Kyle McCallum on Sophie Tassignon, Licht – Raum – Erkundungen, CD, self-released, 2017
Late last year, versatile Belgian-born, Berlin-based vocalist Sophie Tassignon released her debut solo CD, entitled Licht – Raum – Erkundungen. The three sprawling tracks, each clocking in around eight minutes, were recorded live at Berlin’s Kommunale Galerie im Historischen Keller on 15th September 2017 at the vernissage of an immersive light installation by German artist Margareta Hesse.
Tassignon acknowledges the aesthetic challenge of crafting a composition sympathetic to the apparent steely physicality, yet material void, of Hesse’s red laser beams. On a technical level, it was also something of an undertaking for the musician to merely identify the buttons on her hardware in the darkness of the installation setting.
The sound works draw from a collection of fifteen pre-recorded loops which are augmented by Tassignon’s live vocal interventions and real-time processing. The only texture of the whole performance that does not stem from Tassignon’s vocal cords is the pitter-patter of what sounds like a gravelly substance on glass. The compressed brightness of this glacial sound – evident during the second track, ‘Obscurite’ – circles the eardrums like a lounge of scheming lizards on ice. Its horizontal axis of rotation around the stereo field provides a valuable counterpoint to the omnidirectional loop-based structure of the composition as a whole as it pierces the soft, reverb-drenched soundscape like benevolent shrapnel through consenting flesh.
Photo from Art Light magazine
The opening track, ‘Incandescence’, starts with the sound of Tassignon’s breath, delivered to the listener with hyperreal intimacy via the age-old conspiracy between microphone and loudspeaker. The piece gradually builds from this sparse, seductive sibilance to accommodate dislocated baroque vocal stylings, mid-range purrs and high-pitched warbles before culminating in an eloquent and transcendental motif.
The sonic backbone of ‘Obscurite’ represents Tassignon’s recent studio recreation of an improvised work she performed with Simon Vincent during their 2013 collaboration at Café du Burgaud in the south of France. Here, Tassignon exhibits her vocal dexterity, as she flits from a stuttering form of scatting reminiscent of Lauren Redhead’s recent voice work, or a latter-day Asmus Tietchens, to animalistic wailing which brings to mind Diamanda Galás or Phil Minton.
Left to right: Redhead, Tietchens, Galás, Minton
This commitment to avant-garde vocal techniques coolly offsets the Romantic overtones of the piece and gives it a unique complexion which cannot be easily pigeonholed as chamber music or contemporary composition. Tassignon’s music is a radical proposition that exceeds the bounds of both categories and engages the intellect as much as it beguiles the heart.
‘L’Impalpable’, the final track, begins as if Tassignon is the enigmatic precentor of an Outer Hebrides church service, introducing the theme of a lesser-known Gaelic psalm before being joined gradually by the whole congregation. In reality, ‘the congregation’ is her own multiplied voice and, as the layers build to a trance-inducing intensity, Tassignon begins to introduce her characteristic vocal blips, blops and screeches to the mix. Slowly, these short-form gestures recede, and a series of extended, non-verbal incantations take centre stage, intertwining to produce complex harmonies and deep resonances, before these opposing currents form a hypnotic coil of residual sound which descends like the Corryvreckan whirlpool, pulling proceedings gracefully towards silence.
On the strength of these three tracks, it is clear that Tassignon has risen to the aesthetic and logistical challenge presented by Hesse’s vast, geometric light-work. On an artistic level, her response is sensitive and thoughtful, but, crucially, she does not allow her creative process to be restricted by the clinical logic of the red laser beams. While a lesser artist may have reduced their sonic palette to lengthy electronic drones and angular zaps of noise, literally imitating Hesse’s installation, Tassignon is decidedly more lateral in her approach. Rather than reduce herself to a Star Wars lightsaber foley technician, she is adamant that her own distinctive sound-world should flourish in this quasi-sci-fi environment.
She allows her work to breathe by adopting an expansive, complementary approach as opposed to a slavishly reductionist one, occupying Hesse’s sparse Blade-Runner-meets-Dogville stage set with an organic modernist music that truly illuminates the exhibition space. While Tassignon’s impressive decade-long discography spans a variety of (predominantly jazz-infused) musical modes, with precedence towards collaboration and group playing, here’s hoping that her next solo electroacoustic release is just around the corner.
Dan Dizette on Jacob Yates and the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers at The Sebright Arms, London
Upon arrival at London’s Sebright Arms for the Pearly Gate Lock Pickers’ gig, the man himself, Jacob Yates, was in the venue’s courtyard, looking as dapper as ever, nobly beckoning punters downstairs for the beginning of support act, The Rebel’s, set.
The Rebel (a.k.a. Ben Wallers, of Male Nurse fame) proved to be the perfect foil for the Lock Pickers. Sharing a keen sense of Deep Southern tragedy (and comedy) and an uncanny feel for bare-bones song writing, The Rebel took us on a road trip through guitar-spangled stompers to raw electronic teasers via a constant sense of one-man-band introversion.
By the time extrovert singer-songwriter Yates mounted the stage, Wallers’ infectiously idiosyncratic persona had made way for a new kind of bedlam. Yates kicked off the Lock Pickers’ set with a poignant vocal number recounting a man’s recurring visit to the Tigris over the course of a short and troubled life which ended at the bed of said river. The decision to open with this solitary, and instrumentally sparse, song facilitated a sensitive segue between the solo (anti)heroics of The Rebel and the characteristically full-bodied sound of the Lock Pickers. As the evening progressed, Yates’ band began to play an increasingly central role in proceedings.
When South London’s Christopher ‘Chad’ Haddow joined the group in 2012, the warmth of his electric guitar stylings instantly added depth to the band’s sound. Likewise, the recent addition Cassie Oji, of the unclassifiably brilliant Golden Teacher, offers a new dynamic by offsetting Yates’ distinctive Midlands-cum-Mid-West growl with dulcet gospel tones and confident, striking harmonies. Chad, Cassie and their fellow Lock Pickers provide a stable and musically rich environment, which Jacob pushes to the limits with his outlandish and immensely entertaining on-stage antics.
In the exuberantly grotesque ‘Care Home’, Yates has the audacity to chant about the disgraced DJ and TV personality Jimmy Savile. On top of a rudimentary but highly effective reggae rhythm section – far from the Lock Pickers’ bluesy comfort zone – Oji – in what sounds like an exaggerated Jamaican accent – riffs ‘In this care home, we don’t care at all!’, while Yates repeatedly raps the immortally creepy sentiment ‘Jim’ll, Jim’ll fix it’. This is an astonishing and confounding track, and to witness it live is a thrill.
By the penultimate song of the evening, Yates is a man possessed, dancing spasmodically, swinging one-handed from the rafters and striding into the crowd to perform faith-healing rituals on unsuspecting, but ultimately thankful, audience-members. You never know what you’re going to get with Jacob, and this is what keeps the crowds coming back for more.
