Tag Archives: music from Royston (England)

July 2016 – a pair of one-day English festivals on the 16th (EppyFest 5 in Stroud, The Whole World Window in Preston)

13 Jul

This Saturday sees a couple of interesting pocket festivals taking place in the west and north-west of England – there’s still a chance for last-minute tickets or walk-ups for each of them.

The fifth in the series of EppyFests is happening this Saturday in Stroud, Gloucestershire. As with the previous four, it’s the brainchild of Stroud-based psychologist and music enthusiast Ian Fairholm and is a spinoff of his well-respected Epileptic Gibbon music podcast, whose remit rambles enthusiastically across “prog rock, art rock, post rock, prog metal, jazz rock, folk rock, math rock, downtempo, chill-out, ambient electronica, IDM, chamber pop, folktronica, psychedelia , neo-classical , film and TV soundtracks and experimental/avant garde music”.

EppyFest is an attempt at translating the podcast’s flavour into live music and live socializing. A well-run, self-starting pocket occasion (complete with its own T-shirts and integral dinner options) its previous events have featured ferocious British post-prog (Thumpermonkey, The Fierce & The Dead, Trojan Horse), latter prog/jazz-rock/jam acts (Sanguine Hum, Schnauzer, Henry Fool, Unto Us, Flutatious and Andy Pickford) and (in the case of Stackridge and The Korgis), a 70s prog outfit and a band of Britpop precursors sharing a last hurrah in the same body. Also in the mix has been loop guitar (Matt Stevens), classical/world chamber-fusion (Firefly Burning) and folk performers with extra ingredients stretching from neo-Celticana to chalkhill psychedelia, European electronica or Balkan jazz (Sheelanagig, I Am Your Autopilot, Tinker’s Cuss, Arch Garrison). As you might expect from a thoughtful curator married to an accomplished female musician, Eppyfest has also featured a healthy proportion of women players including bandleaders and solo artists (such as Becky Rose, Candythief and She Makes War).

Assuming that you’re not already committed to attending the Felix M-B gig down the road on the same day, EppyFest 5 looks set to carry on the tradition in fine form. (I’m jealous. I wouldn’t mind running something like that myself. It’s time to start thinking about empire, or benevolent despotry…)

The Epileptic Gibbon Podcast presents:
‘EppyFest 5’: William D. Drake + Judy Dyble & Her Band of Perfect Strangers + Marvyn B. Naylor + Darkroom (with Elif Yalvac) + Tom Slatter + Sirkis/Bialas International Quartet
Lansdown Hall, Lansdown, Stroud, GL5 1BB, England
Saturday 16th July 2016 , 4.00pm to 11.00pm
information & tickets

Eppyfest 5, 2016

Over the years, I’ve said plenty about this year’s EppyFest headliner William D. Drake over the years, and will probably say more. Woody-throated singer and former Cardiac; the organic keyboard wizard who turns television sets into organs; the man you might find if you went looking for the place where baroque pop meets Punch-and-Judy professor. Bill’s songs suggest a parallel English music: one in which antique pop songs on crackling wax cylinders mingle seamless with both Henry Purcell and Frank Zappa.

In his mid-fifties, and with the release of his fifth album ‘Revere Reach’, Bill’s reached a crucial point in his career, in which the jolly avuncular eccentricities of his earlier work have finally given way to the blossoming kernel of beauty within his compositions. He’s probably far too rounded a person and songwriter to entirely give into it, though. Expect the full range of glorious pastoralism and bouncy humour from a full chamber pop band including members of Stars In Battledress and North Sea Radio Orchestra.

 

I’ve also said plenty about Darkroom , the textural electro-morphic partnership of sometime No-Man/Samuel Smiles/Henry Fool guitarist Michael Bearpark and loop/synth/woodwind/patch-man Andrew Ostler. Over two decades Darkroom have delivered a massively underrated body of work straddling gigantic cosmic soundscapes like deliquescing Hubble images, intricate cerebral dance rhythms, broodingly beautiful guitar tones and (recently) cryptic bass clarinet and flute strands, touching upon influences as diverse as OMD, Autechre, Robert Fripp, Neil Young, Delia Derbyshire, Can and Bennie Maupin.

For this concert their polyglot electronica is augmented by a special guest, Turkish electronic guitarist Hazal Elif Yalvaç an Istanbul-based composer, musician and linguist. We’ll have to see whether Elif’s work (much of it glitching, grumbling guitartronic abstractions) brings out Darkroom’s more abstract instincts; or whether Os and Michael’s knack for direct expressiveness brings out that proggier aspect which Elif’s threatening to reveal in her forthcoming Light Curve project.


