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January 2020 – single & track reviews – The Powdered Earth’s ‘Hold Your Breath’, Broads & Milly Hurst’s ‘Happisburgh’, Lifeboats’ ‘Hurt’

31 Jan

The Powdered Earth: 'Hold Your Breath'

The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’

After their gently atmospheric piano overture earlier in the month, it’s proper debut-single time for Gloucester’s The Powdered Earth: time to find out what they’re actually about. Their ethos is apparently one of writing “little fictions… bringing storytelling to the fore” with a backdrop of “minimalist, melodic melancholia”. With a spec like that, and the previous evidence, you’d expect something like a more genteel piano-based Arab Strap.

Well, not quite… or not yet. Initially, ‘Hold Your Breath’ goes for what seems to be a much bigger and non-fictional story – that of the struggle against deforestation in Brazil – but they tell it in an understated way. In Brazil itself, this tale would probably have come through first-hand, via rap consciência or funk carioca, or possibly as some kind of mournful retro-fado. In the United States, it would probably been plunked or punked out over a banjo as a raucous post-Seeger tale of injustice visited on the working man. From their quiet corner of England, The Powdered Earth tell it in their own soft and sober way, trying to stay true to their instinctive sound while letting the story tell itself.

It sounds like a minimalist piano lieder, sung by Shane Young in a small, precise, discreet voice. George Moorey’s bolstering of synths (squashed brass, mechanical choirs) is similarly small and discreet. The lyrics, too, have the simplicity and directness of a pared-down folk song: “there were many of them. / They were gathered near the wood. / We had only handmade tools / and the clothes in which we stood… The ruling party wielded / the means to terrify, / but evil only triumphs / when we good men stand by.”

Listening to this is an odd experience, since it’s both detached and authoritative. You’re pulled into the gaps in the arrangement, into the void where the anger should be raging, as The Powdered Earth clarify that this is an outrage that occurs over and over again. “Miners brought the mercury / that made the river bend,” Shane pronounces. “Bolsonaro’s loggers / will leave nothing to defend.” The title itself is never mentioned; an unspoken warning to be decoded once you move out from the local outrage and start considering it as a small sign of a bigger problem.


 

Broads & Milly Hurst: 'Happinsburgh'

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happinsburgh’

Over on the other side of England, Norwich ambient ramblers Broads have teamed with kindred spirit Milly Hurst for an album of music inspired and partially built from field recordings made throughout the county of Norfolk. Named after a coastal village, ‘Happisburgh’ is a preview of that work; in itself, with its emphasis on widely-spaced reverberant piano, not too different from what The Powdered Earth are doing.

It’s wordless, though – their own sparse Debussian piano part backed up with a little glitch-static and a growing sweet, subliminal agreement of harmonium. The video is a sequence of slow pans across, and sustained shots of Happisburghian scenes: tumbled groyne stones on the sand, the red-banded lighthouse, blue-brown breakers under the wide Norfolk sky; a solitary cliff bench. The second part picks up speed with a rolling piano arpeggio, the sound of feet running through sand and gravel picked up, glitchified and looped. Towards the end, the footstep loop corrupts and stutters, becomes intermittent, vanishes.


 
Probing gently into location and inspiration, like an archaeologist with a fine brush, unlocks some of the messages. Like much of the Norfolk coast, Happisburgh is eroding, dropping fragment by fragment into the sea. It’s shored up by groynes and by its inhabitants’ reluctance to let it go; but has now been abandoned by government, its support withdrawn. It’s a vanishing village which also happens to be the oldest human settlement in Britain, with ancient flint tools in its earth strata, and with the earth’s oldest human footprints outside of Africa once discovered on its beach. Knowing this, the meanings of the sounds come into sombre and beautiful focus – the currents and tides in the shifting piano; the recorded footsteps, once clear as a bell, becoming obscured by time and processing, ultimately disintegrating out of the picture. Our history, even our deep history, vanishes in front of us.

Lifeboats: 'Hurt' (featuring Rena)

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt’ (featuring Rena)

While Lifeboats‘s ‘Hurt’ doesn’t share much musically with either ‘Happisburgh’ or ‘Hold Your Breath’ (being a piece of noisy post-shoegaze guitar pop) it does sort of fit in here by dint of a shared initial and a shared theme of loss, relinquishment and resistance. Lifeboats are a new teaming of Prod Pritchard (main songwriter for Oxfordshire bands Flow and Airstar, as well as being a right-hand man for Owen Paul) and Austrian singer-songwriter Rena (the latter listed as a guest on this single but, so far, very much part of the sound and craft).

‘Hurt’ bustles along on ahead-of-the-beat guitar thrums, not a million miles away from Ride, the Velvets or from Bowie’s “Heroes”. The last, in particular, serves as inspiration, since Rena’s vocal sings out a weathered but hopeful anthem of taking the blows but remaining resilient – “hurt is just a part of living / just like breathing. / We ache before we are – / and fate is beyond all reason; / and then, every season, / above what we control… / This life / we are born to live in, / and the darkness hiding / but the morning’s coming.” She imagines herself propelled, strengthened, along the airwaves, singing “though I’m cracked and shaking, / I will not be broken. / When life is taking its best shot, / say “is that really all you’ve got?” It’s a simple, solipsistic resistance compared to those implied or required in ‘Hold Your Breath’ and ‘Happisburgh’, but it’s there.

 
The Powdered Earth: ‘Hold Your Breath’
The Powdered Earth (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: now part of the ‘Singles’ EP on Bandcamp
The Powdered Earth online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube Deezer Spotify Instagram Amazon Music

Broads & Milly Hurst: ‘Happisburgh’
Humm Recordings, HUMM08 (no barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Bandcamp or Amazon; stream from Deezer or Spotify
Broads online:
Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Tumblr Bandcamp Last FM Deezer Instagram Spotify
Milly Hurst online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM YouTube Vimeo Spotify Instagram

Lifeboats: ‘Hurt (featuring Rena)’
Nub Music (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 31st January 2020

Get it from: download from Qobuz or Amazon Music; stream via Soundcloud or Spotify
Lifeboats online:
Soundcloud Spotify

 

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

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 
* * * * * * * *

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

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


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


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

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

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



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

 
* * * * * * * *

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

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

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




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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

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

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
 

June 2019 – upcoming experimental/eclectic gigs – post-classical noise/audio-visualists Ariadne play New York and tour Europe (7th, 12th-28th various) with all manner of contributions from Carl Stone, Dasychira, Salaċ, Lazy Bones, Wolf Scarers, Julia Dyck, Anna Peaker, Ideal, Java Java Wetware, Sound Situation and Ariel Kalma

3 Jun

Long past the point when its cultural context receded into antiquity, mediaeval plainsong remains a ready grab for musicians seeking to bridge classical ideas with (in the broadest sense) pop ones. It’s easy to recall the Gregorian chants stapled to dance loops and succubus exotica pioneered by Enigma at the start of the ‘90s, in the wake of which waddled a million chillout chant albums: though to pick some more inspiring examples from past ‘Misfit City’ coverage, there’s also the post-plague requiem of Jocelyn Pook’s ‘Deluge’ and the acapella-versus-disintegrating-granular-noise of Soaring On Their Pinions.

Perhaps plainsong’s draw is in its sparseness, its directness – the way in which its emphasis on a soloist (or at least a monophonic group line) initially seems like a direct personal meditation or plea, a kind of ecclesiastic monastic blues. It could also be the way in which that sense of vulnerability mixes with a sense of ancient history (the early steps of Christianity, with the classical Hebrew and Greek temple music sources still evident, unobscured by the later agglutinating harmonies of the Renaissance). Or, to be a little more cynical, maybe it’s just that that same sparseness and built-in antique provenance has made it an easier cold sell to an audience in the age of recordings.


 
Ariadne could probably provide a better and more interesting explanation than I can. They’ve certainly got the background to enable them to understand it – electronicist/visual specialist Benjamin Forest and fellow electronicist and mezzo-soprano Christine Papania first formed an allegiance at the music school of the University of Indiana: and Christine also explores various strands of classical in her solo voiceloop project Lanx as well as singing for the Manhattan Chorale. Since around 2015, Ariadne have been investigating and altering plainsong and its relations in a succession of albums, EPs, concerts and installations.

Their 2015 album ‘Tsalal’ was based around Hebrew texts and was about plummeting into darkness, physical and psychological; the same year’s ‘Ex Tempore’ was a psalmic “dialogue between the physical and the ethereal in a languished and dense atmosphere.” Their newest work, ‘Stabat Mater’ is a “twenty-movement cycle of audio/visual ecstatic visions, heavily inspired by the visions of female Christian mystics Hildegard von Bingen and Teresa of Ávila.” The latters’ writings are rearranged and transmuted for the sung texts, with a third source coming via text from the surrealist poet Aase Berg.

Hildegard’s work, of course, has regularly blended in nicely with contemporary concerns of spirituality, pain and the female perspective: only last year her work was programmed in underground New York/London arthouse concerts by Daisy Press and Filthy Lucre, juxtaposed against Bowie, Byrne, Charlie Looker’s anguished hard-rock analyses of toxic masculinity and fascism, and the morbid queer romanticism of Claude Vivier… all of which I’m sure is just the tip of an associative iceberg. Hildegard’s ecstasies were paralleled by the rather more masochistic ones of Teresa (who also suffered a particularly grotesque fate-of-a-saint post-death postscript as her corpse was gradually disassembled and traded about by quarrelling groups of nuns, dukes, Popes and priests for open mercantile advantage).

As for Aase, still very much alive, she’s an often-bewildering overturner of expectations with a marked disdain for the “patriarchal… male sexuality” restrictions which she sees applying to standard chronology (“time passes and things have to happen and there has to be a narrative”). Her own work upends this in favour of polymathic siftings of “science, math, probability, string theory, etc.” in weird-fiction settings of post-environmental catastrophes and reconstructed worlds in which standard human perspectives are slipping away, being superseded or disintegrated by impassive, inevitable processes of change. Notably, Aase has also worked as a translator for the horror-struck, pessimistic fantasy texts of H.P. Lovecraft which, though they have an empurpled baroque verbosity which her texts avoid, often operate in similarly blasted philosophical territories.

 
While I’m sure that Ariadne too are paying plenty of attention to all of this, text is secondary to what they’re putting it through sonically. While experimenting with eerie pitchshifting, reverberation and sound chopping, their earlier work backgrounded it in favour of the traditional purity of Christine’s voice. Now they’re bolder, more assured and disruptive: while delivering perverse auto-destructive lyrics like “put my fist through my mouth and pull the roots out of the ground”, Christine’s voice retains its classical beauty but also negotiates its way through a far more confrontational path of distortions, subversions, doppelganger mockings and simple sequences of compline giving ways to gorgeous vomitations like a hopelessly poisoned Kate Bush. The electronically-generated sound, too, keeps its previous haunted/spinning chapterhouse atmosphere while rearing up like a briar thicket destroying a pathway, with distressing organic splatters, acidic treble rills, liquid-sword shatterwhooshes and nightmare distortion-belfry sounds breaking things up; plus vocal capture/turns like the obscene Pachucho squelch that chokes through Burning Sphere.

Like the last-act works of Scott Walker, though, ‘Stabat Mater’ manages to be disturbing and ear-opening without relying on shock-schlock. It hints at and flickeringly reveals dysfunction, confusion and horror without quashing or sneering at the beauty, structure or aspiration of the source materials. Benjamin’s video work, too, makes mesmerically beautiful optical scapes out of disruption, data corruption, trippy fetish hints and perspective explosions.

 
An upcoming Ariadne tour takes ‘Staber Mater’ around selected spots in America and Europe – as well as assorted arts centres, venues include an avant-garde-sympathetic bar at home in New York; an accommodating church crypt in Bristol with a patience for the heretical; a preserved grand Tudor chamber in London; and the marine guts of a permanently harbour-bound Hamburg merchant ship.

That New York hometown concert is taking place at metal/experimental hangout bar Saint Vitus, accompanied by Ideal and Dasychira (with records spun by DJ Clone). Dasychira is a platform for some brilliantly inventive experimental dance music from transplanted, intriguingly alienated South African sound artist Adrian Martens. Adrian explores and celebrates his own psychological vulnerability and resilience via industrial detonations and scatters of mbira chops, alarming darkwave pop interjections and bursts of monastic chorale. Scurrying underneath are thematic undertows of insect regeneration, building new lives from nothing. He debuted with 2017’s ‘Immolated’ EP, while last year saw the ‘Razor Leaf’ single and the ‘Haptics’ EP consolidate his work. The gig’s worth attending for his sake alone. As to whom Ideal are, I’m less sure. I’m assuming that they’re not these German New Wavers from 1982, but within the ever-refreshing and surprising Brooklyn ferment, I probably shouldn’t assume anything.



 
In Bristol, there’ll be slots featuring a pair of duos from the town’s Avon Terror Corps underground label, whose artists draw their loose inspirations and guidelines from“”medieval visions of the future, breakcore, ‘Westworld’ (the original film), industrial, the psychogeography of Castlemead, the legacy of shoegaze, the legend of Goram and Vincent, the total destruction of “deconstructed club”…” Both are best judged by their contributions to the ‘Avon Is Dead’ compilation, which amasses sundry ATC cloud uploads from 2018.

Salaċ – bewildering, serious-playful aural occultists – create long-spooling jump-cut soundscape ceremonials, the outcome of their “sculpting séances of sound with tape machines.” These are aggressive dirtbass rumbles, spasms of object-rolling across metal sheets, complaining recitations of disassociation, punctuated by watertank booms, data-screech waterfalls and a certain amount of dry psycho-geographist’s humour (as in fucked-up cheesy drum machine beats they occasionally summon up and put through the soiling chamber). So far, it’s best to judge Bokeh Edwards and Jade Hybou, a.k.a. “esoterrorists” Java Java Wetware by their track Even Cowgirls Get The Blues – a fragmentary aural story via a dreamy harmonica-assisted trudge through ruined domes and shattered glass, set further off-kilter by lapping folk soprano vocals and ending with secretive whispers and a handful of reverb-muffled gunshots.



 
In Manchester, support acts include obscure local psych/alt.folker and “veteran astral wanderer” Lazy Bones. Whether solo meanderer or journeying band, he/they have been at it for at least a decade and a half, coming up with “gentle melodies hid(ing) strange shadows, hidden yearnings and the promise of the transcendental” with a “whimsical ’70s edge” following the lysergic thicketry of Cope, Barrett and Jansch: some of it may be found on this cobwebbed MySpace site, if you can find your way in. Working in a similar vein (but easier to track down) is the bouzouki-driven power pop and stoner beat of The Peace Pipers, enthusiastic ’60s hippy-punk throwbacks with a taste for dressing up and dancing down the garden paths of The Move, early Pink Floyd and Dave Mason. The evening’s real wildcard is sometime ILL member Sadie Noble, a.k.a. Nummo Twin: generator of woody, baffling dream pop and abstracted yet covertly clever chucking-mud-at-the-wall collages of glitchy electronics, woodworking noises, and half-heard vocal mumbles.





 
The Todmorden show features raffishly arty tenor sax duo Wolf Scarers (Simon Prince and Keith Jafrate) and thrumming audio-visualizer Anna Peaker. With printmaking, DJing and gig promotion as part of her activity alongside the sound and graphics designer (and with an eye on branching out into dressmaking and ceramics.) Anna is an impressive DIY/do-anything character. Across her artwork she takes inspiration from Yorkshire weaving mills, witchcraft, old record sleeves and film posters; from ancient pathways and the millennia-spanning architectural layers of her base in Leeds. By itself, her music is skirling Yorkshire-Germanic variations on assorted psychedelic-chapel organ drones, billowing in and out of focus and sometimes including autoharp and field recordings – for the full effect, though, it’s tied into the cascade of her live visuals.

