Tuesday, December 31, 2013

SPON 38, 2013 and 2014

SPON 38, 2013 and 2014.   

The last time we saw Dr. Steg was in Blackpool at the Sleaford Mods gig. He handed me SPON 38 which is [was] several sheets of A4 sized card and paper with the Idwal Fisher blog url writ large upon it. There were some stickers too most of which Steg stuck to his head, furniture, wall, passers by, some in the shape of swastikas others just randomly dabbed. I awaited the angry email from the venues operators but none came. He also sent me the work of art you see above which has now replaced the ‘O level’ clock which never worked but which looked pretty good in a yellow plastic Bauhaus kind of way. Its a multimedia piece which means he’s glued lots of things to the canvas and painted over them; a pair of scissors, the top of a tube of toothpaste, half a plastic head revealing brain and skull, various bits of small machinery - I’m assuming the teeth are of the type you buy in sweet shops for kids. He also sent me a Xmas card with Jimmy Savile on the front. I’d tell you the message it carries but I fear being dragged into Operation Yew Tree’s ever widening grasp.

I emailed Steg to thank him for all of the above and to tell him of my run in with a bored truck driver on the M62 whilst returning from Blackpool. Steg’s email went something like this; left the venue, pissed up someones door and got chased off, fell over a display in a garage shop, found a polish taxi driver who’d only take a fiver, lost and won money in a casino, got home god knows when.

Apart from Dr. Steg’s emergence around these parts, 2013 will also be remembered for the rise of the Sleaford Mods and the second side of the Ceramic Hobs LP ‘Spirit World Circle Jerk’ [for which Dr. Steg did the cover]. The latter a drug trip taken with Burt Bacharach and Keith Richards on Blackpool front, the former the most exciting band to appear in the UK since the Country Teasers. The review pile continues to pique my interest. My liking for field recordings and modern composition continues apace thanks to two fine labels that are Gruenrekorder and Sargasso. Combining the two came Slavek Kwi with some of the most remarkable sounds I’ve ever heard. Filthy emissions from Stoke-on-Trent provide continued mental stimulus.

In 2013 I bought less music than ever before. It was whilst looking at the masses of merchandise on display at the Con-Dom show in Birmingham that I may have inadvertently said, in a too loud a voice, something along the lines of ‘what the fuck do I need to buy anymore noise shit for when I have masses at home that I’ll never listen to ever again?’ Which in the cold sober light of day is a little over the top because I do still like to listen to noise but only the stuff I get sent. Buying it seems pointless.

2013 was the year my patience with advertising and the advertising industry itself finally ran out. In an age where you can watch and listen to pretty much anything and everything you want via numerous devices without the nuisance of advertising, why anyone would choose to subject themselves to it without complaint not only bemuses me but annoys me too. I can just about suffer the few seconds of an advert if it’ll leave me in peace to watch the rest of my YouTube clip but if I see Paul McCartney pick up his guitar for that smug beardy twat on the Bang & Olufsen advert one more time I may just consider starting some kind of campaign. Or suicide. Or both. Commercial radio I abandoned donkeys years ago for this reason [that and the gormless, blathering DJ’s too of course], ditto the tabloid press [but not just for that reason obvs]. With the internet now becoming a plague field of advertising I’m careful where I tread there as well. Little pop up boxes that want me to spare just a few moments of my time drive me to distraction. And Radio 2 is off limits for fear of hearing Elton John blaring out his latest caterwauling pile of shite. I’m of the opinion that if Sir Elt ever recorded the sound of himself farting into a bottle Radio 2 would make it the single of the week and play it three time an hour for a month solid. The increase in music on Radio 4 is something that also needs keeping in check. There needs to be something you can switch on without instantly finding it annoying.

In 2013 I saw gigs by Con-Dom, The Bongoleeros, Midwich and the Sleaford Mods that will live long in my memory. Cut Hands and Onehotrix Point Never I’ll remember for a long time also but for entirely the wrong reasons. Too many emperors wearing far too little clothing.  

After reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in 2013 I found others books mundane by comparison and for the first time in my life haven’t picked a book up in months. I found myself returning to Private Eye and the odd issue of the Wire whose end of year ‘Critics’ Reflections’ never fails to amuse, containing, as they do, enough material to keep Private Eye’s Pseuds Corner going for months. [Take Dan Barro’s reflections on 2013, Pros: The intricate constellations, foreshadowing an age of precarity and semiotic material oversaturation, of the London Tate Britain’s Schwitter’s show, the icy shadowplay of Beatrice Gibson’s The Tiger’s Mind ...’ ] rock on. In 2014 I may tackle Ben Marcus’s ‘The Flame Alphabet’ or Richard House’s 'The Kills’ or the new Pynchon with which the latter has been compared but for now I’m dipping and diving, enjoying life, drinking too much Manzanilla, thinking up things to say about noises and wishing everybody the best for the year to come.  


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alice Kemp + Schimpfluch Gruppe

Alice Kemp - Decay and Persistence
Fragment Factory. FRAG28. CDr. 100 copies.

Schimpfluch Gruppe - Nigredo
Fragment Factory. FRAG29. C46

The last time we saw Alice Kemp was in Bristol for the Extreme Ritual Schimpfluch Love In. Kemp performed her ongoing work ‘Untitled With Scissors’ where she sits with head covered, skirt pulled up over here knees, a pair of open shearing scissors laid out in front of her. As she sits motionless a slowly building Hertz hum can be faintly heard. And then it ends. People are baffled, amused, entertained, lost in thought. No explanations were given or are are ever likely to be.

On Decay and Persistence she reworks two tracks by the performance artists Rebecca Weeks and Ian Whitford who judging by the image of Weeks cradling a pile of offal on the inner sleeve and the sounds herein have all already become honorary members of the Schimpfluch Gruppe. Its one hour long track creates tension and unease through the ticking of clocks [singular and multi-tracked], thunder like rumbles, trees being torn up by the roots and balsa wood being squeezed. Augmented by a series of pops, crackles, silences, laboratory bubbles, underwater burbles, traffic in tunnel drones and heavy furniture being moved around in the flat upstairs it bears comparison to Eb.er’s equally disturbing hour long work ‘Kotschleuder’, right down to the offal but with a trapped fly replacing the clocks. At times it becomes meditative, whether there are loops in there I know not but its repetitive nature sucks you in, the clocks become metronomes [perhaps they are metronomes, metronomes mixed with clocks] bombs go off in distant streets. A tense, haunting work.

Nigredo continues where Decay and Persistence leaves off. Schimpfluch Gruppe here are Dave Phillips and Rudolph Eb.er with Live Aktion 28.04.2012 Tokyo. Phillips and Eb.er perform with sounds created separately that you can hear in split channels on the flip. In the right channel [Rudolph] we find a pig snorting for truffles, a lunatic asylum going batshit and a ghost ship adrift full of the lost souls of drowned sailors. Knots in wood explode in fire hearths and a pet shop goes up in flames. What Phillips does in the other channel is layer on masses of ever increasing, destabilizing chaos. By its end a controlled barrage of noise torment is Hoovering up deaf screams. Its a long slow build to a suitably shuddering climax. And then you listen to it live in mixed stereo and the thing become even more intense.

Two releases linked by feelings of claustrophobia and dark menace then. Tense affairs. Like someone pointing scissors at you.




Monday, December 16, 2013

Sleaford Mods - Blackpool

Sleaford Mods
Father Stone

Scrooges, Blackpool, December 15th 2013

Dr. Steg was saying that it is only during the ‘off season’ that Blackpool’s surreal side becomes fully apparent. In the middle of December with the rain lashing down and the wind blowing a gale I couldn’t have timed it better then. The lousy weather appeared as soon as I turned on to the M55. Then I realised that I hadn’t been to Blackpool with my tourist cum day tripper hat on for many, many years. Would the pubs still be as shit? Would the pubs still be manned by psychotic drug fueled bouncers looking for any excuse to test out their knuckles on drunk punters? Would the bogs be running with piss? Would I still see nightclubs with names like Hush, Rumours, Sinatra’s, Ma Kellys [‘7 acts a day + Karaoke!’], Would the beer still be as undrinkable. Would there be gangs of sparkly clad transvestites with feather boas and pink Stetsons wobbling up and down Talbot Street in their size eleven court shoes? I saw some of the above but I think I’ll have to come back in August to see the rest.

