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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   

 


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’.
 

SWOONAGE

Swoon. /swo͞on/ A verb. To be emotionally affected by someone or something that one admires; become ecstatic. Here are some people and things that make me swoon. #swoon #swoonage

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