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Noel’s Foul House: New Weird Britain for March
Noel Gardner , March 27th, 2018 08:04

Happy birthday to our New Weird Britain column, which is one year old and still mewling and puking in our grateful arms. This month: Wart Biter, Cysta Cysta, DJ Ford Foster, White-fawn and more

Noel’s Foul House is now one year old, and continues to be splendid fun to write: taking three oft-abused words, ‘New Weird Britain’, as its starting point, then drawing boundaries around these loose concepts on the hoof and using whatever caveats I feel like to cover music I’m feeling and liking. And if anyone cares enough to ask, I’ll explain the link between any two given artists who’ve been reviewed… try me.

I also get to roam into the territory of other people’s Quietus columns, including my own, and cover stuff which might as readily have fitted in there. This month, for example, features burly noiserock-peppered free jazz, tack-sharp booty house and acid bizniz, psych-punk interStella overdrive and, once again, a big bag of cassettes. Don’t approve? Crank the MP3s while winding the spools round your big, increasingly purple toe. Like, in a better world the self-titled debut tape by Wart Biter would be on wax and flying out the racks, but in this actual world who I am to tell label Hominid Sounds how to risk their outlay?

Wart Biter, whose indelicate name is complemented by the extreme closeup of tripe which serves as their album art, are a trio featuring two repeat guests of this column – saxophone wrestler Colin Webster and Anglo-Norwegian drum demon Tom Fuglesang – plus synth player Mat Rowlands. The label notes Rowlands is a member of Alien Sex Fiend, though is most likely in their orbit through working with Hominid Sounds’ Gordon Watson on a few past projects. His contributions are, if not lowkey, then droning and textural, relative to the steady-but-loose fashion in which Fuglesang keeps time and the enervating chunks of lung Webster adds to the melee.

In that captivating Evan Parker tradition of conjuring sensitive lyricism from sonic grotesquerie, the reed man summons gutturally low doomtones on ‘Stow Faking’, sustained bassy howls across the relentless ‘Bagging Area’ and, on ‘Blackhorse Grind’, joins his two bandmates for a uneasy low-volume lope, all delicate mallets and sweet wrapper-crackle electronics. And that’s just the ten-minute-plus numbers: there’s plenty of sweet grot wedged in between, which hints at its members’ other ventures (psych jams, dubby techno and Webster’s work in Sex Swing) but ends up in a different place to all of them.

There’s a good reason that Sorrow (Opal Tapes), the debut release by David Terry under his own name, arrives on cassette – it’s 86 minutes long, the last of its tracks weighing in at about half that. Anything that required editing for format, or getting up to change sides three times, would have done a great disservice to music as immersive as a sea burial and which sounds older than recorded time.

You might know Terry as guitarist and vocalist in Newcastle band Bong, whose slo-mo sci-fi heaviosity is the not-entirely-missing link between Sunn O))) and Hawkwind. That he might have a yen for synth-led ambient minimalism isn’t necessarily a great shock (especially if you’ve heard his pre-Bong project Trollmann Av Ildtoppberg), but when he uploaded a lengthy solo composition late last year, people – me included – seemed sincerely blown away by his aptitude for the form. Three more demonstrate subtly different angles to Terry’s vision. ‘My Friends, You Are Shining Pillars Of Light’ weds droning accordion à la Pauline Oliveros to the artist’s omm-ing, perhaps throat singing-inspired voice, repeating fragments of the title phrase. ‘Slowly, Slowly, Up Into The Rain We Fell’ is a 25-minute instrumental piece in which keyboards blurrily harmonise, like a choir in the next village over, and quasi-percussive clanks arrive and depart. ‘Crummock Water’, the aforementioned C90 side-filler, is the most intense of the trio, spiralling keys building to a peak at around 15 minutes and drums featuring for the first time. Some of my favourite musical moments of 2018 so far are contained in Sorrow, and while it certainly has more in common with, say, Terry Riley than any of David Terry’s metal leanings, there’s a new Bong album out in a few weeks and this tape might nudge me into listening to them with fresh ears.

