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Noel’s Foul House: Your New Weird Britain for May
Noel Gardner , May 29th, 2018 07:23

Our powerful bi-monthly antidote to pop music, a round-up of the real stuff, music available primarily on cassette tape and three-inch CD, songs that will glow from the boot of your car like in Repo Man. Includes Aja, Yeah You, Vanishing Twin and the great Nick Blinko of Rudimentary Peni

rudimentary drawing of a hairy head on yellow background with one eye in the middle of it Illustration from the 3rd Prize cover

It was probably ever thus, really, but in 2018 it seems especially likely that if you asked 100 people what constitutes ‘success’ in music, you’d get 100 different answers. Almost no one makes money from being a recording artist, and the idea that you can claw back lost readies from touring and merch sales has long been dismissed as a muttonheaded fantasy. What you can do is record and release music very cheaply and easily, and get it heard by people thousands of miles away for free. So the fact that several of the releases covered in this edition of Foul House are available in very limited physical quantities shouldn’t lead you to think that amounts to their entire listenership. Except for the ones where the artists have ensured this is the case.

In the confines of Britain’s undefined underground, Nottingham-based solo noise artist Aja Ireland feels like not only a success, but a star. Her practice is primarily performance-based, and what performances – costumes ranging from grotesque to, ah, minimal; an approach to confrontation that subverts noise music’s man-centric revenge-of-the-nerds history of the same; unapologetically centring feminist and pro-queer values for attendees be they converts, converted or aghast. As she notes in this recent Quietus profile, though, an Aja audience riding a singular wave is a glorious experience.

Even after seeing her play live, where she tends to spend as much time away from her equipment as behind it, one might be fooled into thinking Aja’s actual music is a secondary concern. Her self-titled seven-song cassette on Opal Tapes – her first release, apart from a track on that label’s recent compilation The Harvest Of A Quiet Eye, puts paid to that notion. Brashly, starkly digital in its sound design, its opening two cuts, ‘Rattles’ and ‘Charge’, employ beats of a sort, but sludgy and backmasked amidst heavily-medded time-stretched vocals and bass drops that feel like gas explosions a street away. The pressure dial gets cranked on ‘Sweat Pearls’ – kickdrums like a pissed 4am knock on the wrong door, manipulated voice samples like an argument about which is the right door – and melts entirely come ‘Tuck It, Tape It’, a homage to drag culture through the medium of obscene mid-00s breakcore (Doormouse or Jason Forrest, say). Closer ‘Marbles’ spends 50 seconds insisting it’s going to be a mournful folk-infused soother before dropping the pretence with a neck-snap breakbeat that mutates, vanishes and emerges through several different sections, including one that is spectacular twin-turbo hard trance.

Even for an album worked on over three years, Aja sounds astonishingly self-assured, a project at its zenith of development. It’s wholly non-commercial music, often murky and abrasive, but despite – likely because of – a failing high-level music industry currently unwilling to consider anything but the softest soap, a portal has opened where difficult electronica can play to sizeable crowds. It would be both unsurprising and deserved if Aja followed the likes of Arca, Fever Ray, Powell and Holly Herndon to a place of high visibility; it would also be interesting to see how her approach to performance dealt with that.

Also fresh out on Opal Tapes, in tandem with the Slip label, is KHOT<, a ‘non-album’ by Yeah You which you’ll have to buy on tape should you wish to hear it. Apart from the above video for ‘Reap Your Defects’, which sees the Newcastle father-daughter duo in their most typical recording location – the front seats of a car – and which if anything undersells the uncooked abstraction of the bulk of what surrounds it. By Yeah You’s own standards, Khot is a challenging listen. That is to say, the germ of pop sensibility normally found in their recordings (cf their other 2018 release, the Vhod cassette on Alter) is almost entirely foregone.

Where the breathless ranting of Freya ‘Elvin Brandhi’ Edmondes spliced with the supremely and sincerely lo-fi electro of pater William (trading as Mykl Jaxn here) sometimes suggests a family of post-nuclear mutants trying to get signed to late-00s Ed Banger, these compositions are weirder, gloomier and more insular. At times, such as on ‘%230217-SVFN’ (that’s the title) and the intro to ‘Utrecht Kqyews’, Freya sounds quite distressed, although this may well be performative. “I seek revenge before I ever have good reason,” she continues, over slow gobbets of Casio beats. If, as she’s previously claimed, all Yeah You’s lyrics come off the dome and into a handheld recorder, then I’m honestly in awe. The implication seems to be that Khot is a deliberately unpleasant, technically regressive recording, to nobble even the small amount of exposure afforded Yeah You to date – but, like people who listen to bootlegs of Grateful Dead tunings, it seems I’m happy to wallow in these lexically brilliant phraselets and passenger seat-fidelity synth grub regardless.

