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

1 Jun

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

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

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


 

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


 

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


 

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

 

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


 

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

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

 

April/May 2019 – upcoming jazz gigs – a massive Barbican celebration of London jazz from the Total Refreshment Centre (13th April); the Steam Down collective hit Shoreditch (24th April); Warmer Than Blood in London and Cardiff (22nd April, 21st May)

10 Apr

When landlords and developers mark a city building for extra, blander profit – and when they put the squeeze on an existing tenant – they don’t only change and narrow the future, they can also asphyxiate the past. I don’t mean that they somehow delete what’s come before, it’s more that they pinch it off and remove its potential for continuance. The meaning that’s associated with a building and what goes on inside it, its history, becomes obscured to people who’ve not had the chance to discover it yet; or to people who might, in the future, grow up nearby never knowing what used to take place there.

For myself, I feel pretty damn ignorant for not having known about Hackney music space Total Refreshment Centre until, ooh, last year. It seems that, in various forms, it harboured and encouraged music for at least half of my lifetime, curating the historical while encouraging the current and never losing touch of the ethos that music should be inherent to and conversant with its community rather than being a little rarified enclave. The fact that sometime, quietly, last summer, the TRC was forced to shut down (presumably to make way for luxury flats or something which can generate a greater ground rent) makes me angry. Fortunately, the place is resilient enough as an idea – effectively, as a movement – not to rely entirely on bricks and mortar. Scheduled gigs have continued (still run by the existing team but moved to other venues), the programs still run; the concept of the place still has legs.

In some respects the people involved with the TRC are making a virtue of their new and more itinerant existence, using it to spread the word a little wider; extending their ongoing work in what ‘Clash Music’ has called “a means of pursing social engineering, a way to build communities up at a time when the political establishment seem content to break communities apart… Music can be used to re-imagine your surroundings, to transform concrete, glass, and brick into something magical.” Still, it must make life a little tougher, a little more challenging, that much more of a forced hack at a time when it’s already pretty exhausting.

With that in mind, it’s good to see that the TRC gets its own jazz tribute – more accurately, its own self-propelled celebratory showcase – this coming weekend at one of London’s more inviolable culture fortresses, the Barbican. There’s an opportunity here to carp about centralization, or about how certain establishments are protected while others are not (and for distasteful reasons – race and class also have a role to play here), but let’s just sound the obvious note here and move on. Better to bounce back and roll on as the TRC are doing; better to celebrate the recognition and cooperation which such a show also represents.

There are still a few tickets available for what’s promising to be one of the events of the London jazz year. Blurb follows:

“Total Refreshment Centre is part and parcel of east London’s recent music history. The building’s musical journey started as a Caribbean social club and studio and evolved into the musical hub that it is today. On April 13th, the Barbican Centre will host Dreaming The City, celebrating a previously untold story in east London’s music history. To mark nearly thirty years of influential music in the building, TRC has teamed up with Boiler Room – the revered global music broadcasting platform – who will broadcast the gig live.

“The concept of the show is a live mixtape exploring three decades of musical excellence that took place inside an Edwardian warehouse in Hackney. The building began life as a confectionary factory and by the 1990s had become Mellow Mix, a Caribbean social club and rehearsal space. In 2012 it began running as Total Refreshment Centre, an influential studio and venue that has played an integral role in the upsurge of new London jazz, which is now gathering worldwide attention. The narrative of ‘Dreaming The City’ is inspired by the history of this building, made special by the communities that inhabited it over the years. This story, researched by writer Emma Warren, is explored fully in her new book, ‘Make Some Space: Tuning Into Total Refreshment Centre (And All Places Like It)‘.

“Over thirty musicians from the thriving jazz scene (including Cassie Kinoshi and her Seed Ensemble, drummer-producer Kwake Bass, Jazz Warrior Orphy Robinson, Tom Skinner’s Wildflower, folk-crossover artists Rozi Plain, Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Idehen) will team up to perform. Also on the bill – Chelsea Carmichael, Cherise Adams-Burnett, Crispin Spry Robinson, Deschanel Gordon, Donna Thompson, Dylema Amadie, Emma-Jean Thackray, Idris Rahman, James Howard, Joe Bristow, Leon Brichard, Maria Osuchowska, Miguel Gorodi, Mutale Chashi, Noriko Okaku, Oscar Jerome, Patrick Boyle, Rai Wong, Rio Kai, Sheila Maurice-Grey, Shirley Tetteh, Tyrone Isaac-Stuart, Yael Camara Onono, Yohan Kebede and more special secret guests to come. This milestone event will unfold over five chapters, blurring the lines of what jazz is and creating new, exclusive and unexpected collaborations.

“There’s a strong link between club culture and live music in today’s vibrant music scene – what some have called ‘jazz-rave’ – and Dreaming The City will offer an energetic journey through time, space and London’s rich culture. The evening will start with a celebration of Caribbean sounds, recognising the community that first established the space as a musical hub. Following this, we trace the contemporary lineage of jazz music between inner-city London, West Africa, the Caribbean and continental Europe. Expect a session showcasing household names premiering new outfits, dropping old classics and brand new tunes. The music will reflect the diversity of sounds that have been danced to at TRC, from reggae and dub, to Krautrock via jazz and West African grooves.”

Some glimpses…

 
…and here’s a short film about the state of London jazz (with plenty of TRC-ing) which was released into the wild a few months ago in January…


 
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Back in January I did some praise singing for Steam Down, the south London jazz collective who bring regular African-inspired but London-cooked communal music events to Deptford. For the benefit of those north and east Londoners who for some reason never cross the river, they’re playing Shoreditch’s Village Underground towards the end of the month.

