Monday, August 20, 2012
Victorian Electronics ‘A Leeds Assemblage’
Astral Social Club
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.