Saturday, December 05, 2009

Wagon and Horses, Birmingham, Saturday 28th 2009

Wagon and Horses, Birmingham, Saturday 28th 2009

Ashtray Navigations
Lash Frenzy vs Mort the Sonic
Iron Fist of the Sun
Cities Prepare for Attack

Noise and Power Electronics gigs aren’t normally known for their back slapping bon-honomie so the sight of a packed room singing ‘Happy Birthday’ at the conclusion of Saturday nights Con-Dom set was slightly surreal. It also gladdened the heart and will no doubt never be repeated. Saturday nights gig at the Wagon and Horses may have been organised to celebrate Wrasse Productions 15th ‘unbirthday’ but to all intents and purpose the reason why so many people travelled such great distances was to celebrate Mike Dando’s 50th. The man behind Con-Dom reaches the half century mark and people have turned out in numbers to pay their respects.
The venue is a stand alone glowing oasis of warmth and light in the wet and dark industrial fag end of Digbeth, a less than salubrious smear of run down businesses and garages on the outskirts of Birmingham where passers by were few and far between. The downstairs bar is lit by a roaring wood fire, the Guinness is on form and the punters are already piling in. A bent old man in a camel hair coat and flat cap arrives carrying two battered 1950’s suitcases. By now its chucking it down and he’s pissed wet through. He orders a half of bitter and stands drinking it at the bar, slowly drying out in front of the fire. Next to him are two six foot bald headed power electronic freaks covered in black ink and black clothes talking Genocide Organ and the merits [or lack of them] of CDR. Upstairs there’s so much equipment that its actually impinging on the floor space and its going to be eight hours before it all ends. It’s 6.30 and I’m probably drunk already.
Now I’m not going to give a detailed and individual account of who did what to whom and where but let me just say this; in all my years of going to these kinds of shows this was the first where I saw every act, heard every sound and most importantly, enjoyed every minute of it. From the moment that Cities Prepare for Attack laid an electric toothbrush onto a horizontal guitar and layered lots of Non like loops around it to the impromptu Grunt performance at the death I had a sloppy grin on my face thats taken two days to wipe off. Of course there was plenty of pushing and shoving and some folks did get upset during the Slogun and Con-Dom sets, I even saw a beer glass get chucked but it was all in good humour. Yes. I think you can chuck a beer glass in good humour. So long as its not aimed at someones head. Lash Frenzy and Mort the Sonic laid on a heavy bass guitar led noise drone rumble that was even more impressive once they’d completely filled the venue with dry ice and two flashing strobe lights. Other highlights were a noise based set from Ashtray Navigations [who were pumped up to a threesome for tonight], Putrefier gave his usual solid set with the noise guitar getting plenty of abuse, Sickness are as solid as it gets, floor clearing from Slogun, bodies everywhere and then a bare chested Con-Dom with Genocide Organ and Anti Child League support getting everyone jacked up. Grunt rounded things off using borrowed equipment but things were hazy by then, the Guinness had taken a hold. But I definitely did see someone strip off naked and dance about. If you weren’t there then you’ll just have to make do with the second hand stories that’ll no doubt be doing the rounds for years to come.
The previous night it was MEV playing their part in the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. I’ve been going the last three years to at least one night of the HCMF as there’s usually something worth catching. Last year it was Dror Fieler’s one hour blast-a-thon, the year before that, Cut and Splice with Randy Yau, Sudden Infant and The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. And if you thought making music with vegetabkles was boring then you need educating. The VVO made cabbage noise, played a Kraftwerk cover [Radiation] and a version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring that was both bold in execution, remarkable to watch and highly entertaining. The prices are a tad steep when you’re used to paying a tenner to see five bands in a small room above a pub but the venues are top notch and the sound reproduction is incredible. MEV were Alvin Curran, Fredric Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum and it was a rare pleasure to witness a group performing improvised music with such lightness of hand. They played for an hour utilising three open topped grand piano’s, samples from lap-tops, oranges bounced on piano strings, voice, bizarre flute like things all of it coalescing into one organic mass of flowing delight. About three minutes in what sounded like a mobile phone rang but of course it was them. Two minutes later a voice was heard saying ‘oh lets just start again’ but that was to fool you too. Three way hammered atonal piano work gave way to sublime passages of melancholy, noise, flies zapped in humane killers. At one point Rzewski stunned a female punter in the front row when he left his piano and asked her if he could have a drink from her flask. Whatever it was he liked it. They even came back for an enlightening Q&A session where Cage was quoted liberally and someone asked if there was a difference between sound and music. Curran said he preferred the sounds he heard outside his house to those played by people calling it ‘free music’.
