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

2 Nov

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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



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

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

Rachel K. Collier - 19th November 2019

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




 
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Dates:

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

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

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

March 2018 – upcoming London experimental gigs – More News From Nowhere ambient/noise/jazz/post-everything alldayer (30th March)

20 Mar

More News From Nowhere presents:
MNFN Good Friday All-Dayer (featuring Kodian Trio + Warren Schoenbright + V Ä L V E + Marlo Eggplant + Minus Pilots + Ow Te + Blick | Trio + Grave Threat + Red Team)
New River Studios, Ground Floor Unit E, 199 Eade Road, Manor House, London, N4 1DN, England
Friday 30th March 2018, 3.00pm
– information here and here

More News From Nowhere All-Dayer, 30th March 2018Walthamstow experimental evening More News From Nowhere hops the Lea again for another stint at the New River Studios in Harringay: this time an all-dayer.

A number of improvising threesomes are on hand. Kodian Trio (tagged as “meticulously disjointed free improv” by ‘Cyberinsekt’) unites saxophonist and Raw Tonk label head Colin Webster (who played at MNFN’s February event), Belgian dronetronic guitarist Dirk Serries (better known as Vidna Obmana or Fear Falls Burning) and Shatner’s Bassoon drummer Andrew Lisle. A more directly ambient-jazz approach is offered by Blick | Trio (comprising Blowpipe/Gyratory System veteran Robin Blick on assorted wind and brass, Andrew Moran on drums and James Weaver on bass, synth and programming). It’s a bit of a competition, but probably the least formal of the lot are Stoke-on-Trent-based “math-jazz wizards” Ow Te (featuring members of Stokie punks Amateur Assassins and Bong Idle, and citing a love of Karate, Codeine and The For Carnation, among others).




 

Another trio is being brought in by reedswoman and experimentalist Chlöe Herington: her increasingly industrious V Ä L V E project continues to build on its beginnings (synaesthesic graphic scores created and realised by Chlöe, bound in with specific memories and events) while simultaneously evolving into a R.I.O./Raincoats-friendly three-woman exploration vehicle via reeds, bass, concert harp and voices. Further female input into the all-dayer is provided by Marlo Eggplant (the Corpus Callosum label head, onetime Olympia punk and lead figure in the “Ladyz In Noyz” initiative), whose own dense drone improvisations are built with processed autoharp and contact mics.


 
As regards duos, there’s an appearance from Minus Pilots (percussionist Matt Pittori and bassist Adam Barringer, who “weave sparse textures, crumbling atmospheres and fractured drones with currents of gentle crackle”) and from slithering, thickety London drums-and-electronics pairing Warren Schoenbright (Daniel McClennan and Matthew Pastkewicz) who craft lengthy, ambitious and luminous experiments from poised near-silence to hammering viciousness.



 
A collaboration between two other projects (the “hard Brexit/funeral electronics” of Ashcircle and the effects-chain noise of MNFN’s own Tim Cowlishaw as Violence) was scheduled to lead to Cruciform Passage Grave: something slanting towards the New Weird Britain end of sinister occult soundcraft. In the event, this needed more rehearsal than time allowed; so instead, Tim’s bringing in Cowboy Flying Saucer drummer Dave Bamford to open up the evening with a reunion of their “kraut-psych-improv-noise” duo Red Team (while Ashcircle’s Tom Macarte and Ciaran Mackle reformat themselves as the siren-in-a-washing-machine screech of Grave Threat).

 

July 2016 – upcoming London gigs – improvisation running rampant at the Classwar Karaoke mini-festival (16th & 17th)

14 Jul

Classwar Karaoke mini-festival, Greenwich, 16th-17th July 2016

Minesweeper Collective presents:
Classwar Karaoke Mini Festival
A secret location in Greenwich, London, England
Saturday 16 & Sunday 17th July 2016, time t.b.c.
information

Experimental music and short-film label Classwar Karaoke celebrates its eighth year of existence and collective-based “unambiguous meritocracy” by assembling a host of improvisers and audio-visualisers for the third in its series of underground mini-festivals. The event will be embedded somewhere deep in the London Borough of Greenwich along with the laser-limned meridian line, the maritime history and the stand-up comedy. We’re told we can “expect such things as improv, free jazz, avant-rock, jokes, theatre, noise, audio-visuals, absurdism, spoken word.”

The first of the two days features a sixteen-strong lineup of Murmurists, the project which coalesces around the work – if not precisely the leadership – of Anthony Donovan (composer, musician, poet, filmmaker and Classwar Karaoke  founder). Murmurists date back to 1991 and use varied lineups to realize Anthony’s compositions in live situations. Over the years, these have moved from being small and predominantly improvisational line-ups to becoming larger and more meticulously-directed ensembles which employ graphic scores and timing instructions to deliver Anthony’s written material. Latterday Murmurist ensembles – both on and off record – use speech, narrative and foley work (spontaneous live sound effects) as key components alongside the musical ones; while live performances employ film projections and dance.