Show opener Tom Slatter also shows up in ‘Misfit City’ quite often. He’s a Victorian town-crier with a guitar and a slew of fantastical tales about monsters of air, land and sea, strange goings on in laboratories, haunted gentlemen and master criminals loose on the railways. On record he’s a multi-instrumental steampunk proggie, building himself instrumental Rube Goldberg machines (and occasionally collaborating with one). Live, he’s mostly unplugged and solo, letting his charm make up for the shortfall in instrumentation. One day he will build himself a bicycle-powered, bat-winged portable orchestrion out of old tuba piping and traction engine spares, to allow him to merge both situations. It will probably go off course and fly him somewhere horrible.

One of the prime strengths of jazz players is that they can come from anywhere in the world, meet each other for the first time and immediately speak a common improvising language of immediate flexibility. The four musicians who make up the Sirkis/Bialas International QuartetAsaf Sirkis (drums, Israeli, Londoner), Sylwia Bialas (voice, Polish, currently a Londoner but only recently a Würzburg resident), Kevin Glasgow (bass guitar, a Scottish Londoner via Ireland, but Invernessian rather than actual Glaswegian, replacing an Englishman who originally reached the band via Australia, Scotland and the United States) and Frank Harrison (keyboards, English, surprising lack of other complications) – make more of their scattered nature than most.

With all of that in mind, you’d expect a riotous mix of cultures, making hay out of clashes. What you actually get is aquamarine almost-acoustic jazz, cupped and propelled by Asaf’s winds-of-the-forest percussion subtleties, sung in Polish or vocalese, sheathed in softness and in smoothly-flowing instrumental gestures. The lightness of touch and the Northern hemisphere reserve hearken towards both Pacific Northwestern new age and ECM atmospherics; the light-as-a-feather scatting, twirling Rhodes piano and lissom six-string electric bass suggests a hushed Kurpie version of Flora Purim’s time with Return to Forever.

While the pure, piping soprano tones of co-headliner Judy Dyble might distract you from her full story, they do tie her firmly to the 1960s folk revival. It’s a true tie, as well – teenage friendships with Ashley Hutchings and Richard Thompson led her to spend a year as the singer for the original lineup of Fairport Convention. This auspicious start was followed by a brief, obscure stint in King Crimson prelude band Giles, Giles & Fripp, a more celebrated year as half of much-touted psychedelic folk duo Trader Horne; and finally a handful of gigs in the company of Canterbury characters Lol Coxhill, Steve Miller and Phil Miller.

A gentle, often reticent character, Judy’s musicality wasn’t enough to keep her comfortably engaged with the bruising demands of the music business; and in 1973, after six years of flitting nervously in and out of the spotlight, she retired from music into a quiet life of family and library work while still barely into her twenties. Perhaps it wasn’t as mysterious or dramatic a withdrawal as that of peers such as Anne Briggs or Vashti Bunyan, but it was enough to reduce her reputation to a shadow for all except those who dug up her handful of recordings in search of half-forgotten treasure and found something that didn’t deserve to be overshadowed.

Bar a couple of flitting, fitful Fairport reengagements at Cropredy in the early ‘80s, little was heard from Judy for three decades until – widowed and empty-nested – she was inveigled back into recording by Astralasia’s Mike Swordfish in 2002. Since then she’s pursued a quiet but exploratory revival of her musicality, working in fields fromfolk-rock to trancetronica and experimental art pop, and with collaborators including Dodson & Fogg, Tim Bowness, Sand Snowman, Joxfield Projex, Fuxa and Thee Faction. Her regular home, however, is with her Perfect Strangers ensemble (mostly drawn from co-writer Alistair Murphy’s Cromerzone project) with whom she’ll be performing at EppyFest. Throughout all of this, Judy’s signature tone has remained intact – the folk sweetness, the subliminal hint at hesitancy and tremble which betrays the nerviness and unsurety which has both interrupted her career and given her work its humanity and honesty. As she heads towards her seventies, both tone and temperament have become allied to a longer perspective of value, loss and change – something which, strengthened and deepened by time, she’s grown into and fleshed out with natural experience.

