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New Weird Britain: January’s Most Wonderful UK Underground Releases
Noel Gardner , January 29th, 2019 08:38

Acid house rolls, slop-fi instrumentals and untrammelled free-rock devastation: the year is looking juicy already, with Gum Takes Tooth, Business Dudes, Shrimp and plenty more

One recent release from the weird British underground which I didn’t end up covering in this, the first Foul House of 2019 – yes, this is a wonky way to open a reviews column, but stick with me – lists, in its ‘for fans of’ section, “Aaron Dilloway, John Weise, Black Dice and all that mid-2000s US noise stuff.” The latter half of that brief rundown resonates, I feel, because it was very influential on what New Weird Britain is now. Two of its legacies are found in the prevalence of duos (think Lightning Bolt, Yellow Swans, Orthrelm), and the generation of atmospheres akin to maxed-out raves while playing to more-or-less rock audiences in more-or-less rock venues.

This brings me to Arrow, the third album by Gum Takes Tooth and their first for Rocket Records. Other statistics and superlatives: their first release since 2014’s Mirrors Fold; by no means compact at 54 minutes, with several tracks tickling or surpassing the seven-minute mark; the most dance-oriented, intense offering yet by this London-based duo of Jussi Brightmore and Tom Fugelsang, and their most satisfying. The beats are played live, courtesy of Fugelsang, and as much as he’s a fine and groove-beholden batteur you’d never mistake his contribution for that of a machine. You can dance to it, though, as surely as you can mentally climb inside Brightmore’s synth lines and wallow blissfully.

A tasty acid house roll takes charge on ‘No Walls, No Air’, abetted towards its close by some Drew McDowall-ish drone work. ‘Borrowed Lies’ is an eight-minute percussion-powered glitter-rave-rock stomp with industrial-pop synths and choral vocals. ‘Fights Physiology’ reveals me as a misinfo-ing bullshitter, in that the drums sound very much programmed, although I’m pretty sure the human element is just a sampled snare hit or two amidst a minimal synth-meets-Detroit electro frother.

There’s lots more: passages of wormy ambience and doomy rock riffs except made without guitars and mushroom-flavoured shoegazey gauze. Fleeting moments, such as on the closing ‘House Built Of Fire’, remind me of the Super Furry Animals’ most electronic moments (‘Run! Christian Run!’, say), which I mean as a compliment. By and large, Gum Takes Tooth do not write pop songs, or indeed rock ones, and I doubt (m)any of Arrow’s component parts will end up in club-bound DJ sets. But people will cut a rug to them this year and maybe you will join them.

This month’s second duo (of six in total, although this was incidental to my selection process) is Shuck, from Manchester, and they are solidly in the rock camp on debut tape EP Wunder (Hominid Sounds). Comprising Al Wilson, basser and singist in thinking/drinking person’s sludge band Ghold, and drummer Jon Perry, whose most eyecatching credit is on Gnod’s Just Say No… LP, these six songs were released shortly after the unveiling of the band, and amount to a forcefully fuss-free trolley dash of punky metallic clatter. Big Business at their most raucous (ie their still-raging debut LP Head For The Shallow) feels like a consistent spirit guide here, with Wilson adding some melody to his low vocal register. As such, it’s a short hop to getting pangs of Melvins, as on the melancholy ‘Aliens’, or Lightning Bolt, who come somewhat to mind during the rhythmically chaotic ‘I Dream Of Sarah Connor’.

The size of the Business Dudes dudes’ business is unconfirmed, but I know I’m big into their debut LP Dog And Bull (Rat Run). I still barely know anything about them: guitarist Mark Seiltz and drummer Robert Pratt, seemingly from Croydon and possibly yet to play outside London. It’s really, satisfactorily tricky to work out what sound Business Dudes are actually going for here. Dog And Bull opens with a slop-fi instrumental titled ‘Vehicle’ before flashing its punk gusset with a salvo of primitive Estuary English chuggers that are neither UKDIY, postpunk, pub rock or blues punk, but maybe all those things.