November began with Colour Out of Space in Brighton. Getting shunted back from its September slot proved to be blessing when the Indian Summer arrived. The sight of people sat outside pubs in t-shirts at the beginning of November was a bizarre one but a welcome one at that. After getting solidly drenched last year it made a decent change to be able to socialise in a climate that didn’t resemble Tierra Del Fuego. Colour Out Of Space is the best event of its kind in Britain. Not that I’ve been to them all. Maybe its a mixture of the venue [a student theatre of a goodly size complete with decent PA], or the abundance of real ale pubs but those three days pass in a mixture of great music and good company. Thanks to curator Dylan Nyoukis there’s always a healthy mix of styles and genres ranging from vocal works to full on noise and with 33 acts covering two stages over three nights there’s going to be a bit of something for everyone and lets not forget the film screenings and galleries too. And at only £25 for a weekends worth of entertainment it has to be the best deal going. The down side to all this socialising is the inevitability of missing something. There you are deep in a drunken conversation when people start exiting the theatre to tell you you just missed the best set of the night. On the Saturday, so drunk and sociable was I that I only saw one act. It was though, the seriously deranged and highly entertaining Kommissar Hjuler and Mama Baer. The Kommissar and his missus divided opinion with a set in which they dressed in khaki jungle fatigues, complete with pith helemts whilst singing the refrain from The Lion Sleep Tonight. For about 40 minutes I think. The back drop screened a film they’d made of a man [I’m guessing the Kommissar] dressed in a pantomime lions outfit wandering about on a deserted lake edge staring into the horizon looking lost and mournful. As their demented vocals became ever more incoherent they sank first to their knees and then to the floor. It was exhausting just to watch.
Morphogenesis, Trevor Wishart, Damion Romero, Logos Women, Phil Minton and Isabelle Duthoit, Karen Constance and John Wiese, Sten Hanson, Joseph Hammers and probably lots of bits of others were seen, half remembered and enjoyed but the biggest cheer of the entire weekend and the one that brought the house down was Ju Suk Reet Meate and Oblivia who for a good thirty minutes entranced us with an improv ride through an array of vinyl samples. toy trumpet parps, noises, scrapes, out there sounds and kitchen sinks played against a huge screen of boiling tar pits and star fish. An unforgettable evening.
After being cosseted by Brighton the following weekend was akin to trip into the seventh ciicle of hell ... Stockwell. A place so lacking in cheer it makes Dewsbury look like Rio de Janero. Exiting at the fag end of the Northern line into a steady stream of early winter drizzle didn’t exactly fill me with the joys of spring but at least the Grosvenor isn’t too far of a walk and theres’ only half a dozen gangs of hooded youths to negotiate - each one of them looking you up and down and assessing your mugging potential. Tonight’s trip is to see Mikawa and Nihilist Assault Group but there’s John Weise and the Putrefier/Romance collab which gets off the ground about five minutes after Dean Romance gets to the venue. Unable to get the day off work the poor bugger has got on the earliest available train and within minutes is hastily plugging in his gear and away we go. The Grosvenor isn’t the best pub in the world and neither is it the worst. It just looks a little unloved and with me feeling damp at the corners and with one eye on the clock [last tube around midnight and you just don’t want to get stuck in Stockwell on a wet and windy Friday do you?] I just can’t get in to the swing of things. NAG, I feel are slightly let down by the lack of volume. Middle NAG is drilling a hole into a cymbal with a power drill when he gets it stuck which sends him into a rage and equipment is sent flying. He’s sent flying, he falls over and loses it and charges out of the venue. Left and right NAG stand there in silence in front of baffled audience. I leave, missing Mikawa. Unforgivable I know but it has to be done.
Somewhere in the middle of all this there was a brief Hair Police tour with a stop over in Leeds. The last time they played Leeds the venue was double booked and they ended up playing the shittest venue in town; the upstairs of The Vine. The upstairs room of The Vine looks like its been boarded up since 1983. You could hardly see through the windows for grime, beermats were literally glued to the formica table tops, there was a gents toilet that hadn’t had water run through it for years [but that didn’t stop us using it], buffets with legs missing, a total dump. Tonight though, they’re at the much improved Brudenell. When I first stared visiting the Brudenell it was more Pheonix Nights than respected venue. After a close scrape with the local authorities in which they nearly lost their entertainment license due to complaints about the noise, they’ve beefed up the soundproofing, beefed up the PA and even had the decency to stock some Chimay [whilst I’m at the bar two young lads appear and spying the Chimay ask the barman what it is ‘oh its some really strong Belgian stuff’ he says you wont like it and he’d be right - best stick to the WKD]. The PA is the envy of The Grosvenor. If NAG had had this PA then they’d have floored the place. As it is even the support acts are sounding impressive. A collaboration between Mutant George and Lee Culver going by the name Inseminoid delivers some of those great rumbling noise bass drop outs. They trail off into a tinny recording of a bog standard pop tune that goes on so long the audience wander away bemused and befuddled. Astral Social Club’s stuttering set seems to be some kind of Abba tribute. Latest ASC insert Paul Walsh layers on all kinds of sonic abuse as compliment to Campbell’s guitar frills, pumping beats and obscure Abba loop. There’s some kind of equipment failure mid set but the pair recover with a monstrous drum driven Krautrock/Faust-like wig out. Hair Police play the floor in front of the stage, all dark glasses, drunken equipment thrash and beery bass riffs. After soaking up their No Fun LP Certainty of Swarms this last week I revel in the combination of gadget led noise meets flat out rock throb meets disjointed fucked up stop start hit it miss it sprawl. Hair Police are no Wolf Eyes-lite they are the halfway house between what the indie kids want and what the noise crowd will give them. Its a short set, maybe twenty minutes but its still a visceral thrill.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Filthy Social Club/Astral Turd + various others

