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July 2021 – single & track reviews – Lizard Brain’s ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’; Vi. & sam’s ‘Pressure’; Parnell March’s ‘Therapy’

9 Jul

A little parable about bigotry from politically-inclined Cambridge pop brain Lizard Brain lays out the nonsense of segregation, and of Jim Crow racism. ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’ draws heavily on the educational thought experiments of Jane Elliott, in which school classes were divided up purely on the basis of eye colour and then made to act out rules of discrimination, of social caste and of restricted association based on that distinction.

Via archive samples, Jane’s crisp voice punctuates the retro-synth-pop bounce, buzz and beat in which Lizard Brain have chosen to sheath the song; almost in duet with on/off Lizard Brain vocalist Tony Jenkins as she delivers her satirical edicts. “Brown-eyed people are better than blue-eyed people… You blue-eyed people are not to play with the brown-eyed people at any time.” Meanwhile Tony, dreamy and gentle, provides the emotional content, the empathy which soothes the sense of outrage. “Young girl she cries, / tears crystallize… / Can’t understand / the heavy hand / “look at the things they do, / because my eyes are blue”…”

There’s never any question of where Lizard Brain’s own sympathies lie, regarding Jane and her lessons –“She can see the people we should be / and what we all should do.” This is essentially an adjunct to the original experiment, a pop reduction for a classroom singalong. It even ends with a quick sample of Jane proposing the idea of discrimination as fair to her classful of children, and with them resoundingly rejecting it. Unambiguous in its stance – a spelled-out whiteboard lesson rather than a philosophical trick-bag – this might not be exactly what you or I need as adults; but in its ethical straightforwardness it might be exactly what our kids need (assuming that they’ve not already learnt their civics, and they’re not already way ahead of us).

In contrast, ‘Pressure’ – the latest from Swedish production duo Vi. – deals with the problems in being straightforward. Housed in a softly melancholic deep house pop frame, and helmed by singer sam, it dramatizes the feelings of someone wanting to vent deep emotions but being terrified of judgement. Right from the start, it’s rooted in imminent panic (“blurry vision, voices in my mind – wish I could flow the world around me,”) and building angst ( “I got way too many hours on my own, / and I’m not that good at being all alone.”) While sam sings with the abstract tenderness of many a deep-houser, his words ripple with introversion (“searching for a sign / I never really made an effort, / falling back to square one all the time,”) and slip into a chorus like a soft-shoe landslide – “I don’t want to talk about it, it won’t work. / Can’t you see that I have tried it – it gets worse. / Gets better if I keep my feelings to myself. / I shouldn’t bother someone else. / Keep it all to myself, just talk about something else.”

The soundcrafting does what it can to capture this, too. While Vi. have shaped ‘Pressure’ to be a smooth, gently tear-jerking slice of contemporary dance pop (and while they’ve succeeded in this), small production details and club mix tricks give it an edge of subliminal hysteria. The instrumental hook is a glorious yet tissue-thin synth billow, tentatively overwhelming but pulled back. Other parts sometimes come lurching violently out of the mix only to be yanked back immediately. The effect is one of brittle poise being wrecked by rippling tells – one which breaks down into a silky middle eight of impending collapse. “Please don’t do this right now – I don’t wanna see ya. / I’ve been doing all right, / now I’m gonna leave ya – / tryna find a place where I don’t have to hide.”

All of which should lead neatly into Parnell March‘s ‘Therapy’, a rolling spread of analogue EDM in classic Germanic/post-Boards of Canada style; a serenely ecstatic micro-weir of tumbling electronic tones and melody-pulses. But while there’s a voice is there, it’s tweaked beyond recognition by vocoder into an unintelligible but comforting burble. If there’s a message, it’s muffled and medicated; sunny but slimmed; a minimal, murmuring beehive.

In the accompanying video, meanwhile, a sweet little ginger-haired lad grows gradually more disturbed by online imagery and body anxiety, seeking out the services of a series of slick but shallow counsellors before deciding to take matters into his own hands. A thin film of quizzical irony covers the bright, mundane vistas. Therapists nod along sympathetically while covertly buying stock in anti-depressants; there are cameo appearances from a Joe Rogan video and a Jordan Petersen paperback; and even after he tosses his pills down the toilet and hits the road there’s no clear conclusion as to where our boy ends up. For the moment, Parnell seems content to soundtrack the ambiguous anomie of these states of mind – the strange, shallow elations, the papery calm; the gentle manic high and the buried rumble; the vacant reverb behind the day-to-day noise.

Lizard Brain: ‘If Our Eyes Were Blue’
German Shepherd Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music

Lizard Brain online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music,    

Vi. & sam: ‘Pressure’
ART:ERY Music Group
(no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Vi. online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

sam online:
Deezer, Spotify  


Parnell March: ‘Therapy’
Uncle Herb Recordings (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
9th July 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify

Parnell March online:
Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify   

June 2021 – single & track reviews – Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’ ‘Lost Coast III’; Hot Mustard’s ‘Jerkwater Strut; Ada Moreau’s ‘My Shadow Halts’

7 Jun

Following up on last month’s twirling ‘Bard of a Wilderness’ single, Gabriella Smith and Gabriel Cabezas continue to bring voice, cello and found percussion items to bear on the theme of human responses to the wild spaces, and to the destruction wrought on Gabriella’s California home by last year’s wildfires. While building on the pattering jazz and classical extended-playing techniques which threaded through ‘Bard…’, ‘Lost Coast III’ also sidesteps the former’s barely-restrained murmur and its mingled mourning/accusatory wordings. Skipping across a triple-beat, it’s more of a fiery Latinized waltz heading out on an angry roadtrip – its rage barely constrained, its grief turned into a wild chattering momentum veering all over the tarmac.

This time, Gabriella ignores texts in favour of dance chanting and thermal-tossed multi-tracked vocalese. She plays against herself in what sounds like a wordless, impressionistic vocal ballet of fire-panicked neighbours chattering and arguing, sharing fears and concerns as they try to save themselves what they can. Mingling with this is a sense of boiling injustice, a fury at the fact that this is actually happening. Hands and bow beat on cello case and cans, while Gabriel’s rapid string melodies squeal, strum and chop against the rhythms (and the viola of Bedroom Community labelmate Nadia Sirota adds more midrange sinew).

Round about the halfway point, the piece erupts into a frantically hummed-and-sung chorale of overdubbed Gabriellas, the cello casting disaster drones across the voices. Towards the end, everything disintegrates into a tangled mass of cello frenzy, alarms and firebell rattles before soaring out into a finale which combines everything that’s gone before into a thrillingly twisted-up whole. The more times that you listen to this, the more it seems to reveal; as if it’s not just dealing with the impact of the 2020 fires but mining deeper into Californian history for a catalogue of misfortunes, oppressions, mismanagements and outright fuck-ups, giving voice to all of the indignations that came with them but which were brushed under the forest floor. Rousing stuff, in every sense.

The remaining two singles (this time around) are much more relaxed.

Mixing rare groove with early hip hop/boom bap, the debut Hot Mustard single ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is a bit of idealised, retro-fitted funky-sidewalk strolling. At the group’s core, Jack Powell and Nick Carusos create a Chic-ish dynamic of guitar and bass co-leadership, although the group’s rural South Carolina location (and Jack’s taste for softly melting wah-wah trickles and behind-the-beat pacing) locate it in a much lazier groove. Brooklyn’s Big Brass Beats horn duo (with their Antibalas and TV on the Radio connections) phatten it out, but with the outcome being more New Orleans and Memphis than it is Big Apple (though they do cite a little bit of Wu-Tang Clan as an addition to the mixture). I guess Charleston (a boat ride and a bump away from Hot Mustard’s Johns Island hangout) also gets a look in.

Wordless, thoughtful and quietly happy, ‘Jerkwater Strut’ is more urban than island. Yet, if so, it’s a window onto a different kind of city life in which the tourists are gone, the guests no longer need to be impressed, and an early evening can be spent on the stoop and the street at your own, relaxed pace.

We might be being softened up here, or we might be being let in on an open secret. I can’t really tell yet. That title (like a bit of ancient jazz-age mockery) and Jack’s Gilliam-esque animated video (full of fish, cryptids and marine mythology) are laden with clues which don’t ultimately lead anywhere. Eventually, it’s just sunshine, personal contentment, and the subliminal beat of the far-off city as a comfort, all subsumed into a relaxed neighbourhood vibe.

The third in a monthly progression of singles by Stockholm-based semi-ambient composer Ada Moreau, ‘My Shadow Halts’ leaves behind the gorgeous European fogginess of its predecessors. With that former chilly brume replaced by a more evanescent sonic misting, its descending temple-bell arpeggios, distant piano and even more distant mother-of-pearl synth-sheening lead it more into Asian temple haunts.

These days, there’s more of a risk involved in attempting this kind of thing. Even as ‘My Shadow Halts’ nods to the 1980s traveller’s-ambience of Harold Budd or Roedelius, it also risks summoning up the same kind of atmosphere as many a touristy New Age salute to Bhutan or Kyoto (narrowly skirting Chinoiserie and faux-Gamelan as it does so). Fortunately, despite sounds and intimations, Ada’s actual intentions are less to do with evoking place than in fixing a position of grace.

According to her, ‘My Shadow Halts’ is about “the subjective experience of time. When the light is just right, and everything seems to slow down to that moment, frozen in time. A sudden sense of a more elevated and peaceful reality. Your stress and aggression momentarily forgotten and left behind.”

With that in mind, listening reveals something better. By avoiding direct geographical or cultural tags, Ada allows the crass, picture-postcard aspects which can taint this kind of project – that collecting, spiritually acquisitive side of things – to gently drop away from the music. While still a little second-hand, the Asiatic touches become more like a thoughtful, mood-evoking temple print hung on the opposite wall, rather than a wholesale theft of scenery. As with Hot Mustard, I think Ada’s successfully blended her inspirations into something fresh enough to work. I’m also feeling that she’s narrowly dodged a genre bullet.

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Lost Coast III
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 7th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

   

Hot Mustard: ‘Jerkwater Strut’
Color Red (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Color Red store, Bandcamp, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Amazon Music

Hot Mustard online:
Homepage, Facebook, Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

 

Ada Moreau: ‘My Shadow Halts’
ART:ERY Music Group, ART:ERY20210307
Download/streaming single
Released: 4th June 2021

Get/stream it from:
Soundcloud, Apple Music, Youtube, Spotify, Tidal , Amazon Music, Qobuz

Ada Moreau online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Qobuz

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Craig Fortnam’s ‘Ark’; Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas’s ‘Bard of a Wasteland’; LEYA’s ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)

17 May

“If you are lonely, I’ll be lonely too. / Find yourself a wall and I’ll hang next to you. / It won’t be easier hanging there that way / but we can be a diptych for the light of day…”

Craig Fortnam has spent two decades building a distinct style, both with North Sea Radio Orchestra (leafy, nostalgia-toned English chamber music drawing ever closer to lucid, Canterbury-esque psychedelia) and with Arch Garrison (slimmed-down duo/trio songwriting with more upfront personal concerns and a ranging freedom). It’s not surprising that his first solo material (at least, the first released under his name alone) falls close in tone to both of his previous projects. It’s also still very much a family affair, with the Garrison’s James Larcombe contributing piano and a delicately shrunken raft of other NSRO members adding strings, reeds and vibraphone.

‘Ark’ (the title track of Craig’s forthcoming album) is still redolent with dark walled-garden curlicues of NSRO bassoon and cello, gently astringent viola, bumble-bee monosynth and twinkling glockenspiel; all of it pumping away like steam-workings under the naive strum of guitar and Craig’s unaffected Wyatt-ish drone of vocal. Impacted by his loves and losses in the past few years – not least the death of his mentor Tim Smith – it’s downbeat, uneasy and self-effacing in a particular English fashion (a way that still throbs and flows on beneath current aggressive Brexit blustering). As a song, it’s in part a retreat and an admission of fear in ominous times. Craig’s never looked as vulnerable as he does in the video, fumbling around his rehearsal room, gazing anxiously through thick glasses, gently contorted around his guitar or haltingly reassembling broken-down instruments.

However, it’s also a frail but faithful statement of empathy and loyalty in times of threat – a recognition that trust can be rebuilt in the face of despondency. An unexpected coda with a new hint of furrowed darkness suggests that Craig has swapped some of those NSRO green leaves for a bag of tougher, tarter limes; but he’s shored up the delicate song-line, made strengthening bulwarks to share. “Two by two, I’ll paint the people in” sings Craig, “with all my deepest longing.” The clouds may be fat and dark, the cliffs may be crumbling, lights may be going out in the little houses everywhere;  but community starts with two, and then another two.

When much of California went up in relentless wildfires last year, blotting out much of the Pacific seaboard in a broil of toxic brown smoke, it left scars – economic, geographical, psychic. Singer/composer Gabriella Smith might live mostly in Marseille these days, but her roots are thoroughly Californian, emotionally entwined with the hiking trails through forests and over rocks in the wild places, now little more than ash and scorching. Composed on the hoof as she paced helplessly in the Bay Area, unable to stop the despoilment from the raging fires, ‘Bard of a Wasteland’ is the first part of a fierce lament over the wrecking of her countryside.

Rage pushes at the roots of Gabriella’s soft conversational soprano, beginning to unweave its politeness, swooping through its steel-guitar pitching and murmurs. Meanwhile, her collaborator (the genre-flexing New York cellist Gabriel Cabezas) makes his cello sound like – and do – everything else. Jazz swoops and purring, fretless Mediterranean bass lines of the Mick Karn kind; quivering tremolo ornaments to the vocal melodies; staccato thumps and strums; subtle screeches of desert birdcall; reedy drones and a rainfall pattering of fingertip percussion.

All of this is layered into flexing rhythmical and methodic song-loops, perhaps owing something to Arthur Russell’s cello-beat, to African cycles and Italian tarantellas, in which Gabriel explores the rub and the push of instrumental voices while Gabriella digs into root causes of neglect and responsibility, of strip-mining the future and impoverishing the present. “You left us with fire / and we let it burn / You lined your pockets with the breath of your children,” she sings. “All you leave is a wasteland / And we’re fighting to breathe on.” As music, it’s pretty thrilling, it’s rhythm teasing your ankles and hips into dancing. As a story, it’s unresolved and inconclusive: as it has to be, as Gabriella starts to piece together her own emotions, to find out what her new place is, and where she sits on the chain of responsibility (if not the roster of blame).

“Lost time. / Another lick of the tide, / another loop in a line…. / Far enough from the slaughter, / close enough to the dam, / I lost the dream of a daughter / to be the bard of a wasteland.” It’s a reminder that protection of a landscape comes with sustaining one’s own awareness of and connection to it. Gabriella is performing the start of a war dance on hers, to remind those who failed their duties that this kind of failure matters.

On ‘ABBA/Mary’, ambient-classical composer and onetime Dead Texan Christina Vantzou effects a two-on-one remix of eerie New York post-classical rebels LEYA, whose threnodic conflations of violin, harp, unusual intervals and porously melancholic male-alto vocalising have enthralled various freak-pits, noise-dens, art-porn movies and other liminal performance spaces ever since they formed. The originals sound like weeping shroud-cloths peeled off the sleeping bodies of castrati. They’re disturbingly beautiful, their lyrics indistinct and parched, and they’re also deliciously unmoored from time, from strictness of gender, from tone-temperament. ‘ABBA‘ is a meeting of undulant string fades and detuned harp; ‘Mary‘ is more slanted towards traditional balladry and baroque continuo.

The Vantzou blending produces quite a different hybrid. Swimming in on a tide of fluting, falling vocal samples, its shifting spine is built from gentle alteration to ‘Mary’s harp continuo. Of the vocals, Marilu Donovan’s wispy backings are moved more upfront and given their moment in the spotlight; while Adam Marciewicz’s alto is further detached from its blurred storytelling role, now echoing protracted yearning syllables in distant corridors. Throughout, gentle background interruptions prod and nudge LEYA’s original building blocks as Vantzou mixes in computer blips, finger cymbals and insect chirps and the kind of electronic glissandi you’d expected to hear in vintage psychedelic science fiction.

Building assertively on LEYA’s taste for detuning, Vantzou also brings regular and unsettling shifts in pitching, progressing the music from chord to subtly dissonant chord. You’re never entirely sure where you’re being led, other than down a staircase in which the steps are each of different, treacherous sizes. There is no particular ending or straightforward resolution: the component fragments fray and ghost out together, the last sigh of a spectral tape.

Craig Fortnam: ‘Ark’
Onomatopoeia Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp (free download with album pre-order), Soundcloud, Amazon Music, Spotify, Shazam

Craig Fortnam online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, Amazon Music, Shazam

Gabriella Smith/Gabriel Cabezas: ‘Bard of a Wasteland
Bedroom Community Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, ‎Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriella Smith online:
Homepage, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Amazon Music

Gabriel Cabezas online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Instagram, Amazon Music

LEYA: ‘ABBA/Mary’ (Christina Vantzou remix)
NNA Tapes (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released:
17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

LEYA online:
Facebook, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Christina Vantzou online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

May 2021 – single & track reviews – Loud Women’s ‘Reclaim These Streets’; Penelope Trappes’ ‘Blood Moon’; Spellling’s ‘Boys at School’

17 May

The personal, and the political. Flip a coin next time you walk out of doors. If it falls the wrong way, imagine that at some point you’re going to be the target of some kind of abuse while you’re out there – aggressive attention, or being boxed in, or physically assaulted. Possibly murdered.

