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Archive for October, 2004

Wow

Posted: October 8th, 2004, by Chris Summerlin

Yes, it is just gone 9am and I am on the internet. A usual day at work you’d think but NO the fuckers monitored my internet usage and I got fired. Damn. Not even a lecture, just “Give me your pass, get out”. Been there 8 months too, such is the life of the temporary worker.

So, record labels, if you’ve been thinking of giving me a massive sack of money but have held off because you didn’t want to break my cozy life then NOW IS THE TIME. I WANT TO SELL OUT. RIGHT NOW.

Highpoint Lowlife

Posted: October 7th, 2004, by Stuart Fowkes

Discovered a couple of records from the rather lovely Highpoint Lowlife rekkid label in the new music box (unlocked once a day at precisely midnight, releasing new musical treats into the world), the first of which is the debut album from DoF, If More Than Twenty People Laughed It Wasn’t Funny, the work of one Brian Hulick. Opener’A Path Lights This Way’ is all acoustic guitar plucking rubbing up against tricky beats, mechanical whirring and dancing robots, as if Smog and Aphex Twin were doing a live set at opposite ends of the same room. Initially, it’s an arresting formula: a monochrome, frantic take on the bucolic breakbeats of Four Tet. Yeah! Squarepusher goes folk! Ace! But then track two is all acoustic guitar plucking rubbing up against tricky beats, mechanical whirring and dancing robots, as if Smog and Aphex Twin were doing a live set at opposite ends of the same room. And track three…

And therein lies the problem – there’s not enough going on, in terms of track structure or variety of ideas to sustain an album. An acoustic guitar or piano melody generally kicks things off, accompanied by the odd spatter of spilt drums, and built up until the beats subsume everything else and the track becomes more about rhythm than melody. In fact, it’s the record’s shortest track, ‘Conformity To Fact’ that gets me most excited: swoops of keyboard taken straight from the set of Alien drown themselves in the drum patterns, and there’s a welcome break from mimsy acoustic guitar. Final track ‘Heartbeats of Fireflies Among the Stars’ is the most satisfying interpretation of the DoF sound, with a melody that resonates throughout, and sounds like a DHR remix of something by Neotropic or Capitol K.

In small doses, then, this is excellent, but each piece builds and drops in pretty much the same way, and with half of the album’s track topping six minutes, the record’s not without periods of longueur. And, although really well put together in their own right, the beats seem to sit over the top of the guitar and piano melody with apparently little regard or thought for what the other is doing, as if they’ve been crossfaded by a malevolent DJ over the top of some pleasant but inconsequential instrumental folk.

Some more variety in instrumentation might also help things: as it stands, there’s potential for a fine individual take on Venetian Snares-meets-Aerial M, but an unwillingness to veer away from an imperfect template means I’ll be getting my folktronic kicks elsewhere for now…

More: Highpoint Lowlife

DoF

Tarantula

Posted: October 6th, 2004, by Stuart Fowkes

Something of a neo-classical gypsy violin-stuffed treat today, from New York’s Tarantula, who stitch together elements of chamber orchestra and post-rock to create something really rather good. Opening track ‘Rail’ plucks its way in minimally enough, the doleful opening section enough to make me roll my eyes at the ostensible similarities between Tarantula and Tarentel, but it builds up triumphantly into something like what Rachel’s might sound like after forty cups of coffee and a spell living in travelling caravans. The mid-section has the feel of an instrumental version of something like ‘Cemetery Polka’ by Tom Waits, and really hits the mark where it combines traditional strings from the Romanian orphanage side of the tracks, with the bold, stomping bass ‘n’ drums undercarriage of something altogether more Western. Yer bog-standard post-rock-spotter’s-points instruments the glockenspiel and melodica pop up to pad the sound out from time to time, and occasionally the band lose their focus and drift into pleasant but in no way arresting bistro music, as in the first half of ‘Opening Theme’. On the whole, though, they’re most successful when hammering together the disparate elements of their lineup to create something that sounds like the soundtrack to some moody eastern European film, as played by Sophia or the Chicago Underground Duo. Good stuff.

