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New Weird Britain This May Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , May 28th, 2019 07:13

Noel Gardner trawls the abyssal depths of the UK underground and finds gems from avant industrial types Harrga and sweat juiced future rave from MCR-based producer LOFT

Love a good Scene Report, me, whether they were mailed to DIY punk zines by kids with pure hearts and a possible ulterior motive of bigging up their mates, or stitched together by a broadsheet journalist who visited town for a day and well-meaningly failed to grasp the nettle. You could certainly turn out a sheaf of UK scene reports using the New Weird Britain ethos, such as it is, as a starting point – and the leaf from that sheaf focusing on Bristol would be especially worthy of perusal.

The city’s musical legacy has been subject to more than enough pat summaries as it is, so it’s germane to NWB that stranger and gnarlier fare has been worming out from its margins. The first five releases in May’s edition are all based in Bristol, as are the labels releasing them. Avon Terror Corps are a recently established collective with a Dutch gabber-referencing name and a splattery stylistic outlook. Following a tape comp titled Avon Is Dead, spring has sprung the first two ATC artist albums on us, Mezzi Umani Mezze Macchine by Kinlaw & Franco Franco and Harrga’s Héroïques Animaux De La Misère.

Kinlaw, aka Hamish Trevis, was lauded herein a year or so ago for his Corfe cassette, and more recently for a Sunun remix. This time, he’s pranging out over ten tracks of scrambled-signal industrial hip hop with Italian expat Franco Franco on MC duties. As he’s blethering away in his mother tongue, I can’t tell you what Franco’s on about (not having a basic grasp of other European languages, how charmingly British of me!) but he says his own name quite often, the first song from the album to appear online has a title translating as ‘Soft Heart, Moist Balls’ and one of the people responsible for releasing it describe his lyrics as “puerile”.

Kinlaw is unshy of aural vulgarity himself, from the dragged-across-concrete trap drums of ‘Positivo’ and ‘No Chill’ to ‘Loom Weights’ footworkishly pitching itself up beyond reason. Mezzi… frequently sounds like it’s pulling in at least three directions at once: dubwise militancy conferred by liberal drenchings of echo and delay, beats that feel crisp and efficient in isolation, and a willingness to ugly up their creations either with droning, spectral creep or just supergluing everything into the red. ‘Expo’, which closes the album and whose only vocals are wordless moans, might feature live guitar or bass, and sort of reminds me of Ramleh in the same way other bits of the album sort of remind me of Death Grips or Clipping (that is, in a slightly simplified and corner-cutting way).

The Harrga album, too, should thrill anyone in the market for caustic vocal salvos over blown-out rhythm-anchored industrialisms. There is, though, substantially more on-the-table geopolitical gravity to the eight-song Héroïques Animaux De La Misère, and to the genesis of the duo. Vocalist Dali De Saint Paul (whose conceptual improv group EP/64 I reviewed here late last year) sings primarily in French, while the band name is borrowed from a colloquial term in the Arabic dialect Darija – harrga, ‘to burn’, in reference to North African asylum seekers literally torching their ID papers before attempting to metaphorically burn borders into or within Europe.

Héroïques is essentially a concept record, in that all the lyrics deal with a different aspect of the contemporary refugee experience. It’s relentlessly bleak, and delivered with suitable venom: De Saint Paul is an astonishing, impulsive performer, one who seems to find the needle-in-haystack groove within bandmate Miguel Prado’s metal-resonant percussive clusters, spacing out her lines or venturing forth lungfuls of invective as the backing warrants. ‘Phone Recording’ is a MIDI-fi keyboard motif with bombastic, almost operatic vocals (skip to 2:12, if you must skip) and when Moor Mother tips up on the closing ‘À Vif’, not only does she not entirely dominate the track as is her wont, but it becomes apparent that Harrga are on her level, that being the zenith of late-2010s vitality.

Ella Paine, who records as EBU, has just released her debut LP Hinge on the frequently gnarly NoCorner label. A linkup you might not credit if you started at the beginning of her publicly shared recordings, but if the EBU of 2015 traded in whimsical psychedelic folk with mildly invasive sound effects, then four years on Paine has embraced the potential of electronic arrangement while retaining a yen for songcraft, melody and that conundrum lots of great folk music mulls: warm, inscrutable intimacy that’s also creepy and unnerving.

No clues offered here as to Paine’s precise setup, but while in times past one might have wondered if that was an Omnichord being tinkled on ‘Creatures’, likewise if a stalling, gloopy effect on that song and ‘Monolith’ that sounds like magnetic tape being stretched was actually so, you’d imagine it’s all plugins and such here. Still, it’s the destination that ought to concern us, not the route, and Hinge feels pleasingly in the lineage of press-this-and-see-what-happens travellers from Silver Apples to The Residents – in the ever-shifting vocal pitch, especially – to Pram and Maher Shalal Hash Baz. None of which feels terribly fashionable in 2019, or done to regularly good effect, which only makes Hinge more of an unheralded delight. One that will probably take a few listens to bed in, fair warning.

