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Noel’s Foul House: Your New Weird Britain for July
Noel Gardner , July 31st, 2018 08:49

Bristolian screwjobs, rattling bootlegs retooled in Sheffield and London's most extreme outliers - our bi-monthly round-up of the real stuff returns

Cult Party

Hey, remember Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees? Those things were great, at least for any fans of exhaustively detailed intra-band membership musical chairs minutiae such as this Black Sabbath one, and of slightly haphazard calligraphy. It looks like Pete has hung up his pen now, and in any case I doubt he’d be moved to catalogue the labyrinths of the modern British weirdo underground, but someone totally should.

The Bristol scene clustered around entities like the Young Echo collective, the Idle Hands record shop and labels such as No Corner and FuckPunk would be a good place to start: a splattery mess of cross-collaborations, multiple pseudonyms and restless heads trying new styles on for size. Sam Barrett and Amos Childs, the duo who make up O$VMV$M, are deep in that mix. Their third LP – self-titled and released on Idle Hands’ in-house label, like the previous two – is a collection of creepy, pitched-down beat-tape sketches which mostly fade out around the two-minute mark, and whose slightness initially puzzles. Repeated listens, though, finds the bones sounding increasingly flesh-wrapped, like reversed timelapse footage of necrotising fasciitis.

Talking about a ‘Bristol sound’ has invariably irked the people whose music gets categorised as such, but this has the positive effect of motivating them to elasticate the sound’s boundaries. The second and third Portishead albums are partly attributable to this, I’d suggest, likewise the pivot from dubstep into techno engineered by producers such as Pinch. It could also explain moments on here like ‘Dry Eyes’ and ‘Return’: notionally Young Echo-like in their muggy haze, but also crunchy, dirgey (DJ) screwjobs rife with vinyl crackle, guttural bass and soul-emptying vocal samples. ‘Killed’ is perhaps O$VMV$M’s sinister zenith, a lazily lumbering trip-hop loop intercut with the sound of some unspecified, violent, perhaps murderous incident. What this LP most frequently recalls for me, and no apologies for being so city-centric, is Third Eye Foundation circa You Guys Kill Me: a wonky reading of dub and post-junglisms by people who’ve immersed themselves in Bristol’s musical culture to the extent that they wish to subvert it. This is a thoroughly good, even necessary, thing.

Giant Swan, another Bristol duo, also feature in the city’s darkside genealogy, and have been sending mixers into the red via stompy hardware techno sets for about four years now. Certainly a style best experienced live and direct, their latest 12-inch High Waisted – four tracks released on German label Mannequin – makes a good, goose-greased fist of replicating it. ‘The Rest Of His Voice’ is a gloriously upfront 4/4 swagger with some gnarly acid techno fizzbombing and voices put through an array of modulators: it reminds me a bit of T. Raumschmiere, who is probably not a very cool reference nowadays but had a nice line in technopunk vulgarity 15 years ago. ‘Architectural Hangover’ is more diffuse and less danceable, a corruption of rave along the lines of Pete Swanson, and the title track covers both chunky kickdrums and quasi-industrial synth noise during its five-and-a-bit minutes. ‘Palm’, the shortest number here at just under three, is a beatless cacophony of groaning ululations and stuttering stabs which I imagine would sound absolutely horrific if you were very stoned. Well I’m not, and it’s a fine conclusion to an EP that was otherwise having the dangerous effect of making me want to go and party on a Sunday evening.

Sheffield’s Rian Trainor is one of those sorts who brings his booklearnin’ to bear on productions of high-sheen postmodern electronic complexity – the proverbial father of this tendency in UK club culture, Mark Fell, is his actual dad. To this end, his latest 12-inch Ravedits (on The Death Of Rave and marked ‘for promotional use only’, possibly for legal reasons) is unexpected in its fundamental daftness, at least when coming out of the traps.

Four comprehensively retooled bootlegs of old pop songs, the lead – Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ – is a simple idea enacted brilliantly, using mere slivers of what was already a very peculiar song and looping it into a mental grime-juke-jungle-pop banger that magically retains the original’s dead-eyed melancholy. Nahid Ahktar’s ‘Good News For You’ (not a pop hit exactly, but from a late-70s Pakistani movie soundtrack and compiled on Finders Keepers’ The Sound Of Wonder! LP) employs the singer’s eerie quaver in similar fashion, threading it through a tapestry of tungsten-tipped drums, and Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’ has its comically deep vocal – Barry White as the Kool-Aid Man – and futuristic-in-1987 programming spun into chest-rattling footwork. Finally, occupying all of side B while doing its utmost to counteract the good cheer of side A, ‘Don’t Go’ by Yazoo is the basis for 14 minutes of intense granular electro-noise whose tones at one point resemble digital bagpipes.

