Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pjorn 72 comp

Various Artists - Songs About Dying
Pjorn 72 CDR. PjornCD0023

I was amused by a survey in which 3,000 of Greggs customers were asked a number of questions relating to the festival that is Christmas. Ten percent of those asked ‘What is Christmas?’ thought that it was an invention brought about so that we could all give each other presents. Others thought we ate turkey at Christmas because thats where Mary and Joseph were born and another large portion of up to date, finger on the pulse human beings thought that the first day of Christmas was the 1st of December. And on it went. The true meaning of Christmas disappeared a long time ago and with each passing year gets buried deeper and deeper under a man made mountain of Argos ads, well worn Xmas singles and celebrity chef programmes. If you want to find the true meaning of Christmas these days head to your local out of town shopping center or sit glued to your 50 inch plasma TV for two weeks.

Like most people I’m just glad of the break at this time of year. Its a chance to overdo it on the wine and victuals without having to worry about an alarm clock going off and theres always the prospect of a bracing mid afternoon walk with a nip of whisky to warm you along the way. Of course the telly is shite. The TV companies would have you believe that Christmas time is two weeks of televisual bliss, fun for all the family, a televisual feast the likes of which we haven’t seen since the year before and when you switch it on its just a turd with a bit of tinsel on it.

I prefer to spend Christmas in the kitchen cooking meals to a background of contemplative Bob with the odd Harry Smith comp thrown in for counterpoint. As the wine works its way into my system the songs become more familiar, the vocal accompaniments more heartfelt and the food more forgotten. And then its to the Poang for an evening of Late Bottle Vintage Port and the review pile which I must admit has, in general, been of an outstanding quality this year.

I think my audience knows what I like by now and word has got round. You could argue that this is a bad thing - giving me what I like in the expectant return of praise - it could make me complacent. I prefer to see it this way - I could be wallowing in a sea of self indulgent, underworked, badly copied CDR’s with lousy art work, work that has little in the way of edification and has about as much chance of entertaining me as the Strictly Come Dancing final and the Hairy Bikers Christmas Special all rolled into one. I prefer the former.

Songs About Dying slips into the former category, but only just. The artwork doesn’t do much for me, theres nothing in the way of information and the CDR is badly recorded - it has those annoying digital clicks that curse many a rushed CD job [I overcame this by playing it at a low volume on the PC].

Fifteen artists then with most of them chipping in with something worthwhile - not a bad result for any comp really. Those that can hang their heads in shame though are UFO Antler Band with a contribution that sounds like a PE track recorded inside a Space Invader machine and Incest Whore who sound like a thrash doom band recorded in a paper cup. The rest brings much delight, especially the Nackt Insecten track with its slowly drifting seven minutes worth of organ drone purity [when did the Nackster drop the noise baton?]. Other highlights include Dead Labour Process who sound remarkably like Milovan Srdenovic, Andy Jarvis with a luscious keyboard/guitar drone thats more than a match for the emeraldic Mark McGuire, Usurper with a recording of a board game in progress, Jazzfinger, the ever wonderful Culver, Blood Stereo and Grant Smith.

Without going to the trouble of Googling all the artists involved here I’m pretty sure that they’re all UK based. Pjorn, for whatever reason they deem fit, have put this out into the world with little in the way of information. Pjorn must assume that the listener, with a PC and internet connection, will do the leg work for them. In pre-internet days [dons grumpy old bastard stance] you provided contact information for the benefit of the artists and listener alike but with social networking the norm this is leading to laziness and in my mind an impression of another release out of the way, let the buggers do it for themselves.

As a snapshot of whats happening in the UK today [again I’m assuming this is a fairly recent release] you’d gather that theres some people dabbling in drone, some in Dada like Schimpfuckery and some in deconstructed thrash but without recourse to a computer you'd be left pretty much in the dark as to anything but the track listing.  Still, it beats watching the Hairy Bikers.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens and The New Blockaders

The New Blockaders - Simphonie in X Major
Hypagogia. Cassette. PN03. 200 copies.