A record-nerd idea of mine, which I lack the means to bring into being but think a lot of people would go for and has never been done to my knowledge, is a compilation LP series that does for techno what the Killed By Death series did for punk rock. That is, shine a light on forgotten pieces of DIY brilliance which, on release, proved too scuzzy and primitive even for a genre considered scuzzy and primitive by the wider world. I mention all this because Permission Fist (Aphelion Editions) by Harpoon sounds like my partly-but-not-wholly imaginary idea of a KBD techno gem. A duo of Tina Hitchens and Aron Ward, Harpoon are definitely not musical amateurs, but whose intention seems to be to strip rhythm-based electronic music down to its absolute base elements, then rough it up some more.

A Harpoon track, of which there are eight here, will likely progress and evolve during its runtime, but rarely in ways that would throw bones to most techno crowds, or DJs tasked with entertaining one. Distortion-larded, acid-adjacent synths loop at an impasse, like a remote control car being repeatedly guided into a wall; on ‘Useless Third’ it sounds like it’s going to go completely to pieces before a thick seam of midrange and a brain-stabbing cowbell swoops in, and by the five-minute mark fists are pumping. Only ‘Junitaki’, whose rain-on-canvas pitter-patter seems to speak more directly to minimal composition and could have found a home on a 90s Mille Plateaux compilation, and to a lesser extent its follow-up ‘No Nay’ divert from the programme of concrète rave fuckery. There are a metric tonne of producers out there reshaping techno with scalpels and microscopes: Harpoon are doing it with lump hammers and hard hats. Intense/immense.

The last Bristol dweller for this month is Sean Addicott, who has pursued both guitar-based, DIY punk projects alongside more abstract ambient/noise diversions. The self-issued Tapesleep is inspired by the musician’s battles with insomnia, its structure intending to mimic the three stages of non-rapid eye movement sleep (the four tracks conclude with ‘Sleeptail’, which I assume is the part where one actually nods off properly). Its release last month was also marked by an installation offering the chance to have a kip in an actual bed, soundtracked by Tapesleep’s lush sonambulant wash.

The ‘tape’ of the title refers to Addicott’s chosen recording medium, which he then physically degraded via exposure to various noxious elements, before digitising and leaving largely as was. As per my musings in the EBU review, this stuff is all gravy for those curious about process (as I am!) but, I suspect, only for the composer to know if this or that plume of snowy fuzz were created via this method or an effects pedal. Regardless – and likewise whether you pick up on the sleeplessness theme sans the descriptive prompt – this is superb ambient drone, flecked by manipulated piano and guitar and sharing headspace with William Basinski, Stars Of The Lid and The Caretaker. ‘Drones In Cascade’ is the epic centrepiece, at almost 20 minutes, while ‘Sleeptail’ is, appropriately, the most featureless, its final few minutes winding down into virtual, cherished silence.

Pavilion (Trestle) is my first dalliance with southern England-based jazzish composer/improviser Adam Coney. Listening now to its 2014 predecessor The Fall Of The Flamingo Gardens, the sparse, shimmery Guitar Moods have a lot to recommend them, but Coney digs his stylistic heels in early on and doesn’t seem inclined to push beyond that, as happens on Pavilion somewhat.

From the newie’s opening two numbers, ‘Brute Love’ and ‘Viaduct’, there’s substantially more employment of pedals and drum machines. The manner in which a backbeat will clonk away over a clean-toned figure which would have been left to breathe on Flamingo Gardens might irk some, but the idiosyncrasy suits the artist well for this listener, lending that same impulsive homemade feel as found on Dave Pajo’s album as Aerial M (Pavilion was actually recorded in a former laundry in Kent, it says here). The cello on ‘Of Eyes Clean’ calls to mind Arthur Russell; ‘The Sun Rattle’ is hyperminimal desert blues with quasi-percussive parts which sound like twigs falling onto a contact-mic’d trampoline, or something. Coney’s improv-scene leanings manifest most clearly on ‘Dominion In Spin’, where the guest double bass of Peter Bennie comes to the fore.

At some point in the not entirely distant past, LOFT lived in the same city as me. A message enquiring if this was still the case – hey, if there might be hyperkinetic quasi-footwork radness being made under my nose, I want intel – was received with apparent puzzlement as to why I might wish to know. Since then, LOFT, or Aya Sinclair, has found a base in Manchester and seems mustard keen to rep its scene. Her productions have also evolved exponentially, bringing us to and departt from mono games (spelling and case Sinclair’s own), a four-track digital EP on Tri Angle.