Kyle McCallum on Charlotte and Mr. Stone, Live at Café du Burgaud, CD, Vision of Sound, 2014
Formed in Berlin in 2009 by Belgian singer Sophie Tassignon and UK-born composer, pianist and electro-acoustic musician Simon Vincent, Charlotte and Mr. Stone combine the manipulated vocal explorations of the former with live synthesis and sampling of the latter. Live at Café du Burgaud, released on Vincent’s Vision of Sound label in October 2014, documents the third concert of a seven-date tour of France and the Basque Region undertaken in May 2013.
The extensive press release serves to contextualise the performance, detailing, for example, Tassignon and Vincent’s numerous discussions with the venue manager on the evening of the concert, as the duo’s appearance was repeatedly deferred in light of audience members’ food- and wine-ordering activities, including time to ‘finish their coffee and have a cigarette’. While the duo confesses that ‘psyching yourself up, then waiting, then coming down, then coming up again [can be] quite exhausting and not always conducive to a good performance’, there is a particular romance to this quintessentially southern European ethos of prioritising the here-and-now over predetermined schedules. Despite all the hanging around in an increasingly cold backstage area, Tassignon and Vincent evidently produced a magical performance, which proved pivotal, not only in the context of the tour but also in the musical development of Charlotte and Mr. Stone more generally.
The first 60 seconds of the nine-minute-long opener, As Long As It Takes, introduces Tassignon’s voice, by way of a series of non-verbal vowel sounds with a hint of digital delay, no doubt embellished by the warm acoustics of the room. Before long, Tassignon begins a complex process of live composition, delicately mixing dry and wet signals to highly emotive effect and bringing to mind Cara Tolmie’s ambitious vocal concoction, The End is a Tumultuous Noise (2010). Soon, Tassignon’s sound world is infiltrated by the scratching and scraping of Vincent’s granular synthesis, which conjures images of a giant set of marbles, swirling centrifugally around a vast rotunda. As Tassignon’s vocal layers become more dense and progress to a semblance of spoken language – amongst others, the word ‘hesitate’ can be deciphered in places – Vincent unleashes a glittering, high-frequency soundscape, evoking Cyborg-era Klaus Schulze, punctuated by jolts of extreme low-end vibration. As Vincent’s electronic maelstrom subsides, Tassignon’s vocal explorations gradually disintegrate into the soft edges of their own organic modernist form.
While the refined opener no doubt elevated the well-fed and -watered audience into an otherworldly cloud of post-prandial cigar smoke, the piece that followed evidently delivered them back down to earth with its emphatic, yet considered, cacophony. Flic Flac, Plique Ploque, Cric Crac is an intense four minutes of sonic sparring, centred on frenetic interplay between Vincent’s synthesised squelches and wobbles and Tassignon’s howls, barks and screeches.
For the first half of the seven-minute, Crystalmirrorspaceship, Vincent’s electronics take centre stage. A squadron of R2-D2 clones rejoice in a symphony of dial-up modem bleep sequences before being drowned out by a foreboding Aguirre-The-Wrath-of-God-like quasi-choral onslaught. Just when one half expects Klaus Kinski to emerge defiantly from the fog, Tassignon’s voice enters the mix in a decidedly more soothing tone than in Flic Flac, precipitating a gradual transition from Vincent’s all-encompassing drone to a subtle sample-based improvisational rhythmic joust.
In the three-minute-long Counting By Numbers, Vincent and Tassignon maintain a dolphin-like communication system. As Tassignon’s voice is swept into Vincent’s synthetic whirlpool, a delay-drenched sample of a stitch-counting Potsdam weaver temporarily completes the ménage à trois before receding obediently as if in anticipation of the duo’s 11-minute tour de force.
T’as Qu’à Pas takes us on a sublime journey to the outer reaches of Charlotte and Mr. Stone’s artistic multiverse, revealing responsive interplay, technical aptitude and compositional patience in equal measure. This is an immersive experience, taking in long-form drone, nursery-rhyme song structure and hints of the emphatic vocal stylings of Catherine Ribeiro circa 1974 (but with her folk-rock accompaniment replaced by an expansive electronic landscape).
For the first time in the set, Tassignon’s uncanny vocal stratosphere betrays the nature of the electronic device used to elaborate it – the oft-maligned loop station, which can yield rather crude results in less capable hands. Around the four-and-a-half-minute mark, numerous loops are triggered and/or return to their starting points within seconds of each other, laying bare the technical element of the musician’s performative process.
These glitches in the system seem historically analogous to the crashing sounds made through contact between Delia Derbyshire’s mallet and her trusty lampshade (the object which provided the sole source material for entire productions by the Radiophonic Workshop maverick). Derbyshire often replayed these recordings backwards in order to eradicate the ‘attack’, producing something of a ‘reverse decay’ effect. The fact that Derbyshire worked tirelessly through the night to achieve the kinds of effects that Tassignon delivers in real time in a matter of seconds is testament to the latter’s acute aural sensitivity and performative dynamism and the technological ‘advances’ that apparently inspired the former to withdraw from sound production altogether.
Such instances of inadvertent and momentarily incongruous loop crescendos, along with sporadic audience mumbles and numerous hearty rounds of applause, are indicative of the live recording environment. Nevertheless, the audio quality is remarkably high. The fidelity of the source material, combined with meticulous attention to mixing and mastering – undertaken by Vincent himself – provides a rich listening experience, considerably more rewarding than the impressionistic documentary mode adopted by many a historical live release.
Beyond the detailed attention to matters of format and engineering, Tassignon and Vincent confidently plough their own furrow through the rocky terrain of dialectical musical phenomena. Their combination of resonance, dissonance, harmony and disharmony is exquisite, especially considering the unpredictable live, as opposed to controlled studio, context. Furthermore, compositional and improvisational modes meld effortlessly, and emotional effect and intellectual rigour prove willing bedfellows.
The album sleeve features a close-up photograph of the interior of the duo’s ‘hotel’ in Le Burgaud, which was actually the small car that had transported them there from Bilbao airport, via Auche and Morande, and would take them onwards to Rivieres, Montpellier and then back to Bilbao to complete the remainder of the tour. On the strength of this mesmerising release, followers of adventurous new music in the UK (and elsewhere) will, no doubt, eagerly await the day such a vehicle crosses the Channel and delivers Charlotte and Mr. Stone and their uniquely transcendental, yet unshakeably earthbound, musical proposition.
Kyle McCallum on Club Integral at The Others, Manor Road, Stoke Newington, London
In a cold and damp warehouse space above a run-down snooker club on the Stoke Newington/Stamford Hill frontier, the well-established leftfield music collective, Club Integral, gathered five impressively diverse acts under one structurally compromised, if not exactly leaking, roof.
Club Integral mainstay and compère extraordinaire, Simon King, checked audience members in at the door for a very reasonable five pounds per person, periodically scouring the venue for those who had neglected to pay.
