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August 2018 – upcoming London pop & rock gigs – Loop Pedal Lunacy with Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot (8th August); plus a rare free Silvery acoustic show (10th August)

3 Aug

An evening of pop-looping at Paper Dress; and the return of some London art-pop rascals…

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First, the loopfest…

Loop Pedal Lunacy, 8th August 2018

Steve Strong is a one man arsenal of beats, tapped guitar and lush textural melodies. His music is as witheld as it is grandiose, as skeletal as it is layered, equal parts shimmering and pulsing. It glimmers, swings and explodes in all the right places, sliding gracefully from one section to another, played as tightly as it is loose and free. Steve’s ability to bridge the gap between technical ability and captivation is completely instinctual, tattoed onto his musical consciousness like the art on his body. His music seems to encompass many different styles without feeling contrived or forced; every strand of inspiration in Steve’s music is carefully placed and melted. This music will not be held down!


 
“As She, Robot, award winning loop artist Suzy Condrad is a seasoned performer and authentic underground artist who has written and self-produced three albums and established herself as a leader in her field, winning the title of Boss Looping UK Champion in 2011. She effortlessly juggles instruments and genres with a dynamic and arresting one-woman show which has amazed and delighted audiences from Shambala to Boomtown Fair, Bearded Theory to Beautiful Days. Dancehall, ska, doo-wop, folk and electro collide with blistering beats and haunting, sublime vocal gymnastics to take you on an ever-looping journey which balances real-time loop juggling against timeless songwriting. Edgy, raw, beatbox and bass driven sensual sounds, layered to perfection, create a mesmerising performance which is powerful yet ethereal. Woman meets machine in a musical maelstrom that will make your head spin, your spirit lift and your feet move.

 
“Already compared by reviewers to the likes of Bill Withers, John Martyn and Jeff Buckley, Bristol-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumental loop pedal artist Alex Taylor is one of the shining lights of the acoustic scene and a troubadour of world-class standing. Drawing on varied influences from a wide musical spectrum, Alex’s style splices elements of soul, nu-folk and electronica to place his shape-shifting voice and dextrous, original acoustic guitar playing firmly in the spotlight. Touring extensively, Alex has notched up hundreds of gigs, sharing stages with such luminaries as Jack Savoretti, Roachford and Michael Kiwanuka: a festival favourite, he recently headlined the BBC stage at Bristol’s Harbour Festival, and has played many other stages including Cambridge Folk Festival and Cheltenham Jazz Festival. His critically acclaimed debut album features performances from members of The Invisible, Newton Faulkner’s band, Portishead and Massive Attack.


 
“Heavily influenced by her ninety-four-year-old artistic grandmother, Aussie-born Fetherstone brings together the quirky sounds of electronic pop and the swooping melodies of folk, and combines them with her emotive reflective story-telling. Based in London since 2015, 2017’s ‘Debut’ EP was produced and engineered by London native Harry Tarlton (Kobalt, Union J, Stooshe, WarnerUK), with the last single Two Hands On Deck hand-picked by Newton Faulker to feature on the Richer Unsigned record store day Vinyl compilation, April 2018. Fetherstone’s live shows captivate audiences using a loop/effects pedal, percussion and electronic drums. Recent performances include The Camden Assembly (supporting for Frida Sundemo), Richer Unsigned Live at Melomania, TV Nights Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, The Servant Jazz Quarters (supporting Ella Janes), Live at The Bedford and The Troubadour (supporting The Modern Strangers).

 
“Since an early age, Sam Martin has written and performed his own music around the UK, both supporting and headlining on nation wide tours. In 2010 he recorded his first independent solo EP and has since recorded three studio EPs which have gained a mass following in the UK and Europe as well as Australia and North America. With a vocal/guitar/loop-pedal musical style incorporating blues, jazz and alternative soul, Sam’s vocal and instrumental ability is testament to both his inspirations and musical evolution.”


