In some respects Gnod – who are curating, and playing at, an extended gig in London this weekend – are a dubby Salfordian reflection of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. They share certain working methods – a collective, leaderless initiative springing from communal warehouse living; a passionate ethos of anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian feeling expressed in vast, cavernous and primarily instrumental musicscapes; an atmosphere sourced from circulating cultural-economic ghosts of deprivation and stagnation.
As regards the music itself, the parallels shift a little. Though both bands use drones and scattered, marginal snippets of speech, Gnod’s approach is a good deal broader and looser than Godspeed’s blend of classical/minimal string austerity and wind-tunnel punk rage, seeding itself from a variety of persistently underground forms. In the stew are industrial dance music, noise rock and anarchic dub; mystical hippy staples of overtone chanting and psychedelic ritual music (stripped of their frivolous navel-gazing associations and brought back to their mind-opening sources); free jazz; and a swathe of aural art-punk collagery (the latter of which, in Gnod form, recalls apocalyptic Godspeedian end-of-days graffiti, an approving response to Linder Sterling’s sharp visual comments on consumerism, and diary notes from besieged squats and hermit bedsits).
Other information is there if you choose to dig it up. We know that Gnod are from the other Islington – that liminal corner of Salford in the elbow of the River Irwell between the rails, the university and the skeletons of light industry, where the Islington Mill Arts Centre (in which the band live and work) has flourished since the mid-‘90s. We know that multi-instrumentalists and producer-theorists Chris Haslam and Paddy Shine have been in the band from the start: we know that the other two current members happen to be Marlene Ribeiro and Alex Macarte. We know that what seems to be dozens of others (but might be the same six people in a constant shuffle of personae) phase in and out of the band according to need, whim and inspiration; and that these include Manchester improv saxophonist David McLean, journeyman keyboard player John Paul Moran and drummer Chris Morley (once of Welsh experimental rockers Klaus Kinski, now propelling no-wave’d punk-funkers target=”_blank”>Queer’d Science).
We also know that the hybrid steam of subcultural influences and spirit of resistance that boils off from all of these ingredients is winning Gnod awestruck acclaim. ‘The Quietus’ (increasingly the British tastemaker as regards bands negotiating that slippery margin between absolute chthonic obscurity and cultural penetration) has not only sung their praises but been seduced into actually recording with them; while digging into Gnod’s web of ongoing connections and activities shakes up all kinds of other possibilities. The Gnod network of fellowship stretches across Europe and encompasses ever-roving Can singer Damo Suzuki, billowing gonzoid sample-psych from the late ‘80s (revived arsequake veterans Terminal Cheesecake sport former Gnoddist Neil Francis as their current frontman), classic British post-punk (via The Monochrome Set and The Blue Orchids), Louise Woodcock’s multi-media feminist art and a Catalonian psychedelic scene which gives a new meaning to Spanish castle magic (a few years ago, Gnod teamed up with Barcelona’s Black Bombaim as “Black Gnod”).
Having been casting out recordings since 2009, Gnod came up to speed with the beefy-but-spectral ecclesiastic dubgrind of 2011’s ‘INGNODWETRUST’ (following up with 2012’s ‘Science & Industry’, a sort of post-industrial ‘Sketches of Spain’ for trumpet, drones, ironscrape guitar haze and indistinct female declamations). They’re currently best known for 2014’s mammoth 110-minute ‘Infinity Machines’, in which their instincts for mood and social challenge came into focus. For that album, Gnod returned to (scorched) earth and conjured up a classic post-war Mancunian landscape of bones, threat and concrete; marrying a bleak Joy Division grind and deadzone chimes with knell-beating Rhodes piano, distorted boomings like rusting gasholders being beaten into dub drums, and aghast chemtrails of free sax which sounded like black-sailed galleons creeping up the Ship Canal and advancing into the Irwell. Amidst the grindings and slithering drones and the pollutant-smeared sleet, vocal samples of resistance and disquiet gave shape to a dawning and outspoken atmosphere of scepticism; in Breaking The Hex, they finally unleashed an eleventh-hour blast of dub/punk/sax/noise rebellion, while the title track was a harmonium keen over dark sonic bubbles.
While it didn’t wear its manifesto in the shape of a set of placardable lyrics, ‘Infinity Machines’ was a work of Salford shamanism, spitting the city’s ongoing gentrification back into its own face. Since then, Gnod have refused to simply rework it – instead they’ve allowed the feelings that inspired it to lead them naturally into new forms. Last year’s ‘Mirror’ album was written on tour in a slew of traveller’s energy and impacted by destructive mental turbulence within the Gnod circle: inspired in part by rage at government austerity programs which apparently declared war on the poor) propelled the band away from grand studioscapes and into a raw, live feel. It’s more personalised, its anger and alienation borne on pendulous and discombobulated noise-punk anti-grooves. Hands slam onto instruments and slip beats; the music flares into outright rage rather than stern painterly stews. Amidst the overtone vocals and chants, there’s persistent raw yelling; while the soundscapes have shifted towards slowed sirens, and a dragging, coshing pace: a clear early Swans influence.
Baba Yaga’s Hut presents:
Gnod Weekender, part 1: Gnod + Blood Sport
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Saturday 9th April 2016, 8.00pm – more information – tickets
Gnod Weekender part 2: Locean + Water + Futuro de Hierro + H.U.M + Dwellings + Negra Branca + Arkh Wagner + Ayn Sof
The Lexington, 96-98 Pentonville Road, Islington, London, N1 9JB, England
Sunday 10th April 2016, 3.00pm to 11.00pm – more information – tickets
Much of all of the above is going to come together over the course of this weekend, in which Gnod and a host of like-minded friends bring their collective approach to the current homestead of quirky London rock.