Cara Stacey and Sarathy Korwar
Introduced by King as The Cara Stacey Project, South African ethnomusicologist and bow player, Cara Stacey, and US-born India-raised composer and percussionist, Sarathy Korwar, stepped onto the sizeable Middle Eastern rug that delineated the performance area.
Stacey performed a number of Swazi a cappella pieces, explaining to the audience their respective premises, which included a girl’s ‘coming of age’ and a prenuptial ritual. These earnest enactments of traditional song from the diminutive Kingdom of Swaziland were at once moving and disconcerting emanating, as they did, from the vocal chords of a young, white South African, whose country of origin engulfs Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy, geographically, if not culturally or ethnically.
By the time Stacey had picked up the makhoyane – a Southern African bow instrument with a hollowed-out gourd centrally incorporated into its frame – questions of authenticity and the ethics of cultural appropriation had receded somewhat as the audience had settled into an engrossing performance, sensitively accompanied by Korwar’s jazz-like stylings on drum kit and tabla. As Stacey rhythmically beat a thin wooden stick onto the makhoyane’s string, alternating between distinct two-note chords, she periodically pulled the gourd towards her chest to create an effect similar to a recorder player covering their instrument’s thumbhole.
As Stacey moved onto the structurally comparable but physically smaller umrhubhe for the following number, it became apparent that resonant contrast would this time be achieved by the clasping of the player’s mouth around the bow. Maintaining such a position for the entirety of the track’s several minutes appeared to be quite physically demanding, but Stacey showed impressive control throughout.
Triggering a digital loop pedal in the early phases of several pieces, Stacey’s durational meditations were founded on repetition, layering and a degree of discipline, offset by Korwar’s slight-handed improvisational percussion which grew in complexity and character as the set progressed.
In light of Stacey’s rigorous explorations of indigenous Southern African culture and Korwar’s perceptive accompaniment – no doubt informed, to some extent, by his extensive studies of traditional Indian music – the duo offered an accomplished and considered contribution which made for a compelling start to the evening.
Kay Grant and The Static Memories (Dan Powell and Gus Garside)
After a short intermission, during which Stacey and Korwar removed their instruments from the line of fire and Club Integral’s resident DJ filled the air with jazzy music, Kay Grant, Dan Powell and Gus Garside took to the carpet.
Taking up where Stacey left off, downstage right, Kay Grant began pouring smooth vocalisations into a Lexicon effects processor which, in turn, spat them back out in shimmering fragments.
As Grant maintained her own sonic ecosystem, Dan Powell added percussive texture upstage left as he beat a reclining electric guitar with a mallet before passing the clunky reverberations through a tabletop processing device.
The combination of scattergun processed vocals and sporadic guitar abuse was not sufficiently engaging to a section of the audience which could be heard conversing above these subtle audio emissions. As the level of chatter escalated, even regulars of the avant-garde music circuit (some yet to take to the stage) and the event’s promoters began to talk amongst themselves. Surprising as this was, given the degree of reverence that usually accompanies performances of such non-mainstream music, as Thunderclap Newman once said, there was something in the air.
Perhaps this counter-intuitive conversational ambience had been precipitated by the fact that the event was taking place in a non-concert venue under candlelight on what is traditionally a rowdy night of the week and that the five-pound entrance fee and late license had attracted patrons whose primary reason for attendance was not to listen to marginal, and at times minimal, music but to (Stockhausen forfend) have a good time. That said, witnessing promoters succumbing to the ultimate transgression during a performance, rather than trying to settle the audience down out of respect for those they’d invited to play, was perplexing.
While Powell seemed slightly perturbed by the lack of chin-stroking in the crowd, at times appearing to stare accusingly at the main culprits, Grant kept her eyes closed and let her sonic whirlpool carry her away to a world in which Friday night drinkers in not-quite-regenerated regions of the capital dissolve in catatonic bliss at the mere suggestion of the voice as an instrumental component rather than a privileged expressive vehicle.
At times, it appeared as though Grant was actually inhaling shards of her own processed voice, before recycling them in homage to, or parody of, her inanimate piece of hardware. As she maintained this vocal contribution and Powell continued to combine unconventional guitar-based percussion with intent stares outwards, veteran polystylistic jazzman, Gus Garside, sprung into life with a series of breathtaking double bass improvisations upstage centre. Reaching for any piece of wood he could get his hands on – whether it be Cara Stacey’s umrhubhe or Sarathy Korwar’s drum sticks – Garside horizontally wedged one such implement between the strings of his double bass before attacking the body of the instrument with another.* Garside alternated this technique – which resonated conceptually and sonically with Powell’s activities – with numerous other approaches to his art, both bowed and plucked, all of which responded acutely to his cohorts’ output. In doing so, he performed an invaluably receptive role within the trio, adding rhythm to Powell’s percussive backdrop and providing structure and colour to Grant’s vocal offerings. At times, it was as if he had sent the reverberations of his double bass into the ether to dance around the room with the electronic splinters of Grant’s voice and the now omnipresent background chatter. In turn, it became clear that the rowdier sections of the audience, who had been reluctant to accept the subtle artistry of Grant and Powell’s contribution, were mesmerised by Garside’s dexterous flair, humble mastery and radical subversion of his Titanic classical instrument.
Despite Garside inadvertently stealing the show, the trio’s performance was undoubtedly a communal affair, with all three members contributing equally to a rich and structurally complex sound that built on the foundations laid by Stacey and Korwar.
* A degree of artistic license (inspired no doubt by a romantic vision of the musical avant-garde as one big commune where instruments are freely exchanged) has been employed in describing this scene. It has subsequently been pointed out that, in reality, Garside used his own drum stick and beater to perform these manoeuvres.
Next onto the carpet was UK DiY scene stalwart, Howie Reeve, fresh from a European tour promoting his album, We Are In Repair. Sitting himself down centre stage in his trademark short trousers despite the weather conditions, the Glasgow-based singer and guitarist was quick to make a remark to the effect of, ‘A bit chatty tonight, aren’t we? If you’re quiet, you might enjoy this’.
As Reeve began his set, King presented him with a new can of ginger beer, as he had accidentally kicked over the performer’s glass while fulfilling his compère duties. Reeve briefly paused to accept the gesture and open the can, before placing it on the floor and resuming his uniquely absurdist electro acoustic bass excursion.
A couple of songs in and Reeve again paused mid-flow, this time to reprimand a drunken duo whose conversation had escalated to its zenith. “You two; I’m not gonna start playing again till you stop talking”. As the pair’s banter slurred to a gradual halt, Reeve resumed with adrenaline-fuelled vigour and fluidity. The subsequent minute and a half potentially represented a career high of performative ingenuity, with Reeve alternately slapping and caressing his bass with a level of mental absorption achieved only by emptying the conscious mind of everything from recent memories of spilt drinks and crowd interruptions to ruminations on the structure of the highly intricate piece in question.
Receiving a hearty round of applause, Reeve snapped out of this altered state and delivered the remainder of his set – which he curtailed out of time-consciousness – in typically idiosyncratic, congenial style. In response to the earlier reproach, the audience began to self-censor, especially during Reeve’s dramatic intra-song diversions into softly spoken, delicately picked guitar and finger piano territory.
