise, evoking late ’60s oil projections and space rock, ’70s synth patterning and occult counterculture, and various subsequent shades of psych revolt, dark folk and hauntological weirdness.

The Horse Hospital itself (a twist of history, art and countercultural resistance lurking like a bold and salty tattoo in the heart of one of London’s plushest districts) is once again under threat of being priced out of existence via a rent increase demand of over three hundred per cent, plus other bullying gentrification pressures, so this is a benefit gig. Attend, talk, add some cash to the Kickstarter, etc.

 
Having been releasing ambient/drone/experimental atmospheric music for a little under two years now from its Farnham base, not-for-profit independent tape label Rusted Tone Recordings is starting off a live season at IKLEKTIK with a concert by Aqueous keyboard player/piano minimalist Andrew Heath and Dutch ambient bowed-guitarist/slowcore escapee Anne Chris Bakker.

Rusted Tone Recordings Live #1, 6th October 2019

The duo have recently collaborated on an upcoming RTR release (the north-Netherlands-recorded ‘A Gift for the Ephemerist’) which blends both men’s interest in space, sparseness and field recordings into a record which “is overwhelmingly informed both by an open, minimal landscape and a love of process, allowing lower case sounds to form as you would unfold a map – each section revealing a new and uncharted vista…suspended in time and place, are modulating drones, fragile notes, texture and immersive driftscapes which shimmer and pulse with half-glimpsed melodies that seem to hang in the air.”


 
Support slots come from fellow ambientarians and experimentalists Matthew Atkins, Andrew Sherwell, and Kevin Buckland. Although he’s sometimes a drummer for assorted projects he’s encountered or helped form via the London Improviser’s Workshop, Matthew spends most of his time on sound and visual art. When performing his own music he uses percussion, assorted objects, cassettes and laptop for sound collaging which pursues (or more properly, accepts) elements of “reductionism, chance, repetition and texture.” (Usually he’s working in collaboration with someone else; usually, it also seems, he’s providing the odder or more exploratory parts.) Similarly, Kevin is sometimes a solo bassist, but spends more time outdoors as a traveller, photographer and field recordist intrigued by “the underlying intrinsic musical character that I believe is present within the everyday soundscape; whether rural or urban, indoors or outside.” This in turn takes him back to slow-evolving electronic music of his own, often released on his own Quietest Records label and playing dusky subliminal spells with sound he’s captured along his voyages.



 
As for Andrew, he’s found a niche of his own, and sticks to it; but it’s a particularly cavernous, ecclesiastical niche. He marries field recordings from churches and cathedrals from across Britain and Europe with existing choral recordings, plunderphonicised from random choir albums found in charity shops or, when he can, recording the genuine article first-hand. The results are a devotional post-Christian drone, heavily processed from its source material, flooding through an imaginary nave like a ghostly draught.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

South London Gallery/Thirty Three Thirty Three/Laurel Halo/The Japan Foundation present:
MODE 2019: Asuna presents ‘100 Keyboards’
South London Gallery, 65-67 Peckham Road, Camberwell, London, SE5 8UH, England
Wednesday 2nd October 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

UnicaZürn – A benefit gig in support of the Horse Hospital
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Saturday 5th October, 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Rusted Tone Recordings presents:
Rusted Tone RecordingsLive #1: Andrew Heath & Anne Chris Bakker + Matt Atkins + Andrew Sherwell + Kevin Buckland
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Sunday 6th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

September-November 2019 – upcoming post-folk, electrop, electronica gigs – tAngerinecAt on tour across Britain (5th/7th/14th/20th September, 17th/18th/26th October, 16th November) with Flange Zoo, DIANE, Experimental Sonic Machines, Ed Dowie, La Rissa, Yorkshire vs. Essex, Factory Acts, Slow Knife, Harbingers Drum Crew, Tin Mole, Clusterfuck, Hallulugenia, SIN/RED, Hypnotique, Otis Jordan, Saint Bernadette and She Robot

2 Sep

“At three I learned what sex was; /at five – death; / at seven – fascism and violence; /at ten – poverty, labour and hunger…” – tAngerinecAt, I Don’t Want To Be A White Master

