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

23 Oct

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

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

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

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




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

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



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

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



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




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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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



 
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More on other upcoming November femmetronica soon…

Meanwhile, dates for now:

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

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

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

information here, here and here

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

October 2019 – upcoming London rock, pop, noise, dancetronic gigs – Hurtling, Stephen Evens and Junodef (17th October); Gum Takes Tooth and Hyperstition Duo (18th October); Bunny Hoova, Gribs, J.B. Glaser and Halfs (18th October)

8 Oct

Hurtling + Stephen Evens + Junodef, 17th October 2019

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



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



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

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



 

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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




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

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

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


 
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Dates:

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

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

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

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

1 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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





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


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



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

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




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

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



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

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

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

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

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

June 2019 – more Woodburner soul, jazz, folk, hip hop, acoustica sessions at Dalston Eastern Curve Gardens – The Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor (4th June); Dizraeli, Intaya and Charlotte Algar (11th June); PYJÆN, Brothers Testament, Jelly Cleaver and DJ Stephen Vitkovitch (18th June); The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors (25th June)

1 Jun

Outdoor summer gigs from Woodburner are resuming at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden – as usual, I’m passing on the message…

* * * * * * * *

The 4th June launch event features Dylema Amadi’s Dylema Collective, Alxndr London, Boadi and Lex Amor.

The Dylema Collective is a poetry-music project with sounds combining neo-soul, contemporary jazz and floaty R&B carefully blended with a cross-over of funk, latin and poly-rhythmic grooves and spoken-word poetry. Thematically, Dylema’s feminist poetry addresses head on matters of race, gender and individuality, values reiterated by the hidden message within their lead vocalist’s name’s acronym: “Do You. Let Every Man Adapt”. In short, they love sharing music and poetry that shakes the mind, soul and body.


 

“Effortlessly blending lyrical soul, R&B and electronic music whilst subverting it into something completely his own, the enigmatic and intriguing “Afro-Ronin” Alxndr London has returned with his new EP ‘2023’. Inspired by the sounds of UK Funky, London’s Garage sound, Yoruba spirituals and electronic soul, it’s an experimental project rooted in a genre-less space that balances spiritual conflict and Afrocentric themes, with unconstrained fantasy and spectacular science-fiction.


 

Boadi is a twenty-three-year old soul/R&B singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist originating from South London, with a jazz-influenced sound combined with a dash of hip-hop for authenticity. Growing up his musical influences were legendary artists such as Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Marvin Gaye. His mother migrated from Ghana and he spent a year living there when he was a child: when he was younger, he listened to a lot of traditional Ghanaian music which taught him about different rhythms and harmonies. Coming from a family of instrumentalists and singers, Boadi was instantly surrounded by music and developed his musical talents further when attending church, and perhaps this is where his heavy use of gospel-inspired backing vocals and harmonies stemmed from.


 

“London-based lyricist Lex Amor’s monthly dip into musical spices for Reprezent Radio’s addictive Mellowdic Show champions vibes upon vibes, from artists near and far. Consistently a treat for the soul; and the same can be said for the blissed-out hip hop of Lex’s own musical output. Such is the ease and natural cadence of her delivery, you find yourself hanging off her every word. Lex has the effortless ability to translate her full self in her music, with beats and rhymes you won’t be able to keep off repeat.”

 

* * * * * * * *

The 11th June gig features resurgent rapper Dizraeli, Latin psychedelic group Intaya and jazz-soul singer Charlotte Algar.

“Poet, producer, MC and multi-instrumentalist Dizraeli is a genre all of his own, building himself a cult following around Europe and playing to audiences of thousands around the world. Now, after three years studying percussion in Senegal, immersing himself in the world of London grime and bass music, working with refugees in Calais and finally, living through a mental breakdown, he’s back with ‘The Unmaster’, his first self-produced album and an electrifying new sound. ‘The Unmaster’ speaks of madness and collapse, struggle and redemption with searing honesty, surreal humour and a soundtrack unlike anything you’ve heard. A dark, fierce hybrid of hip hop, grime and West African percussion, it is music to make sense of an insane world.