 
Loop Pedal Lunacy – A Night of Live Looping (featuring Steve Strong, Fetherstone, Alex Taylor, Sam Martin and She, Robot)
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Wednesday 8th August 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

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Meanwhile, the coming week also sees the first gig in a year for London art/glam/pile-on rockers Silvery. Snatching an early night slot before the late-night jazz funk at Jazz After Dark, they’re going for a repeat performance (of sorts) of last year’s free Soho acoustic gig: this time, in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of their debut album ‘Thunderer & Excelsior’.

Simultaneously effete and rowdy, Silvery are a wonky London pop sense made flesh, sounding as if they’ve sprung from the same zigzagging suburban allotments-of-weird which also brought up The Kinks, The Monochrome Set, Cardiacs and The Stranglers. They’re more urchin-esque than Franz Ferdinand, but less leery than Blur. They’re an erudite and wayward Carnaby Roxy; the Dodgers to Bowie’s Fagin; and as rocking goes, they’re only “garage” if said garage had started life as a spooky Victorian stable block.

In their live heyday, Silvery would dress up as Bow Street Runners and fill the capital’s little venues with sweat and joy; these days, their gigs are few and far between, so make the most of this one. If it’s anything like the last time, it’ll be just the two Silveries – Simon Harris and front guy James Orman – thwacking out the old stuff on 12-string acoustic guitar and piano. Below, to get you in the mood, there’s a couple of full-bore electric ‘Thunderer…’ excerpts plus a teaser for a forthcoming film they’ve been making.




 
Silvery: Live Acoustic
Jazz After Dark, 9 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4DQ, England
Friday 10th August 2018, 8.00pm
– free event – information here
 

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

21 Jul

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

Gong, 2018

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

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



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



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

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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



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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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

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

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

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s cabinet of pop disorientations featuring Famous, The Guest, Wharfwhit, Bianca Scout and Great Dad (24th July)

18 Jul

Sometimes it’s particularly rewarding to see a new band emerge. I’m feeling that way about Great Dad. Springing from the chrysalis of genderqueer punk-poppers Worm Hears (who, however interesting their component people, pronouns and propositions may be, maintain an unsurprising musical approach), they are currently breaking out – humming, carolling, blurring – into something far more promising. They’re making journeys into avant-pop, approaching it with a thin-skinned sense of wonder and detournement via a multiplicity of FX-sculpted vocals and the implication of an identity whose fluidity moves even beyond gender, and by soundbuilding which flitters between different pop forms, different cultural tones.

I’ve previously tagged them as “electronic bricolage”, but they’re also like some kind of tiny relentless broadcast drone, flying precariously between much bigger, looming shapes ideas and experiences; crashing into them and rebounding, reporting back in half-processed bursts. Some day they’re going to land and clarify, even if it’s only for a moment. Until then, I’m enjoying the buffeting ride and what I also tagged as “free-associating mashups of love, political paranoia, consumer anomie, salty language and an ever-strange out-of-step physicality half-trapped between distress and wonder.”




 

Great Dad are appearing next week on the bill for a Multi-Storey show which makes a lot of noise about being one to attend “if you unashamedly love indie” or “if you want reckless, guitar-led, drum-heavy aural delight”. Unless there’s been some new shift in language and I’m too dull to pick up on it, Multi-Storey are wantonly taking the piss. This is an unabashed weird pop evening, collaged together out of DIY electronica and from increasingly pixellated and fluid performance identities. The guitars (when they’re present at all) are struggling their way through Ballardian refractions or assorted studio fuckery. If you’re out for mediocre-white-hope guitar rock, look elsewhere.

Famous + The Guest + Wharfwit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad, 24th July 2018

Headlining are post-disco/art pop/glam crooner sextet Famous fronted by blazer-sporting singer Jack Merrett. They’ve been gigging for at least a year and a half, but I don’t know much about them. Like the enigmatic Black MIDI (and like Sistertalk, Multi-Storey headliners from earlier in the week) they’re a band who save their promotional energies for their live shows, percolating a word-of-mouth campaign that pretty much relies on your ears being around the right mouths (which mine often aren’t).

