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

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 
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Carla Dal Forno + Cucina Povera, 12th November 2019On the 12th, left-field synthpop writer Carla Dal Forno comes to Electrowerks trailing her newest album ‘Look Sharp’, in which “the small-town dreams and inertia that preoccupied (her) first album have dissolved into the chaotic city, its shifting identities, far-flung surroundings and blank faces”, thanks to her wanderings from her Melbourne origins to London via Berlin, telling “the story of this life in flux, longing for intimacy, falling short and embracing the unfamiliar.”

Sonically it’s frowning post-punk basslines and pearly sheens around subtle hollows; occasional touches of plainsong; arrangements stroked into shape by psychedelic-via-radiophonic synthesizer bends, swoops and flutters – a big step up from the queasy lo-fi wobble of her debut. As with Alice Hubble, Carla rarely changes tone vocally, etching momentary stories of subtle revenges, covert assignations and bleak reflectiveness with the same abbreviated unruffled whispercroon; delivering songs with the crisp, faux-reticent undertones and hardnosed observation of a finishing-school ace who’s opted to spend the rest of her life speaking softly but carrying a sharp hatpin. Simultaneously minimalist and expansive, sensual and austere, revealing and forbidding, the songs of ‘Look Sharp’ are measured diary entries enclosed in dove-grey leather, giving away little but hinting at much more. It’s as if one of the early versions of the Cure had agreed to back Jean Rhys during a venture into confessional songcraft, with Delia Derbyshire adding sonic filigrees.


 
The whole record sounds attractively antiquated. Not in terms of its harking back to early ‘80s proto-Goth, but in the way it feels as if it’s been written for (and in) a monochrome London of the 1930s: sparser crowds, the hiss of steam trains and the rattle of heels in empty housing courts. In fact, ‘Look Sharp’ functions best when Carla relinquishes the more obvious darkwave thrumbles, loses the bass and trusts to her electrophonic textures and spaces. This lends the instrumentals a touch of 5am light, an air of sneaking out into an unfamiliar town while it’s still slumbering unguarded, with a dream-frown shadowing its features. For songs such as Don’t Follow Me (with its deepening undertone of sexual threat), it allows a more sophisticated atmosphere to build, sound becoming character in the way that scenery and lighting do in film.


 
In support, there’s electronicist, live-looper and spatial explorer Maria Rossi – a.k.a Cucina Povera. As anyone who’s covered Maria before will tell you, “cucina povera” translates as “poor kitchen” – like “poor theatre”, a way of making the most of minimal ingredients and lean times: indeed, of making a virtue of the enforced simplicity, to the point of deliberately choosing it. Maria’s most recent project – ‘Zoom’, released back in January – had her strip back her already-minimal gear choices to just voice and loop pedal plus the digital recorder which gave the record its name: bar the very occasional bit of huffed or clinked bottlework, or synth bloop, that was it.

Last year’s ‘Hilja’ album applied the Cucina Povera methodology to a gaseous, beatless, haunting form of ambient art pop. It was full of folk-ghosts in the machine, bringing along hints of the ecclesiastic, of children’s songs and of traditional song fragments, much of it pillowed on vaporous keyboard textures and meticulous arrangements. In contrast, the Zoom pieces were recorded in “intimate spaces full of acoustic or ideological intrigue” and were a set of impromptu, improvised rituals-for-their-own-sake. Sometimes gabbled, frequently hymnal and monastic, blurring between established language and glossolalia, they build on the mysteriousness of ‘Hilja’ while venturing into more musically naked areas, taking from the previous album’s most cut-down moments without falling back on its cloudy synth-padded comforts or its pleasing banks of harmony.

Whether these pieces can be transported, translated and performed afresh in other locations is not so clear. Perhaps, for Electrowerks, Maria will improvise a new set in honour of the Slimelight’s fallen ghosts.



 
Also stirred into the evening’s menu will be a DJ set from darker techno/DIY/industrial specialist Kenny White of the Low Company record store.

 
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At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a splash of raucous female colour. Riding the momentum from the release of her debut album last month (if you’re a budding remixer or mash-upper, Bandcamp has it complete with sample and stem packs), Rachel K. Collier plays the Grand in Highbury in mid-November, with live percussion and interactive visuals augmenting her storm of sequencers, keyboards and Abletoning. Her house-inspired, undulating electronic club pop has been evolving over six years or so now, including bold intrusions into the world of adverts, collaborations with garage/house stars Wookie, Mat Zo and Ray Foxx, and more recently her current fearless-sounding solo work.

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

It’s a powerfully assured and complete pop sound, fusing full dancefloor momentum with righteous girl-power; although one that’s been achieved in the face of considerable bullying, scorn and condescension along the way from male musicians. (If the fuck-you beat and withering dismissal in her Dinosaur single is anything to go by. You can’t say that she didn’t get her own back. Success is the best revenge.)




