Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Sounds of the Underground: A Cultural, Political and Aesthetic Mapping of Underground and Fringe Music - Stephen Graham
University of Michigan Press
So there is an underground then? I’m sorry I was all confused. This mainly due to a piece written by David Keenan in 2014 entitled ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ in which he defiantly stated that the underground is no more and if people don’t get up from behind their table full of gadgets and start jumping around there’s going to be nothing worth writing about. He even asked Thurston Moore if the underground was dead and he said ‘yup’ or something similar, before adding prophetically ‘but something will come along, it usually does’. So there is hope. Rest easy now.
In an early chapter of Stephen Graham’s studious and at times stimulating book he asks the question ‘what exactly is the underground?’ before coming to the conclusion that its a bit of vague term that's hard to pin down. There’s a diagram that shows it existing slap bang in the middle of a ‘fringe’ buttered sandwich with popular music and contemporary composition as the crusts.So that's where it is but If there isn’t an underground does that mean that everything else is overground? Its all a matter of how deep you dig I suppose. I work with people who’ve never heard of Neil Young and think Bruce Springsteen only ever recorded the one song you hear on Radio 2 everyday [Dancing in the Dark obvs]. For them Throbbing Gristle would be a difficult concept to get their heads around but in 2016 you can be never be further than a few clicks away from something that's just been created on the desktop studio on the other side of the world by someone whose just heard Whitehouse for the first time and has decided to form their own solo project and after several days of experimentation with some software they downloaded for free, has a release that's ready to go. But they’re not jumping around to it. So maybe that's not the underground at all? If you upload that work to Bandcamp or Soundcloud or your Facebook page and wait for someone to rate it is that the underground? Or do you have to play some gigs and jump around and get to know some people and network and hand out some homemade cassettes first? If you’re part of a small nexus of creative minds who meet up once a month in a small gallery in London to play improv are you the underground? Or does the underground cease to exist once music critics become tired of writing about it or waiting for something new to happen? You see, its a tricky one.
Graham’s book is divided into three parts: ‘What is the Underground?’, ‘The Political and Cultural Underground’ and ‘Listening to the Underground’ with each section further divided into sub-sections covering topics such as ‘The Politics of Underground Music and Noise’. ‘The Digital Economy and Labels’, ‘Artists and Music, Improv and Noise’, ‘Festivals and Venues’, ‘Noise as Concept, History, and Scene’ before ending with, rather oddly I thought, a chapter on ‘Extreme Metal’.
As you’d expect from someone who is Lecturer of Music at Goldsmiths University London the language Graham uses isn’t of the kind you’ll hear at your local noise gig which for someone brought up on Bukowski can make for heavy going. But then Graham is no Lester Bangs but then this is no Carburetor Dung. This is a serious study and as such uses the kind of language more likely to be found in the lecture hall than the upstairs room of The Fenton. Hence ‘anintermediated’; a term Graham introduces to describe the lack of boundaries inherent in the underground as opposed to the more inherent ‘disintermediation’ that prevails in the mainstream where major record labels and the media do their bit to shape and channel consumer taste. I can get my head around that one but ‘esemplastic nominal improv’ I had more trouble with. Of course there were others but on I merrily went.
Good sense is written though and not all of it needs a dictionary. I like what Graham has to say about the magical quality of lo-fi recordings, the contradiction that lies at the heart of those who take the funding cheque but rail against capitalism, the importance of the Los Angeles Free Music Society. I found myself disagreeing rarely but we were bound to fall out at some time. This happens when he falls into the same trap as the oft quoted Paul Hegarty, the man whose virtually unreadable ‘Noise/ Music: A History’ has Phillip Best down as Pete. Graham commits a similar noise crime by referencing The New Blockaders throughout with the lower case definitive article thus denuding them of their powerful TNB acronym and their true nomenclature. It may seem a small point but its a telling one. When writing about noise artists who are ‘forced to take day jobs’ to fund their work Toshiji Mikawa and Fumio Kosakai of Incapacitants are mentioned, both of whom are well known salary men, both of whom I have no doubt see what they do within the Incapacitants framework as vitally important to their creative wellbeing but nevertheless something that will never take the place of their day jobs. After seeing em live I doubt they could repeat what they do every night in a regular gigging band kind of way anyway. Not every noise artist suffers hours of toil to fund their label/project/gig cycle.
