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

7 Jan

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

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 The whirling mirror-glass synths and saxophones of the old days have been replaced by a gritty post-Americana rock band (which growls, gnaws and struts through her songs like a Cash or Waits ensemble) while Holly herself has mostly forsaken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

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

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



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

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


 

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

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



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



 

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



 
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Arhai, 18th January 2020

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




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



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

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Dates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 
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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.

 
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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.)




 
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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/November 2019 – upcoming London gigs – (mostly) female pop and poptronica and dance – Caroline Polachek (30th November); Kin Leonn and Geiste (1st November); Imogen Heap and Frou Frou (15th November); Kedr Livanskiy and Detalji (21st November), and Yeule at nearly all of these…

23 Oct

Some interesting technological pop shows (at various scales and predominantly female-driven) are arriving in London shortly.

First of all, Caroline Polachek is playing a small show at Hoxton Hall on 30th October. Though she spent her first musical decade as the leader of clever, multi-media-aware New York pop band Chairlift (best known for their Bruises single) she’s overlapped this with forays into ad hoc/lo-fi/female-fun supergrouping (the Girl Crisis cover band) and pastoral/theatrical electronica (from 2013 to 2015, as Ramona Lisa) as well as being the prime writer and arranger for (if we’re being honest, being the creator of) Beyoncé’s ‘No Angel’. Along the way, she’s established herself as a signally complete and disciplined performer, profoundly hands-on-involved with her own image and how it relates to her music, from designing her own choreography and makeup through to choosing all aspects of wardrobe and video presence.

It seems that in her mid-thirties – and after six years of releasing music on her own in various shapes and forms – Caroline’s starting to settle into the idea of a solo career. Her latest album – this year’s ‘Pang’ – is the first to emerge under her own name: a well-packed set of contemporary R&B/alt.pop with the same kind of expansive ear and mind for exploratory forms as peak works by Kate Bush, Jane Siberry or Björk (or, more recently, f.k.a. Twigs and Jenny Hval). Calling it some kind of solo revelation is over-simplifying; Caroline’s use of various pseudonyms for her one-woman projects always seems to have had more to do with creating useful self-eliding masks in which she can unselfconsciously explore different musical ideas. Like Björk, she’s also a frequent, restless and productive collaborator with others (most recently, with PC Music’s Danny Harle), and like Bjork similarly firm in that she’s ultimately the person in control and making the choices.

The ‘Pang’ singles so far, both musically and visually, show a talent and imagination at a comfortably full (and wide-ranging) stretch. Here are three of them in video form, showing off Caroline’s particular vision.




 
Playing support at Hoxton is Yeule – a persona project by visual artist and sometime synth builder Nat Ćmiel. A Singaporean-born nomad “obsessed with tinkering and discovery” and currently settled in London, she’s taken her talents for construction, reconstruction and textural explorations of the subconscious deep into her own music. The latter, merging a kind of transplanted Chinese pop with a slippery international EDM lucid drowse and sugary whispery vocals, sometimes makes her resemble an East Asian Julee Cruise settling, like a dreaming moth, into clubland’s sensuality and wilfully fluctuating identity space.

Certainly there’s plenty of surreal Lynchian lushness and reverie to her sound, complementing the smoke-and-mirror verbiage which she generates and which one has to stumble through while trying to get to the bottom of what makes her tick and flutter. Yuele characterises the main component of her work in terms both sensual and psychological (“(a) stifling psychological haze turned into perfume”) and adds, Sybilline, that “it’s difficult for my mind to stay in one place. I can go back to revisit the person I was in my dreams. I see them as multiple people. Sometimes they talk to me, but I’ve cut most of them off because they start screaming in my ear.” All of this inspires her ongoing fluid and successional approach to performance personae, which she continually tries to break down and move through in a series of metaphorical deaths and album tracks exploring the hinterland between death and rebirth, awareness and oblivion. The aforementioned Twigs might be a closer comparison than Cruise: there are similarities in the wispy softness of tone, the lightly assured stepping between different art forms, the moving body as creator’s canvas, the simultaneous exposure and walling off; the final definitions which slip through the fingers of any external searcher.



 
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Yeule is also playing two further London shows in November. The first is her own – a headliner down in the basement at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston on 1st November, at which she’ll have a full chance to stretch out and take control of proceedings.

Ijn support is French-born Geiste, who creates her own dramatic, multi-instrumental pop: compelling undulator songs containing slow-burner stories. Also around is Yeule’s fellow Singaporean Kin Leonn, extending the warm, blipping, ambient/electronic instrumental side of the pillowy dream-pop he’s known for back home as a third of Midst. His debut solo album, ‘Commune’, deals with “longing, nostalgia, revelation, and other curious introspections… a dive into the subconscious and a documentation of the sensibilities encountered along the way.”