Scrooges didn’t disappoint in the surreal stakes. A Dickens themed first floor drinking den full of tiny rooms at the top of some steep wet steps that lies off a street full of massage parlors and saunas with names like Thai Paradise. Two inglenook like rooms lay off the bigger room with the words like Hum-Bugs [sic] painted in swirly script above them. Football plays out on numerous screens which nobody watches. This turns to darts which I hope is still going to be playing when the Sleaford Mods take the stage, I mean pub floor.

Dr. Steg is busy applying stickers to the walls, furniture, himself and anybody passing. After a few beers he seems to be wildly inebriated. There’s a drunk in a Crombie. He could be a drunk Scot. In every pub in Blackpool there is a drunk Scot. There must be some arcane local bylaw that says you have to have a drunk Scot in your pub. On the north side seafront huge cavernous pubs are thinly populated. Others are shut and loom ominously. Karaoke leaks out of the few back street pubs that ares still trying to catch the last of the out of season holiday makers. The fish and chip shop does haggis and chips. Asian shopkeepers sit quietly in all night newsagents wrapped up against the wind. A drunk with a 2 liter bottle of cider in one hand carries a wire shoe rack with his other, looking at it like he hasn't got a clue what its for or what he’s going to do with it. 

The gig has been moved from the Cedar Tavern because someones turning it into flats. So its Dickensian Scrooge’s which has a ‘no drums’ policy. Not because they’re too loud for the venue but because there’s no room for them. So there’s no Ceramic Hobs. In their place lies a Hobs offshoot called Father Stone. A three piece with synth drums who play a kind of music I know not what to call. Heavy bass riffs and squally guitar with one song being about Solomon Grundy. Riff-age and twang-age with platted goatee beards and top hats with playing cards in them.

By now there’s about 25 people in the place. The Sleaford Mods soundcheck is so short that if you went to get your feet wet in the bogs you missed it. They kick off with Mr Jolly Fucker before snorting their way through all the best bits of Austerity Dogs. The drunk could-be-Scot comes back from the bar and hands the band two bottles of beer. Then he takes lots of photos of them on his smart phone which he drops and struggles to pick up. Dr Steg has become enlivened and starts dancing with the drunken could-be-Scot to his left and Phil ‘He Sometimes Has A Beard’ Smith on the right. He’s doing some kind of hop on one foot and pat the head of one person and then hop on to the other foot and pat the head of the other person. Beer is getting spilt as the songs come thick and fast, Williamson’s face a series of gurns, Fearny all smiles as the beers keep coming. Williamson’s knees bend as he delivers his lines like he’s trying to project them to the local lags in the tiny room at the back, hand on mic stand for balance, its an impressive sight.

They play a new song which I haven’t heard before then rip in to the new single Job Seeker which gets the nodding heads nodding even more. When its finished the drunk could-be-Scot slurs ‘Best fucking song since Anarchy in the U.K.’ People smile. Everybody smiles.

I wave goodbye to Dr. Steg but he doesn't see me, even though I’m waving my hand in front of his face. He’s got his Dictaphone out and is shouting ‘CUNTS’ into it at the top of his voice encouraging others to do the same. His face is a gleeful, idiotic rictus grin. The Sleaford Mods have a strange effect on people. Or maybe its Blackpool.

When I find the M55 it stops raining.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

SPON 36 - The Dead Issue.

SPON 36 - The Dead Issue

DVD [10 mins approx]

With this DVD came a small button badge which Dr. Steg casually stated had the ashes of the dead artist John Bailey glued upon them. Ha ha, oh yes, of course, he said condescendingly as if talking to someone who is slightly mad. Someone’s ashes on a button badge. What a wonderful idea. Turns out it was true. So I put it on my gig bag along with my Sheepscar Light Industrial sew on patch and my Go! Go! Go! Kagawa Udon Man badge that I got in Japan. It’s just a gig bag, don’t go shaking your head like that.