 
Intaya‘s sound is a combination of electronic music, jazz, hip-hop, future soul, Afro-Latin influences and psychedelic elements – electronic ethereal groove music. Formed by singer/producer Pao Pestana and multi-instrumentalist/producer Dom Martin, the band is half Venezuelan (singer and drummer) and half Londoner (guitarist and keyboardist) and the music reflects this combination. Expect Latin roots, electronic groove and space-age sonic lushness.

 
Charlotte Algar is a twenty-three-year-old singer-songwriter from north-east London (and the assistant editor of ‘Songlines’). Charlotte draws on her classical training to create undulating, delicate guitar accompaniments. Paired with soulful vocals and pensive, poetic lyrics, this makes for a unique and compelling style.”


 
* * * * * * * *

The 18th June event mines the fervent south London jazz scene with sets from PYJÆN, Brothers Testament and Jelly Cleaver, and DJ work from Stephen Vitkovitch.

“Described by ‘Jazz Wise Review’ as having “a groove propelled with dynamism and formidable technique”, the PYJÆN quintet seamlessly melds funk, afro-beat and contemporary sounds with nods to hip-hop and disco, whilst acknowledging the traditional era of 1920s jazz and dance music. Having met at Trinity Laban, they aspire to create a culture that others can relate to and feel represented, and to help other young musicians carve out their own space. Self- motivated and driven by a DIY ethos and interdisciplinary approach, PYJÆN believe in building connections, supporting and collaborating with other artists to build communities and create culture in which everyone feels represented. Coming from diverse backgrounds, but united over a shared aim to connect with each other and their audiences, PYJÆN are burgeoning onto the London jazz scene.

 
Brother’s Testament are a groove-based jazz fusion band from London. Consisting of Munashe-Caleb Manyumbu, Mark Mollison, Hugo Piper and Jack Robson, their sound amalgamates powerful grooves and stirring melodies whilst also rooted in the jazz tradition. Brother’s Testament perform from the heart and emphasise and embrace improvisation so that the set manifests organically on stage, differently each time. Last year saw the release of ‘Ascent’, their debut EP, which slowly gained traction and garnered acclaim from the wider jazz community in London.


 
Jelly Cleaver is a guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer based in South London. With an eclectic taste in music, Jelly is heavily involved in both the jazz and DIY scenes in London. She’s also an activist, and a strain of political dissent runs through her music.

 
Byrd Out label head Stephen Vitkovitch (who’s supervised releases from Andrew Weatherall, Evan Parker, Philou Louzolo and more, and is the brains behind the Walthamstow Jazz Festival) will play some tracks between the acts. Check one of his Netil shows here:”


 
* * * * * * * *

The final June show, on the 25th, takes a folkier turn with The Breath, Alice Zawadzki and Lunatraktors.

The Breath is guitarist Stuart McCallum and singer Ríoghnach Connolly. Based in Manchester, their unique take on alt-folk journeys from lush, beguiling storytelling to uplifting punch-the-air anthems. For The Breath, it’s all about the song. Connolly writes the only way she knows how; a stream of poetic consciousness giving rise to honest, personal, heartfelt songs as likely to touch on childhood summers and first love as cultural dislocation, post-colonial injustices and grief. But it’s her deeply soulful, utterly engaging, stop-you-in-your-tracks voice – whether delicate and hushed or powerful and gutsy – coupled with Stuart’s understated brilliance and their exquisitely crafted, personal songs, that give The Breath such emotional depth. The duo share a remarkable connection on stage which make The Breath’s live performances utterly compelling.


 
“Vocalist, violinist, and composer Alice Zawadzki is a distinctive presence on the European creative scene. Her rich musical background and “whimsical hyper-creativity” (‘MOJO’) draw upon her early exposure to New Orleans jazz and gospel after years on the road as a teenager with the legendary Lillian Boutte, an extensive classical training as a violinist, and a continuous exploration of improvisation, poetry, and folk music from diverse traditions, “all propelled in a voice of velvet suppleness and gutsy emotional power” (‘The Arts Desk’). As an interpreter of new and unusual works, she has premiered several large-scale works both in the UK and abroad. Alice brings a stripped back and intimate performance to Woodburner, weaving ancient, modern, and invented folklore into a set of delicious pieces to share.