Loud Women: 'Reclaim These Streets'

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’

If you’re male (and if you’re taking this seriously), you’re probably feeling slightly paranoid at imagining this sort of a world. If you’re female, you don’t even need me to tell you that you’re already dealing with it – often the actuality, but always the ever-lurking fear and concern, and the rage that comes because of the way that this situation just grinds on and on forever… and of how it not only stalks the street, but seeps into the home, smothers the protest, blocks the initiative.

Spurred into action by two particular deaths, those of Blessing Olusegun and Sarah Everard (two outcroppings of this collective outrage, the first of which has highlighted the relative dismissal which the deaths of black women receive; the second how gynocidal murder can be dealt out even by those who are duty-bound to protect), a choral swarm of female musicians have come together under the umbrella of the Loud Women collective for ‘Reclaim These Streets’. In part it’s a well-deserved fund raiser for Women’s Aid. In part, it’s a righteous kick against this horrible cloud of threat and complacency.

On top of all that, as a protest song it works both in message and in form. Written by Loud Women founder Cassie Fox (of Thee Faction and I, Doris) it sits tight in the crossover pocket of punk and guitar-pop, with perhaps Deb Googe’s ferocious dragster-thrum bass as its prime component. Pounding along, fiercely and hungrily, it simultaneously finds room for a whole spectrum of female thinking, emoting, flavourings and positioning. The assured and assertive whomp of punk protest to the bruised-but-unbeaten notes of confessional; the hookiness of girl-group vigour and the whisper-to-gale push of the female chorale; the empowered party zest of women in solidarity; through to the roar of collective rallying.

As for the words, they’re forthright in their abraded, angry sketching of trepidations and injustice (“From the age of thirteen / I’ve known the fear of dark streets. / I’ve known my body’s danger / – can he hear my heart beat?.. / From the age of thirteen, / been told that it is my fault. / Blamed for male violence, / better watch where I walk… / Every woman’s got a story, / breaks silence with a whisper… / Text me you when get home; / keys between your fingers; / staying close to streetlights – / fear of shadows lingers…”). They’re equally forthright in their call for something better, something more just. “We have a right to safety / She was just walking home / Too many women share a story / You are not alone… / Daring to tell her truth / Calling to her sisters… / Till every woman’s safe from harm in her own home / Till every woman’s safe to live her truth / Till every woman’s safe to walk on every street.”

Perhaps its strongest impression, though is the coming-together – the commonality – of so many female musicians from across nearly five decades. A tranche of 1990s indie queens include Debbies Googe and Smith, Salad’s Marijne van der Vlugt and journalistic ground-breaker Ngaire Ruth; Brix Smith adds a gawky-but-gutsy rap in the middle;. latterday rock journeywomen Charley Stone and Jen Macro serve as guitar backbone. Elder voices (with lippy and lippiness) include Siobhan Fahey and that steadily-evolving, she-punk/polymath-auntie Helen McCookerybook.

As for the extended hand-to-hand patchwork of the Loud Women community choir, it contains among others MIRI, Lilith Ai, Laura Kidd (of Penfriend/She Makes War), Julie Riley, Lee Friese-Greene, Estella Adeyeri (Big Joanie) and Cassie’s I, Doris bandmate Abby Werth; plus dive-ins from assorted members of fierce female and female-slanted bands (such as Dream Nails, The Pukes, The Tuts, Desperate Journalist, Gender Chores, Slut Magic, Deux Furieuses, Berries, Muddy Summers & the Dirty Field Whores), all of them asserting and persuading together. It’s a reminder that few things are as naturally formidable – as naturally authoritative – as adjacent generations of women in full agreement, and who are forcefully letting it be known.

From material certainties to something metaphysical. In ‘Blood Moon’, Penelope Trappes imagines herself as Isis (protecting goddess of women and children, divine healer) but also as struggling against present-day burdens which have grown too heavy, too deadening. In the Agnes Haus short film which accompanies the song, a silver car pulls skittishly into a multi-story car park at night and Penelope-as-Isis (tumble-haired, teary-eyed, all too human in her distress) drags the unresponsive body of another woman across the concrete. The other woman’s face is unseen. Her leopard-print coat is snagging, her mass a dead weight.

There are flickers of power in Isis yet – she summons lightning and snow from her fingertips, and is dogged in her hauling efforts – but the film ends unresolved. Having dragged her burden all the way to the moon-shrouded docks, and with both the lifeless other body and her own wig of blonde curls now discarded on the roadway, the exhausted goddess stares angrily into the camera in a smear of kohl and sweat. Around her, the world continues, part-asleep, part-unregarding; a freight lorry cruising slowly past as if all too aware of damaged and brutalised women, and indifferent to them.

Visually, it’s all a bit didactic: besides Penelope’s goddess-role, there’s the fact that that anonymous dragged woman is eventually identified only as “societal expectations” (like something out of a mummer play for …feminism) It makes up for this with its mingled air of dread, fear, resolve and resentment as Isis shudders, pulls together strengths and repurposes fear, tries to function in the face of a massive injustice which billows between the mythic and the material. Likewise the song, which sounds as if it’s been stitched together from shreds and rags of weariness and resolve. The beats are like sparse, distant artillery; the piano sounds as if it’s been dropped from a great height before Penelope could pick a tune out of it.

Her own voice is a denatured wisp heard round a corner, delivering shadowy ambiguous lyrics. Groundings and splinterings mingle with prayers and protest and, somewhere, deep down, the shards of a mangled love song.“Centre body and guide, /show me what to do. / Serve grace with trebles eye, / turn must push on through. / I , I won’t lose. / I’ll tear up our love… Blood moon rising above… / Lover remember / repurpose fear within / along heated lines. / Can’t hear if you are fine. / I’m strong enough, / I’m strong enough…” The picture never becomes entirely clear. Perhaps it’s something which is felt over time… or in a pull-back. Too many congregating factors which rip a hole in the side of strength. Too many furious stitchings-up.

Bay Area baroque popper Spellling delivers a clearer message, somewhere between the fulsome protest of Loud Women and the abstracted one which Penelope favours, but hovering with purpose in a place of her own. You’d think you’d know what’s coming with a song called ‘Boys from School’ – either girl-group coo left as it is or flipped over to express rage at classroom and playground sexism. Spelling touches briefly on the latter (“I hate the boys at school / They never play the rules,”) but she has bigger fish to fry.

It’s not just the boy-runts who are failing her as a person. Admittedly, there’s a hint at dealing with disinterest and thwarted desire with “the body is the law and I’m only human after all / Wanted to bе the one that you need…”. But mostly it’s the whole institution that’s failing her as she drifts, purposefully, through its corridors while gradually disconnecting from its expectations and requirements. “Take me to the Lord before the boredom takes me over.” she hiss-whispers. “I am waiting on his move. I’m going under the floor. / What am I waiting for? / Floating down the hall / through all the voices, through all the walls. / Thought you could be the one to set me free.”

As a song, it’s in keeping with the genre-fluid approach that Spellling’s shown before: it’s a theatrical, near-orchestral shape-changer incorporating gusts of New Orleans funeral jazz, Kate Bush keenings, blended-in Chinese motifs, glam-prog riffs and chilly synthpop flourishes while always keeping to the pace and poise of trip hop soul. As a manifesto, it’s playful but forceful – an out-and-out rejection of being shaped, not just from the outside but also by pressures coming from the inside. “Tomorrow I turn sixteen years and I don’t want to grow older” sings Spellling, a black Pippi Longstocking; turning a retreat, rejection and revolt against adult expectation into a biting political resistance, ‘Tin Drum’-style. She’s called this a “step back into my younger self, my teenage self to voice my angst, desires and disillusionments,” and she’s taking this all the way, unfinished edges and all.

There’s ambiguity here, for certain, but she wields it with deliberate intent. Shut out the sun until I’m small again,” she demands, embracing the need for aloneness and self-reliance. “I’m way too tired to climb out of bed. / Four walls is all I need of friends.” Yet there’s also no self-pity here, and she’s always completely clear and centred. “I’m meaner than you think, and I’m not afraid of how lonely it’s going to be./ If I change my mind I’ll go walking outside, / just to see how the law is in place still.” Blending ambitious art-pop with a dose of that original black-girl wokeness, it’s a prologue to further choice and action; a kind of witchy taking-stock. It’s very rewarding.

Loud Women: ‘Reclaim These Streets’
Loud Women (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download/streaming single
Released: 14th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Resonate, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify

Loud Women online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, Instagram        

Penelope Trappes: ‘Blood Moon’
Houndstooth Label (no catalogue number or barcode)
Format/other format item type
Released: 17th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, Napster

Penelope Trappes online:
Homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Vimeo, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music, Napster, Qobuz  

Spellling: ‘Boys at School’
Sacred Bones Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Streaming/download single
Released: 11th May 2021

Get/stream it from:
Bandcamp, Deezer, Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music

Spellling online:
Homepage, Facebook, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Last.fm, Apple Music, YouTube, Deezer, Spotify, Tidal, Instagram, Amazon Music   

 


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.

* * * * * * * *

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 rock, pop, noise, dancetronic gigs – Hurtling, Stephen Evens and Junodef (17th October); Gum Takes Tooth and Hyperstition Duo (18th October); Bunny Hoova, Gribs, J.B. Glaser and Halfs (18th October)

8 Oct

Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef, 17th October 2019

Alt-rock trio Hurtling (fronted by My Bloody Valentine tour noisemaker Jen Macro) have a debut record to offer you – ‘Future From Here’, on Onomatopeia Records – and are launching it at north London’s The Islington in the middle of October. Their sound’s relatively easy to peg – post-Pixies, post-grunge, post-dreampop – but difficult to dismiss. There’s a full cupboardful of familiar indie rock ingredients to hand, but all reshuffled and re-examined via Jen’s particular perspective and inspired by the disorientations of touring, the displacement of emotions, the waywardness of health: the bumps and setbacks of a bright, questioning human organism pushed into too much motion. Sometimes, despite the noisy ethic, it’s surprisingly gentle; sometimes sludgy guitar parts pile up like rainbow cement ooze; sometimes it’s all about the vocal harmonies.



 
Once upon a time, most of Hurtling were part of cunningly witty indie/artpop sloggers stuffy/the fuses, and their glowering former employer (and current Onomatopeia labelmate) Stephen Evens is also on hand for the evening: ostensibly in a support slot, but probably to keep a dyspeptic jaded eye on them and to crush their remaining youthful dreams beneath his tapping boot. He’s playing solo – probably with guitar, microsynth and anything else portable which he fancies and which comes to hand – and is still working his own 2017 debut album, ‘Bonjour Poulet’. Which is fine, since it was excellent: a mordant larderful of creaky treats which revealed themselves to be gappy armour-plate wrapped around a surprisingly tender heart. He’ll probably give you all that sardonic, seen-it-all expression: actually, he’ll be pleased to see you.



 
London-based Swedish “post-death music” quartet Junodef fill the other support slot. Their debut single, a soft-strummed slice of spectral folk with additional Gothic guitar boom and the bleakness of a death metal song, was called Make You Die. Subsequent work hasn’t travelled too far from those initial emotional roots, although they’ve toyed with spooky progressive rock keyboards, acid rock shadings and lingering dark-country embellishments (the latter suiting both the paired vocals of Tyra Örnberg and Karin Grönkvist and their admiration for Emma Ruth Rundle and Chelsea Wolfe).

More recently Junodef have been feeding in noirish elements from trip-hop and droning electronica, citing inspiration by Portishead and Young Fathers. At the same time, they’ve upped their Bad Seeds clang and their clarity and put greater emphasis on their visual work, resulting in their most vividly fleshed-out songs and atmospheres yet. Don’t expect floppy Goth ragdolls: this band has a tough core, and a storytelling streak that’s just beginning to come into its own.



 

* * * * * * * *

Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo, 18th October 2019In the same week, on the following day, relentless psychedelic noise-fosterers Baba Yaga’s Hut are putting on a Bethnal Green gig for block-party-inspired thunder-twosome Gum Takes Tooth. Singer/electronic bombardier Jussi Brightmore and wired-up drummer Thomas Fuglesang have been at this for a decade now, producing a music that’s
grinding and urgent, slow yet filled with unnerving impetus.

As with plenty of British acts on the weird/occult cusp, Gum Takes Tooth are fascinated by ritual (attempting to initiate it in both their recorded output and, more significantly, in their live performances) and with the jarring subconscious impact on the human animal from the mechanisms of technology, hierarchy and blunt cultural forces which surround us. Their last record, ‘Arrow‘, focussed on London gentrification from the perspective of those squashed under or flicked aside by its well-heeled, well-polished bespoke shoes; and on the savage simultaneous pressures from above to indulge the inner beast in competition, in nationalism, in a fracturing of common responsibility and empathy. While writing ‘Arrow’, Jussi saw all of this as a kind of cultural intoxication with the emphasis on toxic: it gave the duo a musical and moral focus which they’ve pursued ever since.



 
A couple of years ago, open-minded Sheffield Afrobeat/noise/dance-pop combiners Blood Sport called it a day. Two-thirds of them – drummer Sam Parkin and guitarist/Octatracker Alex Keegan – have since resurfaced as Hyperstition Duo, a blistering stew of kit-rattles and synth noise smudging and battering the line between live gig and avant-garde DJ electronica. They’ll be supporting Gum Takes Tooth on this occasion: but where the headliners favour slower pace and a ritual weight, the Hyperstitioneers prefer a break-neck-speed informational barrage.

At the end of this past summer, Hyperstition Duo released their debut EP ‘Virotechnics‘. There’s the usual jargonated hype to go with it – “summoning egregors of the Anthropocene, (they) plunge deep to deliver a maximalist collective immersion into their own lysergic phonosphere. Lurching, polyrhythmic pathways crumble and re-assemble; elastic dynamics snap; propulsion sparks from the nerve-centre of machine and corporeal entanglement… templexing, möbius loops and cybernetic subjectivities abound in an attempt to conjure escape vectors in a world of ubiquitous sound.” For once, the texture of the press release – a plunge into lathering, urgent verbalisation – actually fits the texture of the music.



 
* * * * * * * *

Overlapping the Gum Takes Tooth/Hyperstition Duo concert, Ben Vince’s south-east London clubnight Ellipsis (blending strands and clumps of experimental dance and experimental pop) ventures up north to Dalston on the same night for an evening of seamless switching between stage and DJ deck. I’ve not encountered Ellipsis before, but I’m impressed with what I’m finding out now.

Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs, 18th October 2019

To headline this time, Ben’s enticed the perplexing Dutch-born Mancunian Bunny Hoova down for her full-band London debut. Her work is simultaneously delightful and frustrating. At its simplest, it’s a kind of fall-apart dream pop – intermittent rhythms, addled guitar chording and bass thumbing, a cloudwork of woven-in samples, and a constant tripping over unvoiced questions, obscured conclusions and the track-loops of the thought-train. But while most dream-pop sinks into a narcotized structural conservatism (strumming away in the same key while admiring the whorls of sound coming through the pedalboard), Bunny’s material seems constantly uncomfortable, actively intelligent, and hovering at the midpoint between insight and misdirection. She’s been yoked in with experimental pop deconstructors/faux-idiot savants like Tirzah and Micachu, and I can see why. There’s that classical conservatoire training: coyly hinted at in the PR, for extra credit, but in practise forced off into the distance like a spurned aunt (even as it’s being used as the counterweight to punkish anti-technique). There’s the idea that the usual rules of pop song and riff culture are being scorned in a meticulous matter-of-fact way via an admixture of free play and cerebral manifesto.

Plenty of the songs on Bunny’s debut album, ‘Longing’, have the sensual drag-and-tug rhythm of slow jams; but rather than focussing a mood or a regular pace, they wander off at instinctive mental tangents or hiccup into a different arrangement; the instruments and samples entwining in a scratchy, bewildered, irregular intimacy. At times she seems to be taking up an erratic desert map scrawled by Captain Beefheart and attempting to apply it to close urban living. At other times, she seems to be spontaneously transposing into song experimental short stories about offbeat relationships, jolting encounters or small moments which change the course of a life; rich in detail and significance, short on conclusion. Plot and flavour are stretched out and split into gobbets, like odd-shaped beads necklaced on a guitar string. Her most-talked-about song, Lazy_Easy, is a scrubbing, slurred, pointed dissection-tract covering both the implicit and explicit links between consumerist culture and animal cruelty: more of a wall-collage with blended-in musical notes than an actual song. The world she flits through feels as rickety as a condemned flat; one that she’s too good for and shouldn’t have to live with, but which she has to accommodate and fit her voice to.




 
Also playing are a mixed bag of London and Manchester electronic experimentalists with bedroom studios. Gribs is a creative DJ and electronic musician, a label co-boss (Tobago Tracks) who in her own music weaving connections between straight-up dance music (trap, jungle, bass culture) and lo-fi DIY sound-and-voice experiments. There’s a distinct edge of discomfort to her work: not so much or so often that it repels, but her found vocals and implied song characters seem uneasy, morbidly eccentric or disassociated from the music’s rhythmic propulsion or sensual salve.

