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Strange World Of...

The Strange World Of... Avon Terror Corps
Daryl Worthington , June 1st, 2022 09:49

Avon Terror Corps, a sprawling collective of DIY musicians and artists from Bristol and beyond, are releasing some of the most exciting music on earth right now. Daryl Worthington guides you through ten essential releases

Bad Tracking, photo by Simon Holliday

Medieval songs translated into sludge rock. An MC who pulls stunning poetry from the ashes of Kill The Bill protests. A band designed to last for exactly 64 gigs before vanishing into thin air. An industrial duo whose entire output to date seeks to answer the question of what happens if we fully surrender to the machines. Since their first release in 2019, the Avon Is Dead compilation, Bristol label Avon Terror Corps have assembled a discography which is as baffling as it’s exhilarating.

The 20ish strong collective unites artists, promoters, labels and radio stations from Bristol’s underground music community. It includes the people behind Noods Radio, local promoter Schwet, Bokeh Versions, Giant Swan, EP/64 and many more. Its origins are in DIY activity and community action.

“Avon Terror Corps was born out of the frustration of the closure of two vital spaces in Bristol – The Surrey Vaults and The Brunswick Club,” the group say over email. “At the time there seemed to be a lack of good mid-size club and art spaces and venues were closing more than they were existing/opening. It felt essential that we gathered a huge crew of musicians, artists and promoters to create a creative platform for each other. Thankfully in Bristol with the arrival of places like Strange Brew and Mickey Zoggs, we finally have some cultural hubs and places to meet and chat about action, music and art again.”

Miguel Prado, one half of duo Harrga alongside Dali De Saint Paul, and who also creates music solo as Nzʉmbe, gives some insight into how, from his point of view, Avon Terror Corps works in practice. “After those two venues closed, we tried to find resources for playing live. We had different skills and resources, working together was an easy way to gain traction and move things forward.”

This sense of community isn’t just about laying infrastructure for underground music, the label has released a number of compilations to raise funds for local and international causes. Sonically, these help flesh out the Avon Terror Corps expanded universe, bringing in one-off tracks from artists who’ve released on the label as well as those they’re connected to around the globe. Resist to Exist was created in collaboration with Palestine’s Exist electronic music festival. Uniting producers from the Middle East alongside those from Avon, it’s a gleeful journey through murky electronics, crumpled up beats, and disorientating textures. Funds from sales go to the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. “Local action, global connection,” Avon Terror Corps say over email. “We have historically raised funds for both near and far causes, usually something close to a Corps member, but also sometimes as a response to more urgent situations.”

There’s often a playful obscurity around Avon Terror Corps. Release notes can occasionally feel like you’re piecing together fragments of West Country legend that have overrun into the twenty-first century, corrupted by an illustrated history of extreme music and role-play games. An email announcing the label back in 2019 cited the psychogeography of Castlemead (the second tallest high rise in Bristol) and the original Westworld film as inspiration. A photo of the statue of Avon legend Goram the Giant adorns Avon Terror Corps Bandcamp page, while the group explain the collective’s name: “Is a play on the classic dutch gabba label Rotterdam Terror Corps, Avon is referring to the county of Avon…not the cosmetic company.”

This real-time myth building seems driven by an awareness that while some music needs an explanation, it’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s most powerful when you don’t have a clue what the fuck is going on. Avon Terror Corps occasional aversion to revealing too much keeps you in that moment of joyful bafflement for as long as possible.

The label’s output switches between the fantastical and brutal confrontations with reality. Harrga’s name means burn in Moroccan Darija dialect, and the term is also applied to refugees who have burnt their ID papers in a bid to secure asylum. If Avon Terror Corps releases are united by anything it would be a commitment to overloaded intensity, whether through sheer noise, monolithic rhythm or punk energy. None of it ever seems nihilistic. The label’s catalogue is filled with all manner of bangers, and moments of disarming, damaged beauty. Their harshness doesn’t alienate so much as help us adjust to reality. Providing sonic armour to navigate whatever’s next in the post-capitalist-TikTok-partygate hellscape.


Harrga, the duo of Dali De Saint Paul and Miguel Prado, released their debut album, Héroïques Animaux De La Misère on Avon Terror Corps. It’s a ferocious blast of noise aimed at paying tribute to asylum seekers struggling to cross the Mediterranean while unsettling listeners’ detachment from the crisis. They followed it up with FEMMES D'INTÉRIEUR on Café Oto’s in house label, Takuroku. Influenced by Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, the album and live performance engage ideas of femininity, domestic abuse and isolation as they were amplified by Covid-lockdowns. Retaining the full sonic assault of their debut, it’s a single, multi-layered piece which takes on theatrical twists and turns. “I don’t believe in art being disconnected. For me a beautiful piece of art is intellectually and organically rooted in your life,” says De Saint Paul about Harrga’s confrontations with uncomfortable reality. “We’re all enduring this very difficult society where things are complex. Some people are desperately looking for simple answers, but it’s not simple. We’re not aiming to be a political band. We’re just showing the world as it is.”