 
“What’s left when everything is taken away from us – our tools, technology and libraries, even our homes, communities and citizenship? What’s left is what we have learned by heart and we can do with our bodies: our voices, hands and feet. Using techniques from body percussion, tap dance, overtone singing and physical theatre, performance duo Lunatraktors explore a set of British, Irish and Australian ballads to rediscover folk music as a queer space of personal and political transformation. Weaving the tragedy and comedy of these traditional tales with hypnotic acoustic percussion and harmonies, Lunatraktors create a genre-defying, “spellbinding” performance on the borders of music, theatre and live art.

“Combining the percussive and choreographic talents of ex-Stomp member Carli Jefferson with the four-octave range and haunting overtones of trans folk singer Clair Le Couteur, Lunatraktors use the basic ingredients of body and voice to conjure up expansive, unexpected spaces. The duo are equally at home improvising with hands, feet and voices on a station platform, or electrifying a festival stage with custom drum kit, live loops and analogue synth. Lunatraktors strip folk down and rebuild it with influences from clowning, cabaret, art punk, flamenco and trip-hop. The tales they unearth of bravery in the face of forced migration, political unrest, and abuse of authority find particular resonances today.”


 

* * * * * * * *

All events are at Dalston Eastern Curve Garden, 13 Dalston Lane, Dalston, London, E8 3DF, England on Tuesday evenings. Dates below:

  • The Dylema Collective + Alxndr London + Boadi + Lex Amor – Tuesday 4th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • Dizraeli + Intaya + Charlotte Algar – Tuesday 11th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here
  • PYJÆN + Brothers Testament + Jelly Cleaver + Stephen Vitkovitch – Tuesday 18th June 2019, 7.00pm – information here and here
  • The Breath + Alice Zawadzki + Lunatraktors – Tuesday 25th June 2019, 7.00pm -information here and here

 

April 2019 – upcoming English experimental/pop gigs – Joe Snape on tour in Birmingham, Brighton, London, Bristol and Newcastle with Laurie & Suze, plus guest spots from Maya Verlaak, Blood Stereo, O Yama O, Orxid, Competition and Gwilly Edmondez (11th, 13th, 17th, 18th and 19th April)

9 Apr

Usually busy in New York or Berlin, multimedia musician and performer Joe Snape drops back into England this week and next week for a five-date tour of his ‘Joyrobix’ project – “a suite of nimble, polychrome post-pop songs” which “(pay) weird homage to a musical America that doesn’t quite exist. Part soft-rock guitars, part gospel grooves, part Broadway aria, this is music that’s resolutely strange and oddly familiar at once.”

 
Amen to that. I might not hear much Hall & Oates or Mahalia Jackson in what he does, but ‘Joyrobix’ is an enchanting experience – pitch-bent fragmentary experimental pop arranged in a jaunty shatter. Joe sings wordlessly in a gentle, sensual welter of jazzy, Autotuned melisma amidst a cavalcade of perky noises and thumbed guitar, echoes of doo-wop and looming noise clouds, kinked brass and woodwind and broken-beat invention. Stemming from “a danceable refix of pieces for chamber ensemble”, its final form is apparently inspired by how his move to America went wrong: a crisped-up experience of “dislocation and burnout… dejection and displacement” which resulted in a sheaf of pieces which are as uplifting as their inspirations were sad.

Consequently, ‘Joyrobix’ is part musical diary, part therapeutic bounceback and part meander: too elusive to pin down easily, but a kaleidoscopic tapestry of complicated feelings expressed through pop tunes which wink and beckon at you around extra-dimensional twists. You’ll find yourself humming along even as you get lost. Live, the music’s being performed by a trio of Joe plus Jethro Cooke (electric guitar, electronics) and Louise Snape (trumpet and vocals), and Joe has collaborated with witty Swiss video absurdist Leonie Brandner to provide a set of ten short films as backdrops.


 
On all five dates Joe is headlining an evening of mingled multi-media music and performance art. At each gig, he’s joined by Laurie Tompkins and Suze Whaites – a.k.a. simply Laurie & Suze, two of the three co-directors of Newcastle’s hybrid electronic/improvised music label Slip (which is both promoting the tour and releasing much of the music involved in it). As a performing duo, they’re presenting their ‘Coop’ project, a first substantial step into collaboration (though I’m not sure whether that should be ‘Coop’ as in “co-operative” or as in “chicken”). Laurie deals with the music, Suze the visuals, with ‘Coop’ offing “a meshing of Tompkins’ sonic negotiations of pop cultural trauma, ritual self-abasement, and gunky funk, with Whaites’ illusive video renderings of the alien, microscopic, and fleshy.”.