With Wolf Scarers, Simon and Keith blow a free-brewed stewing of various ingredients and inspirations from the multiple genres each has played individually (and sidestepping the temptations to baffle the acoustic tones any further with computer processing). The results range from “gentle meditations that almost become chamber music across to full-blown shout-ups in the true tenor sax tradition, via, possibly, messed-up marching band funk and deconstructed jazz strut.” Larger Wolfscaring lineups are rolled out when the music necessitates, but on this occasion it’ll be the core duo at work.


 
In Berlin, Ariadne are slotting in at the bottom of a mixed bill in the Kiezsalon series run by Michael Rosen. At the top is American sampling-and-computer-music pioneer Carl Stone, whose 1970s loops and repurposing of library records drew a kind of academic-based parallel to hip hop’s turntablism, and who’s subsequently kept pace with technological collaging possibilities while maintaining an accessible sense of found/captured/manipulated melody, plus a continually expanding taste for incorporating suggestions and content from other cultures’ music (in particular Asian cultures) and a disarmingly bonkers vocal quality. In the middle is French wind instrumentalist/synthesist Ariel Kalma, who’s been dwelling on the borderlines of process music, Paris experimentalism, New Age and electrophonic minimalism since the mid-‘70s.



 
Over at Prague’s Punctum venue, the first of two listed support acts is the acousmatic Sound Situation trio: domestic New Music exponents with electronicist Michal Rataj (electronics), Jan Trojan (more electronics, plate-bashing) and Ivan Boreš (prepared guitar) Veterans of academic music and live improv, as definition they spit out a host of word associations as definition: “sound design, freshly baked bottle in the fridge, movie soundtracks, radio art, pieces of sheet metal, flamenco, sirens, spectral transformations, Kvok!, teaching at the university… Ostrava new music days, abandoned sea beach, Contempuls, Noise Assault Agency Budweiss, BERG Orchestra, Gride”.

 
Unpick and reassemble that little lot if you wish; but note that Punctum have spent far less time expounding on who second Prague support Julia Dyck might be. To be frank, they’ve spent no time at all on it so far… but evidence points towards it being this woman. If so, you can expect to see or hear anything pulled from a bewildering, inspiring rack of potential directions and from a mind seething with forma drawn from feminist/queer/gender theory, from technological awareness and from Julia’s formidable polymathic curiosity about the world. It might be radiophonics, or synth minimalism, or voice-and-fx constructions, or ambient noise; it might be ideas drawing from her time as radio producer, writer and broadcast media artiste; or general conceptual experiments like the miked-up fruit-and-body performance she recorded for a batch of film festivals earlier in the year.

There are a few tasters below – the krautrock-in-the-frying-pan of Passenger, the ambient goo of Changes Made – but there’s too much to Julia to summarise in a paragraph or two or a handful of audio clips. Even briefly looking into what she does is like cracking an eggshell and finding an expansive, challenging pocket universe within, which then maps inexorably back onto your own and changes it behind your back.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full tour dates and details are still being assembled, but here are the ones I know about so far:

 

  • Saint Vitus Bar, 1120 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York City, NY 11222, USA – Friday 7th June 2019 (with Ideal and Dasychira) – information here, here, here and here
  • Blah Blah, via Po 21, 10124 Torino, Italy – Wednesday 12th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Le Brin de Zinc, 3 ZA Route de la Peysse, Chambery, 73000 Barberaz, France – Thursday 13th June 2019, 8.30pm – information here
  • St Paul’s Church Southville, 2 Southville Road (junction with Coronation Road), Bristol, BS3 1DG, England – Saturday 15th June 2019, 7.00pm (with Salaċ + Java Java Wetware) – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ, England – Sunday 16th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Wolf Scarers + Anna Peaker) – information here
  • The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday Street, Manchester, M1 1BE, England – 17th June 2019, 7.30pm (with Lazy Bones + The Peace Pipers + Nummo Twin) – information here
  • Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Muziekcentrum Kinky Star, Vlasmarkt 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium – Wednesday 19th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • MS Stubnitz, HafenCity, Kirchenpauerkai 26, Umfahrung Versmannstraße, Baakenhafen/Baakenhöft, 20457 Hamburg, Germany – Friday 21st June 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Komplex, Zietenstr. 32, 09130 Chemnitz, Germany – 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Punctum, Krásova 27, Žižkov, 13000 Prague, Czech Republic – Sunday 23rd June 2019, 7.00pm (with Michal Rataj/Ivan Boreš/Jan Trojan + Julia Dyck) – information here and here
  • Wolskie Centrum Cultury, Wolskie Centrum Kultury, ul. Obozowa 85, 01-425 Warszawa, Poland – Monday 24th June 2019, 8.00pm – information here
  • Kiezsalon, Greifswalder Strasse 23a, 10407 Berlin, Germany – Wednesday 26th June 2019, 8.00pm (with Carl Stone + Ariel Kalma) – information here and here
  • Macao, Viale Molise 68, 20137 Milan, Italy – 28th June 2019, time t.b.c.

 

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

10 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some glimpses…

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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


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

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


 
* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

Warmer Than Blood:

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

February 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – drone evenings – NYX & Iona Fortune plus Flora Yin-Wong (3rd February); Matthew Shaw, Anji Cheung and English Heretic (7th February)

29 Jan

A couple of evenings of drone and weird noise for you, here in the Smoke.

* * * * * * * *

 
Electronic drone choir NYX and Glaswegian electro-acoustic drone instrumentalist Iona Fortune join forces in Bethnal Green during the coming weekend, for what they’re calling “a liminal ceremony” based on an exploration of the I Ching. The latter’s a particular interest of Iona’s – she’s already released the first of a planned octet of releases on the subject. Live, she blends instrumental performance work on the gamelan percussion set and guzheng zither with vintage electronic textures generated by the EMS Synthi AKS (the same early-’70s suitcase synth that’s responsible for early Pink Floyd sequencing, mid-period radiophonics and various Enossifications), via a composition technique which “involves inner cultivation”. For their part, NYX (eight veiled women singing together from behind two tables strewn with vocal sound processors) stress “mindful experiences, psycho-acoustics and sound healing through an immersive exploration of ambient, noise and electronic music”. Expect a mixture of avant-garde eeriness and ancient intimations, then, mixed with a fat emollient smear of New Age healer atmospherics: something silkily psychoactive.

The focus on I Ching divinations might be Iona’s choice, but the sonic method is NYX’s, who are leading a series of similar concerts (this is the third of four, it seems) in which they coax a collaborator to let go of some of their own battery of electronics and/or field recordings and allow NYX to replace it with their own poly-chorused vocal blocks and twinings. A recent ‘If Only’ interview with NYX’s Sian O’Gorman has plenty of talk about mother principles and the like, but it does make them sound genuine: intrigued by the interaction of specific voices with specific bits of electronic kit, and well aware of different vocal practises delved into across hundreds of years and thousands of miles.

They’re also determined – and proud – to promote the female voice, skills and mindset. All performers in the concert series have been women: unsettling folktronica performance artist Gazelle Twin following operatic chanter Hatis Noit, with layering classical/noise minimalist Alicia Jane Turner scheduled for the next event.

Meanwhile here’s a little of Iona working on her own, plus a snippet of NYX working with Gazelle Twin. Chop, edit and remix in your mind’s eye as appropriate.


 
As a kind of counterbalance to the concert’s Orientalist leanings (for all the sincerity, with this amount of New Agery it can feel as if it’s an act of looking in rather than belonging), the support slot goes to an actual Asian diasporan musician: electronicist Flora Yin-Wong, Chinese-Malaysian by roots but London-born. With an outright interest in club culture and dissonance, Flora seems to be more futurist than tourist but touches on the evening’s mystical tone via her use of field recordings from south-East Asian temples, re-brewed and teased within electronic processing and contemporary beat frameworks. Some of what she does twinkles, but other parts form arresting fields of explosive ritual noise right from the first note – see below.

 
* * * * * * * *

The following Thursday, up in Manor House, New River Studios plays host to the London launch event for Matthew Shaw‘s “debut” album ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’.

Calling it a debut is a little disingenous, since Matthew’s been putting out music for two decades now. At the turn of the century he sat somewhere between Bark Psychosis, Mojave 3 and a sedated Mike Oldfield, releasing soft-edged, deeply rural dream pop as Tex La Homa. At the start it was murmured acoustic-indie guitar folk – equal parts Drake and Velvets – expanded by synth rills, echo and field recordings; but gradually the singing diminished and the backing tracks became more interesting, the sounds took over and the local Dorset landscape (both physical and psychic, stone circles and solstices) impressed itself ever more deeply on the music. Though Matthew was also spending time helping to add sonic depth and audio subtext to folktronic pop band Sancho, in his own work the pop structures were dissolving away to allow the other ingredients to billow forwards.

By the middle of the decade Matthew was carrying out duo work: bizarre electrophonic ritual music with Nick Grey as 230 Divisadero and theosophical dronery with Andrew Paine as The Blue Tree. Since 2010, he’s run the limited-edition experimental label Apollolaan Recordings and issued a couple of Cornish/antiquarian-slanted location music releases in collaboration with Brian Lavelle as Fougou. Suggesting that he’s only officially going solo now is also a little disingenous – there have been releases under the Matthew Shaw name since he started Apollolaan, with a host of them still on Bandcamp. They’ve explored the usual territories of the recurring mystic tradition – alchemy and magick, psychogeography, cosmic astrology – but without the pomposity that’s usually bundled into the package.

Generally speaking, Matthew comes across as a listener rather than an imposer; travelling from temporary cottage to temporary cottage and from site to site with his guitars, sampler, KAOSS pad and electronics as an itinerant tinker would carry his tools. His work often sounds like an attempt to fuse an English pastoral tradition with spiritual/kosmische protractions and with occult/avant-garde post-punk aesthetics, blending in a folk-inspired interest in the cycles of seasons and life plus the rituals one makes to mark them. Typically New Weird Britain, then – and ‘Among The Never Setting Stars’, true to form, is apparently based around field recordings of “occult landscapes”. I would have expected the resulting pieces to have been more alarming, or at least more disorientating in the standard dark-ambient style (in which thunderheads mass like war in heaven and nature is overwhelmed by random electricity and ferociously foraging ants). On this occasion, however, Matthew seems to have been brought to a pitch of innocent (if slightly eerie) pastoral serenity – his source material buried to the point of absolute dilution or effective erasure beneath a gentle edgeless electrophonic skirl, like a cloud-organ recital in a roofless, open green church.


 
Also on board for the New River concert are the harsher drone-and-sample-scapes of Anji Cheung. Sometimes these are unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual. Sometimes they’re car-boot clatter under a lowering sky; sometimes they’re beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz. If Matthew’s work remains rural (and white), Anji’s is another aspect of NWB: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).



 
Playing hosts are English Heretic, the multimedia collective who for fifteen years have been self-appointed English psycho-historical curators, magickal Situationists and NWB forerunners. They’ve always carried their enthusiastic immersion in all things Britannic, eldritch and peculiar with warmth and wit, embracing the absurd without turning it into a cheap laugh; and putting a more inclusive and welcoming face onto the uncanny, sometimes belying the depth of their work. If I ever need an exorcism (or, more likely, some kind of psychic mediator) I’ll probably give them a call.

Plenty of music can be fed into the English Heretic stewpot – they’ve cited “psychedelic folk, ritual ethnographic recordings, electronica” as part of their fuel, and they’re very happy to drop into thrumming cusp-of-the-’70s psych rock at any opportunity, but in many respect the music’s secondary to the tales and the texts, the visual images and the intimations. Head Heritageur Andy Sharp has mentioned, in ‘The Quietus’, his tendency to extrapolate scraps and findings into something bardic and numimous – “reading around, something will catch your attention, and then I treat it in a magical context: taking the view that restless spirits or troubled souls inhabit the environment.” Sparks from hidden resonances (including those which are actually in plain sight and hearing) permeate the work.

For this particular concert, English Heritage is airing part of the ongoing audio-visual project ‘London’s Imagined Dead: Cinematic Deaths in London’. The section they’ve picked takes its cues from the Brit-horror era of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s: the era which spawned ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘The Blood on Satan’s Claw’, although they’re focussing on a lesser-known Hammer offering, ‘The Asphyx’. A 1972 tale of horribly botched Victorian research into the transmigration of souls, the film’s final sequence features the cadaverous, wandering-Jew meanderings of the story’s main character, still alive in the 1970s and condemned to a hateful, decrepit, guilt-ridden immortality. That last sequence was filmed at Battersea’s Winstanley Estate, later briefly notorious (in UK garage circles and in tabloid-land) as the home turf of So Solid Crew.

The finale of 'The Asphyx'. (Well, it was the early '70s and they'd run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept...)

The finale of ‘The Asphyx’. (Well, it was the early ’70s and they’d run out of budget. Just concentrate on the concept…)

Visiting the present-day location, EH have taken note of the estate’s mysterious-looking murals (actually reliefs, carved into the Winstanley’s concrete walls) and have drawn from them to create new visual scores. Full of primal symbols and strange abstracted geometries, the carvings have an ancient air to them; but actually they’re early ‘60s commissions from William Mitchell Design Consultants, formally put up as part of the refurbishment during the estate’s post-war rebuild, and not even a decade old when ‘The Asphyx’ was filmed. English Heretic know this, of course, but are well aware that the ideas which places, objects and initial associations trigger off are at least as important as the actual truth. In this case, they’ve intersected film and building fabric to inspire literal musique concrète. Their pun, not mine. Not that I’m sulking about having been beaten to the punch…

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

comm-une presents:
NYX with Iona Fortune
The Pickle Factory, 13-14 The Oval, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9DT, England
Sunday 3rd February 2019, 6.30pm
– information here and here

English Heretic presents:
Matthew Shaw + Anji Cheung + English Heretic
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 7th February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here
 

September 2018 – upcoming experimental electronica gigs in London – Pita plus Finlay Shakespeare and Nik Colk Void at Sutton House (7th & 8th September); Andrew Heath and Toby Marks at the Old Church (21st September)

31 Aug

A couple of interesting electronic music shows in historic buildings, coming up in various parts of Hackney during September…

* * * * * * * *

Pita (plus guests), 7th & 8th September 2018

Second-wave industrial/noise music star and extreme computer music pioneer Peter Rehberg (a.k.a. Pita) will be filling up the old Tudor space of the Great Chamber of Hackney’s Sutton House with sounds from his current modular analogue electronics work, on a double date postponed from May.

“Born in London, Rehberg has resided in Vienna for his adult life. It was here, in the early ’90s, that Rehberg harnessed aspects of noise, industrial, electro-acoustic and techno to develop a new approach to music. Whether constructing an album entirely from the recordings of a fridge, or harnessing the live electronic potential of laptops soon after they hit the market, Pita has always been at the forefront of contemporary radical music practice.

“Birthing the extreme computer music genre, scoring the works of controversial French theatre director Gisele Vienne, ongoing collaborations with Jim O’Rourke, Fennesz, Marcus Schmickler and Stephen O’Malley… all define Rehberg’s open ended approach to the creative act. As head of the influential Editions Mego family of labels, he has released albums by renowned artists like Fennesz, Heather Leigh, Klara Lewis, Kevin Drumm, Thomas Brinkmann, Florian Hecker, Bernard Parmegiani, Russell Haswell, KTL, Iannis Xenakis, Oren Ambarchi, Bill Orcutt, Mark Fell and many more.

“As Pita, Rehberg has produced over a dozen albums, covering an astonishing variety of experimental electronic styles. The ‘Get Out’/’Get Down’/’Get Off’ trilogy received broad international critical acclaim and helped define the radical underground experimental electronic scene of the 90’s. Pita has played numerous concerts all over the world including SONAR, ATP, CTM Berlin, MUTEK, Donaufestival, Le Guess Who?, Atonal etc. In 1999 he won the Prix Ars Electronica for Digital Musics & Sound Art.”

