The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

New Weird Britain

New Weird Britain In Review For January By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , January 12th, 2022 10:07

The selections Noel Gardner has made from the UK DIY underground this month are so good they have started to dissolve the very concept of time


Speaking recently to an associate about my plans to start 2022’s series of New Weird Britain off with a bang thoroughly unwarranted for this sad trombone toot of a year, he gave me a salty reply. “Bad Tracking,” he said, “more like bad tracking of what year it is", on account of this transgressive Bristol electronic duo’s self-titled debut album having been released all the way back in November 2021.

Well, he may only be six years old but no-one talks to me like that, so after locking him in the scullery I sat down to explain, in writing, that the segues between the years are now more melted and less relevant than ever, and it would be a scandal to pass this blistered disc of distorted aggro-anguish over just because its official release date has a one at the end. A previous BT 12-inch, Clanger, featured in 2018’s end-of summary, but Bad Tracking (Avon Terror Corps) warrants a second look as Gordon Apps and Max Kelan perfect their techniques.

Ostensibly, previously, in the realm of ‘noise techno’, with Kelan pouring poetry over grotty, high-octane electronics, here on Bad Tracking, Bad Tracking are at their most blown-out and least dance-oriented. ‘Heart’, an instrumental, has a sly shoegaze dreaminess but, mainly, lashings of twisted metal ‘tronic damage. ‘Skin Ident’ is cruel feedback, junk industrialism and death metal-worthy chat about breaking down a body. ‘Black Rew’ is percussion-led, an outlier on this LP, with mucho piggy squealing from the black boxes to accompany the obstinate doomcore drums.

Cornet player Harry Furniss is an inspired guest for ‘Network’, waxing and waning spacily during 11 minutes of rotting crypto-jazz: think Gnod’s Infinity Machines with the aggro of, say, Hair Police. There are yawps and squonks that sound like brass instruments on ‘Harmony’, too, but may in fact be machine-originated. And the tones of ‘Leisure Park’ shimmer, underneath the hoover bag Bad Tracking dump on them. “My skin is laced with endless technological possibilities!” claims Kelan, riding the same horror-cyborg theme that keeps cropping up in his words here. Could be a concept album for all I know, this, but it feels like you’re supposed to be slobbering canine-like not nodding knowingly.

Kenny Sanderson has been a recognised player in the global noise underground since the late 90s, though debuted the name he goes by here, Like Weeds, a few years ago. Left Behind (Brachliegen Tapes) utilises broadly linear rhythms and dubbed-industrial bass, which I guess renders it easier listening than his most frequent incarnation, the cataclysmically violent Facialmess, but do understand that this cassette’s 20-minute duration is at no point pleasant by any normal standards, and may leave you as grey and hollowed out as the communities it acknowledges in its theme and aesthetic.

To begin, a recorded conversation posits that life in jail, with “a routine… a structure” is preferable to the outside, with its go-nowhere jobs and friends becoming parents. The crucial quote lends this track its title: “It’s shit out here.” Fights threaten to erupt and are quashed; Sanderson’s lumbering, dungeon-doorslam beats and prickly background static plough forth. ‘I Wasn’t Left Behind’ (the following track’s the punchline: ‘I Was Never In It To Begin With’) cooks up an actual techno tempo, primal unff over deep mechanical hum and more field-recorded row.

Brachliegen call this “four tracks of solidarity against the desolation wrought by austerity Britain,” and while I know little about Kenny Sanderson’s interior life (he apparently lives in Spalding, Lincolnshire), I don’t get the aroma of underclass voyeurism here that has wafted through UK noise’s chequered history. To be honest, even if I did I’d still be pretty taken with Left Behind’s sonics.

Here’s a neat suite of carbonated lo-tech techno eccentrica by Rhys Llewellyn as Drmcnt. Llewellyn has been known to trade as the more vicar-scandalising Drumcunt, although not for several years until new album RX-Bounces; his other solo incarnation, the floatier Acidliner, recently released an LP on Wrong Speed Records, through which RX-Bounces also emerges. Wrong Speed is overseen by Joe Thompson, Llewellyn’s bandmate in Hey Colossus and someone justly dedicated to platforming his friends’ talents.