Completing the bill is another, even less well-known hidden treasure. Winchester singer-songwriter Marvyn B. Naylor has been delivering music for twelve underappreciated years now. His mixture of intricate, allusive psychedelic pop songs and pulsating 12-string guitar folk instrumentals tip nods to and shake hands with inspirations including the early David Bowie, Edward Elgar, the Beatles, Joyce Kilmer, Frank Sinatra, Francisco Tarrega and Guy de Maupassant: but he’s a whole meal in himself.


 

* * * * * * * *

There’s just one former Cardiac on the bill at EppyFest. Technically speaking – unless it’s true that Kavus Torabi is DJ-ing – there are no former Cardiacs at The Whole World Window, which takes place on the same day as EppyFest but five counties up (in Lancashire). In spite of this the bill, spread across two stages, is suffused with Cardiacs enthusiasm. Unsurprising, since it’s the latest in a series of benefits for the band’s stroke-felled leader Tim Smith.

Greg Braysford presents:
‘The Whole World Window – A Benefit for Tim Smith’: Britney + All Hail Hyena + 7Shades + The Scaramanga Six + Sweet Deals On Surgery + Sterbus + Trojan Horse + Adam Shaw + The Jackpot Golden Boys + Sean Keefe + Ahsa + others tbc (or fibbed about)
The New Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston PR1 8JP, England
Saturday 16th July 2016, 2.00pm
– information here – tickets here and here

The Whole World Window, 2016Bellowing Scots Britney are as garish and hardcore as a fairground teddy-grabber covered in backstreet tattoos. They’re given to one-and-a-half-minute bursts of earsplitting rock numbers plastered with crumpled ice-cream-van melodies. The latter trait, something of a Cardiacs stock-in-trade, tinkles through several of the other bands on the bill – be they outright disciples 7Shades (who lovingly pillage the ornate Cardiacs style wholesale) or pyjama-clad Burley power-pop trio All Hail Hyena (who sound like Bo Diddley rocking an birthday-cake castle).


Something more grandiose is offered by Huddersfield rock bullies The Scaramanga Six. They’ve devoted twenty-one years and enormous musical flair to hammering out poperatic tunes and bursts of garage gonzo, providing tragicomic insight into the flawed and unsettled ethics of everyday men (all carried out with assured baroque brutality and gallows humour). Self-styled “noisy prog rock bastards” Trojan Horse might not be returning to EppyFest this year, but they are bringing their omnivorous Salfordian rock cocktail to Preston: a catalogue of work which plunges into swaggering ‘70’s funk, belting avant-garage moments, broad-spectrum Beatles-pop and audacious psychogeographic experiments. Power-poppers Sweet Deals On Surgery lean towards the punkier side, bucketing towards the end of a song as if it were a race, but distractedly bursting into different versions halfway. For God’s sake, keep them off the Haribos…



All the way from Italy, Sterbus (Smith/Fripp/Zappa obsessive and noblest-Roman-of-them-all) will be coming to either yomp through some of his triple-jointed proggy power pop or to play leafy psychedelic summer-lounge acoustica (which may or may not include some of his takes on Cardiacs, Spratleys Japs and other limbs of Smithiana). If he doesn’t hold up the acoustic end, rest assured that Ivan Campo frontman Adam Shaw will, as he brings along his light-touch, thoughtful folk pop for us to unravel.


The rest of the bill’s made up of bands which predominantly reflect the humour (if not necessarily the horse-laughs and art-punk prankery) of the Cardiacs world. Silly-goodtime pop culture obsessives The Jackpot Golden Boys throw assorted metal, pop and funk chops at things from TV theme tunes to geek topics and hope that a few of them stay embedded. Militant hat wearer, slide guitarist, Strumstick player, comedy yarner and genre-mash novelist Sean Keefe – brings along his own version of honky-tonk Americana.



 
The (known) lineup is completed by acapella singer Asha Hewitt (seen below performing with Gummo Cleyre and Alex Dickinson as Yorkshire Latin pop band Solana). Asha might be the last kind of musician you’d expect to see getting up at a Smith benefit gig; but her presence is proof positive that the happy skewed tastes of the Cardiacs audience let in all kinds of light. Once they’ve stopped cheerfully bawling for their mashed-up chord sequences, that is…


 

Upcoming gigs in London – Darkroom gently mess with our minds at Hubbub Late Spectacular, Friday 4th September

3 Sep

Just quickly plugging this event, as I unintentionally left it off the early-September preview from Tuesday. While I was initially drawn to it by the musical involvement of textural loop duo )and longtime ‘Misfit City’ favourites) Darkroom, there’s plenty here to interest anyone with curiosity about the workings of the mind. It’s free, although the scheduled talks and some larger activities are ticketed (you’ll need to get tickets for those from the Wellcome Collection on the night, from 6.30pm onwards).

