I’ve not got quite as many gigs to cover this time, but bear in mind that The End Festival is still happily raging in Crouch End this week (if it were a standalone concert, The End’s Feast of St Cecilia weird-folk afternoon would be taking pride of place here), as is the London Jazz Festival. As I’m also a little more squeezed for time than usual this week, there’ll be less personal reflection and much more press-release in the coverage of the gigs in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll opinionate a little more next time.
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First up, a Baba Yaga mid-week gig: the debut British show for Josefin Öhrn, who’s rapidly becoming a darling of the urban psychedelic crowd. With her band The Liberation, she creates a beautifully spacious, light touch sound: some Krautrock motorik, enough rock’n’roll minimalism to slip smoothly into the sweet spot between hypnotic and monotonous, a strident skullbone rattle-and-drone where it’s needed, and a repertoire of subtle sonic finessing (shimmer, backwards reverb, rises, rainbow tone curves, all of the ingredients precisely and skilfully placed). To cap it, there’s Josefin’s voice – as perfectly-judged as the rest of the instrumentation and as cool as a drink of iced milk on a parched day, floating in the ever-present thought-space between the band’s chassis and roof.
In an era in which “psychedelia” can often mean merely a grab-bag of influences from which wah-wah pedals and two-note riffs are dispensed as signifiers and signposts into a realm of easy accessibility as opposed to gateways to another dimension, it can be a rarity to come across a band who are genuinely fixated on creating alternate realities for the listener. Yet this is exactly how Stockholm’s Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation view their incandescent art, and it’s this sensibility that’s led to the kaleidoscopic splendour of their debut full-length for Rocket Recordings, ‘Horse Dance’. “It’s a continuum that flows beyond here and now, and psychedelic music seems to be a really powerful way to unveil those deeper oceans of being that are our true home,” reflects Josefin, who forms half the core of the band with Fredrik Joelson. The last twelve months have seem a dramatic rise to prominence for The Liberation (who take their band name from the Tibetan Book Of The Dead) with their EP ‘Diamond Waves’ leading to shows in their homeland with Goat and Les Big Byrd, a nomination for a Swedish Grammy as best newcomer, and rapturously received appearances at festivals like Roskilde.
These adventures have set the stage for a spectacular movement into the unknown from their earlier work. ‘Horse Dance’ is a razor-sharp collection of ditties that marry dreamlike radiance with hypnotic rhythmic drive, set alight by a prismatic experimental glow. It inhabits a realm in which a propulsive ’60s-tinged pop song like ‘Sunny Afternoon’ can be elevated skyward with krautrock-tinged repetition, dub echo and analogue curlicues alike, and one in which a Broadcast-style mantra like You Have Arrived can tap into a psychic lineage that stretches all the way from The United States Of America to Portishead’s ‘Third’. Yet whilst ghosts of the like of Laika, Cat’s Eyes and The Creatures may lurk in the darker recesses of these songs, this is a band paying no homage to bygone glories.
The Liberation cite a myriad influences in both their philosophical stance and their aesthetic, from 12th century iconoclasts like Milarepa to 20th century sonic voyagers like Catherine Ribeiro, and from Kandinsky’s abstract expressions of synaesthesia to the avant-jazz of Moondog. Yet at all times their transcendental extrapolations are married to icy and enticing melodic flourishes, making for a revitalising clash between the chic and the transcendental, and a sound as biting as it is beatific. “I definitely think that the human need for altered states – to see oneself from a bigger perspective – is a deep fundamental need,” Josefin elaborates. “We’ve been deprived of access to our full nature by a restrictive system where altered states may be the ultimate taboo.” With ‘Horse Dance’, Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation step into a world where all such restrictions and taboos are null and void, and this journey is already proving quite the spectacle to behold.
Support comes from all-female rock trio The Wharves (whose resonant clear-voiced indie sound, with a stack of folk-pop harmony and a sheen of blurred fluidity, sometimes sounds like a raindrop on the verge of collapsing) and from Mr. Silla (the solo project from former múm member Sigurlaug Gísladóttir, who’s joined live by guitarist Tyler Ludwick of Princess Music). There will also be DJ-ing from Daun of Swedish space-rockers Flowers Must Die.
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To be honest, I’m expecting half of the committed freaks in town to be at this next gig; and to have bought their tickets months ago…
After a sold out Under The Bridge gig in 2013, The Magic Band are back! Sharing the vision of celebrating the music of the late Don Van Vliet – aka Captain Beefheart – the band re-visits the classic Beefheart tunes with renewed fervour.Fans of the Captain won’t, wouldn’t and couldn’t miss this! Avant-garde blues at its finest and most rambunctious!