I first became aware of Christopher Hitchens earlier this year in an article written for the Observer newspaper. The article in question was written by his long time friend and author Martin Amis, in it you discover that Hitchens was a polemicist, an atheist [or as he would have preferred ‘an anti-theist’], an intellectual, a journalist, a writer, a documentary maker, contrarian, a thorn in the side of hypocrisy and the kind of person who would never suffer fools [The article is offline now but theres the great story of Amis and Hitchens enjoying a restaurant meal at the height of Thatcherism. As they were eating their meal a group of yuppies arrived one of whom decided to take it upon himself to arrange the tables to suit his liking. It soon became apparent to the pair that this fop haired product of materialism would need their table for his own devices. The man dropped to his haunches beside Hitchens and said ‘I know you’re going to hate me for this ..’ to which Hitchens cut in ‘you’re wrong, we already hate you’]. I don’t normally buy a Sunday paper but we were on holiday in Northumberland and with a lazy day stretching ahead in front of me I bought the Observer and read every word of Amis’s piece until  somewhere deep in my skull a sticky went up with ‘buy some of Hitchens work’ written on it. It wasn’t until a few months had passed that the sticky popped up in my head and I bought ‘God Is Not Great’, where Hitchens, with his subtle humour and giant intellect, dismantles religion and in the process left this humble reader wondering why I had wasted so many years not reading Hitchens. Not that there are many writers like Hitchens.

Hitchens passed away on Friday the 15th of December after succumbing to a cancer no doubt brought on by his huge appetite for whisky and cigarettes. At the time of his dying I was reading a collection of his essays [Love, Poverty & War], when I opened his book on Friday morning this was at the top of the next page:

“The moral superiority of atheism … is often less stressed than its intellectual superiority. The intellectual advantage hardly needs elaboration: we do not normally accept unprovable assertions at face value, however devoutly they are maintained, and we posses increasingly convincing explanations for matters that once lay within the province of the supernatural. Skepticism and inquiry and doubt are the means by which we have established such a civilisation as we posses, professions of sheer faith are a hindrance to investigation both moral and material.”

Its typical Hitchens and the kind of thinking that gets even the slightest inquisitive mind fishing about for a drive gear.

In the same book you find this:

"[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction."

And in 'God Is Not Great' this:

"My own view is that this planet is used as a penal colony, lunatic asylum and dumping ground by a superior civilisation, to get rid of the undesirable and unfit. I can't prove it, but you can't disprove it either."

The really sad thing about Hitchens passing is that he had reached the time in life when he was just about able to sit and bask in the reflective glow of his body of work.

I could go on for a while here, theres the dismantling of Henry Kissenger, The Clintons, Mother Theresa, his shift of political stance after 9/11, the heavy drinking, his verbal battles with lumps like George Galloway and numerous American TV news show presenters .. its best that you investigate him yourself. May he rest in peace.

Simphonie in X Major is another TNB release getting the 20th anniversary treatment from Hypnagogia and the only thing thats running through my mind is how much reissue treatment can one man take? Its worth remembering that once upon a time things used to get deleted forever but in the 21st century you’re nobody until the carcass of your back catalogue has been picked over, remixed, enhanced, put on the latest format and [in the case of Pink Floyd] shoved in a box with a bag of marbles, a scarf and some coasters. Not that I’m comparing the picking over of the the Pink Floyd corpse with a cassette reissue of a noise classic from 1991. I’m still certain though that any self respecting TNB fan will already have a copy of Simphonie in X Major be it on the original Hypnagogia LP or as part of the 4CD Gesamtnichtswerk. To have it on cassette is worthwhile though. Its two twenty minute-ish tracks contain all that is good in the world of TNB and by extension the noise world at large. Listening back to it on headphones is an aural delight that takes in massive amounts of junk scrape, reversed tapes, buckets of nails, cutlery wars, medieval catapults being drawn taught all of it harnessed into a framework of surroundsound tumult. I do recommend headphones for this by the way - there are moments on first movement when the sounds panning from ear to ear leave a gorgeous space of wasteland somewhere just about where your nose should be.

Seeing as how the obverse to X Major has already been dealt with by Harbinger Sound its a shame that O Minor will probably not now see the light of day on cassette which is a shame. Hiss or crackle? You decide.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Smell & Quim - Lavatory

Smell & Quim - Lavatory
Paleolist Press. CD + Booklet. 200 copies.
Published by the Smell & Quim/Milovan Srdenovic Appreciation Society [Russia]

Its no secret that I’m a big Smell & Quim fan. Maybe its because I walk the same streets, maybe its the drink, maybe its just a Northern thing but to tar them with a wide generic noise brush is to dismiss them without gaining an insight into the delights of their inner workings, because for me they’re one of the few bands working in the noise arena whose work is truly unique. As with last years return to form Powerfuck, theres enough noise to lift the slates of any humble abode but if you dig beneath the surface you’ll find that theres more going on than would at first seem apparent.