There are interviews with improvisers, noise artists and organisers, people like Steve Beresford, Vicky Langan and the man behind Colour Out of Space Michael Sippings. Carlos Giffoni relates how he organised the first New York No Fun Fest with just a couple of credit cards, all while holding down a day job. Mattin features heavily and at its end you know that Graham has indeed gone to the gigs and got his ears blasted and got his hands dirty at the merch stall. He is a fan and is work is readable but this a mere scratching of the surface of the thing that is the underground. A study of all underground musics would no doubt end up being a lifetimes work.
Of the books I’ve read regarding the underground and noise music in particular Hegarty’s aforementioned tome and David Novak’s Japanoise, Graham’s ‘Sounds of the Underground’ makes the most sense. Until somebody comes up with something better this looks like being the definitive work as we stand at the fag end of 2016. Now for the really bad news; it don’t come cheap. Readers of a nervous disposition may want to look away now - £53 via Amazon for the hardback and £50 for the ebook [other outlets are available of course]. At those kind of prices this is a book destined only for the hands of the most deeply committed. If anybody wants to borrow of my copy drop me a line.
After making my way through to the very end of this book one sentence stood out and its this one; ‘A final point to note here is that overreading is certainly a real danger in writing about this music; let me just note that, in many cases, noise simply provides listeners with pleasing aesthetic experiences’. As a fan of the odd noise release I couldn’t agree more.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Neck VS Throat Volume 3
I’m afraid I wont be able to make it to this weekends Tusk fest in Gateshead. As much as I enjoy visiting the North East it was after much thought and consideration that I decided Brighton and Colour Out of Space was my weekend festival of choice for 2016. A tough decision I know: the friendly, intimate warmth of the Geordie welcome versus the knit your own hummus, five pound pints of beer south coast. But then rare outings from Romanian avant-garde heavyweights Dumitrescu & Avram and splatter noise junkists Olympic Shitman made the decision for me. A tough call but there you go.
I’ll be missing the first visit to these shores of the Mexican guitarist and RFM idol Miguel Perez who along with Yol [or YOL, I never know which] make up the occasional long distant duo Neck vs Throat. This is their third release and the first to see the line up expand and take in North East-er Dictaphonist par excellence Posset and Pascal Nichols who gets to sit in on drums for one track. I dare say that at some stage [or on some stage] this weekend there’ll be some kind of Neck vs Throat session.
Posset’s presence certainly fills out the sound with spool swirls and pause/plays getting it on with Perez’s dirty, lo-fi background Bailey-esque scribble but its hard to shift Yol from his stand out prominent position even if this release doesn’t carry as much metal scrape and metal on metal clanging as previous Yol outings. On ‘Expensive Taps’ he retches his way through ‘buying expensive taps stops police brutality’ delivering his exasperated lines like someone tired of explaining themselves to a roomful of murderous people. Its the juxtaposition of the sometimes banal lyrics coupled to the extreme delivery [needing virtually nothing in the way of profanity or crudity for emphasis] that still manages to startle. On ‘One of Your Five a Day’ his delivery is like that of a dying vampire with Perez’s guitar and Posset’s tape squirts complementing each other like a squeaky leather shoe and an awkward shopping trolley. Perez does his best improv scratch bit on ‘Slow Hand Clapping’ whilst on ‘Gather’ there’s a much fuller improv feel thanks to Pascal Nichol’s drumming while Yol’s lyrics give way to the sound of strangulation.
An argument could be made for Yol doing his bit within improv circles; a more fearsome Phil Minton, a wilder Trevor Wishart and I’ve not even mentioned his junk metal abuse which for the most part here has taken a back seat but could quite easily fit within a more traditional improv set up. Likewise Perez and Posset.
The most startling appearance is ‘Sunny Day’. A track that is unlikely to trouble the playlist selectors on Radio 2 but the nearest thing we’ll get to Yol actually singing. Hearing Yol almost sing ‘its such a sunny day we shouldn’t be arguing inside’ in such a demented style is both funny, unsettling and a dichotomous. And I don’t get to say that very often. In fact there may be cause to celebrate Yol’s lyrics, perhaps in a small samizdat publication where ‘its such a sunny day we shouldn’t be arguing inside’ can join ‘The lamp post is full of rats, that explains the squeaking’ and others of a similar vibrant ilk.