I took said bag with me to Birmingham for the Con-Dom gig and whilst trying to negotiate the hideously busy pre xmas crowds on New Street Steg’s badge became entangled with a young girls headphones wire. I think it was John trying to reach out. We untangled amidst the throng and exchanged embarrassed smiles, then I wondered if the badge had a life of its own. Perhaps I had the makings of some kind of M.R. James ghost story in me? Perhaps not.

The badge story was confirmed to me by Simon Morris [and later Dr. Steg] who pointed me in his internet direction where I discovered that John Bailey was head of art at what is now the Central University of Lancaster. Divorcing his wife he moved to France and became involved with a group of painters who became know as the FUSION artists. His paintings are abstract, brightly coloured, full of energy and life.

On inserting the DVD I must have left the room because when I returned it was already playing. A series of Bailey’s paintings appear in slideshow fashion. Over them you can hear Simon Morris and Dr. Steg having a very drunken conversation in a pub. Its the kind of conversation that arises at the very end of a long drinking session where reasonable discourse has given way to mundane observations and Jimmy Savile impersonations. Morris doesn’t seem to realise that the conversation is being recorded and appears genuinely surprised that Steg would wish to keep such nonsense. After a brief silence Morris says ‘Are you actually recording this? Is this a good conversation?’ Steg says, ‘I don’t know is it a good conversation?’

From nowhere Steg announces that ‘everything is fucked’. To which Morris replies ‘Black Sabbath have reformed’. After a brief discussion regarding whether to have another drink or not Steg goes to the bar to get Morris a ‘short’ [a straight gin in this case]. Whilst he’s away Morris talks into the device telling us of the time he played pool with Kim Deal out of the Pixies and when he met Ian Brown out of the Stone Roses, Gary Clail gets a mention as does Cornwall and a list of people that Morris knows.

Its’ around this time that the slideshow images change. There’s one image of a portrait that Steg did of Bailey and then we see Bailey in his home with a cat on his lap, clearly very old and very frail. We then see Bailey in the passenger seat of an open top red sports car and then it begins to sink in. The last few shots are of the hospital room where John Bailey is lying, close to death. There are mundane shots of the sparse nature of his room, the walls, the ceiling, a tied up plastic bag on the floor and then shots of John Bailey mouth wide open, eyes clamped shut dead in his hospital bed.

Its the juxtaposition of such ridiculous drunken talk acting as a soundtrack cum homage to Bailey’s life that makes this piece of work so moving. You’re marveling at someones life work while two drunks decide what drink to buy next. Welcome to the world.    

Blackpool artist Dr. Steg has sent me a considerable amount of material over the last year or so but this slim disc captures his aesthetic far more subtly than the comics and the art and the multifarious bits of detritus crammed into various receptacles. 



Monday, December 02, 2013

Vehikel & Gefäss / Debt of Nature / Spoils & Relics

‘Don’t call for help advises Säure flashing his phony acid bottle, ‘or that pretty face goes flowing off its bones like vanilla pudding.’ But Minne calls his bluff, starts hollering for help to all the ladies of the same age in her building who feel that same motherly help-help-but-make-sure-there’s-time-for-him-to-rape-me ambivalence about nubile cat burglars. What she means to scream is ‘Hübsch Räuber! Hübsch Räuber!’ Which means Cute-looking robber! Cute-looking robber! But she can’t pronounce those umlauts. So instead it comes out ‘Hubschrauber! Hubschrauber!’ Which means ‘Helicopter! Helicopter!’ well it’s 1920 something and nobody in earshot even knows what the word means, liftscrewer, what’s that?

Thomas Pynchon - Gravity’s Rainbow

Vehikel & Gefäss - Hirrnkopter Hellikrank
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 118. LP

Debt of Nature - Order: Spoil the Entire State
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 111. LP

Spoils & Relics - Sins of Omission
Harbinger Sound. Harbinger 113. LP

And whilst the Sleaford Mods ‘Austerity Dogs’ leaves Steve Underwood’s Harbinger Sound label fighting off the music press with knotty sticks, its back to the coal face with this lot.