A piece I originally wrote for inclusion in the forthcoming noise journal As Loud As Possible but which has now been replaced by a more recent offering.
In which the hirsute Stewart Walden sits on a freezing bus with broken windscreen wipers on the hard shoulder of the M1 on a wet Saturday night in January in the midst of a 600 mile round trip just for the brief delight to be had in throwing Smell & Quim audience members around a tatty room smelling of spilt beer and brought in kebabs. Walden is one of the true unsung heroes of the UK noise underground. So far off the radar as to be seemingly on a different planet but appearing Gandalf like at S&Q gigs, gigging with Neil Campbell and drinking cloudy cider in real ale bars. Because it is to the West we must look first. West Yorkshire and two fine West Yorkshire residents going by the name of Astral Social Club and Filthy Turd rolling around a mucky pub in Leeds like a pair of drunk Injuns after necking a bottle of the white mans firewater. The Turdster, last seen in Dortmund Square 9 o’clock Friday night stripped to the waist, beer belly to the fore, singing songs about his dirty snake, wearing a skull mask, keeping a maddening beat with an empty baked bean tin and a stick. ASC mainman Neil Campbell, last seen hot footing it back from some chic euro hotspot electro love in after wowing the denizens with his sun melting beats and drones. But on this [probably] wet July night they pull together as Filthy Social Club/Astral Turd, a sea of feedback and Red Indian holler. The Turdster cracking his whip, espousing gibberish spoken words, the pair of them howling like they’re trapped on a plane that’s losing height and the sea’s coming at them at zillion miles an hour. Crashed cymbals and the Astral Social Club beat box breaking up and sounding like a cheap disco through plasterboard walls. Needless to say the whole thing builds into an uncontrollable monster that no doubt had the lights flickering and the punters downstairs wondering what the fuck was going on.
EE’s broken analogue noise dump cassette ‘Ceramics’ is fine wonderment to my shell-likes. Taking apart the back of an old CRT TV and sticking your fingers where you shouldn’t, putting a metal bar across the circuitry of an old reel to reel computer main frame or just plain old guitar effects boxes. I don’t know how they make this shit and I prefer not to know. It spoils the effect. If I found out it was really easy then I might go and do it and form a noise band and see the world and get to sleep on peoples floors and not shower for days and get bitten by things that live in carpets and drink too much alcohol and eat too much of the wrong foods and forget what country I was in or what day it was and when I got back home I’d make some noises like this and send them to Sound Holes who’d spray paint the cassette and put it in a box and make 68 copies so that 68 people could have one each and listen to its churning noise and feedback. Except for the bit towards the end of side two where it all goes a bit pear shaped. I wouldn’t do that bit because it was a bit crap really.
Snotnosed – Live Shit Action 2003-2006 - utter madness - listen to the sound of a big bald bloke fly head first into a dustbin full of broken crockery. Gasp in amazement at the sight of a big bald bloke smashing the shit out of pokey venues with a sledgehammer. Be amazed at stories of how big bald bloke breaks bones and bleeds everywhere. Because if you’re going to do a Hanatarash tribute act you might as well do it right. And then there’s the machete and the Peter Sutcliffe mask and the broken records … lots of things broken of course.
But first you need your big baldy scary bloke, that’s Michael Gillham [Cock Combat], on some outings he’s joined by Cock Victory [on metal and drills] and there’s ‘Censored’ too but mainly its Cock Combat going for head bleeding glory in a series of mental outings where audiences scream and shout encouragement as the debris from a Dansette record player mingle with the spilt beer and the blood. Cock Combat screams too, galvanized dustbins are destroyed, cymbals hurled with gusto. Lots of things get broken including Cock Combat’s bones. Three gigs in a row he breaks foot, knuckles and wrist. Some people would have given up but this just spurs him on.
I once saw Snotnosed play the Royal Park Cellars in Leeds. Cock Combat wore a Yorkshire Ripper mask and waved a sledgehammer at the audience before doing back flips onto broken cymbals. He destroyed a galvanized dustbin by repeatedly swinging it into the floor as Cock Victory hid behind a box of tricks keeping the noise levels up. That gig isn’t here sadly but there are six other tracks of equally enjoyable mayhem, including Live Actions 0, 1, 4 and 5 to keep the English noise obsessed fan happy. From such mayhem comes a surprisingly good listen. In between breaking records over his head and waving fire extinguishers at the audience the Cocks cook up some decent ear bleed. The Bloodcurdling screams, the sounds of things being busted, it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye.