Take ‘Fishy Flirting’. Fishy Flirting [The Children of God Vs The Clit Hero Mix]; five minutes of coughing, abusive language, plucked strings, rifle shots and the word Hitchcock looped into a line until all thats left of it is the word cock repeated ad nasueum. Rumour has it that Alfred Hitchcock forever carried around with him the smell of fish. The title itself is corruption of Flirty Fishing. This being the practice advocated by ‘The Children of God’ founder David Berg whose female members were encouraged to use sex as a proselytizing medium. ‘Clit Hero’ refers to the diminutive Jimmy Clitheroe, a variety theatre and radio star of the 40’s famed for his schoolboy looks and cheeky humour. ‘The boy who never grew up’ committed suicide at his home in Blackpool aged 51 on the day his mothers funeral.

Serial killing stalwarts and public hate figures like The Moors Murders Hindley and Brady and The Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe continue to inspire but I feel this is more out of geographical proximity rather than any appreciation for their particular beliefs or sadistic bent. Peter Was A Truck Driver [Getting Wood at Garrards Mix] refers to Garrards, the wood yard in Huddersfield where the body of Sutcliffe’s eighth victim Helen Rytka was discovered. The reference to porn slang ‘getting wood’ in conjunction with a timber yard which is then connected to the killing of a prostitute is typical Smell & Quim word play. The track itself is two minutes of noise pummel interspersed with a Filthy Turd like dictaphone interlude in which a cloaked figure rings a plague bell whilst intoning the words ‘I am Deltar’ [I think] The sound of a truck engine revving and a clip from the infamous ‘I’m Jack’ tape is of course included at its conclusion.

MnM’s [Myra’s Shovel/Maxine’s Car M62 J22 Mix]; Maxine Carr the then girlfriend of Soham killer Ian Huntley. Carr was found guilty of perverting the course of justice by providing an alibi for Huntley and was sentenced to three and half years in prison. Junction 22 of the M62 takes you to Saddleworth Moor where Hindley and Brady buried the bodies of their victims. Again you can hear a truck engine revving and then a surprising 4/4 beat that eventually gets swallowed by mountain of noise detritus.

‘Frau Koma Is Coming [KKKarcher Spraydown Mix]’ takes us further afield. In 2009 a 17 year old schoolboy from Winnenden, Germany called Tim Kretschmer posted this message in an internet chat room: "I've had enough. I'm fed up of this pointless life. Always the same. Everybody laughs at me. No one sees my potential. I'm serious. I have weapons and I will go to my old school in the morning and have a proper barbecue. Maybe I'll get away. Listen out…’ This was picked up on and reported to the police. ‘Frau Koma is coming’ was the codeword broadcast over the school tannoy to warn teachers that the threat was real. Kretschmer killed nine pupils and three teachers before being shot by the police. Koma is of course amok spelt backwards. The track is a storm of feedback that begins with some exasperated ‘fuck’s’ and finds space for the softly intoned promise that ‘Frau Koma is coming’.

Its on Lavatory's live track ‘In The Brown Girl’s Ring Piece’ where you get to feel the power that Smell & Quim are capable of -  Boney M’s 70’s chart hit is mangled into a loop of the title that sits alongside a raft of reversed disco-ish off kilter beats and of course lots of tumultuous noise. Only five minutes long though.

This wouldn’t be a Smell & Quim release without the odd porn sample either and at times it feels as if some tracks were pulled straight from a degrading dogging video made by people with tourettes in car park near Scammonden Dam [Huddersfield].

Lavatory picks up where 2009 Powerfuck left off. Gone though is the stylized Barbarella artwork and DVD packaging to be replaced by a booklet written in Russian that contains images that include various naked members of Smell & Quim, convicted pedophile and ex glam rocker Gary Glitter [as an aside - a couple of years ago it was reported that Glitter was looking to buy a house in the Saddleworth Moor area] Leeds born playwright, actor and writer Alan Bennett, Kretschmer, Jimmy Clitheroe, Hindley and Brady [and some of their victims], long time Smell & Quim member and inspiration nonpareil Diz Willis, some live photos including the cover showing the blood spattered drum that was the result of a particularly lively show in which drummer Michael Gillham failed to notice his injured hand and a picture of someone with a fish. Altogether it adds up to another prime slice of Smell & Quim. And I haven’t even mentioned Sniff Your Fucking Pee Pee, the sign off monster track in which the lyrics are spat out at such a vitriolic rate that you can almost feel the spittle.