Steam Down, 24th April 2019“Join Steam Down as they take over Village Underground, with members on the decks and some very special guests joining them on stage. Jumping off from the sonic springboard of Afrofuturism, grime and future soul, all fused together with the fearless spontaneity of jazz, Steam Down is an arts collective comprised of Ahnanse, Alex Rita, Brother Portrait, Sawa-Manga, Theon Cross, Nadeem Din-Gabisi, Benjamin Appiah, Dominic Canning and “Nache. The collective congregates mid-weekly for a live performance where healing vibes and compulsive dancing are just as important as the music. Previous sessions have included guest appearances from Kamasi Washington, Sampa The Great, Nubya Garcia, members of Ezra Collective, SEED Ensemble and Sons of Kemet. Every week proves to be a co-creative piece of magic where everyone’s participation matters.”


 
There’s a new Village Underground interview with Steam Down here, but below is part of what I wrote about them three months ago:

“(An) African-inspired collective ethos… a diverse, voluntary hive mind, their individualities fused and encouraged by common purpose… a simmering pot of phuture soul, West African rhythms and cheerful Afrofuturism, the rapid offset breakbeat-splash and electrophonic edge of grime and broken-beat, and (in particular) spiritual jazz. That said, they’re well aware that they should steer clear of romantic oversimplifications about roots. As Ahnanse remarked in an interview with ‘The Vinyl Factory’ last year, “the roots of what we are creating starts outside of that context, jazz is not the only source of improvised music in the world. It happens in many forms and many cultures, we all come from different spaces and cultures, and it isn’t black American culture, none of us were born there, so actually we are bringing all of those other experiences into this… In a society that is so hegemonic and monotonous it’s nice to surprise yourself and be surprised, by people that you know well.” More than anything else, Steam Down work is inspired by the interlocking of Afro-diasporan culture with week-by-week London life – the information-rich bustle and challenges of a world city made up of people from everywhere, many of them sometimes pushing (or knocking heads) against half-invisible restrictions and oppressions as well as providing broad-mindedness and opportunity.”


 
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Also this spring, guitarist/composer Chris Montague revs up his jazz trio Warmer Than Blood (with bass guitarist Ruth Goller and pianist Kit Downes) for a couple of month-apart gigs in London and Cardiff. As I noted when I wrote about them in February, between them they can draw on a massive range of potential influences (including Sephardic music, manouche, punk jazz, Latin folk and Maghrebian sounds, the bouncing imagined world-jazz of the F-IRE Collective, Chris’ six-string avant-mapping in Future Currents) but in practise tend to go somewhere else – somewhere more uprooted and peril-flecked. Compared to the broad communality of Steam Down or the TRC community, they’re coming from a different place – tenser, more abstract and (if we’re being honest) whiter – but it’s still a collective communal effort, just shrunk down to a smaller chamber and a slender triangular format.

Warmer Than Blood, 22nd April/21st May 2019

As I wrote last time, “all three are longtime friends and collaborators, seeking yet another new approach. They seem to have found it with Chris’ newest batch of compositions and improvisation-seeding situations, which he suggests consist of “intricate textures, dark pools of harmony, layered melodies, kinetic group improvisation and percussive prepared piano… fractious composed passages can inhabit the same sonic space as spare, ambient melodies, often described as melancholic and uplifting at the same time…” Introverted and ominous, their name-track’s a quiet etiolated piano exploration over a minimal pulsing guitar-chord cycle and locked-in bass rumble. The excerpt from a longer piece, FTM, is a gradual evolver in which Chris hovers in menacing sustain/volume-swell textural clouds and momentary dust-devils over ghost-Latin clicks and bass piano thuds (Kit muting the piano at both ends) before the trio expand into what’s partly a kind of haunted country music (like a Bill Frisell ensemble scoured to the bone by plains wind), and partly like a salsa band coming to terminal grief in a badlands dustbowl.”

Here’s a rare recent live recording and an album taster for their imminent debut…

 
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Dates:

Boiler Room and Total Refreshment Centre present:
BR x Total Refreshment Centre: ‘Dreaming The City’
Barbican Hall @ Barbican Arts Centre, Silk Street, City of London, London, EC2Y 8DS, England
Saturday 13th April 2019, 8.00pm
– information here and here

Warmer Than Blood:

Steam Down
Village Underground, 54 Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3PQ, England
Wednesday 24th April 2019, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here
 

May/June 2018 – Long Fin Killie man Luke Sutherland’s new band Rev Magnetic on tour in Scotland and England (25th May to 1st June) with (variously) Superchunk, Erin Friel, Foolish Atoms, Helen Mort, Stonethrower, Salome Benidze, Nova Scotia The Truth, ILK, Caitlin Buchanan, The Honeyfarm, Jack Cheshire and winterThieves

22 May

Rev Magnetic on tour, 25th May to 1st June 2018

I’m rushing this one into post, since I’ve only just heard about it. No apologies for the excessive cut-and-paste here, nor for the absence of much personal insight (although I will say that when a shortage of information meant that I had to dig deeper, I found more).

“While touring the world as guest multi-instrumentalist with Mogwai, Luke Sutherland (Long Fin Killie, Bows, Music A.M.) used the downtime to sketch a bunch of songs. Once he got home, he wrote a handful more and recorded them with the help of a few friends at his cottage on the edge of the Scottish Highlands. The result was an album’s worth of material with references ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Teebs, Lemmy-era Hawkwind to ABBA, Vaughan Williams to Boulez.

