Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Daniel Thomas & Midwich - Twenty-three Taels
Sheepscar Light Industrial
SLI 001. 3” CDR. 50 Copies

Mel O’Dubhslaine - I Can Remember The Faces Of All The Grebs At My School
Sheepscar Light Industrial
SLI 002. 3” CDR. 50 Copies

Still in Leeds we find Daniel Thomas with his shiny new Sheepscar Light Industrial label. A label that sends its wares out in to the world in generic, pill bottle sleeves at the cost of a measly thirty bob. A label that makes all its releases available for download and a website where you can listen to everything for free. That's all the boxes ticked before I even tell you that the SLI website is itself a thing of minimal black and white clarity that even a fool like me can navigate without getting all grumpy.

Concentrating on ‘electronic, experimental, improvised, psychedelic, drone and noise’ SLI has got things off to a marvelous start by delivering a suitably lo-fi groan like industrial drone from Thomas & Midwich and a set of thirteen surreal quirk-ettes from Mel O’Dubhslaine.

‘Grebs’ contains tracks that range in length from seventeen seconds to two minutes and nine seconds and with the tracks flying past you at a not inconsiderable rate of knots the sounds of parping, randomly played synth keys and computers talking to each other become even more surreal than if they were lengthier tracks on a lengthier format. Track titles like ‘But What Is Known About The Man Who Stalked The Street Attacking Lone Women’ further add to the all round ‘what the fuck’ quality. Apparently O’Dubhslaine has been experimenting with an electronic instrument that manipulates breath flow the results of which are the most remarkable I’ve heard from her. Quite unclassifiable and going so far as to subvert the style of the label by containing so many tracks that an insert has to be issued. The three inch format appears to be the soup de jour for labels releasing experimental material and with sounds as adventurous as this it suits it perfectly.

‘Twenty-three Taels’ meanwhile is twenty one minutes worth of a gently chiming hypnotic two note drone underneath which are buried the scouring sounds of steel plates having their rust removed to the accompaniment of a suction pump hitting the last dregs of a bunded sump. Barely shifting from its inception it moves serenely throughout its length with only the suction sounds becoming slightly more urgent. This coming together of label cheese Daniel Thomas and the bearded wonder that is Rob Hayler shows, I assume, the face of the label that the world will see the most of. Time will tell.

A good start then and one that has already seen another four releases in the shape of Mexican guitarist Miguel PĂ©rez, former denizen of Leeds Michael Clough, Hagman and [of course] Midwich.  



Monday, August 20, 2012

Victorian Electronics

Victorian Electronics  ‘A Leeds Assemblage’


Ashtray Navigations
Astral Social Club
Daniel Thomas

Striate Cortex SC50.
4 X 3” CD. 50 copies.

As we pack our bags in anticipation of a ten day trip that takes in Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna I’m armed with the knowledge that thanks to having worked with a Hungarian for the last seven years I have amassed a vocabulary that will see me through the first few days of our adventure. Words and phrases I have learnt in Hungarian over those years include ‘Can I have’, ‘Thank you’, ‘Scraper’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘Fuck off’ [obviously] and ‘bungy strap’ [whose literal translation, rather cutely, is ‘rubber spider’]. I fear that my chances of using the word ‘scraper’ are slim, as is bungy strap, but you never know. I have also discovered that the Hungarians have a word for the piece of plastic that shoelace manufacturers place on the end of their shoelaces to stop them unravelling. Its a word that seems to have about two dozen syllables and has no real translation in to English apart from ‘the piece of plastic at the end of your shoelace that stops your shoelace unravelling’.

Before we pack our bags I really did want to nail the Victorian Electronics release. Its the one that everybody [yes everybody] has been talking about and the one that I haven’t been playing nowhere near enough since I had it pressed in to my palm by an eager Rob Hayler. Three inch CD’s are a particularly chi-chi format but one that I can neither play on my PC or my Walkman should the thing be having one of its off days. So over the last few weeks, when time permitted, I’ve been sitting in a lotus position headphones on taking each SC50 disc as holy relic, blessing it and placing it into the body of the NAD where I’ve spun them to my contended enjoyment.

