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Baker's Dozen

Magical Experiences: James Holden's Favourite Albums
Rory Gibb , June 5th, 2014 15:08

Following last year's feral The Inheritors album, Border Community label head James Holden is about to take his newly developed live show on tour, including to Field Day and Sonar Barcelona. Rory Gibb catches up with him to discuss thirteen favourite and formative albums, improvisation and atheist spirituality


Tony Conrad & Faust - 'From The Side Of Man & Womankind' (from the album Outside The Dream Syndicate)

I can't even remember when I found this, but it's been a mental reference for the whole time I was writing The Inheritors. The best thing about it is that my friend organised a 'listening to music in the dark' night: he taped up all the windows of his living room, and borrowed all his friends' speakers and put them in a sort of Stonehenge around the edge of the room, and put gaffa tape over every LED, sealed the door after everyone had gone to the loo. It was serious, you couldn't see anything, it was complete sensory deprivation. We'd each brought a piece of music to play, and Gemma [Sheppard, Border Community label manager and Holden's partner] and I brought this, which seemed appropriate. Being completely in the dark for that length of time, slightly off your tits, listening to this, it was so instense. That friend is responsible for quite a few of my best musical experiences, but that one just felt really - everyone reported that 'my mind wandered', one friend had had a whole lucid dream about joining the IRA [laughs], which seems flippant but it was real, it meant something.

It's such powerful music. I've read a lot of stuff Tony Conrad's written, and he's big into hypnotism and how the mind can be tricked or hacked, or wants to be tricked or hacked, by sensory experiences like music. I was lucky to see him play at Cafe Oto as well, and that was fantastic, again just a brilliant performer onstage doing something you can't really understand. His improvisation at Oto was so simple - a loop pedal and a violin, but it's the shapes of the music, where it's going, it's confusing: what is this chord now? Where is it going to resolve to? It never really explains itself to you, but it just has that effect. We all felt really changed after listening to it in the dark, it was the closest atheists can get to a religious experience.

I don't think I have much else to say about this record. It's got that thing of being pure and unencumbered. There's rock instrumentation in it, but they don't do anything beyond the minimum - kick, snare - it doesn't have any extra signifiers that would date it or attach it to a certain group of people. It's just tone and texture and shape, and an atmosphere. There's a B-side which I think I've only listened to twice [laughs], I've not even listened to the whole album. Just 'From The Side Of Man & Womankind', I just want to keep reliving that experience over and over. That's perfect.