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

21 Jul

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

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

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

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

Gong, 2018

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

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



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



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

North Sea Radio Orchestra, 2nd June 2018

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



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



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

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



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

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

14 Jul

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

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

July 2018 – upcoming rock gigs – A Sudden Burst of Colour, a-tota-so and Theo tear up The Facemelter (6th July); Heldon and Hirvikolari at Café Oto (14th July)

2 Jul

A quick boost for the heavy stuff at the Facemelter this week, and for an avant-rock return at Café Oto mid-month….

* * * * * * * *

The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst Of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo, 6th July 2018
“Hailing from Motherwell, Scotland, A Sudden Burst Of Colour captures fans of electronic, ambient, dance and rock music with their soundscapes and encapsulating songwriting. Their sound is bright, shimmering and generally uplifting. The instrumental quartet have four globally acclaimed EP releases under their belt, which is evidenced by features from ‘BBC Introducing’, ‘The Scotsman’, ‘Earmilk’ (USA), ‘Arctic Drones’ (Turkey), ‘Stereofox’ (Germany) and many more, so this is a good time to catch them before they break into the wider world. Their recent single ‘I Am The Storm’ was premiered on Daniel P. Carter’s BBC Radio 1 Rock Show and they’re currently in pre-production for their forthcoming album, which is due for release at the end of the year.”


 
Replacing Bristolian mathrockers Hoggs Bison (who, like Barringtone recently, have come down with a bad case of broken wrist) are “noisy math/grunge band a-tota-so (formed by members of Alright the Captain and Cheap Jazz), who we’ve been dying to put on for ages! In their short one-and-a-half-year existence, they’ve already toured the UK and Europe, shared the stage with Tera Melos, Tangled Hair, Alpha Male Tea Party, Chiyoda Ku, Memory of Elephants, VASA and many more, and played at ArcTanGent and StrangeForms Festival. After a successful crowdfunding campaign, the band recently recorded their debut album at Nice Weather For Airstrikes and Snug Recording Co. and are set to release it in September 2018.



 
“To open, there’s a rare appearance from soloist Theo (described as “an extraordinary maelstrom of soundscapes, loops, beats and power” by ‘Louder Than War), who creates layers of tight guitar melodies and riffs by looping them over and over again, before sitting down at his drum kit and smashing out some fantastic rhythms to them. The range of dynamics and changes he achieves, as well as his ability to make the entire piece a coherent tune from start to finish, is astonishing. We’ve seen him perform around the country, including at ArcTanGent and at our late night Facemelter with Poly-Math and EVILLOOKINGBIRD, so we’re glad to see him make a return.”


 
Chaos Theory Music Promotions presents:
The Facemelter: A Sudden Burst of Colour + a-tota-so + Theo
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Friday 6th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Heldon + Hirvikolari, 14th July 2018

The upcoming Heldon and Hirvikolari gig at Café Oto appears to be happily selling itself without my input, partially thanks to Heldon mainstay Richard Pinhas‘ reputation as “the French Robert Fripp”. If that’s a fair comparison (and Richard has readily acknowledged that “Fripp has always been my Hendrix”), he might not have King Crimson’s ability to fill larger theatres but he does seem to have a far less compromised reputation in avant-garde hubs like Oto – for one thing, you wouldn’t generally find Robert Fripp going head-to-head with members of The Boredoms. A former junior philosophy professor, he jumped the academic ship in 1974, inspired by his own comparisons between philosophers and rock stars (and by his own taste for science fiction) to form an electronic rock band with a trans-sonic bent. This was Heldon, one of the very first French bands to use synthesizers, and one which would subsequently fall under the spell of King Crimson, Fripp and Brian Eno and develop their own droning improvisatory rock forms.

While the band originally only lasted for the course of the 1970s, Heldon’s albums are currently being reissued by Bureau B: this year, an archive live album, ‘Live in Metz 77’, was released by Bam Balaam. All of which has prompted a return to live action by Richard under the Heldon name. This is their first London concert for literally decades: expect to see an excited anticipatory audience of prog/avant-rock fans of all ages.



 
Hirvikolari – modular synthesist Mike Bourne and processed-trumpet guy Sam Barton – are more often found being two-fifths of Teeth Of The Sea Last time round, I described them as follows: “while Teeth Of The Sea tend to play great stomping horror-slabs of musical architecture (a flying saucer spitting out rows and rows of heavily-armed tower blocks) Hirvikolari prefer to take the slow path and evolve themselves a great bolus of stewed electronic burble and resonating brass tracks. Ennio Morricone’s been cited as a comparison, as has the long tradition of counter-culture festival techno: both comparisons have some grounding.”

 
There’s about three handfuls-worth of tickets left: if you want to pluck them from the eager grip of Baba Yaga’s Hut, I’m sure they’d be all too willing to let you have your chance.

Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Heldon + Hirvikolari
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 14th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London pop/rock gigs – Velodrome, Hazel Iris and Mally Harpaz at another Blind Dog Studio evening (4th July); Barringtone, Ham Legion and Stephen Evens do art-pop in Brixton (12th July)

28 Jun

Velodrome + Mally Harpaz + Hazel Iris, 4th July 2018

There’s another of multi-instrumental soundtrack composer/Anna Calvi sidewoman Mally Harpaz’s audio-cinematic Blind Dog Studio live events taking place in Dalston at the beginning of July. As with previous Dog days, Mally’s bringing her own small ensemble to play the original pieces she composed in order to soundtrack video artist Clara Aparicio Yoldi’s expansions of fine art paintings, and which win her those comparisons to Steve Reich, Max Richter, and Nils Frahm. Also on hand is another Blind Dog favourite, operatic Californian indie-folk-popper Hazel Iris, who uses “the traditions of romantic lieder, vaudeville, and contemporary styles (to) celebrate the high art of storytelling” and whose vigorous witty songs are fleshed out with cello, accordion, guitar and Mally’s percussion (but mostly by Hazel’s own powerful voice and personality).