The third act on the bill varies from city to city. In Birmingham, it’s Belgian experimental composer and former Acid Police Noise Ensemble member Maya Verlaak. I’ve heard nothing about what (or how) she’s going to perform, but previous live outings have had her picking and choosing from an arsenal of voice, melodica, keyboards, recorder, light sources, self-built electronics, cow horns, nail violin and bicycle. This – plus her preference for creating contextual compositions around factors of “place, musician, instrument, etiquette, conventions, history” – suggest that she’ll have scoped out the venue (Digbeth’s Vivid Projects space) and created something enigmatically appropriate.

In Brighton, battle is joined by local dark-space “electro-acoustic muck” noiseniks Blood Stereo, who base their disturbing atmospherics around “feral hissing and rumbling tape loops” including field recordings and home conjurings, plus electronics and objects. The object is to voice – or suggest – deep disturbances and anxieties seeping to the surface of the psyche and from there out into the broader world. Should rattle and chip a few teacups over in Hove.



 
In London it’s performance duo O Yama O, within which a “micro-orchestra” of small domestic objects, toys and mechanisms manipulated by Rie Nakajima ally with the body and voice performance of Keiko Yamamoto. They probe and map a (very) Japanese landscape of everyday life and noises, underlaid and informed by myth, tradition and national folk music, attempting a philosophical marriage of “the non-spectacular and the sublime”; a soundtrack for friendly or indifferent spirits floating across the tatami in a danchi apartment.

On album, O Yama O tend to incorporate more instrumentation and melody in a kind of skittering avant-garde Noh-dub. Live, it’s a strangely matter-of-fact immersive affair, domestic, dramatic and keyed to the performance space, with Keiki alternately tiptoeing, romping and stamping around using a full range of vocalisations (“chanting, incanting, thundering, whispering”).

 
In Bristol, it’s Orxid, a spinoff of visually-triggered, immediate-response Glaswegian rhythmic randomists Still House Plants, who finesse garage rock and Fine Art influences into something which sounds like neither (and who were once cheeky enough to release a live album consisting solely of them being introduced onstage before a cut to the aftershow chatter: check here for a long breakdown of their complex ethos).

Orxid is a solo project for SHP singer Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach, who adds the tattered fragments of song expression to their clangs, hisses and staggers. What she does on her own is less clear, but you could glean some clues from her general art-mission statement of “being concerned with value in the immaterial and everyday… the translation of experience” and by her summary of the project as “Orxid is, Jessica Hickie-Kallenbach is, triumphant when barking, flirting with misdirection, with weak knees, malfunctioning. All brushed up when just-heard through bedroom doors.”

Update, 11th April – I’ve just noticed that there’s a fifth date, in Newcastle, so am adding it in a hurry while I’m supposed to be doing something else… and it looks as if I missed two earlier Bradford and Manchester dates as well… Nuts.. oh well, here’s what’s left. Ripping the Newcastle support acts’ blurbs here…

Competition (a.k.a. Craig Pollard) makes (mild) pop music and performs live with a sampler and voice. The songs think about smallness and vulnerability, and build hooks from within their own limited means. Most recent tape ‘You Turned Into A Painting’ was released by Slip in November 2018.”

 
Gwilly Edmondez is a person-project forced into a pop packaging that inevitably gets mangled up by person-to-person cataclysmics. Because Gwilly is influenced by anybody you can possible think of (Billy Joel, Coil, Lucinda Williams, Laurie Anderson, AIDS Wolf…) there’s no point trying to categorise… Abstract Exhibitionism? Troubled Intimacy? Wild Pop… Gwilly Edmondez represents a coagulation of multiple character strands derived out of one private/public individual whose corporeal manifestation carries it through live shows, albums, videos and numerous collaborations in improvised music. Born in Lake Fear, Pen-Y-Bont, Gwilly has returned. Other incarnations include Radioactive Sparrow co-founder Bill Bargefoot, JRMY PAXMN out of YEAH YOU and the writer/composer/artist Gustav Thomas which is probably his real name. In all guises he is a purveyor of reaLFake Wild Pop, tearing open the terrified quotidian regimes of colonized consciousness (through, and in, his own brain) in order to plunge intensities between the cracks exposed. This doesn’t actually, necessarily, work – per se – but it’s the in engagement of attempts where the drama takes place.”