More info: Tarantula website

Sennen

Posted: October 5th, 2004, by Stuart Fowkes

Someone broke into my car last night, so I awoke this morning to a letter from the police and a whole stack of glass all over my seats. Apparently some cretinous punter from the club round the corner smashed the window and tried to use the glass as a weapon to fight the police. But I digress – the net effect was to put me in a REALLY BAD MOOD, which makes me all the more intolerant towards crap demos. Fortunately for me, what should drop into the pile but the Collected Recordings 2003-4 from Sennen, in a pleasingly-minimal dark blue sleeve. Sennen mash up a pleasingly-wide range of influences, simultaneously pushing themselves further than most bands of their ilk manage to while not running away shrieking like girls from the idea of writing a ‘proper’ song. ‘Just Wanted to Know’, for instance, hooks itself around a two-line refrain delivered with more than a shade of Jason Spaceman’s laconic drawl, before lifting off into the kind of euphoric, mid-paced noise that Six By Seven made their own on their first record. An elegance a bit like wot Martin Carr’s best pop songs has done got marks out’I Knew a Girl’, a disarmingly effective Pop Hit that doesn’t outstay its welcome despite clocking in at two-and-a-half chart pop hits in length. In fact, most of the songs easily top five minutes, but they build well and offer no small reward for hearing them out.

On the down side, there’s a tendency for too many songs to amble along at the same pace, which given the length of the tracks does lend the disc as a whole a slightly lumbering feel in places. But there’s real composure and quality here as a whole, and what’s more, they’ve cheered me up. Nice one.

More info: Sennen

AUDIOSCOPE / Reviewing Penance

Posted: October 4th, 2004, by Stuart Fowkes

Well, AUDIOSCOPE‘s all over for another year, and Chris has summed up the flavour of the day better than I’m able to at the moment (give it a week or so, but by then it’ll be old news), so I won’t go into too many details – if anyone’s interested, there will be plenty of post-event chat here. Just to add to what Chris has said about Damo Suzuki – I’m sure everyone who meets him has the same impression, but he really is a remarkable man. For all he’s achieved and seen and all his travelling tales, he’s completely down-to-earth and egoless, willing to chat to anyone, and even pitching in on the Saturday with blowing up Shelter balloons and loading in stuff to the venue. What a hero.

Anyway, to the point – it occurs to me that with organising one thing and another, I’ve been rather neglecting my duties of listening to new bands and offering up some regular thoughts on here, so I’ve undertaken a MONTH OF REVIEWING PENANCE, starting today. I’ll be reviewing AT LEAST ONE record from some new band, somewhere in the world, every day this month. And if I don’t, I’ll be flagellated and forced to listen to bad funk rock.

So yeah, let’s kick things off with a double helping.

First up are a very seriously named band from Utrecht called We Vs. Death, who don’t do things by halves: we have badges (one reading ‘WE VS.’ and the other, in an ultimate rock’n’ roll stylee, emblazoned ‘DEATH’), stickers, and the CD, Postneoliberalise, comes wrapped in an intricately-folded black ‘n’ white sleeve that I just know I’m never going to get back together and I’m gonna have to dump with all the unfolded road maps in our spare room. But anyway, onto the music, and blow me down if this isn’t a little instrumental post-rockin’ treat. Now I’m getting as sick as the next man of instrumental post-rock, but this is pretty neatly put together – there’s oodles of trumpet all over the first track ‘My Dog Is Watching Me’, and pretty flourishes give way to crunching chord progressions that remind me almost to a frightening degree of Oxford’s Stravinsky-meets-Tortoise heroes The Rock of Travolta. Strings and the effortless-yet-studied feel of a Dianogah track punctuate ‘City Council Cosmos’, which pootles along for eight minutes with a great deal of dignity, if not too much in the way of development of musical themes. It’s all earnest, heads-down post-rock, but it’s the jaunty-meets-spiky splashes of colour and cracking dynamics on the opening track that steer this more in the direction of interesting and individual, rather than soundscaping by numbers.