 

Hubbub Late Spectacular, 4th September 2015

Hubbub Late Spectacular @ The Hub, The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK, Friday 4th September 2015, 7.00pm) – free entry

A night to explore rest… and its opposites. What does “rest” mean to you? Join the Hubbub team to investigate rest and its opposites: from daydreaming and doodling, to fidgeting and lullabies. Catch a talk on the latest discoveries about what your brain’s up to when you’re doing nothing, or experience a live stream of sound from around Heathrow airport. From a documentary about an ape retirement home, to a workshop where you can try out historical relaxation techniques, this is an evening that will transform how you understand rest.

Activities – hear contemporary lullabies and add to a collaborative collection; learn about mapping alertness and environment through self-tracking; experience variations of relaxation and cacophony with a brand new audio piece from radio collective In The Dark; put rest to the test as you investigate some of the methods used by scientists to measure rest and its opposites; join the debate on “what’s wrong with work?”

Talks – “Fantasy and Fiction” with social scientist Felicity Callard and poet James Wilkes; “Free Time and Mindwandering” with psychologists and authors Claudia Hammond and Charles Fernyhough; “Mapping Rest” with neuroscientist Daniel Margulies and anthropologist Josh Berson.

Some comments from Hubbub investigator Charles Ferneyhough (the whole blog post is here):

The research project in Hubbub is investigating topics such the relation between the shifting periodicities of ambient music and the changing rhythms of conscious experience, and how and in what contexts these can have restful and restorative effects. We plan to extend these investigations into studies of neural connectivity in the “resting state”: the dynamic, fearsomely complex and increasingly well-studied patterns of activation shown by a brain that is not performing any specific task. We are employing new methodologies for assessing these nuances of subjective experience (both for audience and performers) in a scientifically rigorous manner, as well as exploring implications for clinical interventions… Darkroom are interrupting a tour promoting their new album ‘The Rest is Noise’ to perform with me in a sequence of three extended sets at the Hubbub Late Spectacular. Come and hear the sounds of improvised ambient music, and get a chance to give your feedback on the psychological and emotional effects of listening to this kind of music.

…plus some from Darkroom themselves:

Darkroom will play three sets, with unpredictably different shades and contrasts. It’s a free event (apart from the drinks) at this spectacular venue, and there’s an opportunity to take part in the experiment, as well as take in other talks and exhibitions on the night, and meet some of the other investigators and our collaborators.

Reposted here is a Soundcloud recording of Darkroom and Charles Fernyhough collaborating on a half-hour long track recorded at The Hub earlier this year.


 

Full event details are here and here.

Two more Darkroom gigs in London – Hubbub @ Wellcome Collection; Listening Club in Peckham

8 Jun

Having only just played at the last-for-now Tuesdays Post concert this past Sunday, loop duo Darkroom are performing at two more London gigs this month, both of them at typically interesting events.

Hubbub @ The Hub, The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, UK, Thursday 11th June (time t.b.c.)

The Hubbub group (based at the Wellcome Trust) is a project with a brief to explore work, rest and play; past, present and future. The two members of Darkroom will be participating in a closed session, being “wired up and investigated” as part of the research. Details are still a little unclear (although I do know that the work will be live-streamed) so keep an eye on the Darkroom Twitter account. For an early taste of the project, here’s psychologist, writer and Hubbub investigator Charles Fernyhough guesting on a half-hour long Darkroom track, a late-night atmospheric piece recorded in The Hub earlier this year.

And on the upcoming Sunday, there’s this:

Listening Club @ The Peckham Pelican, 92 Peckham Road, London, SE15 5PY, UK – 4.00pm to 9.00pm – free entry

This is an events series in association with St John Sessions ( showcasing new experimental music. In addition to Darkroom, the gig also features sound artists Kostis Kilymis (from Thessaloniki via London), Franz Rosati (from Rome) and Memorial Bench (from London, I think). More chat about this over on Twitter.

More upcoming London gigs in early June – prog rock/math rock/post-hardcore @ The Facemelter; electro-pop/drum’n’brass/loops/experimental ambience @ Tuesdays Post; eclectic classical/experimental chamber music/kletzmer & Bulgarian voices @ The Forge

31 May

Some more early June gig previews for London – these would have been in the previous post if I’d picked up on them earlier.

