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New Weird Britain

New Weird Britain In Review For February By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , February 8th, 2021 08:51

Noel Gardner's first New Weird Britain column for 2021 looks at what it means to be an international artist currently trapped in London/ Britain by the pandemic and what this means for their practice

The world of early 2021 remains stiflingly, medievally small, most weeks in fact extending no further than the shops either side of my flat, and the “Britain” in which these places are supposedly situated becomes – again, measurable by the week – increasingly insular and hateful, be that by legislative means or shifts in the aggregate public mood. I take minor solace in writing this column, whose woolly boundaries ensure there are always more things to be bundled under its categorical tarpaulin.

For example, many people would find it absurd that in writing two hundred and something reviews over four years and proclaiming this to constitute New Weird Britain, there is almost no mention of the rangy, scholarly, frankly sometimes whimsical music made in the subculture created by the late Tim Smith and his band Cardiacs.

It goes way beyond that starting point, is the thing: take one-time Cardiacs guitarist Kavus Torabi and his many ventures, most recently putting Romford modular synth player Steve Davis back on wax for the first time since 1986, as one third of The Utopia Strong. Preceding that, Torabi’s Knifeworld has grown into the sort of ensemble with space for a bassoonist – Chlöe Herington, Chlöe Herington, whose first solo album Silent Reflux has just been released by the crucial-to-this-scene Believers Roast label.

Expansive and florid yet coming in under half an hour, this release is both fiercely self-sufficient and very much not: written and produced solely by Herington, but recorded with a dozen helpers including most of Knifeworld. Instrumental save for two sections where men named Daniel and Philip describe their dreams – I’m firmly in the ‘other people’s dreams are rarely interesting’ camp, sorry – Silent Reflux is stoutly upbeat jazz-prog which occasionally skirts kitsch but whose arrangements are joyful and joyous, like the early 70s Canterbury set with most of the cynicism and dysfunction siphoned away.

Herington herself is multi-instrumental, although bassoon is plentiful; Charlie Cawood lathers lovely saz across ‘Figure 2’ (one of four tracks on here given suggested olfactory pairings: listen, if inclined, while inhaling cumin and leather) and at the album’s jazziest, probably ‘Figure 3’, the quasi-orchestral skronk which materialises could almost be some long-gone Carla Bley ensemble.

The spoken sections on Rachel Musson’s I Went That Way (577) are, I fancy, again liable to prove divisive, the insistent narration distracting heads who just came for the jazz. “The thing about improvising,” says Debbie Sanders, “is that, is that, is that, elements don’t always… quite… quite… match up! Matched up!” This is the closing section of ‘Start’, which segues into ‘Matched Up’ (i.e. introducing the next piece), and though Musson wrote these words, someone else is reading them because she’s busy playing saxophone, live at Café Oto in June 2019 to be exact.

Running to a CD-filling 79 minutes through either happenstance or editing, this performance seesaws between improvised and arranged passages, with a nine-piece band including UK improv lynchpin Mark Sanders on drums and relatively young sax/flautist Xhosa Cole. While ambitious and daring, even the parts usefully tagged as free jazz are fairly melody-conscious: the second half of the 21-minute ‘For Pauline’ is mainly taken up by an increasingly frantic game of kiss-chase between flute and traps, but it feels lighthearted rather than abrasive. ‘A Note’, which follows and concludes at an epic 36 minutes, passes through several movements, graced by Musson’s stirring words celebrating the visceral wonder of spontaneous live creation. I’m a few months late reviewing this, but hey, I Went That Way’s base sentiment has become no less pertinent.

On kissing terms with jazz, though possibly bound by a court order to stay 500 metres away from actual jazz musicians, the debut album by London’s Sarcastic Burn Victim was not recorded live at Café Oto. It’s also not actually their debut album, rather their first under this name. Having chalked up several releases of grindcore-streaked noise, or vice versa, the band formerly known as Spastic Burn Victim found themselves obliged to address how minor alterations to linguistic sensibility have rendered their ‘offensive band name’ actually offensive. Liable to puncture one’s transgressive image, a bit like storming out of a screaming argument before returning to get your hat, Sarcastic Burn Victim are at least helped by the sense of humour which pervades Blood And Stomach Pills, a cassette on Cruel Nature.