And so onto a two-track demo so home-made it was probably recorded in one of the demo bedrooms at B & Q, but then that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Go! Team! Go! Sounds like they should all be Manga characters with massive boggling eyes and comedy oversized instruments, and it’s a few minutes of woogling keyboards, play-fighting and yelping vocals. The first track sounds like The Capricorns gatecrashing Kim Gordon’s eighth birthday party, the highlight coming when a big, enthusiastic wave of feedback breaks down into a playground chant. It’s toy keyboards thrown out of prams, thrown together with relentless enthusiasm: rough around the edges and sometimes overly keen to get to where it’s going, but at the same time a thrilling listen and enough to make ’em a prospect well worth keeping your eyes on.

We Vs. Death

Go! Team! Go! (e-mail rmanber@aol.com)

Audioscope

Posted: October 3rd, 2004, by Chris Summerlin

Yesterday I got to play guitar for Damo Suzuki as part of his Network for the 2nd time at the Audioscope Festival in Oxford. I think this in itself sets up the day as being fairly weird but the day was just that. Weird. In post-gig-comedown-stroke-depression-at-going-back-to-work-coupled-with-boredom I thought I would write about what it was like.

When Damo recorded “Mother Sky” with Can I was minus 7 years old. Playing with him is a huge headfuck for that reason alone. The other colossal reason that doing this fries your brain is that it is totally spontaneous and unplanned. You literally get up there and play. Damo does this night in and night out as part of his “Never Ending Tour” where he goes around the world hooking up with groups of musicians to improvise with. When he booked his Nottingham show the promoter Anton got in touch and forwarded an email from Damo outlining what would be required by his band for the evening. I think it was along the lines of being “sound carriers” prepared to engage in “Metaphysical Transfer”. That Anton thought I would be the man to ask is something I am eternally grateful to him for.

So I got in touch with as many people as I thought would be into this that I knew and we ended up with Neil from Bilge Pump, Elvis from Twinkie on drums together with Phil, Neil and myself from Wolves Of Greece.

We went and had a get together the weekend before the Nottingham gig and just worked out what sounds we wanted to use but mainly we just jammed a bit and chatted. We couldn’t preplan anything because I think Damo would have sussed us out and tripped us up if he could so we just tried to have fun and get comfy.

The gig itself was nuts. I think we all individually freaked out at soundcheck and had to take some sort of huge breather to calm down. We had lots of equipment problems when we got there so we were quite fraught when we met Damo out of his cab from the station. Soundcheck was a combination of normal boring muso shit like “Is my amp sounding good?” and “Can I have some more drums?” coupled to “FUCKING HELL I’M PLAYING WITH DAMO SUZUKI FROM CAN. AND HE SOUNDS JUST LIKE DAMO SUZUKI“.

Like he wouldn’t…

The gig was twice as crazy. Damo had found a willing co-conspirator in Elvis and had managed to get most of us fairly well stoned beforehand so there was much giggling and good humour before we went on which I was really thankful for as I was shitting it. We’d been out watching the support band earlier and had been speaking to some of the older local music fans we know and they had no idea we were playing and were actually quite surprised to see us there as though Damo and Can were out of our listening league let alone our playing league. So I was fairly nervous that I was not worthy.

Damo asked us beforehand if we had any plans for starting. We didn’t. He told us

“I will jump. When I am in air: SILENCE. When I land: SOUND”.

Which we all immediately forgot.

And then it was over. We got signalled we had 5 minutes left and I was like “Shit, we’ve only played 30 minutes”. In fact we played 75.

People seemed to dig it. One internet commentator expressed an opinion that we weren’t local and were blatantly his backing band and had rehearsed it all. I take that as a compliment. I thought it was OK after playing but listening back to the bootleg that Ian Scanlon made I am pretty chuffed.

So we got signed up to Audioscope as well which was yesterday. A soundcheck at 12 o clock meant leaving Nottingham at 8am to go via breakfast at Elvis’ in Derby. We drove round Oxford for ages looking for the Cowley Road and the Zodiac and cursing about Oxford in general.