 
Finally, Mariam Rezaei is a turntablist and vocalist with a yen for making electronic theatre soundtracks: she’s part of Gateshead DJ-haunt turned mixed-arts incubator TOPH (or The Old Police House). Below is a taste of her esoteric clubtronica, although on this occasion I think she’s just playing other people’s music…


 
And while I’m making additions, here’s a Snape video from ‘Joyrobix’…


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Joe Snape’s Joyrobix + Laurie & Suze’s ‘Coop’:

  • Vivid Projects, 16 Minerva Works, Eastside, Birmingham, B5 5RS, England – Thursday 11th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Maya Verlaak) – information here and here
  • The Rose Hill, 70-71 Rosehill Terrace, Brighton, BN1 4JL, England – Saturday 13th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Blood Stereo) – information here and here
  • Stour Space, 7 Roach Road, Fish Island, Bow, London, E3 2PA, England – Wednesday 17th April 2019, 7.30pm (with O Yama O) – information here, here and here
  • Café Kino, 108 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RU – Thursday 18th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Orxid) – information here and here
  • Star & Shadow Cinema, Warwick Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE2 1BB, England – Friday 19th April 2019, 7.30pm (with Competition + Gwilly Edmondez + DJ Mariam Rezaei) – information here, here and here

 

February 2019 – upcoming gigs in London and Sunderland (folk, country, etc.) – Mally Harpaz and Valeria Pozzo in London (12th); a resurgent Bill Jones in London and Sunderland (16th & 20th February); Sarah Jane Scouten in London (18th February)

4 Feb

Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo, 12th February 2019

On Tuesday next week, there’s yet another chance to see sometime Anna Calvi drummer/harmoniumist Mally Harpaz present her solo composer side, via live performances of her soundtracks for Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s video-art extrapolations from classic paintings. Debuted a little over a year ago (and revisited a couple of times since then, they’re post-classical piano-centric mood pieces. Various guests will be joining Mally as part of her ensemble – in the past, these have included Mark Neary, Hazel Iris, Ciara Clifford, Jessica Lauren, Eran Karniel and, indeed, Anna Calvi (a close friend rather than an employer, and one who repays loyalty).

 
As for the future, Mally is still incubating her intended debut album, with two brooding instrumentals having broken cover on Soundcloud two years ago – glowering Gothic impressionism for piano, drum and ghost guitar, dabbed with synth strings and wordless soprano wails. You can hear the imprint of mediaeval-toned cinema epics, Dead Can Dance, some of the foggier Braonáin-isms… but someone really needs to let this woman loose on a New Weird Britain film about a haunted pantry somewhere in the New Forest. Something nasty, with a scary cutlery drawer.


 
As she usually does, Mally is presenting this as part of one of her “off-the-beaten-track” Blind Dog Studio evenings, which also showcase other performers. In the past these events have often favoured under-the-radar female singer-songwriters with impressive multi-instrumental abilities. This month’s show is no exception, featuring Valeria Pozzo.

Originally from Italy, Valeria currently floats in that strangely nationless zone of acoustic jazz pop, where it’d be difficult to tell where she was from unless you asked. She’s the possessor of handy guitar and violin skills as well as being the owner of a supple voice; and from what I’ve heard of her so far she’s hovering on a cusp where she could either carve out a comfortable career supplying smooth, edgeless jazz-folk entertainment at upscale pizza restaurants or take a couple of small, delicate gambles and persistently deliver songs which could turn heads and stop jaws champing.

I much prefer it when she does the latter: easing subtly strange chordings and tunings into her work, adding an extra dimension. Not necessarily unsettling, let alone perverse, but providing a deepening, an extra quality of storytelling undercurrent. What would be, if she dealt in written stories, the story beyond the words: the bit that crept up on you.