Comes in a three panel fold out card sleeve with Yol’s distinctive cut out graphics. If you see one in Newcastle, buy it.
neck vs throat bandcamp
Monday, October 10, 2016
Where to start with this one? Described as an ‘Anglo/German occult radish ritual cinematic noise record designed to fill a gap in the music market’ by the man behind Noisferatu [as seen in one of his amusing self promoting Youtube videos] this record comes with a little sachet containing thirteen radish seeds and virtually no other information bar the artists names and track titles. So ‘Anglo/German occult radish ritual cinematic noise’ it is.
Noisferatu is Carl from the south coast of England who likes radishes and has collaborated with Simon Morris on the projects Ceramic Nose and Basic Concept both of which involve Morris talking/singing stream of consciousness lyrics whilst Carl [sorry, I forgot your surname] makes some noises with beats in them. Carl [sorry I forgot your surname] also ‘vlogs’ on Youtube under the moniker ‘dullbedsitblogger’ and makes some highly watchable and very well made videos some of which show Noisferatu in the live situation playing as an expanded three piece with lady dancers, everybody dressed in black, wearing masks and throwing radishes in to the audience. This is also the first release to come this way that has its own promotional video as made by Carl [sorry I forgot your surname] adopting the persona of Humphrey Pobison who, with ridiculous false mustache attached, tells us all in glorious posh tones about this up and coming new release. Which, as you will have already gathered, has lots to do with radishes. At least on one side. Why the radishes? You’ll have to ask Carl.
The two tracks on the Noisferatu side are called ‘Radish Trinity’ and ‘Thee Radish Invocation’. On which you get the feeling that this really is an occult radish ritual cinematic noise record. Except its not that noisy, more ambient really with moaning, singing, chanting and the deep sonorous dong of a distant church bell. Things sort of swirl around a bit and a speeded up voice can be heard saying ‘All hail the radish’ in an attempt to create some kind of unsettling atmosphere. The lonesome call of Curlews adds to the eerie feel of things.
Question is, why all the radish? If this came with Dennis Wheatley name-checks, naked ladies laid inside floor chalked pentagrams, people in hooded cloaks, candles, goat skulls etc, etc, you could have a seriously good occult soundtrack, instead we have people singing abut radishes which may seem like the funniest thing since bouncing jelly but left me scratching my head somewhat. That’s Anglo/German occult radish ritual cinematic noise for you I suppose.
Maybe Fjørd can enlighten us? Their side long track ‘The Manifest’ is a mixture of droning Black Metal guitars, drum and bass samples, dark ambience and speeded up tapes, a bit like a more experimental Godflesh I suppose. And very good it is too, even though I rarely listen to such things and don’t have much to compare it to. No sign of any radishes though. No sign of any contact info either. I can’t even tell you what label its on. I do have some radish seeds though.
Noisferatu: noisferatuhailtheeradish [at] gmail.com
Fjørd: antidotrecords [at] googlemail.com
Thursday, October 06, 2016
Acrid Lactations & ‘Jointhee’ - Chest
Tutore Burlato 10. Cassette.
I’ve been reading this new book by Stephen Graham called ‘Sounds of the Underground’ and in it I came across the term ‘esemplastic laminal improv’ which meant absolutely nothing to me. Then I wondered if the term could be used to describe what Acrid Lactations & ‘Jointhee’ create because whatever it is they do it defies categorisation and I kind of like the sound of ‘esemplastic laminal improv’ even if I don’t know what it means.
For the uninitiated Joincey [or in this instance ‘Jointhee’] is the peripatetic originator of a multitude of solo projects and the member of more bands that if printed here, would make this paragraph seriously unmanageable. I saw him on Saturday at the Tor Fest, clean shaven for once which kind of threw me and asking where the chips had come from. His singing voice has a flat vaguely northern property to it which can at times ascend into a highly recognisable wavering warble. That's when he is singing because the way he does sing is really talking. On one of the tracks here he starts off by singing ‘Imagine Morrissey singing this’ and I do but not for long because I’d much rather have Joincey singing it.
