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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

 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

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From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do 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.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

* * * * * * * *

Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

May/June 2018 – upcoming London rock and pop gigs – Great Dad play with Svetlana Smith and Couples (25th May) and with Socket and Italia 90 (1st June); Black Midi play with Preoccupations at Village Underground (5th June), with Omni at the Lexington (11th June) and launch their debut single at the Windmill with Jerskin Fendrix, GG Skips, The Guest and Legpuppy (12th June)

24 May

Right now I’m keeping an eye on a couple of very different south London dark-horse acts, seeing which sparks fly up and around them as they carve their spaces underground. Each is distinct – Great Dad play genderfluid experimental pop full of sampler collaging, flustered hummingbird guitars, voice-processing and Charlie Loane’s mixture of yawing, caught-in-the-flux perspective and fractured ecstatic/paranoid/semi-carnal song narratives; Black MIDI play a sometimes stony, sometimes yammery mashup of experimental rock positionings, post-hardcore slams, and neo-No Wave adjustments. Each has a peculiar ability to pull in listeners and attendees from their comfort zones. Each is keeping busy.



 

Great Dad play tomorrow night as part of a Bethnal Green college band gig, bringing their Goldsmith’s College inspirations to a show “spawned from the creative minds of UCL’s hottest young talents”. I know more about them than I do about any of the others – I can’t tell you much about Svetlana Smith apart from the fact that they’re a “neurotic synthpop duo” preoccupied with Russia and with pernicious beauty, and short of any clips or online sounds which I can use to illustrate that; Couples are theoretically easier to pin down, being a funky, fully-formed act allegedly aiming for a post-punk/grunge feeling but fronted by a classic blues-rock voice, actually ending up a little like Editors about to mutate into Stealer’s Wheel, if that makes any sense.

 
The following week, Great Dad play a much punkier free gig at the recently reopened Vinyl Deptford. Billmates Italia 90’s songs alternate between dank, irritable, menacing railway-arch noise or angry jet-propelled purpose; underpinned, in each case, by a glowering thrumming drone like an overhead bombing raid. They could have stepped straight out of 1979 and the winter of discontent – theirs is a classic butch-punk snarl of angry, disenfranchised boredom from the land of the have-nots, their lyrics minimal, their sound just a touch of Joy Division live loom. They’re just one constructive spat away from toppling into a broader politics; for now, though, they’re stuck on the edge, threshing out their frustration. Female-fronted firecrackers Socket don’t worry about anything like that, specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust for Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.



 

Dates:

  • Quick Spin: Svetlana Smith + Great Dad + Couples – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England, Friday 25th May 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Double Dare w/ Socket + Great Dad + Italia 90 – Vinyl Deptford, 4 Tanner’s Hill, Deptford, London, SE8 4PJ, England
    Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm
    – free event (suggested donation: £3.00) – information here

* * * * * * * *

Celebrating a year of existence (during which they’ve played with all and sundry and an insouciant swagger, and effectively created their own no-rules scene), Black Midi play three shows in the first fortnight of June. The first is probably the highest profile one – a Village Underground show supporting fiercely-honed Canadian neo-post-punkers Preoccupations, currently touring their tersely-titled new album ‘New Material’. The second is another support slot, this time a Bad Vibrations gig in which they’re supporting Atlanta post-punkers Omni, another post-punk crew who play raised-eyebrow songs with taut riffs continually re-articulating their shape and moving onto new ones: arrangements like card-tricks executed within 4/4 time.





 
The third gig is Black Midi’s own combined formal first birthday party/single release party, down at the Windmill with a clutch of Windmill friends in attendance as they unveil their vinyl debut with the Bm Bm Bm” seven inch. Last time I covered Jerskin Fendrix, I tagged him as “a smart operator with a wise, knowing line in media-savvy one-man synth pop, who uses Autotune like a dance of the seven veils, and who knows how to make use of lo-fi bedsit trappings without being trapped by them”; and since he’s happily using the quote, I guess he’s not felt the need to change his ways. Similarly, I’ve recently described The Guest as a “Casio cave-techno specialist and parody-hipster narrator… like a meetup between adolescent versions of Jarvis Cocker and Julian Cope, Momus and Klark Kent in a school computer room, all up for smartarse bloopy experiments with primitive synth programs and hijacked games consoles.” while “haunted electronicist” GG Skips showed up at a DIY Space gig last month.