 
Valeria’s also making another appearance later in the month, this time at Rami Radi’s Laid Bare At the Ritzy acoustic night in Brixton; where she’ll be appearing with assorted other south London singer-songwriters including post-Damien Rice caroller Archie Langley, Berlin-born acoustic soulster Adwoa Hackman and her white-soul-boy-next-door counterpart Josh Collins. As a bill it’s got its moments, but it’s a little too generic for me to say much here, to be honest; although George Pelham’s buttery lite-soul voice and apparently effortless shuffling of McCartney, Prince and Elton John songwriting sounds pretty good. I’m also going to go back sometime and have a closer listen to the coastal autoharp folk of Olive Haigh – the deliverer of a cute, winsome sound with a garnish of eerie weirdness which becomes more apparent the more you listen (slightly magical/slightly sinister fairytale undertones, and a subtle use of sound embellishments from fiddle slides to pebble rattles).

* * * * * * * *

Bill Jones, 16th February 2019

There was a time in the early 200s when Bill Jones looked set to be a British folk star with the profile of someone like Kate Rusby – upfront, nicely turned out, fairly straightforward and with her folk scholarship gently on display. (These days it seems to matter less whether you gained it at lockins or at university, though plenty seem to study at both of these schools. Bill was one of those who did both.)

My own initial memories of Bill are wilder, woollier and from a bit further back: from when she was singing loud, pure backing vocals from behind an accordion as an anchoring part of The Wise Wound, who have generally been snootily dismissed as “an indie band” in accounts of Bill’s prehistory but whose absorbing, sometimes frustrating work was more like a remarkable psychedelic quilt being disgorged through a chamber folk-funnel. Back then (still going through formative years) she was something of a band secret weapon: a dark horse who stood apart from the friendly-frictional mental wrestling and gag-cracking that made up much of the Wise Wound’s offstage behaviour, while secretly fostering a great deal of the charm that served her well when she eventually found her own voice and went solo.

It was interesting seeing Bill afterwards, since she was still something of a dark horse: managing to pull off (possibly unwittingly) the trick of being entirely open while remaining entirely enigmatic. Even when revealing something personal in song (such as her family’s Anglo-Indian Darjeeling heritage, as laid out a capella in the title track of 2001’s ‘Panchpuran’) she sometimes seemed less of a conversationalist in what she sang than a conduit, like the flute she also plays. Her sleekly-groomed picture-book folk sometimes made use of the varnished production of pop, but without any concessions or vulgarities; and there was certainly always a sense that while Bill was friendly and loved her craft, she was also keeping a careful reign on the interplay of life and music.

Bill Jones, 20th February 2019At any rate, after three increasingly well-received albums (plus a live record, an odds-and-sods collection and a trinational collaborative project and tour with Anne Hills and Aoife Clancy), Bill turned away from the road and the spotlight; taking the option of stepping back, while still in her twenties, in favour of home-life in Sunderland, teaching and raising a family. She hasn’t been completely absent from the stage since. Folk-music teaching has less differentiation between instruction and performance; plus there were a couple of 2016 support slots in Tokyo for Flook and a number of low-key charity gigs for Antenatal Results & Choices (a cause close to Bill’s heart).

Now, however, she’s mounting a more substantial comeback, with a new album – ‘Wonderful Fairytale’ – finally arriving this coming May and various folk festival appearances scheduled for England and the United States later in the year. The first sightings are a new song, My Elfin Knight, and a pair of February dates accompanied by violinist/viola player and album buddy Jean-Pierre Garde. Between them, incidentally, the gigs indicate the affable but borderline incompatible polarities of British folk music. The London show in the churchy environs of The Gresham Centre can’t help but come with a bit of lofty gloss (canonicity, scholarliness, high-culture), while the Sunderland hometown gig is much more down-to-earth (a Whitburn Village Heritage Society do at a cricket club which also features floor spots from local singers).

I don’t know whether Bill makes much of these differentiations, or whether the contrast makes her laugh. As far as I can see, she’s just getting on with the music. Here’s the video for My Elfin Knight, which shows that she’s lost nothing in the intervening time: musically, still as sleek as a seal and cool as an early autumn evening. If anything’s changed, it’s the emotional freighting: the passing years seem to have laid an extra presence on her, with the sense of unspoken things lurking closer behind the song.


 
* * * * * * * *

Among the Nest Collective events popping up for early 2019 is a show by Canadian country folker Sarah Jane Scouten – another artist with firm groundings in tradition plus the willpower to bring it to a fresh new audience. As with the spill of characters around the Laid Bare evening, I can’t say much for Sarah in terms of originality, or in terms of her bringing much that’s new to the table, but with her neither of these things need to matter.