Snotnosed activity is now suspended, presumably so Gillham can get his breath back, but this here document [which even copies the first Hanatarash sleeve and logo and comes with pin badge and booklet] is all you need to re-live those extra special demented moments. Just insert disc and hit yourself over the head with your sister’s records.
Under his Kylie Minoise moniker Lea Cummings gave us one of the best noise releases of 2008 with Spank Magic Lodge, an utterly magnificent noise breach which will surely one day receive its heroes welcome. It had zany track titles too like ‘The Last Survivors of a Band of Nude and Long Haired Freaks’ and I loved it.. Then comes ‘You Suffer’ a CD of seemingly endless maximalism and unwavering dullness that would be better employed as a beer mat. Maybe it was just something he had to get out of his system? Maximalist noise has its fans but its safe to say that I’m not one of them. Lock yourself in, turn up the stereo and kick four of your senses good bye for an hour … err no thanks. Coming after the sheer joy of Spank Magic Lodge it’s hard to bear.
Fortunately for us Cummings also appears in Opaque. A twin headed guitar beast who ditched their drummer years ago when they developed a penchant for avant guitar noise. Opaque don’t just do neck ringing head down mindless noise though. On the four disc set ‘The Cult of Survivors - Unreleased Tracks 1997-2007’ there’s plenty of honest to goodness noise of course but within these forty odd tracks of live and studio detritus lives pulverizing drones, struck strings and deathly frottage.
Seems Opaque live shows have the habit of polarizing the audiences though, half of them bottling them off and unplugging their guitars while the other half try plugging them back in again. As far as noise goes they sure don’t sound or look pretty; track one, disc one, a two minute blast-a-thon that must have rattled the rafters in Utrecht. It’s brutal unapologetic ear wax dislodging material and if anything nearer to prime Jap noise circa mid 90’s than two guys with guitars in Europe in 2004. But they can do ambient too and if Buddhist temple like chilled out ambience with dying amp warmth is your bag then there’s some of that on here too. TNB clang isn’t far away as are gloriously built up overdriven motordrones and echoing dead factory ambience.
They also have the sense to jumble the styles too so that each disc runs its own stylistic gamut. Something to be welcomed when faced with so much material in one package in these days of ever dwindling attention spans. Of course, four discs is always going to carry unnecessary baggage and I reckon that this could have easily been slimmed down to two hour long discs or, if I’m being brutally honest, maybe just the one.
Andy Jarvis floats around the UK underground noise scene like a traffic warden – only friendlier. Sticking 3 inch CDR’s from his own First Person label under windscreen wipers and taking notes of how long you’ve been parked he drifts along invading Stoke on Trent’s pubs with a variety of fellow bong merchants laying down everything from ether pluck to vibrant noise drone. When not running his own label he appears from nowhere on obscure outposts espousing drone and strum. On the four unnamed tracks on Aghast/Agape Jarvis layers jumbled guitar chords over shimmering electronics, lays down orgasmic Tangerine Dream like synth washes over a Robert Fripp guitar run and on one track sounds like Manhattan Research era Raymond Scott after a good session. The first track is sub sub sub guitar riffage played with the fattest plectrum in the box reverberating back to you until it morphs into mangled vocal mantras that come in half way between Tuvan throat singing and a moaning mystic at a lively seance.
But back to Walden who this time turns up in London at the Old Blue Last with Neil Campbell [or should that be Procrane Split?] a gig seeing the light of day on Campbell’s own Astral Social Club CDR run, this being number 16. Procrane and Stool Man go where no dronester has ever gone before; a deranged, monged out, head nodding cess pit of mutated beats, held down synth keys, wild Theremins and shortwave radios. Its 25 minutes of batting each others senses up hill and down dale. It runs beautifully, taking in Pan Sonic like bass spasms, spaced out Theremin walks and one finger snyth jabs. They climax in a cumulative splatter, knee trembling and with the walls shaking - one half of them heads for the North leaving the London punters with only their flat ale and bleeding ears to contemplate. The other goes back to the bar. Bad news is this though … there’s only 24 copies to go round.
Filthy Social Club/Astral Turd - [cassette]
A Jarvis- [cassette – 50 copies]
EE - [cassette]
Snotnosed - [CD]
Kylie Monoise/Opaque
As Loud As Possible

