Monday, July 30, 2012

The Turnip Flag / The Tin Drum

The Turnip Flag: Selections from The Ceramic Hobs Magazine 1986-1988

A5 zine

I was trying to find some kind of clever link to bridge Gunter Grass’s book The Tin Drum and this here Ceramic Hobs fanzine; in the former a mentally unstable Danzig dwarf decides upon birth that he’ll stop growing at age three because he doesn’t care much for the adult world or his fathers offer of running the family vegetable shop. Covering thirty odd years of the protagonists life [from the 1920’s to the 1950’s - as recounted from the bed of his mental institution] Oskar Matzerath describes, in many picaresque scenes, the death of his mother and two fathers [one presumptive] the attack by the German army upon the Danzig Post Office, his love affairs, his attempts at religion and his joining of a dwarf troop of Nazis entertainers. The latter is the cut and paste jejune outpourings of three members of the Ceramic Hobs. They couldn’t be any further apart.

Grass’s book is a classic of modern literature and one of the most important books written in the German language. The Turnip Flag contains interviews with G.G. Allin and Steve Stapelton, has articles on Peter Sutcliffe, The Butthole Surfers and Dada. Gunter Grass writes in a style that's been compared to James Joyce. Turnip Flag say that if you don’t like Psychic TV then you can fuck off.

I first read The Tin Drum when I was 18 and it gripped me like no other. Whilst my friends were reading Stephen King [and I have to admit that his books went through my hands too] I found the world created by Gunter Grass far more absorbing and edifying. As luck would have it Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of the book came out at the same time and I felt duty bound to drag two friends along with me to a screening at Bradford’s Odeon cinema. In 2009 a new translation of the Tin Drum appeared and I made a promise to myself to reread it.

I’m glad I did. Breon Mitchell’s translation freshens up the 50 year old manuscript no end and makes it a far more approachable and easier to read text than the previous Ralph Manheim translation. The text flows splendidly and once again I found myself in Oskars very strange world.

Grass has since been taken to task for upsetting the Israeli’s in a poem which wonders if its such a good idea for them to have nuclear weapons. He’s also admitted to being conscripted in to the Waffen SS at age 14. Hey ho.

I’ve no idea how many Turnip Flags appeared. I was never aware of its presence until this selection landed on the mat. Hopefully more of these buried nuggets await discovery. They need to be for these youthful cut and paste diatribes are as entertaining as Mr Grass’s. At least to me they are. Worth getting for the Steve Stapelton interview alone.

Simon Morris Ceramic Hobs

Friday, July 20, 2012


Agoraphobia 18. CDR
30 copies.

I once saw Arron Dilloway play a wheelbarrow but it wasn’t half as much fun as watching Yol [or should that be YOL?] play his.

Yol [I’ll stick with the lowercase as I’m a sensitive type] is a Hull based performance/vocal/text artist whose brief performances see him shout words as if he’s in some kind of constant self involved argument. One outdoor performance that took place in Brighton had even those right on, left leaning, salad eating, seen it all before locals take a wide berth as they pondered whether this gesticulating man with a bald head shouting to nobody in particular was in the midst of something important or whether he was a scumbag northerner drunk on overpriced beer struggling with his inner demons.

In a ‘aren’t-we-all-living-in-a-small-world’ moment I discover that on the day I decide to play Neck Vs Throat my erstwhile compatriot Rob Hayler over at RFM posted not one but three reviews of his releases, all of them covered in degenerate Saul Bass like artwork and all of them being extolled to the high heavens by the bearded wonder.

With a vocal delivery that makes William Bennett sound about as angry as Charles Hawtry he spits, shouts and fidgets his way through his performances all of which are there for you to indulge in over at youtube. I particularly like the wheelbarrow shoving but the one where he struggles to shift what looks like an office safe across the floor of the Hull Boathouse, making an annoying squeal as he does so, is a piece of art that matches pure Dada to noise aktion. You can’t help but be entertained. The bearded wonder also picks up on Yol’s mirth inducing lyrics: ‘You’ve got the long arms of a strangler/You’ve got the neck, the fat neck of a murder victim/You should both hook up.”