Despite best intentions, a lot of folktronica can come across as… well, a bit polite and prissy; as something made by a particular breed of tech-headed enthusiasts, scholars and longtime culture-vultures who wear their tidiness and their geekiness openly. Crinkling synths, and flowery linen, kitchen musings and country walks; deep culture filtered through a tiny screen. It’s not that this invalidates it, as such. Folk culture has been, and remains, a broad cauldronful, as fit for constant renewing as it is for drawing from – and upfront electronics have been part of the tools of the trade for three decades now. It’s just that, as subgenres, folktronica and electrofolk seem particularly prone to diluting message with medium, sacrificing bite for texture; in essence, getting so involved with clubfloor, chillout or culture lab that they lose touch with bones, bothy or battlefield.


 
Fortunately, none of this applies to Anglo-Ukrainian duo tAngerinecAt, who sweep through England, Scotland and Wales for assorted dates across the stretch of autumn this year. After ten years cruising through the underground (five of them under the name of Dark Patrick), androgynous singer/hurdy-gurdy player Eugene Purpurovsky and tin whistle/bagpipe-toting electronicist Paul Chilton are still a constantly creative, intelligent and contrary force. Calling them folktronic, or electrofolk, involves upending the term… or stripping it back to the starting point.

Not that tAngerinecAt wear the label with much comfort themselves. They buck at the “folktronica” tag and, as Paul asserts “we don’t associate ourselves as folk, ever, and there is a good reason for that. We don’t play folk music, we compose our own music – not always based on Western scales but that doesn’t make it folk and neither does our choice of instruments. We often get labelled as this, but it’s a stereotype we are trying to get away from. We are only folk in the broader sense that all music is folk. Also, there isn’t one folk festival that would put us on their lineup…”

Certainly compared to most acts under the name, they’re on another level of impact altogether. An embrace of industrial sound (small keyboards and boxes which shout like giants, plus the rippling scathe of take-no-prisoners effects pedals which they add to their armoury and feed their acoustic instrumentation through) gives them the sonic presence of a no-wave or heavy metal act. They dip into frowning Carpathian mountain culture and various wiry varieties of British heath music, but stir in doses of anarchism, industrial sound and swipes at patriarchal violence. At any given time, in addition to the swirling bare-bones rootsiness you can hear echoes of sounds as diverse as Edith Piaf; the electrogoth stadium boom of Depeche Mode or the targeted upsetter-rants of Crass; the skycracking maximalism of The Young Gods and the angry historical weight of Towering Inferno’s ‘Kaddish’. Bizarrely enough, they also manage to capture elements of both ends of Swans – the booming pallet-drag of the early industrial years, the droning neo-folk of the contemporary band.


 
Then there’s the queer aspect. It’s not brought to the forefront of the band’s publicity, but it ripples through the grain of what they do. Eugene was born Eva, and identified as such in the band’s earlier years; the current tAngerinecAt has a genderfluid air in terms of clothing, movement and expression; and between them Paul and (particularly) Eugene summon up a variety of unexpected vocal characterisations which jolt and yell through the songs, upsetting standard ideas about power structures, protest, sources of ideas and about who might actually be singing. That name, too, queerifys and neonises the concept of a wandering animal spirit as band mascot, inspiration and reflection. tAngerinecAt have already won over gender-studies conferences, folk audiences, experimental-loft huddlers and, strangely enough, prog audiences (who might have a reputation for stolidity, but know and appreciate a good use of musical colouring and form-busting when they encounter it).

Despite the uncompromising drama and starkness inherent in their music, tAngerinecAt exhibit a different aspect when they’re acting as promoters, having run their own Cute Owl evenings and tours for several years now. Maybe it comes from the flexibility of vision and the teamwork ethos which Eugene built up from years of theatre work, but Cute Owl is extraordinarily welcoming to a variety of different acts, approaches and mannerisms when it comes to bringing in gigmates and support acts. It seems that as long as you have a yen for electronics and are sincere in what you do, that you’re part of the family. Hence, a Cute Owl event can encompass calls for revolution, playtime events, glamour stances, inclusive-spirited DIY tinkering and frosted electropop introspection; and hence the pleasing, unexpected diversity of the upcoming tour.