Monday, November 02, 2009

Just Glittering issue 1

This is the first thing I ever did and its pretty crap but it contains information on and words by Milovan Srdenovic and Seedian Gross. From the mid 90's


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Units

History of The Units - The Early Years 1977 - 1983
Community Library CD CL16
What amazes me is the fact that you can get through nearly half a century of living without even knowing that a band like San Francisco’s The Units ever existed. And then you get your hands on this and you realise why persons of a certain age, usually male and nearing fifty, get all excited at the mention of obscure bands who only cut a couple of singles and maybe an LP before disintegrating into history dust nearly 30 years ago. Usually I’m not the type to get all that excited about the mention of obscure bands but after cranking these 21 synth monsters up for the last few weeks I may find myself turning into one. As an example; whenever the bald heads of noise find themselves around a pub table a band will crop up in the conversation, say The Screamers and Underwood will go “fuck yeah, The Screamers, their first single on Meeuw, 400 copies, red vinyl,1978, I’ve got two copies and Thurston Moore wanted to buy one off me for £200 when I DJ’ed No Fun but I told him to bollocks”. Years ago in pre internet days I sent the Undermeister a track I’d taped off the John Peel show in 1978. I had no idea who the band were except that they were French and that there was a heavy synth sound to it. Back comes a jiffy bag containing a tape with all their stuff on it and Xeroxes of their single sleeves. The track turned out to be Hystére Connective and the band were French synth punk pioneers Metal Urbain.
At the same time in San Francisco The Units were going that one step further than Metal Urbain by abandoning their guitars all together in favour of an all synth line up [and drums of course]. The theory being that you couldn’t be reactionary with guitars seeing as how by their sheer ubiquity they were part of the mainstream. They even went as far as to paint all their gear battleship grey, do away with a frontman and screen projected films at their gigs in further bids of non conformity and a chance to indulge in the performance art scene that was rife in San Francisco at the time. I know all this thanks to the enclosed booklet - a shining example of a labour of love from Portlands Community Library team.
But this is not all three minute angst from a bunch of misanthropists, there’s prog keyboard flourishes and instrumentals too [they composed soundtracks] which is pretty good as it is but its the early singles that captures the mood best such as on Cannibals with its rampant tub thumping, waspish buzz and rabid stream of vocals. High Pressure Days is a scintillating swirl of monster synth and 4/4 stomp thats easily as good as anything Devo ever got credit for. Warm Moving Bodies is urgent pop delivered in military fashion. Of the 21 tracks on offer its hard to find fault with a single inclusion. Community Library even have the sense to let the Pope of Punk and San Francisco's Mabuhay Gardens emcee/promoter Dirk Dirksen announce the band thus setting the scene without the need for a dodgy live track. And after slagging off the audience and mixing up the bands name its a treat from start to finish.
The Units began as an eight piece in 1978, in San Francisco before settling to a more manageable three. They chew up a dozen or more members, cut a few singles along the way and implode on Epic/CBS with a Bill Nelson produced album that never gets to see the light of day after having dented the disco charts in America with a track thats not even on here. Therefore they have all the right ingredients for a retrospective such as this and for once its a truly deserved and perfectly weighted release. Too often the urge to include every outtake, b-side, fart, click track and poorly recorded live outing proves too strong and the end result is a three CD set of stodgy proportions [see The Homosexuals ‘Astral Glamour’ release on Messthetics for a good example of how to over do it]. Here we have 21 tracks of what synth punk was all about and its perfect. I could go on; the origins of their name, the Trakstod Station [Californian hair rockers] cover, the alienation and swooping melodies but I guess you’ll just have to find that out for yourselves.
I don’t normally get material such as this through the door. Maybe Community Library has picked up on my enthusiasm for all manner of analogue synth in the shape of Emeralds and early English synth pioneers like The Future and more lately Vice Versa, whatever, I’m glad they did. History of The Units is released on the 15th of June on CD and thereafter on vinyl and MP3.

Usurper Trio/Muscle Tusk/Smear Campaign/Nackt Insekten

Usurper Trio - Party Tapes
Muscle Tusk/Smear Campaign
Nackt Insekten - Countdown to Ecstasy II
Ghost of an Octopus - 19,21,23,14
[all the above are cassettes]
Serfs At Victoria Baths
Abraxxxass- Plum Slate
Saboteuse - Apercu
For those of you wanting to know what’s happening at true grass roots level in the UK then look no further than Stuart Arnot’s Total Vermin label. Raking together the best of what’s happening in Manchester, Stoke and Glasgow Arnot cudgels together a satan hot fart of Fluxus garblings, eaten away frequency discharge and teeth to the neck fret abuse.
There is plenty to admire here amongst the spattered CDR’s and day-glo cassettes.
Ghost of an Octopus is Arnot and underground leg-end Joincey strangling guitars of various types in an incessant buzz of restless careering blue bottle distortion that attacks you like a swarm of angry hornets on a hot day in Dewsbury. This is not head down mindless Solmania. It’s a different beast altogether with little direction but a focus and intent. A disturbing beast of string kill that makes Keiji Hieno sound like Les Dawson.
Usurper Trio is the weird pick of the bunch. The Fluxus ethos of not making any sense is a melody of plumbing sounds, electronic rumbles and saucepans lids used as percussion. Tupperware, kazoo abuse and swannee whistles are designed to disorientate as squealing puppies and rattling china cups are thrown in for good measure.
Arnot turns up again in his Smear Campaign guise in a split with a live Muscle Tusk track. Muscle Tusk sound like a dying elephant whilst someone kicks a kick drum at random intervals. All of it eventually collapsing in on itself into a filthy pit of nightsoil. The other side sounds like the first side recorded onto dodgy tapes which keep swimming in and out of focus Norman Collier style. Deep earth rumbles and a muted trumpet struggle to be heard.
The last time I saw Nackt Insekten he was gigging on the Glasgow Underground as part of 08’s Instal fest. It was a bizarre sight indeed as commuters got on an off to the sound of distorted switches hidden in a suitcase amplified through a couple of ghetto blasters. Like all good noise practitioners though the beauty becomes apparent with immersion. NI’s angsty, fidgety, frequency driven overloads are head buzzes that become hypnotic until a subtle phase shift alters their course. It all sounds like it should be made on huge Dr Frankenstein like machines pulsing with Telsa shocks and ball lightning but I’ve seen inside that suitcase ... which makes me even more impressed.
Serfs all too short set of guitars and trampled percussion benefits from being performed in a disused Victorian baths. Starting out softly with rattles and the odd hit cymbal the six Serfs lift off into the crumbling iron lattice work on an ever increasing drone of guitar shimmer and scream that just makes you wish you’d been there. Impressive.
Joincey reappears in Saboteuse an outfit who can seemingly turn their hand to anything from Whitehouse squeal to the simply indescribable. Here its the simply indescribable - a kaleidoscopic collection of stabbed keys, fumble fingered guitar wreckage, kamikaze plane dives and spoken word. Joincey’s spoken word contributions besides adding to the mystery of it all make you wonder if he hasn’t got a future as a BBC newsreader, something I’d pay double the license fee just to see for one night.
Only Abraxxxass’s demented six string fiddling leaves me cold but not a bad result out of seven releases.
Total Vermin’s releases aren’t pretty and with a name like that you wouldn’t expect them to be but these are worthwhile releases documenting an area of work many labels aren’t interested in or are too scared to get involved with.