“Keen to translate the radiant chaos of the recordings into a live setting, Luke put together Rev Magnetic, featuring Audrey Bizouerne (Gift Horse), Sam Leighton (Live w/ Prides, St MARTiiNS) and Gregor Emond who played with Luke in a band called Hynd, way back before the birth of the internet. Combining elements of dream pop, shoegaze, R&B, and post rock, their first single, Like No Girl That Ever Was/Don’t Let Joy Destroy You is the sound of summer at full pelt.”


 
Imminent Scottish and English tour dates are below:

  • Neu! Reekie @ St Andrew’s Church, 410-412 Easter Road, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8HT, Scotland, Friday 25th May 2018, 7.15pm (with Salome Benidze + Helen Mort + Erin Friel + The Honey Farm) – information here and here
  • Stereo, 22-28 Renfield Lane, Glasgow, G2 6PH, Scotland, Sunday 27th May 2018, 7.30pm (supporting Superchunk) – information here and here
  • The Hug & Pint, 171 Great Western Road, Glasgow, G4 9AW, Scotland, Tuesday 29th May 2018, 7.30pm (with Nova Scotia The Truth + Caitlin Buchanan) – information here and here
  • Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England, Wednesday 30th May 2018, 7.30pm (with ILK + Jack Cheshire) – information here, here and here
  • The New Adelphi Club, 89 De Grey Street, Kingston-upon-Hull, East Yorkshire, HU5 2RU, England, Thursday 31st May 2018, 8.00pm (with Foolish Atoms + others t.b.c.) – information here, here and here
  • Conroy’s Basement, 51-53 Meadowside, Dundee, DD1 1EQ, Scotland, Friday 1st June 2018, 8.00pm (with Stonethrower + winterThieves) – information here

It’s probably accidental, but when you take a look at the finer details of the tour, it’s almost like an exploded reflection of Luke’s influences and sympathies; the cultural and artistic breadth he’s shown throughout a career voyaging through books and music. Indie rock and dance chemistry, hip hop and poetry; filtered and transformed Scottish folk; literacy and blasting noise. The balancing of multiple cultures in one evening, or just in one person.


 
Regarding the Glasgow shows… if you’ve been hitting on indie-punk playlists and festival lineups for the past twenty years, you’ll need little introduction to Superchunk. Headlining over Luke and co. at Stereo, they’re early ‘90s favourites who helped define a Carolina DIY punk sound. They were all over the inkies back in the day more or less during the same time that Luke first was; they founded Merge Records, and have kept their place in indie rock affections ever since. On the other hand, the two support acts at the Hug & Pint show are still thrumming – just – under the radar.

Originally from Aberdeen, Caitlin Buchanan is an emerging acoustic singer-songwriter working towards her first EP and taking Angel Olsen, Laura Marling and Kate Bush as influences. Perhaps Angel’s the most obvious one – the slowcore tempos, the collapsing drapes of melody – but Caitlin has little of Angel’s narcotic slur. She also isn’t as propulsive or as easy-to-follow as Laura, and (despite her own musical theatre background) isn’t as brilliantly hammy as Kate.

That’s not actually a string of negatives. Rather, it’s a suggestion that, even at this early stage, Caitlin’s already sloughed off her initial inspirations and found a voice of her own: a folded, cleverly elusive literary one which makes you sit up and take notice, full of double-take lyrical moments. Nestled in strong hammocks of folk guitar, and in gorgeous transplanted curves of Scottish melody, her songcraft is often a series of strange elisions and non-sequiturs somehow coalescing into stories, delivered in a velvety softness which makes it all the more jolting when she drops a perfectly-enunciated precision F-bomb into the crook of a tune – “I fucked up your favourite song, and this is why I don’t do imitations. / Betrayed by the idea of God, we are her most hated creations / Dressed for the office but underqualified, / express my gratitude between her slender thighs…”


 
I suspected that Nova Scotia The Truth might have picked her name as a ScotNat political assertion. It seems that I was half right. A “queen of sample-based electronic music”, active in the Scottish hip hop scene since her teenage years (and now stretching out as a producer-performer), Nova might well be representing a rising strand of modern Scotland, but not necessarily one which will cradle comfortably in the old-school saltire. Her preoccupations are with feminism and of people of colour: a pavement-and-club engagement with embedded and intersectional inequalities, mapped out in whip-crack sonic edits and shifts.

Nova’s recent ‘Al-Haqq’ EP is a determined but bewildering mash of pointers and unrest. Cyber-mimetic R&B, corbies and round-chamberings; blasts of rap and dancehall chat; industrial-grime sound collage; all mixed in with found speech from black culture and protest and faith (some of it tweaked and repurposed, but much of it left free to run). The follow-up, Zoom, is a half-hour of rapid sonic cross-cuts in a similar vein: it’s intended as a backing track for a live rap story of love and talk gone wrong, ultimately, broadening out to a wider exploration about power imbalances in relationships, silencings and language. As with a lot of underground hip hop, there’s plenty packed in there: I’m guessing that onstage, this flies.


 
The Dundee show could have been created as a vast-contrast tribute to Luke’s own willingness to be broad in listening. Rev Magnetic aside, it’s a truly strange, rather brave pairing of opposites. “East coast ecossemo” band Stonethrower bring “monolithic slabs of lead-heavy riffage, angular rage-filled spiky melodies and frantic jazz-core arrangements to blast our faces off”; while Edinburgh/Dundee duo winterThieves are a sacramental ambient act “pool(ing) their varied musical backgrounds to craft a sound that is in equal measures melancholic and euphoric, featuring vast ambient swells, lush guitar and piano melodies, and crashing drums,”, playing wordless slow-reveal post-rock hymnals to an empty sky. The angry hammer and the lonely quilt.



