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Noel’s Foul House: New Weird Britain This November
Noel Gardner , November 7th, 2017 11:13

This month, Noel celebrates the diverse freakosystem of New Weird Britain, from Mick Harris’s techno to Ben Wallers’ loving desecration of Pink Floyd and Claire Potter’s mysterious West Yorkshire fetish reading.

Mésange

Not only has rave culture been a part of Weird Britain ever since its pollen first hit the air, it would demand to be written about comprehensively in any decent social history of such a concept. Until fairly recently, though, it’s had a slightly arms-length, mutually suspicious relationship with other parts of the UK’s musical underground – certainly most of the other stuff I cover in this column.

There have always been points of crossover, you understand: punks and indie kids and metalheads were turned on, Haight-Ashbury style, by contact with rave’s world of rigs and gurners. Everyone knows this – yet there remained a distinct separation between these subcultures, I always felt. For all the nodes where one scene bled into another (thinking out loud here: big beat; gloopy shoegazers like Bark Psychosis and Seefeel going full-on dance; Earache releasing gabber records; the dance tent at Glastonbury), things used to be a sight more tribalistic. I for one am cheered that those walls have largely crumbled, and there’s now a vision of New Weird Britain that can encompass nails-hard techno, zero-audience-underground sound art bafflement, jaunty femmetastic postpunk and a kidney-bursting piss over the preprepared graves of Pink Floyd. And that someone might exist who’s interested in all of it.

Who better to kick us off than Mick Harris, whose career arc drives a stake through my carefully constructed picture of a 90s populated by insular musical gangs unwilling to try anything new. Mick drummed on the first two Napalm Death albums, ergo basically gave extreme metal a beat for life, before quitting to explore his noisy industrial urges. Shortly after, as he recalls in this interview, Brummie record shop workers Surgeon and Regis pushed a Jeff Mills album on him, and there was no turning back. That said, and despite his vast and rangy back catalogue, Harris has rarely turned his hand to Millsian techno – but Over Depth (Karlrecords), his new album as Fret, delivers nearly an hour of such bombardment.

This album’s component parts and general aesthetic is unmistakably Midlands technoid: concrete-hard beats, basslines that grind and grumble, a disembodied voice now and again. A German avant-garde label has released this, but to my mind it would have suited Regis’ Downwards imprint perfectly. Rhythmically, and with few exceptions (the whomping ‘B14’), Harris offers little succour to ravers, drums juddering in odd time signatures and rarely settling on one pattern for long. Parts (‘Murderous Weight’) certainly hark back to some of his work as Scorn – described as proto-dubstep by some, ahistorically but not absurdly – others (‘Lifford Res’) have an unfashionably itchy way with a breakbeat. All of it amounts to an enervating return to a landscape which – I’d like to think – appreciates the notion of perverted Coil magick and House Of God panelbeating and 2003-era FWD>> nights coalescing into one.

Kieran ‘Ansome’ Whitefield is a newer techno producer who recently moved from London to Berlin – it’s a wonder there isn’t an airline specifically for techno producers moving from London to Berlin – and, on the evidence of his British Steel EP (Perc Trax), has retained all the rambunctious crudity anyone could want. There he is on the cover, standing on a metal grate jaybird naked with his tackle obscured by a hockey stick; if Sainsbury’s or another leading vinyl outlet deem there to still be too much skin on show, you could Photoshop some St George’s Cross underpants onto him without disrupting the general vibe.

Even by the perma-rowdy Perc Trax’s standards, this whole EP goes stupidly hard: Whitefield distorts every kick, sharpens each hi-hat, FX-wrenches the humanity from any given vocal sliver more than any notional competitor. ‘Marching Powder’ is about as straight-laced as Ansome gets here, a peaktime Truncate-y warehouse leveller with jarring breakdowns, but it’s ‘Poison Your Body’ and ‘Granite And Mortar’ that really seal his noise crossover credentials. Woulda sworn that was Philip Best barking the title on the former, but the only vocal credit is for someone named Oliver Kohlenberg, so maybe this fellow has a bright future as the Rory Bremner of power electronics. Still, if the latterday courtship between noise and techno came about partly through a shared interest in taking themselves too seriously, Ansome is the magnificently OTT antidote.

The sleeve of Outlander’s debut 12-inch Father, Lord And Wizard (Cluster Node) is slightly more tasteful, but the brace of sweaty oldtimers striking anvils with lump hammers is scarcely any subtler. Despite charging out of the blocks with speaker-rattling hard acid squealer ‘Can’t Change Weapons While In Combat’, this London duo have a few shockers in their locker. Or mild surprises at least. The title track nudges layers of frayed-edged synth tones over and across each other; a beat comes and goes, but you’d never ponder dancing. After two and a half minutes of teasing and building, ‘We Found A Corpse’ locks into smart rickety lo-fi techno mode that fans of earlier Opal Tapes releases might jig to. Mostly unsure of Outlander’s provenance – David López used to play in a buzzworthy London indie band called Dressmaker is about all I know – but the pair seem like a promising addition to the more square-peg factions of UK techno.