Currently a sextet including Tim Drage, previously reviewed here as Isn’tses and Disgusting Cathedral, vocalist Zara Skumshot also of digi-grind unit Skat Injector, and a saxophonist called – almost inevitably, you come to realise – Sax Pest, SBV have actually made a great album, one way less zany or edgelordy than outward appearances and song titles may indicate. There are some fine sludgy grind guitar parts, the sax sound is suitably pestilent and Drage gets to let fly with plenty of enervating home-tampered synth mangle. I wouldn’t suggest a new soundworld has been born here, and readers familiar with pre-Super Roots Boredoms or Space Streakings or 7000 Dying Rats or Agoraphobic Nosebleed likely won’t either, but Blood And Stomach Pills is at least pretty standout within the English capital they’re presumably trapped inside.

Some Anglo-German noise exchangery from Klösse, going by the cover of their self-titled-and-released debut tape, or Klöße going by their Bandcamp page, not that it’ll matter when you’re shouting their name at the moon. This is seven blurts of unfeasibly rudderless freenoiserock from Leeds’ Bobby Glew – also of Guttersnipe, Nape Neck and, most recently in these pages, Dwindling – and Berliner Claire Panthère, drummer in Cuntroaches. You know this pair weren’t holding back! Unless they wanted to finish recording this together, I guess, but no sweat, as Klösse sounds like a twin-engined attack right there in the room with you. A sneakily fun half hour or so manifests, both participants playing a bit of everything and coming off like they’re full of wonder at nailing that perfect gnarly tone. Good titles too: ‘Sent Home With A Puzzle’, the tape’s opener, is what blackened shoegaze should sound like instead of black metal made more palatable, and with its cacophony of buggy stabs, dubby rumble and sub-Lee Ranaldo detunement, ‘Kricket Im Biergarten’ probably refers, title-wise, to the noisy insect rather than the leather-on-willow pastime.

Spanish musician IOM, or Iker Ormazabal Martínez, is an artist again trapped in London, but he can (and does) sell his effects pedals from home, so don’t cry for him too much. “Several” of those pedals are used on his latest release, a tape on Barcelona label Hedonic Reversal titled Izkuturik Ziren Hitzak Eztabaiden Artean Aurkitu Ditut, Baino Soinurik Ez Dute Egiten – Basque for “I found invisible words amidst the arguments, but these words wouldn’t make any sound”. Although this set of piston-powered industrial meets proto-techno seems to be a new angle for Martínez, I’m kicking myself for being late to his party, especially given his last release The Oscillation came out on Cruel Nature (right before Sarcastic Burn Victim, indeed) and he’s played in clangy rock experimenters Warren Schoenbright.

Sporting a neato concept relating to time, Izkuturik’s eleven tracks were all recorded in one take and encompass Techno Animal-ish doom dub (‘Indumentaria De Gilipollas’, ‘Bruite’), off-centre production line clank like, say, Run Dust, or Richard H Kirk with hardcore kicks (everything from ‘Emma Goldman Sachs’, another for this month’s list of gently amusing titles, through to ‘Garaiak’ pretty much), and JCB-sized scoops of bass over metal-hard frameworks, the sort of goodness Hessle were putting out a decade ago (‘Bigarren Zortziko’). No clue if Martínez plans to make more stuff in this vein and/or under the IOM moniker, but I’d welcome it.

Greek musician Tasos Stamou… trapped in London… sells his hacked electronic instruments from home. Will buying his Peppa Pig toy-turned-sampler (for example) enable you to make music such as that found on his latest release, the Greek Drama CDR on Chocolate Monk? You wish, buddy! Stamou first charmed my ears a few years ago as Aman!!!, his neo-rebetiko duo with Thodoris Ziarkas; this nine-song collection also leans heavily on Greek folk oldies, but mostly treats it as material to appropriate and tamper with.

Recorded last summer while visiting his dad back in Greece, we get a bit of original pluck and twang: ‘Lavta’ and ‘Tzouras’ are based around recordings of Stamou on those respective instruments, but dunked in a trippy solution you certainly won’t hear leaking through the doors of the local tavern. ‘The Sparrows’ is credited to “a ghost Macedonian gypsy orchestra” but winds up as flaxen technofolk not wholly unlike French gaggle Super Parquet, while Myconian bagpipes and Epirotic clarinet serve as the foundations of ‘Mykonos’ and ‘Meroloy’. Greek Drama isn’t any of the things I fleetingly considered calling it, including plunderphonics, fourth world music, folktronica or post-Sublime Frequencies/Kink Gong manoeuvring, but it’s really effective DIY culture jamming which – I feel – succeeds with flying colours in its stated efforts to interrogate Stamou’s personal “Greekness” in a “non-Greek way”.