Famous’ web presence is matter-of-fact, minimal – almost disdainful. Single videos pop up on Youtube and are whisked away; the Soundcloud page just features a ‘Fitter Happier’-esque four minutes of spoken-word manifesto delivered by the Fred speech synth. Odd bits of gig promo blurb have pegged Famous as “combining pop craftsmanship with a penchant for the theatrical”; and back in April, ‘Not Another Music Blog’ sketched them out as “stylistically look(ing) like six strangers that wouldn’t even talk at a bus stop” and as delivering a set of “Joy Division, disco, and punk-influenced indie-pop bangers”. So we’ve got a shape, we’ve got faces and we’ve got a peg… the rest you’ll need to discover for yourself.

One thing’s for certain: Famous are the straightest band on the bill by far – the cement that holds the other acts in place and provides a link to standard underground pop.

A while ago, Gus Lobban (one-third of up-and-coming bitpop/dancehall act Kero Kero Bonito) played a solo gig as Augustus. Now it’s the turn of his bandmate Jamie Bulled, who – for a while now – has also been writing and performing as Wharfwhit. Under this fresh alias, he gobs out waywardly explosive, dynamically physical digital pop stunts involving a variety of collaborators. A typical Wharfwit piece might features sampled body noises – motions, grunts, wheezes – plus a deliberately inconclusive/confused hank of rapping from some emergent South London MC, or a shrill cutesy barrage of Mandarin from an Asian underground pop act.



 
There’s something a little lightweight about Jamie’s post-vaporwave/post-chop-and-screw stunts, but that’s part of the point. They’re divorced from any concept of gravity. They’re meticulously giddy, apparently still in love with a coalescing teenaged mindset of consumer-tech connection and sensual disarray (Skype hook-ups, the fading narcotic contrail of purple-drank culture) while still being able to comment on it… inasmuch as there’s any comment apart from arranging these chunks of experience, connection and distraction together into one pumping track: the components of a spread of options too busy happening to invite analysis. Log on and go.

No less fractured are the works of spectral deconstructer Bianca Scout – loose, yawing things clinging onto the edge of pop by a casual fingertip. Beats struggle like cocooned insects; synthesizers billow slo-mo smoke-clouds and kitchen metals scrape like a knife-drawer ballet… it’s a kind of timeslip electronica, in which the listener always seems to be nodding out into split-second blackouts. Bianca’s own voice winds intermittently and erratically through the mix, sometimes sounding like a Raudive voice – an incomprehensible ghost on the wire or muttering in between radio stations, now slipping to the foreground. At other times, her narcotic girlsing piles up like sediment; her voice pillow-muffled, her message prolonged and complicated by fuzzy detailand disintegrating enunciation, sliding from her murmuring lips. Other tracks are swaying, tide-tossed arrays of new age atmospherics mingling with urban air currents and sounds drawn around tower blocks. Unpicking all of this will be a long job, like teasing out a knotted tangle you’ve found in the back of a forgotten drawer.




 
Also back from a couple of other earlier Windmill gigs is enigmatic cheapsynth narrator and electronicist The Guest, unspooling low-budget electro/techno and odd little faux-stream-of-consciousness stories and commentaries. A touch of blank, owlish humour to season the mysteries.

 

Multi-Storey presents:
Famous + The Guest + Wharfwhit + Bianca Scout + Great Dad
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Tuesday 24th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – another delightfully eclectic pop evening with Multi-Storey’s HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk, A House In The Trees, Thidius, The Mantis Opera, Chartreuse, LL Burns and Sunken (21st July)

14 Jul

Having recently celebrated a year of gig-staging, as well as a growing reputation for broad thinking and clever band picking, Multi-Storey are back next week with seven hours worth of Saturday night music, reasoning “we don’t know about you, but having only a few short hours for a gig never sits quite right with us. So we took a lineup of bands that have blown us away, and blew it up to tremendous proportions. Turbulent corridors of endless interlocking rooms full of inventive sounds await you – picture that one corridor from the intro to Scooby Doo, except each door is a band, I guess.”