 
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Dates:

Parallel Lines presents:
Alice Hubble + Blick Trio & Merlin Nova
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Tuesday 5th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Upset The Rhythm presents:
Carla dal Forno + Cucina Povera
Electrowerkz @ The Islington Metal Works, 1st Floor, 7 Torrens Street, Islington, London, EC1V 1NQ, England
Tuesday 12th November 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

Rachel K Collier
The Grace, 20-22 Highbury Corner, Highbury, London, N5 1RD, England
Tuesday 19th November 2019, 7.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

October 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
 

September to December 2019 – upcoming rock/rocktronica gigs – Teeth Of The Sea and The Utopia Strong live in London (5th September) plus further Teethings in Brighton (with Mulholland), Rochester (with Rekkliner and the closer we are to dying) and Brussels (6th/13th September, 4th October); and The Utopia Strong running cross-country with Matters, EWEI and Reidy Scott Duo (8th September, 8th/11th-13th November, 18th-21st December)

30 Aug

Brassy, growling psychedelic/techno/rave-rockers Teeth Of The Sea erupt back up again at Oslo in Hackney, accompanied by The Utopia Strong.

Teeth Of The Sea have long been darlings of the interface between trippy ‘tronica and rock bite. Here’s what I’ve said about them before: “Are they noise? are they rave? are they dream-metal? are they what you might’ve had if Miles Davis had rashly agreed to a Foetus production job?.. a craggy yet celebratory electro-psychedelic throb from a full-band rock lineup embracing techno, polytextured brass, analogue synthwarp, tough corners of metal, and dance imperatives that span Chicago clubs and mud-sodden English field parties… extended brass-laden psych-rock voyages with techno and rave methodology, updated for twenty-first century urban impulses.. driving part-electronic instrumentals packed with wailing guitars, rasping analogue synths and effected kaleidoscopic trumpet ow(ing) equal debts to counterculture techno and to the aggressive end of psychedelic rock (with) the four-to-the-floor beats, the cavernous space echo, and the dark pop shimmer that seals their overall appeal.” They’re currently touring their fifth album, ‘Wraith‘.

The band claim that the album’s haunted: apparent psychic disturbances and psychogeographic slips during the recording sessions. They say that this resulted in a more “vivid and maximalist work”, filled with “alchemised trash, kitchen-sink surrealism, out-of-order intensity and ritualistic overtones… inspiration, irreverence and otherworldly infiltration” and ramping up their influences of science fantasy, hallucinatory welt, horror soundtrack, post-industrial boom and dark-side-folk to new heights. For the recent single – I’d Rather, Jack – they’ve brought in Trash Club/Bugged Out DJ-turned-producer Erol Alkan to grind and polish the original song into an obsidian-smooth trumpet/cyberbeat clash; or, as they put it, “an angular banger equal parts mariachi elegy and electro euphoria.”




 
The Utopia Strong are the latest product of the mutual love-in between ’80s snooker ace-turned-rock promoter Steve Davis and British psych-rock everywhereman Kavus Torabi, which has previously resulted in a radio show, a travelling DJ array and a series of gleeful mutual eggings-on. This, however, is the first actual band that’s emerged out of the friendship – partly as a result of Kavus enticing Steve (at the age of 60) to make the jump from avid music fan to actual music maker, and partly due to Teeth Of The Sea’s Mike Bourne seducing Steve into the block-and-build/sculpted-noise world of modular synthesizers. On paper it sounds like a wheedle too far; in practise it’s actually pretty delightful. Some of this is down to the recruitment of the third man in the triumvirate, Michael J. York, whose previous work (with transgressive ritualists Coil, Shirley Collins-backing folktronicists Cyclobe, interstellar/subaquatic space-rockers The Stargazer’s Assistant and ecstatic droners Teleplasmiste, as well as some live-guest stints with Kavus in Guapo) has expanded his own modular synthwork by winding in enchanting folk elements on skirling bagpipe and woodwind.


 
The music that’s emerged so far – all of it instrumental, but as communicative as a collective crowd singalong – is charged with a beaming, benevolent enthusiasm. Beyond those immediately recognisable Torabi guitar cycles and sundives (sitting generously back in the mix, encouraging the electronics to billow forward), its synthwork and pulsations recall space disco, early Jarre and Cluster, electro-Hillage and the 1981 stars-in-glass futurism of Simple Minds, pre-bloat. Konta Chorus, for instance, isn’t too far off 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall; a gentle pounding punctuated by electronic drawer-zips and guitar tremulosity, by beatific recorder riffs and piano cycles. More aural beatification comes from Brainsurgeons 3, its beckoning three-note bass riff and sustained guitar anchoring nearly eleven minutes of building aerial-cosmic chitter: a gradual build of ecstatic layering synth bips, whoops and rackets with a bright future in its sights and a sunrise of bagpipes at around the nine-minute mark.

All of this is imbued by an atmosphere of blissful cynicism-slaying love. You can often appreciate friendship within bands. It’s rare, however, to get the kind of opportunity which The Utopia Strong offers: to literally hear what that friendship sounds like.


 
The evening’s bolstered by the efforts of the Black Impulse DJ team: visiting from the Dalston branch of multi-city broadcasters NTS with “the soundtrack of two American friends living in London… transatlantic camaraderie and a laid-back meander though metal, noise, trashy blues, prog, hardcore, hip-hop, free jazz and beyond.”