It is, you see, possible to be very serious about making extreme electronic music while still conveying a sort of joviality, or at least not glowering and self-flagellating whenever performing in public (although glowerers and self-flagellators contribute much of value to noise too). Isn’tses, a London-based duo of Lisa McKendrick and Tim Drage, have a wicked sense of humour and a unique visual aesthetic, dressing in bespoke sequinned costumes which make them look like displaced grapplers from an obscure Japanese indy wrestling division. Mere eye candy they ain’t, mind: Punctum, their third self-released cassette, is an epic 90 minutes of obscurely crafted analogue machine gurgle – “an album of mysterious origin”, the sole description on the Bandcamp page, may not specifically refer to its methodology but certainly could.

Drage has been turning unwitting objects into noise instruments via circuit bending for nearly 20 years (notably in Cementimental, his longest running project), and whatever made the sounds on Punctum, that square-peg spirit prevails throughout these clammy drones and propulsively piercing tones. Sometimes there are beats, after a fashion, herding the chaos together – opener ‘What Is’, gabber-falling-to-pieces number ‘I Stopped’ – and there are even guitars at times – sludge metal-muddy and shoegaze-gauzy on ‘A Block Of’, drone-doomed during ‘Inside Medium Boxes’ (part of a three-track run also including ‘In Small Boxes’ and ‘Large Boxes’). It’s satisfyingly hard to put Isn’tses into a box of any size: they’re not harsh noise or power electronics, don’t really resemble ambient or industrial. I’m sometimes put in mind of venerable or departed creators of noise-show spectacle – Jessica Rylan, Emil Beaulieau, even Smell & Quim – but McKendrick and Drage have at least that much claim to individuality.

Mosquitoes, also from London to the best of my limited understanding, are our first ‘rock band’ of this month’s Foul House. The scare quotes are because their guitarbassdrumsvox setup belies a deeply gnomic, scarcely penetrable approach that most people would flatly refuse to consider ‘rock’. Quite possibly correctly! Drip Water Hollow Out Stone (Ever/Never), a 12-inch whose five tracks are named using one word each of the title, crackles with the fug of dub and the louche guitar torture of first-wave no wave and the unbound possibilities of free-rockin’ psych.

At least some of those ought to be oppositional, you’d think, but Mosquitoes make sense of it via an ultra-reverbed production style, guitars used to forge rhythms and the bass melting into the drums. There are vocals, not wordless exactly but mixed to be essentially so, and I really couldn’t tell you if these pieces stem from a singular, improvised performance or were assembled from disparate parts. To this end, DWHOS bears comparison with the early, druggy ravings of Faust and Royal Trux, the infinite navelgaze of certain Shadow Ring moments and the formless freakery of someone like Heavy Winged. Get this – and quicksharp, too, with only 200 copies pressed – but don’t expect to understand it.

It’s testament to how broad the church of the subgenre can be when I note that fellow Londoners Bo Gritz are, compared to Mosquitoes, thoroughly linear and rockist, but equally entitled to call themselves a no wave band. (I’m sure there are people who consider no wave to have never existed outside of a few-months-long period in New York, and that’s fine, but not a parlour game I wish to play.) Their first physical artefact, Tape, is a five-song EP on Sad Tapes, a label whose remit is to release music recorded on a four-track machine. Why? No idea. Do the limitations suit the minimal, bone-hard numbercrunching noiserock that’s Bo Gritz’s stock in trade? Why, yes they do.

Finn Holland’s vocals switch between an exasperated mutter and a David Yow yowl, his guitar style as bluntly forthright as Teenage Jesus or XBXRX. Benjamin Salt and Max Goulding are a joined-at-the-brain rhythm section with nimbly bludgeoning basslines and drums that simply don’t quit. Every song on this cassette (which is sold out online but may still be available from the band themselves) goes hard, they’re even better live and seeing as Housewives don’t appear to be very interested in sounding like Housewives now, I’m getting those kicks from team Bo Gritz.

“Ah, but is this authentically lo-fi?” – a question which was probably last interesting to ponder in about 1994, but which despite my better judgement trickles into my brainpan regarding both the last review and the next, And Then There Was This Sound by Cult Party. Manchester soloist Leo Robinson’s first long player on wax, following various cassettes released across several years, retains much of his previous bedroom-recording mode – the sparse intimacy and shrouded gloom, plus, well, it was recorded in his bedroom – but makes greater use of both musician-guest pals and digital post-production.