We finally got there and Damo was already there so it was a case of getting the gear in and almost immediately running through a quick check minus Neil on drums as he was getting the train later. It was all really cool and relaxed and we hung out blowing up Shelter balloons and getting reacquainted with Damo before heading for food and some guitar shop browsing with Damo in tow. Sonic Youth were on the TV in one shop and Elvis asked him if he dug the Youth to which he replied that Thurston is a good friend of his. Eeek.

We got back to the Zodiac in time to see Sunnyvale Noise Sub Element who were very, very loud. My personal taste in music means I always like human drummers but then again my personal taste in music means I like anything thats very, very loud so SVNSE were a good way to kick things off.

The atmosphere was cool all day and we spent most of the day milling about munching on nibbles and drinking body temperature Carlsberg Export and chatting to the other bands.

The room backstage was rammed all day with people and equipment. I think for the 5 of us it was just different to be headlining something and to have this kind of atmosphere. It was fun. We’re all used to rushing to gigs, playing first and getting drunk. This was like a weekend excursion to the country, plenty of food and loads of time to spare.

All the bands were cool, Vibracathedral Orchestra stood out and they seemed like awesome people too. Ditto for The Telescopes who finished their set by drilling through an amplified electric guitar.

We decided to go for a stroll and ended up on the roof of the Zodiac at one point, the 5 of us and Damo sitting in plastic school chairs, staring at the night sky while Elvis ran around drumming on anything that would make a sound. Until we got kicked off by security that is as the roof is unsafe. Could have been a serious way to make an entrance.

Oxes really got the place going, it seemed like they were the natural headliners in terms of being a draw for people. This just served to make me more nervous and I’d been drinking since about 12 and it was now 10pm and was also entering into the cosmic mindset by being mashed out of my brain causing me to walk round and round in circles with my guitar case working out what the hell I was doing instead of setting my equipment up.

When I got round to this I was freaked by people snapping pictures of my pedals and hollering at Damo.

He pulled a surprise on us and jumped in the air when no one was looking apart from the drummers so our big, tight entrance was a mess of us all coming in at different times which doesn’t bode well seeings thats the only planned part of the set.

I don’t remember much about it except it was LOUD. My ears are ringing still, we were much more ROCK than in Nottingham. Elvis and Neil cooked up some insane rhythms that just fucked with my head and left me, Phil and Neil just hoping we could make sense out of them. It was like some Afrobeat polyrhythm thing and it killed my brain at times where I almost lost my balance. That may have been the Carlsberg, mind.

We listened to Queens Of The Stone Age, Mudhoney and Soundgarden on the way up in the car and every time I tried to play something subtle and cool it just came out like some Stooges rock riff. In the end I went with it and Damo seemed to dig the volume as he really wailed.

I’m not sure if people had te patience to be into 45 mins of improvised rock after such a long day but it was fun for me.

And then, immediately the day stopped being fun for an hour at least. We got bundled out into the street with our gear as the Zodiac had a club night on. Then a van with 12 police people in it pulled up. About 8 of them got out and with no real effort to understand why we were parked on double yellows (I’d have said me carrying a huge amp was their clue and the venue we were parked outside maybe?) they began shouting at us to move. I tried to ask where Gareth (our long suffering driver) and Elvis where there going to move to (you know, so I could actually FIND them and get home) and was told to “SHUT UP” by one particularly prickish copper. It seems in Oxford they have such an over subscription of applicants to the police force that they can go out of their way to hand select the most evil, inconsiderate, retarded fuckwits to make the grade.

But it worked out, we went back to Simon and Stuarts and had some more drinks with Damo and Marceline who runs some webzine or another and our mate Brum who’d come up from London.

Got in at 4am. Am knackered.

Had to share that with you so thanks.

What I wanted to say most of all is that we all had our doubts about the idea of doing these 2 improvised gigs. Damo’s attitude is if we communicate then it is a success and the people playing can truly transcend the band environment if they let themselves. Sounds like total hippy nonsense but he’s completely right, it was such uplifting fun. I want to do it again!