On this occasion, Murmurists are as follows:

  • Anthony Donovan (on voice, bass and film work)
  • dancer-vocalists Rebecca Bogue, Carolyn Roy and Jane Munro
  • foley performers/vocalists Annie Dee (Destroyevsky) and Michael Clough
  • percussionists/vocalists/electronics operators Lawrence Casserley (a frequent Evan Parker/Bob Cobbing collaborator) and David Cunliffe (Spidey Agutter, Igor’s Roomy Labcoat and Coffin Boffin)
  • Geoff Leigh on flute/soprano sax/voice (best known as an early Henry Cow member, but also for Ex-Wise-Heads, The Artaud Beats, Black Sheep, and many others)
  • Mark Browne on soprano sax/percussion/ voice (a three-and-a-half-decade veteran of multiple projects and collaborations including Cockpit Improvised Music, Conspiracy, The Fanatics Of Disaster and The Fastidious Amateurs Of Grief)
  • K.T.Reeder on trombone and voice
  • Martin Archer on bass clarinet/recorder/voice
  • Tim Drage (a.k.a. Cementimental) on electronics
  • Black Howler and Union Furnace duo Anthony and Rosie Osborne (saxophone/keyboards/voice)
  • percussionist/vocalist Walt Shaw

The large Murmurist group will be supported by small-group improv work from various Murmurists members – lineups to be drawn from a hat.


 
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The second day of the festival, July 17th, features a wider lineup of individual projects.

  • Lewisham-based improvising trio LOFE describe themselves thus, in lapping wordplay: “driving beats, driven words. jewel carriageway chords. It’s got that biodynamic, organic whole grain texture and that lively lambic yeasty rhythm. It hits 260°C, when it’s baking.” The man who’s probably guilty of scribbling that account is their performance-poet/fractal-rapper vocalist Zolan Quobble (a Deptford Urban Free Festival founder who’s also voiced One True Dog, Rabbidog and Dodmen). Other involved parties are bass guitarist Elwell (a multi-instrumentalist whom at various times has played with Brain of Morbius, Bert Shaft Orchestra, One True Dog, Foul Geese and South East London Music Collective) and one-man keyboard-and-Ableton orchestra NikTheDeks (see also NakeDBeatZ Radio, Furby-Core, Gabber-Karaoke and others)
  • Warrior Squares is a Hastings-based free improvising electronic/acoustic four piece comprising Geoff Leigh (flute, sax, voice, electronics) James Weaver (electronics, guitar), Paul Gardner (iPad, percussion) and Nick Weekes (bass, sticks, found items).

  • Adam Bohman improvises sounds from “stuff we ignore – toast racks, clothes pegs, styrofoam, upholstery springs, you name it” as well as making tape collages (read some more about him here).

  • Harmergeddon is the duo of audio-visual performance artists Nathan and Fae Harmer, who since 2010 have been creating performance material from mongrelised data sources, physical oddments and information detritus (mangled VHS cassettes, bar code check outs, etc), crossing it over from one format to another. They build instruments and performances from “the unwanted, unheard and unseen… rebuilt from the ground up with whatever comes to hand” and present “sound pieces and visuals improvised as a feedback loop between gesture and combined consciousness.” A Harmergeddon performance is usually a collation of profound industrial drones, haunting sounds, voice snatches and found-object noises with lights which interact with signal sources or body movements, plus abstractions on TV screens. (See below.)

  • Jeffersubstanshall Helicopter is most probably another version of whoever’s behind Oblivian Substanshall, the anti-novelist/performance poet/absurdist contributor to various Klasswar and Deptford events of the past. With those pseudonymic hat-tilts to both the Bonzo Dog Band and West Coast psychedelia, expect some late-‘60s-inspired counterculture/cut-up lunacy. Here’s something of what he did under the original moniker:

  • Phil Durrant & Kev Hopper will provide a duo performance from two very different and complementary masters of a musical continuum stretching from avant-garde to pop and dance. A classical music graduate who plays violin, synth, electronics and (increasingly) state-of-the-art software instruments, Phil has been composing, improvising and performing since 1977 over a career that’s spanned over sixty albums, almost as many collaborations and probably thousands of improvised gigs. His work has included being the third leg of an influential trio with John Butcher and John Russell, sundry ensembles (including Secret Measures, Quatuor Accorde, Lunge, Beinhaltung, Assumed Possibilities and the international electronic orchestra Mimeo), 1990s house/breakbeat work with Fabio, Grooverider and Shut Up And Dance, and exploits into dance-theatre music, site-specific installations and sound design. Kev first came to attention as the fretless bassist whose rubberband playing style anchored early ‘90s popsurdists Stump. Subsequent adventures have involved various avant-garde improviser lineups, albums of musical saw playing, and most recent the delightful improv-rock quartet Prescott. He and Phil previously played together in ’90s improvising quartet Ticklish.


     

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