More DJ-ing and deckmixing comes from J.B. Glazer, another London-based creator of peculiar counter-intuitive dance music: for him, a kind of relentlessly alienated mirror-image R&B, all of its comfort and slickness rusted away into disassociative ennui. In the work of both Glazer and Gribs, there’s an echo of chopped-and-screwed culture: the slowing, the altered-state disconnections and new connections, the sense that they’re using alienation as a kind of gatekeeper (if you like dance but are prepared to discard much of its qualities of release or of socializing, then perhaps you can squeeze through this door).

Rounding things out (or upsetting any remaining unspilled applecarts) there’s the mysterious and performative Halfs – from what I can work out, a try-anything beat-making romper on Manchester’s queer arts scene. I’ve found a very fruity synthdance EP of his/theirs from 2017, so there are a few slurps of its whooping dayglo industrial tones below. There have also been percussion-favouring mixtapes and albums which have been whipped capriciously on and off Soundcloud, but are gone now: other than that, there seems to be involvement with scratch theatre, video and so on. In order to properly keep up with Halfs, you need to subscribe (both literally, and in terms of consistent loyalty) so just consider this vague, semi-accurate plug of mine to be a jumping-on point and take it from there.


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Onomatopoeia Records presents:
Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef
The Islington, 1 Tolpuddle Street, Islington, London, N1 0XT, England
Thursday 17th October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gum Takes Tooth + Hyperstition Duo
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Ellipsis presents:
Bunny Hoova + Gribs + J.B. Glaser + Halfs
SET (Dalston Lane), 27a Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 18th October 2019, 9.00pm
– information here and here
 

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

1 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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





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


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



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

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




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

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



 
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Dates:

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

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

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

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

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

2 Sep

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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



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

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



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


 

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

 
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Full tour dates:

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

June/July 2019 – upcoming London gigs – Jewdas’ summer shindig with Geoff Berner, Fran & Flora and Rokhl Merlot at Balabam (20th June); Sefiroth at JW3 (4th July)

17 Jun

A couple of vibrantly Jewish gigs coming up in London…

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I mostly know about Jewdas thanks to them apparently being among Jeremy Corbyn’s favourite Jewish organisations, and hence having been dragged in the wretched palaver over where and how much anti-semitism might be marring British politics. A determined “radical Jewish voice for the alternative diaspora”, they could probably have done without the blowback; or perhaps they take it as a badge of pride; but they’ll wear and weather it regardless.

In Britain and elsewhere, the internet’s rotting under the feculent, polluted weight of this particular debate, and I’m not going to wrangle the point here (I’ll leave that to the single-issue soapboxers who love it so much) but it would plainly be nonsense to suggest either that Jewdas might not be deeply rooted in Jewish culture, or that they’re not deeply proud of it. If you want to know more of what they’re about (and don’t mind Jonathan Sacks being twitted a bit) you can read about that here: alternatively, you could consider their summer party show at Balabam this week. It’s Jewish to the core – bright and lively, opinionated and warm; pugnacious in intellect and politics and personal engagement; sometimes superbly vulgar; and loaded with music that weaves itself into a shawl of pain, laughter, chatter and living.

They’re hoping to offer “the best in radical Yiddish music” (trigger warning for the humph-y: they tend to favour Yiddish over Hebrew) and it’s certainly going to be left-wing, and anarchic. Headliner Geoff Berner is a Jewish-Canadian punk-klezmernik; a singer, songwriter, accordionist and sometime novelist who prides himself on “dragging klezmer kicking and screaming back to the bars where it belongs. For the past fifteen years or so, he’s travelled the world, garnering a sizable, passionate following of odd, bookish people who like to drink. Clever and literate, Berner’s songs can make you want to weep, laugh, grind your teeth, or kick out a window – often all at the same time. His writing can be overtly political, overtly left wing, leaning towards anarchy, but free of easy slogans or cliches.“ I couldn’t talk him up any better than that, so here he is in action in concert and on video:




 

I’m better acquainted with one of the other acts on the bill – Fran & Flora – the once-seen, immediately-loved cello-and-violin duo of Francesca Ter-Berg and Flora Curzon, who’ve been bringing string duets from eastern European folk and improvisatory traditions to events like Marchland for a few years now, and who’ve now documented it on record with their debut album ‘Unfurl’. Presumably they’re providing the more serious and sober core to the evening, though I doubt that it’ll dominate if someone called Rokhl Merlot is also providing “Yiddish cabaret on an out-of-tune piano”. I suspect there’s a pseudonym involved and that it’s probably going to be riotously funny. As for DJs, there’s a “tuchas-shaking selection of klezmer, Jewish jazz, kosher blues and circumcised soul” from the Kosher Nostra DJs, who are presumably turning nasty gags about “Jewish mafias” on their heads before spitting them back. (Either that, or it’s a nod to the ghost of Bugsy Siegel.) I can’t track down anything on Mr or Ms. Merlot, but here’s a dose of the other two.

 
My own favourite Jewish joke? You didn’t ask for it, but it’s from within the community; and it’s about how if you leave a Jewish guy alone in a room for long enough, he’ll start arguing with himself. That’s how it ought to be, and I’m guessing that it’s something Jewdas are more than happy to embrace.

Postscript – I’ve just found out that Jewdas’ response to some wretched fascist pledging to take Stamford Hill (a strongly Jewish area of north-east London, and the place where my own mother worked in Jewish youth organisations on her first arrival in this country, fifty-odd years ago, as a concerned and wandering New Jersey Gentile) and to liberate it from “Jewification” was to stage a ‘Jewification’ party; and to then invite everyone, including Muslims and “everyone who has ever been threatened for being different, everyone who has ever been othered and made to feel like an outsider…. We did not let them pass before (at Cable Street), and we will stop them again – this time with furious dancing.” Now that’s just treasurable.

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If this all sounds a little raucous, there’s also an upcoming chance to catch the (frankly magical) contemporary British Sephardic ensemble Sefiroth out at JW3 at the start of July.

Built up from some of the best young British jazz and folk musicians from the Sephardic Jewish community (the rundown being the Roth brothers – Alex, Simon and Nick – plus Alice Zawadzki, Olesya Zdorovetska, Ruth Goller, Shirley Smart, Alex Bonney and Francesco Turrisi) the band rearranges and revives Jewish songs and melodies from fifteenth-century Iberia where Moorish, Balkan, North African and Mediterranean ideas merged with the music brought out of Israel. The repertoire’s a mingling of ancient love songs, children’s rhymes, dances, songstories and yearning airs; bringing to mind warm winds, scintillating desert nights, homesickness, melodies hummed and murmured in kitchens and tented marketplaces… the entire musical texture of a community.

Sefiroth play all of this beautifully. Over the last few years, I’ve spent several evenings sitting spellbound at their feet as they spun these tunes out of brass, percussion, shofars, Alice and Olesya’s vocals (capturing ache, nurture, memory and desire), Alex’s slips, swells and ebbs of gorgeously understated electric guitar, and barely-perceptible laptop sound mutations. You could, too.



 
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Dates:

Jewdas presents:
Geoff Berner + Fran & Flora + Rokhl Merlot + The Kosher Nostra DJs
Balabam, 58-60 High Road, Tottenham, London, N15 6JU, England
Saturday 22nd June 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Sefiroth
JW3, 341-351 Finchley Road, West Hampstead, London, NW3 6ET, England
Thursday 4th July 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

May/June 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – ‘Towards A Progressive Magic” at the Horse Hospital with Amy Hale and Hawthonn (30th May); ‘Overlaps’ #2 with Kay Grant, Keith Moliné, Jasmine Pender, Tim Hodgkinson, Frank Byng and Chlöe Herington (5th June); the Sonic Electronics Festival at IKLECTIK (30th May to 2nd June)

26 May

At a time when our politics are tangibly darkening with currents of bigotry and nationalism and vicious, exclusionary stories, you might consider that looking at fascism within magic is a frivolous exercise.

Anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale (Atlanta, US) would disagree with you. She’s delivering the spoken-word part of an upcoming “night of magical resistance” at the Horse Hospital (London’s home of esoterica, underground cinema, public magick and wild frocks) for which the musical aspect’s being provided by Leeds-based Hawthonn, made up of “dual star daemons” Layla and Phil Legard, who specialise in “twenty-first century moon musick… underground spectralism meets edgeland herbalism…”

'Towards A Progressive Magic': Amy Hale + Hawthonn, 30th May 2019

This isn’t necessarily a new thing. Plenty of the frowning white-nativist movements in Europe and the States force parasitic roots into ideas about submerged culture, or ideas of a purity predating Christianity, liberalism and rationalism, into which disappointed or indignant people drift in the hope of finding and defining themselves. If you’ve dabbled in Nordic revivalism, for example, you may well have brushed up against it: racism smudging the runes. Similarly, some sonic pagans have always pushed back (having always associated their own musical explorations with a live-and-let-live freedom or a rejection of the controlling homegenisations of fascism), and even more of them are pushing back now.

Amy’s lecture, ‘Is A Progressive Magick Even Possible?’, examines what happens when “as the world takes an awkward lurch towards right wing authoritarianism, underground and fringe cultures, organisations and scenes are becoming increasingly attuned to the attempts by radical right wing groups to infiltrate and coerce their members… Modern occult practice, for many, relies on structures, ideas, values, and aesthetics that are inherently linked to conservative and reactionary thought. Examples of this are the valorisation of tradition, the idea of an initiated spiritual elite and the notion of a highly-ordered Neoplatonic universe, where everything is in its right place – including people and cultures.

“These conservative traits create opportunities for activists to use the social mechanisms of occult subcultures – for example festivals and conferences, book publishing, the music and fashion industries – to promote radical political and cultural agendas without people even noticing that it has happened. Tonight’s presentations discuss how, and why, contemporary magical cultures have become attractive territories for recruitment and expansion by far right organisations… I will discuss how ideas of tradition and “nature” are exploited, and how the discourses of “free speech” are deployed to create and justify platforms for radical, intolerant politics in an occult milieu… We will also learn to recognise such entryism in action, and how to stop it.”

As for Hawthonn, this is their first London appearance; their first live musical ritual within the M25; and their first chance to present their particular stance to the capital. Delving (in the tradition of Coil) into post-industrial esoteric drones and vocalisations, their work has so far embraced edgeland/feminist associations on ‘Red Goddess’ and implied erotic ritualisations on ‘The Well Head’, with more associations and purposes evolving. I don’t know what they’ll be coming up with on this occasion; but I’m assuming that it’s going to pull on their increasing conviction that ritual needs to engage (if not necessarily with materialism) with the fabric of daily practical necessities and practical history.




 
To quote them – “as esotericists we often believe that we have stepped beyond ‘mere politics’ – that our minds are turned to a higher world, which has little relation to the mundane – despite, paradoxically, believing that our magical actions influence the phenomenal world. Yet many contemporary scholars of esotericism and religion analyse the currents of occultism, paganism and the New Age as socially constructed phenomena: elaborate mythic structures enforcing certain norms, beliefs and practices, while justifying themselves through appeals to authority, lineage and experience, even science and rationality. Such historiographic or sociological approaches have been accused by many practitioners of base reductionism, undermining the authority of their particular traditions.

“Yet, what if practitioners of esotericism were to accept – or at least entertain for a moment – a constructivist, rather than transcendentalist, paradigm? We posit that such an acceptance can lead to another form of practice, which acknowledges the way in which esotericism is inseparable from the historical, social and economic fabric of our lives and which – rather than denying the viscerality of ritual and experience – uses them as tools to question the traditions and assumptions of the esoteric worldview, leading to a fluid and reflexive ‘critical magick’.”


 
* * * * * * * *

Drifting through Kings Cross – away from the cosy confines of the Harrison and back to its spiritual home at Westminster Kingsway College – and still driven by joint organisers Chlöe Herington (V A L V E, Knifeworld, Lindsay Cooper Songbook, Hirvikolari) and Keith Moliné (Pere Ubu, Prescott), the Overlaps “six musicians on the spot” concert series continues to burnish its particular niche. Improvising, but outside of the usual free-jazz grammar; perhaps owing something to art rock, but tearing one end wide open. Assimilating injections of the wilder shaggier side of experimental pop. Tag-teaming, but with a little friendly risk; part-prepared, but mostly of the moment.

'Overlaps 2', 5th June 2019

In addition to Chlöe’s avant-rock reeds and home-made noiseboxes and Keith’s startling bricolage guitarwork, the debut Overlaps evening back in January also featured jazz/art-rock-toned drum-and-bass artist Farz and fringe-pop experimenter/spoken-word persona shifter Merlin Nova; plus another British art rock guitar mainstay in Chloe’s Knifeworld bandmate Kavus Torabi and creative sideslip drumming from Keith’s Prescott bandmate Frank Byng (also of Snorkel and This Is Not This Heat). Chlöe, Keith and Frank are all back for round two, with the remaining three players coming in from other assorted corners of noisework, avant-garde and New Classical – often simultaneously.

While performing her dramatic, noisy electric cello soundscapes, Jasmine Pender usually goes under the alias of Rotten Bliss, sousing her sound in effects and singing along with a terrifying gorgeousness: storm-strings and surreal marine tales. For Overlaps, though, she’s performing under her own name. Perhaps it’s in solidarity with the other, unmasked performers not hiding behind their project names or band tags; or perhaps it means she’s going to be trying something a little different. You’ll need to turn up and see.


 
Originally coming up through the New York downtown arts, in her time Kay Grant has sung pop, jazz, rock, choral classical and opera (and built the ranges for each). She still touches on several of them today – most notably the jazz, with her own vocalise-based Kay Grant All-four and song duo Living Standards, and via guestings with the more standards-slanted Cyril Bass Quartet and Big Swing Big Band. But when she gives herself full improvisatory range her voice is an untethered exploratory device – coasting, feinting and arcing with the full subliminal structural knowledge of her training, but completely free to embrace a scattering palate of noise, tones and intimations.


 
Tim Hodgkinson, of course, is best known for his 1970s work as a founder and consistent member of Henry Cow: foundational art-rock radicalism within which he and his bandmates pursued a continuous course of questioning, dissonance, learning and overturning. Since then (usually armed with reed instruments, tapes, lap steel guitar and keyboards), he’s maintained a core Cow method: exploring, playing and composing via a cerebral and committed musicality which initially challenges and overwhelms his own technical skills but constantly forces him to advance. He’s equally likely to be found at work in art-house shows worldwide or in ferociously experimental British pub gigs, stretching his skills between improvised blowings, committed collaging or the conduction of post-classical chamber music which sounds like the skitterings of unruly ghost feet pursuing an unfinished argument.

Again, I’ve little idea of what he’ll be doing – it could be solo clarinet, it could be something with tapes and counterpoint, it could be something which bridges his interest in shamanic music and cultural anthropology.




 
* * * * * * * *

Sonic Electronic Festival, 30th May to 2nd June 2019There’s also time to mention (in brief) the concerts and chat around the sprawling Sonic Electronics Festival coming up at IKLECTIK and straddling late May and early June. Fascinated by coding and by digital evolution, the event’s as much academic as it is instinctive and will contain far too many ideas, implications and theory to be easily abridged and listed here. So this is a quick sketch of what’s lined up rather than a definitive description.

On 31st May, the evening concert is a London live AV performance incorporating toys/scrabbles/tapeloops collective Morphogenesis (bolstered by audio sculptor John Wall and electro-acoustic/noise performer Mark Durgan), the electronic-junk-assisted dronescapes of raxil4, woodwinder-turned-synth minimalist Bernhard Living and masked audio-visual circuit-building ritualists Isn’tses (the last of whom will also be running a Fort processor building workshop on the morning of Saturday 1st June). The Saturday evening is a pass-it-on event of international live audiovisual performance with VJ and visual/sonics encoder Chris Speed, videomapping performance artists Blanca Regina, extended vocal/multimedia performer Alessandra Eramo and feminine-industrial explorers Slow Slow Loris

The show on the evening of 2nd June involves the 4.1 Soundsystem. Here you can hear and watch a teaming of sound foleyist Rebecca Glover and the squelchy Fritha Jenkins (who’s inspired by shorelines of sand and mud);
spacial-stereo sound artist Bioni Samp (whose work and subject matter is informed by his own beekeeping and by concerns about bee extinction); the “theogynous” industrial/classical polyphonic vocals of Vera Bremerton; “grainyl”-ist Tony James Morton (who takes the cut’n’plunder techniques of hip hop DJs and feeds them through the alterations of granular synthesis); and the deep-listening drones of Johannes de Silentio (a.k.a. Lucius Works Here, a.k.a. Barcelonan sound art DJ Shak Benavides).