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Fun Fest 2008

NEW YORK, 16/17/18 MAY 2008
I’m stood outside the Knitting Factory in downtown New York in the rain, in the road, smoking a cigarette when a voice in my ear goes ‘eez thurstanmuwar ohn’ I turn to see a blonde French woman who may be Charlotte Rampling or Bridgett Bardot looking at me with expectant eyes as her own cigarette smoke curls up into the damp night. I’m already half drunk and jet lagged and have to ask her again what it is she wants to know until it clicks that she’s a Sonic Youth fan and has come all the way from Paris on the off chance of seeing Thurston play No Fun. She has no ticket. I tell her that if I see him I’ll tell him she called.
And there’s no way that the bouncers at the Knitting Factory are going to let this French lady in without a ticket. Big Black Guy and his mate are the biggest pair of smiling Nazis on the lower west side. Its the reason why I’m stood in the road with a cigarette because they don’t want me fouling up the sidewalk and impeding the egress of their well heeled lawyer neighbours. You can see their point. If the Knitting Factory’s punters get over zealous and start making too much noise at one in the morning mister investment banker and his missus are going to get pissed off pretty quick. But enforcing this ruling with all the glee of an over zealous school bully is going beyond the call of duty and don’t even think about having a pull on that big bifter you brought with you. Big Black Guy has the keen nostrils of a sensitive beagle and delights in chasing small groups of high teenagers across the street.
The Knit certainly isn’t The Hook. Last years venue, The Hook, feels like a cosy tap room compared to the Dantes Inferno that is the Knitting Factory. At entry level lies Stage one, the main stage. Below that lies Stage two, the smaller floor space. Below that, merchandise can be found. Above all these floors is the viewing area cum DJ rack cum mixer and lights set up. The only way to get to these various floors is by a winding stair case. and with 50 acts appearing over three nights with about five minutes between sets it soon turns into some kid of Orwellian MC Escher loop of folks tramping up and down stairs in search of entertainment. And don’t even think of stopping to talk to someone you know because you ‘gotta keep moving folks - don’t block the corridor’ intone the half interested floor staff who in-between checking your ID and ink stained hands stare disinterestedly at PC monitors checking their emails or doodling. And there’s hardly anywhere to sit and socialise which is half of what No Fun is about. Everyone you meet at No Fun is either playing, fronting a label, a website, organizing tours or there to get ideas. Some people even go just to listen. At least they have bars on three of the floors and some decent ale on offer and even though I’l never pay $7 for a can of Boddingtons it’s heartening to see it here.
Once again No Fun orgasniser Carlos Giffoni has assembled a grand array of noise/experimental artists. Its easily the biggest and best noise related event in the world. Its a sell out. And with 50 acts on offer to the discerning noise enthusiast it becomes impossible to catch everything. What with the stairs and me not being as nimble footed as a mountain goat I probably miss at least half of what’s happening but to be honest its no big deal. Its like sitting down to a five hour Chinese banquet and passing on the egg fu yung. They’ll probably be a next time and anyway once you’ve seen one noise band you’ve seen them all right? Well, not quite. It has to be said that some noise artists come out of the PA sounding all the same, even though the artists concerned will vehemently argue against this but over the course of a weekend of such extremity a general wall of noise becomes lodged in your head and its hard to shift. But its not all all out kiddie pedal noise, therein lies the appeal of No Fun. There’s something for everyone.
Friday nights highlights are a punishing set from Sickness whose the first act on stage one. After the disappointment of last years appearance where there was some problem with the sound its heartening to see this one man PE/noise artist take total control of his gear and begin with an ear piercing wail that reached deep down into my ear ducts and caused me to briefly loose my balance. Bathed in a sea of blue light Sickness showed that the PE/noise axis can be both intelligent and rewarding. Randy Yau did his celery schtick thing. Munching on celery stalks spewing juices down his shirt and spraying chunks into the audience in a sea of celery splatter. Contact micd up it was brief and glorious. Somewhere lies the great photograph of Randy Yau machine-gunning bits of celery everywhere but I never took it. The rest of night descends into a bout of beer swilling jet legged banter with people I know, half know or get introduced to. Thurston, Black Quarter, Dinosaur With Horns and Falling Lights I could have either seen or not seen. Its hard to tell. I half catch Burning Star Core as I wait to get served at the bar. White Out no. Jason Crumer yes. Greg Kelly I have no idea. By now the beer/jet lag ratio is getting to me. Whilst in the merch area its obvious that Damion Romero has started upstairs. The second stage area’s PA is nowhere near as punchy as stage one’s and during Romero’s set of drone I wander around to discover that the best place to hear what’s going on lies the three feet in front of the performer. At the back it sounds all muddy, to the left nothing much, ditto the right. This becomes a problem when the noise freaks want to punch the air during the livelier acts but for shy retiring types like me it means three nights of murk. Astro are the last band on tonight but before that you have to endure Tony Conrad and his Squeaking Fiddle Band. The last time I saw Tony Conrad and his Squeaking Fiddle Band they succeeded in sending me to sleep. Tonight he tops that by driving me from the venue. Astro or no Astro I cant bear it any longer. I wander out into the rain and into the welcoming arms of a New York Taxi cab taking care not to say goodnight to the Big Black Guy and his mate.
On Saturday night I see a man hit two saucepans together and play the maracas. For one moment I think I’ve fallen through some kind of black hole and ended up at a Termite gig but no there he goes and he’s hitting the lids too. They’re mounted on cymbal stands and he’s hitting them with drumsticks. Well I never. But sanctuary is but a stairwell away and I climb to find Aaron Dilloway give one of the most memorable sets of the weekend under his guise as Nevari Butchers. Dilloway shows that he’s no one trick pony and worthy of inclusion after last years well received set. With a cello player for accompaniment he scrapes the insides of a wheelbarrow with a spade before retiring to a table covered in reel to reel tapes, cassette tapes and other various gadgets which he pokes and prods into some incredible sounds. With people like Dilloway, Stelzer and Chop Shop investigating the world of analogue tape experimentation I feel that there is a future for noise outside of its widely perceived persona of head down brain mush. This way the future lies. Nautical Almanac further improve my mood with a theatrical set of noise burlesque. Playing behind a backlit white curtain a figure looms near over a sea of coloured lights. Its like Kate Bush meets Shadow Puppet Theatre