It is a thing of beauty of course. Its something the bearded wonder has been extolling the virtues of for quite sometime. ‘Striate Cortex Releases, Hand Made Wonders, Read All Abhat It’ quoth the bearded one and when you do actually get your hands on it you can see the need for such triumphing. But without the back up of some decent sounds the packaging counts for very little. I’m always a little wary of reviews wherein the packaging gets a bigger word count than the actual sounds but fear not for this time its justified: cardboard box that is hand-painted both inside and out, fur lined and printed OBI strip, three paneled insert, insert with contact info and a nice picture of Leeds by night and a squared piece of cotton wool acting as protector of CDs from the onslaughts of the modern world. The CD’s themselves also carry some groovy artwork, not something you see a lot of with three-inchers. All lovingly put together, as are all Striate Cortex releases.

So this is the story; a group of like minded individuals meet up every Thursday lunchtime in the Victoria pub in Leeds for a couple of pints and a chat and the swapping of music and tales of derring-do. Amongst them are the participants of this here release; Midwich [Rob Hayler], Ashtray Navigations [Phil Todd and Mel Delaney], Astral Social Club [Neil Campbell] Paul Walsh [Foldhead] and no doubt Daniel Thomas. All this as related by Rob Hayler in his affectionate sleeve notes.

The only thing left to do is to tell you that these four discs are all essential and will probably go on to be seen as a landmark release in the history of experimental music in Leeds. It captures the rawness of Astral Social Club in full swing blistering drone mode wherein Campbell wrings the neck of his guitar in madman fashion to a maelstrom of horror helped along by Walsh chucking in noise blasts and squiggles like a farmhand scattering chicken feed. Ashtray Navigations trail back in time to 1983 with a pulverising New Order-ish drum machine attack before going all Muslimguaze-y/ethnic-y with a superb piece of bass-ery where each lugubrious note resonates ominously, at its end comes some dreamy Doors like keyboard fillsbut not before we get some tin cups hit with sticks and what sound like maracas. If I’d have been played this in Wire Invisible Jukebox mode I’d have never have guessed that this was Ash Navs. After seeing them play at the release party for SC50 a few weeks back I detected driving chords in an ever so slightly Hawkwind manner but this is different again to that and light years away for the all out guitar psych that the mighty Todd has laid on us over the last few years.

Daniel Thomas produces a drone that moves through three definite murky phases, a series of slowly morphing pulses, triple layered seas of dense muffled hiss amongst which you find beats folding over each other at a steady rate, a noise drone powers its centre, a head bobbing drone loop its end. Midwich’s opening salvo of maddening buzzing gives way to muffled bottle knocking and glass rubbing, it's a slow paced affair, a largo of doom that eventually moves in to more familiar Midwich territory with a swaying and dying, nagging, growing, glowing [and yes] head bobbing drone. A solitary buzz like a lonesome bee appears at its end and then its gone.

Its heartening to know that there are creative souls in Leeds keeping the flame of musical experimentation alive. The place has had its ups and downs over the years but thanks to the people involved here its definitely on the up again. Long may those Thursday lunchtime sessions continue. Now for the bad news, these all sold out long ago. Here's hoping for a double LP reissue.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Astral Social Club - Magic Smile

Astral Social Club - Magic Smile
Wonderyou. CD. WNDU009

It came as a bit of surprise to find that the bearded wonderloiner has been having a bit of trouble getting 'in' to the last few ASC releases [ASC 22+23]. Talk of pushing things forward in an odd and unique direction providing a barrier to aural gratification. Which just goes to show how two people can hear the same thing and have entirely different opinions. Its what makes the world an interesting place innit? Ones mans fire in a pet shop is another mans Schimpfluch gig.

Magic Smile did though work wonders for the bearded wonder and so it should. It will work for you too if you should have the fortitude to drag yourself away from the Olympics and install yourself near a set of speakers with the volume turned all the way up to belting. Its worth getting for a number of reasons main amongst them being the fact that you will hear ASC maestro Campbell singing on the title track, something that I don’t think I’ve heard since a Motown cover on a very early self titled LP, the other reasons being that this release contains some of the best ASC work to date.