Acrid Lactations are Stuart Arnot and Susan Fitzpatrick who when this was recorded lived in Glasgow but have seen sense and have now moved to York [I saw Stuart on Saturday too but only fleetingly and feel compelled to use this opportunity to apologise to him here for not tracking him down and asking him how he was] and who one day had Joincey turn up whereupon they made some tea and recorded some songs. Twelve of them. Each one having a different resonance each of them giving me that esemplastic laminal improv feel.
Whilst listening I wrote: the Stokie Shaman, gut ache improv, Sun Ra skronk, stories told by someone pretending to be a witch, silence, taut Hitchcock-ian soundtracks, spoken word question and answer sessions, running water, people talking in deliberately affected voices as puppies whine in the background, sax honk and Moroccan snake charmer capstan abuse. The songs are all written by Joincey and appear to be either stream of consciousness observations or random thoughts. Whether these lyrics were then improvised upon or are actual compositions is where esemplastic laminal improv comes in for in truth I haven’t got a clue. Vocal duties aren’t all Joincey’s domain either with Arnot’s Scottish brogue coming through on a foreboding track which sounds like he’s recounting a ghost story in a scary voice to a room full of terrified infants as a wheezing two chord keyboard refrain huffs in the background. Strings are scratched as Fitzpatrick [maybe or maybe even Joincey] goes all falsetto. One track lasts for about three seconds.
It matters not what you call it though. These twelve songs are all highly singular and timeless creations that emerged from a room in Glasgow, where once upon a time someone knocked on a door and tea was made and music was made. All making for some rather extraordinary and solidly unclassifiable music.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Chris Goudreau - Ultranegative
Elm Recordings. RLM-11
C40 100 copies.
Chris Goudreau - Odd Monsters
Kitty Play Records. KPR23
C24 100 copies.
SELF/OMEI - It Never Ends Well
Circle of Shit. C.O.S.28
2 x C34, 5 x business cards, 1” button badge, sew on patch & sticker in hessian bag.
I don’t suppose its easy being a noise artist. With very few exceptions making a living from it is virtually impossible and even if you’re Mr. Shit Hot shifting those units is a hard work. Release something new every month and even your most ardent fans become jaded, release something once a year and you’re hardly doing your profile any favours. Gigging involves lots of travel and plenty of discomfort with little in the way of recompense and there’s always the possibility that putting your equipment on the airline check-in scale could be the last you ever see of it. And then mixer guy starts pulling faces because he thinks its too loud and the turnout’s in the low twenties.
At a gig in Birmingham I once saw Chris Goudreau take to the stage, outside, in November at around one in the morning to perform before a small group of mainly drunk people who by that time would have struggled to notice the difference between Whitehouse and Sparks. For this he had traveled on a transatlantic flight, with all his equipment and all the hassle that comes with trailing through airports for approximately ten minutes of noise making. That those ten minutes were of the highest quality was no doubt lost on that small group of inebriated merry makers but for those who had braved the cold and had managed to stay clear of the John Barleycorn the results were nothing short of visceral bliss. To his credit Goudreau did his duty with the utmost magnanimity and where others might have stomped about complaining about their being brown M&M’s in the bowl or the lack of fluffy white bath towels in the dressing room, he just got on with it. Even though he’d traveled thousands of miles, even though it was bollock freezing, even though the crowd had dwindled to the drunks and the intrigued and those few who knew they were in for a rare treat.
Its why I’ve always had a lot of time for what Goudreau creates. He takes what he does seriously. He’s a serious noise artists. He’s seriously good too. First with Sickness, a solo noise project that saw him explore the frailties of health and later with his side project Omei where he gets to explore the quieter side of things. Like other noise artists before him Goudreau has now begun to release music under his own name and like other noise artists before him this has resulted in a maturing of output. Out go the full blown noise sets and in comes a more measured, less frenetic response.
