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New Weird Britain

New Weird Britain In Review For March
Noel Gardner , March 28th, 2019 10:43

Back once again with the swell behaviour, Noel Gardner takes us on a whistle stop tour of the UK's best underground DIY sounds

An electronically-topheavy selection in this column, as New Weird Britain enters the spring equinox with a bag of jams that might inspire you to wheel a soundsystem onto the village green. Is, then, electing to open with the only three vaguely ‘rock’ releases a case of getting them out of the way before the party starts, or a sop to my own ill-concealed rockism? How about neither, ingrate.

The third album by Nottingham’s Kogumaza certainly feels more rural than urban, languorous rather than cramped and harried, or at least like music that could be enjoyed sitting in a lawn chair, nursing a real ale while completely baked. Fugues (Low Point) is Kogumaza’s most expansive release yet: four side-long tracks on a double LP that uses duration to build tension, rather than mere implication of such, and envelops one in a psychedelic fug while remaining avowedly earthbound.

Tempos are predominantly slow, with ample bottom end a regular feature – although the trio have no bassist, Chris Summerlin and Neil Johnson both playing guitar, and Katherine Brown’s style of drumming, sparse and booming like the head of a very odd marching band, essentially fulfils a rhythm section’s complete duties. You wouldn’t call Kogumaza doom, really, although you might be reminded of a few genre outliers like Earth and Horseback, but they can serve up plaster-dislodging riffs. ‘Tohil’ purrs with the V12 muscle of Tuareg desert rock; ‘Exploding Head Syndrome’ loops a fuzzrock motif with the belt-biting stoicism of Spacemen 3. Bardo Pond (who shared a God Unknown 7-inch with Kogumaza in 2015), Lungfish (whose former bassist Nathan Bell guests on their previous album, Konokon) and late-90s Sonic Youth also loom at times.

Yet Fugues is a hugely successful cementing of an identity which Kogumaza had already established: underlining that heaviness and restraint are not paradoxical concepts, and that rock music’s tropes exist to be subverted rather than just honoured.

Summerlin is also a recent addition to Haress, who formed as a duo in a Shropshire market town but have expanded to a full band for their debut LP, an eponymous effort on the Lancashire & Somerset label. They’ve got Nathan Bell to supply a few licks of trumpet here, too, with the remaining members having toiled in Kling Klang and Charlottefield among others. As it goes, these eight largely instrumental songs feel like aesthetic kin of the Kogumaza album, but with folk music rather than rock as their kernel. Drones are teased from a harmonium and a shruti box (played respectively by Haress’ two core members, Elizabeth Still and David Hand), which when added to Thomas House’s quietly intense vocals and Slint-meets-75 Dollar Bill guitar on ‘Sun, Shit And The Moon’ and ‘The Honey Guide’ amount, in each case, to nine over-so-soon minutes.

Taped at Nottingham’s multi-functional DIY venue JT Soar, Haress is an object lesson in how to utilise space in a recording. ‘Severing’ is marked by small, endearing wrinkles of quasi-percussive creaks and bumps, while David Smyth’s brushed drums lend greater poise to ‘Arolla’, the result something like mid-70s electric folk reshaped for release on ECM. Glorious music from out of almost nowhere, this being Haress’ first release proper.

Saw We Wild Blood play live a year or so ago, and while their acidic synthrock dramaturgy was a treat, perhaps my main takeaway from it was their use of an acoustic guitar to make a noise which in no way sounded like an acoustic guitar was involved. It might, accordingly, also feature on Blood / Money (Hominid Sounds), their second cassette and first of LP length. What you will actually hear, either way, is chuggy psych with the effervescent-but-shady vibe of recent Hey Colossus albums (‘Dark Connections’, an unlikely album opener at seven minutes, and ‘Red Mist Rising’); frantic synthpunk (‘The One’, ‘Jumpsuits’); unfrantic, indeed sluggish, Hawkwind/Chrome trip-rock (‘DDMP’). It’s grand stuff: textured, immersive and not easily pigeonholed, which may count against We Wild Blood cos you know what the detested ‘music fans’ are like.

A three-piece whose drummer Dan Hunt is also in Luminous Bodies, it is claimed that Hunt, Andy Clydesdale and Ben Walker all work in the same Mayfair art gallery, and that its atmosphere of seedy, monied gloss influenced these eight songs. This sounds to me like one of those biographical details bands invent to make fools of writers whose reviews are basically reworded press releases, or simply for a laugh. Conversely, what value would there be in me eking out The Truth when Blood / Money has generously opened its door to a world that’s the better for its ambiguous atmosphere?