The first of the two London dates, on 14th September, is a relatively straightforward headliner but with a performance art buildup. One of the two supports is a previous Cute Owl gig act called Diane (A Walk Through Twin Peaks), in which two musically omnivorous DJs (NikTheDeks from electrobeat punks LOFE, and Andy “Dumb Blonde” McKinna) put down their record crates in order to team up on electronics, devices and effects-laden double bass for a dream-jazz/cryptronic David Lynch tribute (the solo Nik track below might provide a clue or two). The other is “crypto-zoological” animal-masked performance troupe Flange Zoo. Persistently theatrical creators of dank, humming, psychedelic-radiophonic draggings (within which synths rub up against finger bells, zithers, stylophones, turntable tricks and portentous narratives), at the moment they’re concentrating on their Edgar Allen Poe project: a séance-cum-tribute twisted in on itself. Sonorous readings of Poe short stories swim in ponds of improvised electronic twitchings and meditational pings; ritual resurrections turn into mutual back-slapping sessions.

 
The second London date, on 26th October, is a five-act Cute Owl Festival night. Here, tAngerinecAt are joined by flexible and beloved indie/experimental-pop balladeer Ed Dowie (whose 2017 debut album, ‘The Uncle Sold’ involves “a continually evolving, dream-like journey around a non-specified city (and) paints a picture of a range of characters struggling for certainty in a metropolis beset by continually changing forces, be they political, personal or financial”); by Nottingham “eccentronica chansonneuse” Hypnotique (theremins, clarinet and songs about “the apocalypse, post-feminism, erotic narrative and the banality of everyday life”). Also playing is Peter Rollings’ none-more-DIY project in which he ringmasters a clunking song-riot via his own makeshift/make-do invented instruments, robots and other musical machines while dressed in striking homemade ceremonial horned helms, robes and halberds (as if Moondog had been dressed by Mr Maker).

In addition to Peter’s own ESM set, he’ll be sponsoring and guiding another set by ESM’s robot drummer Ernie, a spindly foil-wrapped automaton who plays like a nervous fork-lift truck attempting a Mexican wave and looks like a 1970s primary school project about Martians.

 
The tour’s opening date, in Leeds, features the ominous ’80s synthpop/post-punk revivalist chimes and buzzes of La Rissa, made by “two misfits… in a dim little attic in Leeds” (originator/singing half Larissa Drozd sounding like a Stevie Nicks avatar entirely blanked out by black lipstick) who surface to carry out “dark, spooky” shows wrapped in crepuscular video art.

Also on board, Yorkshire vs. Essex (named not after a north/south feud, but from the founders’ surnames) offer chugging guitars, bass and white-noise synth garlands interrupted by trombones and flutes, all providing rumpled bedding for Simon Yorkshire’s eccentric songspiels on subjects ranging from “fictional toymakers to Sheffield murderers”, as captured on the recent ‘Dismembered Tales’ album. Shades of Peter Blegvad or Tom Slatter as well as YvE’s cited inspiration list of “Robert Wyatt, Current 93, Scott Walker, Miles Davis, Nick Cave, The Residents, Bjork, Death Grips and Iannis Xenakis.”




 
In Manchester, more dark-toned synthpop nostalgia comes from Factory Acts (who sound like Nico fronting a late ‘80s electro-dance outfit). There’s also a prime example of erudite Manc gobbiness on show via Slow Knife’s spoken-word-over-jazzpop- indie scuffle. Initially sounding like The Fall stranded in New Orleans and trying to get in step with the local pimp walk, they finally come across like a sleeker take on short-lived ‘90s beat-dadaists Campag Velocet: Daniel Tasker’s beat-poet outpourings have a similar (though more focussed) effect as he enounces over a cavalcade of horns, double bass, and slack-skinned drums/slide guitar which call up echoes of Can, The The and Dr John while lapsing occasionally into shrieking interludes of tonal and textural anarchy.