Prado takes a similar view: “I don’t believe art is separate from life. When I produce something it has to make sense in the moment we are living, with the problems we are addressing. It’s not some sort of over dramatic or over conceptual gesture, it’s just life. Making something beautiful doesn’t feel right in the context of the last few years.

Bad Tracking - Bad Tracking

Bad Tracking, the duo of Max Kelan and Gordon Apps, gained notoriety in Bristol for Kelan’s tendency to perform naked, in doing so gaining the attention of a local MP and a temporary ban from one of the city’s venues. But there’s much more to the duo’s work than shock tactics. It’s a laser focused artistic vision, a picture of a world where humans have completely surrendered to machines, the sort of thing that really can’t be portrayed politely. Sonically, it hits vicious clarity on their self-titled debut. Opener ‘Heart’ sees a beautiful synth drone pierced by static and screams. Elsewhere, rhythms that are almost danceable are mangled beyond recognition, as if the ‘tech’ in techno finally won out. Words and sonics interrogate where pleasure resides in this cyborg fiction, challenging the boundary between pain, numbness and joy. In that sense, for all their brutality and dystopian industrial hellscapes, they ask universal questions about what it means to be human in a technical world. As Kelan says on second track ‘Skin Ident’: “Are these the whispers of someone who wants to be aroused, or the struggles of someone who wants the agonising pain to stop?”

BIPED - Silence/Back To The Water

BIPED is described as a “dystopian sound poet and town crier of the digital age” on their Bandcamp bio, and Silence/Back To The Water acts as a teaser of sorts for an upcoming EP on Avon Terror Corps. It’s music deeply sensitive to the immense power of sounds and words. Silence opens with site recordings from a Kill The Bill protest, from there it blends into gorgeous roots-y horns juxtaposed with stuttering beats and ocean deep synth bass. The production is exquisite, but BIPED’s words are absolute fire. Equal parts poetry, call to solidarity and socio-cultural sound study, they pick out signs of fear and hope. Lines like: “If you’re not speaking please be thinking of the sounds that are just symptoms that can be found in this here silence,” breathtaking in how they straddle nuance and directness. The b-side goes into more ambiguous terrain, a feverish sonic collage which says as much with the constant interruptions of the lyrics as the lyrics themselves.

Dead Space Chamber Music – The Black Hours

Dead Space Chamber Music’s The Black Hours is deeply storied and gloriously doomy. The album is named after a medieval manuscript of the same name, a book of prayers to mark the hours from the evening and through the night. The album was recorded sequentially, with the pandemic in between – the first track laid down pre-Covid, the next five during the lockdown, and the last one post-lockdown. The songs themselves include reinterpretations of ‘Byrd One Brere’ (the oldest surviving English love song), Medieval French songs and Welsh wassailing songs, the four piece of Ellen Southern, Katie Murt, Liz Paxton and Tom Bush translating them through eerie psych-rock jigs, haunted cello laments and sludge smothered distortion. In doing so, they echolocate a monolithic weight buried in the ages. It’s most potent on ‘The Pit/Dissolved in Ashes’, where ghostly guitar blur bends into a righteous stoner metal riffs before, around 9 minutes in, Southern drops a chilling, other-worldly vocal performance which sounds like it’s trying to raise the dead. Dead Space Chamber Music are one of the least ‘electronic’ acts on Avon Terror Corps, but their mix of beauty and heaviness, ancient and new feels totally in-line with the label’s catalogue.

Kinlaw & Franco Franco - Mega Dopo Mega

Kinlaw & Franco Franco are probably the closest thing Avon Terror Corps has to a flagship act. Much like Bad Tracking, the pair (Kinlaw on production, Franco Franco on the mic) are committed to a fully realised, deeply unsettling aesthetic. Razor-edged beats and harshly fragmented samples are welded onto Franco Franco’s distinct flow, his verses slipping back and forth from fluid to mechanical like a shape shifting T-1000. Second album, Mega Dopo Mega, builds on the world created on their debut. It’s cyber hip hop, a soundtrack to a high energy block party for digital discontents which finds something triumphant in its metallic ugliness. The vinyl also brings home just how inventive Avon Terror Corps are with packaging their releases. The sleeve, a four-paged comic conceived by Kinlaw & Franco Franco and illustrated by Gianmarco Franchi, is vividly illustrated but bleak as hell. It sits perfectly with the duo’s music.

