Tag Archives: The Mantis Opera

August 2018 – upcoming London pop and rock gigs – The Mantis Opera, Bozo Zoo, The Butterfly Wheel and Imogen Bliss (25th August); Norwood & Brixton Foodbank fundraiser with Treasure Of Woe, Carl White and Apocalypse Jazz Unit (also 25th August)

15 Aug

The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss, 25th August 2018There are several reasons that I’ve been following the exploits of The Mantis Opera this year. One is the music: an illuminating synth-rock rush through cunningly orchestrated post-classical complexity and brainiac alternative pop, topped with similarly cerebral lyrics which slide fizzing, thinking ribbons through philosophy, logic and linguistic theory before binding them back into more down-to-earth life situations.

If this sounds hideously dry or snooty, it isn’t. This is simply music which is neither ashamed of its own cleverness, nor too self-absorbed or chilly to invite you along for the ride. They’re among an increasing number of newish, bumping-along-in-the-underground acts who share this kind of quirky enthusiasm and possess the requisite smarts and chops to back it up. Tom O.C. Wilson, Prescott, Thumpermonkey and Lost Crowns spring immediately to mind: bands and songwriters who see nothing wrong with turning out songs with the depth and twists of playful short stories, of compressed novels-of-ideas or of meandering Flann O’Brien-esque digressions.

As regards The Mantis Opera, I’ve been chucking around terms like “wide-awake brain music” and “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” and I’m not going to drop those yet, although I might have to come up with a few more if the band are going to keep up regular performances.



 
The other reason that I’m keeping an eye on The Mantis Opera is that they tend to keep interesting gig company. Whether they’re good at being invited or are inordinately good at charming their way into lineups, the band seem to have a knack for fitting onto a wide variety of different bills, and this end-of-the-month gig at Paper Dress Vintage is no exception.

Two summers old, already pegged as “rust-bucket swing” and compared to “Mark E. Smith manning the Hot Five”, Bozo Zoo play rootsy jazz-folk and rhythm & blues on drums, double bass and comfortably sleazy sax. Hollering, theatrical vocalist and off-the-wall lyricist Mark Warren (who also handles the inevitable, ubiquitous ukulele) ensures that they tilt into a similar realm of bulging-vein vigour and twisted circus berserkery to that of The Tiger Lillies. A few decades ago he was bobbing about in the kind of lucky-dip underground bands that showed up on Org Records compilations: now he’s singing up budding cabaret gallimaufries of music hall songs and ditties about chess grandmasters. On top of all this, Bozo Zoo seem to have fused Spinal Tap with Schrödinger, via recent online mutterings about “a new drummer but we’ve also kept our drummer… but it ain’t a band with two drummers… but we have got two drummers… it’s complicated.”


 

Hailing from east London and extensively festooned with mysticism, The Butterfly Wheel aren’t quite the esoteric revelation that they’d like to make out. Plenty of their surface schtick – the Gothic theatrical trappings, the Early Music dirge-wails, the stripping away of Western pop tropes in favour of frowning middle-continent antiquity – is more than familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Dead Can Dance (or of the host of intense, tousled imitators DCD spawned over three decades). What is refreshing is the shifts underneath those surface. A female duo, their songs reshuffle and transform archetypes for an increasingly feminised new time. There’s the sense of old stone patriarchal gods and legends being chipped away at; of more hopeful alternatives being birthed out of the sea; of the stories sitting up and rewriting themselves. We’ll have to see where it leads.



 
From Camberwell and Coldharbour, Imogen Bliss reshuffles Eastern European folk songs and tufty pop covers on voice, mandolin and loop station. The examples below are Armenian and Balkan/Romani, sandwiching a reworked Cure hit: the latter may not sound a great deal different to those pixiedreamgirl uke songs which still bog down every other cinema advert, but Imogen sounds awake and illuminated rather than sun-drenched and casually dreamy. I’m guessing that she’s got other tricks up her sleeve…

 
Paper Dress Presents…
The Mantis Opera + Bozo Zoo + The Butterfly Wheel + Imogen Bliss
Paper Dress Vintage Bar & Boutique,, 352a Mare Street, Hackney, London, E8 1HR, England
Saturday, 25 August 2018, 7.45pm
– information here and here
 

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Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit, 25th August 2018On the same night, there’s this. Lovers of righteous noise, here’s your chance to sample some noise that’s a bit more righteous…

“London promoters Wrongpop and Chaos Theory have gotten together for a one-off special event to raise money for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank: some of the best new underground bands out there have agreed to bring you their sounds for this excellent cause, so it’ll be a phenomenal evening with extra positive vibes. 100% of ticket sales go to the charity.