of noise land. Keith Fullerton Whittman stands behind his gear with long flowing beard emitting small squeaks which gathering into something bigger. Officially the biggest exponents of knelt down backs to the audience arses in the air drone merchants are The Skaters - I just wish they’d get up and shake some bells now and again as I’m tired of seeing their backsides but at least what they do is good wholesome drone. I bet they’ve never played Brighton without incident though. Giffoni gets himself on the bill but nobody’s complaining because what he does with that old analogue equipment is pretty spectacular. Its the old equipment thats making the most interesting noises. I think Emeralds are using old analogue equipment too and definitely a guitar. I saw a gitar. Through my now drunken eyes I saw a gitar that made a sound like early Tangerine Dream on steroids. I exit for a cigarette and stand in the road. I buy another beer [Magic Hat Circle Boy wheat beer at $4 which sure beats the PBR Well Shot at $7 and if you don’t know what a PBR Well Shot is then you don’t know how half these folks get drunk] I talk shit with people I half know. I get chewing gum stuck the the sole of my shoe. I go out for another cigarette. I find Alvars orchestra at the end of their set looking at their equipment taking in a few hearty cheers. One of them is staring blankly through heavy lidded eyes suggesting that he’s had more than his fair share of PBR Well Shots. And there’s no way I’m hanging around to see Cluster who may be German legends but at 1.30 in the morning play the kind of ambient tat thats liable to induce a coma in a drink and jet lagged body.
On paper Sundays stage one line up is the highlight of the weekend. Sudden Infant, Lasse Marhaug, Illusion of Safety, Consumer Electronics and to top it off, the granddaddy of them all, The Haters. And thats just upstairs. Downstairs we have Brooklyn PE upstarts Halflings, that well know spelling mistake Ahlzagallzeguh, full on FFH, the big man Cleanse and to top it all off John Weise. And lets not forget those I don’t know or will never see.
It could be during one of tonights performances that I smell the unmistakeable sweet smell that is dope. I’m stood at the back of stage one just knowing that its going to be less than ten seconds before Big Black Guy makes an appearance and sure enough here he comes barging through the punters sniffing the air like a drug bust Alsatian knocking folks aside in his quest to catch these most evil of evil doers. I’m as tired of the Knitting Factory now as the next person but at least a three man Edwige kick up a decent racket before Sudden Infant does what Raionbashi and Kutzkelina did last year and silences the No Fun crowd with a cultured display of vocal distortion and noise manipulation. At the start of his set he’s pelted from up above, these noise kids just want to get their kicks and aren’t about to put up with a European giving them something they might have to think about but he carries on putting an index finger to his lips just as they think its all over. Sudden Infant actually gets the punters laughing too with some well aimed observations and at the conclusion of his piece gets a riotous reception. Back down the stairs we get a classic PE performance from a group of young men from Brooklyn called Halflings. They seem to have brought half the crowd with them who immediately start crowd surfing and basically go batshit for the full set. Its good to see what is a sometimes a maligned genre safe in such young hands, Ahlzagallzeguh’s micro-edit noise spurts sound pretty much like other noise spurts live and then on the same floor FFH gives us another one man PE performance that has the thrill seekers, body shovers and beer sprayers doing what they do best. Back up the stairs for Lasse Marhaug this time aided and abetted by a Dror Feller who does a damned good impression of Olatunji era Coltrane going bright red in the face blowing all the high end register out of his sax whilst trying to keep his eyeballs in his head. Marhaug; is whipping cables around and treating us all to one of the loudest and most punishing sets of the weekend. Those high pitched sax squeals coupled with Marhaug’s devastating noise assaults are just on the brink of proving painful to my tinnitus damaged hearing but its still a breathtaking ride. Another member of Sonic Youth at this years fest is Lee Ranaldo but his drumming is but mere background to my search for more Magic Hat. Then its to the more erudite transmissions of Illusion of Safety. I have admired Illusion of Safety from afar for some years now. Their blend of samples, field recordings and experimentation have been a singular voice for donkeys years. If you dig far enough into their CV you’ll even see the name Jim O’Rourke but at this late stage of the proceedings electro-acoustic field recordings mixed with samples and lap top fuckery are interesting for about ten minute but soon wane into self indulgence. The rest of the evening flies by in a bout of drunken European camaraderie. It all comes to the fore upon appearance of Consumer Electronics. CE frontman Phillip Best has been at it long enough to give the punters what they want and with Dominik Fernow helping out with the noise side of things he strides the stage like a blobby drunken holiday maker in Benidorm shirt half open drooling saliva onto his nipples and rubbing it in. Eyes hidden behind shades, screaming unutterables he read from a scrapbook of lyrics wailing them into a wall of fierce noise. Fernow grimaces as the levels rise, Best strips off down to trousers, spits water into the crowd, revels in the ugliness of it all, puts his jacket back on, paces the stage as if looking for inspiration, loving every minute of it. News comes through that John Weise’s lap top has gone tits up so that leaves the bigger man Cleanse to round things off downstairs. Cleanse is there to fulfill all the testosterone fueled rampant male noise fantasists dream. He’s big, he’s loud and he loves to get involved. So it is that after two seconds he disappears in a sea of sweaty, beer soaked bodies and punching fists. The kids are enjoying themselves so much so that Big Black Guy just has to wade in and stop it all. He stands there in the midst of it all looking like the Headmaster searching for the kid who made the funny noise in assembly.
That leaves the Haters to round the weekend off. After missing the legendary ‘tyre’ tour of Europe in which Haters supremo GX Jupitter Larson ground his way into a car tyre with an angle grinder, I’ve been waiting ever since to catch him live, but tonight its just hooded theatrics with a mixer. At its brief end someone shouts ‘GX you’re a genius’ which as overstatements go takes some beating. The man is certainly up there with the greats but this performance is about as baffling to me as The Haters seminal release The Totimorphous. Make sense of that and you’ve uncovered the secrets of the universe. The legendary Haters live show will have to wait for another day.
Back outside I smoke a last cigarette. In the road. Away from the building. Quietly. With no drugs and with no beer. Just me and a cigarette saying a few goodbyes and wondering why it had to be that The Hook went bust and why I ended up at the Knit with Big Black Guy and the stairs.
Oh, and I never did get to tell Thurston about the French woman. She’s called Kate. Sorry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ghost of an Octopus/Pecus