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Teeth Of The Sea have another date lined up immediately afterwards in Brighton, supported by the ringing sweet-surf guitar-and-drums curlicues of translocated Channel Islands experimental post-rockers Mulholland (as well as one other yet-to-be-announced act). They’ve also got a concert in Brussels the following week; and one in Rochester in early October accompanied by experimental rock quintet and “testing band” Rekkliner (proggy post-rockers with a strangely jaunty air and a yen for post-war melodics) and by audio-visually-inclined Medway dronescapers the closer we are to dying (led by Terry Lane with various other musicians drifting through).




 
Utopia Strong, meanwhile are going the whole hog by continuing on a nine-date English tour stretched and peppered across the autumn months and ranging from Cumbria (a slot at British Sea Power’s multi-act Krankenhaus Festival) to Ramsgate. When they have a support act, it’s usually Steve and Kavus themselves playing one of the DJ sets which have put them in demand from Glastonbury to All Points East to the Boiler Room and which keeps alive the memory of their ‘Interesting Alternative Show’: a perky and enthusiastic melange of mind-expanding tunes from avant-psych, avant-tronics, leftfield prog and indeed anything which pings a synapse or two.

In Birmingham, though, The Utopia Strong are supported by “gloomy dystopian” instrumental trio Matters (who, featuring former members of The Wolves allied with current members of Mayors Of Toronto, deliver electronic rock grooves that stretch from meaty guitar chunkalongs to broiling synth-throbs).

Later, in Bristol, there’s a double support. Firstly Louise Brady’s semi-ambient EMEI project: electronica which operates at that New Weird point where the bucolic shades into the neurotic and the mystical, and which regularly works a particular just-on-the-cusp-of-ugliness distortion at the point where a singing tone begins to break down into a pinking whine. Her tracks are like hillside ghosts, built up of hymnal vocal sighs, lapping interference and field recordings (mostly moist, mostly rural); Celtic-tinged accordion passages fed through Raudive wires; glass harmonicas sent through warbling distortion. The second support is the Reidy Scott Duo which unites two distinct Bristolian ambient soloists. Cork-born Aonghus Reidy, better known as Ocean Floor, writes circumstance-triggered burble-to-billow pieces for piano, harmonium, guitar, soft modular synth and other electronics (with sleep deprivation, times of day, and new instrumental discoveries amongst the initiating ideas). Live-looping guitarist John Scott usually trades as Stereocilia, bolstering his densely-effected guitar with synths and drumboxes in search of protracted, slow-wrenching psychedelic drones. This is their first ever duo pairing, so expect it to contain sorted and sifted elements of the varied solo work below…








 
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Dates:

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Teeth Of The Sea + The Utopia Strong + DJ Black Impulse
Oslo, 1a Amhurst Road, Hackney, London, E8 1LL, England,
Thursday 5th September 2019, 7.30pm
– information here and here

The other Teeth Of The Sea dates:

  • The Green Door Store, 2-4 Trafalgar Arches, Lower Goods Yard, Brighton Train Station, Brighton BN1 4FQ, England – Friday 6th September 2019, 7.30pm (with Mulholland + one other t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Witloof Bar @ Botanique, Rue Royale, 236, 1210 Brussels, Belgium – Friday 13th September 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Billabong Club @ Royal Function Rooms, Victoria Street, Rochester, Kent, ME1 1XH, England – Friday 4th October 2019, 7.30pm (with Rekkliner + the closer we are to dying) – information here and here

The other Utopia Strong dates:

  • Krankenhaus Festival @ Muncaster Castle, near Ravenglass, Cumbria, CA18 1RQ, England – Sunday 8th September 2019 – information here and here
  • The Golden Lion, Fielden Square, Todmorden, OL14 6LZ , England – Friday 8th November 2019, 8.00pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here
  • The Cluny, 36 Lime Street, Ouseburn, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE1 2PQ, England – Wednesday 11th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Hare & Hounds, 106 High Street, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7JZ, England – Thursday 12th December 2019, 7.30pm (with Matters) – information here and here
  • The Cube Microplex, Dove Street South (off top-left of King Square), Kingsdown, Bristol, BS2 8JD, England – Friday 13th December 2019, 8.00pm (with EMEI + Reidy Scott Duo) – information here, here and here
  • The Crescent Community Venue, 8 The Crescent, York, YO24 1AW, England – Wednesday 18th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • The Deaf Institute, 135 Grosvenor Street, Manchester, M1 7HE, England – Thursday 19th December 2019, 8.00pm – information here, here and here
  • Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England – Friday 20th December 2019, 7.30pm – information here and here
  • Ramsgate Music Hall, 13 Turner Street, Ramsgate, Kent, CT11 8NJ, England – Saturday 21st December 2019, 7.30pm (with Steve Davis & Kavus Torabi DJ set) – information here and here

May/June 2019 – wayward experimental rock wunderkind Kiran Leonard on tour in England, bumping into Du Blonde, Kermes, Caroline, Humint, Mora Telsnake, Peacetime Romances, Squid, Ichabod Wolf, Don Du Sang and Margate Social Singing Choir en route (5th-10th May); plus a support slot with Soccer Mommy in Berlin (23rd May)