In terms of gear v idea, a lot is created from little. Synths and drum machines are layered up with occasional submerged vocal fragments cutting through: only a few channels at any given time by the sound, sparse and unpolished but itchy and creative. It could, for better or worse (or value-neutral, as I see it), have come out 25 or 30 years ago, suggestive of UK bleep techno and iced-out electro a la Ectomorph. ‘Hummdinger’, a to-the-bone DJ tool, feels like it could be a decade-old 100% Silk release, which is I suppose an update of sorts. Appropriately, Drmcnt is about the dr(u)ms foremost, but this still allows for things like the haunted synth line in ‘Brudenel Dreams’ and the bassweight that creates the torso of ‘Uncase’.

When not recording as Mücha, Amanda Butterworth is a yoga teacher in London. A peep at that last link suggests she sees cosmically-slanted music such as hers as an effective aid to the discipline, and I’ve no reason to doubt that as I take in Fall (Frequency Domain), Mücha’s new tape album.

Formed variously of vocals – Butterworth’s own – processed into a gently Liz Fraser-ish haze, synths that can be brightly melodic or drone dankly, and beats given to an IDM skitter though sometimes (as on ‘Fold’ and the title track) chopped up drum&bass-wise, Mücha works with a varied palette without losing the thread. ‘Undo’, which concludes the album and develops over nine minutes, introduces some intricate, intimate glitch/dub sound design to proceedings, before a slo-mo electro motif rises to prominence in the second half. By no means a difficult listen, Butterworth’s suggestion of a drizzly, Anglo-specific glumness to Fall’s sound more than checks out. As part of his biographical spiel on Mücha’s website, producer Tengui invokes “Hood”, as in techno legend Robert. Hood, as in the enigmatic Yorkshire post-rockers, seem a closer fit if anything – a hot compliment in these parts!

Patterns Generated By… is the third release on French label Elli by Ben Peers – maybe the fourth, too, depending on whether you count Patterns Generated by Recursion and Patterns Generated by Uneven Alternation as two separate entities. Either way, it adds up to a sterling 78 minutes of code chillin’ by this Midlands-based computer musician.

His M.O. since 2019 has been to create electronic sound using algorithms and MSP patches used in the fashion of a modular synth. As per their titles, …Recursion and …Uneven Alternation deploy sequences in different ways, although in both cases what you hear on tape was generated in real time. So …Recursion’s five pieces are described as “without structure, given shape only by the ebb and flow of their recursive patterns”: lay listeners like the one writing may interpret this as, essentially, structure, with clean, wistful and sometimes ambient-styled digital melodies affecting a regular pattern amidst less scrutable rhythmic beds. …Uneven Alternation – “dynamic streams of cascading impulses given shape through trigger routing and pattern select” – is brasher and bassier, with a Drexciyan liquidity to its zigzag synth lines even while the more reticent drum arrangements keep this at arms’ length from designated club music.

Paragraphs And Principles (Klanggalerie/Jelodanti) is the first set of new studio recordings by Officer! since the 1980s, during which time the group – Mick Hobbs and a lengthy supporting cast of varying regularity – have had a rediscovery of sorts, including two LP releases via Blackest Ever Black. Hobbs’ career bridges post punk at its most ambitious and the zealous prog splinter known as Rock In Opposition: an associate of This Heat and Henry Cow alumni, to name but two. This album, whose recording over the last couple of years is described as “a closely guarded secret” for reasons unclear, is a highly ambitious, often enthralling opus inspired by two pivotal figures in Officer!’s musical grounding: radical English composer Cornelius Cardew and Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong.

The tendency, among 70s UK avant-garde types, to muck in with Marxist-Leninist ideology is best discussed elsewhere. “Some will flinch at the politics on this record,” begin Harry Gilonis’ sleevenotes, but both they and the absurdist treatment of various Cardew compositions and leftist folk songs imply a degree of reserve from stridency and apologism. With some 30 performers contributing parts, largely remotely, Paragraphs And Principles ranges from buoyant woodwind-bedecked instrumentals to disorderly improvised passages to synth pop-powered broadsides about crop harvesting to many-angled callbacks to the RIO approach of old to samples of Enver Hoxha speeches to, ultimately, a rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ because that is how such impassioned assemblies as this must end.