Firstly, a Facemelter promotion (from the experimental rock/post-hardcore wing of the Chaos Theory organisation whose jazz gigs I’ve also enjoyed)…

Facemelter, 5th June 2015

Alright The Captain + Iran Iran + Porshyne @  The Facemelter (The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden, London, NW1 0AP, Friday 5th June , 7.30pm

Three heroes of math rock, alternative and post-rock travel from different corners of the UK to unite and form this amazing lineup.

Derby-based trio Alright The Captain masterfully combine virtuosic instrumentalism with unabashed musical experimentation and have effortlessly established themselves as a sonic force to be reckoned with, thanks to their increasingly inimitable, uniquely imaginative brand of math-rock. Their sprawling and varied career has seen them sharing stages with post-rock luminaries including Mono, toe, 65daysofstatic, Pelican, Tera Melos, ASIWYFA, Maybeshewill, Adebisi Shank (RIP), This Will Destroy You, ZU and many more. Their new album ‘Contact Fix’ (which ‘Musical Mathematics’ describes as “div(ing)  in and out of math rock, prog and post rock – but, at its heart, it’s different”) has gone down a storm.

Iran Iran are another supremely talented bunch of musicians who stunned and impressed all who saw them at ArcTanGent last year. With insanely complex rhythms and thunderously heavy riffs, the four-piece from Bristol have evolved since their excellent first EP ‘Crystal Math’ and are packing a punch. They’ve played with Future Of The Left, Cleft, Alright The Captain, This Town Needs Guns, You Slut!, Alpha Male Tea Party, Death Pedals and many others. Fans of complex musical wizardry or heavy riffs will love their new EP ‘Milk Time For Spiders’.

Brightoners Porshyne dance between ambient intervals and melodic vocals to intensely intricate, fantastically crunchy  prog rock riffs. With just a few single releases and a session filmed by Small Pond Recordings, they already sold out their first headline show in Brighton. This is your chance to catch the band before their career takes off.

More info here and here, and tickets here (£5.00 advance, £7.00 on the door).

At the end of the same week, Georgina Brett’s Tuesdays Post event returns to Stoke Newington with another evening of ambient/progressive live music, including ‘Misfit City’ favourites Darkroom

event-20150607tuesdayspost

Minny Pops/Spaceheads/Darkroom/Georgina Brett & Hems @ Tuesdays Post, (The Others, 6 Manor Rd, London, N16 5SA, Friday 7th June, 7.00pm)

Formed by vocalist/band leader Wally van Middendorp in Amsterdam in 1978, Dutch electro pioneers Minny Pops took their name from a primitive Korg drum machine. The band released several singles and a debut album, Drastic Measures, Drastic Movement, on independent Dutch label Plurex before joining the legendary Manchester label Factory Records in 1980 (which resulted in them being produced by Martin Hannett, touring with both Joy Division and New Order, and becoming the first Dutch group to record a Peel Session). Singles including Dolphin’s Spurt, Secret Story and Time were followed by the acclaimed album ‘Sparks In A Dark Room’ in 1982. The band released two further albums (‘Poste Restante’ and ‘Fourth Floor’) before splitting in 1985. In 2012, the band reunited for a series of gigs in the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium and recorded a 7-inch single for Tim Burgess’ O Genesis label. After a pause to draw breath, 2014 has seen Minny Pops performing live once again.

Spaceheads are a cosmic duo of trumpet electronics and drums. Formed in 1990, they have developed a blend of electronics and sunshine fanfares over the course of ten albums, three EPs and much touring across Europe and the USA. Andy Diagram (also of James) plays trumpet with a mobile phone stuck to the top with a fish slice and Richard Harrison plays drums with big bendy metal sheets stuck to the top. They create live looped layers of brass driven by flurries of free flowing funky drums. Andy and Richard have achieved an intuition of what each is about to do next which makes their semi-improvised gigs a joy to behold. They release their first studio album in ten years – ‘A Short Ride On The Arrow of Time’ – this Autumn.

Darkroom – the UK-based duo of Michael Bearpark (guitars) and Andrew Ostler (synths)- expertly ride the line between luscious, old-school progressive rock and modern ambient electronics. At times reminiscent of early Tangerine Dream with hints of Fripp and Eno, they create clouds of sequenced synths, chewy grooves, and looped phrases to support a variety of acoustic and electric guitar melodies that twist and turn in surprising, occasionally aggressive, ways.