‘Video Man’ and lengthy closer ‘201’ have a touch of Wire, but very early Wire – before Pink Flag, its demos, or Live At The Roxy, so possibly a Wire that never existed. ‘Drink A Can Of Piss’ is as perfectly imbecilic a piece of Bored Teenagers compilation fodder as a song called ‘Drink A Can Of Piss’ could be. Some other bits remind me of The Fall or Thee Headcoats or The Gories or The Deviants. It wouldn’t especially surprise me if Business Dudes don’t listen to any of those bands. Feel like I write this quite often, but it’s a tonic to encounter stuff that doesn’t make explicit its musical intentions, made by people who don’t appear to be mates with every/anyone mateworthy in ‘the scene’, and which still nails the NWB worldview.

On the other hand, this self-titled cassette (Panurus Productions) by Shrimp stands as testament to the value of friendship – like a kids’ TV show, except instead of primary-coloured moral lessons there is boiling seas of untrammelled free-rock devastation which sounds ripped from infamous Japanese ultrapsych compilation Tokyo Flashback. Indeed, there’s a quasi-link to it via the presence of drummer Ryosuke Kiyasu, recent addition to Keiji Haino’s Fushitsusha. Last September, he visited Gateshead to play a solo set using a single snare drum (the BBC reported on it, generating some salty comments about performance art from Facebook dads), but also joined a scratch band of northeastern noizers for an improv set. Shrimp heads include members of Lovely Wife, Snakes Don’t Belong In Alaska (whose recent split EP was reviewed a coupla columns back) and sludge punx The Shits plus Toon extreme music veteran Rob Woodcock: the live set, a 22-minute bludgeon named ‘Total Power’, went so well that they (minus Woodcock) hit a recording studio shortly after, did much the same thing again for 32 minutes and called it ‘Light As Hell’. It’s draining to listen to, let alone perform, but never hits the skids or loses sight of its innate rockism, just like you can generally trace a prime Haino axe blowout back to, say, Blue Cheer.

London duo Modern Technology function, according to drummer Owen Gildersleeve, as an “antidote to increasing work pressures over the past few years”. Certainly, such private mundanity has spawned some killer music throughout history, so fair play, although if I were to add that Gildersleeve is a fairly high-profile graphic designer and his bandmate, bassist/vocalist Chris Clarke, is the Guardian’s deputy creative director, you might get an inkling we’re not exactly talking the Cockney Rejects here.

It does mean some very swish lettering on the cover of their eponymous EP (self-released on vinyl, cassette on Cruel Nature), though, and inside that cover is some solid’n’serious noiserock that’s got an ‘Amphetamine Reptile signing circa 1993’ vibe at its briskest, the faintly jazzy sauropod plod of Oxbow or Harvey Milk in its low-bpm moments. Modern Technology takes a fair few listens to get under one’s skin, and even then is hardly groundbreaking in its field, but there’s much to like about this: the recording, courtesy of Big Lad’s Wayne Adams and crisp like chewing glass; the poised interplay of tubs and plank (Gildersleeve’s professed main influence, Charlottefield’s great Ashley Marlowe, is aurally detectable); Modern Technology’s pledge to donate any profit from the release to Shelter and Mind. Not hugely keen on Clarke’s lyrics, which are in that Thom Yorke-y semi-abstract social commentary vein, but you can’t make out most of them when he sings anyway.

Jordan Edge is another noise-liking Newcastle sort, currently stationed down south doing a degree in something complicated-sounding while also making music as Red Hook Grain Terminal – or R.H.G.T. as he goes by on Depersonalisation (Opal Tapes). Intense, head-down and largely beatless fare, this, which makes its breakout moments of technoid crunch feel all the more joyously jarring. The granular, undulating rumble of ‘Free Body (Latex Percussion)’ is pretty much death industrial, before ‘Rebuild Me’ descends into the literal sewer or, at least, sounds like someone/thing splashing their way through one as dark ambient synth pulls you towards the light.

The primary sound source on ‘Particle Dispersion’ is a big industrial fan (“you’ll need to be to enjoy this!” the Facebook dad in me feels compelled to add) and ‘Wings From My Calves’ is Depersonalisation’s token raver, Night Slugs clatterbeat usurped by piercing synth tones. Another one warranting repeat plays to get inside it: Edge’s intermeshing of digital noise, processed field recordings and what I believe is called deconstructed club music could be seen as the platonic ideal of an Opal Tapes release, leaving aside the one before it having been a Christmas single by a comedy sludge metal band.