Neck Vs Throat is a five track collaboration between Yol and ace doodling Derek Baily-esque guitarist from Mexico, Miguel who has himself collaborated with the bearded one and to whom I was less than kind to on a previous release it has to be said. This is better, here his guitar playing is acoustic in nature and wild with gay abandon and somehow, by the mystery of the internet Miguel emails Rob, Yol emails Rob, Yol emails Miguel and out of it comes something that is nothing less than totally sublime. The tourettes like delivery of Yol coupled to the fingers stuck in soundhole strumming of Miguel manages to overcome the miles and seas and continents and produce a work that you’d never in a thousand years would think could emerge from two such divergent talents.

On ‘Nodding Dog’ Yol makes retching noises, choking sounds whilst the abstract guitar is joined by some ferocious metal scrapings that wouldn’t look out of place on a New Blockaders release, metal imitates wild dog yelps whilst Yol manages to outdo Bennett [if Yol hasn’t heard late era Whitehouse then he’s in for a treat, the delivery is almost identical ... only with more feeling]. ‘Made Out of Bone’ begins with a massive throat clearing session before the title words are repeated and mutated. ‘Congenital’ sees the guitar work go into a thousand notes a minute overdrive while Yol spits out the words at a pace to match as steel objects hit the ground making glorious ringing sounds. You get the idea.

I’m hearing Japp Blonk, Phil Milton, William Bennett, Dylan Nyoukis, The New Blockaders, The Schimpfluch Gruppe Derek Bailey, Joe Pass and deep within my head I cant shift the image of a gurning Max Wall. What can all this mean?

If I was Yol I’d be booking tickets for this years Schimpfluch fest

If I was Yol I’d be booking tickets for this years Schimpfluch fest they have lots to talk about. Or shout about as the case may be.





Thursday, July 19, 2012

I.B.F. / Zilverhill / Schuster

I.B.F.  - Ideas Beyond Filth 1984 - 1985
Blind Shouter Products. CDR

Schuster - The Circle Of Angst
Adeptsound. ADSCDR04

Zilverhill - Laodicean
Adeptsound. ADSBS03

I wonder how many of you are wetting your knickers awaiting the arrival of the final Throbbing Gristle LP? An interpretation of the Nico album Desertshore if you were unaware. Which had me thinking back [again] to the excellent Simon Reynolds book ‘Retromania’ and the old cover version problem; the last vestige of the creatively bankrupt or a chance to pay homage to your heroes? Once Sid Viscous emerged with his Eddie Cochran covers it was to the last vestiges camp that I fled. If the journalist Nick Kent is to be believed the Sex Pistols covered The Foundations ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ during their formative pre McLaren/Lydon days, but then he’s also maintained that he was actually in the Sex Pistols, something nobody else seems to agree with. 

But back to TG. Without them the outer edges of the UK landscape would look very different indeed. There’s every chance that I.B.F. may not have even existed such is TG’s influence. But they did and I.B.F. begat Schuster and then Zilverhill [I may be wrong on the chronology but it makes for easy scanning].  

Somewhere down the line the people involved in all of the above releases sat around taking in the view created by the English Industrial Scene of the early to mid 80’s. Out of this fertile loam they carried the flame that TG decided to abandon [until many years later of course when they realised there was a few bob to be made out of it].

Listening to the I.B.F. release first its not that hard to envisage the journey these people have made. By the time we get to Zilverhill and Schuster the harsh corners, pumping cheap Casio rhythms, angular guitars and shouty vocals of I.B.F. have given way to a sound thats still Industrial to the core but of a more, day I say it, classical nature.

Schuster have grown in stature since their last two releases; the last, a cliche ridden but eminently listenable ‘Blac Flies Resplendent On Blak Moon’ and before that a sometimes stunning ‘I Am Living In My Own Corpse’ [both on Adeptsound] the latter of which captured the feeling of being left to die of starvation on a dust scoured plateau beautifully.

Circle of Angst begins with a delightful few seconds of a piano motif that flits in and out of the entirety of the release thus making a light counterpoint to the Stygian pit of miserable and bleak despair that fills the rest of it. A release where barren landscapes are scraped clean by constant icy blasts and where machine-like hums sit cheek by rotten jowl with rolling and churning undertows of deep and dangerous waters. The pretty piano motif that both starts and ends this release gives us a Finnegan’s Wake loop of edification thats available to anyone with a repeat button. All the tracks carry numbers; 1,2,3,4, a minimalist touch that matches the work and doesn’t distract. The less is more strategy is certainly working, as is the gorgeous cyclical thrum of ‘3’ and the looped sound of a lion growling in reverse that accompanies it.

