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New Weird Britain: 2023 In Review By Noel Gardner
Noel Gardner , December 7th, 2023 11:37

Noel Gardner selects his ten favourite albums from his New Weird Britain column in 2023, and also picks ten essential LPs that got away

Maria Uzor, photo by Andi Sapey

This is the seventh year in which I’ve been assembling the New Weird Britain column, meaning this is also the seventh year-end overview of what’s just been and the seventh introductory preamble. Fundamentally, I would rather get to the music as quickly as possible, not because I think outside factors are irrelevant but because this column has an intentionally wide and imprecise scope which make it difficult to say anything about changes to the landscape which aren’t sweeping to the point of meaninglessness.

Happy, if nothing else, to have checked back to 2017’s EOY intro and see that the definition I put down there – “independent musicians with no obvious pretences towards commercial success, identified with the UK’s current underground music culture” – hasn’t slipped yet. It is, as noted, a fairly broad way of seeing all this. I will however say that one of the releases initially pencilled for the ‘ten that got away’ section, which you can find (in alphabetical rather than preferential order) after the (ranked) top ten of things I actually did review, was ultimately excised once I read the artist’s bio back and got ‘the’ proverbial ‘ick’ about a mention of them having “perform[ed] for heads of state at the Cop26 climate conference”.

I doubt the musician in question gives a shit about this column or potential inclusion in it, obviously, nor is it lost on me that such a gig might put food on the table where glowing writeups have almost zero chance of doing so. I bring this up, I suppose, as a means of considering the ways in which ‘underground’ as a musical/cultural concept has dissolved, and the ways in which it hasn’t. So it is that you, a recording artist, can arrive at a sound which by most objective measures sits in music’s left field, adapts a little-known regional style in your own image and exists in an ancestral lineage of musicians who in many cases would never have recorded at all, or taken a fee for playing. Only now there is someone working on your behalf to arrange for you to perform in a room to Boris Johnson while he eats soup. Having done that, I feel, you are doing something with your music distinct from what this column is about.

With that in mind, here are just under two dozen collections of sound which I consider to be new, weird, British and made by principled people with noble intentions. If anything transpires in the future to undermine that statement, let the records show I was jamming it in ‘23.

Noel Gardner’s top 10 New Weird Britain releases of 2023

10. Sam Barton – Kinetic Vacancy

Kinetic is in fact a choice adjective to pinpoint the shift Barton’s undertaken here, with a springheeled punk-tekno klang streaking through much of this six-track length.

9. Distraxi – Distraxi
(Brachliegen Tapes)

Amidst all the foulness of this Bath-based artist’s cinematic take on power electronics, a synth line emerges and remains in place, resulting in something arguably describable as melody.

8. Helena Celle – If You Can​​​’​​​t Handle You At Your Worst, Then I Don​​​’​​​t Deserve Me At My Best
(Night School)

An enormously fun jolt of spindizzy quasi-rave where computerised perfection meets welcome-to-the-real-world analogue distortion.

7. Various – Disruptive Frequencies

Compilation of new experimental music by six Black and South Asian artists. Great premise, rad sounds, you’re basically guaranteed to discover someone new.

6. Maria Uzor – Soft Cuts
(Castles In Space)

Soft Cuts has dub, electro, acid, EBM, dreampop, postpunk and trip-hop in its production genes; its spontaneous feel gives the sense of full artistic realisation.

5. Lone Pilgrim – As Sparks Fly Upwards
(Industrial Coast)

The riffs come thick and slow, swamped with slasher-flick organ and bristling distortion, before chucking in a wee folky interlude just as I’m getting my ‘Burning Witch and The Dead C covering Goblin’ spiel hacked out.

4. Kinlaw – Weld
(Drowned By Locals)

A multifaceted meltdown of industrialised fire-spit international rap. Dungeon doors slam shut, feedback is machine-derived and merciless, yet it’s never less than a barrel of fun.

3. Rezzett – Boshly
(The Trilogy Tapes)

A 12-inch EP released directly after second Rezzett album Meant Like This, the production choices are divisive by design, sometimes feeling like you’re at a club listening to the main room act from the corridor outside.

2. Dodo Resurrection II – A Treatise On Ceremonial Magic
(Shack In The Barley Productions)

Four wordless wigouts, each between eight and 10 minutes long, offer an eye-of-providence triangulation between vintage Afrofunk, Canterbury scene turtleneck rock and Atomic Rooster-type moustache thud.

1. Creation Rebel – Hostile Environment
(On-U Sound)

Closely linked to dub console master Adrian Sherwood in their 80s pomp, this LP reunites band and producer with blessed results: earthy roots zapped with Sherwood’s nonconformist technique.