“Formed from members of Long Slow Dissolve,The Love Me Tenders and Witchfist, Treasure Of Woe play stoner and psychedelic jams on guitar and drums. We’ve seen this duo doing their thing at The Facemelter last September and they just keep on recording their jams and releasing them online, so have a listen at the link and get down for the full live experience.


 
Carl White are a guitar/drums experimental rock duo, originally formed in Brighton and now based in London. Over the years they’ve shared the stage with acts such as Nitkowski, Alpha Male Tea Party, Flies Are Spies From Hell, Witching Waves and The Mae Shi.They’re currently working on a new EP, from which there will be a single/video released in the next couple of months.


 
Apocalypse Jazz Unit were started in 2013 by Rick Jensen as a recording project, after nearly three years of not making music. After numerous albums, Rick recruited some new and old musician buddies and started playing live. AJU quickly went from a small group to an over-the-top collective of psycho improvisers, with up to seventeen members at any one time. To date, they have released over seventy albums and have played a ton of gigs. AJU harnesses the spiritual fire of free-jazz of the ‘60s, mixed with a bit of disco when the mood takes them. Always high-energy and with a heavy sense of humour, AJU can easily swing from delicate and sombre, to full-blast horn mayhem.”


 
Wrongpop & Chaos Theory Music Promotions present:
Norwood & Brixton Foodbank Fundraiser: Treasure Of Woe + Carl White + Apocalypse Jazz Unit
The Black Heart, 2-3 Greenland Place, Camden Town, London, NW1 0AP, England
Saturday 25th August 2018, 7.00pm
– information here and here
 

July 2018 – upcoming London gigs – another delightfully eclectic pop evening with Multi-Storey’s HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk, A House In The Trees, Thidius, The Mantis Opera, Chartreuse, LL Burns and Sunken (21st July)

14 Jul

Having recently celebrated a year of gig-staging, as well as a growing reputation for broad thinking and clever band picking, Multi-Storey are back next week with seven hours worth of Saturday night music, reasoning “we don’t know about you, but having only a few short hours for a gig never sits quite right with us. So we took a lineup of bands that have blown us away, and blew it up to tremendous proportions. Turbulent corridors of endless interlocking rooms full of inventive sounds await you – picture that one corridor from the intro to Scooby Doo, except each door is a band, I guess.”

Get to it, meddling kids…

Multi-Storey High Rise 2.0, 21st July 2018

Spivvish, Horrors-compared pop dramatists Sistertalk headline: one of those bands so young (and possibly so strategic) that they’ve not slapped any tunes online yet. Still, rumours emerge from the live gigs – talk of saxophones and backing singers, a “serene and sensual” stage presence. I’m hearing hints about “ghoulish keyboards”, “deliciously confident” and “melodramatic stories with a menacing undercurrent” from DIY Magazine, along with rumours of “suave ‘60s suits” and “genre bending at its most excellent (from) psychedelic, post-punk and the experimental” from ‘Clash Music’. On spec, they sound like a post-punk Cockney Rebel with a twist of goth and Roxy glam: in practice, they’re probably something else. I’m particularly interested in the storytelling: the feeling of greater substance emerging through the stylistic signifiers.

New Cross-ers Thidius (led by sister-and-brother Izzy and George Risk) may offer a tingling dream-dub pop, but rather than the usual post-Banshees/post-Lush trudge they instead choose to sneak and skip across a songscape infused by Latin pop and yé-yé, while blowing some of the sleep-dirt off it. It’s the gaps which are crucial – the warm spaces within the rhythms, the little games of silence and hopscotched accents, the shifting play of beats underneath the songs (and the slightly rubbery lyrics) which light them up. Meanwhile, Thidius continue to play with instrumental ingredients which, within pop, have always travelled under a shifting light of cool and uncool – Fender Rhodes, echoed jazz chords on guitar, the discreet touches of post-‘80s drum pads. Their debut EP ‘Rush You’ is four years old: this evening’s performance might show us what the band have learned since then.



 
The evening has a definite air of classic pop recipes undergoing various remixes. Certainly it seems as if recent re-evaluations of yacht-rock has left its mark, with Fleetwood Mac and George Benson showing up in the mix of influences under the glossy, part-ambient surface of Birmingham indie-pop quartet Chartreuse (alongside that of the cruise-ier elements of mid-‘70s Pink Floyd and the bluesy folk-soul of John Martyn).