We can still go bleaker and nastier. The only situation in which Knifedoutofexistence would like people dancing to his music, you suspect, would be across a Croatian minefield. Brighton solo artist Dean Lloyd Robinson’s thick, churning take on industrialised noise is as engaging as it is draining, however, cf. the latest Knifedoutofexistence cassette Inhibitors (Outsider Art/Illegal Activity).

A single 35-minute track split into four parts by Robinson – any clear indicators of where they begin and end have eluded me – Inhibitors stacks up enveloping sheets of harsh static, eye-gouging bursts of junk electronics that sounds like rats are gnawing through our guy’s cables, garbled vocals a la Grunt or early Prurient, distorted bass stabs that explode from the murk like malfunctioning hydrogen balloons, a keyboard played by someone with broken fingers and the pungent influence of powerviolence, grindcore and sludge metal despite there being zero beats for its duration. There are no jokes, either: Knifedoutofexistence is stonefaced in its pursuit of personal catharsis, but the project is a shining, shuddering example of the 2K10s UK noise scene.

Neil Campbell's Think Not Of The Glasses…

Dylan Nyoukis and Karen Constance’s tireless, twentysomething microlabel Chocolate Monk is also from Brighton, and they do do jokes. (A 2016 release of theirs, by The Teleporters, has reduced me to gibbering laughter on more than one occasion.) Of their latest gob of releases, three demand inclusion in this column – if I’m going to give some dons of Old Weird Britain their due, that is. I doubt they give a toss whether I like them or not.

Neil Campbell has been on his grind since the 1980s – see the A Band, Astral Social Club etc – and still pings out product with ageless haste. Three-track CDr Think Not Of The Glasses, But Of The Drink delivers mightily fucked quasi-covers of Irish goths Virgin Prunes. ‘Political Problems’ tips cap to their ‘Caucasian Walk’, Campbell layering cut-up and dreamily reverbed vocals over creepy, muggy synth wheedle; if Scott Walker had recorded The Drift minus about 98% of his studio budget it might have sounded like this. ‘Red Metal’ sees the ghost of a Celtic folk melody slowly suffocated by noisome Casio grot and ‘No Clouds Were In The Sky’ sucks hard on that Jandek/private loner folk exhaust pipe.

Longtime Campbell compadre Richard Youngs – the two released a duo LP, Six Scores, mere weeks ago – also has a Monk CDr, Fibre Optic Ballads. Cute concept: Glaswegian Youngs made shortwave radio noises, human beatbox style, into one of those speech recognition programmes that journalists always complain don’t work properly, then reversed the resulting babel into a text-to-speech converter, then paired up the android-voiced mush with the spliced-up sounds of actual shortwave radios. I’m pretty sure I could make something like this without leaving my room, using just a phone and the copy of Audacity on my computer, but if I did it wouldn’t sound as rad as this, on account of Youngs having buffed his skill for uneasy homebaked sci-fi lo-fi over literally hundreds of releases, and me having... not.

Finally, Claire Potter, a multidisciplinary artist based in Todmorden. A while back, she teamed up with solo guitar explorer Bridget Hayden for a poetry/soundscape tape on Irish label Fort Evil Fruit, and now here’s a Monk cassette of her unaccompanied reading, Scally Nike Leather Glove Smoke, whose first side was recorded last year at Brighton noise fest Colour Out Of Space. The scenario spun is intriguing – you assume Potter is describing some sort of porn/fetish clip, but it’s never confirmed – and the concrete aspect to her syntax, phrases stopping abruptly or repeated, presents an audible oratory challenge. The second side is more (literally) prosaic, a lament for the windy drudgery and geriatric cat piss that fills a house on the north Wales coast familiar to Potter; in both cases her empathetic, slightly pained voice does much to draw the listener in.

Elodie are entering Foul House via the back door, with only two-fifths of the lineup on Vieux Silence (Ideologic Organ) from the UK – the others being Belgian, French and American (pedal steel guitarist Daniel Morris, who contributed parts remotely). Elodie co-founder Andrew Chalk is a lifer much like Campbell and Youngs, and warrants space here for similar reasons: loosely part of the Broken Flag noise-cassette movement in the 80s, nowadays he explores elegaic, micro-detailed organic ambience.