The two live tracks on Odd Monsters, both clocking in at around eleven minutes, are Goudreau in hunched over modular synth mode creating a juddering sequence of juxtaposed growls, pops, stops, starts, sustained drones, snatched samples of panicked conversation, message dings and with it wild fluctuations in volume that make you wonder if the next three seconds are either Contemporary Composition or the full blown roar of a noise artist getting in to the swing of it. Brevity plays its part and its to Goudreau’s credit that he can pack such a considerable punch in such a brief space of time. Oblique and somewhat troubling liner notes lead me to believe that this is the break off release for Goudreau and that his future lies more in this direction and less in that of Sickness.
The title track on Ultranegative carries on in the same vein with plenty of glass being chewed between back molars for that full on granular feeling whilst its neighbour ‘After Image’ contains as much silence as noise. On the flip we find ‘Piano Sonata For The Untalented’ and a side long noise drone feedback work which I struggled to fully engage with. The troughs and peaks it goes through work fine enough appeared at times to be meandering and in need of sharper focus.
Anyone who’s ever been to a Goudreau/Sickness show will no doubt have bumped into [quite literary] John Balistreri. With his nihilistic Power Electronics project Slogun he’s as often as not down the front reveling in the fact that there’s a small crowd of people intent on knocking the shit out of each other and whoever happens to be standing within in elbows reach. It comes as some surprise then to discover Balistreri has a side project called SELF that delivers the kind of ultimate muscle relaxant ambience that you thought only Brian Eno was capable of.
‘It Never Ends Well’ really has been a revelation of a release with both artists delivering two sides of pure ambient drone bliss. SELF with a looping two chord wheeze through which are scattered the echoes of cars passing through tunnels and then a lo-fi drone roar with machine hum, the clanging of elevator cables, a heavy smoker struggling for breath, distant conversations and a send off that appears at the sound of solemnly struck plague bell, OMEI with two slowly moving, cycling drones and a steel mill forge hammer for balance. A truly haunting and beautiful release.
Those five business cards give further clues as to the direction these two are working towards here; images of self harm, blood from cuts and photographs of peeling and torn bill posters and decay as taken by Balistreri. These releases go deep but that makes getting lost in them all the more pleasurable.
Slogun/Circle of Shit
Saturday, September 24, 2016
People - And The Horses Rode In On Us.
The Blues ‘Sings The Blues’ Vol 15
There’s an inbox on this computer where emails from labels go to die. There must be hundreds in there now. I dare hardly look. Persistent offenders get a sarky email directed at them and after that it usually goes quiet. I had one a while back from a label based in Brooklyn and they wanted me to hear about how great their new singer was and she’s just written a song about a submarine and how she loves it and out of sheer curiosity I bit my lip and went for it and guess what? Total shite.
Rarer is the jiffy bag that arrives unannounced. Rarer still is the jiffy bag that arrives from America with two tapes in it and no contact info what-so-ever. A return address on said jiffy bag looked like it was written in a hurry by a dyslexic five year old with a crayon so you have to resort to the internet and that gives us the label ‘Nooth Hing’ straight outta Austin Texas. You see how much more interesting that is folks? Its like giving a restaurant reviewer a menu full of scarce offal cuts.
With nothing to go on your perceptions are primarily based on what you see. This time around a hand drawn j-card insert and a cassette [outer and inner] thats been sprayed with some kind of textured paint. They could contain anything. There is no press release. Harsh noise? Tape loop experiments? The silence between all the words spoken by Donald Trump at one his conventions? The sounds of various motor car engines put through free download software that turns them into the voices as heard in the films of Ingmar Bergann?
People is none of those. People is Lew Houston and Max Nordile singing songs of the most basic and roughest hewn nature. Songs so raw and improvised they make Hasil Hadkins sound like Prince. One songs sounds like a two man chain gang with Houston and Nordile singing along to the sound of a shovel hitting the dirt. Out of tune stringed instruments are hit and hammered, bridge strings are plucked, a song called Water Skeeter has the pair singing ‘we love water skeeters’ and nothing else. Kitchenware storage units become timpani, strings are wound up and down, glass bottles are hit with pencils. Think stream of consciousness outpourings by the North of England’s Joincey crossed with the sheer oddness of America’s Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble. First track is a riotous lo-fi acoustic strummed, drummed thraped, rattle shaking shamanic anthem that wails out on the back of a badly blown flute and someone whistling the theme tune to Bonanza. Little Baby Birdie lasts for a minute and has the pair of them singing ‘Little bitty birdy looking at me’ to the sound of empty bottles being rhythmically hit, Log of Hollowness is them singing to the sound of dry leaves being walked on. Bonus points are earned for this all arriving over the top of what sounds like a John Coltrane tape with jazz leaking around the edges at beginning, end and various moments in-between.