Hems Aka Henrique Matias will be playing live with Georgina Brett. Henrique is a multi-talented composer, programmer and DJ. He specialises in Multimedia programming (from internet things to Max/MSP and similars), although not all his live music and performances sounds like computer music (sometimes he takes his drum machines and crazy things out of the house). Georgina Brett’s music is created using her voice and effects pedals, creating instant choirs of sound, often in an hypnotic style. The point of this music is not only to captivate with extraordinary timing and melodic style but also to help the listener to relax in our ever-increasingly fast world.

Interactive visuals and multimedia projections are by Hanzo and Rucksack Cinema.

More information here – tickets £7.00 on the door.

By all accounts The Forge (in Camden Town) has spent the last few years becoming one of north London’s most interesting small venues for mixed music. I’ve yet to go there and see for myself: but in its full June calendar (also featuring funk, jazz, classical and Cuban music as well as assorted poetry) the following four concerts caught my interest:

Notus Winds & Eliza McCarthy (Wednesday 3nd June, 7.30pm)

Part of the classical monthly series Wednesdays at The Forge, this time featuring award-winning chamber ensemble Notus Winds and solo pianist Eliza McCarthy with a program of contemporary compositions (more information here). Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

Programme:

Harrison Birtwistle – 5 Distances
György Ligeti – Ten Pieces
Arvo Pärt – Quintettino
Anders Hillborg – Six Pieces for Wind Quintet

Fenella Humphreys: Bach to the Future Part 1 (Tuesday 9th June, 7.30pm)

The first of three concerts presented by violinist Fenella Humphreys, featuring commissions of six new works by six of Britain’s leading composers to accompany Bach’s glorious 6 Sonatas and Partitas for unaccompanied violin. This first concert includes new works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Gordon Crosse alongside extraordinary music by Bach, Scott, Westhoff, Hindemith. Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

Programme:

Cyril Scott – Bumble-Bees (1928)
Johann Paul von Westhoff – Suite no. 5 in D minor (1682)
Gordon Crosse – Orkney Dreaming (2014)
Fritz Kreisler – Recitativo and Scherzo-Caprice op. 6 (1911)
Paul Hindemith – Sonata op. 31 no. 2 ‘Es ist so schönes Wetter draussen’ (1924)
Johann Sebastian Bach – Partita no. 3 in E major BWV 1006 (c. 1720)
Cheryl Frances-Hoad – Suite no. 1 (2014)
Eugene Ysaye – 2nd Sonata op. 27 (1923)

Reciprocity: a new work by Daniel Patrick Cohen (Wednesday 10th June, 7.00pm)

Reciprocity is a 28 minute work for voice, taped narration, eight celli, piano, and percussion. The piece was composed by Daniel Patrick Cohen from six poems by the late Darya Farha, a Canadian poet, therapist, filmmaker and clothing designer. Darya was an extraordinary woman whose sharp intelligence, dry wit, distaste for orthodoxies and boundless empathy fuelled restless journey through her unfinished life. Darya died of breast cancer in 2011 when she was 46, and Reciprocity was commissioned by her sister Juliana Farha, who lives in London. Reciprocity is not about cancer, however. Instead, its human and universal themes of joy, pleasure, fear and anger, along with its intriguing instrumentation are sure to engage a broad audience. You can read more on the project here, and here. Tickets £6.00.

She’Koyokh & Veda Slovena Bulgarian Choir (Thursday 11th June, 8.00pm)

In a unique collaboration, She’Koyokh & Veda Slovena Bulgarian Choir combine the fiery panache of klezmer and Balkan music with the timeless beauty of Bulgarian voices, weaving Jewish, Turkish and Balkan music into the rich tapestry of the Bulgarian choral tradition. Read She’Koyokh’s piece on their Veda Slovena collaboration here. Tickets £10.00 to £12.00.

(All events taking place at The Forge, 3-7 Delancey Street, London, NW1 7NL)

REVIEW – Darkroom: ‘Some Of These Numbers Mean Something’ album, 2008 (“once engaged in perpetual fall, now they roam”)

1 Oct

Darkroom: 'Some Of These Numbers Mean Something'

Darkroom: ‘Some Of These Numbers Mean Something’

Perhaps the passage of time forces a shape on what used to be abstract, giving it some meaning. Perhaps Darkroom just got tired of toying with slow nebulae and with clouds of diffused adrenalin and panic. At any rate, the Cambridge dark-ambient duo (now based around Hertfordshire) are changing. Their first full-release album since 2002’s ‘Fallout 3‘ sees them producing a very different music from the leashed chaos of their first decade. Those looming, passive-aggressive electronic thunderheads and those forbidding razor-smears of guitar are easing into a sweeter mood.