 
In Bristol, live-looper Suzy Condrad – under her She Robot alias – pulls together glockenspiel tinkles, mbira, bottle clinks, live beatboxing, passing sounds and layered banks of girlpop doo-wop and then weaves them into the bones of pre-written fully-formed guitar songs. Consequently, the looping comes across as more of a kind of graduated scratch arrangement, honed to a high level. A lot of loop songs can sound wispy, or hung up on their own polyphony: but with Suzy’s work, the song is paramount without the embellishments feeling forced. She’s managed to hold onto that spun-spontaneously-out-of-the-air feeling of loopsong while allying it to a penetrating, literate lyrical sense which challenges with questions and sharp observations rather than getting lost in the atmospherics.

Also at Bristol is ruminative electro-balladeer Luca Macchi, a.k.a Hallelugenia, whose material seems to stem from late-night chillout tunes which take a firm left turn, eschewing delta-wave blandouts in favour of expanding, talkative thought-paths sung in chamois-soft tones across shifting, subtly disruptive harmonic changes.



 
Another two acts are lined up for the Cardiff show, the first being agit-minded techno-pop quintet Clusterfuck who (despite the uncompromising hardcore name) spin out a tuneful, smoothly quaking ravepop sound inspired by and birthed within the current free-festival scene, laced with raps and DJ moves, and frequently graced by guest contributors. The second is Saint Bernadette, the latest in a string of projects from cross-genre voyager Francesca Murphy, a mainstay of ebullient Cardiff female music collective Ladies Of Rage and a singer who’s taken in punk, prog, country, jazz-pop, blues, spoken word and hip hop along her way. There are no clues yet as to what form Saint Bernadette will be taking, but Francesca’s Soundcloud page provides mostly-acoustic singer-songwriter-y examples from her recent past as well as a chance to hear her rich, welcoming voice.


 

The final show, at Edinburgh, features celebratory drumcore industrialists Harbingers Drum Crew – an aggregation of twenty or more assorted drummers inspired by “dance music, drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep and industrial metal” and emerging as being somewhere between a taiko squad, a British marching band, a samba party and a crew of No-Wave warehouse threateners. Meanwhile, Jo Hill’s SIN/RED, brings the electronica-spectrum cycle of support acts back to something resembling tAngerinecAt themselves: it’s not a precise comparison, but Jo’s foreboding mixture of noir-ballad pop, synth drone and cloister-echo raises similar anticipatory hackles and hints at skin-terror, raw feeling and ancient stirrings.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full tour dates:

  • Lending Room @ The Library, 229 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS2 3AP, England – Thursday 5th September 2019, 7.00pm (with La Rissa + Yorkshire vs Essex) – information here and here
  • Gullivers NQ, 109 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1LW, England – Saturday 7th September 2019, 7.30pm (w/ Slow Knife + Tin Mole + Factory Acts + Otis Jordan) – information here, here and here
  • The Raven, 218 Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey, London, SE1 2UP, England – Saturday 14th September 2019, 7.30pm (with DIANE + Flange Zoo) – information here and here
  • Equinox Festival 2019, Chalk Farm, Salters Lane, Wyham, Lincolnshire, DN36 5RS, England – Friday 20th September 2019, 12.00am – information here, here and here
  • The Thunderbolt, 124 Bath Road, Arnos Vale, Bristol, BS4 3ED, England – Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm (with She, Robot + Hallulugenia) – information here and here
  • The Big Top, 11 Church Street, Cardiff, CF10 1BG, Wales – Friday 18th October 2019, 7.00pm (with Clusterfuck + Saint Bernadette) – information here and here
  • Cute Owl Festival @ The Courtyard Theatre, Bowling Green Walk, 40 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6EU, England – Saturday 26th October 2019, 6.00pm (with Ed Dowie + Hypnotique + Experimental Sonic Machines + Ernie) – information here and here
  • Cabaret Voltaire, 36 Blair Street, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR, Scotland (with Harbingers Drum Crew + SIN/RED) – Saturday 16th November 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here

September to December 2019 – upcoming rock/rocktronica gigs – Teeth Of The Sea and The Utopia Strong live in London (5th September) plus further Teethings in Brighton (with Mulholland), Rochester (with Rekkliner and the closer we are to dying) and Brussels (6th/13th September, 4th October); and The Utopia Strong running cross-country with Matters, EWEI and Reidy Scott Duo (8th September, 8th/11th-13th November, 18th-21st December)

30 Aug

Brassy, growling psychedelic/techno/rave-rockers Teeth Of The Sea erupt back up again at Oslo in Hackney, accompanied by The Utopia Strong.