The Blues ‘Sings The Blues’ Vol 15 has seven tracks of guitar/alto sax/percussion improv all called ‘Goulash’, each given a number and tracked in seemingly random order. This being the work of Marrisa/Max and apart from that I can tell you little else for not even the omnipresent might of Google can track them down. Is it any good? I can barely tell. I’m no fan of such things and find the random hitting, wailing and pummeling of such instruments about as much fun as having my balls shaved by a blind leper. Its a racket isn’t it? The sounds I mean. But still far more welcome than a link laden email.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
See You Next Tuesday?
Issue 1. A4 zine + CD. 100 copies.
See You Next Tuesday? [an oblique way of saying something rude in case you haven’t twigged] is a noise based zine from the mighty North East of England that is made by people who live there and concentrates in the main on the people who make noises there. Like all good zines it looks like it appeared in the aftermath of an eight hour drink binge with pages appearing upside down and sideways on and with the text disappearing into the background images. All good zine tropes and to be admired. It’s rushed together-ness became even more apparent about a week after it arrived when I received an email from one of its creators containing a missing page that was a flyer for a TNB gig. Word has it that there will be four issues and then no more. Get em while you can.
The accompanying CD by The Black Unknown does not, as I was wholeheartedly expecting, contain an hours worth of noise but has instead but three minutes of an audio verite bedtime conversation between a North East woman wanting a goodnight kiss from her North East husband before she turns off the bedside light:
‘Gwan pet give is us a kiss’
[mumbling, agitated and clearly in no mood for such things] JUST LERRUS GERRA SLEEP ... FER FUCK SAKE WOMAN!
[quietly pleading] Just gi’ us a kiss goodnight ...
[tired, exasperated] I WANNA GO TO FUCKING SLEEP!
Why wont ya gi’ us a kiss?
OH FER FUCKS SAKE!! FUCKING SHURRUP WILLYA ...
I could be paraphrasing some of the above or it could be the script to a Viz column, either way I found it far more entertaining than an hours worth of noise. After inserting the disc into my media player the online database gave me numerous options for a title, none of them being The Black Unknown: ‘The bittersweet allure of lovesickness when considered as an intimate liason [sic], or a close proximity, with quantum time’ but it did give me ‘Cockeyed Rabbit in Plastic’ by a band named SLUG and that's the one I chose.
Since See You Next Tuesday? concentrates mainly on whats happening and whats already happened in the North East there are plenty of mentions for The New Blockaders and in particular those now legendary early 80’s gigs at Newcastle’s Morden Towers. In floating text boxes various comments are given by those who were there and those who weren’t but wished they were. How much of this has appeared before I know not [some quotes from issue 1 of ALAP are reprinted] but either way the trivia is fascinating. As is the claim that Richard Rupenus was spotted in TK Maxx, a claim disputed by Rupenus which makes me wonder how much of this is being made up and how much is real. The addition of many rare TNB gig posters and flyers will no doubt see a few issues making their way towards Japan and America.
There’s a drunken interview with Lee Culver, some dodgy handwritten poetry by Arthur Pellower [lead singer with the band Xtreme], something on the importance of 'dictaphone music’ by Linda Pine, a plug for a fillum about Blyth [no ‘e’], interviews with PE/Noise/experimenters Depletion, Wrest, Wasp Bomb and The New Movement. There’s also some interesting, nerdy, noise trivia regarding early TNB live cassettes and their live releases in general. Other delights include a classified section, where there’s a Hoover going for £40 and a review section of sorts where Lee Stokoe gets to say ‘Its fucking great!’
One of the best zines I’ve seen in years. Long live the North East.
[I'd put more images in but the scanner doesnt work after an upgrade. Sorry]
Contact: thinkpinkfairies [at] aol.com