Pita’s most recent recorded offering is his 2016 album ‘Get In’, his first in twelve years and his first following a 2015 return to live work with a new modular setup. It’s a tremendously assured work, sometimes bullish, with none of the noncommittal airiness that often blights the EM and ambient genres.

Part of this is to do with scale – it’s a varied, huge-sounding record which sidesteps simple vulgar loudness for an impressive architectural dominance. Wherever Pita offers gently scintillating greenhouse meditations, they also happen to be the size of the Eden Project; his Galaxian blip-brainstorms, meanwhile, crack the game cabinet and head for great-hall pronouncements. With barely an obvious beat in sight, this is an urgently physical music which also puts the mind on sharp alert. There’s glitch and squelch; but there’s also grand romanticism which sternly punishes itself, and challenges the listener with passages of synthesized orchestral meditation penetrated by shrieks of solo noise and a frowning, compelled patina of distortion vandalism. This is exceptional stuff.


 
On each of his two Sutton House concerts, Pita will be joined by a guest musician.

On Friday 7th, it will be Finlay Shakespeare: analogue synth minder to the stars (via his work at the Moog Sound Lab) and also chief engineer and founder of Future Sound Systems, where he builds worryingly-named modular components including the Convulsion Generator, the Spectral Devastator and an updated version of Chris Carter’s Throbbing Gristle sound-processing unit, the Gristleizer (as used to unsettling effect throughout the original Gristle’s career).

Since last year, via his prolific series of ‘Housediet’ releases, Finlay has been creating his own passionate and evocative take on old-school experimental European synthpop, filled with flattened analogue blatters, skirling fanfares, cybernetic dance pulses and borderline-hysterical incantatory pop vocals.


 
On Saturday 8th, the guest will be Nik Colk Void. Twenty years ago (as Nikki Colk) she was running songblasts of pop-punk through dense effects-pedal work as frontwoman for Norwich experimental rockers KaitO. These days, she’s to be found as one-half of Factory Floor and one-third of post-Throbbing Gristle trio Carter Tutti Void.

Nik’s solo work leaves songcraft far behind in favour of wonderfully suggestive post-industrial sonic abstractions. Haunted factories, steam hisses and wheel-rim scrapes; neurotically-looped ventilation-duct eavesdroppings on unseen devices; or even something as simple as single-scratch passes (like bored, rolling marbles) paired with intermittent grain bag-rattles, like blank shamanic rituals played out on abandoned machine-shop benches.

 
I-D.A Projects & care in the community recordings present:
The New Arts & Music Programme at Sutton House: PITA
Sutton House, 2-4 Homerton High Street, Homerton, London, E9 6JQ, England
– Friday 7th September 2018, 7.30pm
(with Finlay Shakespeare) – information here and here
Saturday 8th September 2018, 7.30pm (with Nik Colk Void) – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

A fortnight later, and a mile or so northwest, Toby Marks and Andrew Heath are bringing a softer, spacier double bill of solo electronic music to London within the preserved Saxon confines of Stoke Newington’s Old Church. Full details below.


 
Andrew Heath + Toby Marks, 21st September 2018“A soundscape artist and composer, Andrew Heath creates quiet, ambient, lower-case music based around piano, electronics and field recordings, drawing inspiration from a simple piano motif, an electronic shimmer or a processed found sound. The work he produces blends piano, electronics and found sounds into a mix that on the surface sounds quite minimal and open, but on closer listening, contains detailed fragments, constantly shifting and changing place.

“Early collaborations using Fender Rhodes, piano and electronics with fellow musician, Felix Jay under the name Aqueous led to a partnership with the legendary Hans-Joachim Roedelius. Andrew went on to produce a number of video and site-specific, sound installations which re-introduced him to the technique of working with field recordings, often leaving in the sonic detritus that most would seek to eliminate as being “non-musical”.

“In performance, Andrew re-interprets his studio work weaving multiple layers of textural field recordings balanced with etherial whispers of electronic sound and half-glimpsed piano melodies. Recent performances have seen him add acoustic instruments to his palette – often bowed or e-bowed, but certainly not played conventionally. This is immersive, ambient music. It drifts. It constantly shifts as it charts new topographies, creating and following maps that are full of change.




 
Banco de Gaia’s Toby Marks will be exploring the gentler end of his catalogue, presenting ambient works old and new accompanied by live improvisation and manipulation. Ranging from cinematic grandeur through tender minimalism to otherworldly fantasies, this performance will take you to places of beauty rarely visited.



 
“Visuals will be provided by Patrick Dunn (currently touring with Tangerine Dream) who blends real world imagery and computer generated graphics to create a mesmerising, immersive world.”

Disco Gecko presents:
Andrew Heath + Toby Marks
The Old Church, Stoke Newington Church Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9ES, England
Friday 21st September 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – some post-Doran thoughts on smaller music festivals; and next week’s EppyFest in Cheltenham (27th & 28th July)

21 Jul

John Doran of ‘The Quietus’ wrote a pithy, on-the-nose article a while back about the ongoing corruption of big music festivals, lambasting them as “unsatisfying money hoovers designed to deplete your bank account for minimal return… a heavily branded and patronisingly over-mediated experience – with little in the way of the rough round the edges, unexpected, challenging or genuinely exciting experience that makes being a music fan worthwhile; just a massive spoonfed dose of the ubiquitous, the hyped and the monolithically popular.”

As a follow-up punch, John slashed a hole in the backdrop in order to expose the ethics behind the festival business: how, even as you’re frolicking in a ludicrously overpriced facsimile of countercultural free-spiritedness, your ticket money wriggles its way into the war chests and “shockingly regressive campaigns” of suspect billionaires intent on crushing any genuine counterculture that’s little more than a cheery mask on a product, funding a host of life-killing causes including anti-LGBTQ, anti-union and anti-immigration initiatives. Unsurprisingly, he concluded “personally I’d sooner go to a smaller, more grass-roots independent festival and have a clutch of genuinely odd, uplifting, joyous and memorable experiences on a smaller, freer scale.” He lists plenty of smaller, more conscientious festivals which might better suit your ethics or your conscience – Supersonic, End of the Road, many more. Modestly, he didn’t mention ‘The Quietus’s own efforts .

I might lack John’s edge, but I’ll still say amen to all that. There’s also always the option of going further off the map, seeking out festivals beyond the tents’n’burgers belch. I’ve covered some such here… Marchlands’ annual musical/theatrical celebration of reaching across borders and understanding history; the composer-driven London New Wind Festival; New York’s wonderfully brainy and diverse Ecstatic Music Festival. On a more domestic level, there’s next month’s Whole World Window 2 in Preston, raising urgent money for psychedelic hero Tim Smith’s health care while also functioning as a focussing lens for assorted rock and pop acts existing in a rowdy, complex continuum outside ot the mainstream. The staunchest supportive and communal ethics, unsurprisingly, still hover around punk events, those pass-around-a-donation-bucket battles for big values in small places (I might often be bored by the music, but I profoundly admire the commitment and the generosity of spirit).

* * * * * * * *

As regards the coming week, Gloucestershire’s EppyFest – just a week away now – is the epitome of a pocket festival. Now heading in its seventh year, it also pretty much defines “boutique”. Its amiably knitted-together selections of psychedelic rock and pop, folk, electric and acoustic chamber music and accomplished instrumentalist is undeniably cosy, but in the right way – unashamed and unaggressive, slightly specialised while toting an inclusive audience ethic. There’s a rosy English glow to it, alright, but not the kind which shoulders out differences while indulging a truculent and moneyed bucolic fantasy. The Eppyfest England is one which is comfortable in itself, but not too smug to look outwards: mostly white, but not bleached and angry. In the best sense and intimation, it’s a liberal parish.

Gong, 2018

The Friday lineup, starting in the evening – is the briefer concert, with just two sets of performers. The headliners are the current and ongoing version of cosmic-rock libertine troupe Gong, still romping along after the death of founding holy prankster Daevid Allen. This isn’t the first time there’s been a post-Allen Gong: percussionist Pierre Moerlen floated a de-hippified mid’-70s jazz-rock version around Europe which had little to do with Allen’s mischievous space rock parables, while the band’s original feminine-mystiquer Gilli Smyth led a sporadic Mother Gong version at points in the ’80s. This, however, is the first Gong that’s been a direct continuation of Allen’s work: thumbing its collective nose at his departure from music and from life, and mourning him by celebrating his ethos.

This Gong iteration is helmed by delightfully wayward, larger-than-life Anglo-Persian prodigy (and ‘Misfit City’ favourite) Kavus Torabi, who established himself as one of the premier, most open-eared British psychedelic talents while with The Monsoon Bassoon and Cardiacs, has continued it with Knifeworld and Guapo, and who has in effect been rehearsing for Gong leadership for the whole of his musical life. Expect the same applecart-overturning riffs, the mingled brass and electric strings, the space-dust party atmospheres. The old firm’s still a family.



 
In support, Liverpudlian guitarist Neil Campbell is arguably one of the most gifted musicians still unknown to the general public. An omnivorous stylistic polymath, he’s mastered contemporary classical, progressive rock, jazz and assorted other styles to the point in which he can pass seamlessly between and through them; and he comes trailing awestruck references from guitar scholars and crossover music master musicians alike. Working off nylon- and steel-strung acoustic guitars (with a chain of echoes, loop pedals and other processors) he creates detailed, fiery electro-acoustic tapestries when playing solo: given the opportunity, he’ll also roll out orchestral concerti, small ensemble pieces, vital building-block contributions to the larger works of other, and site-specific concerts in venues of all kinds.



 
North Sea Radio Orchestra headline Saturday’s seven hours of music – as ever, they draw together Anglo-pastoral classical, a stolen kiss or two of folk melody, crossover chamber music and English art-rock. (They’ve covered Robert Wyatt, as well as old Christmas carols and Vernon Elliot). Sixteen years in, they’re a little smaller and tighter than they used to be – the choir is long gone and the ensemble streamlined, with most of the Victorian poetry settings consigned back to the bookshelf in favour of more personal lyrics of chalkhills and children, lost loved ones and the make-do-and-mend of life.

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

They’re still a quietly enchanting proposition, gently webbed together by a deceptive fragility, a village-singer tone and Craig Fortnam’s elegant compositions, and they grow ever more comfortable in themselves as the years pass. From German kosmische, they bring in that cosmic powerplant throb: from Frank Zappa and Canterbury, the somersaults of harmony and tinkle of xylophone (with the lyrical coarseness and silly whimsy gently steered out of the picture); from English chamber music, the gentle green ache. All soft borders, all subtle mind.



 
Second down the bill is Doris Brendel. The Vienna-born multi-instrumentalist daughter of concert-piano legend Alfred Brendel, she originally made her mark in ‘90s neoprog and underground AOR providing vocals, guitar, sax and flageolet to The Violet Hour: when that didn’t last, she applied herself to whatever was going while cultivating her own records in her own time. She’s refined her earlier approach, but what you get now is still pretty much what you got then – a singer who can go from a dream-folk murmur to a gutsy rhythm-and-blues blast, who puts on an assured show of muscular rock and costumed pizazz. An old-school rock chick, but one who’s taken control and honed it to excellence. There might be differences in tone, but latter-day ladyrockers like She Makes War and Ciara Clifford might look to her and immediately see a spiritual older sister.



 
Via a shifting gambler’s hand of interrelated projects – and a proven ability to survive practical and artistic disruption – the persistently thoughtful Oxford prog-rock collective Sanguine Hum have explored music for nearly twenty years now. In many respects, they’re a back-to-first-principles prog-initiative. Rather than constructing vast vanity pieces (as if to impress their aspirational Mellotronic forebears), the Hum are based very much in a lush’n’lambent ’70s pop mode – as least as much Neil Young, Steely Dan or David Bowie as Genesis, Zappa or Canterbury – which they can then wilfully and logically expand to bigger and broader things (engulfing and building upon later influences such as Boards Of Canada along the way).

For this acoustic-slanted EppyFest slot, lead singer/guitarist Joff Winks and keyboard player Matt Baber (the latter fresh from last month’s release of his “ambient prog minimalism” solo album ‘Suite For Piano and Electronics‘) will play as a duo; exploring at least one track from each of the project’s scattered albums and personae, with new material as a bonus.



 
Electric chamber group Firefly Burning were to have held the middle of the bill but had to pull out. To replace them, in comes a harder noise in the shape of the explosive wit, ominous chording and multi-layered songwriting of London’s Thumpermonkey. I described them a while back as “the missing link between Peter Hammill and Neal Stephenson”: a tag which they really seemed to like, so let’s run with it. A motley crew of brainiacs, meticulators and fast friends with their heads in lofty places and their toes sunk in dirty post-metal, they have the kind of esoteric preoccupations (and the wherewithal to communicate them) which encourage interest rather than eye-rolling and detachment. Unshamedly weird-fictional, the songs have covered Nigerian email fraud, Aztec hauntings, bizarre medical conditions and Victorian explorers amongst many other topics, all via a rich filter of literary and cinematic techniques and dark, sophisticated humour.

As for the music, Thumpermonkey play within that increasingly rare strata of hard rock in which there’s room to breathe, think, listen and explore beauty as well as nail down a predatory riff. Michael Woodman sings like an athletic college don moonlighting as an operatic priest, while his cohorts Ben, Sam and Rael construct a moving fortress, observatory and interdimensional vessel for him to stand on. They’re the kind of band that either make you proud to be curious, or will magnetize your brain into a state of curiosity. In effect, they’re the ‘Infinite Monkey Cage’ of British post-prog and we’re bloody lucky to have them.



 
Bristolian progressive-grunge rockers Lord Of Worms cite Meshuggah, Soundgarden, Tool and Ufomammut as influences, and there’s certainly some roiling springy punktone bass and restless post-hardcore rhythmic shifts in the mix. Their folk lilts and Zoie Green’s burnished-silver vocals simultaneously tie them into a tradition of female-fronted folk-rock acts like Renaissance and The Morrigan. Judge for yourselves…



 
Like Sanguine Hum, Dutch/American crossover prog poppers Fractal Mirror will be playing under reduced circumstances as regards personnel, but probably not in terms of the music. While the band can rely on the assistance of Echolyn polymath Brett Kull, among others, in the studio, this live date will just feature their core duo of singer/guitarist/keyboard and recorder player Leo Koperdraat and lyric-writing drummer Frank Urbaniak. Expect intimate expansions on their recipe of dove-soft Mellotronics and pastoral post-Porcupine Tree moods, with their hidden freight of darker, reflective lyrics.



 
Sonic Bond Promotions & The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast present:
EppyFest 7: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Gong + Neil Campbell + Sanguine Hum + Doris Brendel + Thumpermonkey + Lord Of Worms + Fractal Mirror
St Margaret’s Hall & Annex, Coniston Road, Hatherley, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL51 3NU, England
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
Saturday 28th July 2018, 1.00pm – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

It would be stupid of me to represent EppyFest as some kind of absolute template for festivals. It’s its own little Gloucestershire gem, it has its context and its taste-palette, and while it’s a fine refresher there’s far more to contemporary music – to a nourishing cultural diet – than even a thoughtful slipped-weekend like this one can provide.

What I am advocating is a spreading of its care-filled cottage ethos; its preference for building a relatively equal, mutually supportive community of performers and audients in a warm and humble space, rather than driving a rush of drainable, soakable human cattle through the money-mill. Events like this are worth the seeking-out, worth the effort that goes into their creation. Go find some. Go make some. Come tell me about them.
 