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

Spivvish, Horrors-compared pop dramatists Sistertalk headline: one of those bands so young (and possibly so strategic) that they’ve not slapped any tunes online yet. Still, rumours emerge from the live gigs – talk of saxophones and backing singers, a “serene and sensual” stage presence. I’m hearing hints about “ghoulish keyboards”, “deliciously confident” and “melodramatic stories with a menacing undercurrent” from DIY Magazine, along with rumours of “suave ‘60s suits” and “genre bending at its most excellent (from) psychedelic, post-punk and the experimental” from ‘Clash Music’. On spec, they sound like a post-punk Cockney Rebel with a twist of goth and Roxy glam: in practice, they’re probably something else. I’m particularly interested in the storytelling: the feeling of greater substance emerging through the stylistic signifiers.

New Cross-ers Thidius (led by sister-and-brother Izzy and George Risk) may offer a tingling dream-dub pop, but rather than the usual post-Banshees/post-Lush trudge they instead choose to sneak and skip across a songscape infused by Latin pop and yé-yé, while blowing some of the sleep-dirt off it. It’s the gaps which are crucial – the warm spaces within the rhythms, the little games of silence and hopscotched accents, the shifting play of beats underneath the songs (and the slightly rubbery lyrics) which light them up. Meanwhile, Thidius continue to play with instrumental ingredients which, within pop, have always travelled under a shifting light of cool and uncool – Fender Rhodes, echoed jazz chords on guitar, the discreet touches of post-‘80s drum pads. Their debut EP ‘Rush You’ is four years old: this evening’s performance might show us what the band have learned since then.



 
The evening has a definite air of classic pop recipes undergoing various remixes. Certainly it seems as if recent re-evaluations of yacht-rock has left its mark, with Fleetwood Mac and George Benson showing up in the mix of influences under the glossy, part-ambient surface of Birmingham indie-pop quartet Chartreuse (alongside that of the cruise-ier elements of mid-‘70s Pink Floyd and the bluesy folk-soul of John Martyn).

Meanwhile, Sunken initially recall the retrofitted trip-hop of Portishead (and not a little of the delicacy of the latter’s underrated peers Mandalay). They’ve got a nice line in shifting accents and little swoops of rhythmic spacing; in dreamy soul and jazz memories filtering from turntable to ear to brain and to re-emergence. Seventeen-year-old singer Poppy Billingham delivers watchful, slightly detached little-black-dress murmurs in a perfectly pitched and angled voice. Backed by the band’s swathes of after-hours melody, she’s already full of finesse, singing ambiguous statements of will (or of love) which aren’t quite pleas and aren’t quite demands; they’re more statements of what’s necessary, or what’s happening regardless of intent. Wise before their time, Sunken still refuse to preach musically or lyrically: preferring instead to embody a contradictory mix of lethargy and sharp lucidity with Poppy keeping a poised distance, as if she’s looking down a long spiral staircase at the machinations and desires being played out in the ballroom below.

 
More detached ambiguity comes from London “collective of angels” A House In The Trees, who produce contemporary electronic pop with a strong visual streak; not just in the motion-study video they’ve produced for recent song Summertime, but in their increasingly fluid, subtly dysfunctional arrangements. From tentative, stiffer beginnings four years ago, they’ve turned into a smooth channel for hypnagogic studio/headphone simmers. Lazy-toned songs slide unconsciously or imperceptibly into haunted ones. Duality and disassociation are accented by setting sped-up backing vocals against protracted drawn-out beats and slowed-down guitar arpeggios; or by the way in which the alternating male and female voices offer not even the hint of a duet, but stay encapsulated in their own cool, heavy-lidded solipsism.