Three releases that swing thru Swiss Dada-ist cut and paste art action, mid 80’s Yank noise improv and bang up to date electro-acoustic sprawl. None of which are likely to be vying for the top spot in Norman Records 50 best of the year but all of which are at the very heart of Harbinger Sound do best. 

‘Hirrnkopter Hellikrank’ was originally released by Schimpfluch back in the 80’s on a 50 run cassette edition that came in a plastic bag full of various cut lengths of cassette tape. Therein lies a clue. For this is two sides of sharply edited sounds upon which Vehikel & Gefäss [thats Joke Lanz and Rudolph eb.er in a side project that lasted for, I think, two releases] layering sounds of their own making with rapidly passing tape edits. It mirrors in some ways the work of Mixed Band Philanthropist, The Broken Penis Orchestra and perhaps Evil Moisture where hundreds of quick edits are painstakingly spliced together to form new wholes. The difference here is that over these edits and during spaces in the edits Lanz and eb.er layer their own sounds be it burps, the honking of rubber bulbed car horns, retching sounds, stuck records … the overall effect is one of disorientation and ultimately nervousness as the listener [this one at least] awaits the next jump from the speakers elbow raised in ready guard. The edits contain everything from old musical hall tunes, Astrud Gilberto, donkey brays, speeded up spoken word records, police sirens, dogs barking, door knocks, manic laughter … some edits are so sharp that its impossible to work out the original source thus making for a series of blurs that merge. ‘Hirrnkopter [Streetactions]’ sounds as if the edit sources came from a trip down a Zurich back street with pneumatic drills, door bells, bike bells, steam organs, singing drunks all entering the mix. Hellikrank [Radio Actions] is the ‘cleaner’ of the two, if you like, and sounds as if it was made in the studio for one of their radio broadcast [obvs]. Two things remain; have the Schimpfluch Gruppe made the belch a more repulsive sound than the fart and is that a ‘Crisis’ seven incher in the midst of all that debris on the back cover? A broken sledgehammer too. Impressive.

Spoils & Relics and Debt of Nature are untied by improv but also separated by about a good thirty years and the Atlantic Ocean. Debt of Nature is the band 15 year old Brad Laner formed in 1985. Along with Jim Goodall and Spencer Savage they quickly pulled into their free floating orbit members of the Los Angeles Free Music Society with Rick Potts, Joseph Hammer, Tom Recchion and legions of others joining in the sprawl. 'Order: Spoil the Entire State's' eight live tracks are culled from performances in ’85 and ’86 and all run to exactly five minutes suggesting that what we’re hearing are edits. Most tracks seem to move at the same pace with only brief blasts of spazzed guitar, wailing and electronic abuse lifting things from, what has to be said, are fairly rudimentary, exploratory affairs. These are primitive recordings in every sense. Coming from the mid 80’s they're impossible to ignore though. Primitive excursions but still important ones.

Given two sides of untitled vinyl to stretch out on the enigmatic Spoils &amp Relics; lay out their wares for all to see. These include all manner of hard to identify sounds that could have been made inside a deep sea divers helmet at 20,000 fathoms. Here we have shortwave trawls picking up single, impossible to translate words, slight squeaks, wheezes and heaves, sounds of budgie cages being shaken in empty houses, lo-fi electronic squawk, bottles being kicked around a stone floor, parps culled from small boxes with switches on them, electro-acoustic dub, dried peas rattling around a Quality Street tin, a mass beetle exodus ... or none of the above. The mood in places is austere, in others noisy in some contemplative.

This is their third release on Harbinger Sound - after sharing one side of a split LP with BRB/Voicemail and having a single all to themselves they’ve finally got the LP they deserve. Working in ever more darker and harder to define corners means Spoils & Relics are refining their craft making their outings a greater pleasure each time. Hübsch Räubers of sound if you like.