June 2018 – upcoming experimental gigs – Darkroom in Letchworth (24th June) and at Ambience Chasers in London with Kieran Mahon (26th June)

17 Jun

Darkroom gigs have perhaps become a little rarer since bass clarinettist/modular synth master Andrew Ostler dismantled their shared Hertfordshire base by moving wholesale to Edinburgh (where he’s currently and happily troubling Auld Reekie’s experimental scene on his own).

That said, geography’s really the only working challenge that Darkroom currently face. The electronica duo are a tight, happy and assured unit who, for over twenty years, have continued a well-paced, well-knit career entirely under their own control; happy to lurk a hair’s breadth under the radar while wedding Os’ fluttering flexing rhythms, synth drones, thoughtful reed interjections and dancing timbral adjustments to Michael Bearpark’s powerfully brooding guitar (a sound and approach which blends a thorny, unsettled widescreen texturalism to the muscular, compelled melodic drive of a Neil Young, a David Torn or a David Gilmour). The results have been labelled as “a crossing point between avant-free jazz improvisation and Fripp/Eno-style ambient looping”, compared to Photek, Paul Schutze, Michael Brooks and supernovae, and described as “by turns beautiful and beautifully ugly… a very human music despite the inevitable technology that produces it.”

Darkroom, 24th June 2018The first of this month’s two gigs is back in their previous Letchworth home, in the Arts-and-Crafts-Movement embrace of the town’s reknowned Cloisters venue, as part of the Letchworth Festival. They’ll be part of a Cloisters afternoon of “amazing pieces of art work, live performances and (information) about the alternative history of Letchworth”. This is more interesting and less parochial than it sounds, given the town’s influential status as the world’s first self-sufficient garden city design as well as its links with Theosophy and British astronomy and its hordes of sinister black squirrels. There’s no info on who else is playing or exhibiting, nor what times Darkroom are scheduled to have sets in place, so either watch the webpages or just turn up in the early afternoon and let the Letchworth experience wash over you.

Darkroom + Kieran Mahon, 26th June 2018Darkroom will also be playing in London a couple of nights later, when they perform at Sonic Cathedral‘s Ambience Chaser electronic night on a bill with minimalist drone-loop-echo man Kieran Mahon. Keiron’s music (informed by hallucination, “acid-drenched dronescapes” and “time and space being ripped apart”) sometimes sounds like the stern ghost of a Highland bagpipe possessing a power sander and then imposing its will on a Tangerine Dream session. For all of the noisy loomings, drapes and abrasions, there’s a sturdy romantic grandeur to his textures and to his constructions: listening to him is never a chore. In addition there’ll be DJ sets from an actual Tangerine Dream-er (Ulrich Schnauss) and from Sonic Cathedral label head Nathaniel Cramp.

Dates:

  • Darkroom @ Letchworth Festival ‘Art, Music & Performance’ @ The Cloisters, Barrington Road, Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire, SG6 3TH, England, Sunday 24th June 2018 2.00pm onwards – free entry – information here
  • Darkroom + Kieran Mahon @ Ambience Chasers #16 – The Social, 5 Little Portland Street, Fitzrovia, London, W1W 7JD, England, Tuesday 26th June 2018, 7:00pm – free entry – information here and here






 

June 2018 – upcoming gigs – üF-Beat spontaneous experimental night in Crouch End, London on 14th June – walk up and join in…

9 Jun

A passing note that this is happening in Crouch End this coming Thursday, and that if you’re a listener or player of a progressive/experimental instrumental tinge in or around London that night who isn’t already headed to the Lost Crowns or Friends Serene events, this might be for you.

üF-Beat, 14th June 2018“An open mic with a difference. We are inviting musicians (and sound sculptors) to play but not the usual blues and classics you get in pubs but to experiment and explore. It’s a journey. Without judgement. All styles – jazz, prog-rock, fusion, folk, classical, avant-garde, electronic, sounds, welcome.

“üF-Beat is inspired by the German underground clubs that gave birth to the Krautrock music scene (Kraftwerk, Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream and inspired many British bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, Henry Cow, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc). As part of the Crouch End Festival Fringe (the more experimental part of the Festival), we are setting up an interesting musical adventure in the Committee Room in the Hornsey Town Hall with grand piano plus PA, mics, amps and psychedelic lighting. And a bar. It’s free too.

“Bring your instrument and an open mind.”

And that’s it. All else will depend on what you yourself bring to it either as audient or player, and on who else turns up…

üF-Beat
Hornsey Town Hall, The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9JJ, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 8.30pm
– information here
 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

* * * * * * * *

Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

June 2018 – upcoming chamber-fusion and Rock In Opposition gigs in London – North Sea Radio Orchestra (2nd June); Lindsey Cooper Songbook with The Watts, John Greaves and Chlöe Herington (16th June)

24 May

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

North Sea Radio Orchestra are bringing their chamber-fusion sound to south London as part of the Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival. They’re a leafy and lambent confection of strings, reeds, nylon-strong guitar, boutique post-Stereolab keyboards and softened brass, fronted by the heartfelt disparate vocals of husband and wife team Sharron and Craig Fortnam (one a clarion carol, the other a papery whisper-croon).

Given the Festival’s context, they might pull out a few of the pieces with which they initially made their name a decade-and-a-half ago – garlanded, illuminated settings of Thomas Hardy, William Blake and Alfred Lord Tennyson. Either way, come for an evening which merges English country-garden airiness with German experimental rock boffinry and Zappa-styled tuned-percussion tinkles. Regular gigmate and sometime NSRO contributor William D. Drake was scheduled for a support slot, but since an injury put him out of action for the summer, he’s had to pull out. There may or may not be a suitable replacement.




 
Lambeth Readers & Writers Festival presents:
North Sea Radio Orchestra
Clapham Library, Mary Seacole Centre, 91 Clapham High Street, Clapham, London, SW4 7DB, England
Saturday 2nd June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Lindsay Cooper Songbook, 16th June 2018

There’s a tenuous but true link between NSRO and Yumi Hara’s Half The Sky project. On top of the existing ties of friendship, they’re both mostly-acoustic chamber music projects with prominent bassoon and an electric experimental rock component; both focus predominantly on a single composer; both lean (implicitly or explicitly) towards the ‘70s Canterbury scene and sound.

However, where NSRO has a core of sweetness Half The Sky is decidedly umami. Set up to curate, recreate and perform the work of the late Lindsay Cooper (and specialising in the repertoire she put out for the groups Henry Cow, News From Babel and Music for Films) theirs is a knottier, more querying sound: a winding road full of debate and pointings, animated but affectionate.

There have been shifts in the band recently. While Yumi continues on keyboards and lever harp alongside co-founder/former Cow drummer Chris Cutler, and singer Dagmar Krause was added as the primary vocalist for last year’s European dates, the band now features John Greaves on bass and keyboards and Tim Hodgkinson on reeds and lap steel, bringing its ex-Cow member count up to four (with Chlöe Herington still on hand to add more assorted reeds). They’ve kept the fifty-fifty male/female player ratio which reflected their original title, but have now taken up the more sober, less whimsical name of Lindsay Cooper Songbook. This will be the debut of the new crew, but here’s video of various previous lineups of the band in action in London and Japan…



 
The evening also features three support sets drawn from the ensemble. Making their British debut, The Watts unites Yumi Hara with Tim Hodgkinson and Chris Cutler in a post-Cow trio. John Greaves adds a solo performance of his own songs on voice and piano, and Chlöe Herington (following the development of her VALVE project into a collective female trio which, in some respects, echoes Lindsay’s work with FIG) will be returning to her own solo roots with music for bassoon and electronics. If there are any gaps left, staunch ‘Organ’-ista Marina Organ will be filling them with her DJ set, drawing on the horde of fringe-rock and experimental records she plays on her Resonance FM show.

Lindsay Cooper Songbook + The Watts + John Greaves + Chlöe Herington + DJ Marina Organ
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 16th June 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

There’ll be a second chance to catch them this summer – at the Zappanale in Bad Doberan Germany on 21st July. For those who missed my Lindsay summary last time, here’s a trimmed version:

“Long before the knot of current pop-culture wrangling over women’s control over the music they make, (Lindsay) was plugging away in her own corner, striving (and ultimately succeeding) for much the same thing in the often arid and unforgiving spaces of British art rock, improv and jazz… Pinning down the nature of a woman’s work in art – or women’s work in general – is not always an easy thing, nor even desirable. Even the most positive intentions can produce more restrictive categories, more unwanted boxings and demands to conform.

“In the case of Lindsay, whose career always foregrounded honest effort and end product over personality showboating, and which was tinted by doubt and determination, it’s probably best to concentrate mostly on the mind behind the music: to listen to the querying voice coming through. Operating over a set of times in which both contemporaries and colleagues had a tendency towards answers and stances, stated in both bald pronouncements and modernist-baroque ornamentations, she opted to bring a more questioning tone which nonetheless carried some of its possible answers in both action and presentation.

“Hers was a polymathic but purer musicality: an instrumental voice which voyaged alongside others’ often harsher pronouncements, détournements and doctrines and drew from them while never being subject to them, and which always kept a gentler, more accommodating side open to allow growing space and to consistently rebuild… She was responsible for most of the piled jazzy grandeur of the second side (of Henry Cow’s ‘Western Culture’) finding previously unexplored links between the music of New York, Canterbury and Switzerland)…

“In the late ’70s Lindsay had already formed the witty, subversive Feminist Improvising Group, or FIG (which) not only enabled previously sidelined female voices onto the improv scene but deliberately upturned expectations as to what such a scene could achieve. FIG were spontaneous, mutually supportive and – just as importantly – funny. With a strong and personal rooting in lesbian, class-based and feminist activism (plus parallel feelings of sidelining and denial on the part of others) but a suspicion of dogma, they expressed frustration and political challenge by drawing on a collective sense of the absurd and of the sympathetic… Men carped, frowned and cold-shouldered; women laughed, argued and sometimes welcomed; the group members continually challenged their own sense of self and role; but the work itself sounds joyously unshackled – something I would have loved to have been around to see…

“Post-Cow and FIG, Lindsay ran her own Film Music Orchestra to create and record arthouse soundtracks (often working in cinematic cahoots with Sally Potter). She rejoined Chris Cutler for the 1980s post-Marxist art-song project News From Babel (in which) Chris’ social and political musings would make a happier marriage with the pop-cabaret end of Lindsay’s music. She also contributed to the counter-cultural jazz colours of various Mike Westbrook and John Wolf Brennan bands, played with Pere Ubu ranter David Thomas, worked in theatre and (in the ’90s) composed a more formal chamber music which nonetheless retained the edge and inquiring spirit of her work in avant-rock and political art. She’d collaborate with Potter again for the Cold War song cycle ‘Oh, Moscow’ in the late ’80s, to which Chris Cutler also contributed. If encroaching multiple sclerosis (which had privately dogged her throughout her post-Cow career) hadn’t dragged her into early retirement in the late ’90s, there would have been more.

“(Lindsay Cooper Songbook) provide a welcome re-introduction to Lindsay’s work, performed by committed people whose sympathy with Lindsay Cooper’s music is absolute. However, they should also be viewed as a window onto the wider career of a quietly remarkable woman whose death in 2013 forced a premature coda onto the work of a mind whose personal humility had been more than balanced by its nimbleness, thoughtful and flexibility. Come along to these concerts and hear some of that mindwork and heartwork come alive again.”
 

May 2018 – upcoming gigs – world folk through various filters with Brona McVittie, Marcus Corbett and Sebastian Reynolds in Oxford (16th May); Jack Miguel and Sam Mumford’s rap-folk exploration of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath with ‘A Murder Of Crows’ in London (18th May)

11 May

Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds, 16th May 2018Here’s another prompt for me to pay more regular attention to what’s going on at the Daylight Music shows in London – British folk guitarist Marcus Corbett is playing there this month, and next Wednesday (alongside Brona McVittie, whose own Daylight performance I missed back in March due to looking elsewhere), they’re both playing at a separate event in Oxford.

It’s easy to miss or forget the pointers at concerts which might lead you somewhere interesting – and I only picked up information on this Oxford event – billed as “a night of Thai electronica, Indian classical meets British folk and pastoral Celtic folk through a kosmiche filter” – by accident. Meanwhile, here’s a bit more on Marcus and Brona…

Marcus Corbett is an Anglo-Indian singer and guitarist spending his time between the English West Country and Pune in India: likewise, his guitar playing draws on Western-shaped ideas of folk and blues, but also on the world and tones of Indian classical music. His most recent recording is 2013’s ‘Strung Deep’, which also calls upon the talents of bansuri flute player Milind Date, violinist Sanjay Upadhye and tabla players Ntin Gaikwad and Sharanappa Guttaragi. It’s this record, amongst others, that he’ll be playing from for this concert, for which he’s rejoined by Ntin Gaikwad. (Both Marcus and Ntin are currently on a wider tour together, which you can find out more about here.)



 
Brona McVittie is an Irish harpist, singer and electronic musician from County Down, perhaps best known for fronting/plucking for acclaimed London-Irish trad outfit The London Lasses and for adding the Early Music influences to the Orla Wren-affiliated neo-impressionist project littlebow. During the noughties, she played in folk duos Footnote and The Balance and Footnote duos, followed by a spell leading experimental folktronica band Forestbrook. More recently, her occasional experimental folk-pop work as Queen Of Corkbots has displayed a sprightly humour in electro-acoustic arrangements as well as a love of reviving and gently reinventing old folk songs, carols and not-so-innocent children’s ditties in a web of electronic blips, Mellotronic flutes, pattering synth percussion and other delicate ornamentation.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this comes the new work under her own name which she’s gathered up into her formal solo debut album, ‘We Are The Wildlife’. Voice, harp, flute and strings combine with careful well-honed electronic arrangements for what’s described as “a psycho-geographic journey through a collection of traditional folk ballads and original compositions inspired as much by the geometries of London’s urban fringes as by the sonic phenomena within the great rural landscapes of Mourne.”

For this performance, Brona will be accompanied by friend, collaborator and American émigré Myles Cochran on slide guitar; himself an established solo artist in the more psychedelic, atmospheric end of UK Americana. Here’s the title track from ‘We Are The Wildlife’, plus the album’s version of Irish traditional song Molly Brannigan.



 
The third act at the concert is Oxford musician and PinDrop promoter Sebastian Reynolds. Possibly solo, or possibly accompanied by his Solo Ensemble (also featuring keyboard player Jody Prewett, cellist Anne Müller and violinist Alex Stolze), he’ll be performing excerpts from his Mahajanaka Dance Drama project score (released on a Bandcamp EP last month). The music itself is founded on sampled loops taken from recordings of a piphat (high Thai classical) session undertaken by Thai pop ensemble the Krajidrid Band, which Sebastian has continued to build on.

The Mahajanaka story tells a tale from Buddhist mythology concerning a shipwrecked prince who survives alone at sea until the goddess of the ocean comes to his rescue. Here’s both Sebastian’s original version and a shimmering, urgent live treatment from the Solo Collective; plus a video documentary about the research into, and making of, the source music.


 
TMD Media and PinDrop present:
Marcus Corbett + Brona McVittie + Sebastian Reynolds
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire, OX1 1BP, England
Wednesday 16th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 
* * * * * * * *

A Murder Of Crows, 18th May 2018Back in London, at Poplar Union, there’s a coming together of spoken word, poetry, rap and experimental folk for Mental Health Awareness Week, as poet/rapper Jack Miguel collaborates with exploratory post-folk musician Sam Mumford in ‘A Murder Of Crows’, a multimedia response to ‘Crow‘, Ted Hughes’ collection of poems dealing with his own “demons” following the suicide of his wife and fellow poet Sylvia Plath. All proceeds will go towards supporting the Campaign Against Living Miserably, an award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide (the single biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five in Britain) with additional donations encouraged on the door. This is a work-in-progress, so expect – even savour – a few rough edges, which might be part of the point.