 
The second Yuele appearance during November is another support slot nearly three weeks later, over in Hackney Wick, supporting Moscow EDM-er Kedr Livanskiy at a Bloc night. A onetime Russian punk turned electronica explorer (and a member of Moscow’s Johns’ Kingdom collective), Kedr embodies a particular Russian spirit at the moment: the outward reach in collision or contradiction with its own bullish sense of identity. Her wavering vocals are distracted white dance-diva slipping into semi-operatic chant phrases: since it’s all sung in Russian, it all sounds strangely ritualistic and ancient to the ignorant or linguistically challenged (so that’ll be me and most of the rest of us, then). The music itself sometimes summons up some classic old London dance tropes of jungle and drum’n’bass; sometimes lonely analogue darkwave contortions and streetlight synth pads; sometimes international techno blurb and dubby keyboard clanks rebounding off blippy little traffic bleeps and horns.




 
Also supporting Kedr is Finnish techno diva Detalji (a.k.a. Krista Myllyviita), the night’s smoothest and most direct proposition. Making her UK live debut, she creates a mixture of cellar throb and of clear and arresting pop songs around a sleek IDM chassis, preoccupied with intimacy and detachment, with their overlap with sexuality, with the ups-and-downs of clublife friendships and power games and with the struggling state between urges and self-awareness. You can get suckered in by the cruising beats and the urgent electronic slither: afterwards, you may be nagged and haunted by the words that have slid across your eardrums, carried by the pulse and the needing.

 
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While looking into the Caroline Polachek date, I couldn’t help but notice how her recent single So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings has certain similarities with Imogen Heap’s similarly sweet’n’horny Goodbye and Go, from fifteen years ago. Most people probably know – and knew – the latter from last year’s slice’n’dice acquisition and remodelling by Ariana Grande. It’s all amicable, all supportive, all respectful – Immi and Ariana are mutual fans, share assorted tips and in all respects are the model of a supportive cross-generational female friendship. On top of that there’s still plenty of Heap sales, shows and activity (more of which in a moment).


 
Yet it still sometimes feels as if Immi herself has slipped through a crack of public awareness. A fully self-contained female writer, singer, producer and instrumentalist almost a generation before it became commonplace. Known, loved and worked with by other musicians from Ariana to Joshua Radin to Jeff Beck. A polymathic grafter with plenty of industry success over two decades plus a field of work covering theatre, film and classical concert hall as well as pop songs (that’s her score you’ll have heard in the Harry Potter play)… For all that, still in too many respects a cult artist, at least in her home country. I was trying to work out why this was, and whether it was in part the twists of image. While Immi was being overshadowed by fellow BRIT School graduates like Amy Winehouse, it can’t have been because her own songs lacked spirit or immediacy: anyone who thought that couldn’t have heard the suspended tech-apella heartache of her other best-known song, Hide And Seek (or can’t have caught up, later, with the deceptively dense lines of her mother’s-lullaby Tiny Human).



 
It’s probably more that, in a country that likes its imported and its homegrown pop divas to fit specific strands of celebrity (the light entertainment celeb sprung from national reality TV, the party provider, the own-brand corporation juggernaut selling scent and other beauty-myth trapping, the icon playing out huge-scale soapy stories in public, or a combination of all four), Immi has never really fitted the measures. There’s that lack of mystique, for which she’s happily substituted an affable beanpole strut combined with a chatty, cheery, Essex duchess-next-door poise. There’s that wild sense of dress-up that’s ultimately more about the laugh and the moment than it is about eight hours in wardrobe.

Then there’s the way in which, rather than stamping her name on perfumes and couture, she’s enthusiastically and publicly involved herself in ambitious, constructive and practical tech geekery which is all about shifting control into the hands of artists: investigating blockchain, developing and marketing ungimmicky wearable MIDI instruments and, more recently, putting together the cloud-based Mycelia Creative Passport (which streamlines a user’s digital credentials and payment channels, bringing the workings and remunerations of their career directly into their own hands). Finally, there’s the fully-integrated talent: as well as the dancing and fronting, the skills which guarantee that (Prince-like) she’s responsible for every single note, noise and shaping on her own records – and that its happening at a level which could challenge any other pop producer or instrumentalist, rather than simply being a make-do necessity.

In some respects, then, Imogen Heap symbolises a kind of drive, inquisitiveness and achievement which we don’t associate with (or encourage in) women enough – in or out of pop. A bright, squirrelling intelligence. I’ll admit that such things won’t necessarily smear much righteous mascara; it’s unlikely to fuel and enable some cathartic life-changing bawl’n’bitch right at the moment when you really need one. On the other hand, she won’t sell you crap and you don’t have to trail in her glory: you never have to be the friend who’s ultimately just another fucking minor courtier.