The aforementioned Summertime evokes the gravity-drag of heat against the bliss of sun, the sensuous delight of season warmth against the sudden shock of a murderous gunshot. Don’t Fall Asleep takes hold of the sonic fabric of a slow jam and pulls it out of shape… like fingers through oil paint, like a willing slither into narcosis or the slow loll into a Dutch angle. How this works live is anyone’s guess. Somehow they’ll have to draw us into their sound while refusing to touch us: an impersonal, unsettling seduction at a mask party.

 
The evening isn’t all strolls through pop. A completely different experience is offered by The Mantis Opera, synth-and-guitar-rock purveyors of Allister Kellaway’s wide-awake brain music. I’ve previously described them as “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” with Allister’s lyrics wrangling their way through “themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.” Their complex but clearly-delineated thinking tunes (with the bustle of a busy engine room underneath, and a superstructure bristling with antennae) should go hissing through the pop atmospherics like a particle beam through silk. Also on the bill are LL Burns, another underbubbler band from the Brixton scene. Led by the Morrissey brothers, they provide “brooding atmospheric electric soul noir”: a romantic Big Easy feel from south London, their whiskey-and-heat Americana balladeering like a less vicious Michael J. Sheehy.

 

DJ-ing is provided by “the mysterious collective who, just this once, go by the name “4/4 Grilled“… out of hiding for one night only, but until then their identity remains a secret”. There’ll also be a slew of in-venue artwork and ‘zine business from ‘Delinquent Magazine‘, ‘Cool Brother‘, ‘Spit Tease‘, ‘Saxon Zine‘ and ‘This Must Be For You‘.

Multi-Storey presents:
HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk + A House In The Trees + Thidius + The Mantis Opera + Chartreuse + LL Burns + Sunken
The Moth Club, Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, Hackney, London, E9 6NU, England
Saturday 21st June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

July 2018 – upcoming avant-pop gigs – Liam Singer in New York and Catskill with Sontag Shogun, Alexander Turnquist and Tim Mislock (12th, 13th July)

6 Jul

Liam Singer, 2018Bar his efforts in assembling a performance of Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ under the Brooklyn Bridge last year, not enough has been heard from Liam Singer since he released his gorgeously limpid ‘Arc Iris’ album in 2013. In fact, he’s quit New York City and moved upstate to Catskill, where he’s now co-running HiLo – a combined cafe, bar, art gallery, and performance space. New responsibilities, however, haven’t stemmed his musical flow. Two imminent shows (one at HiLo and one in his old Brooklyn stomping grounds) mark this month’s release of his fifth album, ‘Finish Him‘, on Birdwatcher Records.

Centred on his piano and the sweet murmur of his voice, Liam’s previous records brought in strings, glass harmonicas and spectral studio reverb; the clink and clatter of gamelan and prepared instruments, Morton Feldman namedrops, and women’s voices shading into birdsong. They sketched out a sharply etched dreamworld which seemed to take place in and on the towns, roads and headlands of a permeable New England coastline – one in which ancient mythology and personal headspace interpenetrated, and danced their way up and down from the seabed to the constellations. Either that, or they evoked loft life in an idealised, slightly antiquated boho New York or upscale university town – Art Deco bannisters, rumpled stockings discarded by elusive free-spirited lovers; mannered speech, books on the Harlem Renaissance.

It was pop, but pop over which Steve Reich and the aforementioned Feldman presided as occasional guardian angels (as did Henry Cowell and Shaker music), amidst a papery flutter of old books and wallpaper witnessings, and of dust being blown off enthralling junk-shop discoveries. Longtime co-producer Scott Solter likes to link it to “Edward Gorey and the Brothers Quay“. The descriptions may sound precious, but the songs aren’t. No showboater, Liam is nonetheless one of those singers whose tones gently, subtly shift and refract between wonder, melancholy, wry self-deprecation and ecstacy: a caster of light upon things, rather than a hoarder or showcaser. The folding of literary and mythical references into his songs – and their subtly eclectic instrumentation – may bring him comparisons to Elliott Smith (especially in terms of the intimate delivery) and to Sufjan Stevens; but to me he’s a far more gentler character, bringing a human fragility and self-awareness to his steps in and out of a numinous music realm. A bit like an American William D. Drake, perhaps; though minus the occasional overt music-hall flourishes.