 
South of the border, the London show features Ilk, whose “colourful and dreamy songs unravel against a collision of psych pop influences and scruffy, found sound warmth… the band’s songs and sketches are somehow both grandiose and playful, upbeat and melancholic” plus the “psychedelic jazz-infused” songwriting of rising folk-rock favourite Jack Cheshire in solo mode.

Supporting at Hull, Chris Norrison – a.k.a. Foolish Atoms – is a solo performer who “dreams up droning acoustic swamps in his sleep… creating music so delusional and pain numbing, audiences peacefully drown in the sweet rustic guitar tones and his strained vocals.” Other acts will be added at Hull over the course of the next few days: let’s see what the city’s recent pop-cultural renaissance has produced…

 
However, it’s the Edinburgh show which looks like the pick of the crop. It’s a packed-to-the-gills mass of words, music and beats put together by “Scotland’s favourite avant-garde noisemakers” and high/low art boundary-smashers Neu! Reekie, as a partial benefit for the Save Leith Walk community crowdfunder.

As well as Rev Magnetic, on hand for performance are poets Salome Benidze and Helen Mort and a couple of Scottish hip hop acts. Onetime Deadlife Crew member Erin Friel (part of a wave of Scottish hip hoppers who stick, refreshingly, to their own accents and cadences) recently opened for rapper/activist Loki at his sell out King Tuts event for Poverty Safari. The Honey Farm – Scotland’s only all-female rap crew – are self-confessed East Lothian rap bumpkins who “simultaneously skewer and celebrate rap stereotypes with their unapologetic, take no shit attitude” and whose recent debut release L.A.D.S. is “a dragged-up pussy-grabs-back takedown of laddish, bullshit behaviour.”

It’s not quite the fierce textured outrospection of Nova, and perhaps the Farm sometimes let their drama school backgrounds show a little, but it’s all fine. Wit over pose; and plenty of rap’s supposed to be accessible, youthful and funny, including the bit of cross-cast fun with which the Farm kick off the roll of verbiage below…

 

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

6 May

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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




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

Dates:

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

 

May 2018 – a punk and groove womansplosion in London – ILL, LibraLibra and The Ethical Debating Society (11th May)

5 May

ILL + LibraLibra + The Ethical Debating Society, 11th May 2018

CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH. presents:
ILL + LibraLibra +The Ethical Debating Society + CLUB.THE.MAMMOTH DJs
The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green, London, E2 9AG, England
Friday 11th May 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

There’s an evening of feminist-slanted dance, rock’n’rave coming up in Bethnal Green next Friday, as delightfully gaudy post-punk Manchester shoutmonsters ILL (following up two previous self-released EPs) light the blue touchpaper under their debut album ‘We Are ILL’.

ILL, 2018Admired by ‘The Quietus’ for their “kinetic force” and describing themselves as “a genre-evading band which believes in the power of disobedient noise… with a repertoire of precarious pop songs and frequent improvised departures”, the all-female, fiercely feminist four-piece “revel in the right to be weird, exploring the borders between the funny and the sinister, the personal and the political, the mundane and the surreal.”

Between making a racket at Quietus events, Supernormal and the Raw Power Festival, carrying out relatively standard support slots with the likes of British Sea Power, and splurging out improvised audio-visual work at assorted art galleries, they’re certainly making a mark of their own choosing. In true Situationist tradition, ILL conceive their debut album as much as event as record – “…a call to action, a disobedient protest in the face of passivity, wrestling with the personal and political issues of identity and gender, mental health, the disintegration of social services, capitalism and misogyny. Subversive, surrealistic, humorous and fighting fierce, ILL warmly invite you to join them in kicking some ass!”



In support are Brightonian four-piece LibraLibra, a live mash of “exotic melodies and frenetic, lyrical flows meet(ing) tribal beats and broken guitars” fronted by striking singer Beth Cannon, whose recent credits include work with post-rockers Nordic Giants and co-writing/singing the riveting dream-pop-soul track Bones for Simon Raymonde’s Lost Horizons project (which she delivered like a magnificent tri-point cross between Etta James, Kate Bush and Liz Fraser).

LibraLibra’s debut single Animali (out since mid-March) is a rip-roaring renegade slosh of sub-bass-oozing world-beat carnivalia. As vigorous as the height of a Brighton Pride parade – or a volcano-cresting sabre fight between Shirley Bassey and Eartha Kitt – it’s chockful of animal namechecks, wild-woman party-leading, and a cavalcade of ferocious summoning lyrics (“you sting, you pierce my skin like a razor,” “monsoon of blood-flood, she’s calling”, “save me from the bullshit boy”) suggesting a writhing in-the-moment package of shape-shifting, menstrual sorcery, and assorted seize-the-day don’t-give-a-fuckery.

Completing the set, matter-of-fact London riot pop trio The Ethical Debating Society bring street-level DIY art-punk to the evening. Having originated as “a pseudonym for Tegan Xmas, writing anti-love songs on her hooty piano” it blossomed into “a full band, now with Kris Martin on guitarrr/vocals and Eli playing pots and pans. If we’re trying to prove anything, it’s that music is for everyone to have fun with, not just a chosen few.” Expect no frills; but do expect noisy non-nonsense songs about ethics, choices and the travails of the leaned-on, hard-bitten end of the London community.