If you want to immerse yourself in theory, debate and other verbals, you’ll be wanting to go along to the event launch on the evening of 30th May. Here, there will be talks from Lucia Farinati, Nina Power and Giles Greenaway (about the intersections, overlaps and interferences of audiovisual technology with philosophy and live culture, and about process patterns taken from living creatures). There’ll also be a live AV performance of experimental electromagnetic power noise from Laura Netz, using hand-built technology.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Strange Attractor presents:
‘Towards a Progressive Magic’ (featuring Dr. Amy Hale + Hawthonn)
The Horse Hospital, The Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London, WC1N 1JD, England
Thursday 30th May 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here

Sonic Electronics Festival: Digital Arts & Analogue Devices
IKLECTIK, Old Paradise Yard, 20 Carlisle Lane, Waterloo, London, SE1 7LG, England
Thursday 30th May 2019 to Sunday 2nd June 2019, various times
– information here, here, here, here, here and here

Westking Music and Performing Arts presents:
‘Overlaps’ #2: Kay Grant + Keith Moliné + Jasmine Pender + Tim Hodgkinson + Frank Byng + Chlöe Herington
Westminster Kingsway College, 211 Gray’s Inn Road, Kings Cross, London, WC1X 8RA, England
Wednesday 5th June 2019, 6.30pm
– information here
 

May/June 2019 – wayward experimental rock wunderkind Kiran Leonard on tour in England, bumping into Du Blonde, Kermes, Caroline, Humint, Mora Telsnake, Peacetime Romances, Squid, Ichabod Wolf, Don Du Sang and Margate Social Singing Choir en route (5th-10th May); plus a support slot with Soccer Mommy in Berlin (23rd May)

3 May


 
When he first emerged, as a dazzling teenager, out of a Saddlesworth bedroom (singing, drawing on an entire library of exploratory pop and playing every instrument he could get his hands on, as well as drafting in any object that made a useable noise), Kiran Leonard looked set to turn into a latterday Todd Rundgren, or a man hot on the eclectic heels of Fyfe Dangerfield… or, given his self-releasing teething period within homemade experimental electronica, perhaps a second-generation Steven Wilson. His formal debut release, ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ confirmed this: a bursting jumble-sale of home-orchestrated pop treasures, it framed a talent ready for anything from sweaty pub gigs to festival mainstages, and a singer, songwriter, bandleader capable of thrilling anyone from a freshly-hatched indie enthusiast to a committed psychedelic tripper to a long-in-the-tooth Van Morrison fan. It’s not often that someone so universal emerges, still less from such homely beginnings.

As it turned out, Kiran’s instinct for steering means that he’s no less active, no weaker in potential, but less likely to climb the straightforward rungs. Now based in the revived creative ferment of south London (after a spell in Portugal), in many respects, he’s become like the present-day Thurston Moore or the ever-shifting Mike Scott, with his career path now resembling a looping spirograph pattern as he spins from inspiration to inspiration and format to format and back again – ever refreshed, never burned. That melodiousness is still there, but it’s subordinate to (and subverted by) an ecstatically heterogenous enthusiasm for digging into whatever musical shape or form takes his fancy. On record, he’ll turn out simultaneously tight-and-sprawling rock songs packed with loose-limbed cultural critique; looping lo-fi Buckley-esque folk carolling recorded on the hoof between Manchester, Oxford and Portugal; assorted experimental voicings as Advol, Pend Oreille or Akrotiri Poacher; solo acoustic guitar improvisations; themed literary adventures for voice, piano and string trio.

Live, he tends to work as part of a rough-edged four-piece waltzing on the lip of art-rock but playing within the moment, with slick precision utterly sidelined in favour of immediate inspiration or a fringe of incantatory noisepop. Tricky to pigeonhole, at the still-tender age of twenty-three Kiran remains one of our most promising talents while continuing to embrace his own cottage industry rather than sit in the lap of big labels. He’s still working his way around small venues (as he is this month) on a circuit which you’d think was too little to hold him; but which, in many ways, is an ideal continuous crucible for his art, bringing him up close to an audience which fires him up and catches his thrown sparks.



 
In Margate, Kiran and band are part of the third day entertainments of the Caring Is Creepy festival, a new venture between two Margate musical fixtures (promoters Art’s Cool and erstwhile hip London label Moshi Moshi Records, who’ve had an outpost in the town for a while). They’re playing in a bill topped by Beth Jeans Houghton’s Du Blonde, in all of its scuzzy bedsit-punk-blues reflectiveness and its shades of self-aware dysfunction. Also featured are Margate Vocal Studio’s Social Singing Choir, and Brighton/London “underwater boy band” Squid (who add synths, cornet and cello to the usual indie art-rock guitars, drums, bass and sighmurmur vocals to create something stretched-out and oceanic for Margate sunsets); it’s all topped off with DJ work from Rock Solid (Laura Barton and Teri Olins)




 
In Sheffield, they’re on a bill with Midlands singer-songwriter Kieran Smith – a.k.a. Ichabod Wolf – who sings displaced, deracinated Americoustica like Leon Redbone oscillating on the end of an elastic rope. Also on hand are Humint; a brand-new offshoot from jazzy Manchester art-punkers DUDS playing “post-post-robowave” (which translates as choppy noisepop sounding like the young Sonic Youth and the young Devo pecking each other around during an argument over flatpack furniture).



 
In Bristol, they’ll be playing alongside the gently simmering, downbeat-minimal, violin-and-guitar humstrums of London post-rock septet Caroline (through which ghostly inconclusive threads of pemmican-country balladry seep, like a distant campfire duet heard down a winding canyon). There’ll also be dobro-folk from transplanted Frenchwoman Mora Telsnake, who (drawing on ‘60s-to-‘70s solo folk and “80s cheese” and singing in both French and English) delivers an alternating melange of Gallic-accented American Plains music and spindly, blues-infused chansonnerie.

 
In a Berlin date later in the month, the band will be supporting American singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy and for the string of Bandcamp releases which eventually led to last year’s full-blown debut album ‘Clean’ with its tales of assorted yearnings and emotional jumbles amongst the young and stoned. Her work’s a peculiar but affecting mixture of detached musicality with feelings spiralling and jagging inside it; thoughts too active and too pointed – too much in need of saying out loud – to submit to the dull rumble of low expectations.


 
The London and Manchester shows are Kieran-and-band only; and the Nottingham one’s a lone Kieran solo appearance, sans band. I’m not sure whether this is due to logistics or to personal choice: I rather hope that it’s the latter, the fervour of the other bands on the bill inspiring him to a more naked and liberated statement than he might have otherwise delivered. Local wonk-poppers Don Du Sang provide murmuring cut-up dance songs with a pleasing wobble, part-sourced from stolen snatches of vinyl, but are rather overshadowed by the political and personal fervour of the two bands providing the rest of the evening’s music.

Outright queerpunk man/woman duo Peacetime Romances actually offer up a kind of broiling, rediscovered underground folk music; toasted with drum clatter and electric guitar wire-rattle, and drawing on twenty years of “every kind of close”, their relationship and perspective has resulted in a batch of songs about “bad men” of all kinds, emotional threshings tinged with nightmare and redolent of resistance. Leicester power/punk-poppers Kermes are even more ferocious, a muscular roil of a band broadcasting a storm of noisy, melodious flechettes showcasing the belligerent, angry stubbornness of trans singer Emily Rose Teece as she wrestles with the weight of heteronormativity, of other people’s boorishness, of struggling to establish her own space while being crushed and bumped by the crude blocks of expectation and restriction.

With Sleater-Kinney and Spook School already floating in the pool of musical comparisons, Kermes’ debut album ‘We Choose Pretty Names’ is also striking in its literary articulacy (inspired by immersion in writers such as Maggie Nelson and Imogen Binnie). In a recent interview with ‘The Four-Oh-Five’, Emily’s described the prime drivers of the album’s songs as “feeling ugly, feeling like a freak, and peacefully existing in a way that make people viscerally hate you.” That’s as may be, but the music Kermes creates is far from lachrymose, whiny or martyrish. It’s constantly buzzing and blurring between dysfunction and self-assurance, with Emily increasingly emerging as someone to follow rather than pity; a tough, tattered-banner leader with dried tear-tracks and a set jaw.




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

  • Caring is Creepy Festival 2019 @ Elsewhere, 21-22 The Centre, Margate, Kent, CT9 1JG, England – Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (with Du Blonde + Squid + Margate Social Singing Choir + Rock Solid DJs) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Monday 6th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England – Tuesday 7th May 2019, 8.30pm (with Caroline + Mora Telsnake) – information here and here
  • Gullivers NQ, 109 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1LW, England – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Delicious Clam Records, 12 Exchange Street, Sheffield, S2 5TS, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 7.00pm (with Humint + Ichabod Wolf) – information here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 10th May 2019, 8.00pm (solo, with Kermes + Peacetime Romances + Don Du Sang) – information here and here
  • Musick & Freiden, Falkensteinstrasse 48, 10997 Berlin, Germany – Thursday 23rd May 2019 2019, 7.30pm (supporting Soccer Mommy) – information here, here and here

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming English gigs – soul, folk, hip hop, poetry, glimmer pop and more on Lilith Ai’s Bare Radical tour through Cambridge, Bradford, Nottingham, Bristol, Reading and London (9th/14th/19th April, 1st/3rd/9th May) with her assorted support club of singer-songwriters, performance poets, folksters and dream/garage rockers

8 Apr

If you just took Lilith Ai at her word as being the possessor of a “pretty mouth and a dirty tongue”, and you’d also heard that she rapped, you’d be expecting a London version of Nikki Minaj.


 
Not the case. A more accurate parallel would be a latterday Joan Armatrading, or perhaps a lower-key Lauryn Hill; Lilith’s an accomplished and intimate singer-songwriter drawing subtly on folk, soul, hip-hop and R&B and pulling them onwards. Comparisons will only get you so far, though, since Lilith bypasses Armatrading’s discreet ’70s reticence and instead owns a lippier and punkier streak; and although she shares Hill’s love of a street beat, a bent note and a woke stance, she lacks the latter’s self-righteous, self-sabotaging chippiness. Dirty tongue claims notwithstanding, she’s also less of an out’n’out cusser than she might suggest. The occasion f-bomb strike is part of the no-nonsense, “you-can-stop-right-there-boy” feminism which provides the steely core to what she does: offset by the engaging warmth of an artist who is as much interested in people as in stances.

The British music biz isn’t always kind to talented black girls with guitars – Joan might have done OK, but whatever happened to Peppercorn? – but Lilith isn’t the sort to be eaten alive. Untangling her past provides some interesting complexities and clashes. There’s some fine material for legend-building here – her mingled Afro, Chinese and Indian ancestry, and the fact that she spent part of her early twenties sleeping rough and near-penniless in both Tottenham and Queens (at one point in a wrecked car, later towed away in a scenario that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Tom Waits song). Set against that is her additional background as a music school grad who can hang with and work alongside a surprising breadth of allies, from fearsome bluespunknoise grrlforce Skinny Girl Diet to rising fashion aristocracy in the shape of Georgia May Jagger.



 
The key to understanding how this all fits together is in how Lilith structures her approach to art and community. With artistic roots in comic-writing geekery, she’s always had a strong sense of mood and detail. Later along the line, as a developing songwriter, she’s allied it to a fervent desire to create a mostly female (and queer-friendly) movement which rejects counterproductive competitive bitchery in favour of an ethic of sympathy and mutual support, stepping up to political solidarity. All of this also needs to be seen through the arty barrier-trashing lens of punk spirit, which explains her Fight Like A Girl crew. A loosely-defined friendship-in-art arrangement, F.L.A.G. is a feminist/LGBT+ art/music collective inspired equally by late ’70s summers of Britpunk, by the political ferment of ’90s Olympia and by latterday movements like #TimesUp. It involves zinework, recording and enthusiastic intimate gigs in makeshift scratch locations, all within a fearless female atmosphere allied to a sense that rigid genre (and rigid gender) boundaries are less important than constructive intent and political engagement.

While Lilith’s upcoming Bare Radical mini-tour isn’t explicitly a Fight Like A Girl event, it bears all of the hallmarks. It’s packed with other female artists (plus assorted sympathetic male players and a hefty proportion of non-binary artists) and takes place in a dissimilar scatter of formal venues and found spaces in bookshops, community centres, cafes and co-operatives up and down England. Lilith will also be laying off on her beats and concentrating on the acoustic/unplugged side of things as she performs and promotes her new ‘Bare Radical’ EP. She’s still budding, still climbing, poised on the lip of the excellence her early work promised. Now is a perfect time to join the event, while she’s still in venues close enough to share breath.



 
* * * * * * * *

Along for most of the dates is the delightfully energised craft-popper Myles McCabe (generally best known as guitarist for London pop punkers Fresh), who’s playing at Cambridge, Bradford and Nottingham with his Me Rex project. On the surface Myles has got a pretty high tweeness count. All of his Rex albums and EPs are named after prehistoric creatures from mammoths to stegosauri, most of his pet sounds are cheap ones (synth parps, guitar clunks, snatches of bedroom rave, a little piano), and his voice is sweetly vulnerable, bending under a little rhotacistic twist and folding like paper on the high notes.

On the other hand, there’s a blazing articulate passion to what he does, his songs volcanoing out of an initial small hotspot and expanding into broadening emotional tapestries in which simple ideas link inexorably to others like agitated mercury blobs, layering into a gorgeous pop outburst. He describes himself as “kind of like a cross between Art Brut and Kraftwerk. That started off as a pun about arts & crafts but then I really liked the way it sounded.” It’s a good gag, but self-deflating indie jokes aren’t really what he’s about.


 
At Cambridge, a couple of singer-songwriters are hoppping on board. There’s local girl Helen Robertson, an enthusiastic music homecrafter and constant collaborator who (although she seems to have been a bit quiet recently) released a twelve-month sprint of EPs across 2014. Hers is an unfussy, chameleonic, DIY hobby-table approach which embraces strummy-or-noisy kitchen-sink indie, blobby instrumental synth pop, pub gig comedy, and various overdubbed a cappella work from solo folk-pop chorales to patter songs. There’s also Sophie Foster, the self-professed teenaged “lever harp megababe” who usually lurks behind the name of The Sunday School. To be honest, I’m baffled about her: this brief appearance on YouTube and the couple of Soundcloud demos below suggests that rather than harping she blip-pongs away on a little keyboard and murmurs reflections on uncertainties and diary notes; while other Soundcloudings suggest a lo-fi guitar trudger, and there’s something else on Spotify which I don’t know about thanks to my still holding out on the platform. Her Twitter presence suggests someone fierce and grrly behind the whispering.

I’m guessing that Sophie’s someone whom you have to discover and to follow live for quite a while, picking up scraplings before you get the full story. As for Helen, attempting to pick a key track seems to be a waste of time, so I’m just throwing three together at random here.

 
It’s the same at Bradford, where self-propelled onetime busker-for-a-bet Liam Jarvis joins the bill, alongside gently punk-oustic Leeds folkie Sarah Carey (whose music is divided between disaffected urban acoustica and committed folk baroque instrumentals, groping between them for a doorway to somewhere better). I’ve got nothing for Liam, but here’s Sarah:


 
In Nottingham, Lilith’s supported by both Jemma Freeman & The Cosmic Something and Matt Abbott. Once the guitarist for heavy dream-rockers Landshapes, Jenna now offers up sardonic psychedelic glam-rocking with a band featuring Furniture/Transglobal Underground drummer Hamilton Lee, moonlighting producer/bassist Mark Estall, and Krupa on synth and backing vocals. Wakefield wordsmith Matt runs the spoken word label Nymphs & Thugs and both writes and performs poetry for kids and adults replete with “socio-political commentary, human struggle and kitchen sink realism” (plus, for the kids “playful rebellion (and the) challenging (of) societal stereotypes”).




 
Matt and Me Rex both resurface for the London date, which also features a pair of junior traditioneers in the shape of “teenage lo-fi soul singer” Charlie Mburaki (who sang with Lilith on the latter’s recent Warrior Queen) and drawling junior-Dylan-esque folk rocker Oliver Rodzianko

 
There are more fierce, plangent words at the Bristol gig. It’s a free event in a bookshop in which punk and slam poetry have an equal presence to musicin the shape of Bridget Hart (teller of tough, gritty tales and compiler of a poetic “love-letter to women and female solidarity”) and in the sliding, pulsing genderqueer cadences of Aiysha’s accounts and explorations of “mental illness, love, trauma and gender identity”.

Also on hand is the slow, sad, beautiful “shimmer pop” and voiceloops of Georgie Biggins, a.k.a. GINS, who from one angle sounds like a lo-fi gender-swapped bedsit Blue Nile passed through an a capella dream-pop filter and from another like f.k.a. Twigs morphing into ’90s goth-wispers Cranes. Don’t be entirely misled by the soft and introverted textures, though. Underneath Georgie’s apparent mournfulness, the gossamer delicacy and the blurred, haunting visuals there’s both resistance and outright challenge, just framed in a different way; the secret thought that’s a couple of steps away from a marching flag.



 
GINS is also onboard for the Reading show, where Lilith is joined by the fluttering acoustic pop-soul singing of Amya-Ray; by the sometimes-psychedelic, sometimes-instrumental acoustic-indie-folk of Colours & Fires (who’ve placed themselves firmly on the gender-equality frontlines); and by the mysterious, frankly undocumented RIYA (who could be punk or poet, first-person singular or group, for all the info they’ve provided… but the open-ended mystery’s at least in keeping with the rest of the Bare Radical openness).