Navigating extreme contrasts in tone and register, both instrumentally and vocally, Reeve’s contribution to the evening was singularly dynamic, subverting, as it did, the conventional role of the guitar-strumming singer-songwriter while complementing the evening’s air of experimentalism.
Seven Sisters of Smyrna
With Reeve respectfully quick to clear the stage of his instruments and ginger beer, Viv Corringham, Sylvia Hallet and Clive Bell were ready to start playing before the resident DJ had had a chance to spin more than a couple of increasingly ‘dancey’ tunes.
Seven Sisters of Smyrna’s performance began with violinist, Sylvia Hallet, bowing the rim of a small metal bowl and feeding the signal from her microphone into an effects processor. Sitting downstage right, Hallet constructed layers of echo-laden sonic fog, adjusting the settings of her electronic device by twiddling thin vertical poles ingeniously attached to its controls, before Bell introduced accordion rhythms stage left.
Before long, Viv Corringham had entered the fray with powerful and authentic-sounding Greek vocals which she manipulated with an effects unit placed on her lap. The majority of the trio’s songs followed a similar structure, starting, as they did, with electronic fuzz before progressing into fully-fledged Rembetika jamboree, then disintegrating into an electric storm and climaxing with a theatrical finale. The combination of Hallet’s shimmering processed violin and Corringham’s ghostly vocal decay sounded uncannily like White-Noise-era Delia Derbyshire, but it was achieved using off-the-shelf (albeit modified) digital hardware of which the latter would scarcely have approved but could hardy begrudge. A curious element of the group’s set-up was that the accordion did not seem to be rigged up to any such processing device. Bell’s competent and concentrated instrumental performance – along with a number of forays into vocal territory – came across somewhat incongruously as his untreated melodies vied for attention with the tumultuous sonority of Corringham’s manipulated voice combined with Hallet’s virtuoso violin manoeuvres.
In a welcome piece of inter-song banter, Bell reported that he had recently had his identity stolen by an electronic hacker. Similarly, it now appeared that his musical identity was being compromised by the technological cunning of his group mates’ sound, which was increasingly pushing his bare-bone accordion riffs and backing vocals out to a metaphorical Mediterranean Sea.
However, such discrepancies in balance could be forgiven for a number of reasons. Firstly, an already exhausted-looking Rob Storey's autodidactic approach to mixing desk protocol was being tested to its limit by the ensuing urban folk and electronic noise onslaught; secondly, this was the trio’s first ever public appearance; and, thirdly, the group’s overall contribution to the evening’s activities was culturally and artistically significant, to say the least.
Brother Low Elephant Grass
While the final act of the night – each member of which had pigment of various colours smeared over their hair, face and clothes – set up onstage, the resident DJ could not be found, so compère King took it upon himself to spin the same dance track that the former had played between Reeve’s and Seven Sisters’ performances. Before long, Brother Low Elephant Grass, who, like Seven Sisters, were embarking on their debut public performance, swung into motion with a high-volume psychedelic rock adventure.
That the individual names of the group’s members are hard to find online hinted at a collective ethos in which the only creative entity at play is the band itself. While the group appears to project this communal vision via their publicity material – crediting everything from writing duties to mastering sessions to Brother Low Elephant Grass rather than to any single individual – their first live set was dominated throughout by front man, Luiz Bruno. As the bassist provided a rudimentary backdrop to Bruno’s pedal-assisted array of guitar distortion and feedback, the drummer – recently acquired via Gumtree – played skilfully, if rather tentatively, while the contorting lead guitarist indulged in a series of lengthy solos worthy of endorsement from the High Priest of the Order of the Psychedelic Monks, Rudi Van DiSarzio.
Bombarding the audience with a wall of sound which threatened to wake the now sleeping duo who had interrupted proceedings earlier with their drunken chatter, and treading a fine line between reverence for, and satire of, the expressive capabilities of psychedelic rock, the band did not attempt to push the boundaries of genre convention. While this fact distinguished Brother Low Elephant Grass from the preceding acts, it did not manage to extinguish the creative explosion that had characterised the evening. The band’s relative artistic underdevelopment combined with its front man’s youthful enthusiasm served to draw the earlier well-honed contributions of the ‘old guard’ (and the studied interpretations of fellow young musicians, Stacey and Korwar) into relief and paint a vibrant picture of an element of the musical underground situated beyond the contrived ‘alter-mainstream’ concocted by arbiters of taste at hip upstart avant jazz cafes a mile or two down an increasingly gentrified Kingsland Road.
This particular incarnation of the Club Integral road show succeeded in shining a light on pockets of the avant-garde which are currently embarking on new collaborative ventures, fearlessly taking to the stage with a view to developing new ways of playing together. The event also drew attention to the social and discursive nature of live music. The diverse audience, at times distracted and at times engrossed, ultimately refused to uncritically accept the validity of the unconventional musical offerings. This level of judiciousness only intensified the vitality of the event and highlighted the importance of music being performed in social spaces far removed (ideologically, at least) from the capital’s auto-homogenised and unquestioning institutions. Long may Club Integral fly the flag for such adventurous and genuinely critical endeavours.
Kyle McCallum on Golden Teacher, Shopping and Not Sorry at Power Lunches, Kingsland Road, London
On Tuesday the 30th of September, Glasgow’s analogue afro-disco hypnotists, Golden Teacher, played a sold-out ‘secret’ gig at Power Lunches in Dalston, supported by exponents of crystallised post-punk, Shopping, and instrumental Giallo-synth stomp unit, Not Sorry.
Opening the evening in the venue’s low-slung basement was Not Sorry. As the band prepared to launch into its high-octane trans-genre excursion, guitarist, Joey Prendergast, and bassist, Joe Smith, took up positions in a pocket of space immediately in front of the stage and at eye level with the crowd. This small clearing gave Smith just enough wingspan to slap out some of the dirtiest basslines this side of the DVD menu screen of Alan Partridge Series Two. Meanwhile, Prendergast added colourful rhythmic guitar stabs as elements of the band’s unconventional song structures were brought into and out of play via inventive bridges and refrains. Behind them on the stage, Jack Baraclough provided sparse beats on drums and minimal Numan-esque crunches on electronic pads while synth extraordinaire, Rosie Ridgway, contributed hi-NRG melodies and frenetic dance moves in equal measure.