Zilverhill’s Laodicean has ten tracks segued into a 45 minute whole, a bleak whole that sounds like it was recorded in the jettisoned end of a spaceship thats got nowhere to go and an eternity to get there in. There’s little to go on information wise but each track is varied enough to include everything from mangled vocal samples to the slight plucking of a guitar string that finds room amongst a loose volley of held down bass keys and a metronomic metallic knock.  Sounds shuffle along like a hobbled tramp in too many layers of out of season clothing. I’m assuming samples and found sounds but my knowledge of such things is scant [and I prefer it that way]. Beginning with a groaning machine that feels like its dying in an empty dripping sci-fi hanger its not long before the damaged vocals appear - all very Andrew Liles and all very good too. The receding in to the distance, falling away chords of what may be track three are almost melodic and then  … doom metal, of a kind, and then ghouls and swaying feedback. A constantly evolving 45 minutes that has within its length enough variance and industrial/ambient delight to satisfy anyone with an interest in the genre.

Back in the mid 80’s its still all Keith Levene scratchy guitar, shouty vocals through a megaphone, post punk DIY-ness and lots of sampled TV. I’m not even sure if this is a ‘proper’ release at all but I dare say its available should you enquire. A different track listing from the Harbinger Sound I.B.F. 12” that came out a couple of years ago, this one stretching to nine tracks.

Coming from a time when experimentation within the song structure was the norm we have ‘Guru’, a rapid bass run with trebly guitar riff and a looped sample of someone saying ‘yes’ and ‘satan’ over which you can just hear a telephone conversation, then a couple of odd instrumentals where a bass plods along against scuzzy background noises. Samples abound of course, wonky church bells and a male voice choir singing ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariots’ are but two of many. Last track ‘syncopation’ is a stripped down bass run over a spasmodic drum on which someone sings ‘syncopation’ in a strained voice as if to suggest they found Ian Curtis’s vocals rather endearing but hard to emulate. It all collapses. CD ends. That's it.

Zilverhill and Schuster are improving with every release - to these ears at least. These are works that are carefully crafted and it shows. The future looks encouragingly bleak and the past doesn’t look too bad either.    

[As of writing - July 2012 - the above links are dead hence no info regarding number of copies, downloads etc … ]

Sunday, July 15, 2012



It was Dr. Adolf Steg that recommended to me Simon Reynolds book ‘Retromania’. Reynolds book revolves around the posit that we’ll never see another groundbreaking musical explosion [like punk for instance] because we’re all too busy digging round in the past to care anymore. Reynolds cites Hypnagogia and Hauntology as two musical genres that are reliant on the past for their future. Two musical genres which upon closer inspection have all the benefits of a cup of Ovaltine. If this is the future then its no wonder people prefer the past.

Its the internet thats to blame of course. Thanks to the internet pretty much all of the past is readily available. There was a time when record labels actually used to delete albums, a practice now unthinkable in an age where reissues are the guaranteed moneymakers. They used to delete albums to make way for the new thing but now there is no new thing, just a rehash of the old thing.

For someone who’s experienced the huge cultural effect that a musical movement like punk can have on the psyche it seems inconceivable that we’ll never experience its like ever again but as the years go by thats pretty much what we’re going to have to get used to. Many cultural commentators thought that given recent economic woes and the torching of various London boroughs the time was ripe for another punk but it never materialized - ‘its just like it was in the 70’s’ they said rubbing their hands and waiting for the new millenniums ‘Ghost Town’ to emerge but whilst the feckless youth of this nation were out looting electrical goods and sports footwear those at home did nothing more creative than Twitter and blog and watch the highlights on Youtube.

[This got me thinking as to why cultural commentators working in different areas don’t  argue the same thing? Art critics bemoaning the fact that nothing has happened of significance since Pop Art in the 60’s. Literary critics wishing something comparable to the Beat generation would appear.]