Entirely new to me are electro/art-punk collective Legpuppy, who create dance-friendly clean-limbed European electropop with a dark, sarcastic cutting edge, sifting through the narcissism of social media quirks and memes and processing them into chilly, sarcastic songs with titles like Selfie Stick Narcissistic Prick, or Running Through A Field Of Wheat. It could be spiteful, but there’s a moral core to it, with the band training their sights on the kind of solipsistic ineptness that unglues the world.

Dates:

  • Preoccupations + Black Midi – Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England, Tuesday 5th June 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Omni + Black Midi – The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England, Monday 11th June 2018, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Sonic Bm5: black midi + Jerskin Fendrix + GG Skips + Legpuppy – The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England, Tuesday 12th June 2018, 7.30pm – information here and here

Brixton sounds:


 

May 2018 – upcoming London pop-and-rock shows – offbeat-backstreet with Milk Disco, Barringtone, Show Boy and The Guest (26th May)

19 May

Milk Disco + Barringtone + Show Boy + The Guest, 26th May 2018

A few days after its show featuring Birdstriking and The Wolfhounds, the Brixton Windmill hosts another gig – this time for less-known, still-emerging names.

Headliners Milk Disco are the ones who’ve probably had the most impact in assorted zines and blogs so far. Dance-rock in the indie tradition, they navigate the sonic gaps between giant parallelogram bass shapes, frosted guitar twists and a desultory cowbell. They play out bored tales of tech-generation ennui – dying laptops and phones, decaying personal connections, desires to flee to Berlin. Sounds like gimmick stuff, except that it isn’t. In their sketchy way, they’re chroniclers of a latter-day angst in which budding twentysomethings construct such life-shapes: the products of a time in which so many things are available to consume and to be, but which so often fail to materialise or deliver.

Milk Disco tell their tales with a light dusting of first-person sympathy rather than just faddy, insouciant nihilism, but simultaneously duck out of sight round a corner when you try to get them into focus. They’re a little too self-conscious to be the party animals, but if there’s too much downtime they’ll spend it bobbing their heads a little, thank you.



 
Seemingly always on the brink of releasing that perpetually delayed debut album (except now they really are), Barringtone will also be on hand with their blip-and-bloop-assisted wiseacre guitar pop. If you’ve seen or heard them before, you’ll know the score – main bloke Barry Dobbin, long-bailed from his ‘NME’-favoured previous band (peppy Brixton nu-New Wavers Clor), forms new project branded as if he were selling vintage electric organs, slips smartly into the slipstream of XTC, and then flickers in and out of existence as if he was seeking (or running) from press attention and tipsters in several parallel universes.

The band’s latest tagline seems to be “elevator music for headbangers”. This just sounds like nosebleed techno to me, while Barringtone don’t. Instead, they discharge salvos of clever, distracting drollpop in something of a Partridge/Moulding/Mael brothers tradition, voiced in a dry aside and wrapped in little sparkling tuxedos of carefully manicured noise. Apparently ‘The Times’ once approvingly referred to them as “brainfuck stuff” (I had a stupid Victorian moment and imagined a clubful of Victorian colonels choking on their brandy and popping their monocles in affrontery after reading that) and they’ve got a drummer called Boomer (so now I have to avoid thinking about kangaroos, as if Barry wasn’t giving me enough trouble re. thinking about rocking horses…)

 
Show Boy, a.k.a. Jovis Lane, has been compared by Reprezent Radio to “Prince and Ariel Pink throwing glitter at each other” which isn’t too far off. He creates crafty, beautifully-voiced falsetto art-pop with funk and R&B dashes, an anxious swallow of hope, a seasoning of vulnerability and light-up-the-room ambition. When I say “room” I mean “room” – that ambition doesn’t rule out arenas, but it seems better suited to working and transforming smaller venues, turning a backroom into a little palace of swoon.

