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