 

June 2016 – upcoming gigs – picking through BBC Music Day

29 May

BBC Music Day

The annual BBC Music Day comes up this year and this week on Friday 3rd June. It’s a generally beneficial nation-building exercise in typical BBC style, informed by magazine-style news, middle-range tastes and light entertainment. Much of what’s on is comfortably communal – plenty of light music choirs, familiar regional touches of brass and pipes.

In all fairness, there’s plenty here to like. There’s a scheme organising gentle live shows in hospitals throughout Scotland and England. There’s a focussing on church bell ringings around the country which is free of gimmick and simply lets the art speak for itself (emphasising both its national status and its localism). There’s the ‘Take It To The Bridge‘ programme, during which the nation’s bridges will be briefly overrun by symbolic musical meetings, community choirs, time-travelling orchestras and local songwriters.

Twelfth Doctor with guitar

Sadly not joining in with any time-travelling orchestras…(© BBC 2015)

There’s also a strong sense of that other nation – the one which the BBC still encourages in the face of rumbling political dissatisfaction, manipulation and discomfort. It might be a non-partisan wash of generic English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish decency which doesn’t offer much to scare the horses, doesn’t break a sweat breaking new ground, and doesn’t ultimately provide much event-by-event challenge; but it should still be applauded for at least trying to encourage common ground and (at a time when art is being squeezed out of schools) a culture of engagement with music. For the full programme – and for British readers who want to find out exactly what’s going on in their region – check the links above.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been sifting through the programme with my jaundiced, picky eye and selecting out what I feel are some of the more unusual or rewarding events dotted around the comfy musical quilt (more or less in order of occurrence), starting in the middle of another festival in Hay-on-Wye…

BBC Radio 3 Live/Hay Festival presents:
Hay Festival Guitar Jam with Morgan Szymanski
Friends Café @ Hay Festival Site, Dairy Meadows, Brecon Road, Hay-on-Wye, HR3 5PJ, Wales
Friday 3rd June 2016, 9.30am

BBC Music Day - Get Playing!“Prior to his Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert (a collaboration with the Cremona String Quartet at 1.00pm, and already sold out) classical guitar ace Morgan Szymanski will be inviting amateur guitarists to join him for a morning guitar jam. Help create and perform a brand new piece for a hundred guitarists to be featured in the concert. Morgan will lead you through the process, whatever your level, from beginner to advanced. The event includes a special master class from Nitin Sawhney on playing the guitar.”

Unlike the walk-up nature of most of the other events listed here, a Hay Festival ticket is required for this one.

In Cambridge…

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire presents:
English Pocket Opera vs. Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K
Silver Street Bridge, Silver Street, Cambridge, CB24 5LF, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 11.30am

English Pocket Opera will be performing on a punt through the waterways of Cambridge. As they approach Silver Street bridge the opera will be joined by a local ‘BBC Introducing’ hip-hop duo Imperial & K.I.N.E.T.I.K, on top of the bridge. Hip-hop and opera will merge to create a brand new sound.”

Christ, this one could be a car-crash in multiple senses. I mean, it’s hard enough to handle a Cambridge punt at the best of time – it’s an unhappy marriage of Newton and Zen – let alone try to synchronise it with anything else. Still, given the sunny, positive and playful nature of both sets of musicians involved (don’t expect a collision of ‘Wozzeck’ and Kanye), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt… and just to put it into perspective, I‘m an appalling puntsman and these guys know their music.



 

In Nottingham…

Afro Therapy, 3rd June 2016Can’t Stop Won’t Stop presents:
Afro Therapy: featuring Jourdan Pierre Blair + Ella Knight + Early Bird + Garton + D Dot + others tbc
Rough Trade Nottingham, 5 Broad Street, Nottingham, NG1 3AJ
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.00pm

“Live music and DJs will be putting music of black origin in the spotlight. Unsigned and independent artists Ella Knight, beat maker Early Bird, and MCs Garton, D-Dot and Jourdan Pierre Blair (the last better known as Jah Digga) will represent a range of R’n’B and hip hop styles with a British stamp on global music. This free event is open to people over the age of 14.”

I’ve got to say that – for all of the community ethos being trumpeted elsewhere – this show is probably the most proactively street-level event on a day which needs to be about everyone in the country, not just people who like choirs and crumpets. (I’m not trying to bitch here; I just… noticed.) Here’s a run of video and soundclips for most of those involved.





 

Sheffield also deserves credit for working outside the comfy box…

A Law Unto Ourselves, 3rd June 2016

Yellow Arch Studios present:
A Law Unto Ourselves: The Eccentronic Research Council (featuring Maxine Peake) + The Death Rays of Ardilla + Sieben + The Third Half
Yellow Arch Studios, 30-36 Burton Road, Neepsend, Sheffield, S3 8BX, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 7.30pm
– free event – more information

This is probably the most experimental event of the lot: an opportunistic but rewarding live spotlight on Sheffield’s unique independent music scene. There should have been more events like this dotted up and down the country – not necessarily with an experimental pop thrill, but emphasizing local current indigenous music which could only have happened in particular towns and at this particular time. All respect is due to Sheffield musicians, to the Yellow Arch venue and to curator Sophie Toes for taking the trouble to spot this challenge and rise to it.