In short, beyond the songs and sounds there’s something about Imogen Heap that makes her seem more like an inclusive brilliant friend than an out-and-out pop goddess. Perhaps in some respects, that’s all for the better. I don’t know whether her model of self-sufficiency and practical enquiry has influenced the other, younger women mentioned here. I’d like to think that in some ways it has.


 
At any rate – Immi’s ongoing year-long Mycelia world tour touches down at the Roundhouse in London for one of its three British dates during November (the others are in Gateshead and Manchester). Thematically and practically, it links in with the ongoing Creative Passport project, using workshops and talks alongside the concerts to build a canny community of new tech-savvy users.

In addition, this particular tour sees Immi re-united with her old friend and fellow instrumental/production boffin Guy Sigworth, for the first time since their short-lived/one-off album and tour in the early 2000s as Frou Frou (in the meantime, Guy’s busied himself working with a bevy of other singers including Alanis Morrisette, Bebel Gilberto, assorted Sugababes and Chinese electropop chanteuse SingerSen). A new version of Frou Frou takes over part of each of Immi’s shows to resurrect old Guy-and-Immi collaborations. Here’s a live rendition of their old album-launcher Let Go from earlier in the tour, plus a rare of-its-time Frou Frou video from the old days.



 
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More on other upcoming November femmetronica soon…

Meanwhile, dates for now:

Parallel Lines presents:
Caroline Polachek + Yeule
Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6SH, England
Wednesday 30th October 2019, …pm
– information here, here and here

Parallel Lines presents:
Yeule + Kin Leonn + Geiste
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Friday 1st November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

DHP Family presents:
Imogen Heap & Frou Frou
The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London, NW1 8EH, England
Friday, 15th November 2019, 7.00pm

information here, here and here

Bloc presents:
Kedr Livanskiy + Detalji + Yeule
Bloc @ Autumn Street Studios, Unit 3, 39 Autumn Street, Hackney Wick, London, E3 2TT, England
Thursday 21st November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

October 2019 – upcoming London experimental gigs – Retrophonica at the Brunel Museum (13th); Charles Hayward presents Sly & The Family Drone, V Ä L V Ē, Timestretch Alarmsong and Atatat (19th)

5 Oct

Retrophonica, 13th October 2019

Retrophonica is a new, very accessible multi-media performance project; currently focussed on the branching aerials, primal wooo and touch-me-not anticipations of theremin playing. It’s launching itself with an evening of two (identical) concerts in the yawning brick gullet of the Brunel Museum’s Grand Entrance Chamber (also known as the top of the southern Thames Tunnel shaft).

Celebrating the instrument’s centenary, these will be an “immersive evening of music for theremin and full orchestra”, while delving into the story of the instrument’s creator, Léon Theremin. From here, it sounds as if the concerts will be a cross between a pops-orchestra occasion, a slide-show history lesson writ large and a session of nostalgic avant-garde tinkering; all of it enclosed in that bleak, beautiful and magnificently functional Victorian civil-engineering maw.

As they say themselves,“prepare for an immersive audio-visual experience, complemented by cocktails, lightshow, and narration, featuring original and adapted music for theremin by Dmitri Shostakovich, Bohuslav Martinů, Miklós Rózsa, Les Baxter, Claude Debussy and John Williams, performed by Retrophonica with thereminist Charlie Draper, new arrangements and works by Alex Palmer, and bespoke narration from author Ken Hollings.”



 
You might already know Charlie from all manner of bookings, everywhere, for both theremin and ondes martenot: here’s an earlier mention. Alex has written and arranged extensively for theatre, film and concert hall, and looks as if he’ll be adding the sweeter edge to the evening. As for Ken, although I suspect that he’ll be operating on calmer terms tonight, he’s most likely to be the one to toss in a wild card or two. Having started work in the 1970s as a literary factual editor (how ominous such a description sounds now) he went on to an early-’80s spell as vocalist and cut-up’er in Manchester post-punk band Biting Tongues, followed by an expansion into essays, libretti and experimental fiction (all of which have dipped into and across other disciplines from Japanese films to twentieth-and-twenty-first century politics to data structures).

I’ve no idea who’s contributed the orchestra. As for the cocktails, there’s no further word on them; nor on how you might mix one called a Thames Tunnel.

* * * * * * * *

Just under a week later, downriver at Deptford, London art-rock/post-punk/improvisation godfather Charles Hayward will be putting together the second of this year’s “genre-fluid” Charles Hayward Presents concerts at the Albany, unfurling “new sounds from the underground and outsider scenes of London and beyond” and massing together elements of jazz/improv, art punk, noise, contemporary classical and electronic music.