Iggor Cavalera is already properly famous, to metal fans at any rate – drummer of Brazilian thrash titans Sepultura for over 20 years, thus one of the most gamechanging sticksmen in extreme music, and now performing with his also ex-Sepulturan brother Max in Cavalera Conspiracy. Fascinating! What does that have to do with this column or anything which might appear in it? Well, you rude oik, he lives in London now and has formed a duo, Petbrick, who recently self-released a four-song tape of studio-sculpted metallic electronics. Limited to 50 copies, or one for every 2,000 people who reputedly watched Sepultura play Rio in 1991.

The second member of Petbrick, Wayne Adams, offers a clearer pointer to the origins of their sound through his other extant group, Big Lad – like this, a melee of trigger-happy metal percussion and frothy midrange synth noise. Petbrick is uglier and less raveable, hinting at both the dancefloor and the arena-wide moshpit without ever allowing the succour of either. Towards the end of ‘Bog Egg’, Cavalera is given the chance to showboat in the form of a grindcore-type blastfest leading into a round-the-kit solo, which itself then gets sliced up in gabber-tempo chopper blades. Similarly, the clammy industrial foreboding that marks out ‘Heaven’s Gate’ is coloured, briefly, by a riff on the Latin beats Cavalera peppered across Sepultura’s Roots. This tape is fun as hell, and if we can’t reasonably expect Petbrick to be either member’s main priority (Adams runs a recording studio by day) we can hope it makes them feel as keyed up as they sound here.

Not entirely dissimilar, conceptually, are Spiritflesh: a new alias for two Bristolian dance producers, Julian Smith (October) and Boris English (Borai). They’ve clubbed together on wax a few times before, but Spiritflesh is billed as their outlet for dark, droney quasi-industrial peculiarity. So far, this has aired on a NoCorner Records compilation released late last year, and latterly a five-song cassette on the same label, with even fewer available than Petbrick’s and nothing online (apart from opening track ‘Mortuary’, around 37 minutes into the Ossia mix above). Fortunately, it’ll be turned into a 12-inch imminently, meaning I’m not a total dick for reviewing something almost no one will be able to hear.

Smith and English sound like they’re making music informed by the club, if not aimed at it – the grinding bass and tribal percussion on ‘Mortuary’ recalls dubstep doombringers like Shackleton and Vex’d, while ‘Cobalt Links’ pairs up a ruff female rap a cappella with a swirling bad-dream backdrop. Conversely, the voice on ‘Menace’ sounds like someone gurgling through their final throes, his soundtrack a beatless sinkhole of horror electronics, while ‘Pimp Femme’ sounds like the repeated slamming of a prison cell door given an ambient dub refix. Also, a quick mention for the packaging of this release – there isn’t any, it’s just a tape with no case. It was posted inside a padded envelope, though, rather than putting an address label and stamp directly onto the casing, which would have impressed me.

Here’s a twelve-inch (on Perc Trax) by two of Britain’s biggest techno brutes, Perc & Truss, containing three remixes of their 2016 thunderer ‘Leather & Lace’. Aja did some vocals on the last Perc album, and Pinch – one of the remixers here – is a Bristol contemporary of October, so there’s yer family ties. Oh, and Mumdance & Logos’ contribution features the least expected laser-reacher trance deviation since… the Aja album; the Aphex-circa-Analord acid squigglage that surrounds it is pretty tasty too. Pinch, who shed his dubstep exoskeleton some years ago, retains the Perc-trademark megareverbed vocals and outsized riff refrain while introducing a big room techno spaciousness. And the nine minutes of oppressively widescreen kickdrum-driven muscle by Ghost In The Machine might scoop the prize, except they’re Dutch so banned from this column. Just joshing! Open all borders.

Greatly enjoyed seeing Bodies On Everest play in Salford the other day. The highlight of a set of ceaseless Skullflower-style obliteration came about halfway in, when the sound engineer came to the stage to ask if they could maybe turn it down a bit, and was met with an unambiguous shake of the head, which seemed to settle the matter. A National Day Of Mourning (released by Third I on CD, Cruel Nature on tape), the first physical release by this Northwestern English trio, isn’t quite that assaultive, but gives it a good go.

Six songs in 66 minutes, it’s got the tempo of funeral doom, the itch-inside-ya-skull tones of power electronics and, with ‘Suspicious Canoe’, some of the most thuddingly Neolithic anti-chops noiserock I’ve heard in a minute. ‘unreleaseddeathvideo.flac’, an opening track whose title teeters on the very brink of trying too hard, is eleven minutes of unintelligible voices (there seem to be a lot of those this month) and largely inert bass feedback, acrid and bubbling like skin set aflame. Bodies On Everest have two bassists and no guitarist, which certainly accentuates their general bludgeon factor, although they fed everything into the post-production sausage machine so comprehensively that there could be any number of strings, keys, plugins or self-destruct buttons on their instruments of choice.