 

The newest guest at Blind Dog Studio’s ongoing party is Katherine Christie Evans (previously the bassist for “feminist punk witches” Dream Nails), who’s bringing along her experimental rock project Velodrome. The project takes its cues from various aspects of Katherine’s life and the challenges within it. Musically, there’s her work as a singer of Early Music and her other multi-instrumental skills on guitar, bass and drums (which inspires the music’s layering of choral baroque against lo-fi indie scrawl), while politically and personally there’s the ways in which her determination and talent intertwine with her queerness (and with the more negative elements of her chronic anxiety and fluctuating mental health). As such, she counts herself as an artist “working at the intersections of feminism, social inequality, mental health and queer visibility”, battling the barriers which come with a lack of diversity in the arts while developing her own voice.


 
All of the above makes Katherine sounds furious, but she seems to be fighting her battles with humour, positivity and a gaming spirit. Viz the awkward but cheerfully determined eroticism of last month’s debut Velodrome single His Physique, which makes lustful hay from the epicene figures in mediaeval art (“lean and slender, / no particular gender,”) and sports a witty, low-budget video blending childlike cosplay and jokey New Weird visuals, as Katherine frolics around ruins, green mazes and antique rooms, invades portraits with her bass guitar to “queer the male images”, and dresses up as everything from playgroup knight to Metallica’s Kirk Hammett to towering pagan carnival-stalker. Totally charming – along with Great Dad, she’s definitely one to watch.

Blind Dog Studio presents:
Hazel Iris + Mally Harpaz + Velodrome
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 4th July 2018, 7.30pm
– information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Barringtone + Stephen Evens + Ham Legion, 12th July 2018Down in south-west London, Brixton lurkers Barringtone – presumably recovered from drummer Boomer’s broken wrist – take over the Windmill again for “an evening of left-field pop” as part of the increasing build towards the release of their debut album: a build which has mostly consisted of them playing semi-secret gigs a stone’s throw from their front room and nerve centre. Talk about conquering the world from your bedsit… Here, again, is their most recently released effort Dream Boys, showcasing their switch from motorik power pop towards a Zappa/Partridgean art-pop embracing some greater breadth and complexity: they’ve always had it in them, it’s just that they’ve now decided to be more blatant about it.


 
In support is scowling singer-songwriter Stephen EvEns, whose faux-surly demeanour disguises one of the most slyly humorous British songwriters since the aforementioned Partridge and the previously mentioned Ray Davies. Stints behind the drums for Graham Coxon, The Damned, Charlotte Hatherley and Cardiacs concealed his sharp talent for a crumpled, rumpled song: the two albums he did leading his own band Stuffy/The Fuses revealed it. Last year’s debut solo album ‘Bonjour Poulet’ (“the songs are beautiful and the words are horrible”) dragged it fully into the light, first squinting and then revealing its hulking, deceptive charm. Eyebrow ever-so-slightly raised; a little fang, a guitar, a desultory voice and a crappy little keyboard; a pincushion heart and a wash of downbeat Brit-indie shrug. With the imminent return of The Kinks, he’s probably got a little more competition than he did last week, but trust me, he’ll walk it.


 
Brighton-via-London rockers (and outlying Cardiacs family sprig) Ham Legion complete the bill with their “lo-fi pop… punctuated with proggy outbursts, psychedelic breakdowns and passages of cod-metal joy.” I can’t put it better than that, at least not today.


 
Windmill Brixton presents:
Barringtone + Ham Legion + Stephen Evens
The Windmill, 22 Blenheim Gardens, Brixton, London, SW2 5BZ, England
Thursday 12th July 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here
 

June 2018 – upcoming gigs – üF-Beat spontaneous experimental night in Crouch End, London on 14th June – walk up and join in…

9 Jun

A passing note that this is happening in Crouch End this coming Thursday, and that if you’re a listener or player of a progressive/experimental instrumental tinge in or around London that night who isn’t already headed to the Lost Crowns or Friends Serene events, this might be for you.

üF-Beat, 14th June 2018“An open mic with a difference. We are inviting musicians (and sound sculptors) to play but not the usual blues and classics you get in pubs but to experiment and explore. It’s a journey. Without judgement. All styles – jazz, prog-rock, fusion, folk, classical, avant-garde, electronic, sounds, welcome.

“üF-Beat is inspired by the German underground clubs that gave birth to the Krautrock music scene (Kraftwerk, Faust, Can, Tangerine Dream and inspired many British bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, Henry Cow, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc). As part of the Crouch End Festival Fringe (the more experimental part of the Festival), we are setting up an interesting musical adventure in the Committee Room in the Hornsey Town Hall with grand piano plus PA, mics, amps and psychedelic lighting. And a bar. It’s free too.

“Bring your instrument and an open mind.”

And that’s it. All else will depend on what you yourself bring to it either as audient or player, and on who else turns up…

üF-Beat
Hornsey Town Hall, The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9JJ, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 8.30pm
– information here
 

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

6 Jun

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

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

* * * * * * * *

From promoters Multi-Storey:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


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

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


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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


 

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

* * * * * * * *

The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

* * * * * * * *

Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

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