AF Trax is a new Glaswegian label, an offshoot of Keith McIvor’s Optimo Music forged with the self-evidently good intention of supporting anti-fascist causes. This is done, initially at least, through stated intentions of, again, charitable donations (profits from this release go to Hope Not Hate), and of maintaining dialogue about fascism’s creep into everyday discourse, likewise the danger of an ‘apolitical’ club scene. There’s no apparent requirement for the music on the label to specifically address these topics, on the evidence of AF Trax’s debut 12-inch, Rat Full Of Coins by Logtoad – a producer, real name Guy Veale, whose roots lie in the same 90s Scottish techno scene as McIvor. Four ruff instrumental belters, cycling through pitched-down breakbeat hardcore (‘Ratchet Beat’), chess-calm electrofunk with extremely heavy sub-bass (‘Screw Pump’), more ’eadrush proto-’ardkore with added acid techno burble (‘Drill Beat’) and a clod of strutting Neil Landstrumm-like distorto-techno that takes about three minutes to get going but pays off.

Shanti Celeste and Hodge? Why would this column feature an American model and actor who gets punched by Robert de Niro in 2014 movie The Bag Man? Because you’re thinking of Celesta Shanti Hodge, who I had totally heard of before googling for info on this collaborative three-track 12-inch by two hot-to-trot Bristol producers. Soba Dance (Peach Discs) is forward-facing and modish, but steeped in Britdance history, as familiarity with these two – Celeste’s DJ sets especially – would suggest. The title track is a riot of woodblock rhythms descended from UK funky and longing, melodic techno chords; ‘Alula’ adds itself to the early-90s hardcore continuum (the one from the previous review, that is) and slips in some Afro-house percussion when the break threatens to bore; ‘Pips’ layers shuffly, sinewy beats over polished-crystal ambient swoosh, a vibe loosely akin to Warp’s iconic Artificial Intelligence compilation resulting.

Fran & Flora, our final London two-piece for today, are a cellist and a violinist who have done backing group/session work on many releases of varying relevance to this column. Fran Ter-Berg, for example, plays on the black metal album with the best artwork of 2018 (I just wanted an excuse to show you a picture of it). Unfurl, her and Flora Curzon’s self-released debut album, finds the pair performing their own material for the first time as well as interpolations of Romanian folk songs and the like. The results sometimes border on chamber music, as with ‘Geamporales’, while occasional pepperings of electronic tinkering don’t spoil the organic idyll – ‘Mayn Rue Platz’, a Yiddish poem from the early 20th century, is accompanied by all manner of glitches and backmasking, but proves a successful gambit. Fran & Flora do wordless sorrow especially well, ‘Doina 1’ sawing and droning with a giddy elegance which I think is rooted in Greek folk modes. Total Late Junction bait, this, but that’s no damning assessment in my book.

We finish with a mix album the latest in the long-running DJ Kicks series, by Leon Vynehall, a DJ and producer from England’s south coast. If you’re familiar with Vynehall, you might not think of him as especially Weird or underground, but he’s a dark horse in this regard. For one thing, he’s the second musician this month to cite Charlottefield’s Ashley Marlowe as an early inspiration – Marlowe, in turn, released Vynehall’s first record on his Well Rounded label. For another, this 77-minute mix is an entertaining, enlightening dive into the peculiar recesses of his taste, nearly every selection feeling like a curveball.

The edgy, panic-button dub of Tomaga’s ‘Giant Bitmap’; slo-mo proto-industrial rock menace from the fabled (and reborn) Bourbonese Qualk; rippling piano and body-shudder bass from Dave Ball and Genesis P Orridge; and, to close, three minutes of solo piano from Robert Haigh, whose 80s-into-90s journey from Nurse With Wound acolyte to drum’n’bass lynchpin is textbook Weird Britain genre blurring. There’s plenty of more contemporary, recognisably club-friendly picks too, including Shamos, Ploy and the grimy junglist battery of Etch, and some blessed discoveries (for me) in the form of Mirage’s d’n’b blissout ‘Deep Rage’ and Degrees Of Freedom, Canadian obscurities whose ‘August Is An Angel’ is like synthpop Fleetwood Mac. Unsure who actually buys mix albums in the Soundcloud era, but this is very much worth hearing.