Where Dr. Adolf Steg fits in with all of this I’m not too sure. His most recent package contained SPON 18, an Alvin Lucier CDR containing his seminal spoken word piece ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’, the jawbone of an animal [also SPON 18], an unnumbered SPON thats an appraisal of the Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý, SPON 16 which is an interview with comic artist Brian Bolland, SPON 17 whose contents are entirely in Braille and various sheets and covers of previous publications. To the unknowing eye this would appear to be all par for the course in a slightly off-kilter Fylde Coast whacko kind of way but on deeper inspection the whole thing is skewed even further; the cut and pasted Bolland interview segments are juxtaposed in such a way as to make reading it an act worthy of Sherlock Holmes and then the realisation that Miroslav Tichý is an outsider artist par excellence who took surreptitious and badly blurred photographs of women with cameras he made himself out of cardboard and old tin cans. In true SPON style the Lucier CD fought to be played and when it did it crashed.

In my last posting of Steg’s work I stated that I was a little wary of lumping him with an outsider artist tag, something I’m glad of since Steg came back stating that he sees himself more as ‘an outsiders, outsiders existentialist prophet of doom’. A far more accurate a description than I could ever dream up. In amongst all the artwork and fold out comics comes Steg’s missives written in black ink with a spidery hand giving them a feeling of having been sent from a secure unit with high white walls and a barrier gate. Who knows.

PAN Showcase Friday 13th July Enjoy Art Space. Leeds.

PAN Showcase
Friday 13th July
Enjoy Art Space. Leeds.


Tom Knapp
NHK” Koyxen

DJ’s Bill Kouligas + Rian Treanor

This is what electronic gigs in Berlin must be like. Enjoy Art Space is one of those derelict mills in a once industrial part of town where artists have found the rents cheap and the neighbours not too bothered about a gig that’ll run until five in the morning. Being an old fart I turned up at the venue at 7.45pm to find it shut. When it opened at eight the few people who were there seemed genuinely surprised to see a punter at such an early hour. When Helm, the first act of the night, appeared at 9.30 and played for an hour it became clear that the night was going to be a long one but by this time the Undermiester had appeared and he was gagging for a decent pint.

The set up is all hidden lighting, white walls with benches around the sides, a punchy PA and a row of seats set up in front of lap tops and mixers where the artists appear unannounced and play for an hour. The Helm set was initially drowned out by audience chatter [the gig was a sell out by the way] but once the gluey, trippy half submerged beats were augmented by some fierce noise like howlings the chatter disappeared and attentions were focused. Within minutes of Helm concluding his set the next act kicked in but who it was I couldn’t tell you. Whatever it was that this person was playing it had the effect of driving most of the audience outside for a fag and me and the Undermiester in search of a pub. We found two, both of which were shut and both of which looked like they’d never serve another pint again. We bemoaned the dying pub trade and wondered what a Friday night in Mabgate must have been like when the Foundry workers clocked out and the pubs thronged with thirsty workers sinking a few pints before heading off home to the missus and the kids.

Giving up our search and watering the plants amidst the philosophical graffiti [‘art is what you can get away with’] we returned to the venue to find whoever it was still pumping out his fractured beats to an audience that was smaller than the number of people outside. Having no enthusiasm or the energy to bat it out until five in the morning I bought a copy of Helm’s PAN LP shook hands with people and navigated the limo through the desolate roadways that is the Leeds outer ring road.

The Helm LP is an absolute stonker. A joy to listen to on a quiet Saturday night in with a bottle of Fino. All hidden beats, huge bashings of metal, found sounds, almost industrial in places with nods to ear piercing Whitehouse moments, lots of portent and groaning machinery, desolate, empty foreboding works. Five tracks, all quite different in approach and all wrapped up in those deliciously desirably Bill Kouligas graphics. These PAN LP’s are slowly becoming thee most necessary of fetish items.


PAN flyer
The Hope Foundry on Mabgate.
The City of Mabgate pub.
Cover art for Helm LP 'Impossible Symmetry'

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Rodolphe Alexis - Sempervirent

Rodolphe Alexis - Sempervirent
Gruenrekorder Field Recording Series.
Gruenrekorder 111. CD. [Also available as a download].

Various Artists - Autumn Leaves.
Free download via Gruenrekorder.

Having not seen a cloud for a week it was a bit of a disappointment to land at Manchester Airport to find that every raincloud in the northern hemisphere had decided to have an outing in the north of England. Driving home in torrential rain over Saddleworth Moor, in an old car, with damp points, at a speed the Victorians would have considered cautious soon had me wondering if I’d hallucinated the 35C heat I’d felt on my skin only a few hours previously.