Of course there are still mysteries to solve. I can hear the word Bennett during Fishy Flirting but whether this is a reference to Alan, William or [the last of the Moors Murders victims] Keith Bennett I know not and who’s the guy with the fish?

The track listing is worth repeating in full:

Frau Koma Is Coming [KKKarcher Spraydown Mix]
Peter Was A Truck Driver [Getting Wood at Garrards Mix]
MnM’s [Myra’s Shovel/Maxine’s Car M62 J22 Mix]
Cocks To The Left [Northern Arsehole Mix]
Dreamfucker [Pissed Off Mix]
Muff-Diving Accident [Shit, Shave & Haircunt 100 Mix]
In The Brown Girl’s Ring Piece - Live at Hondenkoekjesfabriek [DisRespectable Reconstruction Mix]
Fishy Flirting [The Children of God Vs The Clit Hero Mix]
Sniff Your Fucking Pee Pee

philmonopolka [at]

Smell & Quim appear on the Swinefest 3 bill in Leeds this coming Saturday 17th of December 2011.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Storm Bugs

Storm Bugs - A Safe Substitute
Harbinger Sound LP

Harbinger 096

Vintage analogue synths, especially the ones made in Britain, are the kind of machines that make men of a certain age go week at the knees. Not for them the cheap thrill provided by a Korg Kaossilator or some other made in Japan box of circuits, it has to be British, preferably thirty years old and covered in lots of bakealite knobs. I have to admit that despite being a fan of analogue synth generated sounds myself I’m a total Luddite when it comes to recognising anything more specific than a Stylophone. I am not, in other words, one of those men who goes week at the knees at the sight of a WASP synth going cheap on eBay. So long as it sounds good its provenience can remain a mystery to me.

This mindset has been changed somewhat by the Storm Bugs. After years of soaking up outfits as diverse as Tangerine Dream, Mother Mallard, early Whitehouse, anything on Sähkö and even Tomi-bloody-ta it has been The Storm Bugs who’ve got me taking notice of the instrumentation being employed. Appearing in the late 70’s the Storm Bugs made good use of the VCS3. This British made analogue synth was to be found in one of the few studios in England catering for the composition of electronic music at that time. This being the late 70’s the Storm Bugs were no doubt pulling influences from a variety of new and exciting directions and thus A Safe Substitute whilst not exactly a Holy Grail of the period is still a deservedly important release.

Both sides of Substitute show what fertile times these were for experimentation. Thanks to the detailed sleeve notes a track by track break down reveals the use of tape delay, loops, the re-routing of signals and the heavy use of low frequency oscillators as well as three synths [two VCS3’s and a Synthi A]. Side two is pure instrumentation and where the VCS3 is at its most prominent. On ‘Hodge’ a shortwave jamming signal is fed through the VCS3 with the LFO chopping up the remains. The result is a thudding beat in which radio waves float in and out of hearing range, the beat becoming louder as the signal fades. ‘Blackheath Episodes’ uses three synths to produce a rhythm track in which varies modes of the beat are tweaked whilst the two VCS3’s provide background drones. Over on side one is where we find the vocal treatments. On an eerie ‘Mesh of Wire’ vocals are fed through two reel to reels, with a background of plodding ritualistic thump. On ‘Objective’ the thump becomes a slowly sequenced funeral beat with the addition of a haunting cornet and a drifting voice extolling the virtues of beans. The hard to dislodge tape murk covers the whole release like a fine film of gauze but its not a distraction. Early 80’s cassette releases will always carry with them the aura of lo-fidelity and as such this gives Substitute a patina of dirt that the passing thirty years has failed to shift. Wiping the muck of this release would be like polishing up and old master. It doesn’t really need it.

This is the first time A Safe Substitute has been reissued in its entirety since its 1980 release [some tracks having appeared on compilations in the intervening period] and immensely worthwhile and important a venture it has been. This period of musical creativity is providing a rich seems for labels wishing to stick coloured drawing pins into the slowly filling wall chart that is the UK underground scene circa 76-84 and long may they do so. Snatch Tapes, on which ‘Substitute’ originally appeared has a few other goodies lying in the vault that labels would do well to investigate.

The Storm Bugs went to ground for the best part of twenty years but are now back in business. Their primitive experimental synth works are being seen as the building blocks for a generation of electronica merchants who were probably just being born around the time that Substitute came out.