Probably the biggest draw for A Law Unto Ourselves are the headliners – The Eccentronic Research Council, barbed and crafty exponents of their own scenic and sample-heavy “library/soundtrack, experimental, folkloric/non-populist pop”. They’ll be accompanied by their own established muse and mouthpiece – Maxine Peake (actress, declaimer, proud overturner of complacent applecarts) – and are the most questioning act across Music Day, bringing a touch of dissent, argument and the British radical tradition into its general cosiness. In support are spaced-out and (literally) brotherly garage-rock duo The Death Rays of Ardilla, Sieben (a.k.a. beater, plucker, tickler and layerer of voice and violin Matt Howden) and The Third Half (a duo who combine and alternate harp, celeste, guitar and voice in “twenty-first century neo-pastoral rare groove”).

ERC


There will also be DJ sets from representatives of some of Sheffield’s other interesting underground or experimental bands – spooky lysergic-child-song folksters Antique Doll, progtronicians I Monster, psychedelic country-and-western band The Cuckoo Clocks – plus one from Sophie Toes herself. There’s limited capacity for this show, so early arrival is recommended to avoid disappointment.

* * * * * * * *

In Bristol…

Charles Hazlewood and the British Paraorchestra
Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016, 8.00pm

“After the success of last year, the ground-breaking British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, return to Colston Hall to perform for BBC Music Day. The group is headed up by Charles Hazlewood, a genuine pioneer and innovator in the world of classical music. In a unique show, the Paraorchestra will be joined on-stage by performers from Extraordinary Bodies, the professional integrated circus company and partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City. The combined effect of The British Paraorchestra and Extraordinary Bodies playing ‘In C’ by composer Terry Riley, promises to be cathartic and uplifting. The aural equivalent to climbing inside a giant lava lamp.”

On spec, this may sound like a case of worthiness over content – but while it’s true that (despite the Riley) the Paraorchestra plays its fair share of light-ent pop transcriptions to sugar the pill, albeit in its own way – it’s also worth noting that the ensemble isn’t just about the state of bodies. The Paraorchestra also explodes a lot of ideas about how an orchestra might work, in terms of instrumentation and approach: likewise, Extraordinary Bodies has plenty of challenges and delight to offer. See below:

 

…and finally…

Shaun the Sheep

Aardman Animation/Colston Hall/Bristol Museums present:
Shaun the Sheep’s Vegetable Orchestra
Studio 2, The M Shed, Princes Wharf, Wapping Rd, Bristol BS1 4RN, England / Colston Hall, Colston Street, Bristol, BS1 5AR, England
Friday 3rd June 2016
Workshops and rehearsals at Studio 2: 10.15am, 11.15am & 12.15pm (tel: 0117 352 6600 for details)
Veg Orchestra Finale! featuring Shaun the Sheep and his Vegetable Orchestra at Colston Hall: 1.40pm

“In celebration of BBC Music Day and Aardman’s 40th anniversary, children are invited to join Shaun the Sheep and become part of his Vegetable Orchestra for a live performance at Colston Hall. (There will also be an Aardman birthday singalong and cake presentation.) There will also be pre-performance workshops at M Shed to decorate your veg instruments and learn how to play your part, all set to the ‘Shaun The Sheep’ theme tune. Workshops presented by Farmer characters & Shaun himself, it’s ‘flock ‘n’ roll’ for all ages and all set on Mossy Bottom Farm!”

Sorry. For a variety of reasons (parenthood, humour, a taste for experimentalism and a love of everything Aardman-esque) I just couldn’t bloody resist that last one… and it turns out that the foremost practitioners of the vegetable orchestral art are as cheerfully experimental and conceptual as anything else I tend to feature in here…


 

The End Festival 2015 in Crouch End, part 1 (November 12th-15th)

11 Nov

The End Festival, 2015

When I was growing up in north London, Crouch End was the “next village over”. It was the place where I went to primary school and first heard song by Neil Young, Steve Winwood and The Kinks (strummed out and sung in assemblies alongside battling hymns from the civil rights movement) and where I began sharpening my hunger for musical knowledge on the rich ranks of vinyl LPs in Hornsey Library. Over the years, I’ve continued to associate the neighbourhood with music – other people’s memories of old art-rock and punk gigs at the Hornsey College of Art; the star traffic through the Church Studio at the bottom of Crouch Hill (owned in turn by Eurythmics and Paul Epsworth), where you might find Erasure or Sisters of Mercy catching a mid-session coffee in the local café; and the Gareth Malone wet-dream of the Crouch End Festival Chorus, a local choir with a national reputation.

That said, Crouch End’s day-to-day music scene has always struck me as lacking. There have been exceptions to the rule – the steady reservoir of blues and roots playing at the Kalamazoo Club; the string of house concerts that Jenni Roditi ran at her loft between 2002 and 2009; more recently, a flowering of rootsy events at the Earl Haig Hall. But generally speaking, Crouch End has always seemed to me to export or traffick in music rather than play it, becoming an increasingly upmarket and bijou neighbourhood where shoppers vastly outnumber giggers; easily eclipsed by the musicality of other London neighbourhoods like Camden Town, Dalston, Shoreditch, even Tooting.

Well, more fool me. It turns out that I’ve regularly been overlooking and missing The End – an annual, musically expansive Crouch End festival that turns all of my gloomy observations about the neighbourhood’s gig shortcomings to dust – at least, for two weeks. As my penance, here’s the first half of an overview of everyone playing at this year’s festival, which starts tomorrow (all ticket details are to be found via the info links or at the festival website).

