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New Weird Britain

Noel's Foul House: New Weird Britain This September
Noel Gardner , September 13th, 2017 07:19

Sticky jewels from the UK DIY underground, including The Rebel, Buttonhead, Aging, Memnon Sa, Green Door Studios and Dtub

Buttonhead picture by Jake McGowen

New Weird Britain! Thanks to the efforts of The Quietus’ major dudes, it looks like the detritus covered in this column might have a name with a chance of sticking, which is cool because I always wanted to be at the vanguard of something that winds up dorks. In any event, it will remain a broad tent, or a big church, which I hope the releases in this edition bear out.

Parts of New Weird Britain are newer, weirder or more (audibly) British than others, but will any of them do the important job of ‘capturing the national mood’? Let me answer that question by insisting that you shoot me, with a gun, if I ever try to suggest that of anything. As the thinkpieces on the 20th anniversary of Cool Britannia squelch into existence, perhaps we should reflect on how narcissistic, exclusionary and self-serving a concept it was. The idea that some famous pop cultural figures might be avatars for 60 million or so people is objectively insulting, really, and although the impulse to make these kind of grand claims will probably never go away entirely, nowadays it’s easier – thanks to our technological means of consuming media – to just ignore these tools if you want to. Get all my third-hand understanding of low-rent Britculture through the lyrics of Russell Walker and his band The Bomber Jackets, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

Kudos To The Bomber Jackets (Alter) is the second LP by the trio, who also feature Dan Bolger from another of Walker’s bands, The Pheromoans, and Sian Dorrer from dayglo-dressed Londoners Ravioli Me Away. Its coupling of janky minimal synth beatscapes and glum, faintly wistful vocals is more accessible than Charcoal Owls, a Walker project who I reviewed two columns back, but no more likely to be played at Fabric. ‘Deranged Sauce Mum’ (a satisfying sequence of words to type) is an elegiac, oddly pretty thing lurched onward by a vocal loop redolent of early-90s proto-rave, except slowed down instead of sped up; ‘Feed’ is like DJ Screw tackling OMD. ‘All I Wanna Do Is Stay At Home’ has a sickly, resinous dub vibe that captures its title’s inertia.

It’s all kept anchored to Realness by Walker – sounding indolent as ever, across the LP’s eight tracks he references Lovejoy, Jockey Slut, ‘pingers’, Levi Roots, Caesar The Geezer, Calippos, Biggins (presumably Christopher), The Wicker Man (as in, “he’s always going on about...”) and Tosh Lines (who has a song named after him). Plus the excitingly lateral hypothesis, “If The Beatles were around today / They’d be bogus paramilitaries / They’d get a big East End send-off.”

An incurable habit of muttering about arcane, lumpen British culture to a backing of unfriendly hissing clunk is not The Bomber Jackets’ exclusive pursuit – indeed, Ben Wallers was doing it first as vocalist in obscene garage rockers The Country Teasers. Having retired that practice several years ago, nowadays Wallers most often performs solo as The Rebel, and has a new album, Poems With Water Trilogy, on Texan label Monofonus Press. It’s compiled from three exceedingly limited CDrs and tapes so strictly speaking it's not ‘new’, but it hangs together as a singular work with grand, grotty vision.

There are no concessions to accessibility here, nor any suspicion that Wallers might ever moderate his darkest thoughts for the sensitive listener. Generally either speaking or speak-singing over mangy tape loops and skip-salvaged synths, one minute he – or one of the various personae he affects – is preaching a gospel of rank misogyny, the next offering to crucify himself in the name of smashing patriarchy. Parts of the eight-minute ‘As Pants The Hart’ resemble a now-senile 1970s blue comedian talking in his sleep, while suffice to say that his cover of The Carter Family’s ‘I Found You Amongst The Roses’, which inexplicably turns into a cover of ‘Sign O’The Times’ towards the end, is not pitched at country gospel purists.

The more you try and imagine what a Rebel LP – and Poems With Water Trilogy is an especially uncompromising one – might be for, in one’s litany of listening habits, the more grateful you feel for people like Ben Wallers, who don’t give a shit about the ‘function’ of their music. Nevertheless, this should surely be experienced alone, ideally in a mildewed room peppered with empty lager cans.

Rather self-owningly, given that Foul House exists to advocate for British underground music against its more alluring American counterpart, it’s fallen to Californian label Castle Face to drive home the excellence of Duds to me. Previous encounters with the Manchester group’s earliest uploads, approx 18 months ago, met with spirited garage-meets-no-wave chunters that would have sounded good opening for Erase Errata in 2003 or something, but not obvious future breakout smashes. Debut album Of A Nature Or Degree, though, is a giant step up.

With half its songs coming in under two minutes, it’s got both the brevity and the fastidious timekeeping of NYC OGs like Teenage Jesus and Mars – and ‘No Remark’, which opens the album, could be a more scowl-voiced cousin of Wire’s ‘12XU’. Occasional saxophone distributes colour of sorts, but OANOD is a record of rhythms: staccato, interlocking, teasingly stepping out of line like a military miscreant, even Giulio Erasmus’ vocals a click-clack of blunt consonants rather than a shot at melody.