 
That said, ‘Finish Him’ (described as “a coming-out party”) sees Liam changing tack. Now he’s fully, publically embracing influences he’s previously only hinted at – predominantly colourful 1980s art pop “from a time when traces of the Baroque and avant-garde began to seep into the margins of the mainstream alongside the iconic synths, gated reverbs and big hair.” The science-fiction bacofoil-meets-CGI video, drum machine and layered synths of pilot single Test Tone determinedly sets out this new stall – like Wes Anderson simultaneously taking on ‘Tron’ or one of those Saturday afternoon space operas – and while new tracks like The Devil and I Want To See Sparks are less immediately brash, they’ve set aside some of the diaphanous sound of previously-on-Liam in favour of grander, brighter colourings, scrim-sweeps of noise, and bolder narratives about the struggle between selfishness and connection, the booting over of applecarts.



 
If there’s a new parallel, it’s the latterday work of Paddy McAloon – the revealing of extra bite and sharp points behind the musical meringue, the emergence of perspective and bone-deep feeling that comes with age and gravity taking more of a hold. The magic and mists are still there, just with a little more lightning.

Main support at both shows comes from Liam’s friends in the “lullanoise” project Sontag Shogun, who travel the world and bring back armfuls of noise and aural capturings of different places and times, only to re-knit them into ambiguous/meaningful post-minimalist mood pieces of piano and soundscape. Evoking or manufacturing memories filled with beauty and displacement, they produce music which is part hypnagogic tape, part four-dimensional postcard or souvenir.

For the Brooklyn show, the core Shogun trio (pianist Ian Temple, laptop/field recordings manipulator Jesse Perlstein and tapesman/oscillator operator/microphonist Jeremy Young) are “reformatting and outfitting” the band with a string quartet (thus forming the Sontag String Ensemble) and are playing “all new music, marrying improvisational and experimental sound with composed string arrangements by Ian.” For the Catskill show, they’re reverting to the trio format.



 
Each of the two shows will be bolstered by another instrumental set, each by a different guitarist/composer. In Brooklyn, it’s Alexander Turnquist, whose instrumental reflections on nature and philosophy blend virtuosic twelve-string acoustic fingerstyle with studio-based electronic noise aesthetics, producing a melodious state-shifting thunder of folk baroque/New Acoustic stringwork and reverberant processing which perhaps makes him the heart of an imaginary triangle between Michael Hedges, John Fahey and Jim O’Rourke.

Alexander’s counterpart at the Catskill show is Tim Mislock, whose use of simple electric figures and slow, ebbing ambient-country pulses… renders him more similar to Britain’s Rob Jackson or to a Nashville-saturated Robert Fripp, while also dipping into the lonesome romantic post-rock minimalism of Explosions In The Sky. His current album ‘Now Is The Last Best Time’ is “a heartfelt ode to (his) mother, who over the course of the past decade, has been the primary caregiver to her husband and Mislock’s stepfather; as he slowly fades into the ever-present silence of Alzheimer’s disease.” It’s a project encompassing love, regret, compassion and drift, and you can feel all of them in every note.