Ghost of an Octopus - XVIII XVII
Pecus - There’s a Dolphin Talkin’ to Me
3” cdr
I had these pushed into my sweaty mitt whilst in Glasgow for Instal 08. Two three inch cdr’s with no info really bar a few track titles on the Pecus sleeve, I’m not even sure that the Roman numerals are significant, they’re just there looking important and mysterious like end credits. I had little knowledge of what was going into my pocket but that the man giving me the GO release was from Levenshulme which I later discovered is now Joincey’s stomping ground and there on the back of the Pecus sleeve I half spied a picture that was Joincey and that handwriting sure looked like Joincey’s so maybe there was some kind of Joincey involvement then?
That would make these two little spinners of more than passing interest because Joincey is famous in his own tap room for being one of the shadowiest shifters on the English underground scene and I hate to use the word underground but there’s really no more apt a word. That he remains virtually unknown but exalted by those who do says more about him than any ten CD box set of his collected works would [which, by the way would be a virtually impossible task considering the scatter gun mechanics employed to release his material].
Internet searches reveal Ghost of an Octopus to be the twin berth caravanette that is Smear Campaign and the Joinced one. Smear Campaign being the giver of said discs and last see helping out Nackt Insekten on his Glasgow tube noise gig - a memory that will last long in the memory not just for the sheer absurdity of it all but for the fact that if this stunt had been pulled in London all the participants and spectators would now be dead from bullets to the head and other important parts. Smear Campaign benefit from being straight forward ugly. Joincey could give you anything from Whitehouse to Olivia Newton John covers. Here they seem to share the load with some split channel madness that’s one channel of the amplified death throes of an angry bluebottle fizzing in a glass jar across from all the guitar solos of Stevie Vai played all at once by somebody who has drunk ten pints of Scruttocks. GO are never going to be succinct or attract big words from Wire hacks. Their offering is a straight reflection of the vomit splattered streets of Manchester and reflects that perfectly. The machine eventually gives up the ... er ghost at the cut off period that is the 20 minute mark but by then their message is perfectly clear.
Pecus I assume to be yet another Joincey solo project - don’t even try nailing down all the bands he’s involved with or his myriad solo projects - I bet even the man himself looses himself. The first short track ‘flecks’ is a mumbled manipulated vocal work that sounds faintly like a 3 am death threat to noisy neighbours, ‘purpleggs’ is whistling feedback, ‘vectors’ is the industrial Mancunian decay that settles all over the North West like pollution on a new paint job. Joincey has more hats than a Russian Army Store and can hit you with just about kind of ear bomb. What gets me excited is that the urgency with which these things appear is matched by their equally rapid disappearance. And with no contact info it seems as if they’re almost content with the fact that these things just exist in their own right, lurking in someone's pocket waiting to cause disruption.

contact - no contact information given but you can try; [Smear Campaign myspace page] [joincey’s myspace page]