The band’s sound combines numerous pop and underground musical tropes. The percussive rhythms of Sex Heaven recall the early 1980s output of Cameroonian electronic innovator, Francis Bebey, and St. John’s unhinged synth attack brings to mind South Africa’s bubblegum disco-funk of the mid 1980s. Meanwhile, Rip Your Throat was a cue for Not Sorry to switch continents and mount the emotive rollercoaster of Italian horror soundtrack history. Brandishing a synthesizer, worth about as much hard currency as Claudio Simonetti’s European-to-US razor adapter, Ridgway exhibited an array of killer arpeggios worthy of Tenerbrae-era Goblin. As if to reinforce the band’s commitment to genre homage, Smith – adorned in a tasselled shirt befitting an off-duty New Mexico sheriff – intermittently performed an exaggerated 180 degree pivot-shuffle, in the style of a euphoric 1990s line dancer at a suburban new-build church hall on a damp English summer evening after an intellectually stifling shift at the local charity shop checking donated jigsaws for missing pieces and rifling through bin bags of predominantly skid-marked pants to find a clean pair.
In musical terms, the seemingly disparate reference points of 1980s African electro-pop and 1970s European prog rock combine an enthusiastic embrace of the sleazy aesthetics of the synthesizer and a propensity for stylistic excess. The band was patently not sorry for adopting an exuberant ethos as its enthusiastic pastiche was propelled forwards on a wave of raw post-punk energy and swept sideways by an undercurrent of DiY-scene sensibility.
After a short retreat upstairs to the ground floor bar, where the 13th Floor Elevators’ eponymous psychedelic classic was spinning through its own volition on an unattended turntable in the corner of the room, the unmistakable reverberations of a bass amp began to rattle the floorboards. The time-honoured (and infinitely more reliable) equivalent to an iPhone buzzing in the trouser pocket, this rumble indicated that Shopping’s set was getting underway downstairs.
As soon as the dextrous and enigmatic guitarist, Rachel Aggs, began to throw bright and abrasive melodies over the top of Billy Easter’s dark and funky basslines and Andrew Milk’s driving kick drum, it was clear that this sound had its roots in the golden era of DiY music. This was a time when you made your extra-marital calls from the phone box at the end of the road and when Songkick meant a Doc Martin in the shin from an angry man who hadn’t heard that punk in its original four-white-males form was dead.
Thirty-five years after the South Bronx’s Scroggins sisters were telling you that you made no sense and the Leeds quintet, Delta 5, were letting you know in no uncertain terms that you couldn’t have a taste of their ice-cream, Shopping nonchalantly informed us that we had taken the long way home.
With all three members sharing vocal duties (for the most part led by Aggs and Milk, with Easter providing backing), words (and numbers) bounced around the room and a sense of ‘difficult fun’ hung in the air. A dedication to the art of discordance was at play, and the band’s angular aesthetic and darkly humorous tone discombobulated less through a series of ‘happy accidents’ than by way of creative intelligence, performative flair and a rigorous artistry that eluded all but the most visionary of the original post-punk generation. This commitment came through in Milk’s willingness to contort himself like James Chance as condensation in the sweaty basement seemed to cause his vocal mic to spiral closer and closer to the surface of his snare drum. By the end of one prolonged vocal stint, the drummer’s vertebrae were arched into Liam Gallagher’s trademark position (which will no doubt provoke interest from Creation Records’ legal team), but Milk managed to maintain a rhythm and project his sardonic stanzas as if unhindered. A more laissez-faire performer might have given up on vocals for the time being, later tweeting about how ‘Fluxus’ it had been when his mic slipped. While Shopping by no means lack spontaneity – their live sets are characterised by extended instrumental interplay and vocal call-and-response – ‘let it be’ is not in the band’s vocabulary. If things were to take a turn towards Fluxus, it would not be by chance but because Aggs had Ono on an earpiece and Milk had brought Maciunas in behind the mixing desk.
As it happened, there was no need for the intervention of historical luminaries here, as Shopping confidently projected their own singular vision of post-punk in a quintessentially DiY fashion.
Hovering on stage as their instrumental cohorts set up, it became clear that front duo, Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac, wouldn’t be afforded the luxury of occupying a position below the stage as the crowd had already swarmed into the area in anticipation. The two vocalists retreated to the back of the stage and crouched together as Sam Bellacosa and Richard McMaster (the analogue house unit also known as Silk Cut) set acid sequences in motion stage right while Laurie and Ollie Pitt (of Ultimate Thrush) engaged in African drumming and distorted cowbell syncopation stage left.
As the sonic tapestry reached a tipping point – at which the entire crowd started to convulse as if it was the Paradise Garage in 1985 and an intoxicated Larry Levan had (by the skin of his teeth) mixed Kiss Me Again into Jack Your Body – Ojay and Lavenac rose in tandem and shimmied downstage through a jungle of leads. By now, proceedings had taken a turn for the ecstatic as Ojay’s emphatic dubby vocals, reminiscent of Lola Blank on Go Bang, were offset by Lavenac’s charismatic but, by and large, understated spoken word, in the style of Julius Eastman on the very same record.
Despite these apparent historical reference points, Golden Teacher’s sound is by no means a throw-back to, or derivative of, the avant-garde-infused electronic disco-punk-funk aesthetic of the ‘New York Noise’ period. The common energy and high degree of experimentation at play may owe something to similarities in working and living conditions between the highly concentrated artistic communities of the Lower Eastside in the late 1970s and early ’80s and those of Glasgow in the early 2000s. The fact that a proportion of the band is originally from New York (although too young to have experienced the aforementioned scene firsthand) may come into the equation as well. Beyond all this conjecture, the individual ingenuity of the band’s members is unquestionable and their ability to work together as a unit is formidable.
By the time Ojay and Lavenac had assumed their positions, the condensation coming from the ceiling had taken on the ferocity of the Black Linn Falls. Frequently turning away to wipe the ceiling’s reanimated beer from her brow as elegantly as possible under the circumstances, Ojay found her typically energetic voodooesque dance moves reduced by the stifling heat and cramped stage, and she increasingly relied on shorthand arm gestures and characteristically trance-inducing stares.
While the diminutive venue did not suit the band’s large battery of equipment and dynamic performance style (with members frequently swapping instruments and rotating stage positions), the incessant mutant dance music emanating from the sound system and the sustained crowd reaction very much befitted this nightclub-type space. What’s more, the group’s performance was considerably more engaging than even the most captivating of DJ sets.
In a broader context, this gig comes at an intriguing juncture in the relatively short existence of the act formerly known as the Green Door Disco Band. After a few years playing underground gigs in Glasgow – at venues as diverse as a cricket pitch in Pollok Park (at the behest of the seminal artist-run gallery, Transmission) and at the The Grand Ole Opry, as part of discerning young promoter Fielding Hope’s Music Language Festival – Golden Teacher’s recent recorded and live activities have exposed their work to a much wider festival- and club-going audience. In turn, 2015 promises to be a year in which international interest in the band burgeons. At the height of their creative powers and with opportunistic booking agents circling like sharks, this could prove a pivotal moment in the musical and personal trajectory of the six members who, at present, contribute equally to the unique sound and artistic integrity of the collective. Bearing in mind that it has never been easy for members of six-piece bands to make a living from their music (with solo laptop artists regularly taking home several times the coinage per live appearance), if the group is able to sensitively navigate the financial and collaborative minefield of increased exposure and the double-edged sword of working under management contracts, Golden Teacher may soon alter popular consciousness in a way that their avant-garde disco-not-disco forebear, Arthur Russell, desired but never truly achieved.