3 May


 
When he first emerged, as a dazzling teenager, out of a Saddlesworth bedroom (singing, drawing on an entire library of exploratory pop and playing every instrument he could get his hands on, as well as drafting in any object that made a useable noise), Kiran Leonard looked set to turn into a latterday Todd Rundgren, or a man hot on the eclectic heels of Fyfe Dangerfield… or, given his self-releasing teething period within homemade experimental electronica, perhaps a second-generation Steven Wilson. His formal debut release, ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ confirmed this: a bursting jumble-sale of home-orchestrated pop treasures, it framed a talent ready for anything from sweaty pub gigs to festival mainstages, and a singer, songwriter, bandleader capable of thrilling anyone from a freshly-hatched indie enthusiast to a committed psychedelic tripper to a long-in-the-tooth Van Morrison fan. It’s not often that someone so universal emerges, still less from such homely beginnings.

As it turned out, Kiran’s instinct for steering means that he’s no less active, no weaker in potential, but less likely to climb the straightforward rungs. Now based in the revived creative ferment of south London (after a spell in Portugal), in many respects, he’s become like the present-day Thurston Moore or the ever-shifting Mike Scott, with his career path now resembling a looping spirograph pattern as he spins from inspiration to inspiration and format to format and back again – ever refreshed, never burned. That melodiousness is still there, but it’s subordinate to (and subverted by) an ecstatically heterogenous enthusiasm for digging into whatever musical shape or form takes his fancy. On record, he’ll turn out simultaneously tight-and-sprawling rock songs packed with loose-limbed cultural critique; looping lo-fi Buckley-esque folk carolling recorded on the hoof between Manchester, Oxford and Portugal; assorted experimental voicings as Advol, Pend Oreille or Akrotiri Poacher; solo acoustic guitar improvisations; themed literary adventures for voice, piano and string trio.

Live, he tends to work as part of a rough-edged four-piece waltzing on the lip of art-rock but playing within the moment, with slick precision utterly sidelined in favour of immediate inspiration or a fringe of incantatory noisepop. Tricky to pigeonhole, at the still-tender age of twenty-three Kiran remains one of our most promising talents while continuing to embrace his own cottage industry rather than sit in the lap of big labels. He’s still working his way around small venues (as he is this month) on a circuit which you’d think was too little to hold him; but which, in many ways, is an ideal continuous crucible for his art, bringing him up close to an audience which fires him up and catches his thrown sparks.



 
In Margate, Kiran and band are part of the third day entertainments of the Caring Is Creepy festival, a new venture between two Margate musical fixtures (promoters Art’s Cool and erstwhile hip London label Moshi Moshi Records, who’ve had an outpost in the town for a while). They’re playing in a bill topped by Beth Jeans Houghton’s Du Blonde, in all of its scuzzy bedsit-punk-blues reflectiveness and its shades of self-aware dysfunction. Also featured are Margate Vocal Studio’s Social Singing Choir, and Brighton/London “underwater boy band” Squid (who add synths, cornet and cello to the usual indie art-rock guitars, drums, bass and sighmurmur vocals to create something stretched-out and oceanic for Margate sunsets); it’s all topped off with DJ work from Rock Solid (Laura Barton and Teri Olins)




 
In Sheffield, they’re on a bill with Midlands singer-songwriter Kieran Smith – a.k.a. Ichabod Wolf – who sings displaced, deracinated Americoustica like Leon Redbone oscillating on the end of an elastic rope. Also on hand are Humint; a brand-new offshoot from jazzy Manchester art-punkers DUDS playing “post-post-robowave” (which translates as choppy noisepop sounding like the young Sonic Youth and the young Devo pecking each other around during an argument over flatpack furniture).



 
In Bristol, they’ll be playing alongside the gently simmering, downbeat-minimal, violin-and-guitar humstrums of London post-rock septet Caroline (through which ghostly inconclusive threads of pemmican-country balladry seep, like a distant campfire duet heard down a winding canyon). There’ll also be dobro-folk from transplanted Frenchwoman Mora Telsnake, who (drawing on ‘60s-to-‘70s solo folk and “80s cheese” and singing in both French and English) delivers an alternating melange of Gallic-accented American Plains music and spindly, blues-infused chansonnerie.

 
In a Berlin date later in the month, the band will be supporting American singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy and for the string of Bandcamp releases which eventually led to last year’s full-blown debut album ‘Clean’ with its tales of assorted yearnings and emotional jumbles amongst the young and stoned. Her work’s a peculiar but affecting mixture of detached musicality with feelings spiralling and jagging inside it; thoughts too active and too pointed – too much in need of saying out loud – to submit to the dull rumble of low expectations.


 
The London and Manchester shows are Kieran-and-band only; and the Nottingham one’s a lone Kieran solo appearance, sans band. I’m not sure whether this is due to logistics or to personal choice: I rather hope that it’s the latter, the fervour of the other bands on the bill inspiring him to a more naked and liberated statement than he might have otherwise delivered. Local wonk-poppers Don Du Sang provide murmuring cut-up dance songs with a pleasing wobble, part-sourced from stolen snatches of vinyl, but are rather overshadowed by the political and personal fervour of the two bands providing the rest of the evening’s music.