There’s also the question of how that passage of time works the same effect on people as it does on bands. In many respects, watching Darkroom evolve has been like watching – in extreme slow motion – the unknotting of a glower. Whatever the image, there’s always more to electronica artists than their boxfuls of clicks and drones or their “take-it-or-leave-it” detachment from their completed music, for which the finely-honed details of a recording (rather than the performance within) is the ultimate statement. For Darkroom, perhaps this is closer to the surface than most. The group has rarely, if ever, been sought out for interview, but anyone who’s taken the trouble to talk to them has encountered soft-spoken yet determined men keeping a tremendous exploratory brainpower in reserve. While no-man singer Tim Bowness was part of Darkroom (howling wordless imprecations and grand voice fragments, a guttering horror-struck Lucifer tumbling through a churn of collapsing stars) much of this emphasis fell on him. With Tim long-since melted out of the picture, any such curiosity has to move in on the remaining Darkroom pair and what they might be bringing in.

It becomes more interesting, for example, that synth lynchpin Os programs (as Expert Sleepers) innovative sound modules and methods for other musicians to pursue, and cooks up lighting effects for video gaming at the point where it bleeds into video art; or that guitar-broiler Michael Bearpark’s sinewy textural playing is a flipside to his day-job in cutting-edge computational chemistry. While this kind of hard science hasn’t obviously dictated the form of Darkroom (generally they’ve surrendered to the unknown rather than tried to map it) it does seems that ideas of coloration, reaction, chemical excitement and chiaroscuro are built into the group at a deep and evolving level.

When I originally reviewed ‘Fallout 3’, I toyed with the idea of a kinder, gentler Darkroom, in which the pressured frowns and disorientations of their earlier music relinquished its forbidding edge. Here, this comes to pass. While they’re not exactly rolling over to have their bellies tickled, Darkroom have, in their way, mellowed. A decade into their work, they’ve stopped overwhelming us with gigantic, impenetrable sonic proofs and begun welcoming us with musicality. Though star-stuff is still implied, and they’ve kept much of their cosmic scale and atmospherics, they’ve switched off most of their former barrage of hostile radiation. What comes through now are blushes and bobs of warmth, a new appreciation of carefully worked detail. With Michael’s recent embrace of acoustic guitars (and the deployment of drummer Andrew Booker as a new group foil) we also get the sound of physical velocity, friction and fingerprints; of hands on sticks, gut and wood as well as electronic triggers. Where they once engaged in perpetual fall, now they roam.

Their 1999 album ‘Seethrough‘ (an unexpected collection of songs recorded while Tim Bowness was still on board and tugging them back towards his own musical heartland) originally seemed like a blip in Darkroom’s career. Listening to the camouflaged melodies and song structures sliding past in ‘Some Of These Numbers…’ suggests that with or without Tim some seeds might have been planted them for later emergence. Bar the vertiginous, unsettling loll of Insecure Digital (a teetering reminder of Darkroom’s roots in echoing noise and psychedelic dub) the music here sounds as if it comes from the heart and not from the more obscure sets of glands. Mercury Shuffle, in particular, rides on a soft and subtle ballad-chord sequence, inspiring rippled melodics. Booker, in his most prominent moment on the record, provides a subtle shuffle from which to launch Os’ rhapsodic faux-CS-80 synth buzz and Michael’s batwing-rises of screech-guitar. Beyond the drowsy interplay, the backgrounds show Darkroom at their gentlest: a riffling submarine twang, or space-rock-tinged Americana with a touch of Bill Frisell (and, perhaps more than a couple of echoes of Red River Valley).

While Darkroom have generally been open about their enjoyment of 1970s prog and fusion, and of 1980s pop (as well as the 1990s electronica boom which they both sprang from and dodged) it’s becoming more evident in the sounds they choose and the structures they etch. Album opener The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes revisits some aspect of the group’s original brutal beauty – a brow-furrowed mumble of baleful sound, its hooded swamp-dragon guitar tones move foggily over a bass-drum thud that’s part hip-hop and part dream-course, as if some of the trancier elements of Pink Floyd’s Echoes were cheek-to-cheeking with the Aphex Twin. Yet it’s also more structured than they’d have allowed themselves before: more painstakingly orchestrated. Treated guitar parts flash over the lip of the tune’s leading edge like a handful of blades, sounding in the deep like Wagner horns or mingling Delta slide with digital interrupts.