Well established as a guitarist, singer, composer and sound artist, Sam makes a kind of deconstructed and rebuilt electro-acoustic folk music which draws equal comparisons to Bob Dylan, Joan Armatrading, Aphex Twin and Venetian Snares. While electronic sound techniques and collagery (taken from Sam’s love of dub, techno, drum and bass and electronica) lean in to both the mix and the toolbox, shaping and impling, Sam’s work is rooted in fingerpicking and voice, resulting in an unmoored new folk music which carries its roots with it as sleepwalking instinct, leaving him free to explore the here and now, whether addressing personal concerns or broader contemporary matters.

In this he’s well matched by Jack, whose own previous work has encompassed sound design, sculpture and moving image. The first poet and rapper to attend the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, he’s gone on (as “Jakaboski”) to become a writer and performer with psychedelic hip hop group Strangelove (and release his own solo debut, the ‘Mount Strive’ EP, in 2014). He also also exibits his own art installations, and works as a diverse arts educator with a particular specialisation in damaged but nurturable psyches (working in hospitals, pupil referral units and secure psychiatric units).

The latter, in particular, has led to work like Jack’s collaborative installation and performance study ‘The Turning of the Leaves’, a meditation on the First World War, masculinity and intergenerational trauma (drawing on the aforementioned Hughes, Carl Jung and Kendrick Lamar, and dealing directly with “the challenges facing men today amidst inherited narratives of power, violence and invulnerability.”) It will be interesting – and important – to see how this interest in toxic and tortured masculinity feeds into Jack and Sam’s examination of Hughes: well known, even beyond his poetry, as a man’s man and an alpha male; and whose treatment of Plath (including his co-opting of her posthumous legacy) has come under increasing challenge and outright attack in recent years (a further darkening of the story).
 



 
Also engaged with the project are two special guests – performance poet and theatre maker Cecilia Knapp and cellist-composer Natasha Zielanzinski (who specialises in contemporary repertoire, early music, free improvisation and folk music and whose performance history spans Sadlers Wells, Kanye West, the Royal Court Theatre and Kate Tempest). More special guests may be announced closer to concert time, although there’s only a week to go…

Jack Miguel & Sam Mumford present:
‘A Murder of Crows’
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 18th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

April/May 2018 – Worthing worthies – upcoming gigs at the Cellar Bar for The Golgis and My Giddy Aunt (20th April) and for Bob Drake (9th May) plus William D. Drake, Crayola Lectern and the mysterious Drones For Tim play St Pauls Church (19th May)… and a Gothic film showing for ‘Deep In The Woods’ (19th April)

18 Apr

I mentioned the burgeoning ambitions of Worthing’s Cellar Bar Club a few months ago. It’s been quietly setting itself up as a plucky regional rival to the riot of venues in Brighton ten miles away. I thought it was time to revisit it.

Fruitcakery first. Playing in a couple of days time (on 20th April) are The Golgis, described both as “an outrageous alt.folk pantomime band” and as “a revamped version of a band that were almost popular fifteen years ago”. All very Worthing so far, and we’re told to “expect catchy songs, a spot of juggling, audience participation, and some interesting and unique wind instruments.” Among other tunes, they’ll be playing their recent online single debut ‘Mr Fisher‘ and celebrating its failure to chart. There’s not much to link to yet, but here they are running through it live for the benefit of a phone cam.

 
Support act My Giddy Aunt features the singing and songwriting of Sue Chewter, who (back in the 1990s) was once the wildly imaginative pint-sized driver of ideas behind the remarkable, mostly-female London psychedelic-acoustic band The Wise Wound). Also featuring Shirley Paver, Luke Pritchard and another former Wise Wounder, Brian Madigan, My Giddy Aunt’s a lighter undertaking than Sue’s old firm, playing up the angle of yer ageing, slightly glammy relatives enjoying cake, sherry and semi-retirement by the sea.

The following promo gabble got tossed my way in a battered toby jug – “Come and listen to the Aunties and Uncles you prayed would never kiss you. Proudly we are supporting The Golgis. More fool themin order to get that authentic Friday feeling you must drink vodka from a teapot and get touched up by the Giddy Aunts . We are the lipstick on your teeth; a mental wet-patch of entertainment. David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust and Sue has Giddy Ass Dust. Bring on the talcum powder, it’s Friday night. Line ‘em up. Monty!” Sodding nonsense – and it tells me nothing about what they sound like. But anything with Sue’s songwriting attached is worth a listen.

On 9th May, the Arts Cellar sees something simultaneously more serious and even further off the wall in the shape of Bob Drake. For more ‘Misfit Cit’-tery on Bob, click here, but in the meantime, it’s enough to know that Bob was “a founding member of the band Thinking Plague in 1978, and has been a member of the 5uu’s, Hail, and The Science Group. He has engineered and mixed many albums on the Recommended and Cuneiform labels, and has worked with artists ranging from Ice Cube to the Art Bears, but it is with his series of solo recordings made between 1994 and the present that he has really found his own voice with individual, always highly melodic tales of unusually intelligent animals, hauntings, chemistry, geology and who knows what. He began doing solo shows in 2015, and is currently at work on what will be his tenth solo album.”

Here he is solo and live in London in 2016 – filmed all dark and grainy, but shooting off songs like a batch of crazy fireworks.


 
Both gigs are at The Cellar Arts Club, 70 Marine Parade (basement), Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England. Times and links as follows:

  • The Golgis + My Giddy Aunt, Friday 20th April 2018, 8.00pminformation
  • Bob Drake, Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.30pminformation

* * * * * * * *

Also coming up in Worthing…

Expect to see a warm exodus of psych-speckled enthusiasts swimming over from Brighton on the 19th May when singer-songwriters William D. Drake (no relation) and Crayola Lectern‘s Chris Anderson play St Paul’s Church for a Tim Smith benefit gig promising to be full of pianos, wistful humour, soft voices and romantic drift. Bill will be bringing his own songbook of material criss-crossing his solo career and his work with Cardiacs and Sea Nymphs, with steepings of old poetry, Neverland folk and classical billows. Chris is celebrating the release of a brand new Crayola album, ‘Happy Endings’, which ought to build on its predecessor’s mixture of post burn-out hopefulness, psychedelic throb and sweet songs from the end of the road. All show profits for this show are going to the fundraising campaign for ailing Cardiacs leader Tim Smith’s ongoing care, which has achieved startling successes earlier this year since belatedly jumping into the world of crowdfunding.

Both Chris and Bill usually have friends in tow to help fill out the sound. These are all most likely coming together as part of “niche supergroup” Drones For Tim, specially conceived and formed for a one-off performance to make this particular gig special. Previous Drake and Crayola onstage allies have included Joss Cope, trumpeter Alistair Strachan, former Cardiacs Christian Hayes and Jon Poole, the Rodes brothers (from CLOWWNS and Spratleys Japs), ubiquitous art-rock drummer Damo Waters and the Larcombe brothers (Stars In Battledress, Lost Crowns, Arch Garrison) so you can make an educated guess as to who might be in the ranks, but you might still be surprised… Further standalone guests and DJs to be announced in due course, so keep an eye on the event pages…

Alternative Worthing and Musica Lumini present:
‘A Very Special Evening Beside The Seaside’: William D. Drake + Crayola Lectern + Drones For Tim
St. Paul’s Church Community Centre, 55B Chapel Road, Worthing, BN11 1EE, West Sussex
Saturday 19th May 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here





 
Fans of the Cardiacs/Brighton psych crossover may also be interested in yet another Cellar Arts Club occasion – a showing of Button Pressed Films‘ recent comedy short Deep In The Woods (written by onetime ‘Doctor Who’ writer Simon Messingham, directed by Mark Tew) on 19th April. According to the synopsis, the film also sports a “gothy rock/4AD type” soundtrack composed and performed by Chris Anderson and Christian Hayes, with additional spooky singing from Jo Spratley of the revived Spratley Japs.

The film showing is the jewel in the setting of a one-night-only goth shindig, with dressing up and wild-waif dancing encouraged to the usual soundtrack – early Cult, Cocteau Twins, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Ghost Dance, Sex Gang Children, the lot. Perhaps inevitably, they’re calling it the ‘Sea Shells Sanctuary’… which is better than ‘Hair Of The Downs’, ‘She’s In Patching’ or ‘Tarring Couple Kill Colonel Mustard’, I guess.
 

 

March 2018 – a psych/noise cavalcade in London for Rocket Recordings’ 20th anniversary (9th to 11th March)

28 Feb

There are still some tickets left for the rollicking, rampaging twentieth-anniversary concerts for venerable yet vital psychedelic noise label Rocket Recordings. These will be packing out the Garage and its sister venue Thousand Island in north London for three consecutive days over an early March weekend.

It’s not the first time that Highbury Corner’s been rammed with psychoactive weirdness and well-plumbing musical explorations. In its earlier incarnation as Upstairs at the Garage, the smaller Thousand Island saw hundreds of strange and wonderful leftfield acts pass through; to pick just one example, twenty years ago the building hosted occult ensemble Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels and their ‘Highbury Working’ “beat seance” in which Alan Moore and David J explored and mined the hidden histories of the Holloway Road from the horse goddess Epona to the rapidly poisoned utopianism of the Black House, from the schemata of Aleister Crowley to the madness of Joe Meek. So the Corner’s no stranger to strangeness… but it’s good, for a full weekend, to see strangeness rise so outrightly overground amongst the traffic fumes, creeping gentrification and salsa nights.

* * * * * * * *

The Rocket days kick off on Friday 9th. Fluxus-inspired Italian garage groove-band Julie’s Haircut mingle smearing, chuckling Ash Ra Tempel guitars and flutes with a Georgio Moroder wobble, while from Sweden there’s creamy-toned garage darlings Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation (whose more recent recordings pulse along on a fluting, closed-eyed Can patter) and the detailed anticipations of Flowers Must Die, who burst shining locked disco grooves through hanging tapestries of improvised “oriental-influenced” psychedelia (like an unexpected frug in a Tibetan temple). A couple of spinoff acts from Salford industrial/sociological alchemists Gnod are playing– the fleshy beats, brutual mechanisms and cellar drones of Chris Haslam’s electronica project Dwellings and the “slow burning vocal loops (and) devotional mindscapes” of A.P Macarte’s AHRKH. Also on the bill is the spontaneous, impulse/emotion-driven semi-improvised “dirty techno” of Coldnose, swilling in acid house, industrial, electro, drum and bass and distorted vocal snarls. For the after-show winddown, there’s DJ-ing from assorted Teeth Of The Sea members, but more on them later…







 
* * * * * * * *

Sorry, but it’s returns only for Saturday 10th. Although Hills (with their gruff and deafening meditational rock, like Joy Division trapped inside a raga) have had to pull out, their Swedish compatriots Goat (costumed acid/world fusioneers who’ve already made a big splash at Glastonbury) are still in play. So are Italian “kosmitronic” rockers Mamuthones – a delightful confection of slippery tinkling rhythms, chatterbox riffage explosions of lateral noise and sing-song babble, they’re what Dutch Uncles might have sounded like if they had less of a taste for arch Roxy-isms and had taken more of a liking to Pere Ubu. There are also slots for the onetime heavy doom-psych of Hey Colossus (who, like their spiritual forebears The Birthday Party, are evolving steadily out of the chaotic London murk they began in and starting to tell stories) and the bellowing, unreconstructed Tyneside sludge-acid of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. Minimalist Malmö trance-rockers Ved preview their imminent Rocket EP ‘DDTT’, and there are sets from amelodic No Wave revisitors Housewives, block-partying noise duo Gum Takes Tooth and the elasticated buzzing Russian “stargaze” band Gnoomes.









 
In addition, there’ll be a rare solo appearance by Teeth Of The Sea’s modular analogue synth guy Mike Bourne who – in parallel to his band work – has recently put out a couple of odds and ends on Bandcamp including the gradually-evolving ‘pætʃ’ album of electronic experiments (including black-and-white vampire music and harmonium/Harmonium-esque sketches with a dash of Geiger-counter, and the vast shadow-steeped minimalism of his soundtrack to Ben Lister’s horror short ‘Wine Dark Sea’). Opening the evening, the blipping electronics, kettle-banging, forceful ranting and rises to aggressive crescendos of Temple Ov BBV (a collaboration between Gnod and Dutch experimental psychedelicists Radar Men From The Moon) resemble a more spacious meeting between early Swans and cultural rhythmatist John Chernoff). DJ-ing for the evening comes from a four-strong squad of Cherrystones, Jamie Paton, Mike Keeling and Chris Reeder.



 
* * * * * * * *

The highlight of the Sunday show – at least as far as Rocket themselves are concerned – has been their success in securing the British live debut for the duo project by Polish reeds/keyboard player Wacław Zimpel and his compatriot, the “magic brutalistStara Rzeka guitarist/singer Kuba Ziołek, as Zimpel/Ziołek. They’ll be showcasing the psychoactive-minimalist jazz-folk stew of last year’s eponymous album.



 
That said, there’ll be pretty strong competition from trumpet-toting electronic rock partisans Teeth Of The Sea. Having DJ-ed on the first night, they’re returning at full band strength for what will presumably provide another exhilarating set and another chance for us all to slither around in a puddle of non-stick definitions (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?). Also returning are Gnod – this time in person, playing a “greatest hits” set, which you can vote for here).



 
There’s further Gnodness via yet another pair of spin-offs: Paddy Shine’s immersive “tantric vocal loop” project Ayn Sof and Marlene Ribeiro’s work as Negra Branca (around which circulates various splutters including “squashy analogue”, “temple goddess” and “dreamscape”). Veteran psych bass player Gareth Turner is making two appearance – one as a third of the Anthroprophh trio (in which he’s joined by Heads guitarist Paul Allen and drummer Jesse Webb to blend “garage-bound filth (with) wayward, abstract artistry”), and the other as half of Kuro (in which he grabs a double bass and joins forces with violinist Agathe Max for electrically-enhanced string-drones). Finally, there’s also space for Liverpudlian heavy-psychedelic noise-rockers Bonnacons Of Doom and shamanic ritual trio H.U.M. (Mark Wagner, Heloise Zamzam and Uiutna) whom I last described as “a kind of psychic cross-cultural art coven, citing “alchemical practice, incantation, chanting, drones, ritual drumming, French variété” as both inspiration and activity.”







 
* * * * * * * *

Further details and ticket/info links below… if you’re reading about this for the first time, you’re already stragglers, so get going…

Rocket Recordings 20, 9th-11th March 2018

Baba Yaga’s Hut & DHP present:
‘Rocket Recordings Twenty’
The Garage/Thousand Island, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Friday 9th March 2018, 7.30pm
Saturday 10th March 2018, 3.30pm
Sunday 11th March 2018, 7.30pm

– information here and here
 

December 2017 – strange and wonderful sounds in and out of London – Alien, Adrian Lane and Stuart Bowditch in Leigh-on-Sea (14th December); Dean McPhee, Sam McLoughlin, David Chatton Barker, Amy Cutler and Sylvia Hallett up in Homerton (16th December)

6 Dec

As Christmas approaches I find myself in a tearing hurry; so don’t be too surprised if the remaining gig posts for the year rely even more on text ripped straight off Facebook or other gig notifications. I’m just here to boost the signals and blend the options for the month, though I’ll also patch in any missing information as I go.