Coming from someone who’s listened to a fair amount of ASC/Campbell related material over the years I find myself making this statement with no reservations.  Stand out tracks abound and whilst there’s the odd one that never really takes off as in ‘Och’ a piece that sounds a bit too Walter Carlos-y for my liking, the rest are either stunning or stunnings daughter. On ‘Frwrk Rmrk’ a gently frotting acoustic guitar mingles with the sound of splashing water and Campbell issue enjoying themselves, all very bucolic and family harmonious until the pounding beat kicks in and intensifies to such a pressure that the inclusion of a street riot sample manages to do the impossible and take the thing even higher, By its 12 minute conclusion my head was a wobbling blancmange, my body a limp and spent wet lettuce. This segues into ‘Tempo Rubber’, a squelchfest of rapid bleats acting as foil to a thousand wet fingers rubbing a thousand wet wine glass rims at whose conclusion arrives a solitary synth solo the likes of which you’ve not heard since a mid 70’s Kraftwerk album.

Alert readers will note that this release comes from the same people who brought us ‘Kufuki’ a release so awful in concept and delivery that I had to have it out of the house. They may well have found the Campbell, taken him to their hearts and let him loose remixing one of their releases but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like it. They do the same thing in reverse here and remix the first track ‘Rubber Lagg’ and stick it on the end where I can listen to it and report that at least it is listenable.  ‘Rubber Lagg Remixed’ takes all the good things from the original and replaces them with Japanese moaning, trill beats and quirky synths. Remix as Japanese-ification. As openers go Rubber Lagg is long enough, at thirteen minutes, to completely loose your head in. I found myself involuntarily nodding away to an ever blurring room wishing that I had a very loud sound system and a captive audience with which to subject it to. It’s one of Campbell’s best.

And then there’s the singing. Well, its a kind of singing. More of a talking/singing through some kind of effect that makes it seem as if Campbell is floating in space whimsically amusing himself as he drifts off into the nearest galaxy. Sloping synth wonk and chiming doorbells act as accompaniment.

What I find so affirming is that even after years of steadily releasing quite a hefty number of works under the ASC banner there's little evidence as to a drop in quality or a sense of the project being exhausted. If anything the opposite would appear to be true and with the Japanese getting in on the act who knows where we’ll end up?



Friday, August 03, 2012

Wharf Chambers 28th July 2012

Astral Social Club
Ashtray Navigations
Mel O’Dubhslaine

Saturday 28th July, Wharf Chambers, Leeds.

We were there to celebrate the 50th Striate Cortex release and the birth of a new Leeds label. The new Leeds based label being Sheepscar Light Industrial whose generic black and white design makes for releases that are not only easy to recognise but will no doubt carry many a memorable tune. Dan Thomas is the man behind the label and the man behind the table who I find spreading his wares and taking the money at the entrance to the gig itself, an inner sanctum within the Wharf Chambers where all the action takes place.

After years of no action gig lassitude the Leeds ‘experimental/noise/drone music scene’ is certainly getting up a head of steam. On the night this lot took to the stage there was a similar gig across town at the Fox and Newt. It may have halved the audience but at least there’s one to halve. It was because of a lack of live venues that the Leeds ‘experimental/noise/drone music scene’ was dying a death, its something I’ve commented on before but it bares repeating in the light of recent events. - The Brudenell, once the preserve of the cheap gig night out has reinvented itself as a ‘proper’ venue and attracts ‘proper’ artists like Earth and er .. Charlotte Church. The Fenton has disappeared up its own arse and has decided it doesn’t like the look of anything that doesn’t incorporate guitars and drums, The Cardigan Arms has gone all silent and The Adelphi hasn’t held a gig in years [that I’m aware of at any rate]. The Pack Horse? I have no idea. Lots of venues that used to be at the heart of the Leeds ‘experimental/noise/drone music scene’ have either changed their policies, gone bust or transformed themselves into a variety of opening and closing bars where the only constant is the slowly increasing price of the overrated bottled beers. As it stands now, for those of us wanting a cheap gig space in the city centre its down to the Wharf and the Fox and Newt.

The Wharf is to be found at the bottom end of town within easy falling distance of the Duck and Drake. It occupies a building that, barring for a few improvements, looks like the previous occupiers have just left; plenty of original stone flooring and ceramic wall tiling to which has been added an ad hoc bar behind which lie a couple of fridges and a kitchen where the cooking smells of various vegetable based dishes fill the air.