Firm But Fair (Stolen Body) is the third album by Bristol four-piece The Brackish, but the first I’ve heard. My limited interactions with their other bands, all Avon-based and with origins going back a decade or more, didn’t prime me for liking this as much as I do: a set of instrumental pieces – approaching ‘heavy’ at times, often more meditative. The Brackish have a standard rock band setup, but often feel like a vehicle for their two guitarists, Luke Cawthra and Neil Smith. There are lots of great-sounding guitars on here: Neil Young Dead Man-type desert jamming, quasi-new age tinkling, bits evocative of weird marginal rusty post-rockers like A Minor Forest or someone (‘Birdman’) and rad squealy riff salad like Canterbury prog in a teenage metal basement (‘Bango’s Xmas’). And, lest bassist Jacob Tyghe and drummer Matt Jones read this and get the hump, they make for a crack engine-room too.

“WHO STILL BUYS CDS???” Not my words, but ones written on a Post-It attached to Cigarettes and Stuff by 3rd Prize. The answer is ‘me, occasionally’ (see also this issue: Bodies On Everest), just as the answer to ‘who still releases music on 3-inch CDs in cases roughly the size of a Post-It?’ is ‘these guys, apparently’.

The Cardiff-based 3rd Prize are a duo of Rosie Smith, who makes solo indiepop as Oh Peas! among other things, and Casey Raymond, who sometimes makes music videos for pop stars but, long before that, made lots of cassettes (click that link if only to see a surviving Angelfire webpage!) of questionable-taste bedroom noise which, nearly 20 years ago, introduced me to the ‘no audience underground’. As it wasn’t called at the time.

And here, possibly as a one-off, Smith and Raymond make an EP of strange, pseudo-exotic instrumentals which variously sound like James Ferraro playing palm-wine guitar music (‘Huey And The Gooey Kablooie’); some Galaxie 500 deep bath slowcore with a drone somewhere between a harmonium and a wasp (‘The Infinites’); 94 seconds of free-associative skrinngg and barple (‘Jogurt’) and something which might, underneath all the space-age tape wobble and Morse code blips, be a benign and non-creepy folk tune (‘Trotting Hamutaro’). Cigarettes and Stuff would be a good soundtrack for silent footage of 1950s bomb tests.

More gloopy popwise exotica arrives on a tape by London’s Vanishing Twin, whose esoteric analogue psych stylings are usually a little more song-based than this. Magic & Machines (Blank Tapes) is half an hour of creepy, meandering chain-rattle, recorded straight to tape in a Suffolk mill. Vocalist and founder member Cathy Lucas’ role boils down to a gauzily processed loop in the second half; percussionist Valentina Magaletti, likewise, seems to contribute little which clearly involves a drum kit. Smart money would go on spacey FX man Philip Joseph being the main driver of M&M’s sound, which is synth-centred, zonked and cosmically woolly. Shapeshifting with the subtle variations of amoeba under a 400x microscope, at times this feels like something you might have stumbled upon at 2am in a 1970s free festival, but there’s no shame in that game, especially when you chuck the Radiophonic Workshop, Silver Apples, Faust and Bardo Pond into the droppable-name mixer.

Any credible history of Weird Britain would give Nick Blinko his full due, even if he’d likely put a plague on your pigeonholes. A writer of two lauded novels and a brilliant visual artist, he’s best known as the frontman of psychedelic anarcho punk band Rudimentary Peni. He also co-founded a label, Outer Himmilayan, which released all Peni’s records and – between 1979 and 1982 – four singles by other groups, all now obscure and collectible. These have been compiled into an LP, Outer Himmilayan Presents (Sacred Bones / Dark Entries), and add up to an enthralling Polaroid of postpunk resistance culture in a new dark age.

“BODY SNATCHER MARGARET THATCHER LEAVE MY BODY ALONE!” shrieks someone at the end of ‘A Pawn In The Game’, five minutes of creepy keys, sound collage and fragmented lyrics. (Actually, it reminds me of Yeah You, admittedly after I had been listening to Yeah You.) This is a previously tape comp-only song by The Magits, Blinko’s pre-Peni duo whose sole single is a four-song, four-minute squirt of exceedingly minimal UKDIY synth. On a more adept tip, there’s Soft Drinks, a trio who featured Peni drummer Jon Greville and whose ’82 45 – also a singular missive – traded in clattery synthpunk and sarky social satire. “A Danish lager brewed in Britain, what a fucking joke!” seethes ‘Misconception’, another cassette excavation. And the S-Haters, amateur postpunx from Watford who later turned into a relatively standard goth band, take up the LP’s B-side with their two singles. The progression, across six songs, from atonal synth blurt to gloomrock with misplaced guitar solos to Joy Division copypasta to almost neofolkish portrayal of urban desolation is just one of many fine things about Outer Himmilayan Presents. PS: respect and good luck to the person who currently has one of these singles for sale on Discogs at three times the price they purchased it from me.