Now – December news on various Essex sonic artists coming together out on the Thames estuary, and on a Homerton gathering of atmosphere-guitar, homemade instruments and film…

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Alien + Adrian Lane + Stuart Bowditch, 14th December 2017

Courier Sound presents:
Alien + Adrian Lane + Stuart Bowditch
Phuse Media, Polar House, 103 Rectory Grove, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, SS9 2HW, England
Thursday 14th December 2017, 8.00pm
information

“Courier Sound invite you to a launch party celebrating the release of Alien‘s ‘Perimeter’. Al Johnson’s long form piece, made with a bass guitar and a variety of electronics, is presented on a super-limited edition (30) mini CD in a bespoke arigato pack (designed by Machindo, cut by Damien Robinson), with two inserts, a sticker and a decal on the CD. In the small and intimate setting of his own office, Al will be playing a live improvised set, alongside live sets from Adrian Lane and Stuart Bowditch. Entry is free and early arrival is advised. Bring some booze.”

An intermittent surfacer, Alien has previously released work on labels including Southend’s Hottwerk; but here’s some very recent material (uploaded to Soundcloud yesterday!) plus a video swiped from Facebook…

 
And here’s some more I dug up on the guest acts…

Adrian Lane – who’s also recorded as Calicoade and (in collaboration with Guido Lusetti), as That Faint Light – is a man of mutually superimposed talents. He’s a visual artist as well as a musician, or perhaps he’s better described as a simultaneously visual and musical artist: his music integrating acoustic and electronic elements, struggling in a dreamy web of neoclassical/mediaeval folk inspirations and textural ambient foggings. Adrian’s newest album, ‘Playing With Ghosts’, uses cut-up and re-ordered samples of hundred-year-old wax cylinder recordings as its main sound source (something Adrian goes into in greater depth in this interview with his record company Preserved Sounds.

 
The work of Stuart Bowditch (who also records under the names of Hybernation, USRNM and Furrows) is primarily based in sound design and field recordings. As his biog puts it, he’s mostly “inspired by location and the people and experiences he encounters there. He is interested primarily in the sounds of everyday life and those who create them, making work that is inclusive and accessible.His music, sound tracks and art installations are often site-responsive and developed with community groups, the public or people who would not consider themselves interested in ‘art’. In this way of working he tries to make sense of the world he lives in and his place within it. Simultaneously, the creations and experiences of others end up intrinsically embedded in his work, creating a rich texture of layers, representing his life and those he has encountered along the way.”

 
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Dean McPhee + Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker + Amy Cutler & Sylvia Hallett, 16th December 2016

The Old Dentist presents:
Dean McPhee + Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Barker + Amy Cutler & Sylvia Hallett
The Old Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Saturday 16th December 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“A night of deep audio-visual sorcery in three acts to mark the release of solo electric guitarist Dean McPhee’s much anticipated third album ‘Four Stones’ – featuring Dean’s hypnotic drone-folk guitar work and the visual feedback footage of Barry Hale, the homemade instrument/OHP séance shadow-puppetry of Folklore Tapes duo Sam McLoughlin & David Chatton Baker and the films and musical improvisations of Amy Cutler and Sylvia Hallett.

Dean McPhee is a solo electric guitarist who combines fluid, chiming melodic lines with shimmering drones and deep layers of decaying delay and echo. He has a unique style of playing which draws together influences from British folk, dub, kosmische, post-rock and Mali blues, and his music has a hypnotic and dreamlike quality. His latest album ‘Four Stones’ is due to be released on Hood Faire (a label run collectively by Dean, Sam McLoughlin and David Chatton-Barker) in January 2018… For this gig Dean will be playing to footage of video artist Barry Hale‘s Intraference visual feedback films.



 
Sam McLoughlin plays homemade instruments and contraptions along with guitar, analog synths, harmonium and pump organ. Sometimes he sings songs; at other times he combines handmade Moondog-like percussion with microphone feedback, synth drones and unpredictable bowed textures to produce improvised music with magical and shamanic overtones. Sam recently released the album ‘Flaming Liar’ on Them There Records and has previously released music on Andy Votel’s Twisted Nerve as well as Folklore Tapes, Pre Cert Entertainment and Hood Faire.

“David Chatton-Barker is the co-founder and captain of the highly regarded Folklore Tapes label which was recently described by Brainwashed.com as “possibly the most unique and fascinating label around”. As well as being a visual artist and film-maker, David also specialises in playful and atmospheric collages of sound, dictaphone recordings and live improvisation. Like Sam, he also builds his own very inventive and visually striking homemade instruments and sound-making devices, which he uses to perform live (along with projections and ritualistic interventions).

 
“As a new duo, geographer-poet Amy Cutler and multi-instrumentalist Sylvia Hallett draw on the dark sides of nature: from sea parasites to forensic botany to elegies based on Arctic bird migrations. They perform live improvisatory settings of pieces drawing on natural history, such as ‘you, the stingbearers’, based on Jean-Henri Fabre’s nineteenth-century chronicle of human desolation, ‘The Life of the Fly’. Instruments include the viola, the musical saw, and Sylvia’s Russian garden vines. Amy’s projections include kaleidoscopes of tree rot and insect forms in nature documentaries, and she will also screen some of her short music videos inspired by drone music and experimental landscape cinema.”
(See below for Sylvia at work on a bicycle wheel, plus Amy’s short film ‘Incantations From Yin Valley’ – made this year with experimental drone musician Bridget Hayden, previously of Vibracathedral Orchestra).



 

October 2017 – upcoming gigs – Anglo coastalysergia and Americana with Crayola Lectern, Dr Spacetoad and Billy Bad Band in Hove (21st October); Austrian psychprog with Blank Manuskript in Ramsgate, Leicester and London (26th-28th October)

16 Oct

We’ve just had a dose of daytime pink skies across Britain – appropriate, given the psychedelic tone of this quick posting.

* * * * * * * *

Crayola Lectern + Dr Spacetoad + Bad Billy Band, 21st October 2017
The Real Music Club presents
Crayola Lectern + Dr Spacetoad + Billy Bad Band
The Brunswick, 1-3 Holland Road, Hove, East Sussex, BN3 1JF, England
Saturday 21st October 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

The veteran of innumerable bands from punk to power-pop to latterday Anglo-psych, Chris Anderson finally found his core niche during the mid-Noughties as Crayola Lectern. Unspinning wistful, sweetly lugubrious stories of life, loss and learning dusted by his own gently lysergic leanings, he’s crafted “what psychedelic music would have sounded like had the Edwardians invented it.” Having been accompanied in the past by a shifting pool of live collaborators including assorted Cardiacs (Jon Poole, Bic Hayes, Jo Spratley) and Brighton psych luminaries (Joss Cope, the Rodes brothers from Clowwns and Rect.angle), his current cohorts are Alistair Strachan (on brass, percussion and necessary noises) and drummer-turned-synth-moonlighter Damo Waters.

The alter-ego of songwriter/actor/painter Paul Francis, Dr Spacetoad is another long-standing Brightonian: a discombobulated, identity-swapping cosmic troubadour who’s sometimes veered into Dada-styled space-rock in cahoots with Captain Sensible and who (as Jean Paul Dionysus) once played a key role in the London acoustic revival of the late ’80s. Expect him in his guise as melancholy garret-haunting singer, hopeless romantic and nifty fingerstyle guitarist.

Opening for this double bill of life-worn inner-spacemen is Bad Billy Band, who offer a more straightforward blend of Anglo folk-rock and electric Americana: a soften-upper.





 

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For further cosmic ventures, go discover the glow-mossed, castellated structures of Austrian art-rock sextet Blank Manuskript next week as they pass through England as part of a European tour. Polyinstrumentalists who layer flutes, tapes, trombone, reeds and glockenspiels into their standard rock armoury, they’re an intriguingly witchy concoction, balancing pretty much equally between grand prog and freak psych. Some of the band are happy to dress like Napoleonic dandies, a la Hendrix; others look like punk-metal flotsam. All of them sit on long and involved instrumental passages with an air of bugged-out wonder, spraying out rivulets of fingertapped guitar, floating ruminative keyboard lines or murmuring breathlessly arcane lyrics.. Sometimes they display their love of classic British ‘70s prog, pulling off expansive structured Yes or Caravan moves. Sometimes they thunder, spasm and gibber like one of the post-Can, post-industrial, post-metal neo-psych bands that Baba Yaga’s Hut tend to put on. You don’t often see that particular gap being bridged.


Dates:

  • Ramsgate Music Hall, 13 Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8NJ, England, Thursday 26th October 2017, 7.30pminformation
  • The Musician, 42 Crafton St West, Leicester, LE1 2DE, EnglandFriday 27th October 2017, 7.00pm (with River Chickens + Those Amongst Us Are Wolves)information
  • The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8BZ, England, Saturday 28th October 2017, 10.00pminformation

Only the Leicester show features any support acts, and I’ve scraped up a little info about them. Despite being founded on a rumbling, frowning Mogwai-esque post-rock base of dour guitar minimalism, Coventry four-piece Those Amongst Us Are Wolves tend towards being post-post-rockers, needing little persuasion to roll right into classic-rock bodybuilder riffage. Cheerfully charismatic Ashby rockers The River Chickens, on the other hand, are travelling the other way: moving away from Cult covers toward their own honey-sweet heavy power-pop. Judge for yourselves below.



 

October/November 2017 – upcoming London experimental gigs – post-various loops and shades from Rothko, Yellow6 and Darkroom (12th October); Moondog For Gamelan plus Steve Lawson/Corey Mwamba duo (28th October); Steel Pan Fusion plays Philip Glass (23rd November)

4 Oct

Several longstanding Misfit City experimental favourites (all veterans of the liminal cross-encroachments between British post-rock, noise and electronic explorations during the 1990s) feature in a mid-month triple bill of shifting noise, words and melodies down at IKLECTIK.

Champion Version presents:
Edition 1: Rothko + Yellow6 + Darkroom
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 12th October 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Champion Versions Edition 1, 12th October 2017Though they’ve passed through a shifting variety of lineups and different instrumentation, Rothko are based around a single constant: Mark Beazley’s resonant post-industrial bass guitar, which speaks stern granite-y notes and impressionistic chthonic drones and blurs, sketching and deepen evocatic musical landscapes from unyielding post-punk city visions to soft-edged post-rock hillscapes.

On this occasion they’re appearing in an expanded version of the beautifully bleak words-and-shades trio last mentioned in ‘Misfit City’ just under a year ago (in which Mark was joined by recitateur Johnny Brown from Band of Holy Joy, and by Inga Tillere on projected visuals). In place for tonight’s show is a fourth member – Mark’s Low Bias colleague Graham Dowdall (a.k.a. Gagarin), whose synth wizardry’s brought him into collaboration with Pere Ubu, Suns of Arqa, Roshi and no less than two former Velvet Undergroundeers (Nico and John Cale).


 
Intermittent and elusive, yet steadily prolific, Jon Attwood’s solo guitar project Yellow6 has links with the undersung east London post-rock scene of the 1990s (which also spawned A.R. Kane, Disco Inferno, Moonshake and Bark Psychosis (BP’s drummer Mark Hartnett would later put in a Yellow6 stint). Moving away from his initial goth and anarcho-punk roots (tempered with soul), Jon was drawn into the world of minimalism, repetition and reverbed/distorted drone loops. Shaped equally by Jon’s natural humility and his “obsessive need to create” toward an artistic peak he’s not yet reached, Yellow6 has produced over fifty releases with results variously described as “gentle shape-shifting misery” and “beautiful, shimmering and blissful”.


 
With roots in Cambridge science culture, propulsive and unorthodox ambient duo Darkroom initially found their feet in the fertile 1990s ferment surrounding art-poppers No-Man (initially sporting the latter’s singer Tim Bowness as a member, and providing that particular scene’s experimental edge alongside Steven Wilson’s electrodrones as Bass Communion). Since then, like a wide-orbiting comet, synthworker Os and guitarist Michael Bearpark have forged their own idiosyncratic path in and out of various drone, loop, texture and improv clusters, as well as becoming in-house soundtrackers for brain investigations at the Hub. Moving on from their earlier minglings of boiling starstuff, ambient techno and gasping tidal experimental textures, their more recent music is moody, beating improvised electronica increasingly shaped by Mike and Os’ rediscovery of attenuated blues tones, troubled elongated Neil Young guitar churns and dark bass clarinet voicings. For more assorted ‘Misfit City’ froth and musings on Darkroom, click here. Less celebrated than their gigmates, they’ll be opening the show. They could just as well be closing it.


 
This concert has been set up by boutique vinyl art-music label Champion Version, who’ll have one of their limited-edition vinyl EP featuring all three acts available on the night.

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Towards the end of the month, there’s an intriguing reconnection between late twentieth-century New York and the Indonesian form which inspired so much of it…

Moondog Gamelan, 28th October 2017
Europalia Arts Festival Indonesia presents:
Iwan Gunawan & Stefan Lakatos’ ‘Moondog For Gamelan’ + Steve Lawson/Corey Mwamba
LSO St Luke’s, 161 Old Street, St Luke’s, London, EC1V 9NG, England
Saturday 28th October 2017, 7.30pm
information

“Few musicians are the source of as much intrigue as Moondog. A blind man from Kansas transplanted to New York City, he dressed as a Viking and chose to live on the streets. His compositions reflect his experiences of hearing his way through the city – motifs borrowed from Jazz, Classical and Native American music unwind over the constant beating of a tom-tom drum, like the thumping of a subway train. Occasionally field recordings of traffic noise or crying babies sneak in, as if leaking through an open window. It’s the sound of a city, the sound of a wealth disparate parts coming together to create a complex whole – a kind of urban gamelan.

“For this concert, Moondog’s output is literally reimagined as gamelan by Iwan Gunawan (a reknowned contemporary Javanese gamelan composer known for combining the tradition with the use of electronics and computers) and Moondog’s friend and pupil Stefan Lakatos (who performs using a homemade percussion instrument given to him by the composer himself). Featuring instruments built especially for the occasion, this performance takes gamelan out of its traditional context, taking on Moondog’s experimental yet optimistic compositions. Almost minimalist in its construction – indeed, Moondog alleged that Phillip Glass once called him the “father of minimalism” – the influential outsider musician’s melodies resonate amid the controlled chaos of gamelan.”


 

In support, there’s a duo performance by another ‘Misfit City’ favourite – bass guitar looper Steve Lawson and experimental vibraphonist Corey Mwamba. Collaborators for at least a decade, they’re a pair of accessible yet stubborn musicians creating their own long-distance version of village music on the outskirts of the music business. Recorded/filmed evidence of what they do is surprisingly thin on the ground (I can’t find any) so you’ll have to go on word-of-mouth info about their past gigs. Expect some aspects taken from jazz and fed through sundry loops, delays and perky processors, but don’t expect them to be confined by that – their musical minds stretch from contemporary classical and process music to goofy tunes, and their textural tastes from lowdown murmur to ear-piercing noise. A big bucket to dip into.

* * * * * * * *

While we’re still on the topic of New York minimalism and Philip Glass, look out next month for what sounds like it’ll be an enthralling conjunction of Big Apple pulse and Caribbean tonal warmth…

Steel Pan Fusion Play Philip Glass, 23rd November 2017

‘Steel Pan Fusion Plays Philip Glass’
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Thursday 23rd November 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“One of the most influential and important composers of the twentieth century, Philip Glass is a pioneer of minimalist music alongside fellow luminaries Steve Reich and Terry Riley. With a body of work that stretches beyond contemporary classical music into film scores, operas and more, the source material is rich for reinterpretation. We have commissioned London based ensemble Steel Pan Fusion to perform a selection of works from Glass’ extensive repertoire, from his peerless ‘Glassworks’ to the soundtrack for ‘The Truman Show’.”



 

October 2017 – upcoming London experimental gigs – the Radiophonic Workshop takes over the British Library (13th October)

3 Oct

A quick reposting…

Radiophonics Workshop, 13th October 2017

The British Library presents:
Late at the Library: The Radiophonic Workshop & Guests
Entrance Hall @ The British Library, 96 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London, NW1 2DB, England
Friday 13th October 2017, 6.30pm

information

“The Radiophonic Workshop are one of the most influential electronic music groups of all time. Founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram, it was home to a maverick group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators including the late Delia Derbyshire. In a series of small studios within the labyrinthine corridors of the BBC Maida Vale complex, the Workshop set about exploring new ways of using – and abusing – technology to create new sounds.


