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New Weird Britain: Noel Gardner's 2019 Round-Up
Noel Gardner , December 4th, 2019 14:36

Noel Gardner looks back at the no audience but too many names DIY underground during 2019 and serves up his ten of the best and his ten of the rest

Godspeed You! Peter Andre by IMPATV

This year, the music which I have categorised as New Weird Britain by virtue of reviewing it in this column has included – in order – noiserockin’ live rave, bass&drum sludge punk, primitive blues-rock, part-Japanese free improv, glowering mathrock crunch, occasionally danceable digital noise, antifascist breakbeat techno, UK dance history-condensing, cello&violin chamber music, an incredibly eclectic DJ mix, minimal desert doom, Shropshire drone-folk, psychedelic synthpunk...

...homunculus anti-Autechre techno from Rochdale, idealised braindance, post-everything queer club jams, experimental pirate radio jungle, Anglo-Ugandan drum circle discussions, “hard rhythm electronics”, Balearic yacht ambient, Italian rap vulgarity over Bristolian trap clatter, anti-borders/pro-refugee noise textures, tinkly Clangers psych-pop, Killed By Death techno, ambient drone for sleeping to, jazz guitar-and-drum machine solo manoeuvres...

...jungle/drill&bass deconstruction, siblings’ synthed-up slices of Glaswegian trans life, very English obsessions sung about in a Canadian accent, synth-prog-punk with early 00s-type sass, spacerock from a spacerock veteran, self-styled “cardboard funk”, a duo improvising on dictaphone and cello, elegant Posh Isolation-esque noise, tall tales and awkward confessions interspersed with field recordings, Notts punk jangle-stumble, meditative new age piano pieces...

...a Detroit-saluting Manc techno sister, “fucking idiot music made by big poncey bastards”, Beefheartian rant-rock, electronic Chinese folk, tape-fuzzy lo-fi pop, soothing creep from a Norfolk village, folk&bluegrass from Herefordshire, manipulated vocalising on the topic of death, no-audience underground found sound, Scottish wonky techno royalty, David Attenborough’s favourite gamelan remixer, the non-bullshit version of noisy Bristol, disassociative no wave psych...

...American Primitive relocated to Yorkshire, cosmic ambient minimalism, Somerset power electronics, south Wales power electronics, half-Australian EBM electro, hails to a late-80s Oxford reggae soundsystem, trancecore in a melted cassette case, two German-based Japanese sorts using the skills they learned over here and instrumental guitar explorations from a retired deep funk DJ and all-round ledge.

It’s been extremely pleasurable, thanks! Let’s do it again next year. And the year after, and so on, hopefully during which time the failed experiment that is ‘Britain’ will be dismantled and I have to find another hook to hang all this on. For now, however, here is a list of the ten best things I reviewed in NWB during 2019, and ten things I didn’t for whatever reason but are both relevant and good.

10. Iona Fortune – Tao Of I Volume 2
(Ecstatic)

“Eight pieces which marry the ancient and organic (gamelan and dulcimer-type instruments) to the contemporary and digital (studio edits of the aforementioned, given deep, droning bass backdrops).”

9. Locean – Chav Anglais
(Artificial Head)

“The spacious psychedelic no wave draped across Chav Anglais, four songs of seven, six, eight and 21 minutes, feels like no-one’s sideproject, but a focused, intuitive unit.”

8. Business Dudes – Dog And Bull
(Rat Run)

“Primitive Estuary English chuggers that are neither UKDIY, post punk, pub rock or blues punk, but maybe all those things.”

7. Kogumaza – Fugues
(Low Point)

“Underlining that heaviness and restraint are not paradoxical concepts, and that rock music’s tropes exist to be subverted rather than just honoured.”

6. The Teleporters – Buzzed In / Past These Herberts
(Chocolate Monk)

“So much suburban slime-spiel they have to spread it over two CDRs, obscurist spoken word rambling over janky field recordings and occasional queasy drone.”

5. Nihiloxica – Biiri
(Nyege Nyege Tapes)

“Peter Jones and Jacob Maskell-Key, two UK musicians who came to Kampala at the invitation of the Nyege Nyege collective in 2017, returned in late 2018 to make this laser-focused, pounding-grooves techno drum circle.”

4. Comfort – Not Passing
(Anxious Music)

“An intensely personal world of defiance, fear, scorn, working class (or at least precariat) pride and unapologetic sexuality.”

3. Haress – Haress
(Lancashire & Somerset)

“Something like mid-70s electric folk reshaped for release on ECM; glorious music from out of almost nowhere, this being Haress’ first release proper.”

2. Loraine James – Button Mashing
(New York Haunted)

“Some of the most excitingly uncategorisable and rulebook-flouting club music I’ve heard in a while.”

1. Harrga – Héroïques Animaux De La Misère
(Avon Terror Corps)

“Caustic vocal salvos over blown-out rhythm-anchored industrialisms. All the lyrics deal with a different aspect of the contemporary refugee experience, relentlessly bleak and delivered with suitable venom.”