Ten New Weird Britain Releases That Got Away

City Kudu – Kyana/ Pala
( Access Memory / Pressure Dome)

Lorenzo Thirlwall-Geary has dropped a couple of physical items this year under his City Kudu alias, and in both cases the people releasing them have chosen this London producer to launch their new label (or sublabel), which feels like it should indicate something. He’s definitely got a standout style across these eight tracks, percussion-forward and meditative: influences are rarely pindownable but the Basic Channel blueprint, Shackleton-type quasi-dubstep and early-00s microhouse (Akufen, maybe) coursed through my head to varying degrees. Thirlwall-Geary’s calling card among all this may be the chilly drones that sit underneath his beats and bass: if you ever find yourself inside a walk-in fridge at night and can pull up some music, City Kudu’ll be just the job. Kyana, a 12-inch, looks to be sold out from its Mancunian label Access Memory; Pala has just come out on the cassette wing of Yushh’s Pressure Dome.

(The Trilogy Tapes)

Kind of a leathery relative of the above two releases, now I think about it, in that CZN is a vehicle for finely-tuned dub-orbiting drum workouts foiled by nocturnal electronic shiver. ‘Year Of The Rat’, third of four shortish tracks on this five-track cassette, keeps you locked with its percussion alone: it could derive from a Brazilian carnival or Ugandan village celebration, or both or neither. Then there’s the foundational bassweight, equally solemn and thrilling and suggesting a past in the dance at FWD>> or similar nights. Leon Marks, once of Hey Colossus, is chief producer among CZN’s three members, leaving the beats handled by João Pais Filipe and Valentina Magaletti. Based in Porto and London respectively, for my money Filipe and Magaletti are two of the most creative percussionists currently active anywhere: I could listen to them play pretty much in perpetuity, but failing that will take the Jaki Liebezeit-goes-Afro house ‘Liz Business’, which completes SSS over a quarter-hour plus.

Graham Lambkin – Aphorisms
(Blank Forms)

Not quite a solo piano album, by virtue of Graham Lambkin spiking his already rather altered treatment of the contraption with drily-inserted samples and instances of garbled speech, but with the piano as the predominant sound source. Lambkin – whose 30-plus years of deeply inscrutable musical activity has been further bolstered during 2023 by reissues of his earliest recordings in The Shadow Ring and Cat & Bells Club – is a man of concrète convictions, of course, so we might as readily hear the whirr of a pedal or the blunt pluck of an internal string as any attention lavished on the keys. ‘Trilogy Of Embers’, notably, is enlivened about four minutes in by what sounds like some insensate object being heartily spanked. Found on the Kent coast in The Shadow Ring’s earlier days, Lambkin has lived in the USA for most of this century but relocated to London while recording the material on Aphorisms: we’re invited to read it as conveying this upheaval, and rarely will you hear pianos so vividly sound like clutter and mild life-chaos.

Ikoba – Transcode

Transcode consists of 45 tracks in about three hours, either sequenced in alphabetical order of their titles (from ‘Anomaly’ to ‘Zhylangoph’) or given those titles post-sequencing. I imagine it likely that this Bandcamp-only release is an Aphex-style hard drive dump but have no way of knowing, because I know basically nothing about Ikoba, although I’m pretty sure he lives in Newport, south Wales and grew up in Kampala. This release’s inclusion is because the music, in toto, is incredible polyrhythmic lo-fi techno/noise/jazz whose likely influences I honestly can’t even begin to parse. It’s ruff and analogue (sounding) like Jamal Moss but microplaned and granular like Evol, not that those names are really getting us much warmer. Basically I want there to be other people trying to wrap their heads around Transcode like I’ve been since August (Ikoba currently has 18 followers on Soundcloud and 40 on Twitter) and maybe give it some sort of exposure that I can’t.

Ney – Ney
(Somewhere Between Tapes)

On this hour-long cassette, Ney operate as a trio, one founded by Lisa Fabian – a multidisciplinary artist from Germany now Glasgow-based. Though I think a proportion of what you hear was recorded outside the studio – at home or out in public – DIY-friendly Glaswegian spot Green Door took in these strays to capture the sounds of Fabian, Matt Robin and Eddie Brooks playing together for the first time. The results are sincerely compelling real-people ambient sound, its tendrils in rock and/or jazz but presenting vocals, guitar and drums as if they’re background details as significant, or not, as you the listener want them to be. ‘Gestalt Der Dämmerung (Figure Of Dusk)’, the A-side, has more of what you might call performance; ‘Listen To The Water’, on the flip, is comprised of five parts and a larger amount of non-studio stuff, though cleaving to a beat in its middle section. Fans of Lawrence English and his Room40 label might find succour in this tape.