Prangers are the newest addition to the Tesla Tapes extended universe, their eponymous debut cassette delivering half an hour of uneasy dictaphonic sound art spliced with outbursts of frothing DIY techno. They’re from Rochdale, billed as a duo and less than forthright with identities, although one Pranger – Joe Tatton – was vocalist in a ska-punk band only a few years ago, so fair to consider this the cleanest of slates. Someone has (what sounds like) an argument in front of (what sounds like) the TV, rhythms caked in plumes of distortion manifest, poetry is read in a blank female monotone. In part edited versions of tracks self-released on Bandcamp last year, Prangers’ machines clank and lurch like they were assembled by people who normally build soapbox derby racers, be the results sweat-soaked industrial dub, post-Nurse With Wound inscrutability or the two minutes of hauntology-laced proto-hardcore that concludes this dispatch of prime strangeness.

Little ambiguity about what sort of response the latest 12-inch from Roy Of The Ravers is supposed to elicit – SE1 Acid, the maiden release on Winthorpe Electronics, comprises three hardware squelchers aimed squarely at dancers. A solo project Sam Buckley, Roy has been raving for the best part of a decade now, upholding the legacy of Phuture, Robert Armani, Aphex’s early singles and Analord series, Mike Dred and Ceephax while managing to avoid a lawsuit from any of the companies who’ve owned the rights to Roy Of The Rovers down the years. It’s not exclusively full-steam-ahead across this 27 minutes, but when it goes, it really goes.

‘SE1 Acid Part 1’ is shuffling acid techno with off-and-to-the-side rhythms, but for this head, the real jewel’s the successive ‘Part 2’, a ten-minute builder whose cheerfully dayglo synth riff eventually goes rogue, squealing like a church of grieving mice as a steely bassline chunters on and peculiar ambient FX battle, largely fruitlessly, for attention. ‘1999’, while slightly more restrained sonically, stretches out to 13 minutes, spring-heeled proto-trance with snow-pure melodies that could have blissed out a Frankfurt main room in, well, any time in the 90s I daresay.

Only recently became aware of Loraine James, as a result of Aja Ireland booking her to play the first Queer Noise Club night in Nottingham (on the Friday after this column is published, should you be nearby or otherwise inclined). From north London, James released her debut album in 2017, was one of five women (including Aja) given an Oram Award in 2018 and has started 2019 with an EP, Button Mashing, on Dutch label New York Haunted.

Its four tracks are some of the most excitingly uncategorisable and rulebook-flouting club music I’ve heard in a while. Opening with percussive technopunk thumper ‘Bite Me Bit’, ‘Commercial Drum Break’ is deliriously crisscrossing jazz jungle that clocks in at 101 seconds but doesn’t feel like a castoff interlude. Equally, James can layer styles upon styles without kitchen-sink profligacy resulting, ‘Gays With Me (I’m Good)’ racking ballroom house, Todd Edwards-style vocal slivers and Discwoman-fierce techno. ‘Lost My Train Of Thought’ drapes an r&b vocal over frantic beats which slip to and from ghettotech and breakbeat hardcore, an audacious end to a revelatory release.

London producer Anthoney Hart took an odd route into grime and bass music, niches he now lurks in as East Man and Basic Rhythm – a four-track 12-inch, New Style (Sneaker Social Club) is his latest release under the latter name. Previously, he’d produced granular techno noise as Imaginary Forces, releasing it at prodigious rates himself or through labels like Entr’acte and Bedouin, but seems to be more straightforwardly honouring his pirate radio roots these days. Our old pal the ‘hardcore continuum’ is in the very bones of the title track, which has airy rave stabs and thunderclap kickdrums running parallel; a looped fragment of ragga vocal is a good enough idea to be revisited for ‘Too Nuff’ and ‘London Warehouse’, pitched up in the style of a hundred ‘93 jungle bangers. Conversely, the spartan, mathematical beats of ‘Ready Again’ are enlivened by an indecipherable Cookie Monster croakbelch, likewise bass frequencies designed for punishingly heavy rigs. The third Basic Rhythm album is due this year on Planet Mu and if this EP is any indicator of its aesthetic, it’ll be a happy marriage.