10 THAT GOT AWAY:

Alan Morse Davies – Hymns
(Submarine Broadcasting Company)

“Welsh, queer, anarchic archivist,” read Alan Morse Davies’ old Twitter bio, and by my reckoning at least two of those things are detectable on Hymns, released by a netlabel (now there’s a term I hate) but available on CD (now… y’know, I don’t mind CDs). It’s about 36 minutes of dreamstate digitalised recontextualising, chief source material being 78 rpm records of Welsh choirs and the like, mostly in the native tongue. Thomas L. Thomas, who emigrated from the valleys to America as a child and developed a baritone that’d garner him global fame, sings ‘Cyfri’r Geifr’ with a misleading urgency to begin: when he returns, on the twenty-minute ‘Flood’, it’s as part of a soundbed that’s tar-slow and slurring, shellac crackling in its dead skin mask as a presumably deceased chorus get manipulated by Davies, a dabbler in sound art since the 1980s. Hymns certainly bears comparison to more-venerable-still dons of loops and fuzz, William Basinski and Philip Jeck, plus the slightly younger Leyland Kirby, but positively so.

Alison Cotton – The Girl I Left Behind Me
(Clay Pipe Music)

Once of bands diverse as United Bible Studies and Saloon, Alison Cotton’s 2018 debut solo album was glowingly reviewed by tQ, placed in our EOY top 50 and seems to sell out of every pressing/format variation those involved can think of. Her only release of 2019 is on 10-inch vinyl, always a smart move if you’re worried about shifting copies too quickly, and comprises 26 minutes of immense experimental folk: two side-long pieces that forego words as such but are inspired by Muriel Spark ghost stories. ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’, in fact, soundtracked a reading of one on the wireless last Christmas, and in isolation makes great capital from sorrowful viola, a swelling vocal (as distinct from “words”) and aleatory synth drift. B-side ‘The House Of The Famous Poet’ summons even lengthier notes from her gullet, a cavernous bass drone and the pell-mell of cymbals for an immersive composition as close to someone like Kali Malone as anything identifiable as folk.

David Terry & Eye Spirit– The White Horse Of The Sun (Opal Tapes)

David Terry’s C90 of heart-stopping organic ambient deep listening, Sorrow, was one of my true high points of 2018, and I recognised it as such in the last year-end summary. The White Horse Of The Sun – two tapes, two hours – is a followup which ascends, never mind consolidates, and is at least as much the creation of Eye Spirit aka Conny Prantera, an Italian living in London (and interviewed on tQ in July). Much of her practise is visual, whereas this is just live vocal/cello/accordion improvisations into simplistic recording equipment, but the results are a triumph of (psychic?) communication and belief in the power of the eternal drone. Many passages, like the opening ‘An Ancient Pantheon For Each Innumerable Star’, could have hung with the Tony Conrad/60s minimal crowd for sure, but there’s a wealth of subsequent psych, metal and global musics rippling through this. They’ve also performed as a live trio with Sanna Charles, called either The White Horse Of The Sun or Ɬɬɬơཞʂɛ – and if the characters in that last one are just appearing as square blocks for you, it’s a sign from above that you have not been Chosen. Sorry!

Godspeed You! Peter Andre – Insania
(Fr33zehead)

Very much the embodiment of that thing where a impenetrable private joke casually becomes a temporary band name, and in the course of becoming an actual functioning band no-one quite gets round to changing it, and then it’s too late. Conversely: if Godspeed You! Peter Andre, a Manchester-based duo, thought humour was beneath them they might have gone the route of putting triangles in their name and quasi-edgy runic doodles on their artwork, and I might be laughing at them, rather than with. Most significantly: this half-hour tape is ill as hell if you like the general notion of witch house (hence the triangles reference) but want it to pull further in both directions – the unCoiled, time-stretched ambient hellgloop and the jackhammer industrial kicks. GY!PA do a lot of the former on the first side, ‘Blood Splash’ and a lot of the latter on the second, ‘Dismissed’. The party, which for 25 minutes had been hinted at most, starts late on in ‘Dismissed’ when the patchwork trance techno audibly grinds to a halt and Emma Thompson (not that one) launches into a kind of slam poetry broadside on the topic of body positive cyborg feminism over an idealised gabber fairground soundtrack. That’s me saying it bangs, for the avoidance of doubt.

Haq123 – Heavy Mess
(self-released)

Their name sounds like a computer virus, their music like the creation of the last pure souls left alive. If preteen boys can ever be considered to possess pure souls. Probably not. Either way, Haq123 are a trio from Birmingham who feature Dave Kavanagh, also of psych-rocking rubber mask enthusiasts Evil Blizzard, and Zac and Millie, also of primary school. They set lyrics about Satan and rats and shrink rays and Judas Iscariot to impeccably wrong sludge punk that remains effervescent even when moving at a thudding snail’s pace (‘Judus’ is like the B-side of Black Flag’s My War if Rollins had let his unruly nephew sing, and inserted a reggae sample halfway through), and features groovy sci-fi electronics instead of a guitar. A British, millennial Old Skull, hopefully with a more positive future ahead. Alternatively, to quote Haq123, “THE BLACK DEATH IS BACK… AND IT’S GETTING INTO YOUR BISCUITS.”