Judging by his self-directed video for new single Heart Is An Apple (in which a beleaguered pair of peg dolls venture across a wintery landscape, digging up an increasingly odd variety of objects before a disastrous final twist), Jovis also has a visual imagination similar to the nursery rhymes and fuzzy-felt workings of Cosmo Sheldrake. It’d be interesting to see whether he brings this to the live party as well.



 
Casio cave-techno specialist and parody-hipster narrator The Guest opens, providing “dark observations in an electro framework”. It’s like a meetup between adolescent versions of Jarvis Cocker and Julian Cope, Momus and Klark Kent in a school computer room, all up for smartarse bloopy experiments with primitive synth programs and hijacked games consoles.

 

I was going to add something here regarding upcoming shows by Windmill favourites Black Midi, but they’re being so industrious at the moment that it’ll have to spill into another post. Later.

Milk Disco + Barringtone + Show Boy + The Guest
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Saturday 26th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

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

6 May

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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




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

Dates:

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

 

May 2018 – upcoming experimental gigs in London and Worthing – Matana Roberts, Kelly-Jayne Jones, Coby Sey in London (9th May); Linden Pomeroy and Hattie Cooke in Worthing (10th May); Colliding LDN with Polyop, Reuben Kyriakides and others (10th May)

3 May

Flagging up a few more experimental events in London and Worthing…

* * * * * * * *

Matana Roberts & Kelly-Jayne Jones + Coby Sey, 9th May 2018
Upset The Rhythm presents:
Matana Roberts + Kelly-Jayne Jones + Coby Sey
Ghost Notes, Peckham Levels, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England
Wednesday 9th May 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

“Internationally renowned US composer, saxophonist, mixed-media practitioner, and sonic voyager Matana Roberts and British sound artist/improviser Kelly Jayne Jones will weave their own approaches into live collaborative works informed by deeply expressive playing, tactile electro-acoustic interplay and a broader shared politics of resistance/defiance. This Upset The Rhythm show is part of the first in a series of special live shows commissioned by Outlands, a new national experimental music touring network.

“Matana Roberts is an internationally renowned composer, band leader, saxophonist, sound experimentalist and mixed-media practitioner. Roberts works in many contexts and mediums, including improvisation, dance, poetry, and theatre, and has released a diverse body of solo and ensemble work under her own name on Constellation Records and Central Control over the past decade.

“She is perhaps best known for her acclaimed Coin Coin project, ongoing and unfolding via Constellation Records: a multi-chapter work of “panoramic sound quilting” that aims to expose the mystical roots and channel the intuitive spirit-raising traditions of American creative expression while maintaining a deep and substantive engagement with narrativity, history, community and political expression within improvisatory musical structures. Constellation began documenting the Coin Coin project in 2011 and has released the first three of a projected twelve album-length chapters to date.


 
“Kelly-Jayne Jones makes use of varying combinations of prepared recordings, text, rocks, found sounds and flute. Her work beckons a tussle with uncertainty, inviting exposure and vulnerability in performance, chasing experiences that open our chasms within, without restraint. Searching for humble principles of growth; physics; sound, connecting with others in the same space/moment, customary experimental play, with threads and beads of improvisation and interactivity.