So thanks to likes of Dan there’s new blood augmenting the old which is refreshing to see but it was to the old[er] that we looked to for a start - Paul Walsh’s noise frustration outlet Foldhead developed from a quiet start into something quite tumultuous. I have no idea what these noise artists play as it all looks far too complicated to me but whatever it was that Walsh was using as backdrop to his illuminated snowcone it did a fair representation of some quality era Jap noise. Fizzing bursts of energy, exploding stars, you know the thing. Noise is best served short and sharp and most importantly live. Its where it works best. For the course of evening all the sets were short-ish, around the twenty minute mark and met with raucous enthusiasm by the small horde of punters. The beginnings of a perfect evening.

Next up were Hagman. Two Thomas’s. One a Dan, the other a Dave. Neither are related. Theres is a bleak drone born out of spending too much of their time around abandoned business premises which I guess is what happens coming from a place like Sheepscar. Haunting, desperate, empty, sad and dare I say depressing drone. Depressing in a good way.

Mel O’Dubhslaine produced sounds from what looked like an electronic clarinet whilst partner in crime the Toddmeister sat crossed legged on the stage torturing what looked like an electronic bongo. This bringing together of curious instruments produced sounds that put me in mind of the soundtracks to freaky avant garde 50’s sci-fi films [none of which I can recall or am even sure exist but you get my drift]. All very angular, space jazzy and a complete and welcome surprise. Short, very short bursts of angular frot that has been compared in delivery to the best bits of ‘A Sucked Orange’.

I finally get to see Rob Hayler kneel before his Roland for a Midwich set which, for me, has been long delayed, either through the weather or a dodgy limo. My short bus ride to Leeds sees the Bearded Wonder genuflect before his equipment and genuinely loose all inhibition as he tweaks one note through a series of pitches and mixes it in with found sounds of his own recording. To watch someone become so completely involved in their own performance is one of the joys of live music, with head bobbing wildly and uncontrollably Rob dives into his work only occasionally looking up at the audience showing us a beaming grin that stretches all the way to Bradford.

Ashtray Navigations took to the stage as a threesome this time with a guitar player unknown to me who biffed out a Hawkwind like riff which Mel & Phil took as a cue to go stellar with. Ash Navs have morphed and weaved through many phases but this rocking out/psychedelic one seems to be lingering more than most. Something I’m quite happy with.

Which leaves Campbell and ASC who charges around the venue delivering  a pre-set diatribe that mentions the Luddites, Cleckheaton, the origin of the ASC moniker and no doubt some other things which by this time I was slightly too drunk to take in. Aided by a bearded Seth [there was lots of beards here tonight] who played a mic’d up drum, it was an archetypal strap yourself in head down no nonsense Casio bashing beat fest of the kind that is genuinely life affirming. Of course I sat glued to my seat feeling a bit queasy but still totally at one with the euphoria.

At the end of the evening I also got to meet and Andy from Striate Cortex who, like me, was quite drunk and for some inexplicable reason wearing dark glasses. He insisted that I take lots of his releases home with me extolling the virtues of each one before shoving them into my hands with a missionary like zeal. Upon discovering that I was Idwal Fisher he made me promise that I’d mention that he was a lovely guy, which of course he was. Even if he was wearing dark glasses indoors.

I’m still ogling at all the wares I got shoved in to my grateful hands during the course of the evening - the 50th Striate Cortex release is a thing of beauty housing four three inch CDR’s showcasing four of tonight acts [ASC, Ash Navs, Midwich and Daniel Thomas] the two first Sheepscar Light Industrial releases are also things of three inch CDR beauty. As well as a bag full of comics, cassettes and CDR’s from Noah Brown I also blew a fiver in the bargain £1 a chuck box. Happy times ahead for me and for Leeds.

In a move that will no doubt become ever more prevalent the entire gig was made available online within 24 hours.

Striate Cortex

Sheepscar Light Industrial

Wharf Chambers

1 - ASC
2 - Ashtray Navigations
3 - Foldhead
4 - Hagman
5 - Mel O’Dubhslaine
6 - Midwich