Biiri (Nyege Nyege Tapes), the second EP by Nihiloxica, was recorded in Kampala, capital of Uganda, with a group of four percussionists from the area. As such, my motivations for including it in a column about leftfield British music hinge on Peter Jones and Jacob Maskell-Key: two UK musicians who came to Kampala at the invitation of the Nyege Nyege collective in 2017, wrote and recorded the first Nihiloxica EP, then returned in late 2018 to make Biiri. That is to say, these crosscontinental hookups have materialised for good, non-patrician/non-exploitative/non-bullshit reasons and have also resulted in the most laser-focused, pounding-grooves techno drum circle you could conceive.

In spite of being made with a smaller ensemble than Nihiloxica, Biiri’s interlocking rhythms are denser and defter – given, I’d imagine, a thicker coat of post-production, to the point where this admittedly Ugandan-drumming-noob listener couldn’t ascertain if a sound is Jones’ synth, Spyda MC’s shakers, or something else. Either way, the concluding section of ‘Diggi Dagga’ is textbook Detroit techno from the Mills/Hood mould, while ‘Dubugwanjuba’, an intense metallic rattle imbued with sinister swooping synths, would have made a great soundtrack for a 90s scrolling platform video game. Don’t think Nihiloxica have performed in the UK yet, but based on this tape’s beautiful battery and the glowing rep Nyege Nyege has justly accrued, when/if they do it will surely go OFF.

Hard Rhythm Electronics For A Burning World (Total Control Collective) is the title of Nation Unrest’s debut EP, and their slogan of sorts too. A classic of its type, really, in that the words are arranged in a cool order (“rhythm electronics” sounds way better than “electronic rhythms”, which is like something your dad would say) and successfully transmit an aesthetic, but also don’t really mean anything, or rather can mean whatever you fancy.

Based in London, Nation Unrest are a duo of Joshua Smith, also vocalist for Welsh dreampop punks Chain Of Flowers, and Callum Graham, formerly of darkwave cultists Natural Assembly. The latter band are slightly more of a pointer to Hard Rhythm Electronics, by virtue of the pounding drum machine and electro-industrial rigidity, but the pair’s four songs here are explicitly out-facing EBM bangers that sound like adrenalised sweat softening a leather wristband. Or Nitzer Ebb, DAF and The Neon Judgement, to be slightly more literal. ‘In The Crush’ is under two and a half minutes, unusually brief for this sort of thing but swinging with ‘Der Mussolini’-like brusqueness; ‘As You See It’ is more pared-back and technoid, maybe gesturing to kindred rave spirits like Surgeon, and ‘Below’ comes as an original and remixed by rum-seeming London producer Evil Dust.

To close, the latest album by Seahawks – a duo of Lo Recordings founder Jon Tye and pop artist Pete Fowler – whose relationship with anything else in British underground music is truthfully unclear to me. Or even with the rest of this column. Eyes Of The Moon (Ocean Moon) is powered by beats and synthesisers, and could perhaps be danced to, but only in treacly slo-mo; if it bears any affinity with ‘rock’, it’s solely of the very yachtiest kind. Averaging nearly two full-length releases a year since 2010, for my sins Seahawks are a group whose early releases I bought, liked and eventually floated away from, as Tye and Fowler continued to ride their Balearic-meets-new age magic carpet with little apparent concern for the musical world below. As such, on meeting again this latest work feels more pointedly ambient and crystal-healy, perhaps not surprising given their previous LP, Eternal Beams, was a collaboration with Laraaji.

Vocals are deployed sparingly, and generally given ample manipulation so they disquiet rather than soothe. There’s a muggy fourth world burble inherent to cuts like ‘Astral Echoes’, and Seahawks remain completely unashamed to use lapping wave samples, as on the arpeggiated flourishes of ‘Run Through My Mind’. There is near-comically plasticky funk nods, Windham Hill-doing-jazz swathes of very little (which actually share spiritual headspace with bits of the Haress album, just with a greatly different production aesthetic), some Peaking Lights touches and, aye, bongos because if you baulk at bongos you’d have a hard time with Eyes Of The Moon even if the bongos were excised. Suitable for jamming at 6am when nearly everyone else has crashed, midday when they’re waking up, or the next evening as you fall into a serotonin-free sleep.