 

* * * * * * * *

Full Lilith Ai ‘Bare Radical’ tour dates:

  • The Blue Moon, 2 Norfolk Street, Cambridge, CB1 2LF, Cambridgeshire, England – Tuesday 9th April 2019, 9.00pm (with Me Rex + Sophie Foster + Helen Robertson) – information here and here
  • The 1 in 12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Sarah Carey + Liam Jarvis) – information here and here
  • City Arts, 11-13 Hockley, Nottingham, NG1 1FH, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.00pm (with Me Rex + Jemma Freeman & the Cosmic Something + Matt Abbott) – information here and here
  • Hydra Books, 34 Old Market Street, Bristol, BS2 0EZ, England – Wednesday 1st May 2019, 7.00pm (with GINS + Bridget Hart + Aiysha) – free event – information here and here
  • Reading University Students Union, Whiteknights Campus, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6AZ, England – Friday 3rd May 2019, 7.30pm (with GINS + RIYA + Amya-Ray + Colours & Fires) – information here and here
  • VFD, 66 Stoke Newington Road, Shacklewell, London, N16 7XB, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 8.00pm (with Me Rex + Matt Abbott + Charlie Mburaki + Oliver Rodzianko) – information here, here and here

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming folk/experimental gigs – Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ season

30 Mar

Details on the upcoming season of Sam Lee’s ‘Singing With Nightingales’ – slightly massaged press text follows…

'Singing With Nightingales', April/May 2019

“Join folk singer, song collector and nature lover Sam Lee in the forest, sit by the fireside and listen to intoxicating song, as some of the finest musicians in the land duet with the sweet sound of the nightingale. Immerse yourself in the folklore and ways of our native birds, savour the music of world-renowned guest artists from folk, classical, world music, and jazz arenas. Join us in a rare and thrilling journey as darkness falls upon the springtime woodlands of Kent, Sussex and Gloucestershire from 18th April to 26th May.

“Each year, for a few months from mid-April, a few thousand nightingales fly to the southern UK from Africa. They can be heard in just a small number of special locations, taking up songful residence after dusk. The territorial males serenade loyally each night for no more than six weeks among the blackthorn and forest margins, giving unbelievable privilege to those who know where to go. Inspired by infamous recordings of cellist Beatrice Harrison playing with nightingales as far back as 1924, Sam has been hosting reverent celebrations of this endangered bird each spring since 2014. These events have spanned multiple events at four different sites, a ‘Pick of The Year’ BBC Radio 4 documentary, a critically acclaimed adaptation for theatres and concert halls, and many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3.

“As well as the outdoor night shows, you can also enjoy the sound of the nightingales’ song in the comfort of concert halls across the UK from 14th April. After a hugely popular run in 2018, our ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ tour is back, bringing you diverse musicians in relaxed, low-lit settings improvising in collaboration with live birdsong via live broadcast feed from the countryside. Joining Sam on stage will be a duo (depending on the date) of either violin-playing jazz world/folk singer Alice Zawadzki plus kora-playing Senegalese Griot Kadialy Kouyate, or Welsh folk-singer/songwriter/harpist Georgia Ruth plus Bristolian post-jazz trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist Pete Judge. In addition, an abridged version of ‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ will feature at London’s South Bank as the late show in the ‘Absolute Bird’ concert (a night of classical music inspired by birdsong).


 
“Brand new for this year, we are launching a mini festival experience with the nightingales at Fingringhoe Wick , Essex, on 27th April. Hosted by Sam, the night will feature three performances from Irish 10-string drone fiddler Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh and from experimental songwriters and instrumentalists Serafina Steer and Cosmo Sheldrake, all joined in song with the nightingale.

We’re offering return travel from London for selected events; and we’re very happy to say that we have received some funding from Arts Council England which means we’re able to put a number of concessions tickets on sale for selected events. These are strictly for people on low income. We also have a number of concession tickets available for our Singing With Nightingales Festival event at Fingringhoe Wick nature reserve, Essex on April 27th.”

Other musicians involved in the open air concerts come from a variety of different genres. There are classical and jazz flautists (Paul Cheneour; and Marsyas Trio‘s Helen Vidovich) and assorted polygenre players (eclectic South African cellist Abel Selaocoe, post-classical/post-folk chamberist Kate St John, Globe Theatre music director Bill Barclay, multi-instrumental composer Christo Squier). There are singers from various strands of contemporary folk (Lisa Knapp, Furrow Collective’s Lucy Farrell, ESKA) and soul-jazz singer-cellist Ayanna Witter-Johnson. There’s the choral work of vocal trio Blood Moon Project (featuring Heloise Tunstall Behrens, Tanya Auclair and Luisa Gerstein). There are also representatives of music from further afield (Zimbabwean singer/mbira master Chartwell Dutiro, travelling shakuhachi-ist Adrian Freedman, Afghan music specialists John Baily & Veronica Doubleday and Dublin vocalist Fergus “Faró” Cahillane, the latter known for Irish and Irish/Viking acappella folk work with Anúna and M’anam).


 
Update, 13th April – in the latest development, ‘Singing With Nightingales’ is linking up in London with the Extinction Rebellion movement, on 29th April, for a “peaceful sit down intervention” in central London, called ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square‘:

“In the midst of the heightened attention to climate change and environmental catastrophe we want to bring people together in celebration of the musical beauty of the natural world. Poets, musicians and nature lovers will join together to perform the most romantic rebellion.

“Written in 1939, the renowned ballad tells of the impossible moment when a now critically endangered nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) sings in Mayfair’s famous garden square. Nightingales have not been heard in Central London, let alone Mayfair, for several hundred years. However, through the magical power of people and technology this April 29th, XR, Sam Lee, The Nest Collective and a pop-up flash mob of nature enthusiasts, musicians and supporters will gather to rewild nightingale song back into Berkeley Square.

“Through synchronised streaming of the nightingale’s mesmeric yet seldom heard courtship song via mobile phones and mobile speakers, our pop-up action will fill the park and surrounding streets with the song of a creature nearing extinction on this island. The birdsong will be accompanied by offerings from musicians, singers, poets and anyone who wants to collaborate with the finest singer in the world. This central London rewilding action aims to bring poetic focus to the shocking demise of our own native species and give Londoners the opportunity to hear a once ubiquitous songbird, now near extinct in the UK, in its mythic notional home.”

* * * * * * * *

Full dates for everything:

Open-air shows at Green Farm Kent, Church Lane, Shadoxhurst, Kent, TN26 1LS, England

  • Friday 19th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Bill Barclay) – information here and here
  • Saturday 20th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Paul Cheneour) – information here and here
  • Sunday 21st April 2019 (featuring Sam Lee & Christo Squier) – information here and here
  • Friday 17th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Helen Vidovich) – information here and here
  • Saturday 18th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Abel Selaocoe) – information here and here
  • Sunday 19th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Blood Moon Project) – information here and here

Open-air shows at a secret location near Spithurst, Lewes, Sussex, BN8 5EF, England

  • Thursday 25th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 26th April 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh) – information here and here
  • Friday 3rd May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lisa Knapp) – information here and here
  • Saturday 4th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Kate St John) – information here and here
  • Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Ayanna Witter-Johnson) – information here and here
  • Monday 6th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Lucy Farrell) – information here and here
  • Saturday 25th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee + ESKA + John Baily & Veronica Doubleday) – information here and here
  • Sunday 26th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Fergus Cahillane) – information here and here

Open-air shows at Highnam Woods, Highnam, Gloucestershire, GL2 8AA, England

  • Thursday 9th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Pete Judge) – information here and here
  • Friday 10th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Chartwell Dutiro) – information here and here
  • Saturday 11th May 2019, 6.30pm (featuring Sam Lee & Adrian Freedman) – information here and here

‘Singing With Nightingales: Live’ (indoor concerts)

  • Ropetackle Arts Centre, Little High Street, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN43 5EG, England – Sunday 14th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • The Old Fire Station, 40 George Street, Oxford, OX1 2AQ, England – Tuesday 23rd April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Warwick Arts Centre, University Road, Coventry, CV4 7AL, England – Wednesday 24th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EL, Tuesday 30th April 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Alice Zawadzki + Kadialy Kouyate) – information here and here
  • Wyeside Arts Centre, Castle Street, Builth Wells, LD2 3BN, Wales – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • St Laurence’s Church, Church Street, Stroud, GL5 1JL, England – Wednesday 15th May 2019, … (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here.
  • Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NB, England – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • Junction II @ Cambridge Junction, Clifton Way, Cambridge, CB1 7GX, England – Thursday 23rd May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee + Pete Judge + Georgia Ruth) – information here and here
  • ’Absolute Bird: Translating Nature’ Queen Elizabeth Hall @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England – Friday 24th May 2019, 8.00pm (featuring Sam Lee, Alice Zawadzki plus selected members of City of London Sinfonia) – information here and here.

Singing With Nightingales: Festival (with Sam Lee + Serafina Steer + Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh + Cosmo Sheldrake)
Visitor Centre @ Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, South Green Road, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7DN, England
Saturday 27th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

Extinction Rebellion: ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’
Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London, W1J, England
Monday 29th April 2019, 6.00pm
– information here
 

February 2019 – upcoming London eclectic/multicultural gigs at Poplar Union – Grand Union Orchestra (22nd February); Mishti Dance (23rd February) with Conspirators of Pleasure, The Tuts, Kapil Seshasayee and Soundar Ananda

15 Feb

I don’t go down to Poplar that often, but despite its more confusing aspects – the hurtling convergence of the eastern motorway routes out of London; that strange dislocated/disassociated/dispossessed neighbour’s relationship which it has with the glittering towers of Docklands to the south – the place has always felt welcoming; from the wry hardiness of its shopkeepers to the gentle courtesy of the djellaba-clad pair of Muslim brothers (one twentysomething lad, one eight-year-old kid) who spotted me wandering (a lost, bald, bearded middle-aged white bloke) all nonplussed by the Limehouse Cut, and were kind enough to redirect me to Poplar Union.

PU still feels like a beacon for the area’s future – enthusiastically aspirational in its bright, clean, modern bookishness but also happily embedded in the area’s colourful swirl of cultures; decidedly unshabby but also entirely inclusive. Here are another couple of gigs coming up there this coming week.

* * * * * * * *

Grand Union Orchestra, 22nd February 2019

Sporting a thirty-plus roster of musicians from all across the world, Grand Union Orchestra have spent two decades playing and personifying an ethic of joyous multicultural cooperation onstage. With a tradition of creative diasporan work, and with an additional set of roots in left-wing community theatre, they’re a living rebuttal to British insularity. Usually there’s about eighteen of them on stage, drawn from a flexible roster of around thirty top-flight musicians from a variety of cultures and generations. You’ll see Bangladeshi, Chinese, English, Turkish, Caribbean, Roma, Bulgarian, Mozambiquian people and more, from striplings to grandmothers, all playing together, long accustomed to assembling rolling caravans of sound into which assorted musics – Carnatic and Bangladeshi classical, salsa, jazz – can be folded.



 
You can pick out the various components (even a quick dip will turn up players like Jazz Warriors trumpet veteran Claude Deppa, Carnatic violin virtuoso Claude Deppa, Roma accordionist Ionel Mandache, guzheng star Zhu Xiao Meng and a poly-hued battery of singers with backgrounds including fado, jazz, opera and Bengali classical) but you’re better off just enjoying the sweeping palette. Just looking at their gig flyers reminds me of the happy, souped-up neighbourly multiculture festivals in and around my primary school. It makes me want to bare my teeth against the chilly white monocultural wind that’s blowing from the future, from Brexit and from the surly side of Englishness; or – if I can’t do anything else – to at least turn up my collar, turn my angry back against the freeze and head for the lights, the warmth and the rhythms.

GUO’s current, workshop-driven project – ‘Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues’ – is helmed by tabla ace Yousuf Ali Khan: it leans back towards the music of the Asian sub-continent with classical ragas, Bengali songs and the aforementioned bhangra at the heart of it. Various young participants, having already enjoyed the previous week’s free instrumental youth workshops incorporated into the project programme, will be joining the main band for the concert.

* * * * * * * *

Mishti Dance featuring Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda, 23rd February 2019

I know Grand Union Orchestra, but I’m less familiar with PU’s Mishti Dance evenings and their Asian club/dance initiative. The idea strikes a fond chord of memories stemming from the Talvin Singh Anokha nights I’d occasionally attend in the mid-‘90s, in which all of the sounds I’d been vaguely aware of during an upbringing in multicultural Haringey suddenly seemed to grow up and stream together. Anokha, though, had its road laid down for it by the bhangra grooves and post-rave dance culture of the times, and while you could skulk up to the chillout room to listen to Shakti if you wanted to, it was predominantly about immersing yourself in sub-bass, remix chops and tabla frenzy.

Mishi, however, looks like a much looser bag: admittedly hung on the same British Asian peg but more tenuously, with room for just about anything and anyone with a Asian connection and in particular those who are following their own path out of the immediate cultural confines and bringing their innate cultural qualities to question, alter and enrich other spaces. The closest Anokha-type dance exemplar in this month’s gig looks as if it’s DJ Soundar Ananda of Indigenous Resistance, a French-Asian “conscious beats” deliverer, promoter and compilation curator working with “cutting-edge, futuristic, nu-skool, Eastern electronic music influenced by dub, dubstep, d’n’b, breakbeat, jungle, reggae.”

 
The Tuts, on the other hand, are a long way from Anohka beat culture, although I think Talvin and co would have appreciated their ethic. A fiesty, witty, self-propelled female throw-forward from the all-too-brief days of ’70s post-punk inclusivity, they’re a young DIY pop-punk trio of “proud Caribbean, English and Indian/Pakistani origin” and an immediate, salty working-class attitude of immediate self-assertion and street wit. Full of chop-and-change musical sharpness and girl-group zest (they’ve happily covered Wannabe, though there’s as much Fuzzbox or Slits to their vigour as there is Spice Girlhood), they’ll be inspiring girl moshers and wallflowers alike from Wolverhampton to Leicester, with little for old white gits like me to do but gently get out of the way, smiling as we do so. Bluntly inspirational.



 
The remaining two acts take us into delightfully eclectic and weird experimental pop and noise terrain. Bringing the majority of the weird noises are headliners Conspirators Of Pleasure: multi-media artists Poulomi Desai (who’s been in here before a few times over the year, toting her polydisciplinary stage shows and their festoonings of gizmos and collated contradictory content) and onetime Pop Group/Pigbag post-punk/funk/dub bassist Simon Underwood (once compared by Dennis Bovell to a white Robbie Shakespeare). Their adventures together have included helping to set Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ to music, and touring with Stewart Lee and other restless upsetters in the ‘Usurp Chance Tour’. Using repurposed tools of the cultural trade (Poulumi’s context-yanked sitar played with everything from an axe to a massage vibrator, Simon’s prepared bass guitar) plus assorted noisemakers, drone-sources, toys, stylophones and radios and a battery of makeshift audio-visual, they’ll spend their time onstage forking over textures and flotsam, touching on the industrial, on dance culture, on noisy improvised chaos and on the voices and ideas which emerge from this conflation.


 
Glaswegian-Asian singer-songwriter Kapil Seshasayee has parked himself on a junction where a variety of different ideas and approaches are coerced into meeting. He takes his beats from hardcore machine punk and Arca-ian experimental electropop; his guitar choices from a superimposition of Carnatic traditions and skinny-wire Hendrixian note-bending, crashes and hammer-on blues; his song structures from the kind of improvisational bardic rock which itself is drawing from griots or the ecstatic traditions which bubble away in various cultures despite having been vainly tarmac-ed over by Western rationalism.

His voice… well, I’m not entirely sure where that comes from. A beautiful Western/Indian rock clarion with hints of boy angel, Quwalli pronouncer and open-ended Beefheartian abstractioneer, it barrels up out of a position of assured strength only to lyrically splatter itself across parts of the landscape you’d not even noticed before. I could wave in Tim Buckley, Thom Yorke, Nick Harper and Van Morrison as whiter comparisons; I could point to some of the fiery ecstastic pitches and timbres of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or toward youthful bluesmen with an axe to sharpen; but I still wouldn’t get it across to you or do it the right kind of justice.

Bald and impressively bearded (beating me on both counts, in fact), Kalil additionally decorates his wrenched-cable music with electronic fizz and spookings plus the eldritch acoustic wails he can scratch out of a waterphone. As for his songs, whether they’re upended experimental blues or club-leaning avant-pop abstractions (and often they’re both), they sound like distracted revelations in train marshalling yards, Kapil as a spasming, pointing Blakean figure continually spotting and sweeping the hidden numinous into his narratives and fracturing them into cracked landscapes. Somewhere inside Kalil there’s a bloke who wants to sing straightforward young-man songs about love gone wrong. Fortunately, his own brain continually waylays him in between impulse and expression.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Grand Union Orchestra: Bengal, Bhangra and the Blues
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Mishti Dance presents:
Conspirators of Pleasure + The Tuts + Kapil Seshasayee + Soundar Ananda
Poplar Union, 2 Cotall Street, Poplar, London, E14 6TL, England
Saturday 23rd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

February 2019 – upcoming experimental gigs – Kammer Klang: Taylor Le Melle’s Afrodiasporic spectrum with Venus Ex Machina, Morgan Craft and Shenece Oretha (5th February)

31 Jan

Bah. I’ve got a swelling head cold and am consequently as thick as a cement omelette. Not the best time to try to preview a complicated experimental evening. Sorry for the vagueness in this post… even more than usual, this is hidden music to be sought out and learned from.

Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha, 5th February 2019

The first Kammer Klang of the year unites various sonic experimentalists from the African diaspora under the curatorship of Taylor Le Melle. That’s probably the best way of putting it: the lack of a portentous event title means it’s not pinned down to any more specific narrative. Though predominantly a writer, Taylor spends a lot of time as a creative enabler (co-running independent publisher PSS and artist/workers’ audio-visual cooperative not/nowhere, and facilitating debate), and this isn’t her first Oto event. I’m assuming that it’s going to throw up ideas from across a broad spectrum of ideas and identities, some of which are outlined here.