Outright queerpunk man/woman duo Peacetime Romances actually offer up a kind of broiling, rediscovered underground folk music; toasted with drum clatter and electric guitar wire-rattle, and drawing on twenty years of “every kind of close”, their relationship and perspective has resulted in a batch of songs about “bad men” of all kinds, emotional threshings tinged with nightmare and redolent of resistance. Leicester power/punk-poppers Kermes are even more ferocious, a muscular roil of a band broadcasting a storm of noisy, melodious flechettes showcasing the belligerent, angry stubbornness of trans singer Emily Rose Teece as she wrestles with the weight of heteronormativity, of other people’s boorishness, of struggling to establish her own space while being crushed and bumped by the crude blocks of expectation and restriction.

With Sleater-Kinney and Spook School already floating in the pool of musical comparisons, Kermes’ debut album ‘We Choose Pretty Names’ is also striking in its literary articulacy (inspired by immersion in writers such as Maggie Nelson and Imogen Binnie). In a recent interview with ‘The Four-Oh-Five’, Emily’s described the prime drivers of the album’s songs as “feeling ugly, feeling like a freak, and peacefully existing in a way that make people viscerally hate you.” That’s as may be, but the music Kermes creates is far from lachrymose, whiny or martyrish. It’s constantly buzzing and blurring between dysfunction and self-assurance, with Emily increasingly emerging as someone to follow rather than pity; a tough, tattered-banner leader with dried tear-tracks and a set jaw.




 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

  • Caring is Creepy Festival 2019 @ Elsewhere, 21-22 The Centre, Margate, Kent, CT9 1JG, England – Sunday 5th May 2019, 6.30pm (with Du Blonde + Squid + Margate Social Singing Choir + Rock Solid DJs) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England – Monday 6th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England – Tuesday 7th May 2019, 8.30pm (with Caroline + Mora Telsnake) – information here and here
  • Gullivers NQ, 109 Oldham Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1LW, England – Wednesday 8th May 2019, 7.30pm – information here, here and here
  • Delicious Clam Records, 12 Exchange Street, Sheffield, S2 5TS, England – Thursday 9th May 2019, 7.00pm (with Humint + Ichabod Wolf) – information here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 10th May 2019, 8.00pm (solo, with Kermes + Peacetime Romances + Don Du Sang) – information here and here
  • Musick & Freiden, Falkensteinstrasse 48, 10997 Berlin, Germany – Thursday 23rd May 2019 2019, 7.30pm (supporting Soccer Mommy) – information here, here and here

 

February/March/April/May 2019 – upcoming English experimental/rock gigs – Markers and Haress on tour with appearances by Tom House, Anji Cheung, Caius Burns and Aby Vulliamy; plus later dates with Jaye Jayle and Motes

23 Feb

One of the connections which particularly intrigues me (for which read “always baffles me and induces me to go over it again”) is the one between folk music and hardcore punk. Apparently it’s a love based on a number of things – the inclination towards keeping to the basics, the austerity which is fostered both by that and by a distrust of commercialism and toys, a sense of political purity and of dodging corruption… It’s perhaps a little one-sided – punk tends to love folk more, although you’ll get some acknowledgement coming back the other way, increasingly so as more young folkies grow up with punk. Regardless of the relative exchange, you’ll see quite a bit of traffic moving around here. An upcoming British tour looks into this particular dynamic and feel, at the stripped-down point where the genres meet: along the way, there are more overlappings and enfoldings.

Markers on tour, February-May 2019Markers’ Jodie Cox always seemed like a gifted guy that strolled into hardcore with a positive attitude, rather than hunching or raging his way into it. Even when he was blitzing and shrieking away at the front of short-lived London seedbedders Ursa during the late ‘90s, he seemed cheerfully unlimited by the constraints of form. Ever since then (via transatlantic journeys through Earth, Narrows, Bullet Union, Sex Swing, Exes and others) he’s always seemed to be where he wanted to be rather than being forced into it: a sunny, enthusiastic character who’s helped humanise and hearten any project he’s been in. Jodie’s bandmate, contemporary and friend Jason Carty began his career in the same time and place. Stubborn, meticulous and sometimes anxious, he twitched and reeled various fluent post-rock/prog/post-metal guitar complexities through Geiger Counter and Foe like a ferocious engraver, then threw all of that aside to play blattering post-hardcore doom bass in Art Of Burning Water before embracing silence for a number of years.

Now reunited and united, Jason and Jodie’s all-instrumental work as Markers sees the two of them eschewing other musicians and hairy-arsed distortion in order to see what they can get out of two (mostly) clean electric guitars. Their debut album ‘Heaven In The Dark Earth’ is a beautifully executed thing. As Jodie’s put it elsewhere, rather than roaring easily through fuzz they’re now aiming for something “tonally heavy” (Even if they have covered Jesus Lizard, they went for one of that gonzo band’s rarer gentle tunes, and it came out sounding like late lamented bass frowners Rothko.)

