New Weird Britain: The UK’s Best Underground Music Of 2021


Little secret for you here, but I’m writing this so-called intro last, after getting together all the cool biz that I actually want you to read. As such, it will be short and perfunctory, suitably for an EOY column whose 2020 equivalent stated with confidence that 2021 would be “fucking shit”.

Which it was, obviously, but in a way that makes attempted contextualisation in a listicle about strange music a fairly poor use of everyone’s time.

Suffice it to say that once again I heard a vast amount of good music that I might choose to call ‘New Weird Britain’ whether people agree or not. A lot of it was, I daresay, recorded and dispersed in a manner that largely transcends social whatevers: artists have their small communities and don’t need to sell them a certain number of units to justify their existence. (Caveat to this: getting vinyl pressed has been a complete joke all year and longer, and it sounds like even tapes are a pain in the arse to get delivered promptly.)

Regional scenes, forever important to how this music evolves, seem to be recovering from what was obviously a pretty big thump, although speaking as someone who lives in a miserable city run by total arseholes which has all but destroyed its vestiges of independent culture, this should probably be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Artistically successful gambits such as Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis’ monthly series These Feral Lands, funded by the National Lottery, and Flora Yin-Wong’s recent EP The Sacrifice, recorded on a Powys retreat with Arts Council readies, make me wonder if such methods of paying your way will become increasingly commonplace, as in visual art. Hey, the fuckers could whip it all away tomorrow.

Alternatively, the spectacle of Unboxed, or the Festival Of Brexit as most call it, might sully the whole ‘government-approved creativity’ thing for some time. (Probably it’ll just be a bunch of middlebrow theatre companies etc. doing innocuously milquetoast work that inspires or harms nothing either way.)

ENOUGH! Check out my top ten from 2021’s columns, then ten more unpraised until now. Thanks for reading.

10. Various – London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984​-​1993, Vol. 1
(Death Is Not The End)

“You want to hear spots like ‘Rare Groove Champagne Party’, ‘Ladies Sunday Night Affair’ and ‘Kebab House’, right?”

9. The Doubtful Guest – Acid Mixers Of BF2019
(Industrial Coast)

“You could be at either a 90s Drop Bass Network rave or a squat party in London Acid City.”

8. Cremation Lily – Cremation Lily Smells The Flowers
(Strange Rules)

“Cement-raw agony pounded into unintelligibility by degraded tape flutter.”

7. Tasos Stamou – Greek Drama
(Chocolate Monk)

“DIY culture jamming which succeeds in its stated efforts to interrogate Stamou’s personal ‘Greekness’ in a ‘non-Greek way’.”

6. Blackhaine & Richie Culver – DID U CUM YET/ I’M NOT GONNA CUM

“A release drawing equally on drill and power electronics could be pretty cringe, but Blackhaine makes it sound legit.”

5. Lucy Railton & Kit Downes – Subaerial
(SN Variations)

“Its 40 minutes of stark improvisation was recorded over three hours in an Icelandic cathedral.”

4. Lucy Duncombe – Brace/ Mend
(12th Isle)

“‘A vocal force over keyboard washes with a little Orb and 80s new age.”

3. Dolmen Dweller – Daily Intoning

“Newcastle musician James Watts records himself doing vocal drone exercises, then listens to it while drawing and records that too. Everyone who orders a cassette gets their own bespoke recording.”

2. Romeo Taylor – The Kingdom Of Scotland
(Acid Waxa)

“A sort of Celtic-flavoured patriotic refrain over some wicked bounce/ donk/ happy hardcore.”

1. Yazzus – Steel City Dance Discs Volume 21
(Steel City Dance Discs)

“Gunning for the darkside but only intimidating if you’ve never known joy in the rave.”


Aging ~ Land Trance – Embassy Nocturnes
(Tombed Visions)

Aging, from Manchester, have been recognised in NWB (and many other places) for their especially, exquisitely inert way with jazz instrumentals: bad vibes served up with the gentlest touch. Land Trance, from Liverpool, did an LP last year; Andrew Hunt, half of the duo, released a solo record of electroacoustics as Dialect in spring. Meanwhile, Embassy Nocturnes is a total stunner, blending synths into woodwind and stringed instruments as well as using the resonant properties of physical surfaces (cf ‘Findings I’); arrangements can be so sparse, or acoustically distant, as to almost sound like they’re leaking from another location, but there’s a real emotional heft to these wordless journeys.

