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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

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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/June 2018 – Long Fin Killie man Luke Sutherland’s new band Rev Magnetic on tour in Scotland and England (25th May to 1st June) with (variously) Superchunk, Erin Friel, Foolish Atoms, Helen Mort, Stonethrower, Salome Benidze, Nova Scotia The Truth, ILK, Caitlin Buchanan, The Honeyfarm, Jack Cheshire and winterThieves

22 May

Rev Magnetic on tour, 25th May to 1st June 2018

I’m rushing this one into post, since I’ve only just heard about it. No apologies for the excessive cut-and-paste here, nor for the absence of much personal insight (although I will say that when a shortage of information meant that I had to dig deeper, I found more).

“While touring the world as guest multi-instrumentalist with Mogwai, Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie, Bows, Music A.M.) used the downtime to sketch a bunch of songs. Once he got home, he wrote a handful more and recorded them with the help of a few friends at his cottage on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. The result was an album’s worth of material with references ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Teebs, Lemmy-era Hawkwind to ABBA, Vaughan Williams to Boulez.

“Keen to translate the radiant chaos of the recordings into a live setting, Luke put together Rev Magnetic, featuring Audrey Bizouerne (Gift Horse), Sam Leighton (Live w/ Prides, St MARTiiNS) and Gregor Emond who played with Luke in a band called Hynd, way back before the birth of the internet. Combining elements of dream pop, shoegaze, R&B, and post rock, their first single, Like No Girl That Ever Was/Don’t Let Joy Destroy You is the sound of summer at full pelt.”


 
Imminent Scottish and English tour dates are below:

  • Neu! Reekie @ St Andrew’s Church, 410-412 Easter Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8HT, Scotland, Friday 25th May 2018, 7.15pm (with Salome Benidze + Helen Mort + Erin Friel + The Honey Farm) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Sunday 27th May 2018, 7.30pm (supporting Superchunk) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 29th May 2018, 7.30pm (with Nova Scotia The Truth + Caitlin Buchanan) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England, Wednesday 30th May 2018, 7.30pm (with ILK + Jack Cheshire) – information here, here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Thursday 31st May 2018, 8.00pm (with Foolish Atoms + others t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Conroy’s Basement, 51-53 Meadowside, Dundee, DD1 1EQ, Scotland, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (with Stonethrower + winterThieves) – information here

It’s probably accidental, but when you take a look at the finer details of the tour, it’s almost like an exploded reflection of Luke’s influences and sympathies; the cultural and artistic breadth he’s shown throughout a career voyaging through books and music. Indie rock and dance chemistry, hip hop and poetry; filtered and transformed Scottish folk; literacy and blasting noise. The balancing of multiple cultures in one evening, or just in one person.


 
Regarding the Glasgow shows… if you’ve been hitting on indie-punk playlists and festival lineups for the past twenty years, you’ll need little introduction to Superchunk. Headlining over Luke and co. at Stereo, they’re early ‘90s favourites who helped define a Carolina DIY punk sound. They were all over the inkies back in the day more or less during the same time that Luke first was; they founded Merge Records, and have kept their place in indie rock affections ever since. On the other hand, the two support acts at the Hug & Pint show are still thrumming – just – under the radar.

Originally from Aberdeen, Caitlin Buchanan is an emerging acoustic singer-songwriter working towards her first EP and taking Angel Olsen, Laura Marling and Kate Bush as influences. Perhaps Angel’s the most obvious one – the slowcore tempos, the collapsing drapes of melody – but Caitlin has little of Angel’s narcotic slur. She also isn’t as propulsive or as easy-to-follow as Laura, and (despite her own musical theatre background) isn’t as brilliantly hammy as Kate.