Markers’ music is immediately atmospheric, recorded at a larger-than-life scale in which the listener feels as if they’re about a foot high, wandering around the duo’s feet and their suddenly gargantuan amplifiers. When processing does turn up it’s mostly in the form of encompassing shivers of reverb, or discreet echo – wider brushstrokes and spongeings to complement delicate penwork. Apart from that it’s wood, wire, pickups and an intuitive, space-filled musical marriage between the two players, pursuing a fluid sparseness and a sombre/passionate flaring of arpeggios and arabesques, flotsam folk figures and fragments rubbed smooth enough for their provenance to stay ambiguous. It’s a kind of post-industrial classical guitar, making the most of sparse resources and close-mouthedness, mysterious conversations through fingers and dusty speaker-cones. These buggers always had a lot more depth than previous circumstances have allowed them to show: or perhaps, more than they allowed themselves to make clear. In Markers, they no longer have either of these problems.


 
Following their recent showing at a mid-February gig in Brighton (hands up, I admit that I missed it) Markers are setting out on tour with kindred spirits Haress. Hailing from arty market town Bishop’s Castle in Shropshire, Haress are fundamentally the guitar duo of David Hand and Elizabeth Still. Mantric, minimalist, low-hanging and close-knit, theirs is a music in which several tight and lowering musical disciplines meets. Art-rock, hardcore edge, meditational post-rock and American electric folk fragments emerge via very loud, mostly clean electric guitars (on the lip of distortion and at the precarious peak of electromagnetic responsiveness) and meet shruti and amp drones plus delicate percussion tingles. Below are a couple of clips of David and Elizabeth meeting inside and outside:



 
Haress sometimes expand for live dates. The current ones see them augmented by a third guitarist (Chris Summerlin of dubby Notts psych/noise-ians Kogumaza, accelerated post-Beefheart screamers Wolves of Greece, and bluescore trio Lord), by a singer (Tom House, best known as the frontman for a pair of Brighton bands, hollering post-hardcore act Charlottefield and its more tender-fleshed followup Sweet Williams) and by drummer David Smyth of Liverpudlian synthcore/space-punks Kling Klang. No clips for that, I’m afraid…

At the London show (also the Markers album launch, with ticket/LP/download bundles available for those who want them), Anji Cheungprovides “audio intermissions”. She was in here earlier this month being previewed at the Matthew Shaw/English Heretic show, sandwiched between rural synth ambience and psychogeographic audio-visual. I can’t immediately improve much on what I said about her back then, so here it is again – “unnerving, frowning amplifier buzzes rolling over the listener like a gigantic clumsy wheel, with dramatically chopped/distorted/otherwise incomprehensible vocals implying pirate-radio-eavesdropping on a covert ritual… car-boot clatter under a lowering sky… beautiful lost female murmur-melodies stalked by drainage-ditch fuzz…. Another aspect of New Weird Britain: ambiguously multicultural and urban, mixing and obscuring London and Chinese references, but sounding mostly as if it stems from a place where jerry-built tower blocks break up old fields around the city’s tired periphery and where unknown syncretic practises are carried out (perhaps only half-understood even by the people involved).”



 
In Nottingham, Kagoule’s frontman Caius Burns will be bolstering the evening: sidestepping the noisy fantastical post-hardcore of his main band to deliver an acoustic voice-and-guitar set of his own songs, all in an old-school folk baroque form complete with slippery Jantschian fingerpicking. (And here he is in transient mode, halfway between folk and electropop…)

 
The Shipley show is the most extensive on the mini-tour: a four-act event with Tom House stepping forward out of the Haress lineup to perform a set of his own queasy, sludgy, draggy-pop slowcore. Hometown girl Aby Vulliamy is also joining the evening. A multi-instrumentalist (piano, viola, flute, musical saw, accordion) and singer/composer across a remarkable range of genres, she was covered in here a few years ago via her part-written/part-improvised Mothercore project, in which she teamed up with established musicians Laura Cole and Maria Jardardottir plus an ever-shifting cast of local musician/mothers who joined in whenever the main trio rolled into their town. Mothercore was inspired by, and triggered by, the ambiguous experience of motherhood, and appears to have led into last year’s long-overdue Aby solo album, ‘Spin Cycle’.

If Mothercore thrived on solidarity, ‘Spin Cycle’ places itself, sometimes unnervingly, on “mother alone yet not alone”: its songs tracing their way across a webwork of maternal experience (broader voicings of political anger at the forcing of roles onto women of childbearing age; the claustrophobic vortex of love, fear and exhaustion surrounding breastfeeding; an awareness of the greater female timespan of girl baby to young woman, watched over by mother all the way). Depending on your gender, your situation and where you are in your own lifespan, it’ll either shed light onto a much generalised-over, much-misunderstood state of being, or simultaneously rue and celebrate what’s one of the greatest and most turbulent tasks, all to a DIY backing of diverse, intimate floating-folk instrumentation.





 
The final tour show, in Liverpool, is just Haress and Markers on their own. I can’t tell you where the Old Brazilian Embassy is, although longstanding Liverpudlians might be able to hazard a guess, while the organisers appear to be a collective who throw concerts at home and overlap with avant-garde rock ensemble Ex-Easter Island Head (so now you know who to chase up and pester if you really want to come). Apparently this isn’t the only show these guys are putting on, although the proximity of neighbours and license issues means that they’ve got to keep the volume down… Merseyside art musicians who operate at the quiet end of things, here’s a new place to beat a pathway to (if you can find it yourself).