Here’s something I don’t normally do in this column: wax ecstatic about anonymous Bandcamp discoveries with no confirmed connection to the rest of the UK underground. That is what I’m doing so I can talk about White-fawn, who uploaded several albums of incredibly lush and enchanting music at the start of March with virtually no paper trail. I don’t wish to blow their cover, but this is what I know/understand: first name Anna, lives somewhere in south Wales, has hosted and deleted her music on at least four previous Bandcamp URLs, spins shimmering, lissom free folk out of a harp, voice and, for the most part, very little else. Dreamworlds, one of four White-Fawn albums presented here as new and with plain white artwork, is the exception to this rule, in that it deploys beats and reminds me a bit of Colleen; another, The Morose Diaries, is more abrasive (tracks justly titled ‘Distortion’ and ‘Noise Concrète’) and free improv-rooted.

The remaining two, Faerie Girl / Spirit World and Golden-Realms, contain what strikes me as White-fawn’s forte: deft, pastoral flights of harp-based new age fancy, mostly eschewing the abrasion and speckling the canvas with birdsong, rainfall and wordless, Liz-Fraser-to-the-power-of-ten vocal coos and trills. The titles may give the impression of cheesecloth hippy waffle, but the music is far too strange and elusive to be categorised thus. I have few if any meaningful reference points for it, really, but have played FG/SW more than anything else this year. Would like to think a record label could coax White-Fawn out of near-anonymity and release some of this properly.

Owlet, the label releasing Bristol duo COIMS’ latest offering Boneless Feast, reckon you really need to see them play live to get the full picture. Hey, no one ever claimed the short-run UK underground was great at self-promotion. As it goes, I’m feeling these seven excerpts of aleatory creeping gurgle a lot more with the intimacy of headphones than witnessing the pair in the corner of a bar, gamely trying to cut through people’s chatter.

Fashioning sound from guitar, drums and electronics, occasionally COIMS land on a motif and maintain it (‘Gnob 1’, the peak-building ‘Odeon’); more often they’re impulsive and mutant, Jan Davey’s percussion aiming less to keep the beat than throw you off it, guitarist Oliver White bowing and scraping more than Nicholas Witchell at a royal wedding. Their approach to form unconventional if not unprecedented, White bears textural and conceptual comparison to someone like Bill Nace, Boneless Feast to swathes of the early-00s American CDr substrata (Double Leopards, No-Neck Blues Band etc). Seems this sound is somewhat out of fashion now, in terms of new bands emerging who resemble it, so kudos to COIMS for this revival, wilful or otherwise.

A lot of punks/noisers/general weirdos have reinvented themselves as electronic producers, but few as comprehensively as Noah Brown, aka DJ Ford Foster. Once a mere dude from Leeds with a few dirgey bands on the go and a penchant for drawing bad taste cartoons (and another left-behind past in a grindie band), around 2012 he started turning his hand to raw Dance Mania-style booty techno. And lo, people dug it, and not just in Brown’s immediate circle of pals – he’s since featured on a Fabric mix album and Mike Dunn remixed his last single. Now, London warehouse techno ledge Jerome Hill has set up a new label, Bleeper, to release Bounce That – a four-track 12-inch by Ford Foster and Frankie Castle, who’s (slightly) better known as quasi-grime producer Sarantis.

‘Bounce That’ the track is a completely unabashed homage to classic ghetto house, replete with relentlessly clapping hi-hats, squealing acid synths and sped-up vocal loops about asses. If you told most people it was an authentic time capsule from mid-90s Chicago, I doubt they’d question you (though I guess they might have no idea what you were talking about). Jerome Hill handles remix duties himself and tweaks the beat into a panelbeating clatter, more DJ Rush than DJ Funk, before ‘Shake That’ rounds off with a driving club tool and more sampled ass talk. I love this, with the caveat that it’s essentially dress-up: Ford Foster’s previous tapes and twelves sound like they’ve a bit more Noah Brown in them, if you ghett me.