 
“Their influence on popular music has been profound. As the in-house composers of music and effects for the BBC they created the sonic backdrops for ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and countless others. From The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Prince and Pink Floyd through to some of the most innovative contemporary electronic artists and DJs, the Workshop’s legacy continues to grow as new generations of musicians discover their catalogue of extraordinary recordings.

“Now, nearly two decades after the Workshop was decommissioned, original members Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dr Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and long-time associate composer Mark Ayres are back working together. They soundtracked the childhoods of several generations, now they’re back to soundtrack your Friday night with a two part set. The first is a live version of their first studio album for twenty-five years, the improvised work ‘Burials On Several Earths’, with guest collaborator Martyn Ware (Heaven 17, The Human League and BEF). The second is a heritage archive set in which the Workshop perform some of their best known material – including the high water mark of early British electronica – the signature tune for ‘Doctor Who’.

“Join the Radiophonic Workshop at 6.30pm for a special in-conversation event ‘Soundhouses: The Radiophonic Workshop at 60’. Tickets include entry to the Late event. Visuals for the night are performed by Obsrvtry, a collaboration between Michael Faulkner (founder of D-Fuse) and Ben Sheppee (creator of Lightrhythm Visuals), with a guest DJ set from Tom Middleton of Global Communication.”


 

May 2017 – upcoming London gigs – Muckle Mouth bring us Le Ton Mité plus Chris Cundy (May 25th), and The Family Élan plus Plague Dogs (May 27th); Papernut Cambridge’s Beehive Yourself gig-hosting series continues with The Great Electric, Deerful and Mat Flint (May 27th)

20 May

More on that second set of May gigs at the Dentist in Homerton, plus a continuing set of gigs over in Bow…

* * * * * * * *
Le Ton Mité, 26th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
Le Ton Mité + Chris Cundy
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Thursday 25th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“This is the first ever London show of Le Ton Mité, a Belgian musical cooperative that revolves around the compositions of itinerant musician, instrument maker and fine artist McCloud Zicmuse, an American expatriate in permanent residence in Brussels.

“Having left the United States in the mid-noughties on a European sojourn that never ended, McCloud wound up in the Belgian capital in the fall of 2008. Half a decade on, a time in which he has embedded himself in European life via puppet shows, archery guilds, folkloric events, theatre projects and a catalogue of idiosyncratic solo and group works (perhaps most recognisably the 2011 Hoquets album on Crammed Discs called ‘Belgotronics’), McCloud returned to the States, to revisit places he had not seen, in some cases, for fifteen years. This informs his current musical set – an idiosyncratic blend of pop, folk, childrens music and jazz performed by a baroque-style quartet.


 
“To open the evening, there’s be a solo set by Chris Cundy performing his own works for bass clarinet. Chris is a musician, composer, and visual artist working on the fringes of experimental and popular music. He has long been interested with the material properties of acoustics and his music explores self-developed playing techniques such as multiphonics, circular breathing, micro-tonality and (generally speaking) a more tactile approach to the instrument.

“Chris performed with Mercury Award nominated indie-pop band Guillemots and continues to work with the bands frontman Fyfe Dangerfield. He has also collaborated with a variety of alt-pop artists both in Canada and the UK including Little Annie, Baby Dee, Timber Timbre, and Cold Specks.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The Family Élan + Chris Cundy, 27th May 2017

Muckle Mouth and The Dentist present:
The Family Élan & Plague Dogs
33 Chatsworth Road/The Dentist, 33 Chatsworth Road, Homerton, London, E5 0LH, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.30pm
– information here and here

“Muckle Mouth and The Dentist welcome Bradford psych-folk rockers The Family Élan (and their heady blend of party hits, Hindi film song and Turkish folk dances) back for a fling.

“The Family Élan generally performs as a trio, featuring Krzysztof Hładowski (of A Hawk and A Hacksaw, The One Ensemble, Nalle, Scatter fame) on Greek bouzouki, elektrosaz and vocals, Harry Wheeler on fancy bass, and Shakeeb Abu Hamdan (of Please, Ygrec, Cleckhuddersfax, The Wub) on Western drum kit. The scope of The Family Elan’s output ranges from self penned meditations in the key of Z minor and the odd party hit, to irreverent interpretations of everything from Hindi film songs to Turkish folk dances, delivered with the countenances of psychedelic rockers. Perhaps the unifying strand in all this is a deep interest in traditional music forms and their reinvention through group rock-outs.”


 
As with the Alex Rex gig earlier in the month, Plague Dogs will be in support… but now I know who they are. They’re an alliance of Trembling Bells/Alex Rex kingpin Alex Neilson with writer/curator/artist/cultural geographer Amy Cutler (at least, I’m assuming that it’s that Amy Cutler)… In which case, expect something textural, folk-tinged and audio-visual, probably provoking more questions than it answers..

(UPDATE, 26th May 2017 – this show’s been cancelled, with the hope that it can be rescheduled later in the summer…)
 

* * * * * * * *

I’ve been slow on picking up on renewed gig activity at the Dentist. Likewise with this set of shows over at the Beehive in Bow (the latest of which clashes with the Family Élan show, but there you go…)

Beehive Yourself 2 (Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful), 27th May 2017

Sound Event Solutions & Papernut Cambridge present:
Beehive Yourself #2: Papernut Cambridge + The Great Electric + Deerful + Mat Flint DJ set
The Beehive, 104-106 Empson Street, Bromley-by-Bow, London, E3 3LT, England
Saturday 27th May 2017, 7.00pm
information

“The second of three Saturday night shows for spring and early summer featuring Papernut Cambridge and a hand-picked selection of friends’ bands and DJs.

Papernut Cambridge is led by former Death In Vegas and Thrashing Doves guitarist (and now prolific underground producer/engineer) Ian Button, who has a list of current projects and collaborations that include Go Kart Mozart, David Cronenberg’s Wife, Deep Cut, Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Rotifer, Paul Hawkins etc. The band is based on an imaginary band from a dream Ian had in 1990 and brought to life in 2013 by assembling a group of friends and collaborators. Papernut Cambridge have now released two albums (‘Cambridge Nutflake’ in 2013, ‘There’s No Underground’ in 2014) and a covers album (2015’s ‘Nutlets 1967-80’), all on Gare Du Nord Records. The next album release is ‘Love The Things Your Lover Loves’ in May 2016.


 
“As ever with this gig series, Papernut Cambridge will be playing the opening set. The very special guests to follow on May 27th are:

The Great Electric – electronic/motorik supergroup featuring Malcolm Doherty (guitars, effects), Rob Hyde (drums), Darren Hayman (synth), Duncan Hemphill (tones, drones and effects) and Pete Gofton (bass). With a band members’ past pedigree that includes Hefner, Kenickie, Go-Kart Mozart and Mum & Dad, expect a determined, nuanced yet mind-melting set inspired by German electronic and prog via Stereolab, music made in space, and radical hypnosis techniques.


 
“Following on from her past work backing or contributing to the work of Darren Hayman, Pete Astor, Owl & Mouse and Enderby’s Room, Emma Winston’s solo electronic project Deerful takes bright melodic indie pop and fuses it with crisp chiptune and electro shimmers, Gameboy beats, and emotive thought-provoking lyrics. Her live shows using an array of TFL-portable synths and devices are always a delight. Deerful’s first full length album ‘Peach’ is released this year on June 2nd.


 
“Former Revolver frontman, Death In Vegas bassist, and now leader of bravado dreampop project Deep Cut, Mat Flint is also a frequent record spinner at The Social, playing sets that range from Northern Soul and hip hop to dub and garage rock. We’re chuffed he’s coming along to pilot the wheel of steel for this show!”

 

May 2017 – upcoming London and Brighton gigs – Roar, Steve Strong and Tony協Yap get noisy (May 21st); Prescott and The Evil Usses spiralize our ears (May 24th); MUMMY curate a free cavalcade of psychedelia/folk/oddpop on the side of the Alternative Escape festival (May 19th)

16 May

Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap, 21st May 2017

Best of Bandcamp, SPREAD and New River Studios present:
Roar + Steve Strong + Tony協Yap
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Sunday 21st May 2017, 6.00pm
information

Yokohama band Roar (dipping into London as part of a British and American tour) are a two-piece of Shusei on guitar and Taketo on drums. Noisy and immediate, their sound’s an immediately accessible, unconstrained rock sound churning together aspects of surf music, Hendrix, Nirvana, Foetus and The Melvins.

Two support acts add to the fray. Steve Strong provides his usual one-man-band post-rock loop act, layering assertive, precise live drumkit work with rattling spidery guitar riffs and surging wads of noise texture. Keyboard player Gman Leong & drummer Alessandro Salzano make up London experimental noise/beat duo Tony協Yap: more live drumkit, this time paired with abrasive synth jabs and snarls. Taunting us with the possibility of dynamics, they usually come at us full-tilt – a jammed rave cannonade with occasional vivid lacunae of downtime and ebbed space, stripped and shaped by small sounds (such as the ring of Alessandro’s singing-bowl).





 

* * * * * * * *

Prescott + The Evil Usses, 24th May 2017

Prescott presents:
Prescott + The Evil Usses
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 24th May 2017, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Like Tony協Yap, the dogged, quirky Prescott are a band who know a thing or two about teasing. A vehicle for the cellular, bafflingly elasticated compositions of onetime Stump bassist Kev Hopper, they’re also an excuse for underground art-rock drummer Frank Byng, out-there guitarist Keith Moliné and improbable synth player Rhodri Marsden to unpredictably shunt each other around pitch and beat.

With the various members drawing on stints with projects as diverse/perverse as Pere Ubu, Snorkel, The Keatons, Scritti Politti, The Free French, Ticklish and This Is Not This Heat, there’s plenty of scope and impetus for lateral thinking, coupled with a poker-faced goofy accessibility. Their second album, ‘Thing Or Two’, is another stylish raspberry in the face of sensibility and torpor. Imagine the swoop and ping of Brand X rendered in far too many inappropriate Lego bricks; imagine Weather Report fed on a diet of Dada and No Wave; imagine a fusillade of perky post-punk blips like XTC spending a stint as a Koji Kondo covers band.

In support, there’s Bristol’s The Evil Usses, whom I last encountered in the runup to Bristol’s Wakizashi festival last October, and whom I described back then as “a deconstructive, fiercely humorous No Wave jazz-rock quartet, who share some of Knifeworld’s brassy exuberance but take it over the escarpment and down into a stomping, seven-league-booted Beefheart country.” Come along and have your cortex ruffled.



 
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Two of the Alternative Escape gigs in Brighton, 18-19 May 2017

Before either of these, though, there’s a particular free all-dayer at The Black Dove in Brighton on 19th May – part of the extensive Alternative Escape fringe event that’s coiled around the city’s huge Great Escape festival. Certain bands and projects affiliated to the great swarming ferment of the Cardiacs tradition tend to repeatedly pepper ‘Misfit City’ coverage. This particular gig packs a bunch of these together like a explosion of overnight mushrooms (appropriately, since the tang of a particular kind of psychedelia hangs over it).

Up in the curator role are MUMMY, the psychogothadelic thrumming of Jo Spratley and ex-Cardiac/Dark Star/Levitation-eer Bic Hayes. Bic’s also part of the motorik lysergic driving-machine ZOFFF (who’ll be playing their own set towards the end of the night, fresh from their recent show backing Damo Suzuki). ZOFFF pull together plenty of people from the Brightonian psychedelic axis – including Chris Anderson, who’s bringing along both his shipwreck-and-dreams songwriter project Crayola Lectern and his spacegazing pop band La Momo.

Friendly one-man personality cult Kavus Torabi will take another bare-bones acoustic tilt at the ornate songs he’s written for Knifeworld and the Monsoon Bassoon, while touching on the inspirations he’s shared in his work with Cardiacs and Gong. Psych-tinged folk baroque is provided by Emily Jones and Arch Garrison (bringing liberal dashes of Cornwall and Wiltshire psychogeography with them) and there’s frowning, shadowy, mordantly hilarious Kinks-Gothic popcraft from Stephen Evens. Also on board are noisy punk-prog/alt.pop trio Ham Legion, and Chloe Herington’s experimental music project V A L V E (who make obliquely thoughtful, oddly accessible music from bassoons, melodicas, tape-loops, concert harps, electronics, doorbells and things found on walks and in skips).

Just about the only band here that’s not a ‘Misfit City’ regular is Hurtling, the alt./dream-rock trio featuring Jen Macro and Jon Clayton (formerly of stuffy/thefuses and Something Beginning With L) with Smallgang/Splintered Man bassist Simon Kobayashi. Boasting sturdy support musician links to My Bloody Valentine, Shonen Knife Graham Coxon, Robyn Hitchcock and Bitch Magnet (and taking inspiration from alt.rock heroes such as The Breeders, Sebadoh and Warpaint), they’re possibly the best connected band on the bill: also one of the most straightforward, and a link to the Great Escape outside.


 
Throughout, you’ve got illuminations from south coast psych-lighters of choice Innerstrings. See below for performance schedule and time; see above for links to the wealth of things I’ve previously written about most of these people; go here for the Facebook event page…

Programme:

2.00pm – doors
3.00pm – Ham Legion
3.40pm – Emily Jones
4.20pm – Crayola Lectern
5.00pm – Hurtling
6.00pm – La Momo
6.40pm – Stephen Evens
7.20pm – M U M M Y
8.00pm – V A L V E
8.40pm – Arch Garrison
9.20pm – Kavus Torabi
10.00pm – ZOFFF
afterwards, until 3.00am – DJ Moke
 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – Spratleys Japs recreated live in Brighton, co-starring Stephen Evens, Emily Jones and sundry Brighton psychedelic talent (19th November)

16 Nov

'Spratleys Japs Live', 19th November 2016Though it’s long sold out (Facebook and local word-of-mouth rendering any blog efforts unnecessary), I thought I’d tip the hat to Saturday’s Brighton revival-cum-recreation of the obscure and short-lived Spratleys Japs, the first full live outing that the project’s songs have ever had.

Nominally a band, one which first wormed its way out into the light back in 1999, Spratleys Japs were one of the more enigmatic branches of the Cardiacs family. Head Cardiac Tim Smith composed the cryptic bulk of it, played bass guitar and organ, and added scratchy vocals; his then-girlfriend Jo Spratley sang bright and artless (like an urchin sparrow) and dabbled in theremin and flugelhorn. Tone and shape was inspired by a gloriously malfunctioning Mellotron keyboard on loan from ‘Tron historian Andy Thompson – its antique tape-replay system disrupted; its brass and string sounds invaded and polluted by grand staggers, stammers and dark blarts.

The rest of the instrumental roles were filled by the Rev-Ups, a Mexican desert band transplanted across the Atlantic and camping out in the New Forest. Dibbling around in Spratleys history brings you more information, albeit in baffling crepuscular fashion. There are stories of cutlery-hoarding obsessives hunched over humming home-made electronics; of a dilapidated old valve-tech recording studio buried deep in the Hampshire woods (“a bit rotten and a bit covered in leaves and rats, and rats spiders… ‘Doctor Who’ stylee control room… wiring swung between olden telegraph poles…”); and of vocals recorded “at dusk, in the drizzle”, bounced off the surface of a stagnant pond.