Meanwhile, Sunken initially recall the retrofitted trip-hop of Portishead (and not a little of the delicacy of the latter’s underrated peers Mandalay). They’ve got a nice line in shifting accents and little swoops of rhythmic spacing; in dreamy soul and jazz memories filtering from turntable to ear to brain and to re-emergence. Seventeen-year-old singer Poppy Billingham delivers watchful, slightly detached little-black-dress murmurs in a perfectly pitched and angled voice. Backed by the band’s swathes of after-hours melody, she’s already full of finesse, singing ambiguous statements of will (or of love) which aren’t quite pleas and aren’t quite demands; they’re more statements of what’s necessary, or what’s happening regardless of intent. Wise before their time, Sunken still refuse to preach musically or lyrically: preferring instead to embody a contradictory mix of lethargy and sharp lucidity with Poppy keeping a poised distance, as if she’s looking down a long spiral staircase at the machinations and desires being played out in the ballroom below.

 
More detached ambiguity comes from London “collective of angels” A House In The Trees, who produce contemporary electronic pop with a strong visual streak; not just in the motion-study video they’ve produced for recent song Summertime, but in their increasingly fluid, subtly dysfunctional arrangements. From tentative, stiffer beginnings four years ago, they’ve turned into a smooth channel for hypnagogic studio/headphone simmers. Lazy-toned songs slide unconsciously or imperceptibly into haunted ones. Duality and disassociation are accented by setting sped-up backing vocals against protracted drawn-out beats and slowed-down guitar arpeggios; or by the way in which the alternating male and female voices offer not even the hint of a duet, but stay encapsulated in their own cool, heavy-lidded solipsism.

The aforementioned Summertime evokes the gravity-drag of heat against the bliss of sun, the sensuous delight of season warmth against the sudden shock of a murderous gunshot. Don’t Fall Asleep takes hold of the sonic fabric of a slow jam and pulls it out of shape… like fingers through oil paint, like a willing slither into narcosis or the slow loll into a Dutch angle. How this works live is anyone’s guess. Somehow they’ll have to draw us into their sound while refusing to touch us: an impersonal, unsettling seduction at a mask party.

 
The evening isn’t all strolls through pop. A completely different experience is offered by The Mantis Opera, synth-and-guitar-rock purveyors of Allister Kellaway’s wide-awake brain music. I’ve previously described them as “avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil” with Allister’s lyrics wrangling their way through “themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.” Their complex but clearly-delineated thinking tunes (with the bustle of a busy engine room underneath, and a superstructure bristling with antennae) should go hissing through the pop atmospherics like a particle beam through silk. Also on the bill are LL Burns, another underbubbler band from the Brixton scene. Led by the Morrissey brothers, they provide “brooding atmospheric electric soul noir”: a romantic Big Easy feel from south London, their whiskey-and-heat Americana balladeering like a less vicious Michael J. Sheehy.

 

DJ-ing is provided by “the mysterious collective who, just this once, go by the name “4/4 Grilled“… out of hiding for one night only, but until then their identity remains a secret”. There’ll also be a slew of in-venue artwork and ‘zine business from ‘Delinquent Magazine‘, ‘Cool Brother‘, ‘Spit Tease‘, ‘Saxon Zine‘ and ‘This Must Be For You‘.

Multi-Storey presents:
HighRise 2.0: Sistertalk + A House In The Trees + Thidius + The Mantis Opera + Chartreuse + LL Burns + Sunken
The Moth Club, Old Trades Hall, Valette Street, Hackney, London, E9 6NU, England
Saturday 21st June 2018, 5.00pm
– information here and here

More news shortly on another imminent Multi-Storey event…
 

June 2018 – upcoming London gigs – Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party with WorstWorldProblems, Augustus, Tony Njoku, Elsa Hewitt, The Mantis Opera and Socket; experimental choralists Haha Sounds Collective sing David Axelrod, with Blueprint Blue and Lætitia Sadier (both 9th June)

6 Jun

A couple of posts ago I was grumbling vaguely about ‘Misfit City’ getting too rarefied, cubbyholed and white. If I’m absolutely honest, that’s probably my default setting – the subcultural narrowness, that is, not the complaining. Part of the point of the blog is to expand my own musical education: it’s a process of broadening my outlook and involvement as a listener. Still, I’m well aware that I frequently travel and listen more like a toy fisherman in a novelty clock – rotating in a small circle around an established axis while flicking out a line for what must often seem more like show than anything else.

Gratifyingly, a new gig’s hoving into view at the end of the coming week involving two of the acts I’ve previously covered – one outright punk, the other convoluted RIO techprog – rubbing up against hip-hop, textured ‘tronica and avant-soul-pop. On the same day, an indie-slanted choral group duck the spell of Britpop-grunge covers by investigating David Axelrod alongside an Americana band and a showing by Gallo-Anglo lounge-pop queen Lætitia Sadier. Sometimes you don’t have to force or hanker after cross-pollination: sometimes it comes to you, unprompted.