Teeth Of The Sea have long been darlings of the interface between trippy ‘tronica and rock bite. Here’s what I’ve said about them before: “Are they noise? are they rave? are they dream-metal? are they what you might’ve had if Miles Davis had rashly agreed to a Foetus production job?.. a craggy yet celebratory electro-psychedelic throb from a full-band rock lineup embracing techno, polytextured brass, analogue synthwarp, tough corners of metal, and dance imperatives that span Chicago clubs and mud-sodden English field parties… extended brass-laden psych-rock voyages with techno and rave methodology, updated for twenty-first century urban impulses.. driving part-electronic instrumentals packed with wailing guitars, rasping analogue synths and effected kaleidoscopic trumpet ow(ing) equal debts to counterculture techno and to the aggressive end of psychedelic rock (with) the four-to-the-floor beats, the cavernous space echo, and the dark pop shimmer that seals their overall appeal.” They’re currently touring their fifth album, ‘Wraith‘.

The band claim that the album’s haunted: apparent psychic disturbances and psychogeographic slips during the recording sessions. They say that this resulted in a more “vivid and maximalist work”, filled with “alchemised trash, kitchen-sink surrealism, out-of-order intensity and ritualistic overtones… inspiration, irreverence and otherworldly infiltration” and ramping up their influences of science fantasy, hallucinatory welt, horror soundtrack, post-industrial boom and dark-side-folk to new heights. For the recent single – I’d Rather, Jack – they’ve brought in Trash Club/Bugged Out DJ-turned-producer Erol Alkan to grind and polish the original song into an obsidian-smooth trumpet/cyberbeat clash; or, as they put it, “an angular banger equal parts mariachi elegy and electro euphoria.”




 
The Utopia Strong are the latest product of the mutual love-in between ’80s snooker ace-turned-rock promoter Steve Davis and British psych-rock everywhereman Kavus Torabi, which has previously resulted in a radio show, a travelling DJ array and a series of gleeful mutual eggings-on. This, however, is the first actual band that’s emerged out of the friendship – partly as a result of Kavus enticing Steve (at the age of 60) to make the jump from avid music fan to actual music maker, and partly due to Teeth Of The Sea’s Mike Bourne seducing Steve into the block-and-build/sculpted-noise world of modular synthesizers. On paper it sounds like a wheedle too far; in practise it’s actually pretty delightful. Some of this is down to the recruitment of the third man in the triumvirate, Michael J. York, whose previous work (with transgressive ritualists Coil, Shirley Collins-backing folktronicists Cyclobe, interstellar/subaquatic space-rockers The Stargazer’s Assistant and ecstatic droners Teleplasmiste, as well as some live-guest stints with Kavus in Guapo) has expanded his own modular synthwork by winding in enchanting folk elements on skirling bagpipe and woodwind.


 
The music that’s emerged so far – all of it instrumental, but as communicative as a collective crowd singalong – is charged with a beaming, benevolent enthusiasm. Beyond those immediately recognisable Torabi guitar cycles and sundives (sitting generously back in the mix, encouraging the electronics to billow forward), its synthwork and pulsations recall space disco, early Jarre and Cluster, electro-Hillage and the 1981 stars-in-glass futurism of Simple Minds, pre-bloat. Konta Chorus, for instance, isn’t too far off 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall; a gentle pounding punctuated by electronic drawer-zips and guitar tremulosity, by beatific recorder riffs and piano cycles. More aural beatification comes from Brainsurgeons 3, its beckoning three-note bass riff and sustained guitar anchoring nearly eleven minutes of building aerial-cosmic chitter: a gradual build of ecstatic layering synth bips, whoops and rackets with a bright future in its sights and a sunrise of bagpipes at around the nine-minute mark.

All of this is imbued by an atmosphere of blissful cynicism-slaying love. You can often appreciate friendship within bands. It’s rare, however, to get the kind of opportunity which The Utopia Strong offers: to literally hear what that friendship sounds like.