Sarah Jane Souten, 18th February 2019

What does matter is how she takes her chosen song-form back into her corner (a genre that’s still too young to be ossified but is still too easy to render cheesy) and how she refreshes it. Rather than a young revolutionary, Sarah’s a restorer and a reconfigurer: someone who can already turn out classic-sounding songs to fit the canon, and who can personify its ongoing traditions in a way that looks forced and creaky on a rock performer but sits surprisingly well on a country figure. Maybe it’s the storytelling side of things – as with traditional folk, stories get picked up, dusted off and recast in country, rolling on like a wheel. At any rate, Sarah’s consistently impressive, whether she’s turning out honky-tonk or delivering typically countryesque tales of rural life, bereavement and memory with songs such as the recent single Show Pony. She might not be showing you where country is going, but she’ll certainly show you where it will always be coming from.

 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Mally Harpaz + Valeria Pozzo + guests
Hundred Years Gallery, 13 Pearson Street, Hoxton, London, E2 8JD, England
Tuesday 12th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The Nest Collective presents:
Sarah Jane Scouten
The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 0DX, England
Monday 18th February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here

Bill Jones:

  • Gresham Centre, St Anne And St Agnes Church, Gresham Street, Barbican, London, EC2V 7BX, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Whitburn Cricket Club, The Village Ground, Sunderland, South Tyneside, SR6 7BZ, England – Wednesday 20th February 2019 – information here and here

Laid Bare At the Ritzy presents:
George Pelham + Adwoa Hackman + Olive Haigh + Josh Collins + Valeria Pozzo Trio + Archie Langley
Upstairs at The Ritzy, Brixton Oval, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 1JG, England
Wednesday 27th February 2019, 7.30pm
– information here
 

January 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler in Kraków and London (19th and 26th January); Ruby Rushton and Emma-Jean Thackray at the Supreme Standards launch in London (31st January)

15 Jan

Since relocating to his ancestral Warsaw last summer, in search of greater connection with his Polish-Jewish roots, English jazz-plus guitarist Alex Roth has been busying himself with musical conceptual work around the concepts of “migration, identity and connection”. As you’d expect, it’s implicitly connected with his own personal mindset, as he lays out in his latest news update. “My great-great-grandfather Herschel Roth came to the UK around 1890 from Kalisz, an ancient town now in central Poland but then under Russian rule. Fleeing the pogroms against Jews that were sweeping across the region, Herschel ended up in London’s East End, adopting the Anglicised name Harris. Over a century later, I’m retracing a migratory path that he and many other Jewish families took; the difference (other than the direction of travel) is that they made the journey out of desperation and fear, whereas I came to Poland filled with curiosity and hope.”

Back home (if “home” really is England anymore) Alex is known for multiple projects. Perhaps the primary one is Blue-Eyed Hawk (the latterday Mancunian jazz quartet in which he rubs shoulders with Corrie Dick, Lauren Kinsella and Dinosaur leader Laura Jurd), but there’s also been his Future Currents avant-electric guitar trio (with Chris-es Montague and Sharkey) and the twenty-piece Chaos Orchestra supergroup (a kiln-and-delivery method for large-ensemble compositions from rising young British jazz composers). As a guitarist, he leans a little towards the methodology of Bill Frisell or David Torn, with a hint of John Scofield: he might be a master of general jazz technique and knowledge, but his personal musical voice pushes determinedly and painterly towards an urgent, individual electric sound (telling sustain-bolstered swellchime phrases, tearing minimal interjections or focussings on the single note or note-cluster considered, stretched and transformed by non-Western/non-Gentile perceptions of pitch and of meaning).

Roth/Zimpel/Zemler, 19th & 26th January 2019Having been steeping himself in Polish-Jewish life – both remembered and current – via personal research and a residency at Kraków’s Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, Alex is about to reveal the fruits of his first efforts via imminent Kraków and London gigs for his new trio with two Polish avant-garde/experimental jazzers – clarinettist Wacław Zimpel and percussionist Hubert Zemler (both of whom have previously worked together in Wacław’s long-form improvising trio LAM, which covers broad terrain between drifting, ever-so-slightly apprehensive cloudwork to triumphal, pumping, upbeat locomotion).