The Maple Death label, which if my intel is accurate has managed to – yes! – escape London, currently operating from Bologna, dropped the self-titled debut cassette by Ancient Plastix just before Christmas and some most agreeable lush-but-murky DIY instrumental ambience fell out. Hermit-solo in every respect until the mastering process, Liverpudlian Paul Rafferty professes to have done this all with some effects pedals (it doesn’t specify if he built them) plugged into a Yamaha synth plugged into a four-track. The half-hour-and-change results are a fair departure from Rafferty’s previous, most recognisable position, frontman of frothy post-pop-punk outfit Hot Club De Paris.

Too tonally frazzled to pass as new age, or at least the platonic ideal of it, it’s still possible to mellow out to the slender layers of analogue crystal on numbers like ‘Cursed Space’ or, with its bongwater burbles, ‘Aging Edges’. Maple Death’s sales notes invoke cult Japanese ambient heads like Hiroshi ‘next up on YouTube’ Yoshimura, but Ancient Plastix strikes me as earthier and more eccentric, the sort of thing 80s UK beardos like Carl Matthews distributed via a self-sufficient tape network.

Here are some more lost souls who, having bet the farm on becoming moderately popular through the medium of British independent guitar music, find themselves cast adrift and releasing tapes in batches of 50 through a noise label from Thirsk. Brother, can you spare a dime for Luke Haines and Jim Fry? Actually, don’t worry: Industrial Coast (and let me tell you I did not anticipate these folks hooking up) sold out of Test Driving The New Prius in a trice, but having first premiered it as a “radio play” they’ve stuck it on Soundcloud where it will hopefully stay at least until this is published.

Insofar as ‘play’ implies some appreciable thread running throughout, in its scenes or dialogue, Test Driving seems more like a series of distinct sketches set to music (blippy modular synth, scary-movie drone and crashing piano chords, crumpled urban field recordings, the opening credits of Blankety Blank and Haines’ teenage son Fred playing freeform trumpet). It does, for all that, teem with the wit and scorn this duo have simmered for decades in The Auteurs, Black Box Recorder, Earl Brutus and The Pre New, to list the most noteworthy four. “Ronnie Wood has repainted Guernica. Much better than the original,” reads Fry, supposedly from the day’s papers, early on; ribald riffs about bad hangovers and King Arthur’s knights buying Glen’s vodka follow.

“Britain’s most ambitious literary work since the death of Julian Barnes – Giles Coren, The Telegraph” reads a circle of text on the cover, worryingly. Actually, don’t worry: Haines and Fry made up that quote, because Giles Coren is a total cunt.

One celebration of the wireless I’m an absolute sucker for is people’s ancient pirate tapes, digitised and put onto, er, more tapes. Yeah, I know there’s thousands of hours of this stuff online for free, but these just feel spot on in the kitchen coming out my shit boombox the size and shape of a fat chicken. Also, in the case of the two London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984-1993 compilations released by Death Is Not The End, there’s been some proper effort to edit the results into being. As per the title, there’s no music on here – well, there is, but functioning as backdrop for some awkward bloke reciting a rave lineup, or the prospect of a trip to Amsterdam in the company of what the voiceover suggests is some kind of rasta robot. Bearing in mind all the titles bestowed by DINTE are functional/ descriptive, you want to hear spots like ‘Rare Groove Champagne Party’, ‘Ladies Sunday Night Affair’ and ‘Kebab House’, right? Course y’do.

Of a similar vintage, specifically the year 1994, is Cream Of Bristol Roots Pirate! (Tape-Echo), broadcasts from the archive of Dubkasm’s Sam Stryda. You get, again, a slew of ads for various Bristolian nights and businesses, but also satisfying chunks of selection from about a dozen different reggae/dub DJs: sometimes unexpurgated, sometimes with bonus toasting, occasionally faded down to allow appreciation of “a WICKED piece of tune!” (Junior Murvin, ‘Police & Thieves’). With the likes of Prince Buster’s ‘Madness’ and Ras Michael’s ‘Mr Wicked Men’ featuring elsewhere, this 90 minutes isn’t a spotters-delight type experience, rather community-minded airing of stuff listeners might actually want to hear, which also encompasses a woman with a posh voice celebrating Nelson Mandela’s recent election victory. This tape looks to be sold out everywhere but if it sounds like something you’d dig, grab on sight.