Considering the first of the LP’s four songs is 20 minutes long, this is broadly accessible fare. ‘Hurricane Girl’, according to Robinson, started years ago as a two-minute folk-rock ditty and has expanded over time like a commemorative family quilt; his simple, expressive guitar motifs and cracked baritone are the bedrock, but it’s bolstered by keening cello and a multi-tracked backing chorus. By the song’s final quarter, the arrangements attain an enveloping psychedelic quality not a mile from Six Organs Of Admittance’s School Of The Flower. Side B’s three selections, all between five and six minutes, are as lovingly assembled and eminently listenable. ‘Rabbit Dog’ is an acid-folky take on an old blues song better known as ‘Pay Day’; ‘I Got The Blues This Morning’ is a liiiittle bit open mic night for comfort but has a really nice violin part, courtesy of producer Matthew Brown. ‘Pastures Of Plenty’ is a subtly effective finisher, whispered vocals trading places with more violin and placid field recordings.

Lavender Hex self-identify as lo-fi, on their Bandcamp page at least, and say it arose from circumstance when they were pushed out of their Berlin rehearsal space. Despite their present location, the duo are at least quasi-British, comprising Lianne Hall (ex of feminist wyrdpunk band Witchknot, and who appeared in the first ever edition of this column last year with a vocal cameo on the Mwstard album) and Boitel (ex, or possibly not, of Anglo-German queerpop duo Humousexual). The self-titled, self-released Lavender Hex LP is, too, a cosmopolitan affair, its wonky postpunk/electronica/dub tinkerings taken further round the houses by a sheaf of guest musicians and wordsmiths.

Among several fine contributions, Stef Petticoat of early-80s cult punks the Petticoats (herself a German decamped to England at the time) croons with quiet purpose on the 86-second ‘Questions Without End’. The vocal turn of Truly Kaput, an uncategorisable multi-disciplinarian from south Wales, makes ‘The Unicorn In The Winter Garden’ resemble a Tuxedomoon demo, which suits me just fine. The spare and spidery bass/keyboard interplay warrants repeated and/or uninterrupted listening, but has serious brain-burrow potential. What little I was put in mind of during Lavender Hex – Young Marble Giants, Suicide, Movietone – are far from laser-sharp pointers, but speak to the LP’s individuality: several disparate voices achieving a kind of singular force.

Going further into the kelpy cave system of UKDIY, the debut 7-inch by The Cool Greenhouse is a jauntily caustic negative-budget two-song suite for voice and keyboard, released on Market Square Records. Even with the knowledge that he has written a children’s book titled Aristotle And The Big Pink Bird, I can’t find The Cool Greenhouse’s real identity anywhere (presumably his preferred state of affairs), but on the basis of ‘London’, I assume that he has moved to London, or has a gimlet eye for the travails of people who did.

“Found a cardboard box in Hackney, just a grand and a half monthly / Can only fit my head in it, but bollocks to the rest of me,” he snarks over queasy, wheezing digital organ and a bozo-built backbeat. Not exactly uncharted satirical territory, I’ll grant you, but the lines get sassy and I like the way he ad-libs over the bridge, almost Woody Guthrie-like.

The friskier B-side ‘The End Of The World’ is about climate change and the impotent gestures with which we counter it: “I hear that the harbours are all still sinking / Even though I went out protesting.” So even if The Cool Greenhouse’s musical approach is a mite anachronistic (to be real, this song reminds me more of John Shuttleworth than anything), his chosen topics are set to be relevant until, I guess, the end of the world.

The Samarbeta label’s brief catalogue has, to date, specialised in documents of time-limited musical residencies, including ones led by Lydia Lunch and Charles Hayward. Its latest release, Crime Scene, arrives as a DVD, which may not be the most fashionable media format (or as esoteric as another Samarbeta release, which exists on a dubplate in the British Library and nowhere else) but works for the package: filmed in Salford’s Islington Mill venue, a bespoke jazz ensemble plays along to dramatic readings of short stories by Phil Carney, with said stories also included in paper form.

Carney, a writer and collage artist from Bletchley, here turns his pen to the pulpiest end of detective fiction, where doublecrossing dames are worse news than a lung punctured with lead and there’s more simile abuse than a bad reviews column on a hot night. You sense this is something of a dream commission for him – likewise David McLean, a friend of Carney’s who headed a cast of 16 Manchester-region musicians to cook up 75 minutes of dead-on big band jazz noir. Not everyone involved is a jazzer by trade, but the group gel superbly, pulling back into (dis)quiet as dialogue ratchets up tension then screaming into life with the dual saxes of McLean and Karl D’Silva.

The four narrators bring a lot to the experience too: notwithstanding a bit of mid-Atlantic accent puzzlement brought on by English people reading prose in wholly American vernacular, Gareth Smith of Vanishing simply says ‘fuck it’ and sticks to broad Yorkshire, while Ali Bell (who I think actually is American) gets the strongest audience reaction by some chalk. Nearly all of them smoke cigarettes while reading, too, and while it hurts my value system to see illegal activity taking place in this building, Crime Scene is as crime scene does I guess.

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