Sophrosyne - Ecclesiastes

Most artists on Avon Terror Corps seem determined to invent their own genre, and Sophrosyne does it with particular ferocity. The liner notes say that they handed over a demo to Avon Terror Corps crew at their first event, which paints a lovely picture of how the crew works. The album that emerged from that meeting, Ecclesiastes, is a barrage of everything you could imagine. Doom drenched glitch chorals, gabba-fuelled dungeon synth, extreme metal club weapons. It has an intensity and diversity which scarcely seems possible, and is perhaps the release on Avon Terror Corps that comes closest to the bouncing intensity of Rotterdam Terror Corps, if that collective had been influenced by Fear Factory. Chock full of the most unlikely bangers, it’s an outburst of pure kinetic energy and escapist theatricality that seems designed for a world where ravers and moshers unite to finally overthrow the drudgery of existence. Gleefully spitting in the face of subtlety to escape through the joy of bombast.

EP/64 - EP/64-57

EP/64 (Ephemeral Project 64) is a free-improvisation project started by Dali De Saint Paul, with the intention to do 64 concerts (each with a different line-up) before disbanding. Indeed, the 64th edition took place last weekend over two days at Bristol’s Arnolfini. “The fact I knew the project would be ending creates joy for everyone involved,” says De Saint Paul. “You have a specific mood when you know something is going to finish, there’s a beauty in it.”

The 57th edition saw De Saint Paul team up with regular collaborator Dan Johnson on drums, and Ben Vince on saxophone and electronics. The result is a detonation of relentless, ecstatic, free-wheeling noise. De Saint Paul recalls the concert: “I remember frustration, things weren’t working, we couldn’t hear each other. That’s why at one point I’m just shouting, and I’m asking people to shout with me. It was super difficult but the energy was there, we were connected to each other. Something similar happened in another performance, with Dan and [Bristol producer] Ossia. The circuits in my effects pedals started to melt so the mics stopped. I was just shouting and the audience joined in. It’s these kinds of memories that make it so special. We felt something together, and the audience were feeling it too.”

Senyawa & Various Artists - Alkisah/Once Upon A Time in Avon

Initially focusing on local artists, Avon Terror Corps has since expanded beyond the county of Avon. They took part in Indonesian group Senyawa’s project to have their album Alkisah released on multiple independent labels around the globe. Avon Terror Corps’ version packages it in a double cassette including the original album alongside a Senywa live set recorded in Bristol, and remixes from the Avon Terror Corps crew. Those remixes are mindboggling, Kinlaw & Robin Stewart ft. Franco Franco and Harrga dice up the original tracks into riddims for their respective vocalists to make their own. Sophrosyne converts ‘Kiamat’ into a blast beat powered marching song. SŌN glitches the title track so much it feels like it’s picking up interference from a parallel universe. Avon Terror Corps take Senyawa’s strive to democratise the music business and run with it in spectacular fashion.

Missterspoon - Contraband

Missterspoon uses techno to craft a scuzztopia on Contraband. Grubby and drenched in filth, the first half is dominated by pounding dance-floor energy, while the second goes into more abstract zones of collapsed electronics and spectral vocals. Drum sounds are so crushed and gnarled that it sounds like she’s pulling beats from the mangled detritus of the scrap heap. This isn’t techno-primitivism though, Missterspoon’s control of rhythm and mood creates a finely tuned ecstasy from the debris. Whether ‘Something Else Entirely’’s crossing of burbling acid bass lines and double time marching snares, or ‘Grind Your Base’s deluge of headspinning ambiences. Even when the beats drop out, the intensity somehow remains, as though the sound system got silenced and the remnants of the apocalyptic party migrated from the body into the mind. It’s a set which could single-handedly de-gentrify a warehouse party. Unhinged and with it, properly liberatory.

Concentration - I’m Not What I Was

“Someone cut my fucking dick off,” is the line opening this EP from Australian/German band Concentration. The four tracks are an industrial carnival, a collection of disconcerting, savagely vivid, skank-along anthems. Righteously attacking the idea that art should make the audience feel comfortable, the lyrics cut open masculinity for ridicule with savage honesty and total transparency. It was initially put out on Global Terror Corps, a short-lived Avon Terror Corps sub-label aimed at releasing music from outside the Avon area. “We put out the first (and only) record on GTC, and then the Global arm was quickly abandoned – our understanding is that it was because post-Brexit the urge was to strike down borders and be inclusive, and not because our record sunk GTC. In hindsight, [we] probably didn’t need Rick Rubin,” jokes Concentration’s Matt Sativa. “But I think everyone in ATC is so interested in collaboration and everyone is constantly moving around all the time to work on stuff that it was probably always going to be impossible to keep it exclusive to Bristol.”