That’s not actually a string of negatives. Rather, it’s a suggestion that, even at this early stage, Caitlin’s already sloughed off her initial inspirations and found a voice of her own: a folded, cleverly elusive literary one which makes you sit up and take notice, full of double-take lyrical moments. Nestled in strong hammocks of folk guitar, and in gorgeous transplanted curves of Scottish melody, her songcraft is often a series of strange elisions and non-sequiturs somehow coalescing into stories, delivered in a velvety softness which makes it all the more jolting when she drops a perfectly-enunciated precision F-bomb into the crook of a tune – “I fucked up your favourite song, and this is why I don’t do imitations. / Betrayed by the idea of God, we are her most hated creations / Dressed for the office but underqualified, / express my gratitude between her slender thighs…”


 
I suspected that Nova Scotia The Truth might have picked her name as a ScotNat political assertion. It seems that I was half right. A “queen of sample-based electronic music”, active in the Scottish hip hop scene since her teenage years (and now stretching out as a producer-performer), Nova might well be representing a rising strand of modern Scotland, but not necessarily one which will cradle comfortably in the old-school saltire. Her preoccupations are with feminism and of people of colour: a pavement-and-club engagement with embedded and intersectional inequalities, mapped out in whip-crack sonic edits and shifts.

Nova’s recent ‘Al-Haqq’ EP is a determined but bewildering mash of pointers and unrest. Cyber-mimetic R&B, corbies and round-chamberings; blasts of rap and dancehall chat; industrial-grime sound collage; all mixed in with found speech from black culture and protest and faith (some of it tweaked and repurposed, but much of it left free to run). The follow-up, Zoom, is a half-hour of rapid sonic cross-cuts in a similar vein: it’s intended as a backing track for a live rap story of love and talk gone wrong, ultimately, broadening out to a wider exploration about power imbalances in relationships, silencings and language. As with a lot of underground hip hop, there’s plenty packed in there: I’m guessing that onstage, this flies.


 
The Dundee show could have been created as a vast-contrast tribute to Luke’s own willingness to be broad in listening. Rev Magnetic aside, it’s a truly strange, rather brave pairing of opposites. “East coast ecossemo” band Stonethrower bring “monolithic slabs of lead-heavy riffage, angular rage-filled spiky melodies and frantic jazz-core arrangements to blast our faces off”; while Edinburgh/Dundee duo winterThieves are a sacramental ambient act “pool(ing) their varied musical backgrounds to craft a sound that is in equal measures melancholic and euphoric, featuring vast ambient swells, lush guitar and piano melodies, and crashing drums,”, playing wordless slow-reveal post-rock hymnals to an empty sky. The angry hammer and the lonely quilt.



 
South of the border, the London show features Ilk, whose “colourful and dreamy songs unravel against a collision of psych pop influences and scruffy, found sound warmth… the band’s songs and sketches are somehow both grandiose and playful, upbeat and melancholic” plus the “psychedelic jazz-infused” songwriting of rising folk-rock favourite Jack Cheshire in solo mode.

Supporting at Hull, Chris Norrison – a.k.a. Foolish Atoms – is a solo performer who “dreams up droning acoustic swamps in his sleep… creating music so delusional and pain numbing, audiences peacefully drown in the sweet rustic guitar tones and his strained vocals.” Other acts will be added at Hull over the course of the next few days: let’s see what the city’s recent pop-cultural renaissance has produced…

 
However, it’s the Edinburgh show which looks like the pick of the crop. It’s a packed-to-the-gills mass of words, music and beats put together by “Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers” and high/low art boundary-smashers Neu! Reekie, as a partial benefit for the Save Leith Walk community crowdfunder.

As well as Rev Magnetic, on hand for performance are poets Salome Benidze and Helen Mort and a couple of Scottish hip hop acts. Onetime Deadlife Crew member Erin Friel (part of a wave of Scottish hip hoppers who stick, refreshingly, to their own accents and cadences) recently opened for rapper/activist Loki at his sell out King Tuts event for Poverty Safari. The Honey Farm – Scotland’s only all-female rap crew – are self-confessed East Lothian rap bumpkins who “simultaneously skewer and celebrate rap stereotypes with their unapologetic, take no shit attitude” and whose recent debut release L.A.D.S. is “a dragged-up pussy-grabs-back takedown of laddish, bullshit behaviour.”

It’s not quite the fierce textured outrospection of Nova, and perhaps the Farm sometimes let their drama school backgrounds show a little, but it’s all fine. Wit over pose; and plenty of rap’s supposed to be accessible, youthful and funny, including the bit of cross-cast fun with which the Farm kick off the roll of verbiage below…

 

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

16 May

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

Dates:

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

 

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

15 May

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

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

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

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



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



 

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

6 May

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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




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

Dates:

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

 

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