Kyle McCallum on The Outer Church at Ramsgate Music Hall, Turner Street, Ramsgate
On Friday the 12th of September, music writer, Joseph Stannard, brought his Brighton-based audio-visual curatorial project, The Outer Church, to East Kent on the first leg of its three-date south coast tour. The setting was Ramsgate Music Hall, the high-spec new venue conceived, constructed and convened by a small local conglomerate with the aim of bringing exciting new music to ‘Darkest Kent’.
With the Music Hall already having hosted such diverse acts as veteran Japanese psych-noise rockers, Acid Mothers Temple, New York-based anti-folk comic book artist, Jeffrey Lewis, and London’s DiY post-punk agitators, Ravioli Me Away, the visit of The Outer Church furthered the venue’s foray into leftfield territory.
‘The Outer Church: Coastal’ tour poster advertised the appearance of lyrical post-rock unit, The Lowland Hundred, self-proclaimed ‘coastal slurtronic folk’ artist, Kemper Norton, and Brighton folk duo, Lutine. In addition to this, London’s author and psychogeographer, Gareth Rees, contributed a set of specially prepared readings.
As the audience started to filter into the venue, Rees privately acknowledged the appearance of a couple of his friends before casually mounting the stage and offering a series of darkly comedic musings on the theme of the sea. These passages encompassed childhood memories, teenage angst and an inflamed prostate gland. While the relationship between the latter affliction and the tides of the sea may not have been immediately apparent, Rees left the audience in little doubt as to the similarities between the nooks and crannies of the Thames Estuary and the topography of his rectum, even citing individual ports of call along the way. Unconventional and entertaining, this was psychogeography at its most intimate, and it provided an engaging entry point to the musical weirdness that would follow.
After a short break in the evening’s performative proceedings, a warning light began to flash brightly in the venue’s upstairs bar to indicate that it was time to head downstairs for Lutine’s set. As Heather Minor stepped up to her Korg keyboard and appeared to press the ‘as close as possible to the sound of a real piano’ button, Emma Morton arrived at her microphone holding a squeeze box and shyly addressed the audience with a ‘hello’ so reticent that she was either experiencing a degree of stage-fright or this was another part of The Outer Church’s beguiling mystique. About thirty seconds later, it became clear that the singer’s affliction was the former, as the performance broke down and the duo decided to start the opening song again.
When singing pieces of fragile beauty to sparse musical accompaniment, there is nowhere to hide when things begin to unravel as they did here. The outwardly confident Minor appeared to be unnerved by this turn of events and unable to shepherd her nerve-stricken partner through the set as Morton proceeded to puncture the sonic bliss of her own vocal performance with inopportune comings-together with unfortunately placed microphones on the admittedly tight stage. There is a certain enchantment to an error-strewn performance, and imperfection is, of course, one of the defining intrigues of live music, but a simultaneously sublime and ridiculous Lutine sailed perilously close to the wind.
After the obligatory interlude of merchandise-fumbling in the upstairs bar (and those who took a chance on Lutine’s debut album White Flowers, will be thrilled to find the duo at its finest there), it was time for Kemper Norton to take to the stage.
Clinging to a small notebook, the contents of which he assured his audience would serve to hold his performance together, a visibly shaking ‘one-man band’ took a swig of ale and announced, ‘That’s better’ into the mic. While obviously harbouring some trepidation about the trial ahead, Kemper Norton, unlike his predecessors on stage, had a dense and sprawling pre-recorded electronic backing track to protect him. Triggering different elements of this track via a digital interface, while sporadically introducing real-time keyboard melodies, could not, however, disguise his dismal vocal performance, stranded, as it was, in a no man’s land between singing and speaking. With the conviction of a tone-deaf Open University student auditioning for a place in his local community choir, Kemper Norton vocalised what could very well have been the scrawlings of a disinterested schoolboy forced by pushy parents to attend extra-curricular poetry lessons.
This performance appeared to have all the qualities of an Outsider tour de force. However, Outsider music is often illuminated by the figure of the naive genius, producing imperfect but uncannily transcendental, socially relevant or timeless works far away from the influence of the music establishment or even the (supposedly) enlightened world. The rhythmic complexity and textural richness of Kemper Norton’s ‘slurtronica’ hinted at a degree of engagement with the contemporary electronic underground, which is confirmed by a back catalogue of releases on ‘fingers-on-the-pulse’ labels such as More Than Human and Exotic Pylon. It is clear, then, that Kemper Norton is by no means naive. As for genius, perhaps he is one according to the alter-divinity worshiped by the congregation of The Outer Church.
After a further jaunt upstairs for the final interval of the evening, Aberystwyth’s The Lowland Hundred closed proceedings downstairs. As Tim Noble and Paul Newland appeared on stage, they exuded a self-assuredness that put the audience immediately at ease. Following a somewhat nerve-wracking few hours, anticipating the next cringe-worthy slip-up from an, intentionally or otherwise, unpolished Outer Church roster (excluding Gareth Rees, who stumbled over only a handful of his many words), this was an opportunity for the audience to relax and marvel at the exquisite interplay between Noble’s delicate synthetic piano excursions and Newland’s feedback-drenched guitar, the peaks and troughs of which seemed to map the terrain of the duo’s West Coast (of Wales, not U.S. – although the band’s sound is somewhat reminiscent of the L.A. psychedelic scene of the early 1970s, if less dreamy and more meticulous) homeland. After several such exchanges, in which Newland frequently adjusted his stage position in relation to the amp in order to sensitively wrap waves of feedback, very deliberate in their tone and shape, around Noble’s keyboard vignettes, Newland released the kraken.
A voice laced with vibrato – and reminiscent of post-Soft-Machine Robert Wyatt or a post-coital Scott Walker – pierced the lush electric fog. From this moment on, further layers of instrumentation were introduced to the mix, with Noble setting off a series of samples before picking up an electric guitar himself to dual with his cohort as the evening’s ode to the sea reached its sonic crescendo. From there, the duo slowly began to retract instrumental elements, eventually leaving nothing but Noble’s delicate piano shimmies and Newland’s subtle guitar feedback before the two musicians locked eyes and gave a synchronised nod that would signal a return to silence.
On the part of The Outer Church, this venture to the new frontier of ‘Darkest Kent’ represents a brave move away from the familiar shore of Brighton’s tight-knit scene and the safe haven of London’s ever-welcoming musical intelligentsia. For the Music Hall and the members of the Ramsgate public who turned out, this was a unique evening of new music and spoken word that exposed a vital, yet fragile, fragment of the UK underground which is thriving on limited means and resorting to economic and spiritual self-exploitation as it ruminates on the all-consuming tsunami known as conformity which threatens to sweep it out to the sea from whence it came.