Duds evoke in equal measure the late 1970s, the mid 1980s (I catch echoes of awkward leftie bookworms Big Flame and The Ex here and there) and the early 21st century (they’d have been a good fit for the Troubleman label at a certain point, notwithstanding its dodgy fucker rep), but are a long way to finding their own, ineffable voice. Along with Housewives, this is the neo-no-wave of 2017.

The second album by Londoners Buttonhead is comparably brief, seven songs in under half an hour. Never Or Forget (Horse Arm) is indulgent in its own way, though, multi-layered many-sectioned dashes through olde tyme prog and slightly newer tyme math-rock. Not wholly certain which of the seven members is doing what, although it features two of the British underground’s best drummers – Tomaga’s Valentina Magaletti and Tom Fug from Gum Takes Tooth and Luminous Bodies – so they are, hopefully, put to best purpose.

Buttonhead’s trademark moves are the rapid-fire prog-pop riff, the high-pitched female vocal and the sudden descent into cartoon-soundtrack instrumentation for little reason other than ‘because we can’. To this end, it sometimes resembles Deerhoof quite starkly, but this is perpetually tempered by a dusting of home-nations eccentricity, traceable to Kevin Ayers and the like. It’s up my avenue for sure, but others may be driven cuckoo by Never Or Forget even before its closing flourish, ‘Tina De Gower’, combines noisy guitar sculpture with gurgling babytalk for four and a half nerve-jangling minutes.

'In A Room', Gad Whip’s first vinyl product, is a one-sided 12-inch released by New York’s Ever/Never label, so might not prove especially cheap for about ten minutes of music. Purchasers can, if left feeling parsimonious, download nearly all their previous releases for free, and acquaint themselves with the catalogue of a wonky, obstinate, largely unsung but often terrific rabble of postpunk curios. Their assemblage of clanky guitar, clankier electronics and spoken-ish vocals has sometimes been stretched to luxurious lengths – ‘The Arguement’ [sic], from their 2015 Breakdown Test tape, is an especially choice example – but In A Room’s four songs are each short and snapping, as in at heels.

Vocalist and drummer Pete Davies’ delivery seems to have taken on more of a performance poet cadence; you might hear John Cooper Clarke or Jason Williamson (Gad Whip, like Sleaford Mods, are partly Lincolnshire-originated – the name comes from a puzzling religious custom recorded in the county’s history), and the more limber readings of krautrock and postpunk in his percussion. Geoff Bolam and Eva Davies drone and oscillate wildly but efficiently – proof that the ‘space’ in spacerock doesn’t have to imply unlimited space – with ‘Fun Fair Fish’ wheeling in a Fall/Datblygu-like wheezing organ to fine effect. I also appreciate the fact that I’ve listened to this several times and still not figured out if Davies is singing “The day Redman became toast” on the title track, or “Redknapp”. Possibly neither.

Voracious readers of this website might have seen Misha ‘Memnon Sa’ Hering interviewed a couple of months back, unveiling – and gabbing about – his second album, Lemurian Dawn (Aurora Borealis). A metalhead by nature, the London-based Hering admits his adherence to the form dragged down Citadel, his 2014 debut LP – not that that’s a flop, as DIY doomy desert psych goes, but Lemurian Dawn uses metal as a source of aesthetics and emotions, bypassing its riffs and turning out a grand suite of blackened kosmische horror business.

Even the Atilla Cshar-like crypto-throat singing which opens the album sells us a dummy, as ‘Celestial Ark’ ascends into an ozone of Goblin battledrums and a pageboy-clean church bell synth riff. ‘Binary Sun’ unravels with surehanded delicacy, not wholly unlike an all-keys Earth; ‘Healing Chamber’ has the germ of a funky drummer amidst its regal sweeps and ‘Ahura Madza’, the LP closer, might be its highlight too thanks to a glorious bisecting of the Radiophonic Workshop and Berlin School modi operandi. The album I keep getting flashbacks to, although Memnon Sa is less dancey, is Alex Moulton’s Exodus – a brilliant cosmic disco powerhouse from 2008 by a dude who promptly vanished. Lemurian Dawn is no kind of club music, but given a stacked soundsystem and close-to-zero-as-legal lighting it might have you saying Hail Marys on the dancefloor.

Manchester-dwelling saxophone swinger David McLean has been on a productive tearout this year: Aging’s Suitable For Night (a cassette on his own Tombed Visions label) is something like his sixth album since January 1. As it goes, this is an ideal companion piece – intentionally or otherwise – to his Naked (On Drugs) album, This Gift, which dropped in February, with that record's Barry Adamson-into-Oxbow punky noir offset by this 33 minutes of downer jazz mood pricking. For a while, it’s all brushed drums and caramel luxury, and you need merely sink into it like a valium waterbed; unease grips the closing stages of ‘Doused In The Moon’, either McLean or Sebastien Perrin’s sax reverting to roiling atonality. The title track, which follows, features vocals from poet Lauren Bolger, who flits between eroticised gasps and inscrutable Manc-accented verse. (She also makes fine Sonic Youth-y skronk as Locean.)