 
All very interesting, but probably spurious. It’s true about the ailing ‘Tron (and some elements of the dank forest sessions story might even be based on reality) but Spratleys were, in all likelihood, a Jo and Tim duo project: something cooked up through Smith production wizardry and swathed with the usual Cardiacs thicket of playful disinformation and purposefully eccentric mythology. In the decade following the album release, there was occasional talk about taking Spratleys to the stage, none of which came to anything: Tim’s near-fatal stroke and heart attack in 2008 finally put paid even to the talk.

What was left was the music – one album, one single with extra scraps – and very interesting it was too, be it the twinkling, seething, termite’s-nets funk of Fanny, the nursery piano and Wagnerian choir of Sparrows or Tim whispering an endless meandering verse over a strummed bass in Oh. Half of Cardiacs’ songbook had always been weirdly Arcadian, yearning out and away from regimented urban suburbia into a half-imagined clotted English greenwood full of growing things. Spratleys suggests what might have happened if Cardiacs had escaped there only to find out that it was a swamp, vegetation, trash and identity alike inexorably decaying into fertile sludge.


 
The grand, precarious staircases of extended harmony are pure Smith: parkour chord progressions racing on to destination unknown, delighting in the unpredictable terrain underfoot. The glue and ingredients which surround them are different, or at the very least repurpose and re-examine previous Smithian influences. Looking back at it now, it resembles nothing so much as various Cardiacs urges bumping up against the make-do, repurpose-and-discover influence of Faust, recoiling a little dazed and reconsidering. Creatures rustle; flashes of crude bayou guitar and ’50s rock’n’roll lick set up home with spluttering electronics. Vinyl pops; lyrics torn from malfunctioning phrasebooks float and spin in the eddies; all of the vocals sound as if they’ve been transposed from worn vellum. Jo, too, leaves her mark on proceedings – tugging Tim’s obsessive tendencies into more abstract, wandering territories, her childlike voice and delivery a perfect foil for his.

Regards this weekend’s recreation, Jo is the only original Spratley left standing. Though he’s recovered sufficiently to recently disinter and prepare a long-shelved Sea Nymphs album for release, Tim is still a long, long, unlikely way from playing live again. The Rev-Ups have long since dispersed and disappeared (probably back into the realms of Tim’s imagination); and as for the crumbling Mellotron, Andy Thompson (the entirely entitled bastard) has long since callously repaired it without a thought to history. There have been efforts to keep the project in the family, one way or another: Jo’s son Jesse Cutts (of Heavy Lamb) is backing her on guitar, and remaining roles are filled by sundry Brighton multi-instrumentalists and Cardiacs sympathisers. In the bag for the band are Étienne Rodes of Clowwns, his brother Adrien Rodes (once of Rect.angle, now playing with Étienne in Brother Twain) and the frighteningly busy Damo Waters (drummer for Clowwns, ZOFFF, Brother Twain and Slug; organist for Crayola Lectern; sessioneer for Field Music, British Sea Power, Chris T-T and plenty of others; everything-ist for his own project Muddy Suzuki when he has a spare moment).

At the moment, it’s not yet clear whether all of this is going to be a one-off amplified and extended celebration; or whether it’s going to become part of that eagerly growing body of post-Cardiacs musical life, joining the massing bands and solo artists which throng the increasingly regular Tim Smith fundraisers. Meanwhile, some indication as to what’s coming on the night could be found here – a kind of dry run, as Jo and Heavy Lamb take a rockier, punkified crack at the Spratleys song Vine at last year’s Alphabet Business Convention.


 

‘Spratleys Japs Performed Live’ (featuring members of Spratleys Japs, Crayola Lectern, Clowwns, Brother Twain, Muddy Suzuki) + Stephen Evens + Emily Jones
The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England
Saturday 19th November 2016, 7.30pm
– information here and here

In support are Stephen EvEns (the current solo project by thoughtfully-hangdog drummer and multi-instrumental songwriter Steve Gilchrist – that’s Jo playing the therapist in his video below) and Cornish psychedelic folkie Emily Jones, whose own work shows a (possibly accidental) affinity with the softer end of Smithiana both in its occasional odd-corner harmonies and changeability, and in its occasional fascination with small, obscurely significant things.



 
If you’re not discouraged by that “sold-old” sign, see links above for the tickets that might become available… or just show up on the door with some cash on the night and hope for the best. If the Green Door Store has windows, crane up against them; fog them with sorry breath; make the kind of forest-creature creeling noises which you’d suspect might be just out of earshot on the Spratleys Japs album. They might take pity on you, and let you in.


 

November 2016 – upcoming gigs – the glorious 12th: some of many gigs scattered around England on my birthday tomorrow – Mother, North Sea Radio Orchestra, ILL, Nick Costley-White, India McKellar, Alice Zawadski, Merrick’s Tusk, Snowapple, Captives On The Carousel, Mark Lewandowski, Steve Strong, Shield Patterns, Jamie Safiruddin, The Yossarians, Boy & A Balloon, Bruxa | Cosa, Ed Dowie, Carl Woodford, Andy Or Jenny, Patrons…

11 Nov

Tomorrow I turn forty-six. About half of those years have been spent as an on-and-off writer, scrambling round the edges of music and music culture, attempting to understand this great amorphous art form with its thousands of doors and voices. I had a sombre, or at least a serious, preamble planned: one of those reflective commentator essays that you see on many of the more literate blogs. I threw it away.

Instead (and in keeping with what ‘Misfit City’ has been up to for most of the year), here’s a particularly long garland of gig notices. It’s not here to illustrate any particular school of thought, being the usual melange of tastes and forms – jazz, folk, art-punk, acoustic singer-songwriter, prog, performance art, drone, classical fusion and lush noise. It’s that particular kind of broad, inconsistent, credibility-trampling aural palette which (back when I started doing this in the mid-’90s), wasn’t suggested much outside of the pages of ‘Organ’ or the less austere corners of ‘The Wire’, or indeed ‘Misfit City’; but which now seems to be almost a mainstream stance.

Some other day – perhaps some other birthday – will be the right time for an essay or a grand declaration. If I’ve got a point to make right now (if only by implication and example), it’s that at a tired, fairly battered forty-six I’m still curious, still enthusiastic, still in the business of learning; at a time and place in life which might otherwise ossify my tastes and reduce music to just another commodity or flattened signifier. Spread out over this post are details on concerts, all of them in England, all of them scattered across my birthday. There’s no way I could attend all of them, even with an entirely free hand, but all of them attract me; and at any one of them you’d have found me leaning against a wall, pen and pad in hand, taking notes, looking for new thoughts.

I’ve already posted about the iamthemorning/Tim Bowness teamup for the iO Pages festival, but I can’t really squeeze in the flight to the Netherlands. (Besides, I’m catching them in London on Monday). I’ve also posted about the evening’s Hallkvist/Taylor/Goller/Hayward jazz-fusion show (plus a side order of Charlie Stacey) at the Lambeth art incubator of IKLECTIK, as part of an update on Charles Hayward’s burst of late-year shows. Since that one’s in London, it’s a more likely option for me; but also down at IKLECTIK, in the early afternoon, London jazz incubator Jazz Nursery will be joining in with the ongoing EFG London Jazz Festival in order to present a couple of young bandleaders with relatively accessible projects.

Well, why not start there – start mellow…

Guitarist Nick Costley-White has a trio featuring Conor Chaplin on double bass and David Ingamells on drums and offers fresh, swinging takes on Jerome Kern and Cole Porter (with the leader described by ‘Jazz News’ as “a classy player with an elegant and subtle way with a good tune”). Bassist Mark Lewandowski (“sonorous, fluent… an indispensable part of our scene” – ‘London Jazz’) sets aside his busy calendar as a sideman to compose for and lead a quartet of American drum legend Jeff Williams (Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano etc) as well as tenor saxophonist Tom Challenger (Brass Mask, Wedding Music, Dice Factory, Ma) and pianist Liam Noble (Stan Sulzman, Bobby Wellins, many records as leader).

Nick Costley-White, 2016Jazz Nursery/EFG London Jazz Festival presents:
Nick Costley-White Trio + Mark Lewandowski Quartet
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 2.30pm
information

It looks as if this particular Mark Lewandowski band is too new to have been recorded, but here’s a clip of the Costley-White Trio at work:


 
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'Liberate yourself from my vice like grip", 12th November 2016
Were I up in the north-west I’d be listening to something entirely different, tempted by ‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’, the R.D. Laing-inspired exhibition/concert/happening that’s playing at Islington Mill in Salford. Set up by contemporary art organisation Broken Grey Wires, it’s part of their scheme to create safe psychological spaces for people with various mental health issues; to use art as “a facilitator for recovery… to encourage people to make something special for themselves”, following Laing’s own suggestion that “madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be break-through.” 

(Yep – I know how to relax on my own special days.)

For the musical component, co-curators Fat Out have put together a typically eclectic and Mill-ready line-up of mostly local bands. Included are soundscaping folk-indie/jazz-shoegaze performance artists Mother, psychedelic folk-rock jam-jivers The Yossarians and colourful, blippy post-punk femme/art/pop troupe ILL (proudly strident champions of “disobedient noise” who believe in “creating music until something tingles, and performing dance noise until something bleeds”, and who were namechecked in ‘The Guardian’ today as one of the fifty new pop projects shaping the future). Also on the bill are ambient improvisers Andy Or Jenny, the “atavistic” Berlin-based Welsh looptronica singer Bruxa | Cosa, and landscape-ghosting Peak District ambient-pop duo Shield Patterns.

For the ongoing exhibition BGW have brought in various artists who explore mental health, gender, identity and subjective reality in their work (Lizz Brady, Robert Good, Amy Mizrahi, David Sheery, Kirsty Harris, Paul Kindersley, Jared Pappas-Kelley, Alexander Storey Gordon) all of whom raise so many questions, options and ways of seeing that I’d go on for ages trying to clumsily summarise them. Instead, I’d suggest that you follow them up on Facebook through the second info link below…

Broken Grey Wires & Fat Out present:
‘Liberate yourself from my vice like grip’
Islngton Mill Arts Centre, James Street, Salford, M3 5HW, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 6.00pm
– information here and here





 
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Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick's Tusk, 12th November 2016If I were in Durham, I could make up for missing one-man post/math/trip-hop band Steve Strong‘s set of simultaneous guitar-loops/drums/electronic-noise hybrids at Wakizashi last month, by catching up with him up at his Empty Shop show in Durham – alongside the trepidatious post-hardcore of Plymouth four-piece Patrons and the blitzing sentimental charge of Derby trio Merrick’s Tusk (currently touring their melodic, heart-on-sleeve half-emo rock around the country). While I was at it, I could feel as if I was contributing more to the community than just the usual couple of hours of head-nodding. (See more about the constructive, cohesion-building Empty Shop ethos here.)

Sapien Records Ltd/Empty Shop presents:
Steve Strong + Patrons + Merrick’s Tusk
Empty Shop HQ, 35c Framwellgate Bridge (above ‘Ciao Ciao’), Durham, DH1 4SJ, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 8:00 pm
– information here and here




 

India McKellar, 2016

India McKellar

If in Sheffield, I’d probably be in a softer mood, heading over to the Regather co-op for one of their cosier gigs: the second of the recently-established acoustic evenings run by local cello/voice/guitar folk duo Captives On The Carousel.

This week (in addition to the Carouselers usual warm starting set), the night’s playing host to two other Sheffield-area singer-songwriters – India McKellar, whose previous adventures on piano, as a traditional Celtic harpist and as a onetime prog-rocker have set her up well for her matured, quietly captivating role as Laurel-Canyon-by-way-of-West Riding adult songwriter; and rootsier Drake-and-Jansch-inspired guitar-and-banjo picker Carl Woodford.

Captives on the Carousel present:
Captives Vol. 2: India McKellar + Carl Woodford + Captives On The Carousel
Regather Works, 57-59 Club Garden Road, Sheffield, S11 8BU, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 7.30pm
information




 
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Alice Zawadski, 2016

Alice Zawadski

Back in London, I’d also be tempted (were it not already sold out) by Alice Zawadski’s Joni Mitchell evening down at Brasserie Zedel. I’m not keen on the institution of the average cover version, and embarrassingly average covers of Joni songs are the bane of many an acoustic evening: honeytraps for earnest women with guitars who cover them reverently, winsomely and really badly. Every time, I picture Joni seething in the audience, her notorious strongmindededness in full bullish effect: snarling at the women onstage, cursing them out for skipping her weird tunings, for ignoring the orchestral conception behind the compositions, or for just sugaring the fine vinegar.

This one might well be different, for several reasons. One is that Alice already comes with acclaim, experience and enough background to serve the songs – extensively trained in both jazz and classical skills, a violinist and arranger as well as a singer, she’ll be thinking on maybe as many levels as Joni herself. Another is that her gig partner and pianist Jamie Safiruddin has racked up time and plaudits accompanist and/or musical director with prime British jazz, ballad and folk interpreters Ian Shaw, Claire Martin and Barb Jungr and Ben Cox, as well as pop adventures with Will Young (plus he already has Joni-form, having “played Edith And The Kingpin with exquisite poise” according to ‘The Arts Desk’).

A third reason is that this is primarily a jazz gig; Jamie and Alice joined by Seafarers saxophonist Matthew Herd, bassist Conor Chaplin (strolling over from the earlier Costley-White trio show), drummer and Conor’s Fabled buddy and drummerWill Glaser. No matter how many copies of ‘Blue’ you pitch at my head, I’ll always maintain that Joni was at her original best when diving into jazz, interweaving with Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius as her words kaleidoscoped, her notes ached and flexed and the potential in the arrangement spanned and fanned. Alice is promising Joni’s most well-worn hits and folky standards (‘Big Yellow Taxi’, ‘A Case of You’, ‘Woodstock’) but also “lesser-known gems from throughout her long and fruitful back-catalogue”, and it’s not always that you get the chance to hear someone dipping into the more challenging territories of ‘Hejira’, ‘The Hissing Of Summer Lawns’ or ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’.

Here are the details for anyone who’s a better ligger/doorstaff wheedler than I am; and below that’s a clip of Alice at work with saxophonist Joe Wright on a song which, even if it’s not quite Joni, shows what her mind and approach could be bringing to the Mitchell catalogue.

Jamie Safiruddin & Alice Zawadski
The Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London, W1F 7ED, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 9.00pm
information


 
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As for me, I can only guarantee that I’ll be in one particular place tomorrow. At noontime I’ll be in the Union Chapel, at one of the Daylight Music shows which I constantly plug here but all to often have to miss. Accompanied by family (and perhaps even a few unexpected friends), I’ll be down there listening to the soft, distracted keyboard songs of Ed Dowie; watching the charming and daffy Dutch folk-pop trio SnowApple delight and dazzle an audience in a fizz of swapped instruments, leapt genres, blended voices and eye-catching outfits; taking in the interstitial battered-pop moments from Boy And a Balloon‘s Alex Hall; and finally immersing myself in the ringing, humming chamber-ensemble arrangements of Craig Fortnam’s North Sea Radio Orchestra as they navigate (in a bright-toned weave of nylon-strung guitar, bassoon, strings, keyboards and voice) between the Britten-esque and the kosmische, between gurgling Vernon Elliott and sighing Robert Wyatt, between the hopping pulse of downtown minimalism and the Anglican warmth of a Wiltshire harvest festival.

Maybe Daylight shows are at the cuddlier end of what interests me within this blog; but it’s also fair to say that, out of everything covered here, perhaps the rambling, all-points Daylight positivity reflects ‘Misfit City’s own attitude best of all. And in a similar spirit… say hello if you see me there.

Daylight Music 238, 12th November 2016

Arctic Circle presents:
Daylight Music 238: North Sea Radio Orchestra + Snowapple + Ed Dowie + Boy & A Balloon
Union Chapel, 19b Compton Terrace, Islington, London, N1 2UN, England
Saturday 12th November 2016, 12.00pm
– free event (suggested donation: £5.00) – information here and here