Dan Dizette on MV & EE, CCA, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
In a darkened, theatrical space off the top floor balcony of the Centre for Contemporary Art, the second of four acts, Special Hits, was setting up its table of electronic gear against the hum of a loose earth wire and background music that sounded like the Necks but could equally have been the Cinematic Orchestra; it was probably the Necks, though, as the Cinematic Orchestra is out of vogue. As the unidentified gentrified jazz gave way to electromagnetic interference, half of the Glasgow-based act nipped backstage to retrieve the beer supplies that would get the duo through its performance. When the man in a brown, cool-not-cool woollen cardigan returned with the goods, he and his co-conspirator began nodding from either side of their kit table, like Nathan Barley on the No. 8 from Bow to Bethnal Green, in a silent substitute for a drum stick count-in. After synchronised swigs from respective tins, their nodding heads concurred that it was time to set the sequencers in motion.
What ensued was a clinically clean and angular, yet warm, sonic excursion that could be read as a micro-lineage of mid-20th to early 21st century electronic music. Patiently layered metallic brushes and clicks brought to mind the analogue experimentations of World’s Fair Expos of the 1950s, leading into Radiophonic-Workshop-inspired pulses and bleeps, progressing allegorically into hypnotic Krautrock-infused organ melodies and Carpenter-esque Led Zeppelin-riff-simplifications through to four-to-the-floor minimal Berlin techno workouts. When all of these elements were in the mix and the sensibly dressed member of Special Hits had them breathing freely across the stereo spectrum through sensitive use of the mixing desk, the duo unleashed a crescendo of ominous basslines and crashing hi-hats, confirming MV & EE’s Home Comfort Sound System as an accomplished and versatile piece of engineering and artistry.
While MV & EE’s specially designed system was undoubtedly an intricate assembly yielding crisp results, its prioritisation of sonic beauty over bodily trauma also hints at a tacit acceptance of health-and-safety culture and good, clean, bourgeois fun when the opportunity to be violated by a unidirectional stack of speakers in a small basement still exists half a mile down the road. Spurious social commentary aside, the point here is that Special Hits would be equally comfortable working the dancefloor of the Sub Club as they were engaging the contemplative crowd at CCA who gathered cross-legged on the floor around them.
After another interlude of tasteful recorded music and a return to the now-default electromagnetic buzz, the other half of Special Hits took the opportunity to salvage a round of beers from backstage in advance of the third act. Justin Wright, a.k.a. Expo ’70, then sat on the floor with his back to the audience, facing a screen of cult film projections with his guitar plugged into an array of pedals and processing devices arranged neatly on a tray in front of him; a TV dinner of the Silicon Valley kind.
Wright then pierced the background fuzz by plucking a series of spacey Ash-Ra-Tempelesque melodies into the circuitry, sending them out the other end in spirals of dynamic texture which provided the foundation for several more layers of increasingly virtuoso guitar meanderings which, in turn, were fed into his electronic lunchbox, to return as perverse shadows of their clean-cut former selves. Having reached optimum sonic intensity and with dry and wet signals swimming in tolerance, if not harmony, Wright began to allow the residual sound to wind down to its logical conclusion while providing live accompaniment in the form of a return to the initial spacey melodies. These would also soon dissolve, leaving only the original earth-wire-buzz which the audience had inconveniently forgotten was a permanent fixture of the evening and not an active part of the performance. The consequent lack of applause induced Wright to fumble around before pressing something of a stand-by button on the imaginary remote control on the dinner tray in front of him. Still no response from the crowd; so Wright stood up and turned his neck anti-clockwise a few degrees and offered a wry smile that was greeted with rapturous applause.
Before the applause had died down, headliners MV & EE’s team of roadies was already shifting a barrage of equipment from the side of the room into its very midst. This involved displacing a quasi-community of attendees who had made that very spot their own over the course of the evening. One elderly man, who had either fallen asleep during the Edible Garden Symposium earlier in the day or had expired in a state of catatonic bliss during Expo ’70’s performance, had to be turfed out to make way for an array of overhead projectors and the like.
When the dust settled on this upheaval, it became clear that the organic nature of the evening and its unforced intimacy had been upset somewhat. It was also notable that the main attraction, MV & EE, was the only act who chose to actually use the stage at all, and the traditional divide between band and audience was physically reinforced by the central wall of projectors and their Mario-and-Luigi-like projectionists. The retro-VJ duo made a better door than a window, and half of the audience was left with no option but to stand up in order to see what was materialising on stage.
With the crowd now segregated in this literally hierarchical sense, a degree of tension had crept into the room. Half of Special Hits badly mistimed his periodic trip to the fridge, leaving him with the unenviable prospect of darting back across the front of the stage, intercepting the already mildly distracting visuals and potentially interrupting the flow of the headliners. Instead, it was Matt ‘MV’ Valentine who punctuated the band’s succession of songs (the only band on the bill to take the traditional approach of playing discrete songs as such) with the goofy exclamation, “Good evening, Sauchiehall!”. For all his ingratiating intention, the bespectacled post-Lennon songsmith might as well have proclaimed, “Make some noise, England!” or “They’ll be dancing in the streets of Raith tonight!”
The evening had started promisingly, with the cult Vermont-based outfit generously installing their exquisite sound system and allowing local unit, Special Hits, to reap its rewards in spectacular fashion, but now the altruistic atmosphere had been tainted somewhat and the audience was actually dwindling, perhaps turned off by Valentine’s overindulgent and over-amplified macho guitar solos.
However, beyond the bluster of the dominant front-man, it became apparent that intriguing things were happening elsewhere on the stage. MV’s overshadowed partner, Erika ‘EE’ Elder, appeared to be playing a lap steel guitar stage right, and the straggle-haired beanpole figure of guest and accomplished musician, Mick Flower, seemed to be working some magic on the bass guitar centre stage, but neither could be distinguished beneath Valentine’s prominent guitar, mouth organ and voice.
By the time the band introduced their penultimate song, the audience had contracted from around one hundred to a mere forty or so, and the previously lush acoustics were beginning to sound slightly hard-edged as a result. Sound waves slipped between projectionists and careered through hollows where living flesh used to be, before cascading against the stone walls of the CCA with a lank and lifeless thwack.
It was to the musicians’ credit and the audience’s delight that, during this song, the group achieved a unity that, in the preceding forty-five minutes, had threatened never to occur. Flower’s animated bass-playing came to the fore, providing a structural, yet intricate, sound, while Elder’s playing and singing emerged from the shadows to enter into fruitful dialogue with Valentine’s increasingly subtle and reflexive offerings.
If the remainder of the audience was pleased to have witnessed this penultimate contribution, it would be thrown into raptures by what followed. Valentine announced that the finale would be something that he and Flower had been working on: “It’s in its embryonic stages, let’s say, and it’s called Deliverance”. At this point, Valentine picked up a banjo and Flower borrowed Elder’s lap steel guitar. The proceeding twenty or so minutes cannot be described in words, but ‘sublime’ springs to mind. Complex layers of sound built up gradually, à la Expo ’70, but, with a heftier arsenal of live instrumentation upon which to draw, MV, EE and MF achieved a richness that blew any notion of dank acoustics out of the water and convinced doubters (if there were any left) that they were in the middle of something special.