Speaking for myself, the enjoyment of Beefheart’s particular, perverse genius is always marred by the appalling stories of how he maltreated his colleagues. In many respects the man’s life was in tune with mischievous American folk-hero mythology. Those stories of microphone-busting vocals and of teaching his musicians all of their skills from scratch fit happily into the grand tradition of the American liar, the itinerant teller of tall tales and outright whoppers. Still, as the years have gone by, and as the other stories have bled through (about Beefheart’s take-the-money-and-lie attitude, his theft of credit for all of his players’ skills and work, and especially the brutally entitled sadism and psychological warfare meted out to his musical serfs as the band wrung out the tunes) the shine and mystique has well and truly worn off the man. What’s left, as ever, is the music: that tangle of bloodshot rolling blare and skew-whiff insight, the stubborn blues limp and the wrong-angle harmony attacks, the unorthodox barbed hooks that have kept generations of musicians and listeners transfixed.
With the Captain himself dead and gone for five years, reduced to a baleful honk of memory in a speaker, it’s been down to those who played alongside him in the various Magic Bands – and who, in the long run, finally survived him – to regularly blow on the embers and revive the noise. Since the Magic Band’s first reformation in 2006, some of the original members have, for various reasons passed out of the lineup again (first Robert Williams and Gary Lucas; most recently, Denny Walley) but the group still features singer and multi-instrumentalist John “Drumbo” French and bass player Mark “Rockette Morton” Boston. For this gig they’re joined by their current roster of sympatico recruits: guitarist Eric Klerks, drummer Andrew Niven and the newest recruit, Walley’s replacement Max Kutner (a multi-instrumentalist known for his work with Mike Keneally and Oingo Boingo and with Zappa tributeers Grandmothers of Invention, as well as his own projects such as Evil Genius and The Royal US).
By all accounts, in spite of time and circumstance whittling away at the roster of original players, the band retains their magic (judge for yourselves from the clip below). For me what clinches it is that at least some of the right guys are finally being paid, both in cash on the nail and in the credit they’ve damn well earned.
(All right – I did find time and room for some opinionating…)
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On Friday (and on the following Monday), Annette Peacock – a great undersung pioneer of various strains of songwriting, jazz experiments and electronics, as well as being an anticipator of many of the intriguing trends in female-led art music of today – is playing a couple of shows at Café Oto.
“We’re very excited to host the first OTO appearance – and first show in London for quite some time – from visionary composer and songwriter, Annette Peacock. Always ahead of her time, Peacock has influenced a huge array or genres whilst never letting herself be pinned down by one, resulting in a music that is as captivating as it is unique. This should be very special indeed.” – Café Oto press release
“Annette Peacock’s wondrous, immersive trailblaze across recorded music’s rich history has marveled the likes of David Bowie, Brian Eno and one-time collaborator Salvador Dalí. Peacock once jokingly told The Quietus she has been fighting her way back to reality ever since taking LSD at Timothy Leary’s Millbrook estate in the early 1960s. Her plunge into otherworldly sonic wellsprings made her one of the first artists to synthesize her own vocals, pioneering the realms of minimalism, free jazz, rap, classical music and psychedelic funk along the way. After Robert Moog gifted Peacock one of his elusive prototype-synthesizers, she started implementing the makeshift device into her already individualistic, free-form lingo of songwriting and composing. To hear music skip so radically across exotic new touchstones, who needs reality, right?” – ‘Le Guess Who’
“Annette Peacock is a stone cold original – an innovator, an outlier, authentically sui generis.” – John Doran, ‘The Quietus’
“Nothing prepares you for the howl of her searingly high notes spiralling up out of spooky organ chords and soul-brass riffs.” – John Fordham, ‘The Guardian’
“A pioneer of rap, live electronic music and synth-pop, Annette Peacock’s achievements are monumental.” – ‘Scarufi’
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A few months ago, I briefly covered folk/classical/pop fusion night Whispers & Hurricanes (the latest arm of the Chaos Theory Promotions mini-empire) and they’re back this week.
Raf & O + ArHai + Lucy Claire + guests (Whispers & Hurricanes @ The Sebright Arms, 33-35 Coate Street, Bethnal Green London, E2 9AG, UK, Friday November 20th 2015, 7:30pm) – £6.00 – information – tickets
After a wonderful launch in September, our newest night is back with inspired musicians who fuse traditional sounds with groundbreaking techniques in an evening of mesmeric triphop, folktronica, avant pop and contemporary classical electronics. Fans of Portishead, Bowie, Lamb, Bjork and Eric Satie will enjoy.