Been quietly admiring the grandiose church-goth moves of Bristol’s Dead Space Chamber Music for a while, but only checked the ‘merch’ section of their Bandcamp page for the first time while formatting this review, of their new joint The Black Hours (self-released, or via Avon Terror Corps again if you’d rather wait a few months for the vinyl). Hand mirrors, water bottles, two different types of homemade booze, it’s a veritable bazaar! Or would be if all those things weren’t sold out. Anyway, such trinketry is justified by DSCM’s conjuring of wyrd and wyrmy atmosphere, over seven tracks of greatly varying structuredness drawn from a wide pool of sources.

‘Bryd One Brere’, for example, is based on a 13th or 14th century love poem in Middle English, and comes as close as is reasonable to crystallising this four-piece’s operations into one song. Cello and psaltery wrestle unconventionally, Tom Bush’s guitar sits at the doomiest end of electric folk and Ellen Southern’s vocal is a stalactite through the ribs – I’ve been a paid-up admirer of Southern’s since promoting an incredible live set (not the one linked here, but along those lines) with fellow Bristolian Burl, and this sounds like her taking flight. There are extended bouts of improvisation, sometimes leaning towards avant classical and sometimes bordering on rock – ‘Mari Lwyd / Morfa’r Frenhines’ pulls similar moves to Faun Fables or Jarboe, if either of those were minded to sing about Welsh Christmas rituals involving a horse’s skull on a stick.

The debut release by Still / Plucknett is another example of an album ably recorded in the modern style: participants pinging sound files up and down the intertubes, building and editing to the point of completion and never once meeting in meatspace. The gestation period, spring to autumn of 2020, explains that, yet Bandas Sonoras sounds like it comes from people in hermetically close quarters, cranking out this pastoral slowcore at a remove from the rest of the world. Goes to show!

The eponymous musicians are Liz Still, who lives in Shropshire and also plays in the delightful Haress, and Dominic Plucknett, a Brightonian whose other bands current and not have passed me by. Vocals are shared out between the two – all track titles are in Portuguese, although the lyrics aren’t – while allowing for drawn-out instrumental passages and close-mic’ed recording techniques which accentuate the intimacy. Brushed percussion, stark chords and conspiratorial whispers call to mind Brian McMahan’s post-Slint band The For Carnation; field recordings, the trusty shit weather / noisy wildlife combo to be exact, lend lead-grey pall to piteous downer folker ‘Árido’, and ‘O Tartaruga’ has a vaguely Gallic air while remaining markedly bleak. All told, and in respect of Haress – whose second album is due soon – it’s your classic ‘different enough from the other band to make it worthwhile, similar enough to recommend to their fans’ situation.

A crucial precursor of the sound described above, where post rock, lo-fi and psychedelic folk are relevant terms but inadequate descriptors, are Movietone, who existed for just under a decade in a tight-knit, Bristol-based scene that yielded some stunning music. Flying Saucer Attack, Third Eye Foundation and Crescent are among Movietone’s direct relatives, the group having disbanded after The Sand And The Stars, a 2003 LP. Peel Sessions 1994-1997 (Textile) compiles three Maida Vale tapings for the late Mr Ravenscroft, none of which have even made it to YouTube according to the label, and is as fine an introduction to this band as anything.

Often gentle and muted, Kate Wright defaulting to a vocal hush and Matt Jones’ drums more about the reverb than the beats themselves, a Movietone song is liable to seethe, then finally erupt into discord. ‘Mono Valley’, which opens the first session in 1994, is punctured by smashing glass; ‘Stone’ pairs an uncharacteristic Stoogian riff with scatty clarinet by Ros Walford. ‘Chocolate Grinder’, from 1996, gets jazzed up with hip hop scratching (by Matt Elliott, aka Third Eye Foundation) to less superfluous effect than you might suppose. That same session also contains a spectral version of ‘The Voice Came Out Of The Box And Dropped Into The Ocean’, retitled ‘Useless Landscape’ on release. The essence of Movietone continues in 1000 Dawns, a group featuring Wright and Jones with what seems a very sporadic recording schedule, but Peel Sessions captures a quietly powerful ensemble at a fruitful time for British DIY music.