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From promoters Multi-Storey:

“We’ve actually made it to our first birthday and it’s all down to the amazing people who have played, danced, and generally been friendly and encouraging at our shows! We’ve had an absolute pleasure meeting and listening to some of the most thrilling new bands both from London and further afield over the past 365 and a bit days, so we thought that a big monstrous party/gig/exhibition with some of our favourites would be the perfect way to round off a wonderful year. We want to say thanks to those who have been so helpful, say hi to some new friends, and toss ourselves around like a sentient salad. We’ll be joined at one of our favourite venues by an eclectic and spectacular line-up of our favourite and most exciting new acts, which we will be announcing over the next few weeks. Get yourself a ticket for a late night with unexpected levels to it, and some fantastic music that you never knew existed – stay tuned for announcements!”

Multi-Storey's First Birthday Party, 9th June 2018

Multi-Storey presents:
‘Multi-Storey’s 1st Birthday Party’ featuring Worst World Problems + Augustus + Tony Njoku + Elsa Hewitt + The Mantis Opera + Socket
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, 42-46 Pollard Row, Bethnal Green, London, E2 6NB, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 9.00pm
– information here and here

Announcements have duly arrived. Up in the headliner slot, Worst World Problems are a new hip-hop collective. On the evidence of their mini-album ‘Tape One’ their sound’s a blend of chilly ‘80s synthpop nightscapes, data-bus drift and exhausted, hooded, sore-heeled rapping. Inevitable ‘Mezzanine’ and Drake comparisons ensue: there’s that same draggled, overcast feel in the sad ambient production billows and the flow, but WWP take it even further. Their raps feel like echoes around corners, anti-brags, collarbone murmurs from introspective three-quarters-broken boys feeling reamed out and deadened by romantic disintegrations. You feel that at some point they’re going to blow themselves out with a sigh.


 
Augustus is producer/drummer/keyboard player Gus Lobban, who for the past four years has mixed and dispensed cheery ice-cream-flavoured Anglo-J-pop with Kero Kero Bonito, more recently upping the fuzz-rock/stage-school urchin content. I’m not sure what he intends for this solo appearance, but here’s KKB’s recent Only Acting single: pick out his contributions if you can. Here, the breakdown sounds like a literal breakdown: he might still be surfing the shockwave.

 
Anglo/Nigerian/cosmic artiste Tony Njoku writes and sings eccentric, thread-fine, vulnerable electro/sort-of-soul, reflecting a young life spent mostly in “grey areas”. Beneath his papery falsetto, slide-clicking trap beats and silly-putty analogue synthwork align with lyrics about origami swans, seraphim and care-powered balloons. African tin-can beats are sideswiped by colossal dance drones and billowing symphonic modular-synth stackings. Pick-out piano fragments leans against rice-paper inserts of gospel tones. It’s psychedelic, but it’s a long way from the muscularity of P-Funk or The Temptations: Afrodelic in hue, it’s also untrammelled by cultural confines.

Imagine a set of constellatory echoes of David McAlmont and Arca; of Wayne Coyne and Frank Ocean; of Jackie Shane and Ahnoni; even bits of Jon Anderson and Arthur Russell. Gossamer and guts. As for Tony himself, his music comes with the feeling that he’s unhitching from as many enforced identities and narratives as he’s clambering onto: as if he’s escaping in plain sight.

 
“Electronic – lo-fi – avant garde – experimental – singer-songwriter – ambient – if there is one thing I am not, I know that it is pop… catchy nonetheless.” The releaser of a series of cassette albums (rising to a prolific swell in 2017), Elsa Hewitt creates assorted soft and mesmeric musical shapes on samplers, loopers, guitars or pianos; or on captured, folded sounds; or with banked and buried voices. It’s electronica of a kind, but without the matter-of-fact construction – this stuff sounds genuinely collaged and soft-sculptural, its cycles and processes and dream-pop sibilances ready for flexion or redeployment at any time. Some of her work is like chiming cartoon birdsongs, some of it like knitted cirrus or a cove-caught sea of whispering mouths. There are plenty of loopers and glitchers about, but few who can make their work sound so organic and subtly potent.



If you missed my original summary of The Mantis Opera late last month, I suggested that they “fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti…. Guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway… delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

“The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.”


 
As regards emergent punkers Socket, I’ve previously summed them up as “female-fronted firecrackers (who) don’t worry about anything like (angry, disenfranchised boredom and frustration), specialising in a hell-for-leather guitar pelt with capacious Lust For Life drumming and barely controlled chant-yelling.” That’s probably a bit reductive. For a start, they’re female-founded and female-focused as well as female-fronted (with unassuming, supportive drummer Morgan the only bloke in the lineup).

Read the ‘Beautiful Freaks’ interview here for more insight into the intertwining (or lack of it) of their band work with their assorted Fine Art and game music studies and the happy melding of schooled and unschooled musicality within the band. I suspect that you’ll get more out of that than you will out of this Bandcamp posting.