Charles Hayward Presents..., 19th October 2019According to Charles himself, his own performance centrepiece will be the project-cum-band Timestretch Alarmsong… a sequence of tunes and sound snakes that I’ve put together with Tom Challenger (Dice Factory/Ma saxophonist), Yoni Silver (multi-instrumentalist with Hyperion Ensemble and many others), Roberto Sassi (Cardosanto/Anatrofobia/Snorkel guitarist), Nick Doyne-Ditmas (double bassist and Hayward collaborator in Monkey Puzzle Trio).

“It’s tightly rehearsed and goes through a wide range of attitudes and (more importantly) emotional energies. To my ears it’s super exciting and I feel like we’ve pushed at a few barriers and come up with something new that has melody, shape and grooves from light to super heavy/dark. There’s no clips available but we will be recording the project for future release. All the players are fantastic musicians and working on the project has been a study in joyful cooperation.”

In the absence of a collective clip, here’s a scatter of solo ones and examples of related projects:





 
Three other acts join in for the night. ‘Gentle Persuaders’, the latest album from contemporary drum/noise/saxophone ritualists Sly & The Family Drone – is intended as “the politest of bludgeonings”; its creators still merge Ayler-esque free jazz, industrial rock pummel, celebratory machine hiss and the loose-hanging exploratory feel of a bass-less duo. They also still give out drums at their concerts, inviting a congregation of noise.



 
Also back in the fray is V Ä L V Ē, with music that’s less workshop than workshed. Strongly DIY (featuring reed instruments, electronics, invented gizmos, bass guitar, concert harp and singing women), it’s the sound of a trio of highly trained musical minds phasing back into spontaneity and play. A sort of three-way attempt to become idiot savants via assorted glitchery and boink, semi-spontaneous nursery rhymes and tunelets and musical devices (built out of shelves, tobacco tins, old house bells and similar Branestawmery), but via a female pattern.


 
Finally, there’s Atatat – a solo project from Liverpool art-freak music mainstay J.C. Barbara (best known as drummer/ranter for aPAtT and Barberos, and here using a very Haywardian array of drums, contact mics, loops and vocals).


 
Designer Raimund Wong (whose work has adorned posters and releases by Total Refreshment Centre, Church Of Sound and Baba Yaga’s Hut, and who shares Charles’ interest in chance theory and the ingenuity forced on artists via DIY minimalism) will be DJ-ing.

* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Retrophonica
Brunel Museum, Railway Avenue, Rotherhithe, London, SE16 4LF, England
Sunday 13th October 2019, 6.00pm & 8:30pm
– information here, here and here

Charles Hayward Presents… (featuring Sly & The Family Drone + VÄLVĒ + Timestretch Alarmsong + Atatat + DJ Raimund Wong)
The Albany, Douglas Way, Deptford, SE8 4AG London, United Kingdom
Saturday, 19 October 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

September/October 2019 – upcoming singer-songwriter gigs – Holly Penfield unleashes ‘Tree Woman’ in California and London (22nd September, 31st October)

15 Sep

Visibly enjoying her second wind as a singer-songwriter (and still wielding the exuberance that she brought both to her initial shot as such and to her subsequent role as cabaret supernova), Holly Penfield is finally launching ‘Tree Woman’, her long-delayed fourth album of original songs. There are a couple of launch date shows – one in her birthplace of Berkeley, California and the other in her longstanding hometown, London. On both dates she’s backed by a full band.

Holly Penfield - 22nd September & 31st October 2019

What I wrote about her return to full singer-songwriter action last year still holds true, so here it is (and you can read all about about her over the years by clicking here)…

“From where she’s standing in her life right now, Holly Penfield can reach out in both directions to touch the passionate, large-lunged ingenue singer of her youth and the salty life-loving veteran she’s transforming into. Of course, she’s got a longer, bolder reach than most. Once tagged as “David Bowie meets Liza Minelli” by a surprised and wrongfooted Simon Cowell, she’s a classic torch-pop singer with a stunning voice who’s also both blessed and cursed with an upsetter’s drive. These days, as she rebounds from twenty years as a leading international cabarettier in order to return to her own songs, it’s more of a blessing.

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


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


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


 

Dates:

Post-Punk Monk

Searching for divinity in records from '78-'85 or so…

Get In Her Ears

Promoting and Supporting Women in Music

The Music Aficionado

a song a post, for a song

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

A jumped-up pantry boy

To say the least, oh truly disappointed

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Organized sounds. If you like.

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

musicmusingsandsuch

The title says it all, I guess!

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