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New Weird Britain This August Reviewed By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , July 31st, 2019 07:28

Noel Gardner is back again with Glaswegian synth prog punk, Heads spin off space rock, "Netto electrobass" and other transmissions from New Weird Britain

Afrodeutsch portrait by FePagani

A pair of tasteful bookends can make a delightful addition to any shelving unit, and indeed to a reviews column covering New Weird British music. This one, for example, starts with “Piss the bedsheets / Stuff them in my mouth” and, after a chaotic library of folded-over funk, cello desecration and nu-new age piano tinkle, finishes with “Stand in the corner and face the wall!” Sadly, or not, there isn’t a consistent sub/dom theme to this month’s selections, but Real Men by Damn Teeth has those particular jollies covered.

Damn Teeth are a Glasgow synth-prog-punk group with a malleable, mildly confusing membership. I saw them play a brilliant show in someone’s upstairs living room almost exactly a year ago, at which point Real Men, their newly released second album, was supposedly about to come out. Nine people are listed in its musical credits, and it’s a maximalist, high-energy and multi-directional session that would feel exhausting if it wasn’t so entertaining. Brash, sometimes danceable rhythms, call-and-response / holler-and-squawk vocals: sassy, in an early-2000s American snot-nosed city kids with white belts and rumoured coke problems kinda way, so not hugely fashionable in 2019 but a doozy if you still like the Blood Brothers or Holy Molar or The Chinese Stars or Les Georges Leningrad or any of many other comparable entities.

Real Men adds depth to its froth through Paul McArthur’s lyrics, described by the label Buzzhowl as “power electronics-esque” – and sure, one can identify bits of Philip Best syntax and Dominic Fernow imagery in these ten songs, although if either were to exhort their listenership to “let me hear you say YEAH” it would have to be a sight more ironic than McArthur sounds on ‘Real Control’. Abuse, fetish culture, self-abasement, patriarchy and guilt stemming from patriarchy run through each song like rock lettering. ‘Cattle’, the one song without lyrics, instead samples the ‘Retribution’ video uploaded to YouTube by Elliot Rodger prior to his 2014 mass shooting, which is perhaps labouring the point slightly. All told, though, Damn Teeth pull off the easy-to-fuck-up task of conveying the seriousness of their subject material while also sounding irrepressibly fun.

Two months ago I pelted you with a volley of New Weird Bristol releases, and whether you like(d) it or not here are some more! First of these is Kandodo, the quasi-solo project of Simon Price from The Heads. A droppable name among discerning stoner rockers in the 1990s – releases on the Man’s Ruin label and soft porn sleeve art, as was the style then – more recently The Heads have totted up plenty of elusive CDRs and collectorbait vinyl, without doing an actual studio album for nearly 15 years. The whole band, Price plus Hugo Morgan and Wayne Maskell, feature on k3 (Rooster), and if this is more their studio bag now, I have little quarrel.

A double LP lasting nearly 80 minutes, k3 is spacerock with no brakes or breaks – apart from halfway through ‘High On Planes / Drifter’, the impressively badly named last track, which’ll require flipping over on account of being 40 minutes long. Until this point, there are little to no rhythms as such, just layers upon layers of air-sucking drone and wail and shimmer, but this disc-spanning epic utilises a pulsing drum machine to speed along its Ash Ra Tempel/Hawkwind gambol. It also features the return of guitarist and previous Kandodo collaborator John McBain, the dude who gave Monster Magnet their spacerock bona fides then quit before they took the MTV buzzbin coin.

Robert Ridley-Shackleton is a no-audience-underground apogee, yer authentic create-to-exist / exist-to-create freakazoid who comes from Oxford but tunnelled to Bristol a couplathree years back. The move doesn’t seem to have changed his approach much, the hirsute soloist recording tapes of bedroom rantcore and karaoke sabotage about as fast as he can dub ‘em, but Card Funk, the latest missive on his own Cardboard Club label, is however the first of his hundred-plus releases to be pressed as a vinyl long player.

Heavy meta is Ridley-Shackleton’s passion. ‘Lady’, the first of Card Funk’s six songs, features his own DVD-bonus style running commentary over Netto electrobass: “This is the first track of the album. You’re listening to it. Here we go, chorus coming up. Yes!” Shortly after, his conversational gambit drifts to his connections in the double glazing industry. ‘Sing’ opens with a plea to listening record labels to release this album “on vinyl… wax”, retained – so dedicated is he to transmitting his thoughts without filter – from its initial issue on cassette. “You might be listening to this on LP. We’ll see how things pan out.” Elsewhere, his (ab)use of the pop-song format manifests in the sub-to-the-power-of-infinity-Prince lo-fi lothario jam ‘Card’: “It ain’t no sin to get corrugated”. Card Funk is probably the closest we’ll come to a collaboration between Tonetta and Yeah You, which is to say that while it has lit up my life, it might inspire other listeners to purchase a gun and randomly fire it into crowds.