Raf & O are a duo from south-east London who are garnering widespread acclaim in the UK and Europe, creating a buzz via exciting performances of their uniquely detailed avant-pop and its vortex of live electronics, acoustic instruments and fragile, magnetic, strange lullabies. After supporting artists such as Faust and Little Annie Bandez, they were special guests in Richard Strange’s production for William S. Burroughs’ centenary at Queen Elizabeth Hall, and recently composed for the theatre play ‘That Woman’s Voice’ (a tribute to Jean Cocteau). Raf and O’s second album ‘Time Machine’ was named as one of ‘FACT Magazine’s Top 10 albums of 2014, with their “avant-bizarre” interpretation of David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul pricking the ear of Bowie’s pianist, Mike Garson (who praised their minimalist approach) and leading to appearances at two Memory Of A Free Festival concerts (re-stagings of the legendary Beckenham Free Festival organised by David Bowie and The Beckenham Arts Lab back in 1969). Tonight we’ll hear them perform music from their first two albums, as well as unheard music from their upcoming third album.
ArHai is an electronic Balkan folk duo, consisting of Serbian-born composer and singer Jovana Backovic and British multi-instrumentalist Adrian Lever. Their music is a fusion of electronic music and folk with medieval influences from both the Gaelic and Balkan traditions. Underlined with breathtaking visuals, Arhai breathes new life into the sounds of the Bulgarian 8-string tambura lute and hammered dulcimer (played by Adrian), blending them with Jovana’s ethereal vocals and electronic production. Their previous album ‘Eastern Roads’ is a must have. Tonight’s show celebrates the launch of their new website and the upcoming release of their single.
We also welcome back the brilliant composer Lucy Claire, who launched her beautiful ‘Collaborations’ EP with us last year. A soundscape artist and a contemporary classical composer with influences from the likes of Satie, Peter Broderick and Björk, Lucy composes music with a very organic heart to it and in a style so unique and diverse that it has resulted in her performing to classical, electronic, acoustic and post-rock audiences, as well as live performances on BBC London’s breakfast show and BBC6 Music. Her sound initially seems soft and ambient, but reveals a defiant spirit and gentle force breaking its way through. This evening we will see her perform new collaborative works with some special guests, some of whom you may know already.
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It’s always nice to hail a new music night, especially one that’s only a short stroll from your own front door. In the Archway cutting, just up the road from the current Misfit City HQ, Songs From The Cellar have begun to fill a café basement with sound: next week it’s an investigation of antique popular songs, but this week it’s guitar instrumentals…
Guitar Journey Duet is a team-up between two leading London cross-disciplinary guitarists – British player Jonny Phillips (a member of Oriole and F-ire Collective) and Sardinian-born Giorgio Serci (whose twenty years of recordings, collaborations and performance has included work with Antonio Forcione, Eduardo Niebla, Denys Baptiste and Shirley Bassey).
Between them Jonny and Giorgio cover jazz, classical, flamenco, samba, art rock, British folk and African jazz. They might be off to play Verdi at the Albert Hall barely a week after this concert, but what they get up to in this small Highgate basement might well be something completely different. The only clue as to what they’re playing is that they’re favouring Spanish guitars tonight, as they are in the video below.
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The last gig I’m listing for the week is another Daylight Music effort, bridging the acoustic and the electronic, the pastoral and the urban.
Renowned for quality esoteric music, Shoreditch’s Lo Recordings has released music by Thurston Moore, Four Tet, Aphex Twin and others. Now the label is celebrating its 20th birthday with a special showcase at Daylight Music featuring label artists Grasscut, Astronauts and Lilith Ai.
Many accolades have been heaped on Grasscut, the teaming of Andrew Phillips (voice, keyboards, guitar) and Marcus O’Dair (keyboards, double bass) in a wide-thinking Brighton-based duo which encompasses electronica, classical minimalism and multi-media, and which draws inspiration from landscapes and history. Andrew, who writes and produces all Grasscut music, is also known for his soundtrack work for HBO, BBC Films and Channel 4: he has been nominated for an Emmy and shortlisted for an Ivor Novello. Marcus (who manages the band in addition to his instrumental contributions) also occupies himself with journalism for the Guardian and Financial, lecturing in Popular Music at Middlesex University and work as a broadcaster in particular on Stuart Maconie’s ‘Freakzone’: he is also the author of ‘Different Every Time: The Authorised Biography Of Robert Wyatt’. At this concert Grasscut will be playing music from their new album (and first for Lo Recordings), ‘Everyone Was A Bird’.
Astronauts is the solo project from Dan Carney (formerly of Dark Captain). Described by Sputnik Music as “often bleak and highly contemplative indie-folk”, according to Facebook, the project is mainly in the business of creating “ham-fisted bleep-folk neoliberal takedowns”. As with Grasscut, Dan’s interests and influences extend beyond making music: he is a qualified developmental psychologist with an interest in short-term memory development and in Williams and Down’s syndromes.
Lilith Ai is a new signing to Lo Recordings. A member of the Fight Like A Girl collective, she performs poignant tales of modern city living. Drawing from blues, folk and acoustic R’n’B, and dusted by subtle electronic shades and beats, Lilith’s songs show urban life through a clear lens which does not hesitate to reveal her own dark life experience.