For our yearly trip to the sunny isle I took with me, for the benefit of my edification, Simon Reynold’s new book ‘Retromania’ and the recent translation of Gunter Grass’s ‘The Tin Drum’ [a book I’d read in my teens and one I’ve been wanting to revisit for a while now]. The recent R4 adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses was on the ipod as was Robert Wyatt’s 1997 release ‘Shleep’ an album I’ve been curiously drawn to of late. Has luck would have it appeared in one of those most serendipitous moments courtesy of the shuffle function whilst crossing the waters from Corfu to Paxos all tired and warm and undulating and with a great feeling of knowing that in the not too distant future I‘d be sat outside a welcoming taverna with a well chilled liter of wine to go at.

At home the week previous the idea struck me that it would be a good idea to take some Gruenrekorder along with me. The long, listless afternoons are perfect for soaking up field recording vibes and so it proved. My only problem was that without a serious pair of noise cancelation headphones I discovered that the outside world found a way of creeping in on my own preferred Gruenrekorder one. With these outside sounds consisting of nothing more than cicadas and the odd passing vehicle it wasn’t as if I was competing with a radio pumping rebetika and a neighbor blaring eurotrash through a bust up stereo.

Cicadas are all over Rodolphe Alexis’s ‘Sempervirent’, at least they sound like cicadas. After spending what must have been two uncomfortable months with a quadraphonic parabolic recorder in the heart of the Costa Rican jungle Rodolphie returned to appear with 55 minutes worth here and an installation called ‘Dry, Wet, Evergreen’ which I think showed in France earlier this year. Consisting of a series of ‘sequence shots’, where Alexis edits his quad recordings down to stereo [and on track five mixes in some amphibian sounds with the aid of a hydrophone] Sempervirent proves to be an extraordinary listen. Even whilst indulging on I-suppose-it’ll-have-to-do MP3 the vibrant sounds of the indigenous wildlife burst into my shell-likes with an ability to transport me from the dusty olive groves of Paxos to the lush interiors of the Costa Rican jungle. Everything from birds, to monkeys to frogs and insects are captured, as are Alexi’s own footsteps and the sound of rain hitting a tin roof from where he shelters. Perhaps most remarkable of all is the sound of the mantled howler monkey declaring his presence to a new day with naught but a barely discernible hum of insects and the slowly awakening chatter of birds for company - a sound that goes to show that nature can delight the ears as much as any man-made sound - all this on track three, the longest on offer at 11 minutes and one that ends with a terrific thunderstorm. Listening to this through state of the art reproduction equipment must be an even more remarkable experience [just don’t ask me to go and hear all this first hand, I like my comfort too much].

Works like ‘Sempervirent’ [meaning verdant] not only show how diverse a wildlife we have in such places they act as markers for the future. With natural habitat disappearing at ever faster rates it’d be interesting to compare a recording made ten years hence with what Alexis has recorded here. Besides being incredible listening experience Sempervirent exists as hard evidence for naturalists and eco campaigners alike.

Field recordings made in jungles aren’t anything new of course, Gruenrekorder have further examples in their catalogue [and David Tudor even went so far as to create his own] but none on Autumn Leaves another release that tumbled in and out of my consciousness over a long hot week. Or maybe there was? I have to admit to having the odd nod whilst listening to these 33 tracks and three plus hours worth of sounds but what I heard I enjoyed -  as I did the last Gruenrekorder comp that came this way [Playing With Words].

Here I reacquainted myself with Aki Onda, a Japanese artist resident in New York whose cassette recordings of the city form the basis of his ongoing ‘Cassette Memories’ project. I saw him last year at Colour Out Of Space in Brighton, one of the few highlights of the weekend - lots of bird sounds emerging from traffic, buskers, passing radios, something that John Levack Drever mirrors with his ‘Phonographies of Glasgow’.  There’s a ten minute interview with Chris Watson and some amazing sounds from Finland where pebbles are thrown across a frozen lake. John Wynne’s track ‘Someone Else Has Died’ contains reminiscences of drug addicts matched to floating like synth sounds, a short work [an edit] that sounds remarkably similar in structure to the Delia Derbyshire/Barry Bermagne’s ‘Dream’ project for the BBC. Ethnography and field recordings sit comfortably over of aural entertainment and its all free. A perfect gateway to Gruenrekorder land.


Autumn Leaves :