In terms of musical breadth, Alex is more than matched by Wacław, a musician of lambent yet sturdily angelic tone who’s recently made a debut splash or two on the London experimental scene (via visits for gigs at the Rocket Recordings Twenty concert and at Café Oto) as half of Zimpel/Ziołek, in which he and singing guitarist Kuba Ziołek explore electronically-augmented folk-jazz and psychedelia. Folding American minimalism, jazz, contemporary classical and Indian music plus loop-pedal playing into his sheaf of influences, Wacław also has a Hildegard of Bingen project running, has worked as a fifth of Euro-Carnatic quintet Saagara, and has mastered a cross-continental array of reed instruments drawn from Laos and Latvia to Turkey and northern India. As for Hubert, beside the delicacy of his LAM work he’s drummed for prankish Polish alt/jazz/country rockers Mitch & Mitch (and their merry psychedelic/country/Krautrock spinoff Slalom). He’s established himself as one of Poland’s finest improvising percussionists, coming up with anything from precise avant-rock kit-hitting to shifting, galactic free playing with vibraphonists, harpsichordists and more.

Going on past work, this new trio should bundle together a promising mixture of ideas. It’s impossible to predict exactly what they’ll be doing, but it’s tempting to try anyway; evanescence and strength, diasporan motifs, attenuated notes and incidental discoveries along the way, a pick-up-and-make-work method reflecting the wanderings and resilence of Europe’s Jews. It’s not the first time Alex has worked with Jewish themes – they’ve always permeated his work, from the magical Sephardic folk-jazz ensemble Sefiroth (one of multiple Roth collaborations with Alice Zawadzski) to the Otriad project, which is in some ways a direct precursor to Alex’s current work (inspired, as it is, by three Jewish partisan brothers in World War 2 Poland). This is, however, perhaps the first time he’s gone so evidently to geographical source; to places of vivid historical memory.

There’s a scatter of previous, separate work’s below to provide pointers, or perhaps mistaken clues. Also attached is one of Alex’s “słucham” field recordings of Warsaw sounds: not in itself Jewish, but an indication of other possible shapers of the project.



 
* * * * * * * *
Slicker and groovier – though no less impressive – music is to be heard in London the following week at the Supreme Standards debut evening at Ghost Notes in Peckham (the first in a monthly small-venue extension of the Love Supreme concert initiative).

Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray, 31st January 2019

Led by saxophonist and flautist Edward “Tenderlonious” Cawthorne (the king in an already-winning pack containing keyboard player Aidan Shepherd, trumpeter Nick Walters, slinky bassist Fergus Ireland and the percussion duo of Eddie Hick and Joseph Deenmamode), Ruby Rushton are quiet-storming exemplars of taut but low-key jazz-funk grooves and spacious wind playing. Underneath the flowing, airy melodies, the sextet flick and phase between rhythms and style as if jumping between cousins. You’ll be looking for the gaps and joins, and finding none – Tenderlonious and co. not only make it sound natural, they make their grand plans simultaneously obvious and invisible.


 
As a group leader and composer, trumpeter and multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray has specialised in cheeky, rollicking, lightly disruptive band-writing which doesn’t interfere with her knack for grooves, which seem mostly to be inspired by galumphing aquatic mammals. Her music’s wonky club-music feel – that shimmying, slightly drunken marching-band wobble – disguises the sly precision of the mapping mind behind it. She couldn’t cover it up forever, though. More recently she’s been working solo, with last year’s ‘Ley Lines’ EP revealed as a full solo effort – every composition or bit of production, every instrument, every vocal track, indeed every note handled by Emma herself. (It helps when you’re literally ambidextrous, although possessing huge strategic talent is clearly another bonus).

For her next trick, she’s going to deliver the thing live and alone: presumably a high-wire loop and tape act supplemented by her own remarkable skills. Hints below:


 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Żydowskie Muzeum Galicja, ul. Dajwór 18, 31-052 Kraków, Poland, Saturday 19th January 2019, 9.00pm – information here and here
  • Alex Roth/Wacław Zimpel/Hubert Zemler – Jazz Café POSK, 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London, W6 0RF, England, Saturday 26th January 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Supreme Standards: Ruby Rushton + Emma-Jean Thackray – Ghost Notes, 95a Rye Lane, Peckham, London, SE15 4ST, England, Thursday 31st January 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here

 

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