 
The evening’s bolstered by the efforts of the Black Impulse DJ team: visiting from the Dalston branch of multi-city broadcasters NTS with “the soundtrack of two American friends living in London… transatlantic camaraderie and a laid-back meander though metal, noise, trashy blues, prog, hardcore, hip-hop, free jazz and beyond.”

* * * * * * * *

Teeth Of The Sea have another date lined up immediately afterwards in Brighton, supported by the ringing sweet-surf guitar-and-drums curlicues of translocated Channel Islands experimental post-rockers Mulholland (as well as one other yet-to-be-announced act). They’ve also got a concert in Brussels the following week; and one in Rochester in early October accompanied by experimental rock quintet and “testing band” Rekkliner (proggy post-rockers with a strangely jaunty air and a yen for post-war melodics) and by audio-visually-inclined Medway dronescapers the closer we are to dying (led by Terry Lane with various other musicians drifting through).




 
Utopia Strong, meanwhile are going the whole hog by continuing on a nine-date English tour stretched and peppered across the autumn months and ranging from Cumbria (a slot at British Sea Power’s multi-act Krankenhaus Festival) to Ramsgate. When they have a support act, it’s usually Steve and Kavus themselves playing one of the DJ sets which have put them in demand from Glastonbury to All Points East to the Boiler Room and which keeps alive the memory of their ‘Interesting Alternative Show’: a perky and enthusiastic melange of mind-expanding tunes from avant-psych, avant-tronics, leftfield prog and indeed anything which pings a synapse or two.

In Birmingham, though, The Utopia Strong are supported by “gloomy dystopian” instrumental trio Matters (who, featuring former members of The Wolves allied with current members of Mayors Of Toronto, deliver electronic rock grooves that stretch from meaty guitar chunkalongs to broiling synth-throbs).

Later, in Bristol, there’s a double support. Firstly Louise Brady’s semi-ambient EMEI project: electronica which operates at that New Weird point where the bucolic shades into the neurotic and the mystical, and which regularly works a particular just-on-the-cusp-of-ugliness distortion at the point where a singing tone begins to break down into a pinking whine. Her tracks are like hillside ghosts, built up of hymnal vocal sighs, lapping interference and field recordings (mostly moist, mostly rural); Celtic-tinged accordion passages fed through Raudive wires; glass harmonicas sent through warbling distortion. The second support is the Reidy Scott Duo which unites two distinct Bristolian ambient soloists. Cork-born Aonghus Reidy, better known as Ocean Floor, writes circumstance-triggered burble-to-billow pieces for piano, harmonium, guitar, soft modular synth and other electronics (with sleep deprivation, times of day, and new instrumental discoveries amongst the initiating ideas). Live-looping guitarist John Scott usually trades as Stereocilia, bolstering his densely-effected guitar with synths and drumboxes in search of protracted, slow-wrenching psychedelic drones. This is their first ever duo pairing, so expect it to contain sorted and sifted elements of the varied solo work below…








 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Teeth Of The Sea + The Utopia Strong + DJ Black Impulse
Oslo, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England,
Thursday 5th September 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The other Teeth Of The Sea dates:

  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England – Friday 6th September 2019, 7.30pm (with Mulholland + one other t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Witloof Bar @ Botanique, Rue Royale, 236, 1210 Brussels, Belgium – Friday 13th September 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Billabong Club @ Royal Function Rooms, Victoria Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1XH, England – Friday 4th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Rekkliner + the closer we are to dying) – information here and here

The other Utopia Strong dates:

  • Krankenhaus Festival @ Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass, Cumbria, CA18 1RQ, England – Sunday 8th September 2019 – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ , England – Friday 8th November 2019, 8.00pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here
  • The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 2PQ, England – Wednesday 11th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England – Thursday 12th December 2019, 7.30pm (with Matters) – information here and here
  • The Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Friday 13th December 2019, 8.00pm (with EMEI + Reidy Scott Duo) – information here, here and here
  • The Crescent Community Venue, 8 The Crescent, York, YO24 1AW, England – Wednesday 18th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England – Thursday 19th December 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England – Friday 20th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Ramsgate Music Hall, 13 Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8NJ, England – Saturday 21st December 2019, 7.30pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here
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