With the crowd entranced and evacuees returning from the kebab-strewn streets of Sauchiehall pleading for redemption, MV downed banjo and retrieved his electric guitar while MF passed the lap steel guitar back to EE and returned to his bass. As the tumultuous wet signal spiralled around them like the fictional Cahulawassee River, the group paused for breath before choosing their moment to set in motion a breathtaking piece of folk music that coalesced with the gradually subsiding rapids and ensured that the evening ended on a transcendental note.
Dan Dizette on Ted Milton and Sam Britton, Nice ’n’ Sleazy, Glasgow
Surrealist punk-poet and visionary avant-saxophonist, Ted Milton, continued his fruitful collaboration with electronic experimentalist, Sam Britton, in the intimate environs of Glasgow’s Nice ’n’ Sleazy this spring. Bearing in mind that the duo had previously punctured the austerity of such contrived cultural Meccas as the clinically corporate Cartier Foundation in Paris, this incarnation of their magnum opus, Odes, in a sleazy-by-nature basement on Glasgow’s infamously debauched Sauchiehall Street was sure to enthral.
While Milton is known as the driving force behind cult jazz-punk agitators, Blurt, and Britton forms one half of the dynamic IDM outfit, Icarus, this collaboration promised much in its own right. Initially framed as ‘a new show that groups Ted Milton’s various solo-recordings and collaborations outside of Blurt’, Odes has developed into a reflexive creative process in which Britton appears to osmotically absorb his counterpart’s otherworld vitality before digitally reprocessing it. In turn, Milton convulsively embodies the sound-architect’s angular strain of jazz-hop before unceremoniously spitting it out in a spree of free-association vocalisations and alto sax spurts.
While Britton – smart-casual by night and evidently deeply committed to forging new musical horizons by day – wouldn’t know cool if he was a Charlie Parker horn solo, Milton dons a classic grey suit so sharp its collar may well have shorn his ultra-short-back-and-sides in the dressing room earlier. Incidentally, the coroner who examined the heroin-riddled 34-year-old body of Charles Parker Jr., in New York in March 1955, concluded that the legendary hipster had endured fifty to sixty years on this mortal coil. By physical contrast, in April 2012, a 68-year-old Ted Milton encapsulated the soul of a young man living, acting in, and relentlessly transforming, the vital and infinite moment. To witness the underground cultural icon with slicked-back mohican taking time out from an absurdist guttural haemorrhage to swig from what appeared to be a half bottle of downtrodden Glasgow’s favourite tonic wine and jive to abstract electronica was exhilarating.
Beyond such existentialist diversions, the at-times incongruous and utterly compelling collision of disparate musical, stylistic and generational characteristics was ultimately framed by a holistic structural consistency and nuanced interplay that ensured the collaboration’s reception as a complex, dialectical compositional process, which produced magical effects rather than merely a speculative postmodern juxtaposition.
More specifically, this framework permitted Britton to construct partially pre-determined electronic tapestries, building layer upon layer of increasingly complex rhythms, before receiving the nod from Milton to break things down and create space for an interlude of saxophone flourishes and echo-laden vocal torrents which were, in turn, fed back into Britton’s digital cauldron and played out to their (il)logical conclusion in a crescendo of jarring noise, residual saxophonic bleats and a finale of blurted confessional. Towards the cataclysmic conclusion of several such set pieces, dry and wet signals collided intriguingly, but perhaps unexpectedly from the perspective of Milton, whose face contorted wickedly before morphing, upon the stroke of silence, into a wide grin aimed at his knowing conspirator.
In fact, this smile accompanied not silence but the buzz of a loose earth wire or suchlike. The persistent hum, undoubtedly unintentional, nevertheless sparked the whimsical notion that the venue itself was suffering from tinnitus, this latest sonic assault striking a raw nerve in an architectonic memory slowly coming to terms with a new generation of lo-fi analogue beatniks who would give their left ear to cultivate such irritating electromagnetic interference.
As the duo’s ultimate crescendo began to make way for said drone, Milton downed his sax and the dregs of his Buckfast and, while interpreting the final stretches of a dwindling feedback loop through the medium of dance, circumnavigated a batch of intertwined leads on the compact stage, meandered out into the crowd, performing a solitary tango with a stanchion and then suddenly vanished before materialising at the bar five minutes later alongside his accomplice and a couple of pints of heavy, just in time to witness the opening song of an unlikely prog-metal band which, regardless of stand-alone merits or otherwise, was as in-keeping with proceedings as the proverbial lecture by a geography teacher at a drum ’n’ bass convention.
23 March 2012
Dan Dizette on Hype Williams, Studio Warehouse (SWG3), Glasgow
If something is excruciating after two minutes, try it for four. If still excruciating, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not excruciating at all.
Unattributed bastardisation of the words of John Cage (1961), 2012
The opening two, four or eight minutes of Hype Williams’ recent performance in Glasgow induced in those present the sensation of being collectively injected with horse tranquiliser, dragged through a hedge backwards by a reincarnation of the late Richard Hamilton’s scantily clad bodybuilder and buried in a shallow grave under the first fence at Aintree accompanied only by a strobe light, smoke machine and replica of Ron Hardy’s Music Box sound system incessantly emitting a fractalised sample of the protracted moment during a misremembered Grand National of the early ’80s at which three dozen or so geldings descended upon that very piece of turf.
Short of being plucked from the earth three weeks prematurely by an over-zealous resurrectionist, concealed by the customary veterinary tent and then shot in the head, the proceeding sixteen, thirty-two or sixty-four minutes in a Shoreditchified former bonded warehouse on the banks of the Clyde was sure to offer much.
Indeed, first one then the other half of the duo emerged from behind both a dense cloud of glycolic fog and a human shield in the form of a strategically placed bodybuilder whose function, on previous outings, had been ably performed by a set of bed sheets. As darts of echo-laden female vocals began to penetrate the throbbing sonic gristle, so too the peak of Inga Copeland’s baseball cap pierced the synthetic river-top smog pumped (perhaps manually by enthusiastic interns), gas-chamber-like, through the warehouse vents from the depths of a bespoke reservoir-cum-installation conceived by an uncredited artist, Clyde-constructed by ghosts of the shipbuilding fraternity and later to be patented by parochial internationalist technocrats.
While the Duracell-powered muscleman continued to strut his cumbersome stuff like a majestic stroke victim at a body combat class, the triple stripe of Dean Blunt’s tracky bottoms materialised stage-right, followed by Blunt himself, hot-desking with a meaty but compact array of hardware integral to the itinerant creative labourer’s delivery of just-in-time sonic solutions. As Blunt waded deeper into ground control duties, Copeland introduced hand percussion on top of extended vocal meanderings, and abject noise started to meld in and out of a dub-inflected form of disjunctive and hazy slacker wave, provoking a collective desire to get choong and look at the sky.