NikNak – Night
(First Terrace)

I reviewed Leeds’ Nicole Raymond aka NikNak earlier this year – OK, included a sentence on her contributions to Disruptive Frequencies (see above) – and, basically going off what I was hearing, said this music had commonalities with turntablism even if they might not technically be that. Given that turntablism – albeit an especially abstracted version of it – is basically what Raymond does, I was probably wrong, but Night, a five-track cassette, has enough of the form’s widely recognised signifiers to make it clearer to us more cloddish folk. ‘Fireflies P1’ is enlivened by quickfire scratching, which on the following ‘Wails’ gets folded into sounds of (what might be) rainfall, bird calls and surface noise. ‘REM’ beats with a hip-hop heart but runs on collagist fuel, its ambience really coming on like night in the city. Not clear if the subject of ‘Dawn’s Broken Thoughts’ is a person of that name or the time of day, but the sound of a 1960s NASA spokesperson getting chopped to matchwood while 16rpm trip-hop happens in the middle distance is evocative enough.

Semispecific Ensemble – Everyone Is Making It Up

Five-song EP from jazzy Glaswegian morass that’s cacophonous, but in a really quite pleasant way that prizes melody. Founded by Charlie Knox but in other respects elusive and evasive by design, it seems, self-describing as “a constantly shifting lineup of players and guests,'' Semispecific Ensemble pile up watery electronics, zigzag-wandering drums, varyingly textured trumpet and what sound like marimbas. The music on this release was recorded in one late-2020 session and de/reconstructed in one or more studios over the three years hence, which I suspect Knox and co have used to bring their techno leanings to the front, as on ‘Yoga For Complete Beginners’. Get an early-00s German tang from all this, actually – Bernd Friedman, Compost Records – which I’m in no way opposed to. Everyone Is Making It Up isn’t strictly a ‘physical release’, but you can get a risograph lyric book to go with your MP3s, so I think that basically counts as one.

The Stargazer’s Assistant – Fire Worshipper
(House Of Mythology)

David J. Smith, formerly of British zeuhl/prog titans Guapo among several other ventures, was bandleader on a couple of LPs in 2023 – both recommended, with Fire Worshipper landing not long into the new year and zoning me especially good. By my reckoning the fifth Stargazer’s Assistant album, here Smith is joined by David Knight – whose four decades plus of strange music includes guitar on several Danielle Dax records – and Michael J. York, onetime Coil orbiter currently also in The Utopia Strong. York’s flute and bagpipes lend a curdled Celtic flavour to ‘Shamash’ and ‘Shango’, and peg wailing 14-minute rocker ‘Shalman’ as a Rock In Opposition versh of early Mercury Rev. Smith’s other album this year was as The Holy Family, which features three more ex-Guapo heads: Go Zero, released by Rocket in July, is a drum-heavy psych-rock freakdown inspired by conceptual artist and fantasy novelist Brian Catling.

Teresa Winter – Proserpine
(Night School)

The majority of Teresa Winter’s pre-Proserpine product has been released through The Death Of Rave, and perhaps more than anything else on the label sounds like rave, if it was (actually, physically) dead. The Leeds sound artist’s debut for Glasgow’s Night School moves us from purgatory into a spirit realm of sorts, largely shutting off any audible link to club culture in the process (‘Child Of Nature’ approaches ambient techno in its synth parts, perhaps). Her vocals are layered and processed so they echo, wobble and quaver – the person behind this voice, you think, could be eight years old or 98 – melting into the field recordings and smeary synths as they go. ‘Like An Apple’ and ‘Lamento’ cop some of the church’s communal solemnity for their secular selves, hardly an untried gambit in experimental music but rarely enacted with this much poise.

Valia Calda – Homeland
(Deep Cave Mountains)

Came to this via Valia Calda’s bassist Thodoris Ziarkas, who does various bits and bobs on the London jazz scene and recorded a couple of great rebetiko-type albums as Aman!!!, with Tasos Stamou. That project seems to be inactive but I’ll take Homeland as compensation and then some. Here, Ziarkas is part of a quintet which includes his brother Nikos and which tackles jazz idioms from the twin angles of traditional Greek folk music – in all its waltzing, tear-stained finery – and spiky progressive rock, perhaps of the King Crimson ilk although sometimes taking a turn for the chaotic. The eight-minute title track (referencing the brothers’ migrant status and experiences) and album centrepiece is especially frazzled and noisy, but is quickly countered by the romantic ‘To Be Like You’, where a folky bassline underpins the elegiac trumpet of Sam Warner.