A return to calm on ‘The Kiss Of Wet Asphalt’ is belied by Andy Patterson’s itchy, impatient double bass work and ‘Ballade Pour Ma Bête Noire’, while travelling the least distance from its starting point, is another lush piece of lowlit interplay. German band Bohren & Der Club Of Gore are one of the tags on the Bandcamp page, which might be more a case of McLean trying to snag listeners than begging the comparison per se – but it’s not a galaxy off, although Aging are less linear, more changeable. Right now they’d probably do well to try a ‘Lynchian’ tag or similar, too, not that these suave fuckers need my advice on how to comport themselves.

Jaxson Payne aka Dtub used to live in Cornwall, founding some sort of conceptual IDM collective called Koept, and is currently based in Cardiff, after a period in London moonlighting in Gum Takes Tooth among other activities. He’s been developing his live performances on electronic drums for several years, and the two resultant MIDI-Drum Compositions albums are both essential outsider rave tackle. The first, released on Graham Dunning’s Fractal Meat Cuts label, was on an embryonic 1989 techno tip; the new, self-released MIDI-Drum Compositions-2 is inspired by the last 15 years of grime and dubstep, and inspired in general.

The central conceit of Dtub is that everything you hear is “played live, in one take – no overdubs, loops or backing tracks” which is less a sop to Keep Music Live purism and more a ‘how the fuck does he do that’ headscratcher. It becomes a bit more plausible if you’ve seen Payne perform, but what you hear appears meticulously programmed – judiciously layering wobbly basslines, crisp snare thwacks and vocal motifs. Using the “I love you-you-you” sample, from the Dizzee Rascal track of that name, on ‘Tom Thumbs Arch’ might be a little on the nose as regards his debt to early-00s grime, but he’s nailed that scene’s rhythmic invention, lo-fi paranoia and angular aggression for sure. There’s a few curveballs towards the end of the tape, too, notably ‘Nak-Dragon’s snub-nosed basement-industrial hip-hop and ‘Vogue Fem’, which chops up beats and voice in juke/footwork-like style. Would be cool if that’s a harbinger of the third Dtub tape.

2ndSun are a production duo from Warrington who, after a couple of years off the scene, have returned with a six-track cassette on Blue Tapes. Their previous releases were kinda modish deep-house-teetering-on-techno, remixed by Ben Pearce and West Norwood Cassette Library if that gives you an idea, but Blue Twenty-Five is a turn for the weird and abrasive. I suspect 2ndSun are treating the format as carte blanche to fuck with their boundaries a little, and why not? You can still dance to what Olly Stork and Steve Burnett are serving, but it’s rougher round the edges, its loops more lopsided – ‘Totem Spire’, which stacks up insistent arpeggios and a squealing-brakes synth riff, is like Robert Hood if he had to return all his gear in a few hours, and perhaps the highlight of this EP. As hard as cuts like ‘Shard’ and the electro-y ‘Velour’ go, there’s a becalming, sun-coming-up warmth to this music that makes 2ndSun more than welcome entrants into the bizarro-techno depths.

The acronymic word ‘neet’, derived from ‘not in employment, education or training’, is not in itself pejorative, but rarely used in a positive context. Glasgow label Akashic are bucking that rule with N.E.E.T, a compilation of (mostly) covers recorded in the city’s Green Door Studios over the last eight years, as part of a course aimed at local youth who fit the neet description. A follow-up of sorts to the Musikal Yooth LP from 2010, this is a worthy exercise, honourable even, but I wouldn’t be writing about it here if it wasn’t great as well.

Much credit for the results should go to Green Door’s Emily McLaren and Stuart Evans: you might imagine things like this to be helmed by perfunctory level-adjusters hired more for their patience than production smarts, but both have a wish to experiment like historic legends of the console. Equally, they couldn’t do that without keen musicians, which is how we get covers like Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Moanin’ At Midnight’ – synth-blues-garage dementia that reminds me of long-gone Jay Reatard project Lost Sounds – ‘Tainted Love’ given a kitchen-sink dub treatment and Devo’s ‘Jocko Homo’ squawked with gleeful vigour, spruced up with the sounds of a distressed 8-bit farmyard and a quizzical “fuckin’ hell” right at the end. As for whoever the singer is on the Stooges’ ‘1969’, barely forming syllables for the amount he’s doing his nut, it would be a travesty if that was his only vocal performance ever.

That none of the performers are credited is the only bugbear with N.E.E.T, in fact, although there might be reasons for this I’m not party to; it’s not all covers, either, there are some impulsive instrumental gadabouts which appear to be originals. Conversely, you could look at it as an example of how no-name one-shot musicians can blow in and out of a booth and create timeless outsider excellence without even knowing or trying.