Outside the tour, Haress and Tom House will also be plying their trade at a mid-March gig in Bristol, for which they’re joined by obscure Somersetters Motes, who come bearing the priceless label of “drunk-minimal/hypnotist-un-rock based at the ventriloquistic intersection of Barrow Gurney and Old Market”. There’s no way I can better that sentence – it’s its own short film, all by itself – but here they are, playing a couple of their lo-fi guitar-and-drum, barn-under-the-motorway scrambles:



 

San Haress, Markers go on to play a couple of dates in Brighton and Leeds on the cusp of April and May with American “dark-indie” band Jaye Jayle. Formed in Louisville around onetime Young Widows songwriter Evan Patterson and with other personnel sporting a history including The For Carnation, Freakwater, and Phantom Family Halo, Jay Jayle connect American roots music and Southern Gothic musical sensibilities with drone, garage rock, and bits of kosmische analogue-tronic drive (much of it brought by Corey Smith’s “auxiliary instrumentation”). They’re an exciting thrumble of Velvets-y deathmarch, down-home fucked-up country backroads, factory sirens, momentary blackouts and haunted, incoherent confessionals. They sing the songs of drifters on long, dark trips; of people in back-prickling situations; and of people who’ve picked at the scabs of guarded obscure places just enough to show you why you shouldn’t pick at any more of them. Jay Jayle are compelling. I think I’ll be back to give them another listen.



 

Also on hand at the first of those two shows – the one in Brighton – is Nick Hudson’s own home-grown take on the “psychedelic dystopian gnostic-Gothic post-punk” approach, The Academy Of Sun. Some overlap with Jay Jayle’s sound, perhaps, but quite a bit more verbose and self-consciously literary, to be honest. Somewhere between Johnny Cash and dark cabaret, with a dash of biting chanson – but then as Brightoneers they’re not much more than a stone’s throw away from either the sea or Nick Cave (and, judging by the sound of this, from a mouldering salt-stained stack which when pulled apart bursts into a sprawl of old Furniture records and bright West Coast glad-rags).



 
* * * * * * * *

Dates:

Markers & Haress on tour:

  • Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England – Tuesday 26th February 2019, 8.00pm(Markers album release gig, also featuring Anji Cheung) – information here, here and here
  • JT Soar, 2 Aberdeen Street, Nottingham, NG3 1JB, England – Friday 15th March 2019, 7.30pm(also featuring Caius Burns) – information here
  • The Triangle, 47 Bradford Road, Shipley, Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD18 3DS, England – Saturday 16th March 2019, 7.00pm (also featuring Tom House + Aby Vulliamy) – information here
  • The Old Brazilian Embassy, somewhere in Liverpool, England – Sunday 17th March 2019 – ask around for information

Haress + Tom House + Motes
The Old England, 43 Bath Buildings, Bristol, BS6 5PT, England
Thursday 14th March 2019, 8.00pm
– information here

Jay Jayle and Markers:

 

February 2019 – upcoming English folk-rock-but-not-just-folk-rock gigs – My Octopus Mind on tour (13th, 16th, 21st, 22nd February) with Jakabol, The Display Team, Lapis Lazuli and Malika Collective; Hexvessel and Arktau Eos in London (22nd February)

10 Feb

Flexible Bristol almost-acoustic trio My Octopus Mind occupy a pleasing position, settled in their own web of connections between a number of different influences but reliant upon none of them. There’s a jazzy rattle, predominantly via the gloriously noisy effected double bass of Izy Ellis (a growling, punchy, conversational art-box; upfront timber and raw electronic treatments). The whole band’s informed by post-Radiohead/Mars Volta art rock and by the mating of contrasts implicit in assorted culture collisions (such the Hindustani-classical meets New-York-loft-music teaming achieved in one particular favourite, Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar’s ‘Passages’). Frontman singer and guitarist Liam O’Connell cites the sonic and psychological crescendos of Jeff Buckley and Josh Homme’s mix of heaviness and irony, but also the restraint of Jose Gonzales. Ex-Lambhorneer Oliver Cocup adds refreshed drum bounce, and racing through the whole thing is a rivulet – or, more accurately, an unstoppable jet – of skittish Balkan folk.


 
With a debut album, ‘Maladyne Cave’, nearing release, My Octopus Mind are out on a brief English tour wriggle this month, taking in Manchester, Canterbury, London and their hometown. In part, it’s to celebrate the recent release of their debut single Elska, with its increasingly disturbing Coppelian dance video (in which a man wheels an impassive doll-woman around in a suitcase, engaging in secret and increasingly frustrated trysts with her).