Venus Ex Machina (a.k.a. Zimbabwean emigre Nontokozo F. Sihwa) is one of an ever-more visible number of interdisciplinary artists and computer coders eliding non-binary gender ideas into the worlds of music, games and visuals. Interested in “mythical and borderless” radio communication, she’ll be performing her own ‘Anno Lucis’ piece from 2018.

I’ve no idea whether this other Venus piece, ‘Paraquat’, is any reflection of what’s to be performed on the night; but here it is for illumination (with its mixture of Geiger counter industrial twists, ringing friction noise apparently siphoned from the bearings holding up the music of the spheres, and arrestingly vocal synth parts summoning up both heavenly European chapel choirs and complex African alarm whoops).

 
Attempting to place solo electric guitarist and sonic mystic/realist Morgan Craft involves multiple questions about geography, roots and discovery. A Minnesota-born African-American, he’s an escapee from the New York experimental scene of twenty years ago; but rather than questing directly into Africa he sought refreshment and new paths in the Tuscan mountains of Italy for over a decade (before settling in Amsterdam, where he works with Giulia “Mutamassik” Loli on the Circle of Light label and the Rough Americana project. Now he’s an “Afro-American Viking futurist”, whatever that means. Drawing on the classical legends and contemporary politics of African, European and American cultures alike, his essays sift and fold his multi-positional overview: an expatriate American black man querying his background, a critiquer of capitalist and street culture, a person with one eye on a new dawn due to rise over the muck.

Morgan’s textural guitar pieces are expansive and questioning personal monologues, abstracting manifold concerns into detailed shades. He will be performing his 2018 piece ‘Godel’: here are several earlier pieces from a big releasing burst in 2016.




 
Montserrat-born Shenece Oretha mostly concerns herself with polyvocality and immediate listening – as she puts it, “choreograph(ing) layers of music, voice, recordings and noise to shape moments of communion and ceremony.” Land-tilling metaphors of potential and nurturing pervade her definition of herself – “hypothetical gardener, future farmer, speculative horticulturalist.” Her sound work, or at least, that of it which I’ve heard so far, is much less pastoral; simultaneously dicing up and unifying strands of black experience from the wounded and fierce to the ecstatic and congregational, from the lone voice ululating to the whumphing in-your-face assertions of co-opted technology.

 
In addition to Oretha’s Fresh Klang performance – a piece called ‘to plot together, to breathe together’ – Testing Grounds (her “installation with multiple openings”) makes a temporary home at Oto for three days in advance of the show. With spaces for invited guests available (to “accompany the sound and participate in the sounding out”), it’s a live-performed sonic stew “present(ing) and incorporate(ing) her ongoing research project, black whole…, orchestrat(ing) a series of interruptions/interventions ‘in the breaks’.”

 
Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Venus Ex Machina + Morgan Craft + Shenece Oretha
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Tuesday 5th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
(‘Testing Grounds’ – Saturday 2nd to Monday 4th February 2019, 5-9pm)
 

February 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs in London and Cambridge – Seed Ensemble (1st February); Warmer Than Blood (2nd February); Irreversible Entanglements and Matana Roberts (2nd February)

28 Jan

Cassie Kinoshi & SEED Ensemble, 1st February 2019

Perhaps there’s not a great deal that I need to say about Cassie Kinoshi. The most visible of the current generation of jazzwomen from the Tomorrow’s Warriors Female Collective, she’s clearly on the ascendant, working extensively across the jazz, classical, dance and drama worlds, and with her two-year-old SEED Ensemble now getting high-profile gigs. One of these is at Kings Place this Friday, in which SEED unveil their debut album ‘Driftglass’, showing off the end product of the multicultural London influences which inspire them: groove-based British jazz with strong flavour of West African and Caribbean diasporan music.

If that sounds a bit cuddly, then check out the title – and the combative, sarcastic thump – of the second of the two clips below. It’s a parodic, pointed Mingus-worthy musical representation of white people’s fear-driven misconceptions about black people, drawing on the wildness, grief and defiance of New Orleans funeral music and underpinned by the double-low-end honk-n’razz attack of Theon Cross’ tuba and Rio Kai’s double bass.



 
* * * * * * * *

Up in Cambridge the following day, guitarist/composer Chris Montague (previously seen in here via his work with Alex Roth and Chris Sharkey in Future Currents) reveals his new project Warmer Than Blood. It’s a trio in which he combines with pianist Kit Downes (Troyka, F-IRE Collective) and bass guitarist Ruth Goller, whose pedigree takes in a host of projects from Acoustic Ladyland to Sephardim ballad revivers Sephiroth plus (amongst others) the manouche of Kamao Quintet, the punk jazz of Let Spin and rough-edged North African-influenced Melt Yourself Down, the Latin folk of Oriole and the up-in-the-air experimental indie-rock of Bug Prentice.

Warmer Than Blood, 2nd February 2019

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.”

Warmer Than Blood are a couple of months away from properly recording a debut album, but two live tracks on their homepage point the way in which they’re going. 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.

* * * * * * * *

Back in London, and also on the Saturday, the Barbican’s Milton Court hosts Brooklyn-based “liberation-minded free jazz collective” Irreversible Entanglements. If you’re after a jazz band to represent and reflect these increasingly ugly, stormy, oppressive times from the bottom up, you couldn’t find a better one – but be careful what you wish for. They aren’t an easy listen, and they’ve got no intention of being so.

Irreversible Entanglements, 2nd February 2019

Free jazz (especially, though not always, when it becomes a hand-me-down in the hands of white musicians) can often be a fussy, elitist abstraction. Irreversible Entanglements uncompromisingly return it to its roots in black radicalism and to an absolute connection to the injustices of society. In doing that, they’re stepping into the first-generation protest-jazz shoes of Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman, Max Roach, Albert Ayler.

If you’ve been reading ‘Misfit City’ over the last couple of months, you may remember Elaine Mitchener reviving this tradition with her Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde project last month. While operating in a similar field, Irreversible Entanglements have no interest in curating those impetus and protests as museum pieces. Instead, they create their own protest. It should go without saying that they’re tied deeply into the #BlackLivesMatter initiative. Originally forming the band four years ago to play at a Musicians Against Police Brutality event, saxophonist Keir Neuringer, bassist Luke Stewart and poet/proclaimer Camae Ayewa subsequently added trumpeter Aquiles Navarro and drummer Tcheser Holmes for more rhythm and flammability.

The resulting quintet sounds far bigger, far angrier and far more righteous than seems possible, jetting out sheets of rattling, scouring brass over gargantuan shifting rhythms like wrenched building piles. Key to it all is the fierce female voice at the core. Camae’s better known for her Moor Mother solo project, in which she declaims jarring, terrifying accounts of personal and cultural pain over a barrage of hip-hop/slamtronic sound. I’ve written previously about the way in which her deep drilling of psychic scar-tissue within the African-American experience turns her into time-traveller, authorative witness-bearer and angry documentarian. With Irreversible Entanglements, she taps into another heady well of black American cultural memory, this one passed down via saxophones, bop and overblown sheets of sound. It’s not the first time that a jazz band has been centred on a woman’s voice, but you’ll rarely, if ever, have heard it done this way, in which the texts and the delivery not only match the hurricane of music, but simultaneously drive and ride them. This is serious schooling.



 

In support at Milton Court is Chicago-born, New York-based saxophonist and sound experimentalist Matana Roberts. While it’s not unusual for a jazz player to appear on a record on post-rock spearhead label Constellation, it is unusual for one to be signed to the label. Matana, however, is not a standard jazzer (she prefers the term “sound adventurer”, considering herself to be a hybrid connected to multiple sonic approaches), and she was probably signed more because of her general experimental tendencies than because of her past collaborations with Silver Mt. Zion and with Tortoise members.

An orchestral clarinettist with a politicized background, Matana journeyed through punk, Riot Grrl and avant-garde music to where she is now. Though she seems quite capable of punching out Chicago post-bop/free sax on the stand, she doesn’t restrict herself to standard (though demanding) jazz forms. Instead, she treats music as a prime artistic unifier crossing over into dance, theatre, poetry…. not in itself unusual, but rather than just strapping standard music tropes onto other forms she allows those forms to wash in, dissolving and reforming her approach to her music.

Matana’s best known for her ongoing ‘Coin, Coin’ series, a projected twelve-album project started in 2005 and still in its relatively early stages (it’s about a third done). In this, whether working on her own or with others, she utilises a technique she originally dubbed “panoramic sound quilting”, joining together blocks of noise and scoring from a variety of sources but with an assemblage idea borrowed from rag-bag folk art. In particular when she’s recording alone, her pieces feature multiple Matanas – some rolling out saxophone lines, but many engaged in vocal chants or drones, or layered swatches of conversation. Some sing or scream, or hurtle along the arresting bloodied ribbon that separates the two: like Moor Mother, Matana takes pride in black history and resistance while establishing that it has to be represented via a certain sound of historical pain. The rawness there goes beyond filters of culture and into filters of humanness.”

Unsurprisingly, her performances have a reputation for being immersive experiences. Sounds like she’ll make the perfect gigmate for Irreversible Entanglements.



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Jazz re:freshed present:
SEED Ensemble
Kings Place, 90 York Way, Kings Cross, London, N1 9AG, England
Friday 1st February 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Listen! presents
Warmer Than Blood
Unitarian Church, 5 Emmanuel Road, Cambridge, CB1 1JW, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Roberts
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Saturday 2nd February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Rumour Cubes, Brudini and Silent Cities (24th January)

22 Jan

Not too long ago I was bitching about post-rock (probably not for the first time) and how it had been corralled – especially in its math rock iteration – by reductionists who turned it into something dour and clunking.

Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities, 24th January 2019

At the time, one of the bands I excluded from the griping was Rumour Cubes – a conglomeration of classical refugees and of malcontents from post-rock’s straighter/blander end, aiming to revitalise the genre via honesty regarding all influences. They attempted to engage audiences (rather than passively endure them), and continually shifted their expanded lineup around by agglutinizing with poets and visual artists. Back then I hymned the Cubes’ “slow-building pastoral ecstasy”, their seeking of “a sweet spot that’s more country and roots than graphs and laboratory”, their “delightful merge-point between the rustic and the highly technological”.

Looking back, I realise that this could have backfired in that I might be making Rumour Cubes sound like a self-regarding Anglo-Americana take on the form: musical humblebraggers with fake straws in their teeth. Certainly, if you’re coming from a Godspeed You Black Emperor! perspective of stern, black-flagged resistance to death-spiral capitalism and its dirty ops, there’s enough in their arts-and-crafts wholesomeness to annoy you.

Time, then, to acknowledge the fact that the Cubes are a political band too. They’ve persistently touched on hip hop with their inviting of guest rappers into the mix, and recently explicitly identified themselves with anti-right-wing resistance via two themed singles last autumn. While they might not be growling about black helicopters, horrible winds of death and dying governments pulling us all into the chasm, they’re currently trying to push back against “the hollow nationalism that has infected our politics and allowed far-right narratives to become normalised” and aim to highlight “the true face of Brexit and Trump: racist and fascist projects that threaten our values of tolerance, diversity and freedom of expression.”

A Flicker Of Empty Flags and ¡No Pasarán! – both of which you’ll hear at their London gig this coming Thursday – sound like the first gusts of a dirty, heralding wind blowing through a cosy latterday folk session: a bit of Godspeed-ing minus the concrete dankness and the permanent frowning dusk. Still a little cosy, perhaps, but this is an honest attempt to re-engage and to grasp the nettle.



 
In support, there’s a couple of singer-songwriters. Norwegian/Thai-rooted Londoner Brudini offers melodic noir-pop in the same darkened-crooner vein of Michael J. Sheehy or David Hurn, although he’s more conspicuously glam-dazzled than either: another loper down the boulevards of Baudelaire and Jim Morrison. Rolling funk/rare-groove rhythms, watchful piano and occasional brass frame his weary, distracted lover’s voice. Last year’s Reflections encapsulates his hooded Soho-boho obsessions and the dark romantic tropes he re-imbues with meaning (“out in the night, my beautiful machine, /in the depths of your eyes, an animal on its knees”). His earlier collaborations with Californian storyteller Chip Martin – wounded, picked-out soundtracks to doomed, unsettling romantic encounters which are as surreal as they’re anonymous – seal the deal.

 
Opening the evening, Silent Cities (Durham singer-songwriter Simon Maddison) creates spooky modern-day urban dream-folk in breathy whispers and heady falsetto, wreathing it with smoke-rings of gently but insistently effected guitar and gusting ambience as his songs manoeuvre themselves in and out of magical realms.



 
Lost In The Manor presents:
Rumour Cubes + Brudini + Silent Cities
The Finsbury, 336 Green Lanes, Finsbury Park,London, N4 1BY, England
Thursday 24th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

January 2019 – upcoming London jazz gigs – memories of black resistance and striving in Elaine Mitchener’s ‘Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde’ (7th January) and Rufus Reid’s ‘Quiet Pride’ (29th January)

3 Jan

This month, there are two very different opportunities to immerse yourself in historical music stemming from black resistance and the American civil rights struggle; the conflation of brutual oppression, storms, suffering and self-assertion which inform today’s #BlackLivesMatter movement.

One of these events is an edgy art-scream of vintage fighting classics, happening inside a rough-walled underground music stronghold. The other features music that’s barely seven years old, takes place in a lofty varnished orchestral concert hall at the heart of the British classical music world, comes varnished by a couple of Grammy nominations and represents the other end of the struggle: more well-spoken, staunchly dignified, talking back at the oppressor in something closer to his own language on his own terrain.

Would each of these efforts give the other house room? I’d like to think that they would.

* * * * * * * *

'Vocal Classics Of The Black Avant Garde', 7th January 2019

Tireless vocal/physical-movement improviser and conceptual explorer Elaine Mitchener returns to Café Oto with a revival of her ‘Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde’ project (originally compiled and performed for the London Festival of Contemporary Music at the end of 2017). Re-examining 1960s and 1970s works composed by Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Joseph Jarman and Jeanne Lee, it studies and recreates “the overflow of experiment that occurred within improvised music, often springing directly from lived experiences of racial injustice… combin(ing) vocals and text with experimental jazz forms.”

Musical direction for the evening will come from reknowned saxophonist Jason Yarde – an improviser-composer who steps confidently between jazz and conservatoire culture. He’ll be at the head of a band consisting of pianist Dominic Canning, Elaine’s regular bassist Neil Charles, trumpeter and flautist Byron Wallen and the consistently staggering drummer/percussionist Mark Sanders. It’s a little unclear as to whether Elaine’s regular sparring partner Alexander Hawkins will be joining in on keyboards this time, but expat American poet Dante Micheaux is down to join Elaine on spoken/sung word.

Joseph Jarman

Joseph Jarman

It’s safe to say that while this music’s around fifty years old now, the content’s not going to be cosy. Expect some old wounds, some revolutionaries’ pride and some old fire to be raked over and rekindled. As Elaine writes, “these works illuminate an occluded moment in American cultural history, when the avant-garde aesthetics of new jazz doubled as a metaphor for the imminent politics of civil rights.

“Composed in very specific response to the perilous condition of black people in America, the works’ synthesis of experimental sensibilities, radical political sentiment, and gutbucket expression cuts across boundaries of time and space to resonate universally in the here and now. In the era of #BlackLivesMatter, these works speak powerfully of the need for resistance and resilience, sound stark and original, their hypermodernism firmly rooted in vernacular tradition.”

It doesn’t seem that anything of the previous show’s been recorded (or if it has been, it’s not been released), so here’s a little from one of Elaine’s previous projects as an indicator; plus a little Shepp, Lee and Jarman.





 
* * * * * * * *

Reminding us that the politics of dignity and survival (and the business of conveying an urgent message) comes in many different forms and tones, African-American double bassist Rufus Reid is reviving his 2012 jazz orchestra suite ‘Quiet Pride’ in London later in January. A limber, elegant musician and composer with profound roots in classical trumpet and bass, Rufus (like Jason Yarde) also straddles the worlds of jazz and music education with equal enthusiasm, grace and fervour. He has been playing in both small and sizeable jazz groups since the late ‘60s and composing for about the same length of time, moving into the world of large-scale compositions in 2011 with his symphonic orchestral work ‘Mass Transit’.

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

Rufus Reid (photo © Jimmy Katz)

‘Quiet Pride’ was written to honour and illustrate the work of late African–American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, and Rufus has taken it around the universities and culture halls of the USA whenever possible. This particular performance of the suite will be rendered by the Guildhall Jazz Orchestra under the direction of London jazz composer and educator Scott Stroman (with, I think, Rufus as conductor). While Rufus prefers to play alongside or surrounded by actual Catlett prints and sculptures for honour, reflection and continuity, there aren’t any to hand at the Guildhall and so the performance will be accompanied by projected Catlett images.


 
Set against the Oto show, it could be tempting to decry this as bourgeois slickness, a birch-and-beech art gallery indulgence co-opting jazz into the spaces of white power structures or celebrating some kind of house-Negro ethic. That would be unfair, shallow and revolting. To dispel that kind of wretched political preciousness, consider Elizabeth Catlett’s actual life; the source of her art and the ultimate inspiration for Rufus’ humming, quick-footed, assertive music in which (according to ‘All About Jazz’s Dan Bilawsky) “chamber-esque civility can give way to a feeling of uncertainty which, in turn, can morph into swing. Focus shifts from the textural to the rhythmic, the background to the foreground, and the subtle to the obvious. The music is mutable and multifaceted but that’s not really surprising; sculptures can take on different meaning when viewed from different angles so the music should certainly do the same.”