 
Adding to the texture, there’s offstage artwork, writings and chat from grassroots rock zines/nascent promoters ‘See You Mate – Yeah, See You Mate‘, and ‘Some Might Say‘, and from activist/theatre person Maya Harrison, with more to filter in in due course.

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Incredible Society For The Exploration Of Popular Song presents:
Haha Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Laetitia Sadier
The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, New Cross, London, SE14 6TY, England
Saturday 9th June 2018, 8.00pm
– information here, here and here

HAHA Sounds Collective + Blueprint Blue + Lætitia Sadier, 9th June 2018Part of the broader HAHA musical empire operating out of central Hackney (also including a studio and an independent record label, HAHA Sounds Collective are a new, experimental choral project and supergroup of art-pop-moonlighters exploring avant-garde arrangements. Led by Victoria Hamblett (singer for NO CEREMONY///), and Cathy Lucas (singer for Vanishing Twin, Fanfarlo and Innerspace Orchestra) with input from Syd Kemp, the choir and fully integrated band also includes Lætitia Sadier (more on her later), Clémentine March, Iko Chérie and various unnamed “past and present” members of Ulrika Spacek, Pollyanna Valentine, Broadcast, Blue House, Viewfinder, and Younghusband.

Their first project is a songbook version of David Axelrod’s 1970 jazz-funk cantata ‘Earth Rot’… and when I say jazz-funk, I’m not talking slap-grooves and plastic synth burbles, but the close-harmony vocalising in swagged cadenzas, twang-pocketed funk basslines, a pushing saxophone backed by a battery of brass. Strangely overlooked at the time of its original release on record (apparently down to it being too much of a leap out of Axelrod’s existing groove), it’s a vaulting, stained-glass show of an album: an early venture into pop-culture ecology drawing on Old Testament text and Navajo legend, celebrating the planet and chiding humans for the mess they’re making of it. The music’s now been transcribed for voice, by ear, by Arthur Sajas of Gabelt, ÉPÉE and Syd Kemp (who also serves as HAHA’s conductor).

This will be the work’s second performance, following its debut outing at Servant Jazz Quarters in February – yes, that slipped my notice too. This one doesn’t have to slip yours. Here’s a brief clip of HAHA Sounds Collective warming up, plus a taste of the original album.


 
Ostensibly an Americana band, Blueprint Blue actually use Americana’s moods, tones and characteristics to add coloration to what are otherwise very British songs about weather, walking and mild disappointments – the kind which might appear on the mimsier kind of folk-pop album, or which would have been half-smothered in noise or feedback on first-generation shoegazer records a quarter-century ago. Like a mixed bag of British players before them (including Gomez and Mark Knopfler, but more recently Acadian Driftwood and Horatio James) they’ve certainly mastered the sonic signifiers of American roads and roadhouses; but that’s not enough to fully inhabit the form.

The trouble with Americana is that the further you are from the situations which shaped its tones and subjects (and an ocean’s breadth doesn’t help with this), the more it starts sounding like a tinkle in a hollowed-out theatre. If you’ve got to pay tribute you’ve also got to pay dues, or fake it more convincingly. Songwise, at least, Blueprint Blue need some more grease on their axles; some more heartache and heartstring damage; some more blown-away shacks and more chances to sit dripping angry tears into their johnnycakes. Otherwise, it’s going to be a life of striving to be just a bit more like Mojave 3.


 
There may come a time when Lætitia Sadier isn’t associated, first and foremost, with Stereolab. I hope so. It’s not that there wasn’t, or isn’t, plenty to admire about her former band – just to pick out a few things, there was their unabashed musicality and willingness to draw on broad varieties of tone or reference; their matter-of-fact bilinguality and ready play of ideas; and the fact that they actually managed to revisit their varied roots and to somehow advance and transmute them (something of a holy grail achievement for many musical projects, but rarely achieved). But I, for one, am glad that her post-‘Lab work (with Source Ensemble and others) has unshackled her from that post-Velvets/post-motorik/brainiac-garage pulse: the rhythm cliche that blights so many otherwise promising acts; presses them out into two unforgiving dimensions; makes those who should be innovators and developers into enmired followers.

Lætitia’s set is either an evening opener or a middle-of-the-bill event, so I don’t know whether she’s brought along the Source Ensemble for accompaniment (for all I know, many of them may be in HAHA), or whether this is going to be a chance to hear her alone and independent/unencumbered. Either way, I hope it offers us the chance to hear her as she truly is now – a belatedly great French folk singer, although one neither bonded to the obligations of traditions or the past, nor restricted from broader conceptual and textual pallettes. In effect, an embodiment of a folk impulse reborn into the current age – with all of its opportunities for research and reflection and fresher global instincts – and let loose to create.