Prolonged exposure to Newcastle’s Joe ‘Posset’ Murray’s rando brand could well turn the mild wild, too. Latest Posset cassette A Jar Full arrives on the Crow Versus Crow label and is a collaborative effort with Charlie Ulyatt, the pair improvising on dictaphone and cello respectively. How does one improvise on a dictaphone? Record some sound on one (or more) and get busy with its limited buttons, basically.

As Murray has observed, “anyone can play a dictaphone if they've got a working thumb” – which, on the face of it, makes his collages of squonks, fragments, jumpcuts, reverse ferrets and general insectoid inexactitude an ill fit for one of the grander members of the orchestra. However, Ulyatt is a committed deconstructionist of his instrument, seemingly concerned here with the proverbial spaces between its notes and the potential of its wooden body. Three of the four recordings here were taped separately, both performers listening to recordings of the other’s improvisations while playing along in complementary fashion, thus descending into ever greater depths of abstraction; the other captures a duo gig in Nottingham, where Ulyatt lives, and sounds a little more directly descended from the UK’s sprawling scene of post-AMM chaos theorists.

Graeme Hopper, a Sunderland artist/musician drably dubbing himself Chlorine here, has his Gallooner tape next up in the Crow Versus Crow release schedules: before him and Posset/Ulyatt, CVC gave us blackened droners Penance Stare, who Hopper’s been an auxiliary member of, and Robert Ridley-Shackleton. This scene may seem cosy oftentimes, but the music isn’t. Here, it’s bleak, foreboding and perversely elegant noise which seems to be assembled using both analogue sound sources and digital processing. A front-loaded tape in terms of its harshness quotient, Gallooner’s opening 20 minutes harbour most of its horse-scaringest moments, layer-peeling fare along the lines of Damien Dubrovnik; in time, this cools into itchy quasi-ambient and, in the case of compelling final track ‘Guilt Swimmer’, massively tundra-banished dub techno that sounds like something plucked from an early-00s Staedtizism comp.

A new batch of releases on Brightonian label Chocolate Monk – they generally come in spurts of five or so – is always a boon, and the inclusion of a new one by The Teleporters, with so much suburban slime-spiel they have to spread it over two CDRs, is prize enough to make passing larks sing. The Teleporters are two members of The Pheromoans, Russell Walker and Christian Butler, and to the extent that they possess a definitive sound, it comprises obscurist spoken word rambling over janky field recordings and occasional queasy drone. Buzzed In / Past These Herberts shuffles back and forth between a short story by Walker, in which he assumes the character of an appalling would-be alpha male given to using ill-fitting slang terms, and hermetic monologues mumbled conspiratorially by Butler.

Both are deeply entertaining prose stylists, Walker in particular magnifying the tiny absurdities of British English and making a swaggering tool proudly buying “rubber condoms” seem like the funniest thing ever. Butler, whose musical alias is the Mad Headed Octogram, leaves it slightly more ambiguous as to whether the nasal, harried narrator of his pieces is vocalising his own hopes and fears. “I’ve found a niche for myself, without harming anyone else,” he frets during ‘A Figure That Is Known’, “and I fail to see why I should wind up being the victim of dislike.” Relatable. “Someone once said you don’t regret the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do,” muses ‘Stop Noggin’. “I don’t think that’s true.”

Alan Martin, too, has been getting a rough ride from society, specifically the part of it that lives in or near his neighbourhood. It wasn’t always this way, but when “the same fucking people come round here, causing fucking trouble, playing fucking cricket, putting dogshit through my catflap” there’s no way around it: “this has become a problem estate!” So he gripes on ‘Estate’, in his role as vocalist for Krupps, an addictively strange Nottingham band whose debut album Players comes via local punk label Viral Age. Dave Bevan, of Viral Age sludgerockers Bloody Head, plays guitar in Krupps, but otherwise they’re a hitherto unknown quantity to me.