“KJJ has had residencies at Arnolfini in Bristol UK and Kunstalle Bergen, Norway, and has produced commissioned works for Haris Epaminonda at dOCUMENTA13, Tate Modern, ICA London, Schirn Frankfurt, Point Centre Nicosia. She has performed, solo and with part wild horses mane on both sides, at CCA Glasgow, Trieze Gallery Paris, Borealis Festival, Tectonics Reykjavik, Hangar Bicocca in Milan and at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


 
Coby Sey is a vocalist, musician and DJ, who, after years spent buzzing around the DIY artist circuitry of South East London, has developed a distinctive presence as a performer and producer offering a shifting, disorienting vision of club music. A long-time collaborator with Mica Levi, Tirzah, Babyfather, Klein and Kwes, Coby’s recorded work – as best evidenced on the ‘Whities 010: Transport for Lewisham’ 10” – spans the realms of live instrumentation, sample-based productions and experimental music, melding recognisable motifs of hip hop, drone, jazz, grime and more into a dubbed-out anaesthesia.

“Live, these dreamlike compositions are imbued with a heavy, uneasy dancefloor energy, often abetted by live vocals as well as saxophone interjections c/o regular cohorts Ben Vince and Calderwood. Coby’s open-door approach to sharing and making music stretches to his work with London collective Curl, who release records and host events with a collaborative, improvisatory approach, as well as a regular slot on NTS which offers a portal into his appealingly murky musical world.”



 
* * * * * * * *

A more bucolic experimental event happens down in Worthing the following evening, with a dusting of pop…

Linden Pomeroy + Hattie Cooke, 10th May 2018

DisConcert & Third Kind Records present
Linden Pomeroy + Hattie Cooke
The Cellar Arts Club, 70 Marine Parade (basement), Worthing, West Sussex, BN11 3QB, England
Thursday 10th May 2018, 8.00pm
information

Linden Pomeroy is a musician and sound artist from West Sussex, building pastoral ambience via meditative guitar abstractions, tapes, voice and field recordings. Gathered from hours of home recordings, his latest album ‘Spirit Replica’ (released on 21st April on Brighton’s Third Kind Records on limited C-90 cassette) further explores his textural approach to the guitar with the injection of field recordings and digital processing. Vignettes of sound bleed through tape hiss, crickets chirping, wind between distant trees… Nothing is quite what it seems with an ambitious scope, from down tuned folk ballads to more expansive drone and psychedelia.



 
“Support comes from Brighton-based singer-songwriter Hattie Cooke, whose eponymous debut album (also available on Third Kind) coasts the twin poles of Sarah and vintage Factory Records bordering a tape that splits the difference between felt-patterned synths and tender, sitting-in-the-bay-window guitar songs.”


 
* * * * * * * *

'Colliding LDN: Arcade', 10th May 2018

Back in London, the same night sees the next in the sequence of Colliding LDN audio-visual events up at New River Studios…

“Our next event is ‘Arcade’: performances which traverse the physical and digital, inspired by videogame aesthetics and process. We invite you to join us for a one night special session staged at New River Studios, featuring both live acts and an arcade of interactive installations and experimental games.

Polyop fuse organic and machine aesthetics with sci-fi mythologies to create an immersive audio-visual voyage. Enlist on their first cosmic pilgrimage to distant reaches of an alternate polyhedral universe, occupied by psychedelic soundscapes, rhythmical acid entities and uncharted electro artefacts. Fusing funk, jazz and electro with techno and modern sound design, their sound is graphically rendered through custom visual performance engine Hedron.

 
Reuben Kyriakides and film artist Jules Leaño collaborate on a live audiovisual set-piece, a triad of video, sound and contemporary dance. Movements are filmed, manipulated, and re-projected live upon the performance as it happens. The dancer is torn between reality and it’s interface, her every move digitised, glitched and repurposed – a dark shadow glimpsed between raw data and its translation.


 
“With support from The Palace International Film Festival we present the following short films shot entirely in-game – Jonathan Vinel‘s 2017 work ‘Martin Pluere’ (Martin Cries), created in ‘Grand Theft Auto V’; and ‘Counter-Charge’ (Alex Hovet, 2016), created with ‘Leisure Suit Larry 3’.

 
“We are also pleased to welcome installations, inteventions and inventions from poets Abigail Parry and Jon Stone, and performance artist Campbell McConnell. More information to be announced.”

Colliding Lines present:
‘Colliding LDN: Arcade’
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Thursday 10th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

 

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