 

June 2018 – upcoming London rock gigs – gloriously complex experimental rock evenings – The Mantis Opera, Barringtone and New Born Animal (8th June); Lost Crowns with Sharron Fortnam and Kavus Torabi (June 14th)

27 May

Several of London’s more convoluted art-rock genii are emerging from the woodwork to play live in the early part of June, accompanied by assorted fellow travellers and burlesque pop sympathisers. Read on…

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The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal, 8th June 2018

If you’ve wondering what a band might sound like if it fused Henry Cow, Battles and early Scritti Politti, you’re in luck… and, to be honest, probably pretty marginal. Come over here and sit next to me.

Stemming from solo work by guitarist, singer and electronics meddler Allister Kellaway, The Mantis Opera now delivers his stirring, challenging constructions via a full electro-experimental synth-rock band, voicing a collection of “avant-garde grumbles” via a multiplicity of synth sounds and colliding pop tones. If this sounds inaccessible and snooty, it isn’t. It’s just that the tunes arrive in complicated cascading splinters, many parts urging in parallel towards an out-of-sight coda, while a dreamily precise atmosphere prevails: avant-prog keeping watch from under a dream-pop veil.

The pieces themselves display an ambitious, orchestral thinking – Reykjavik, for example, is less a guitar clang with lofty ambitions and more of a cerebral/visceral string quartet piece transposed for rock band. Allister’s winding, philosophical lyrics, meanwhile, are very reminiscent of Henry Cow and of Rock in Opposition preoccupations, dissecting as they do themes of resistance, logic, language and compliance with the air of a man trying to bring intellectual rigour to the pub, grabbing at the misty answers before the closing bell rings.



 
Assuming that recent reports of a broken-wristed drummer haven’t entirely torpedoed their availability, Barringtone should be in support, continuing their live drive towards the release of their debut album on Onamatopoeia this summer. Released songs have been sparse over the past few years; but enjoy this new-ish brainy little post-power-pop conundrum, exhibiting Barry Dobbins’ own ambitions as he moves up from the band’s previous wry, ornamented motorik drive into much more castellated, conversational proggy territories while keeping their knuckly XTC-inspired edge intact.


 
Seven-piece big-pop band New Born Animal complete the lineup at this Friends Serene gig. Headed by singer/songwriter/arranger Thomas Armstrong, they’re a sonorous wall-of-drunken-sound effort who sound like Blur (during their music-hall period) dragging the Walker Brothers into a dressing-room tipple too far. If so, they also sound like the stage before it all turns nasty: slightly discombobulated singalongs where self-consciousness is just rags in the breeze, the emotional valves have been opened up and everyone in the room is temporarily your lifelong friend. If this in turn sounds sloppy, then I’d suggest that there’s a lot of craft going into something which sags and collapses so gloriously and visibly, but which never disintegrates. There’s longing, wonder and helpless laughter all brimming at the back of this.


 

On top of this, the whole evening’s free if you turn up soon enough…

Friends Serene presents:
The Mantis Opera + Barringtone + New Born Animal
The Shacklewell Arms, 71 Shacklewell Lane, Shacklewell, London, E8 2EB, England
Friday 8th June 2018, 7.30pm
– free entry – information here and here

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Lost Crowns + Kavus Torabi, 14th June 2018

The following week, Richard Larcombe’s Lost Crowns spearhead “an evening of songs with a lot going on in them”. In many respects, it’s a re-run of their triumphant London debut at the same venue back in January. No Prescott this time, sadly (though their instrumental ping-pong twitch would have been welcome), but Kavus Torabi is back with a guitar, a hand-pumped harmonium and more songs from his ongoing solo project. Launched the other month with the ‘Solar Divination’ EP, this might be a holiday from the jewelled and roaring intricacies of his main gig with Knifeworld, but it’s certainly not an escape from the psychedelic shadows which nightwing their way through the band’s apparently celebratory rainbow arcs. For this isolated, darker, more grinding work, Kavus strips the flash-bangs away and leaves us with the droning echoes: the meditative bruises, fears and queries, many of which nonetheless contain their own seeds of determination and a kind of celebratory acceptance.


 
As for the headliners, last time I anticipated Lost Crowns as likely to be (deep breath) “a rich, unfolding master-craftsman’s confection… complex, artfully-meandering songs built from delightfully byzantine chords and arpeggios that cycle through ever-evolving patterns like palace clockwork; accompanied by rich, lazy clouds of hilarious, hyper-literate, wonderfully arcane lyrics; all sealed by an arch, out-of-time English manner which (in tone and timbre) falls into a never-was neverworld between Richard Sinclair, Stephen Fry, Noel Coward and a posh, Devonian Frank Zappa.”

A tall order (even it was based on what Richard’s delivered in previous projects), but I wasn’t disappointed. With Lost Crowns, Richard’s created the most dynamic and surprising music of his career.