* * * * * * * *

Lowpines + Forced Random + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Thursday 12th November, 7:30pm) – £8.80 – information

The festival kicks off with a concert navigating the blurry margins of folk and lo-fi alternative rock, with headliners good enough to warrant a post all of their own. The crepuscular but lovely Lowpines have been racking up an unending stream of plaudits for their Anglo-Americana atmospherics, which recall old phonographs playing whispered, heartspilling songs in dusty basements, laced with judicious drums, intricate campfire fingerpicking and stargazing whistles of feedback like psychedelic pedal steel lines. Support comes from Oliver Girdler’s one-man lo-fi project Forced Random (which drifts ghostlike from instrument to instrument and from one slow soft-edged song to another) and from Reykjavík folk-rock trio Ylja (initially based around female harmonies and lap-style slide guitar but expanding into a broader palette that encompasses and recalls not just Fairport Convention, early Clannad and Pentangle but also the glowing starfield details of Sigur Rós and 1972 Pink Floyd).



 

* * * * * * * *

The Fierce & The Dead + a.P.A.t.T + Markers (Downstairs @ The Kings Head, 2 Crouch End Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 8AA, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £8.80 – information

The first of several events at The Kings Head hosts assorted sprigs from the thornier of British art-rock. Headlining are prog-punk quartet The Fierce & The Dead (no strangers to this blog) who bring the rumbling immediacy of their quick-flaring complicated avant-garage instrumentals to the valley for the evening. In support, hazmat-suited Liverpudlian performance art troupe a.P.A.t.T, play “progressive pop that owes as much to Kurt Schwitters and the Chapman Brothers as it does to ABBA and Zappa”, drawing on a shifting tag-team of ‘Pool talent and bring strong flavours of the absurd, the deceptive and the cunning to whatever they do.


Opening the evening, Markers reunites two old friends from the omnivorous ferment of the 1990s London math rock scene – Jodie Cox (Ursa, Narrows, Exes, Rohame and Earth) and Jason Carty (Geiger Counter, Foe, Art Of Burning Water) as two electric guitarists without a singer, a rhythm section, any other instruments or much in the way of signal processing. Expect carefully poised, bare-branching instrumentals somewhere between Slintian maths, precise Fripp and Summers interplay, and the minimum-lines/maximum-impact approach of a Japanese ink painting or minimalist film.

 

* * * * * * * *

Kate Jackson & The Wrong Moves + Oh800 + YLJA (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 9.30pm) – £8.50 – information

Kate Jackson (the former Long Blondes singer (and sometime British Electric Foundation/Heaven 17 collaborator) brings her current band The Wrong Moves to The End. She’ll be playing music from the upcoming “mysterious” album she’s been writing and recording with Bernard Butler over the past six years (though from what I’ve heard of it it’s more assured than mysterious – a muscular, classic pop rock mix with Kate’s big vocals and Bernard’s bright, sometimes startling guitar work).

Also on the bill are Oh800, a currently secretive new supergroup featuring Eoin “Oh Ruin” O’Ruainigh plus members of The Duke Spirit and F.U.R.S. The project is still enough under wraps not to have any tracks available to share, so you’ll just have to guess what they sound like, though it’s possible that the old Oh Ruin ingredients of blues, campfire tunes, Irish folk and fingerpicking will get a look-in. In addition, Ylja will be playing their second support slot of the festival, following the previous day’s appearance with Longpines.

 

* * * * * * *

Joseph & Maia + Charlotte Carpenter + Annalie Wilson + Storme (Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Friday 13th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

An intimate gig of classic pop styles in one of Crouch End’s favourite drop-in cafes. New Zealand duo Joseph & Maia headline, playing songs from their debut album ‘Sorrento’ (a record which shows both their indebtedness to American songbook player-writers both old and new – Buckingham and Nicks, Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Patsy Cline, Noah Gundersen – and their absolute assurance in working the same seams). Armed with a deeper and more ambiguous folk-blues approach, Northamptonshire-born Charlotte Carpenter sings songs of doubt and connection, softly, but with great emotional power held in check (like a surge pushing at a levee).


Rounding out the bill, acoustic festival favourite and all-round performer Annalie Wilson brings straight-ahead conversational, coffee-house songs on piano and guitar: while concert opener Storme (a Swedish singer-songwriter who’s come over to London to develop her songs, reversing the usual trend) is bold and dramatic enough to be a headliner, since her heavy-weather synth-pop aims for the same stadium-friendly altitudes as Florence + The Machine, Chvrches or even the more crowdpleasing moments of Björk .


 

* * * * * * * *

Becky Arundel + Nora Grefstad + Kloak (Kiss The Sky, 18-20 Park Road, Crouch End, London, N8 8TD, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 3.00pm) – free

The first of the Saturday gigs is a celebration of young female songwriters. Becky Arundel writes and delivers muscled, determined folk-rock in the Melissa Etheridge vein, moving from unplugged strum to bursting electric explosions. Norwegian singer Nora Grefstad , who generally trades as Noraslittleworld, slides her path midway between Elkie Brooks and Beth Gibbons (offering slightly wonky, jazzy trip-hopped pop or full-diva piano balladry – in each case with a hint of smeared-lipstick, morning-after feeling). While there seem to be plenty of people contributing to Kloak, in essence they’re two sassy-wise white girls – Georgia Meek and Gabrielle Mallett – putting together R&B-tinged electropop with a strong flavour of Eartha Kitt (those bent notes and divan stretches; that conversational yawp in the voice).