A pioneering presence as both a black and a female sculptor in America (at a time when few of either were to be found – or, more pertinently, allowed) Elizabeth perpetually fused art and activism, mostly through effort and moral choices. Flat-out rejected as a scholar by the Carnegie Institute of Technology due to her skin colour; struggling against direct, demoralising racist university policies while studying for a Masters in Iowa (and, later on, being stripped of her American citizenship as a result of her Communist associations and her gestures of solidarity with striking Mexican railway workers), hers is a story of personal industry, profound ethical responsibility, and effort against the odds.

Her time in Mexico (where she settled for much of her life, first learning and subsequently teaching) was also the catalyst for the crystallizing of her artistic vision, uniting her early influences of Henry Moore, Diego Rivera and pre-Columbian American sculpture with a commitment to combining aspirational concepts of strength and fierce dignity with representative figure forms. “I learned how you use your art for the service of people, struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful” she’d assert, later. “I have always wanted my art to service my people — to reflect us, to relate to us, to stimulate us, to make us aware of our potential.”



 

Elizabeth’s figures and prints survive her and bear witness to her particular vision. Emblematic of black dignity, of powerful maternal femininity, of a refusal to be chained down by prejudices and programmes, they cradle their children; staunchly assert their curves; stand straight-backed, defiant and admirable; reveal the hidden or overlooked complexities of the black mind and sense of self; or punch the air as a simple, stark and meaningful mark of resistance. They’re already, in their way, as direct and as intricate as jazz: something which Rufus clearly understood from the start and has strived himself to bring across in music.


 
Dates:

Elaine Mitchener Projects presents:
Vocal Classics of the Black Avant Garde: Jason Yarde + Elaine Mitchener + Mark Sanders + Neil Charles + Dante Micheaux + Byron Wallen + Alexander Hawkins
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Monday 7th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Guildhall Jazz Orchestra/Rufus Reid/Scott Stroman: ‘Quiet Pride – The Elizabeth Catlett Project’
Milton Court Concert Hall @ Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Silk Street, Barbican, London, EC2Y 8DT, England
Tuesday 29th January 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

October 2018 – upcoming London pop gigs – Bellatrix and Amy León; Clémentine March, Garden Party and Svetlana Smith (both 2nd October)

29 Sep

Bellatrix + Amy León, 2nd October 2018Polydisciplinary pop-charmer Belle Ehresman – better known as Bellatrix – pops up at Elektrowerx at the start of October. She’s been on the up for a couple of years now: the former leader of The Boxettes and a onetime UK beatboxing champion (as well as someone who’s chalked up a parallel musical life as a jazz double bassist), she’s recently subsumed all of these skills into a freeform pop approach.

I caught her a couple of years ago at Rich Mix, just her on her own. Citing influences from Bjork, Ravel, Nina Simone and Sun Ra, to Mingus, Fleetwood Mac and The Pharcyde, she was nothing if not eclectic. For half an hour the venue was her sketchpad as she flung out work-in-progress – a set of unclenched, openhanded musicality in which she finger-painted in assured fashion on mini-synth, loop station and double bass; unfurling songs, meditations and mouth-driven beatscapes in jazz, experimental pop and the loosest of hip hop tones; floating dreamily a little way above the earth.

Since then, Belle’s put together a band, spat out a couple of quirky EPs and stormed the big streaming services, bypassing Bandcamp and Soundcloud to go straight with the Tidals, the Deezers and the Spotifys. For all the boho trappings and the whimsicality (her first EP was called ‘Real Stuffed Owls’), there’s clearly quite a bit of faith and funding behind her. While her former freeformery has settled into more accessible attention-gripping songcraft, I’m hoping that her wholesome world will mesh enough with the demands of that level of glaring attention sharky commercial demands: dropping into one of her sessions should feel like visiting an enchanted workshop, not like chasing a YouTuber.



 
In support is New York singer, songwriter and slam-poet Amy León. Once part of the Nuyorican Slam Team, she now rolls solo: a powerful, joyous, positive-political performer with her work rooted in specific experiences (blackness, womanhood, social inequality) and fusing them all into a compulsive stew of hip-hop spoken-word and sung R&B. Amy’s subject matter’s stirred by rage and outrage, the surviving of brutality and broad sweeps of oppression. Her ethic is to overcome it (in time-honoured civil-rights-movement manner), via a celebration of love, bursting through shame and tears with defiance.

She can sing like battered, determined grass, giving with the gale; she can speak soft; she can wail with rage. Her hard-hitting grit will anchor Belle’s dextrous free-floating thistledown. It would be fascinating to see what they came up with together.

 
Bellatrix + Amy Leon
Electrowerkz, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith, 2nd October 2018 On the same night, Friends Serene are putting on a show of their own. Headlining is former Water Babies member and current Snapped Ankles-er Clémentine March – French-born, Brazil-schooled, London-cradled. Solo, she mixes the pressing, noisy dynamic of ‘90s indie rock with the airy, summery liberation of French and Latin pop melodies. Clanging, precisely-tooled guitar parts (like little iron chandeliers) mesh gently with her sleepy Gallic coo, which in turn rises to indie-siren clarions as she rambles across three languages at will. She’s a sleepy intermittent whirlwind, variously flicking up the debris and festival decorations in Mediterranean towns, and sometimes swirling them into intent little vortices as the mood takes her.


 
In support, Garden Party are the duo of singer Yujin Jo and instrumentalist George Edmondson. They bring along bedsit-glamour trip hop sounds in a Portishead/Moloko tradition, reaching towards a skinny R&B feel. It sounds thin as tissue paper or thrift-shop bedsheets at points, and Yujin’s voice is a tiny Eartha-kitten laze. Still, Garden Party revel in the worn, recovered texture of their soundworld and – on recent track Real Tapes – sometimes reach out for something a little more ambitious; rattling their collection of instruments, oddments and samples to reach out through the radio towards a bigger world.

 
Russian-inspired “neurotic synthpop duo” Svetlana Smith complete the bill: they’ve had a debut EP out since July, which you can find on Spotify if you like. As with Bellatrix, they seem to have vaulted a promotional stage: and since I object to streaming services which rip their clients off, I avoid Spotify like the plague and have stayed pretty ignorant as to what SS sound like. However, both ‘Bittersweet Symphonies‘ and ‘From the Streets‘ caught them just under a year ago: the latter highlighted “innocent but empowering love songs, preaching about love for yourself not another, all bought together in an elegant package taped together by sickly sweet and catchy melodies” while the former reported back on something “cynical and sexy, sweet but deadly… synth-pop with bitter lyrics of heartbreak and disdain.”

That’s the way of it, I suppose: a person can show completely different faces to different people on the same occasion, and one man’s light ear candy is another’s compelling poison. At least they agreed on the initial sweet taste; while I’m left wondering whether Svetlana Smith is deliberately Janus-faced, a kind of emotional double agent or just some kind of cannily blank song-canvas. You’ll have to find out for yourself.

This is a free event, but the usual “book-your-slot-first-and-turn-up-early” business applies.

Friends Serene presents:
Clémentine March + Garden Party + Svetlana Smith
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 7.30pm
– free event – information here, here and here
 

September 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – eight for WITCiH’s ‘The State of Gender?’ festival (26th to 28th September) – Bishi, Chagall, Miri Kat, Di Mainstone, Lia Mice, Vicky O’Neon, Rebekah Ubuntu and Gazelle Twin

17 Sep


 
Music tech initiative WITCiH (positive, feminist, genderfluid, multicultural) returns to its regular canalside home at the end of the month, for its first work as a full commissioning platform. ‘The State of Gender?’ is a full festival following several standalone WITCiH concerts over the past few years. While open to all genders, skin tones and persuasions, the three nights of the festival present, foreground and celebrate WITCiH’s central preoccupations – women, technology and creativity. In additional, they continue to promote WITCiH’s extended interest in teasing out and broadening (and, where necessary, seizing) opportunities generally only offered to the male, the straight and the white, and sharing them out across a wider community.

If this sounds like a revolution, it’s a charming and positive one. The people in and around WITCiH are unafraid to critique and push against orthodoxy, and are equally unafraid of their own strength and potential; but this is primarily a celebration rather than a catharsis. Enthusiastic about its geekery, revelling in dressing up and performance, it seems to call into being a place and time in which the worst of patriarchal glowering and rigidity has been dispelled or dissolved; where the culture wars have been won from dance and crafting studios, and from workshops and sheds where electronic components are used to reel in the future. A place and time in which people are just free to get on with open-ended, humanitarian tech-play.

As regards how to get there, there’s a good interview here, at ‘Wyldemag’, in which WITCiH co-founder (and living, walking, proactive “giant culture clash”) Bishi points out her cultural-creative ethos, and that of WITCiH. “People are deciding – especially women and people of colour – that the simple answer is that you have to invest. I mean, it’s great that there’s more awareness and blah blah blah, but it’s really simple, with the minority groups in society, it’s not just about building awareness; it’s the sustained investment that comes with that. And, of course, all the social media and stuff is helpful, but living in a city is so expensive, and politically, everything is so rough and uneven and uncertain, and there’s something powerful about a collective of people coming together physically.”

On this occasion, it’s eight women (or, to be more precise, seven women plus a non-binary person with a female name) coming together. In amongst the music, three of them are going to be providing lectures – physical-pop explorer Chagall, “movician” Di Mainstone and conceptual wildcard Gazelle Twin.

Amsterdam-born but London-based, Chagall is an electronic music singer-songwriter, producer, and performer inspired by a wide-ranging collective-culture range of influences including “nature, Greek poetry, Bjork, James Blake, Beethoven, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu, Joni Mitchell & Miriam Makeba.”. Her particular musical approach embraces gestural and reactive technology: she was an early adopter of a key gestural synth controller, the Mi.Mu Gloves, and her performances involve choreography and triggered interactive visuals.



 
Chagall’s interest in body-gestural sound sourcing is shared – and then some – by “movician” Di Mainstone: artist-in-residence for Queen Mary College at the University of London, and one of the “new generation visionaries” of the international digital arts scene (according to the ‘New York Times’). Working with researchers from QMC’s Centre for Digital Music and Media Arts & Technology, Di creates musical instruments as wearable technology for dancers: electronic extensions of the human body, triggered by movement. These include the Human Harp (which she uses to play suspension bridges), the spring-based Whimsichord, the squeeze’n’jig Hydrochordion, the limb-like “choreophonic prosthetic” Serendipitichord and – outside of music – the Scorpions (a set of kinetic garments with a life of their own). Di also coined the “movician” term – a name for a player of her devices, “a hybrid artist who explores and composes sound through movement.”


 
Earlier on, I suggested that WITCiH was predominantly utopian. The work of Gazelle Twin provides a hellish counterpoint indicating that there’s still plenty of struggles to go through, whether it’s from sinister social forces or our own unacknowledged darknesses.

Beneath her alarming/exciting dual skins of latex costumery and processed sound, Gazelle Twin is Elizabeth Bernholz – composer, producer, incantationeer, framework-overturner and time-traveller. Via loops, sampling and processing, her work jams and transforms acoustic and Early Music sources (recorder, harpsichord, female chorus) against found sounds and electronic “shades of ‘90s house and the once-thriving rural rave scene, albeit recalled as a watery, second-hand memory.” The results buck and bray, ripple and snarl; delivering disturbing, liberating dreamscapes and warning fables with a violently physical component. In her videos, we see hissing ferocious folk devils battling it out; or blank-masked hooded figures capering and proliferating, barking and twitching like dysfunctional maenads. Much of it comes across as mingled summoning, exorcism and terrible warning. There’s rather a lot of teeth, and an underlying exploration of specific modern sicknesses via primeval mythology (redressed in manmade synthetics).

Elizabeth’s lecture promises to unpack and reveal the complex vision of one of Britain’s most unsettling and unexpectedly timely artists: it will cover the creation of the latest Gazelle Twin audio-visual project ‘Pastoral‘, including the influences and ideas behind this year’s Hobby Horse single and video (the aforementioned devilfest). En route, it will branch out into related fields exploring “fascism and horror in the English landscape past and present, (Elizabeth’s) own creative process from writing to recording/production, and her identity as a working artist and mother.”



 
Other musicians will be performing newly commissioned audio-visual music pieces. Bishi herself is performing in the middle of the bill on all three nights. There’s no specific clues as to what she’s doing, but on past form expect a melange of some or all of the following:

  • interlocking pop forms (from classic English to Eurosynth to Hindi filmi songs).
  • a headlong, full-on involvement with the intersection of grand costume and high fashion.
  • sitars, ukeleles, extended voice and Ableton synth controllers.
  • traditional folk material from the Balkans to Bengal; classical ideas from Hindustani tradition to contemporary opera.
  • vocal inspirations from Meredith Monk and Yoko Ono.
  • fervent and earnest positive politics (including song cycles about immigration, and a long-standing loyalty to queer club culture).
  • and finally, Bishi’s own strong and self-willed musical identity, which never rules out a willingness to interact or integrate with anyone from Sean Lennon to the London Symphony Orchestra (and with anything from interactive wind-harps to Christina Rosetti poems and giant floating holograms of Tony Benn).



 
By day, Miri Kat works as a Novation Music engineer, designing and finessing electronic musical instruments. She’s also a combined audio-visual artist and music producer, interested in algorithmic music, webtech and generative visuals, with further interests in hacking, live coding and immersive multimedia in general. Mainly composed with Max/MSP Supercollider (and with found sounds live-coded from open ecosystems with open-source tools), her productions provide “hyperactive textures (and) ephemeral collages, in turns frenetic and and lyrical, in a unique brand of glitchy grindcore for a post-Internet age.”

 
Lia Mice‘s work covers multiple bases: live electronic artist, producer, DJ and instrument designer. Sometimes she’s to be found applying her live analog sampling skills across “high energy vinyl-hybrid” DJ sets of electro, Italo, tech noir, acid and “weird-pop”. At other times she applies them to live sets of original music alongside “self-hacked” instruments and Max/MSP, while her recordings can stir in eight-track tape mangling alongside influences from Laurie Anderson, BBC Radiophonics and electronica across forty years from German pioneers to American outliers. Live sets also feature both live voice sampling and Lia’s own custom-designed tactile-interface instruments – such as the Delia Derbyshire-inspired Reeltime sound manipulator (based on a broken reel-to-reel tape recorder) and the suspended tap’n’tilt/swing/spin ChandeLIA (designed to blend the organic bell-like sound of tapping on a metal chandelier with the sound of the electricity powering its lights).

A major WITCiH supporter, Lia also designs sonic sculptures, is a contributor to the Augmented Instruments Lab in the Centre for Digital Music and is “forever taking refuge in the mysteries of the sonic universe.” Her third solo album, ‘The Sampler As A Time Machine’, is a selection of “experimental dance x wave-y industrial x parallel-dimension pop tracks”. For the festival, she’ll be presenting a lecture based on the album and its studio experiments (themselves inspired by time travel writings by philosophers, physicists, neurologists and psychologists from Mark Fisher to Oliver Sacks to Stephen Hawking).



 
An explosively enthusiastic character (and WITCHiH regular), Vicky O’Neon performs in a dazzle of beats plus shocking day-glo costumery and makeup. Born Vicky Österberg in Finland, she was originally a class-topping, award-winning drummer and percussionist at the British Institute of Modern Music. She went on to work around the world as sessioneer and tour-band member for the likes of Pharell Williams, Johnny Marr, Hans Zimmer and assorted live-set DJs. Since summer 2017, she’s gone solo, buoyed up by the success and positivity of her parallel work in tech/instrumental teaching and in co-founding girl-promoting music initiatives Girls Rock London, Rock Donna and Racuma.

Vicky characterises herself as a “relentlessly optimistic Riot Grrrl multi-instrumentalist, with fluoro-glowing intentions to inspire the masses with harmony, laughter and love … on a mission from a higher plane of consciousness, devoted to the elevation of human vibration.” Her one-woman show involves her making a delightful proactive racket via drum pads, loopstations, acoustic percussion, body-worn percussion triggers and MicroKorg synth, plus her own “tongue-in-cheek lyrics and visuals”. As the founder of the Electric Vegetable Orchestra she also mixes tech with vegetable husbandry, carving new instruments from fruit, tubers and other root vegetables, then playing them through loops and effects to create “catchy tunes and singalongs with the audience.” However she chooses to entertain you at WITCiH, she’s certainly got plenty of options to choose from.



 
Vicky’s fellow BIMM graduate Rebekah Ubuntu is a multimedia performance artist, musician and culture scholar experimenting with “ideas of futurism, rebellion, and paradoxes” filtered through queer, non-binary, black and feminist perspectives. Their work spans synthwave, glitch music, techno and various forms of Afro-futurism (including reference to black poets and writers such as Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler, black rock and punk statement, and Afro-orientated pop/house/trap/beat forms) as well as electronic soundscapes and vocal manipulations.

As with most of the other participants, Rebecca’s got a strong allegiance to (and grounding in) club culture, and they’ve recently played sets at black pride, queer and general futurist events from Berlin to Norwich and Birmingham’s FLUID festival. Outside of clubwork, previous work has included last year’s ‘trans.mission.Q’ sonic installation project for Tate Britain (in which Rebecca posed as an extra-terrestrial DJ encouraging gallery visitors to “add your voice(s) to the live soundscape as we broadcast our earthly messages to the remotest regions of outer space”. They also recently guest-edited new music webzine ‘The Sampler’, interviewing five queer, trans & non-binary sound-and-music artists about the intersection of their identities with their music.