As before, the rest of the band’s lineup is a cross-section of London art-rock luminaries: Charlie Cawood, Nicola Baigent, Rhodri Marsden, Josh Perl, drummer “Keepsie”. Certainly the influence of Richard’s brother and usual collaborator James is missed (his genial, warm, embroidering effect on Richard’s work is underrated) but his absence allows both Richard and the band to stretch out in different directions – fiercer, more crammed, sometimes brutal in their complication.

A vortex of influences funnel around Richard, including Chicago math, witty Daevid Allen psych rampage, contemporary classical music and skipping, tuneful folk singalongs. Shaped by his particular persona and thought processes – as well as his innate Englishness – it all emerges as a kind of prog, but one in which the fat and the posturing has all been burned off by the nerves and the detail, and in which his dry, melodious wit winds around the work playing mirror-tricks, theatrical feints, and the conspiratorial winks of a master boulevardier. As much at home playfully slagging off the precious venerations of synaesthesia as they are with nine-minute epics with titles like Housemaid’s Knee, Lost Crowns are a delightful self-assembling puzzle.

Frustratingly, with Richard still keeping everything close to his chest (outside of Lost Crowns’ welcoming gig environment), I’ve got nothing to show you. No embedded songs, no videos, nothing but those words and these words. Richard’s likely to keep everything culty, so the best way that you can find out whether I’m just lying through garlands here is to go to the gig yourself.

Originally this was to be a double-header with Lost Crowns’ other friends and allies, the revived psychedelic-acoustic band Lake Of Puppies (re-teaming North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig and Sharron Fortnam with William D. Drake, in order to build on the bouncing life-pop they cheerfully hawked around London together in the late ‘90s). Sadly, the Puppies have had to pull out of the show following Bill’s collision with pianist’s RSI in early May. Instead, Lost Crowns will play an extended set with Sharron woven into it as a special guest; while Kavus will be stretching out his own set, covering the remaining time that’s not taken up with snooker-ace-turned-avant-rock-uncle Steve Davis on DJ duty.

Lost Crowns (with special guest Sharron Fortnam) + Kavus Torabi + DJ Steve Davis
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Thursday 14th June 2018, 7.00pm
– information here, here and
here
 

January 2018 – upcoming London classical/experimental gigs – Scenatet Ensemble, David Helbich and Joseph Houston at Kammer Klang (13th January, including performances of Matt Rogers and Antonia Barnett-McIntosh); Nonclassical throws it all open (17th January); Candlelight Quartet plays work by assorted new composers at London Composers Platform (14th January)

4 Jan

Kammer Klang presents:
Kammer Klang: Scenatet Ensemble (performing Matt Rogers) + David Helbich + Joseph Houston (performing Antonia Barnett-McIntosh)
Café Oto, 18-22 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London, E8 3DL, England
Saturday 13th January 2018, 7.30pm
– information here, here and here

Kammer Klang, 13th January 2018
The year’s first Kammer Klang continues the concert series’ journey away from the more predictable rigours of contemporary classical tradition, and into areas of conceptual gesture and experiment, welcoming composers and musical enablers drawing from chance and the theatre and from the sometimes chaotic, sometimes magical diversity of human interpretation.

Pianist Joseph Houston (whose tally of experimental music collaborations and interpretations includes work with and by Christian Wolff, Simon Holt, Brian Ferneyhough, Colin Matthews, Rebecca Saunders, Christian Mason, and Klaus Lang) will be opening the show for the usual Fresh Klang sequence. He’ll be performing work by transdisciplinary composer, sound artist, performer and sometime curator Antonia Barnett-McIntosh who describes her compositional concerns and approaches as “the specificity of sound gestures and their variation, translation and adaptation, often employing chance-based and procedural operations.” Here’s a video of Joseph playing Luigi Nono, followed by one of Antonia’s pieces.

 
Brussels-based David Helbich is not so much a composer as a philosophical conceptualist interested in performance. In his travels, he “creates various experimental works on stage, on page, online and in public space… (moving) between representative and interactive works, pieces and interventions, between conceptual work and actions. A recurring interest is in the understanding of an audience as active individuals and the search for an opening-up of experiences in an artistically restricted space.”

In keeping with this, he’ll be engaging the venue audience in a “performative rehearsal” of his ‘No Music’ piece, guiding and suggesting their own collaborative potential soundmaking abilities into a spontaneous, instrumentless timbral noisework never to be exactly repeated. As he says, “No Music is no music, but still a musical experience. No music, still for your ears. Since 2010 I have worked on scores for pieces that could be performed right at the spot, in whatever context, as long as one could freely use both hands and had two functioning ears. The pieces offer notated situations of organised listening and simple ear manipulations. I understand this material more as a practice than as a series of composition, even though they can appear as such. Pieces appear in printed form as well as in spontaneous performances or entirely set theatrical or concert performances. These interventions are entirely personal and therefore not so much interactive as ‘inner-active’, self-performative. The reader as the performer as the listener.”