Storm Bugs

Snatch Tapes

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Bren't Lewiis Ensemble

Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble - A Real Nice Clambake

Some people will never understand John Cage’s philosophy or the fact that you can make music from cacti. For certain brains music has to have beginnings, middles and ends, it has to have a form that is recognisable as what is deemed to be music, it has to be something you can dance to, shag to, be the background to something being sold, it has to fill the dead air on car journeys, it has to fill the ears whilst walking, it has to lift one from the drudgery of the everyday with nothing more than a memorable beat or line, it has to have a face that feels comfortable and a form that is connectable. Nothing wrong with any of that of course but if only the imagination could be stretched a little further.

To your average Joe The Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble are a bunch of people fucking around in a room and nowhere near likely to fill in any of the criteria listed above. Get them to listen to one minute of any of ‘A Real Clambake’s’ fifty odd or so and they’d probably tell you that this definitely isn’t music. OK, there’s a bit of the Isley Brothers singing ‘Who’s That Lady?’ but its only the chorus and its on a loop and its very feint and the sound in the background is a droney whoo and theres a bit of backward tape in there too .. and probably something else I can’t quite put my finger on.

I felt the same way myself. When I first listened to A Real Clambake I thought it was a mess of ideas cast adrift with little or no thought given to its conception and I’m the kind of person who likes to think has a wide taste in a variety of musical genres. But then I listened further and deeper and it started to work on me. It was like re-reading a particularly difficult book and finding it wasn’t just a jumbled up mess of sentences and weird words.

It was to Seymour Glass that I gave those extra listens. He handed me a copy of Clambake whilst in Brighton before teaming up with fellow BLE-er Lucian for a Saturday night headlining slot. You don’t take a CD from the creator of Bananafish and dismiss it after a couple of throwaway listens, you take deep and careful lungfuls and dive in for endless hours. And then you look at the history of the Butte County Free Music Ensemble and find that they’re a loose collective of music freaks with LA Free Music Society connections who formed in the mid eighties and then went to ground for a while, for a long while actually. Eventually it all begins to make sense.

In Brighton the BLE were down to two; Seymour and Lucian but judging by the Clambake insert it could have been anything up to a dozen of them, all with ludicrous monikers: Musclebutt, Joan of Art, The Good Trish, Thor Heglund, Montana Swisher. As Headliners they crawled under a large sheet of black and white cloth and made sounds from who knows what. Party poppers were popped in brief glimpses of flesh [a Cage homage perhaps?] but apart from that it was a mystery as to what sounds came from what.

It put me in mind of Clambake though, an hour and four tracks worth where nothing sits still for long; the twang of guitar, a hell-fire Baptist ministers sermon, gurglings, snatches of dialogue [Have you seen those Japanese tampon fetishist magazines?’] the buzzing of amp sockets, a solitary ‘ah’, indistinguishable groans, cassette tape being fast forwarded, the slowly encroaching breaths of a dangerous wild animal, people going ‘eeeehhh’, specks of electric guitar, flutes playing randomly, a loop of someone saying ‘first’, bursts of organ, a cello, shrieks, oddball Tv samples, radio trawls and there you have a very brief glimpse of whats going on [If I was to type all the things I can hear in Clambake it would be a long scroll down to the bottom of this page]. All of these sounds have been culled, mixed, layered, and edited from hours and hours of worth of sounds made back in 1987.

This is rich loam and every spin feels different. Its an easy comment to make but I do feel as though I’m being transported during its course. Clambake gives you the feeling of being in someone else’s thoughts and ideas. Somehow I feel I know Seymour Glass better from listening to this. Because it is so obviously music and not the accompaniment to a commercial, it has no beginning, middle or end or face or easy to attach label. Pushing it further I could take these tracks apart with software and build new libraries of sound, enough to fill ten libraries. Deconstructed it could furnish many a jaded listener with new listening possibilities.

I only had brief, half drunk conversations with Seymour and Lucien [the curse of the middle night of a three night experimental festival] and I was even stupid enough to ask Seymour why he’d wound up Bananafish [‘no time’ being the obvious answer] but still, I got this CD out of it. I feel theres a whole world out there I knew very little of. LAFMS and Smegma were my beginning BUFMS will be my continuation.

I recommend total Immersion over the Christmas period. As a way of escaping the onslaught to come it could be easier than hiding down the cellar. You could try it with other kinds of music of course but I feel that BLE would be the perfect antidote to Slades’ ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ and the Argos ads.