This is the real stuff though: about as unfiltered as guitar-based rock music can be at this point in its evolutionary arc, stumbling punk jangle and impulsive post-pub rants which, in making you wonder whether the musicians are trying to accommodate the vocalist’s defects or vice versa, leads you to conclude that Krupps actually operate on a higher plane of psychic synergy. ‘Good Enough’ and ‘OCD’ (“The last one I did, the wife didn’t like it and I never painted again”) are unmatchably on-the-nose mental health clarion calls. “I don’t want to see my daughter dancing. It just makes me angry!” huffs ‘Daughter Dance’, in response to a request made off-record, if at all. Whilst listening to Players I have considered the various spectres of Bogshed, Half Japanese, Electric Eels, The Shaggs, Billy Childish, Danny & The Dressmakers, lost Welsh/Bristolian indie/noise supremo Steveless and 80s Indiana hardcore band Chemotherapy, and ultimately cast them all asunder.

The concerns of Mark Wagner, as expressed in his music and outlined in his writing, are decidedly less workaday. His projects, of which there’ve been several in the last decade or so, all stem from his personal readings of mysticism – even the 33Hz Sonic Orgasm, “an interactive installation featuring a saddle mounted with a subwoofer and transducers for optimal stimulation and pleasure” (yes, like in the Howard Stern movie, except real). Collaboratively inclined, Wagner has directed Moon Ra alongside spiritual kin and recent tQ interview subject Conny Prantera, and recorded as Ahrkh Wagner with Alex Macarte of Gnod, whose cassette label Golden Ratio Frequencies has just released Piano Prayer, a new solo work. Taken from an improvised session at a Hackney church circa 2017, the first of the two quarter-hour pieces here is the more meditative, sparse patterns graduating to brisk clusters without ever entering the realms of the discordant: the point where Satie’s influence on new age is made flesh, perhaps. The second side begins, similarly, in gentle fashion and becomes more raucous and virtuosic, minor key doomtinkling that would have soundtracked a slasher film in the silent movie era exquisitely. It could lend gravity to the banalities of your day, very well too, even if that’s not Mark Wagner’s raison d’art.

“My life at the minute is very, very cosmic,” Afrodeutsche said recently, and the Manchester techno producer’s new 12-inch is assuredly my kinda spacesuit stomp. Afrodeutsche, aka Henrietta Smith-Rolla – if you’re one of those people who reckons they can tell everything about someone based on their name, and thinks this is ‘good praxis’ or whatever, this ought to give you pause – has exerted a presence on the city’s scene since moving there from Devon, featuring in Graham Massey’s shortlived Sisters Of Transistors group. Her solo productions have taken longer to manifest: a debut album, Break What You Make, last year and this followup on Scottish DJ Eclair Fifi’s new label River Rapid.

Effusive in her praise for the Underground Resistance collective (her pseudonym is itself a UR reference), Afrodeutsche’s jams are tangibly in the Detroit techno continuum, albeit at the more melodic, jazzier, less heartattacking end of the scale. ‘Make The Call’, this column’s pick of the four tracks, whips together euphoric keys, fingerpoppin’ percussion and a pleasantly wheezy drum machine, coming off more like Omar S to me than any of the originators. ‘Drink’ is refreshingly short for this type of thing, three and a half minutes of snaky synth, subbass and shuffling beats, and ‘Phase Two’ has that post-acid/proto-rave sound that could have/did come out of the UK’s late-80s bleep scene.

The runoff from which also ended up in the sort of techno Jerome Hill has released on Don’t Recordings since the beginning of the millennium, and whose 40th release is a various artists double LP called Songs That Changed The World. Don’t was established to thumb its nose at the stylistic rigidity common in techno microscenes, yet has paradoxically found an identifiable niche itself. People called it ‘wonky’ at one point, and maybe even still do. Not everyone on this compilation, or the Don’t catalogue in general, is British, but much of the outlook and humour is demonstrably so.

Luke’s Anger, who also has a really nice ambient tape titled Onyx Pyramid out imminently, opens with a heads-down ghetto house riff, ‘Gto Style’. There’s hoovers and gabber kicks from The Technarchist, belching schaffel from a Finn trading as Boner M, Paula Daunt’s industrial-tinted widescreen biz and a pingpong electro affair from Ben Pest, another Bristolian; the Don’t old guard of Tobias Schmidt, squat techno-adjacent Rob Stow and Hill himself all represent, too. Best of all, and found on a 7-inch single packaged with the vinyl as a bonus, is Michael Forshaw’s ‘Big Poncey Bastards’: ludicrous toytown rave with a single repeated lyric, as alluded to at the beginning of this column. “STAND IN THE CORNER AND FACE THE WALL FOR BEING A FUCKING IDIOT WHO LIKES FUCKING IDIOT MUSIC MADE BY BIG PONCEY BASTARDS.” It’s pretty pleasant as corners go, FYI.