 

* * * * * * *

Cortes + Bea Munro + Orfan (ThisIsWIRED @ Rileys The Ice Cream Café, 32 The Broadway, Crouch End, London, N8 9SU, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £7.70 – information

Showcase night ThisIsWIRED (which, since its initiation in Shoreditch seven years ago has incubated the early budding careers of musicians including Ellie Goulding, Raleigh Ritchie and Michael Kiwanuka) rolls up to a Crouch End ice cream parlour for a north London jaunt. Tonight’s players include crisp power-poppers Cortes and belting 22-year-old ‘60s-rock-siren revivalist Bea Munro; but for my money the likely star in the pack is gig opener Orfan, who uses his multi-instrumental skills to hone captivating yearning songs which touch bases with such odd-bedfellow influences as Nico, Prince and Boo Hewerdine.



 

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Farrago + Ylja + Frida Wallin + YLJA (Before the Gold Rush @ The Haberdashery, 22 Middle Lane, Crouch End, London, N8 8PL, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £5.50 – information

In keeping with The End’s origins, peripatetic roots night Before The Gold Rush curate an outright folk & Americana evening. A truly enchanting set looks likely from Farrago, the psychedelic folk vehicle for the lucid, highly literate work of London songwriter Ian Bennett – vivid short stories couched in rich, longing arrangements and with colourful, falling poetic imagery. There’ll be a third appearance by Ylja, perhaps opening up to their lusher dream-folk tendencies. With flavours of honky-tonk and Grand Ol’ Opry, rising festival favourite Frida Wallin brings us the End’s most straightforward country music set to date. (She’s actually Swedish. Don’t let on or anything…)



 

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The Battles of Winter + Metro Verlaine + MOSES (The Crypt Studio, 145a Crouch Hill, Crouch End, London, N8 9QH, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.30pm) – £5.50 – information

While Before The Gold Rush keeps the Americana and folk covered for the evening, the people at the Crypt hold down the indie and punk rock side of things. The Battles Of Winter embrace a driving post-punk indie sound compared to Echo & The Bunnymen, Interpol and The Doors. French “pop sauvage” trio Metro Verlaine are noisy electric romanticists inspired by the rush of Patti Smith/Richard Hell punk and the latterday spark of The Kills, as well as drawing on the original poète maudit fury of their namesake. The evening is opened by guttural punky rock’n’roll noise from M O S E S, who draw a London parallel to Wolf Mother and The Subways.



 

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The Wave Pictures + The Oreilles + Victor Lovlorne + Beverly + Pony & Trap + Nadine Khouri + Kindling + Annie Rew Shaw + Ryder Havdale + Kloak + Aphty Khea + Hudson Scott + Esther Joy Lane + others tbc (Hornsey Town Hall Arts Centre, The Broadway, N8 9JJ, London, UK, Saturday 14th November 2015, 7.00pm) – £16.50 – information

The big one. For this concert, at least thirteen performers will be taking up temporary residence in the battered but still beautiful Art Deco rooms of the former Town Hall, running quick-changeover mini-sets in the Supper Room, Committee Room and Council Chambers. Like a spontaneous party, the actual participants and their playing order seem to be in constant flux – as I quickly put this post together, the following seems to be the current setup.


Two bands are down from Yorkshire – The Wave Pictures (rattling Byrds-and-Motown garage-indie from Wymeswold) and teenaged Halifax trio The Orielles (a surf pop band from a landlocked town, teetering on the balance of their love of Riot Grrrl and the la-la-la). From America, buzz-pop Brooklyneers Beverly can’t quite make up their minds over whether to stick with Slowdive or Lush or to hit the accelerator pedal towards Surfin’ USA; pellmell Massachusetts indie-punks Kindling provide some rocket-powered shoegaze pop of their own. From Canada via Berlin, Ryder Havdale of The Mohawk Lodge might or might not come good on his promise to salt the lonesome indie-country rock of his main band with some Berlin-inspired electronics.



Several performers bring in captivating moods and stories. The blend of murmur, smouldering torch and cool eyed-vision in the work of Lebanese-British songcrafter Nadine Khouri has drawn comparisons with Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Mazzy Star. Athenian-in-London singer Aphty Khea (a.k.a. MantRah) deals in self-produced slow-drag abstract soul and hip hop ideas; Texan gospel choir escapee and human love-wreck Victor Lovlorne in unsettling lo-fi basement ballads in a Will Oldham, Sparklehorse, Beefheart or Redbone vein. Piano singer Annie Rew Shaw mingles Christine McVie melodicism and wit with an eerie ghost-haunted songwriting style.




Of the rest, Kloak make a repeat appearance (this time unplugged) following their slot at Kiss The Sky earlier in the afternoon; Pony & Trap mix crisp girl-about-town rhythm-box funk with buzzy post-punk guitar hooks); and Oxford electropop diva Esther Joy Lane puts in an appearance, as does the elusive and underplugged Hudson Scott (at the moment, just a name on a wobbling list…)


 

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Emma Pollock + Ylja (Earl Haig Hall, 18 Elder Avenue, Crouch End, London, N8 9TH, UK, Sunday 15th November 2015, 8.00pm) – £8.50 – information

The last gig of the week features Scottish alternative rock heroine and onetime Delgados songwriter Emma Pollock, now three records into a solo career as well as being branched out into poly-genre supergroups (The Burns Unit) and socially-minded collective projects (The Fruit Tree Foundation), with her varied collaborations stretching well beyond her bright indie-pop beginnings to involve folk music, theatre work and string quartets. If you’re good, she might play you some songs from her upcoming album ‘In Search Of Harperfield’. Ylja, who by now are starting to look like the End’s house band, will play their fourth and final support slot of the festival at this gig.



 

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That’s all for this week, but I’ll try to put together a rundown of next week’s End gigs over the weekend…

 

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