Posthuman have been repping the UK electronic underground since the beginning of the century, initially in the realm of what might be called IDM, but the London duo are now on a recognisably techno tip, with a side dish of acid revivalism (they even have a label called I Love Acid). Two 12-inches out this month bear this out, and don’t fuck about either: the four-track MetroJak One EP (Chiwax) brims with, once again, Chicago techno and 303 fizz, ‘Breaker’ being an especially raucous combo of both. The brash, stomping electro bass of ‘Five Mile Burn’ is a tidy closer, too; then we have The Damocles Syndicate, a two-tracker on Dutch label Shipwrec. ‘Netflix And Kill’ is nowhere near as naff as its title, large and springy drums creating a kind of industrial samba as a chuggy techno bassline dips and rises. ‘The Damocles Syndicate’ tops ten minutes, distinguishes itself through a dreamily cosmic synth line and, in contrast to its A-side cousin, sounds geographically rootless as techno goes, in a good way.

A cassette by Zim Zum on ZamZam sounds like someone’s halfhearted attempt at satirising, uh y’know these noisy goons with their funny madeup names and no desire to sell huge amounts of records. In fact, it’s impeccably real – Zim Zum, a Lancastrian named Amy Horgan, captured by a French-formerly-Bristolian tape label. The six-track Zim Zum is Horgan’s debut release, if not recording – she also plays in witchy Manchester ensemble Water, breathes the same air as the Gnod / Tesla Tapes extended family and makes music which sounds of a piece with many of those crazy critters. Distantly resembling techno, but committed to its grinding, fuggy atmosphere more than providing beat-based succour, ‘Knightmare Space Cake’ churns with the dread of Throbbing Gristle or Carlos Giffoni; the dubbed-up chain rattling and ghostly gasps of ‘Routine Maintenance On The Initiation Highway’ is colder and creepier still. ‘Deathwish N.M’, the most rhythmically linear moment here, is graced with a vocal from Michael O’Neill, whose street-poet rap about some inspecific grim crim pettiness is a tonic to hear again after a good few years of minimal activity.

The historical canon of sweaters in song lyrics, which is a thing that can be deemed to exist, mainly treats the clothing item as a metaphor for emotional comfort and/or romance. ‘Roll Neck Wanker’, a song on Cysta Cysta’s debut tape Not OKCupid, runs counter to this rule, the garment serving as shorthand for a certain type of insufferable classic rock-obsessed man one is forced to endure socially. Cysta Cysta – Liz, Kylie and Charlotte, a London trio – meet a lot of wankers by the sound of it: ‘Left On Read’ is about guys’ performative (and shit) taste in literature, ‘Sadlads On Holiday’ rhymes “Tinder photo” with “in Oslo”. Without them there may have never been a Not OKCupid, so credit where it’s due. More creditably, the group formed initially to play DIY Space For London’s annual First Timers weekender, sidestepping both the expectations of the Serious Musician gig circuit and its white-dude hegemony and fashioning an environment where Cysta Cysta’s bilious UKDIY clatter and fingerpointing snark can thrive.

The God Unknown label’s annual singles club – ten seven-inches a year in nice die-cut sleeves for a pretty-cheap-at-this-point £50 – includes plenty of artists relevant to this column and remains committed to the ailing ‘split record’ format, indeed pairing up many names it’s a surprise to find together. Casual Nun and Luminous Bodies, two psych-punk double drumkit bands from London who sometimes share members, are rather less of a shock, but seeing as their God Unknown split just came out and both bands dish up a head-cooker, I come only to praise.

CaNu’s ‘Sleet Knife’ is faster and more hammer-direct than their average for two minutes before dropping into a sludgy slough, the whole reminding me a bunch of Montreal’s very underrated No Negative. LuBo, meanwhile, whoop it up with ‘Lyrics’, whose lyrics are of course indecipherable; five and a half minutes of joyful riff salad that sounds like it features about ten guitarists (two the presumed actual number), their first recorded offering for two and a half years does nothing to advance their “Butthole Surfers if they were a biker metal band” vibe, and nor should it need to.