Kirk Barley – Landscapes
(33-33)

First solo LP under his own name for this Yorkshire producer, and very much a clean slate: under the name Bambooman, Kirk Barley cranked out several 12-inches of agreeable bass music that was never going to eternally satisfy creative restlessness. Outside of the typical club environment, then, are two tapes of algorithmic computer music as Church Andrews, and this brand new album of rangy ambient exotica, released by self-described experimental co-operative 33-33. Waves (or something aqueous) lap and bubble, at once idyllic and sinister; low-key guitar improvisations are thoroughly disassembled, rashes of freeform drums enter and depart. Small, humdrum bursts of sound lift several times their weight, and Landscapes’ collection of relatively short pieces feels like a work that will reveal more layers with each listen. A pointedly digital version of electroacoustica, or AMM recording for PAN. (PAN-AMM, hmm.)

Scorn – Cafe Mor
(Ohm Resistance)

Another late emergent, Cafe Mor having landed with minimal fanfare in mid-November via an American label, Mick Harris’ trajectory from Midlands grindcore progenitor in Napalm Death to unwitting proto-dubstepper as Scorn means he has his own tankard in the village pub that is this column. Sort of thing. I reviewed his last album of screwface techno as Fret in 2017 (Opal Tapes issued an EP of remixes from it this year too) but Scorn is, I fancy, the lodestone of Harris’ production history for many people, and this first album since 2010 is exemplary ultradub pressure. Ridic subbass, grinding metallic atmospherics – not the genre, the literal sound – and a way with delay and echo units that retains a tangible thread back half a century to the tin-cans-and-string setup of King Tubby. I will say that Jason Williamson, enlisted to do his normal thing on ‘Talk Whiff’, doesn’t really work with Scorn’s hi-tech aural warmongering, but that’s no slight on him, and a solitary misstep on an excellent album.

Secret Power – Secret Power
(For The Sake Of Tapes)

They’re saying it in Facebook comments, wedding vows, papal addresses: not everything in ‘New Weird Britain’ is that ‘weird’, and who’s to say what’s ‘weird’ in the first place? To which I reply, cool your boots, it’s just a name and all I really want to do is rep music I love and which isn’t blessed with a big label/PR industrial force-feeding machine. Take Secret Power, for example: a trio who formed in 2017 to play DIY Space For London’s laudable annual new bands showcase, First Timers, released a cassette EP in early 2019, and play, pretty inarguably, pop music. Guitarry and lo-budget, sure, but essentially the offspring of 60s girl groups and 90s r&b as opposed to, say, 80s jangle-indie (although fans of that should check in anyway). There are four songs on here, one a mildly chaotic cover of Aaliyah’s ‘Try Again’ and one, ‘Maybe’, which I think was the first thing Secret Power posted online and which is just stunning, perfect bedroom pop-soul. The vocal melody is a bit like ‘Kiss From A Rose’ by Seal and the subject, enthusiastic consent, is rarely broached in popular song, which is another point in this trio’s favour.

Triple Negative – Precious Waste In Our Wake
(Penultimate Press)

Three foreign sorts – a Kiwi, a German and a Romanian it says here – converge in London and make dough-thick improv rock-not-rock that sounds like they got all their mates in the studio to hoedown, holler and proclaim. In fact, I think there are just a lot of instruments, although I couldn’t say for certain what most of them are: things stringed and folky, reeded and snakecharmy, samplers, shakers and racket-makers. Voices are abundant, but the words could be in any or none of the languages Triple Negative speak. Gets pretty trancey and ritualistic at times, albeit with plenty of change-ups to pop your joints out, and it all amounts to Precious Waste In Our Wake being potent red diesel for fans of Royal Trux’s Twin Infinitives, Faust, Sun City Girls, Vibracathedral Orchestra and Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides.

Various – Fracture Presents: Turbo
(Astrophonica)

Fracture is a London-based producer most closely associated with the drum&bass milieu. More recently, he’s been crossbreeding that sound with Chicago juke and high-energy techno, and in the form of Turbo has compiled himself and seven other (mostly British) heads attempting something similar. Although for the most part – ‘EBP’, a Fracture and Sam Binga co-write, is an exception – this ends up pretty far away from d&b and manifests as extraordinarily efficient stripped-down jackers. Other contributors here, notably Addison Groove and Om Unit (in his still laudably named Philip D Kick guise), are already noted in the art of putting American club music innovations through a UK rave filter, and both those named offer highlights among the comp’s eight tracks. Addison Groove’s ‘Redeye’ is Pro-Jex Records-type 4/4 pump meets warehouse acid scribble; ‘Bleach’, the Philip D Kick selection, is punishingly strident electro with a frisson of jungle drum programming. Jaded dance music cynics would probably have a point if they were to say that combining two or three different subgenres isn’t exactly ‘innovation’, but (a) Turbo feels like it’s sincerely located a niche in 2019’s electronic scene and (b) jadedness is an implausible stance while this is playing.

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