 
Founded in 2008, the Scenatet ensemble have enjoyed nearly a decade working in the overlapping area of live music, film, art spaces and conceptual staging, choosing to move “in a cross-genre field of music, drama and happenings towards areas with yet undefined genre… aiming to create conceptual art works where music is part of a larger whole.” Three Scenatet musicians (clarinettist Vicky Wright, viola player Gijs Kramers and cellist My Hellgren) will be premiering a new piece by British composer Matt Rogers (who, among other career triumphs, was the first composer to be commissioned by Transport for London’s Art on the Underground programme). His new piece, ‘Weep At The Elastic As It Stretches’, is a musical adaptation of ‘Prayer’, itself an excerpt of N.F. Simpson’s classic 1958 absurdist play ‘A Resounding Tinkle’.

As Matt recounts, the original text piece “takes place as a radio broadcast within a scene which is both domestic and ludicrous.It takes the form of a prayer of thanks, but the content is entirely atypical, asking that we rejoice in all manner of unexpected objects, situations and concepts, taking great delight in the most categorical of descriptions and in a complete lack of distinction between the mundane and the exotic. As is typical of Simpson’s work the effect is both ridiculous and sublime, encapsulating the ineffability of an existence somehow both arbitrary and profound. ‘Weep at the Elastic’ as it Stretches wishes to embody the attitudes and spirit of Simpson’s prayer, the final stage direction of which reads “The introductory bars of ‘Sweet Polly Oliver’ in an orchestrated version are heard from the wireless.”…”

A couple of related videos…

 

* * * * * * * *

After that, 2018’s first Nonclassical concert might feel like a comparative retreat to the familiar. A “Battle of the Bands” event transposed to the contemporary classical world, it’ll be judged by Nonclassical’s own Gabriel Prokofiev and Eleanor Ward (plus Dominic Murcott of Trinity Label and BBC Radio 3 controller Alan Davey), and aims to throw open some doors of opportunity for unheard or underheard contemporary composers, musicians and ensembles at the start of what might be an interesting career.

Nonclassical Battle of the Bands, 17th January 2018

Nonclassical presents:
Battle of the Bands (performers t.b.c.)
The Victoria, 451 Queensbridge Road, Hackney, London, E8 3AS, England
Wednesday 17th January 2018, 8.00pm
– information here and here

“Battle of the Bands is back! Join us at The Victoria, Dalston on 17 January 2018 as we try and find the next big artists who want to showcase new and experimental classical music. From avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation, the night will showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.

“Battle of the Bands is an open contest for soloists and groups of any size. Instrumentation is limited only by your imagination! Any combination of acoustic and electronic instruments will be considered. Playing time is from five to fifteen minutes.”

I stress that it might seem like a retreat to the familiar. In fact, they’re encouraging contributions “from avant-garde classics to works with electronics, spoken words or improvisation” in order to “showcase some of the best up and coming talent in the alt-classical scene.” If all contestants really choose to stretch the envelope, we could end up with something as left-field as the Kammer Klang event above.

In a feat of considerable brinksmanship, Nonclassical are closing the competition a slender eight days before the concert. If you’re interested in entering, you have until Wednesday 10th January to fill in the application form and link to a demo track on SoundCloud, YouTube or Vimeo.

* * * * * * * *

London Composers Platform presents:
London Composers Platform: The Candlelight Quartet performs Miguel Alonso, Stirling Copland, Bertie Douglas, Allister Kellaway, Tom Mudie, Grady Steele and others
Servant Jazz Quarters, 10a Bradbury Street, Dalston, London, N16 8JN, England
Sunday 14th January 2018, 7.00pm
information

In between the two gigs above (both in terms of dates and the various Hackney locations), Servant Jazz Quarters is putting on an evening of “new works for piano and string trio composed by musicians from popular and classical music backgrounds.” The Candlelight Quartet will premiere a string of new contemporary classical works by an assortment of young composers: most of them at the start of their careers, and many of them currently known for work in other musical fields, including Allister Kellaway, who leads avant-rockers The Mantis Opera), dance pop experimentalist Tom Mudie (a.k.a. Mom Tudie) and Grady Steele (who spends much of his time as singer/guitarist for young indie/art-rockers Shark Dentist, who have a couple of singles out on Ra-Ra Rok Records). Other composers with works in the mix include Miguel Alonso, Bertie Douglas and Stirling Copland (the last of whom has had at least one string quartet performed at an LCP event before). It all has a welcome air of self-starter to it.


 

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