Dates:

  • Liam Singer + Sontag String Ensemble + Alexander Turnquist – Wonders Of Nature, 131 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City, New York 11249, USA, Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here and here
  • Liam Singer + Sontag Shogun + Tim Mislock – HiLo Catskill, 365 Main Street, Catskill, New York 12414, USA, Friday 13th July 2018, 8.00pm – information here

 

July 2018 – two eclectic London music evenings – SOIF Soiree with Society Of Imaginary Friends, Jennifer Bliss Bennett, Dekay Ex, Stone Deep, Outre Dan Steele and William Summers (6th July); Rude Mechanicals with John Callaghan, Hypnotique and Rotten Bliss (13th July)

3 Jul

SOIF Soiree, 6th July 2018

The last Society Of Imaginary Friends Soiree for the summer is cartwheeling into view. I smashed two or three of their Beat-y burbles together to bring you this:

“Friday 6th July is our 21st Century Avant Garde Soiree at Karamel, N22. We have in store for you a magnificent exploration of 21st Century new and experimental music with incredible performers already lined up. The fabulous, supremely talented Jennifer Bliss Bennett will be performing master composer Martin Gaughan’s pieces for voice and bass viol: a must hear. There’ll be an appearance from the one-and-only Dekay Ex (queen of the underground urban music arena, virtuosic battle rapper superstar) with guest musician Gerard; and brand new dark intriguing soul music from Stone Deep.

“The multi-talented Darren and Isobel Hirst will be performing as the fascinating, spellbinding duo Outre Dan Steele, and the amazing William Summers (Circulus, Princes In The Tower, Mediaeaval Baebes and innumerable period/Baroque ensembles) will be performing 20th century recorder music. Plus us, the Society Of Imaginary Friends, and that’s just for starters. Delicious vegan food and unbelievably free entry.”

Society of Imaginary Friends presents:
21st Century Avant Garde Soiree: Society Of Imaginary Friends + Jennifer Bliss Bennett + Dekay Ex + Stone Deep + Outre Dan Steele + William Summers
Kabaret @ Karamel Restaurant, The Chocolate Factory 2, 4 Coburg Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6UJ, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

A few examples of the evening’s entertainment:




 
* * * * * * * *

There’s no August Soiree (since the Society will be either on holiday or concentrating on their appearances at the Green Gathering festival in Chepstow), but there should be more of these evenings in the coming autumn.

However, you can make up for their upcoming London summer absence with an evening of music and video hosted by Cos Chapman’s Rude Mechanicals, and taking place in a onetime Dalston dance school turned into arty pub and hangout space…

Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss, 13th july 2018

“The art-rock inspired Rude Mechanicals have been compared to Nick Cave, The Tiger Lillies, early Roxy Music and Can and described as post-punk, swamp blues and dark cabaret – altogether creating a music that was best be described by Tom Robinson (on BBC6) as “wild, wicked weirdness… a little bit Flying Lizards, a little bit Native Hipsters and a great deal like nothing you’ve heard before…” The evening will feature the premiere of MHG Music Videos’s animated video for Rude Mechanical’s ‘Paperwork’.”

Meanwhile, here’s something a little older…


 
“Originally hailing from Birmingham, John Callaghan is an unusual songwriter and performer of thoughtful and spiky electronica. His self-directed video for ‘I’m Not Comfortable Inside My Mind’ aired on MTV. His live performances are energetic and imaginative, and range from one-man auto-karaoke shows to specially-written dancefloor sets. Recent well-received shows have included London’s Spitz, Ginglik and Electrowerks, Cambridge’s Portland Arms, Crystal Palace Bowl and last year’s jaunt around Germany, including Berlin’s Club 103 and Bar 25 and Hamburg’s Golden Pudel. He is 173cm tall, weights 73kg and has a blood pressure of 110/60Hg.”


 
Hypnotique is a thereministe, electronic musician and auteur based in London whose lyrical subjects range from the apocalypse, post-feminism, erotic narrative and allotments. She’s performed solo shows at Edinburgh Fringe, worked with Gong and The Heliocentrics, toured the Amazon and annoyed Simon Cowell. She’ll be performing her live sound design for Georges Méliès 1902 film ‘Voyage de la Luna’ (‘Trip to the Moon’)…”
…which she’s previously and recently also done at a Colliding Lines film evening: find out more about that here.