Vieux Silence is the sixth Elodie album in less than two years, astonishing given the level of grace and care in the project’s sound. Its eight pieces vary between one and ten minutes, Chalk and Elodie’s other full-time member Timo van Luijik using their incrementally evolving synth parts and clandestine field recordings as a bedrock for the ultra-restrained piano of Tom James Scott (recently reviewed here as part of Charcoal Owls) or Jean-Noël Rebilly’s sorrow-ravaged clarinet. ‘Au Point Du Jour’ combines a kind of Chinese folk delicacy with free jazz abstraction; ‘Entre Deux Mondes’ and its segue into ‘La Saison Blanche’ (I assume van Luijik chooses the titles) supplies a sustain-heavy conclusion to an album that’s neither modern composition, post-rock or minimalism, but is earnestly recommended if you like Stars Of The Lid, Harold Budd or Angelo Badalamenti.

You may, then, also like Heliotrope (God Unknown), the debut album by Mésange: it, too, wordlessly fashions heady, droney atmospheres that could soundtrack a film where a man walks through a monochrome desert. It’s more dynamic, that said, even legitimately rocking at a couple of points – both Mésange members are self-styled composers, but not averse to mucking in. Bristol-located Frenchwoman Agathe Max’s violin has featured on a broad range of projects and recordings, while Luke Mawdsley’s plays in Fall-via-70s egghead prog Liverpudlians Cavalier Song. Mawdsley, here at least, is an impressionist, cinematic guitarist whose noodling sometimes reminds me of Steve Hillage and often feels like a springboard for Max’s violin to summon beauty. Fluid, rustic and crackling with life, ‘Improvisation #4’ and ‘Aube’ Ouija-dial Tony Conrad and chaperone him to a barn dance for the bereaved. When they approach rockism, as on ‘Creator’, they come off like a band who might play the Arctangent festival in mid-afternoon, which is to say less diverting – but small beer in a suite which both delivers and promises much. Oh, and Mésange is the French term for the tit family of birds, which suggests one should, as with Elodie, let Francophones name things wherever possible.

Soured prog rock and cinema’s icy gaze, y’say? That sounds like our cue for The Dark Side Of The Wall (In The Red) by The Stallion, which is Ben Wallers and Alistair MacKinven from Country Teasers covering Pink Floyd’s The Wall in its entirety. And, at about half an hour longer than the original, then some. Wallers has been consistently productive post-Country Teasers, indeed he featured in the last Foul House as The Rebel, but The Stallion is arguably his (and the less conspicuous MacKinven’s) most ambitious venture yet. A triple vinyl opus selling for a frankly eyewatering price, those who take the plunge (or listen on a popular streaming service) may well get hoovered into its sickly vortex.

As with Wallers’ many previous cover versions, rabid Floyd heads will probably deem this a desecration, but it comes from a place of admiration. A few tracks are dismantled in the manner of that Neil Campbell release back there: ‘One Of My Turns’ is broken into two parts and some of Floyd’s interludes – ‘Vera’, ‘Bring The Boys Back Home’ – become lengthy noise-wigs and Playmobil techno clanks respectively. ‘Comfortably Numb’ both nails and supersedes the original’s onanistic sedative homage via Nurse With Wound-like drone, electronic distress signals and vocals processed inside a K-hole. Elsewhere (‘In The Flesh?’, ‘Mother’, much of the album’s first half in fact), The Stallion pretty much follow the structure, even recreating most of The Wall’s samples and Easter eggs, though Wallers is – thank God – no David Gilmour as a guitarist. This may end up being more of a conversation piece than a crown jewel in one’s collection, but I’m delighted The Dark Side Of The Wall exists, and just so you know I have no intention of returning to the actual Pink Floyd album as a result.

A sub-half-hour canter through folky, partway Raincoats-y postpunk terrain sounds like the antithesis of all that, and in many ways Nervous Energy (Southend) by The Plan is indeed. The quintet began as a solo venture by Rebecca Gillieron of (defunct? hibernating?) Country Teasers affiliates Wetdog, so there’s always a chain link even when I didn’t sequence this column with one in mind, but that’s less important than this LP’s status as a stirring, woman-powered dispatch from southern England’s DIY trenches. Nervous Energy’s essence is perhaps captured in one song, ‘Chorus’: jangly Kinks guitar, cherubic vocal harmonising, dervish leaps into The Ex-like noise. From ‘Annotate The Text’, a brash meditation on academic literature (“Mark it in red / mark it as much as you like”) onwards, Gillieron’s lyrics are often romantic and longing, no more notably than ‘Pier Party Nerves’, where a possibly metaphorical cake is prepared – “but we never get a taste”. An organ wheezes into earshot on ‘Dust’, a cello on ‘Arithmetic’; The Plan rock with intent but are a long way from the noisebleed techno I was gabbing about two thousand words ago. To reiterate, there’s enough room under this tarpaulin for everyone who’s cool.

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