While Manchester is an evening for the band on their own, various temporary tourmates slot in elsewhere – in London, it’ll be the accomplished Afro-Latin groove band Malika Collective. The Canterbury show sports an eclectic psychedelic edge with local jam band and “maximalist psych-prog heroes” Lapis Lazuli plus the convoluted Zappa-brass meets London-urchin-pop of The Display Team (see passim) and psych/prog/punk funk/soul/dub/afro combination DJ interludes from Professor Appleblossom. The Bristol tour launch show, meanwhile, also features Jakabol, a warm Bristolian instrumental band in which violin, harp, guitar and drums leap and lurch tunefully around a set pitched midway between post-rock gutter and country hoedown (perhaps a further extension of the rural post-rocking I’ve been hearing from Rumour Cubes and Apricot Rail).



 
* * * * * * * *

Linkings between folk music and heavy rock go back pretty much all of the way to the start of the latter, especially in Europe. In plain sight, Led Zeppelin regularly immersed themselves in Welsh border hillsides and Janschian jangle; a little later, Jethro Tull brought in the jigs, liltings and mandolins while allying them to Ian Anderson’s witty, sardonic absolutely-in-the-moment songwriting voice (which swept in the eclectic interests and erudition of a restless, randy, contemporary urban boulevardier who could’ve make the idea of a leprechaun in your sitting room sound like something contemporary, adult and immediate rather than twee). In the ‘90s a swell of Celtic/Nordic folk metal and Gothic paganism via bands such as Skyclad led to a revival of mythic musical drama; in the Noughties, there was the feeling that the likes of Opeth were peering over their successive ramparts of black metal and prog in search of something offering more air and antiquity. Nowadays, you can hardly move for this sort of thing sprouting up from Ireland to Israel: driving a guitar through a hefty amp seems like one of the most effective ways to kick off an interest in your own folk history.

In many respects, latterday Anglo-Irish-Finnish heavy-folk-rockers Hexvessel hanker back to Tull – some of the lilts and jangles are there, as are the banging barn-door blurts of chunky electric guitar work – but they also trade in some of the dramatic minor keys and broody, nonconforming, subculture-meets-antiquity feel of Skyclad. Of course, this is probably incidental: it would be more constructive to reconsidering the swirling body of interests and philosophy surrounding singer and prime mover Mat McNerney. Despite Mat’s former black metal links (as “Kvohst”, he cavorted across stages with bands like Dødheimsgard and Code), Hexvessel avoid certain predictable pitfalls – no ludicrous demonic posturing; no arid hating; no polluted white-is-right old-Europe nationalism. This is primarily because under the corpse paint Kvohst always seems to have been a thoughtful and sensible chap with a well-calibrated bullshit detector, sorting the nourishing myths from the toxic ones.




 
Instead, Hexvessel explore a range of thinking stimuli – post-/pre-Catholic pagan magick; the connecting threads connecting contemporary Finnish woodland psych with the brooding kosmische stews of Amon Duul and the chatty verbal maximalism of early ‘70s British psych folk; comic book legendariums; and respectful pro-feminist reintegrations of women back into musical forms that have often wandered too far down macho paths. Later this month, they’re setting up camp at St Johns Bethnal Green; playing a London show as part of the European tour in support of brand new album ‘All Tree’, in which they’ve endeavoured to blend Mat’s memories of old ghost stories and other transmissions of folk culture with their own dramatic Samhain vibes and symbolic forest-folk musical experiments (including playing tree boughs with violin bows). Mat sees it as a way of connecting to Samhain’s liminal side; a time when ancestors, as spirits and memories, are that much closer.

Hexvessel’s tree-bowing was captured out by the band’s resident field recording/sound conjuring wizard Antti Haapapuro. In another incarnation – as half of sacking-masked ritual ambient/oneiric duo Arktau Eos – he and fellow Eosian Antti Litmanen open the show, rubbing the psychic gateways open with their primeval sounding drones, swells and invocation of significant spaces – simultaneously post-industrial and prehistoric, thrumming out of a green church, resonating nook or ancient gravehole like a stone-tape playback of ancient, dignified rites.

Steeped in hermetic philosophy and Apophatic theology, Arktau Eos come across as thoughtful ceremonial scholars in interviews such as this one in the ‘This Is Darkness’ ezine. Eloquent and courteous if you care to track them down for a respectful conversation, but unswayed by distractions from their business of the mining of the “ur-currents” of religious faith; the pull of site-specific mysteries, apprehending experience without attempting to stare it in the face or pin it down with sentences. In a similar spirit, I think I should just leave the descriptions there, as they stand. Essentially, it’s all in the sound and the placement, and the ceremonial use of the available moment. Understand them that way.


 
* * * * * * * *
Dates:

My Octopus Mind:

  • The Crofters Rights, 117-119 Stokes Croft, Bristol, BS1 3RW, England – Wednesday 13th February 2019, 7.30pm (with Jakabol) – information here and here
  • The Old Abbey Taphouse, Guildhall Close, Manchester, M15 6SY, England – Saturday 16th February 2019, 7.30pm – information here
  • UCA Bar Canterbury, New Dover Road, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 3AN, England – Thursday 21st February 2019, 7.30pm (with The Display Team + Lapis Lazuli) – information here
  • The Magic Garden, 231 Battersea Park Road, Battersea, London, SW11 4LG, England – Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm (with Malika Collective) – information here and here

Old Empire proudly presents:
Hexvessel + Arktau Eos
St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9PA, England
Friday 22nd February 2019, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

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