A whole rackful of ideas are bound into the album’s title track, which travels from electronics fluttering around elegant classical-styled guitar harmonics via a subtly slowhanded Bearpark melody and bouncing Eurotrance suggestions from Os. These in turn thin out into a post-rock brew of expressive but hidden guitar and a succession of themes, each beautifully suggestive but barely touched upon. They’re like the points of a mathematical iceberg, nudged and smoothed by equally brief musical salutes (an aerial Fripp burn, a little Talking Heads funk) and, towards the end, the crash and hiss of sea-breakers.

While they’re shyly opening out this fan-spread of influences, Darkroom also reveal a new skill: that of touching on and drawing on the times and tones which inspire them without ever getting stuck to them. My Sunsets Are All One-Sided simultaneously revisits the rootless, reborn feel of very early jazz-fusion (before the pulls of groove and tradition dragged it back to something more predictable) and the creeping 1950s curiosity of the European avant-garde. Here’s a gentle Stockhausen toy-chime, eventually discovering its own little medley of small tunes. Here’s a lighthouse-revolve of guitar swells. Here’s a move, by degrees, from Zawinul to Hammer; to a point where a ‘Miami Vice’ bass-synth pulse and subtle Booker cymbalwork grounds Michael’s leaf-fall guitar work, and a shuffling batter of electronic funk is shadowed by the jingle of a roller toy.

Cuddling up with the light celestial touches of ’70s chamber-soul while filtering them through carefully-reserved 1990s arrangements, No Candy No Can Do also hints at the diaphanous mid-’80s tundrascapes on Cocteau Twins’ ‘Victorialand’. Twinkly flechettes of electric piano, slow spins of programmed glitter-dust and a watery Booker shuffle provide the shape, with a countrified psychedelic guitar patrolling the hazy horizon. Hints of dub, apparently played on a toy organ, even makes links to the frayed and contemplative Birmingham exotica of Pram.

The key to Darkroom’s transformation is in Michael’s work on acoustic nylon and steel-string guitars, which bring him down from his cruising altitudes and up from his witches-brew textural bubbling and leave him bare-armed at Darkroom’s forefront. On Two Is Ambient, he’s hooking out a Spanish guitar clang, looping against his own electric drones, warbles and wah-wah cycles and against Booker’s industrial snare and tight cymbals. The latter pulls in yet another layered Bearpark, this one exploring a stepping probing bass sound (begun on the low nylon strings, fretbuzz and all, and ending up somewhere in cavernous double bass territory). Os seems to be both manipulating these sounds with one hand and pushing again them with the other: presumably it’s him who’s responsible for the final chromatic crash and pink noise weirdout. Similarly, it’s Os who throws up the gelid synth-wobble, string-section cycles and speed-oscillation pranks in Chalk Is Organised Dust – a necessary wildcard foil to the loping, snapping drums (part Bill Bruford and part Can) and the snatches of blues, classical double-stops and jazz-bass ostinato which Michael’s now feeding into the tune (as if for ten years he’s been a hostage virtuoso, now finally set free of his leg-irons and running off in a kind of fluid hobble).

Turtles All The Way Down concludes the album on a dry joke. The title’s from Stephen Hawking, via any number of sources. It covers infinite regression (handy for loopers), desperate mythologizing and arguments stretched thin. The music itself is fired off from on the abstract coil of a steel-strung guitar lick in which jazz, blues, minimalism and an awkward all-ways dash combine in a way which would’ve raised a sour grin from John Fahey. This quickly moves into a gnarly munching electric drone, ghostly post-rock keyboards and spacious drum clatter. It’s a last-minute hollowing out of what’s gone before, the sounds and atmospherics recalling the anxious small-hours cruises of Bark Psychosis (sliding past the red lights at 3am, somewhere close to home but never in a stranger place).

It’s as if Darkroom have suddenly stopped, shaken awake, and reminded themselves not to let us settle into too much comfort. Much of the music on ‘Some Of These Numbers Mean Something’ may have dropped out of the previous interstellar char-and-chill in order to embrace a more human-scaled and earthbound warmth. Darkroom aren’t forgetting that the inhuman extremes are still there, waiting indifferently just outside the envelope.

Darkroom: ‘Some Of These Numbers Mean Something’
Burning Shed, BSHED 0408 (5060164400059)
CD/download album
Released: 3rd October 2008

Buy it from:
Burning Shed or Bandcamp.

Darkroom online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace BandcampLastFM

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