Saturday sees a full Gnod performance, supported by Sheffield trio Blood Sport, whose spindly and aggressive style is a ghostly, glassy-toned, black-sun approximation of Afrobeat and soukous. As for what Gnod themselves might be doing, the grind and gnarl of ‘Mirror’ might be their current output but they have a history of changing state and presenting an expectant audience with something unexpected: so be prepared for anything which reflects their history and their potentials (up to and including party blowers, possibly).
Sunday’s afternoon-to-late-night show features Gnod side projects and assorted friends in an eight-hour orgy. Some feature current Gnod members. Paddy Shine’s immersive “tantric vocal loop” project Ayn Sof will be opening the show; Dwellings is founder and bass player Chris Haslam doing hard-beat industrial electronica – dull-thud compulsive flesh beats, like the woody rattle of an early S&M loom, played in tandem with dank gothic synth drones. Negra Branca is a Marlene Ribeiro project, expanding on the “melodic and tonal dreamscapes” which she plays as part of the main band, full of squashy analogue synth shapes and temple-goddess vocals.
In Arkh Wagner, Alex Macarte (one of the more directly mystical Gnod members, if his online talk is anything to go by) teams up with Mark Wagner, a London-based multi-disciplinary artist and cybernetic mysticist, whose working practices are steeped in “cymagick” (a visualization of sound which takes in invisible and occult connections and “the vibratory nature of all things”). Their track Turn Off Your Mind (a narrative backed by a deepening pulse-chime in a confusion of noise surf) is a meditation on staring into the void, and on going too far out.
Mark Wagner’s also taking the stage as one-third of H.U.M. (or “Hypnotic Ultrasonic Magick”), a merging with two similarly shamanic noisemakers from Bristol’s ZamZam Records (these being the enigmatic surnameless H, or “Heloise”, who slipped into Bristol six years ago from a French fine arts background and has since been bewitching audiences with gigs that fall somewhere between installation and ritual and take place in caves, swimming pools and sundry found space, and fellow émigré and ambient droner Uiutna, originally from Switzerland but making her own way in the Bristolian avant-garde). H and Uiutna relocated to France recently but return to England for this event. H.U.M. present themselves as a kind of psychic cross-cultural art coven, citing “alchemical practice, incantation, chanting, drones, ritual drumming, French variété” as both inspiration and activity… although “French variété” is also on the list, so either a showbiz tinge or a sliver of hidden humour has been worked deep into the atmospheres. Here’s a clip of them in action:
Over in Barcelona, multi-instrumentalist, producer and happeneer Víctor Hurtado is the core of a “magic-inspired” scene of ritual psychedelic music. First coming to notice as the man behind acid-assemblage unit Qa’a (a richly detailed stew of lysergic rock and Nurse With Wound noise-and-texture garnishing), he’d soon diversify into a greater spontaneity with Huan (a project which he describes as “animalistic pulsations… almost like a living organism, that is at times sick, dying or excited”). Having collaborated with Jochen Arbeit, Steven Stapleton and more recently with Chris Haslam in the “monolithic, rhythmic, repetitive” Ordre Etern, Victor is bringing his Futuro de Hierro project to London for the Gnod Weekender. His latest musical pathway, it’s an outgrowth of his interest in more extreme and violent forms of electronic dance (such as speedcore and gabba) fused with techno, music concrete and a heightened psychedelic sensibility, featuring “disjointed rhythms” and “destroyed sounds, sonic detritus and live sound manipulation.”
All-female “art-carnage” troupe Water are another part of the Venn diagram which Gnod inhabit. Specifically, they represent the circles which intersect Manchester’s visual arts and multimedia, and the Devi Collective which coalesced around the Mill to commemorate and interpret last year’s William Burroughs centenary. Citing Throbbing Gristle, Wu-Tang Clan’s Rza and “well-witch horror scores” as creative spurs, they’re currently a five piece of multi-media “queen bee” Louise Woodcock, spoken-word poet/noise-guitarist Laura Bolger, visual artists Amy Horgan and Rachel Goodyear, and Emma Thompson (usually encountered as a DIY/punk/experimental gig promoter).
Soundcloud clips reveal something sounding like post-industrial Maenads: eerie threadlike female choruses and Laura’s dub-echo declamations seeping through a freeform background of womb-bass, malfunctioning engine drones, clanks and whistles, piston hisses, machine scrapes and tekiah blasts. The involvement of at least three women from a visual arts background – plus some striking photos – suggests that there’s a spectacle involved. Evidence of lengthy Water performances inspired by Aleister Crowley, by séances and by water rituals suggest that they’re fascinated with rite, summoning and form in a way which spans primordiality, Greek legend and map-fixes on esoterica ranging from Renaissance art to the present day. All of it slips through the fingers if seized on second-hand: it seems as if Water are an experience best soaked up live.
Laura Bolger reappears to add smeared, dreamlike vocals and narrations to the final act on the bill, Locean – another full-on Irwellian music collective in the Gnod and Devi orbit (sharing both Louse Woodcock and sometime Gnod tapesman/ranter Neil Francis). Offering another queasy grinding ride of driving punk-psych, noise improvisations and punk wail, their mantric sound binds The Velvet Underground, Mother Gong, Bauhaus and an abrasive Fall-esque groove in with bass-echo and wheel-rim guitar. As with Gnod and Water, they’re technically minimal but build up to a grand scale with their scratching, multiplying sonic detail: Laura’s words and musings, floating on the sound-wash like scraps of diaries and manifestos, ranges from odd and oblique polemics to numinous childhood memories.
As I post this, tickets are still available. If you’re spending most of your time trapped in London’s gravity well, this might be your best chance for a while to get something of that Islington Mill atmosphere and inspiration, and to beat along with Gnod’s dark-toned, troubled yet committed heart.