 
“Described last year as “a thing of disquieting dark beauty rolling in through a ghostly fog on timeless ripples whose ebbing wash peels back the years to reveal a vintage crafted in archaic folk tongues” by Mark Barton of ‘The Sunday Experience‘ (and, by ‘The Wire’ as a writer of “coarse and beautifully heavy songs (betraying) hallmarks of folk, metal and classical without subscribing to any particular tribe”), Rotten Bliss is the violent, warm and weird visions of London based avant-garde electric cellist and vocalist Jasmine Pender. Equally inspired by the wild physicality of Jacqueline du Pre and the shrieking glory of a cello played through FX pedals, Rotten Bliss packs diverse influences into an elemental voyage of outer-limits FX-laden drones, weird folk and sound art, raging from tender a capella lyrical fantasies through to ecstatic nihilism.

“Jasmine performs regularly around London, also playing in 11th Hour Adventists (with Jowe Head, ex-Swell Maps) and False Echo (with Tim Bowen, ex-Chrome Hoof) and has toured England, France, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Her debut album, ‘The Nightwatchman Sings’, was released in October 2017 on the Reverb Worship label.”

 
Also on hand for the inbetween bits are DJs Enri, Blue and MJ Ultra, and Rude Mechanicals are bribing any advance tickets buyers with the promise of a “free unique, special edition CD and badge”.

Rude Mechanicals present:
‘Paperwork!’ – featuring Rude Mechanicals + John Callaghan + Hypnotique + Rotten Bliss + DJ Enri + DJs Blue & MJ Ultra
Farr’s School Of Dancing, 17-19 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England
Friday 13th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London singer-songwriter gigs – Ana Silvera’s ‘Oracles’ at the South Bank (4th July) and Holly Penfield’s ‘Fragile Human Monster’ in Piccadilly (9th July)

1 Jul

Ana Silvera, 4th July 2018

‘Oracles’ – the BASCA-nominated song-cycle by Anglo-Portuguese singer-songwriterAna Silvera – already has a seven-year history. Created more or less in parallel with her debut album ‘The Aviary’ (and originally a choral piece for the NEC choir at the Roundhouse), it’s now returning this month, freshly re-arranged for Ana and small vocal/instrumental ensemble, for a full album release and the first of two 2018 live shows.

A response to the pain of intimate family bereavement, ‘Oracles’ “draws on folk tales and myths to chart a transformative journey from profound grief to tentative acceptance.” In some senses it’s a wide-spectrum take on adult pop without a trace of that genre’s unnecessary blandening: an as-it-happens assessment of the dramatic personal shifts in position following the loss of both loved ones and of the relationship one has with them while they’re alive.

What I’ve heard of it so far suggests a similar vivacity as her songs elsewhere on album or in her theatrical work – vividly characterised narratives of internal reflection and of landscapes both physical and emotional, mingling detailed, nakedly honest personal verbal imagery and an influx of Portuguese folk feel in a way which makes her sound a little like an Iberian Jane Siberry.


 
For the live performance, Ana’s six-piece band features her co-arranger – Listenpony curator and singing multi-instrumentalist Josephine Stephenson – plus a wealth of folk-jazz talent in the shape of the string trio of Jasper Høiby on double bass, Alice Zawadzki on vocals and violin, and Alice Purton on vocals and cello, plus Will Barry on piano and percussion.

The concert will feature “specially arranged new songs” for the first half and a full run through ‘Oracles’ for the second: the latter including a specially commissioned dance film by Royal Ballet/’Random Acts‘ director/dancer Kate Church and art director Alice Williamson.

Ana Silvera – ‘Oracles’
Purcell Room @ Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, Waterloo, London, SE1 8XX, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here


 
* * * * * * * *

Holly Penfield, 9th July 2018

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).

Holly Penfield’s Fragile Human Monster Show
Crazy Coqs @ Brasserie Zédel, 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, London W1F 7ED, England
Monday 9th July 2018, 9.15pm
– information here


 

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