Its 18-minute duration runs the gamut from threatening-aura electronics, the type subjecting a putative crowd of sweatjuiced ravers to would be frankly sadistic, to pulsating turn-on-a-sixpence breakbeat overload. ‘Lassanamae’ drops a semi-whispered monologue over an increasingly frantic digital drone, concluding with a mutter of “you fucking idiot”; ‘That Hyde Trakk’, trailed online a month before the rest of the EP, employs various tropes of 90s jungle, from the percussively tricksy builds to the deviation into wide-eyed ambient chords, before it all goes loco with some snare-rattle tearout biz that would have been called drill & bass in 1997. In between: ‘And Eats Itself And Eats Itself And Eats Itself’, electro/Sheffield bleep dismantled like border guards turning over a funky-smelling van, and ‘sSLABicks’, a drum machine on the verge of a nervous malfunction sparring with the imaginary tweeting birds flying round its head.

Occasionally, the bi-monthly punk and hardcore reviews column which this website also lets me write crosses urine streams with this one, by covering releases which are new, weird and British. For example, Glaswegian duo Comfort featured on a compilation tape of queer punk bands I appraised last June: ‘Husbands (Get Involved)’, 162 seconds of bark & clank that turned my head majorly despite no supplementary info being available. A year on, there’s a Comfort LP, Not Passing (Anxious Music), and it’s a glorious nine-song fucking of category and presumption.

A brother/sister tagteam of Sean and Natalie Comfort, Not Passing is greatly informed by the latter’s experiences as a trans woman. The enclosed lyric booklet is a valuable reference point, both in respect of Natalie’s vocal delivery (a rapid-fire drawl, which is less contradictory than it sounds) and outlining, on the page, an intensely personal world of defiance, fear, scorn, working class (or at least precariat) pride and unapologetic sexuality. “My outfit drove straight men away/ They don’t know if it’s OK to fancy me,” she recalls on the title track, over brutalist electronics and Sean’s live drums. You could call Comfort synthpunk without it being overly reductive, I think –– The Screamers come to mind intermittently over its 20 or so minutes – but Not Passing was very clearly not made with the intention of hailing a genre or inveigling the band into a scene. More than that, it feels like a record that should have a prominent platform to say its piece, even if – as per the lyrics of ‘Liberal To All’ – sentiments like that from people like me are to be regarded with suspicion.

To close this month, another release swiped from the jaws of the Skittish Isles’ DIY punk stronghold: the second album by London slice-of-lifers Hygiene, whose past product was bequeathed to us by labels like Static Shock, Sorry State and La Vida Es Un Mus, and who are now on Upset The Rhythm for Private Sector, their first release since 2012. Why the big pause? One reason might be vocalist Nathaniel Weiner’s move into academia, researching things like “the ordinariness of 1970s UK punk dress” for his PHD. See, Nat King Dole – to indulge his longstanding Hygiene pseudonym – very probably knows more than you about subcultural British minutiae of yore, despite growing up in Toronto. This comes through thumpingly on Private Sector, as does his Canadian accent, the upshot being that my brain, despite having all the necessary facts at its disposal, wrinkles its cerebral nose at someone very clearly Not From Round Here chanting “British Gas! EDF! Npower! Scottish Power!” on the (entirely correctly, I should note) anti-free-market-competition diatribe ‘Big Six’.

There are no less than three songs about the UK rail system here: one affectionate (trainspotters’ anthem ‘Passion For Transportation’), two irascible. ‘Replacement Bus’, opening the album with its stolid sub-Hooky bassline and quavering keyboards, can be assumed drawn from life; ‘Bring Back British Rail’, closing it with a chaotic approximation of pub rock piano, lionises a service the vocalist would have never experienced (again, I endorse his essential point). Concern that Weiner might have embraced this alternate national identity to the point of asphyxiation are quelled by ‘English Disease’, probably my pick of the LP thanks to a Stanley-sharp ur-punk riff that’s like all of Hygiene’s other ur-punk riffs but better. Here, he reverts to an outsider nonplussed by the pish they/we indulge: royals, roasts, Routemasters and “Too much John Robb! Too much Don Letts! Too much Paul Morley! Too much Nile Rodgers!”

It may be that if you are put on the defensive by any of this, Private Sector’s brace-twanging yob jangle won’t be for you. Meanwhile, I can still dream of a world which Hygiene are recognised as a band of the people.

TQ's John Doran presents a new series called New Weird Britain on BBC Radio 4, starting on Monday June 3. The series features Loft among many other underground artists