 
* * * * * * * *

Full dates:

  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 1: Chagall (lecture) + Bishi + Miri Kat – Wednesday 26th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 2: Di Mainstone (lecture) + Bishi + Lia Mice + Vicky O’Neon – Thursday 27th September 2018
  • WITCiH presents ‘The State of Gender?’, evening 3: Gazelle Twin (lecture) + Bishi + Rebekah Ubuntu – Friday 28th September 2018

All events are at The Barge House, 46a De Beauvoir Crescent, De Beauvoir Town, London, N1 5RY, England at 7.00pm. Further information is here, here and here.

Note that on the evening of the 27th – the day before her appearance at the festival – Gazelle Twin will also be making a live in-store appearance at Rough Trade East off Brick Lane, performing tracks from ‘Pastoral’.
 

August 2018 – upcoming London gigs – flexi-clectica at Apple Tree: The Live Lounge Vol II with Rudi Douglas, J. Aria, Awkward Ndure, DJ Sonikku, Martell O’Neill, Daryl Fox-Huxley and DJ Kevin Morosky (2nd August)

31 Jul

Apple Tree: The Live Loung Vol. II, 2nd August 2018Since its launch earlier this year, broad-based London music-and-performance event Apple Tree has set itself a bold framework. Curated by tireless promoter and club personality Mark-Ashley Dupé and by cross-disciplinary designer/film-maker Samuel Douek, its Live Lounge event is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQIA musicians and artists from across the city (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex and asexual/allies, for those having trouble keeping up with those ever-burgeoning inclusive acronyms). It’s also happily intersectional in both intent and in entertainment. The convergence of queerness and blackness already seems to be a specialty, offsetting the compressive grinding of racism and the bristling aggression of homophobes by providing a stage for some fiery and assertive performers.

If this is starting to sound too specialised, too academic, or too much like a sexual/political cul-de-sac, I should reign things in a bit. In fact, the backbone of the debut Apple Tree evening back in June (which I only caught up and heard about recently, several months after the event) seems to have been electric/eclectic soul, provided by singer-songwriters Miggy Dela Rosa, Albert Gold and Awkward Ndure. Gay electro-acoustic composer Daniel McBride was also on hand, his work bridging that gap between the capital’s young classical scene, its queer-arts scene and the electronic music continuum which unites (in both work and play) pop, dance culture and high-art experimentalism. Bringing the words was topical poet and fervent discursor Black Ops Poetry; bringing the costumes and personae was queer cabaret sensation Rhys Holis (performer of Rhys’ Pieces and founder of Dalston cabaret night Queefy); and bringing damn near everything was operatic/discursive costumed electro-acoustic performance artist Oberon White (who considers himself “part of an eclectic tradition incorporating shamans, clowns, automata, cyborgs and drag artists”).

In other words, Apple Tree’s shaping up to be an event that’s equally comfortable with party pop and far-out high art concepts, unifying them through a flexible, diverse queer lens. There aren’t that many places where you can see a happy, possibly camp singalong immediately followed by a text-spouting man dressed as a mythical Greek bird-god.

The upcoming second Apple Tree Live Lounge show at the beginning of August is perhaps a tad less adventurous than the debut was, but it’s all part of the ebb and flow, and comes packaged with dinner care of Shoreditch’s Hoi Polloi brasserie and a DJ set from photographer/film director Kevin Morosky. As for the performers, Awkward makes a return from the launch event with her Latin-tinged folk-soul – at least I think it’s her, since some of the publicity suggests that it might be Evan Williams from MTV teen comedy ‘Awkward’ (which in turn makes me feel as if I’m slipping down some rabbit hole of an involved in-joke). Assuming that I do have the right Awkward, here’s a clip of her performing with guitarist Sim Chappelle a couple of years ago. I’m on more solid ground with the billing for accomplished soul’n’stage singer Martell O’Neil (whose past and current work includes the travelling Motown revue ‘How Sweet It Is’); and for Daryl Fox-Huxley, the current/former guitarist for house-tinged indie pop act The Hook, now concentrating on solo work with a folk-pop base, “his own East London twist and lyrics to match” and probably at least a few other hints and approaches brought in from his abiding love for reggae, techno and techhouse.



 
Headliner Rudi Douglas is a onetime ‘X Factor’ contestant (he was in the 2006 series when he was nineteen) but don’t hold that against him, or allow it to constrain him. Instead, take a look at and have a listen to this – ‘He Won’t Swim In My Ocean’, a four-year-old but evergreen song which proves that Rudi doesn’t need the Cowell circus to help him make grand heartbursting pop, with a gay theme but a universal touch.


 
For this session, the more experimental kudos is provided by DJ Sonikku (who mashes ‘80s house into chiptune with the aid of the purloined and repurposed guts of Sega Mega Drive consoles) and even more so by Jacob Aria – a.k.a non-binary soundscaper J. Aria. Interested in “tension, desolation, morbidity and eroticism”, J. creates intricate, absorbing musical washes, beats and tapestries via sampler, turntable and voice in which hauntology, psychedelic ambience and hints of house engage in a spectral, full-bodied mysterious dance: a ghostly neighbourhood of percolating histories for “a world of heterotopic ‘otherness’, pushing senses of horror and psychosis within queerdom and the incidental beauty of the fractured”.

 
Apple Tree Live presents:
Apple Tree – The Live Lounge – Vol. 2: Rudi Douglas + Jacob Aria + Awkward Ndure + DJ Sonikku + Martell O’Neill + Daryl Fox-Huxley + DJ Kevin Morosky
Miranda @ Ace Hotel London Shoreditch, 100 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6JQ, England
Thursday 2nd August 2018, 6.00pm
– information here and here
 

August 2018 – upcoming London folk gigs – Nest Collective’s Campfire Club shows – Kaia Kater and John McGrath (3rd August); Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy (3rd August); Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and Felix MB (9th August); Fellow Pynins and Jack & The Arrows (10th August)

28 Jul

More in the ongoing string of unamplified outdoor folk gigs in London parks and gardens, courtesy of Nest Collective’s Campfire Club.

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There are two simultaneous concerts on 3rd August, the first of which features “African-Canadian roots phenom” Kaia Kater and experimental folk guitarist John McGrath.

Kaia Kater couldn’t have come on the scene at a better time. As a new generation takes the reins, American roots music is needed more than ever to remind us of the troubled pathways of our own history. Born of African-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album ‘Sorrow Bound’ (May 2015) touched on this divide, but her sophomore album ‘Nine Pin’ (May 2016) delved even further, and casting an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America every day. Her songs on Nine Pin are fueled by her rich low tenor vocals, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and beautifully understated banjo. They earned her a Canadian Folk Music Award in 2016, and they’ve got as much in common with Kendrick Lamar right now as they do with Pete Seeger.

“As a concept album, ‘Nine Pin’ weaves between hard-hitting songs that touch on modern issues like the Black Lives Matter movement (Rising Down, Paradise Fell) and more personal narratives speaking to life and love in the digital age (Saint Elizabeth). And while these larger stories are deftly crafted, this is really an album of moments. Kater’s a cappella voice speaking to the loneliness of a city in Harlem’s Little Blackbird while solo dance steps echo in the background, the muted hesitancy of Caleb Hamilton’s trumpet breaking the trance of Little Pink, the smoke of electric guitar that cuts through Saint Elizabeth, the wave-like ebb and flow of piano behind the plaintive love poem Viper’s Nest… All of these moments point to an artist wise beyond her years.


 
John McGrath is an Irish guitarist, composer and author based in London. His music explores the boundaries of the ancient and modern as traditional elements meet improvisation and experimental tendencies. Rich harmonics, intricate finger-picking, static drones and glitches combine to glorious effect.”


 
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The second of the two 3rd August concerts features some neo-traditionalist groupings in the form of Cath & Phil Tyler and Marisa Jack & Davy.

Cath & Phil Tyler play Anglo-American folk music using guitar, banjo, voice and fiddle. Cath was a member of the band Cordelia’s Dad in the 1990s when she lived in Massachusetts, USA. Phil (from Newcastle-upon-Tyne) has played in various folk, rock and ceilidh bands for many years. Coming together musically through a shared love of traditional narrative song, full voiced sacred harp singing and sparse mountain banjo, they have performed on stages as diverse as the Royal Opera House in London and a dank tower in the old city walls of Newcastle. Taking a more minimal approach to their material than some, they have been described as “one of the most compelling musical partnerships on the scene”, their music being “a highly concentrated and intimate musical experience that penetrates to the very rawest essence of folk tradition.”


 
“Bedford-based folk trio Marisa Jack & Davy formed in 2015 in order to play at the DIY shows and house concerts they were organising. A floor spot for Stick in the Wheel’s folk night on The Golden Hinde encouraged them to further explore British folk music and they were soon seduced by the music of Shirley Collins, The Young Tradition and Nic Jones. Their unconventional interpretation of the tradition is shaped by the harmonic blend of their three unique voices, acoustic guitar styles and their music backgrounds. Marisa Straccia is an illustrator and plaintive finger picking guitarist, Davy Willis a singer and artist from Tonbridge via L.A. and Jack Sharp is best known as the singer for psych rock band Wolf People. They also run a nomadic Bedford acoustic folk night called Mill Race Folk in various locations including an 18th century watermill, a museum, a community boat and a 15th century timber-framed market hall.”


 
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The 9th August concert features acousti-pop star Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and rising folk-pop sensation Felix MB.

“A veteran at thirty-two, Sam Duckworth has been releasing music under the moniker Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. for 12 years. His catalogue includes collaborations ranging from Baba Maal, to Shy Fx, Kate Nash to Jehst. It includes four top 40 singles, tow top 40 albums, a German Club Number 1 and a gold-certified plaque for the seminal ‘Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager’.

Having spent three recent years working under his own name, Duckworth returned to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. work in January 2018 with a new album, ‘Young Adult’, which includes the Shy Fx collaboration “always.” Mastered by T Power, this is Duckworth back as a folk artist, but still keeping parts of the electronic experimentation of his “solo” work. Sam debuted a new band at his recent Village Underground show, hearalded by the Independent as a “triumphant return.”


 
“Growing up in Derbyshire amongst actors and musicians in his parents’ touring theatre company, Felix M-B began gigging in Derby, Nottingham and then across the UK; playing shows with the likes of Lorkin O’Reilly, Alasdair Roberts, Lucy Ward, Josh Wheatley, Daudi Matsiko, Joel Baker, The Slow Show, Monica Heldal, and Georgie. His latest EP ‘The Pipes’ (released on 10th March at a sold-out concert in London) saw Felix co-producing, recording the five-track record with Ben Walker in Brighton in December 2017. It is a particularly raw and intimate record, featuring elements of self-recording and the use of reel-to-reel tape.”

(I’ve had plenty to say about Felix previously…)


 
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The 10th August gig features Oregonian folk duoFellow Pynins and Oxford harmony-folk trio Jack & The Arrows.

Fellow Pynins is a tender folk duo birthed out of years of traveling, farming, child-rearing, and touring as part of six-piece folk orchestra Patchy Sanders. Their songs tell of stories old, dreams of death, frolicking through pastures of sheep, and entering the chasms of the human experience. Their repertoire consists of original songs and traditional European ballads collected during their travels. Wielding clawhammer banjo, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar, Ian Van Ornum and Dani Aubert pour their hearts into the sounds of their whimsically-woven folk tales. These two will lift you up with their ridiculous stories and then transcend you into their emotive songs.

 
Jack & The Arrows are a London-and-Oxford based trio with dashes of folk, Americana and blues and strong close-harmonies. Jack Durtnall, Joe Hasell and Edmund Jones met through a capella singing and the band crystallised around their shared musical passions and longstanding friendships. ‘The Oxford Student’ dubbed them “an enthralling blend of impressive vocal harmonies complimented with rich instrumentation”…”

 
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Full dates:

  • Campfire Club: Kaia Kater + John McGrath – Spitalfields City Farm, Buxton Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 5AR, England, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Cath & Phil Tyler + Marisa Jack & Davy – (secret location t.b.c.), London, Friday 3rd August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Get Cape Wear Cape Fly (solo unplugged) + Felix M-B – The Calthorpe Project, 258-274 Gray’s Inn Road, St Pancras, London, WC1X 8LH, England, Thursday 9th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • Campfire Club: Fellow Pynins + Jack & The Arrows – Oasis Nature Garden, Larkhall Lane, Stockwell, London, SW4 6RJ, England, Friday 10th August 2018, 7.00pm – information here and here

More August Campfire Club concerts shortly….
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Léscines, Oscar Mic, Crooked Weather and Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous at Paper Dress Vintage Takeover (26th July); Alexia Chambi, Charlie Draper, Jared Rood, Johnny Crooks, Tom Bright and William. at BOX Live (27th July)

22 Jul

A couple more London gigs in small places…

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Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous, 26th July 2018

A distorted rootsy evening, first, at Paper Dress in east London. Léscines have been stirring up and churning out mongrel reggae-rock, cartoon Americana and scrawny blues licks for about five years now, throwing in a touch of psychobilly noir and webbed folk. Jay Fraser’s joyously unhinged songwriting pulls in a palette of people and extra instrumentation from banjo to brass, Wurlitzer organ to djembe, and songs about wolves, crows, border country, assorted dooms. If Ted Hughes and Nick Cave had run away to be cowboys, shared a bottle of toxic mescal together and then co-written a stark children’s book a couple of days later, it might have ended up a little like this. With a new album in the can and expected soon, they’re headlining with gusto.


 
Expansive rock-tinged folk group Crooked Weather hail from east Yorkshire. Their multi-instrumentalism, and their willingness to take a song idea for an introspective yet expansive run, has seen them compared to The Incredible String Band; but perhaps that’s a bit of a stretch in the wrong direction. For better or for worse, Crooked Weather conspicuously lack several of the ISB’s more outrageous qualities, both good and bad (the saucer-eyed eclectic musical grabbing, the eccentric psychedelic perspective, the baffling sectional song-mozaics… the poisonous family antagonism).

Instead, they’re a soberer breed of folk mystics – content not to burn out their inspirations, and to be diverse while being careful with their craft. It’s difficult to imagine them vanishing down the Scientology manhole, or losing shedloads on money on theatre dance projects. Searchers they may be, but they keep their vision handy and controlled; like a lens tucked away into a pocket, always available to focus in on a subject.Though they’re prepared to pursue a history or a batch of intimations to the horizon, Crooked Weather are less inclined to drop over the edge into another country.


 
Crooked Weather’s fellow east Yorkshire band, “deathblues collective” Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous (at one time “compiled of a villain, a heathen, and a velvet doll” and apparently still “God-fearin’ nectophiles”), are coming down from Hull, bringing their gutter slide, buzzsaw punk bass and preacher warnings of imminent doom. Also racing into place is Seamus Hayes, a.k.a Oscar Mic dubbed “the freakish love-child of The Beastie Boys and Little Richard, birthed at a grunge orgy” and bringing assorted busker-hip-hop ideas to the stage with his verbal flow, his cartoon-spattered guitar, his pedal-board and his beatboxing.


https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtNU4ZhhsiunEN711FHY2ow

 
Roundtable Collective presents:
Paper Dress Vintage Takeover: Léscines + Oscar Mic + Crooked Weather + Rivers Johansson & The Deemed Unrighteous
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Thursday 26th July 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William., 27th July 2018About twenty minutes walk from ‘Misfit City’, Crouch End-based recorders and artist developers BOX Recording Studios are coaxing their clients out into the nearby, freshly-refurbished pub for performances this coming Friday.

London-based Danish-Cypriot singer-songwriter Alexia Chambi is just twenty years old, but has already fitted in six years of round-the-world travel, This in turn inspires her footloose songs, with their tussles between fluid freedom and rooting oneself, and her dark-toned jazz guitar. Following previous collaborations with Ralph Taylor and Hotel Avra, Alexia will be releasing her debut solo EP, ‘Bolivia’ in the autumn. Juice You (below) may well be on it. Meanwhile, Tommy Hill (a.k.a. William.) floats in the space between singer-songwriter guitar rock and contemporary R&B, his beat-slink punctuated by bursts of flammable fretboard. He, too, has an EP due for release later this year.



 

Two members of London urban rockers Tom Bright & The Dynamite – lead singer/songwriter Tom Bright and lead guitarist Jared Rood are also playing. It’s unclear whether they’re going to be working separately or whether this is going to be a two-piece Dynamite: meanwhile here’s the parent band playing a couple of their pieces, demonstrating their upfront protest songs and their growling skimming of the edge of folk punk. A grain of Rory McLeod, a dash of Richard Thompson or Tom Robinson; perhaps a twist of Jason Feddy.



 
A key member of Bruce Wooley and Andy Visser’s “modular space-age pop ensemble” Radio Science Orchestra, Charlie Draper is a British specialist in the gestures and techniques needed to control the antique electronic whoops of theremin and ondes Martenot. He’s played with just about every theremin/ondes-requiring orchestra and ensemble in the country. Come and hear him extract various classical and pop tones from each of the instruments. German-based beatmaker Johnny Crooks is also going to be playing a separate set of his own aural confections.

 
BOX Recording Studios presents
BOX Live: Alexia Chambi + Charlie Draper + Jared Rood + Johnny Crooks + Tom Bright + William.
The Harringay Arms, 153 Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, England,
Friday 27th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here