Donnay Soldier – A Soldier To Cry On
(Acid Waxa)

This five-song tape was released shortly before the Romeo Taylor 12-inch lovingly ranked above, and between them they represent a high water mark of helium-filled indecency for the Acid Waxa label, not exactly dour at the best of times. Donnay Soldier is a donk/bounce/techno MC who lives in London and tells tales of sportswear, rolling tobacco, “joyriding in the country club” and going to the waterpark in lieu of being able to afford a holiday. All of this is muttered, or emoted, over high-energy kiddy rave and floaty acid which brings matters a little closer to Acid Waxa’s median output. I can only speculate if either you the reader, or whoever Donnay Soldier actually is, would consider “a braindance Goldie Lookin Chain” a compliment, but I know what I think.

Helena Celle’s Correspondence Table – Glasgow Decentral
(Fort Evil Fruit)

It so happens that Kay ‘Helena Celle’ Logan made my album! of! 2021!, Nothing New Under The Sun as Time Binding Ensemble, but in the interests of not doubling up waffle, you can read what I said about it roughly halfway down tQ’s overall top 100 list. I’ll instead take a moment to big up Logan’s most recent physical release, a cassette on Ireland’s Fort Evil Fruit label credited to Helena Celle’s Correspondence Table. Ten tracks of precisely four minutes apiece, Glasgow Decentral is all rhythms all the time: hectic, precision-tooled clusters of digital beats that recast dance music rather than imitate it. RIYL post-footwork types like DJ Paypal, early 00s Autechre or Mille Plateaux type microtechno, as long you don’t insist on it sounding like that exactly.

Ill Considered – Liminal Space
(New Soil)

These guys have released long players of snaky improvised jazz at a hectic rate in the last few years (including a Christmas album, if you’re looking for something to one-up people with in that department); Liminal Space is the first one not to come via their own label, I think. It’s fierce and full-fathom, rising to a peak of noise on ‘Dervish’ landing on these gorgeous-if-raucous Ethio-jazz tones for ‘The Lurch’. They’re of a piece, kinda sorta, with the London nu-jazz/Total Refreshment Centre quasi-scene, with tuba player Theon Cross and percussionist Sarathy Korwar among several guests joining the core Ill Considered trio (Idris Rahman, Liran Donin and Emre Ramazanoglu) here.

Nonexistent – Nonexistent

Real heady sesh of thick drone here which, with its lack of guitars, bass and drums, isn’t ‘rock’ but shares a certain sense of forward motion; nor ‘folk’, although a damaged pastorality can be detected, not unlike certain parts of the mid-00s US free folk movement. Even ‘electronic music’ feels off to me, Nonexistent’s scuffed layers feeling inexact in a very human way, even if every sound on here is either synthesised or processed. The three members of Nonexistent all have form in this soundfield: Alexander Tucker and Astrud Steehouder apparently intended to team up for years before doing so in 2020, with Luke J Murray then making a trio. Steehouder’s Paper Dollhouse and Murray’s Iceman Junglist Kru, as well as Tucker’s many releases under his own name and collabs such as Grumbling Fur, may somewhat prepare you for this cold-as-space dread.

Patrick Conway – Cellular Housekeeping
(ESP Institute)

Someone else only catching my ear at the second time of asking this year is Berlin-based ex-Bristolian Patrick Conway, who released an album in June as Trinity Carbon, his teamup with Appleblim. I’ve wallowed in his productions as Low End Activist beforehand, though, and November’s Cellular Housekeeping reaffirms that Conway has a gift for depicting the psychedelic, unclean wobble of the consummate club experience. Also, he’s really good at making drum machines sound wicked, be they a headrush of jungle-adjacent breaks or a dry, Chicago acid-like judder. It’s a hazy, somewhat lo-fi album that might not have you leaping to your feet to cut a rug, but neither is it especially deconstructed as club music goes, and can be perfectly upfront, rhythm-wise, when it chooses.

SectorSept – 954

Don’t have any real dirt on this producer at the time of writing – not that SectorSept appears to be especially secretive, just that his pre-954 activity may have been largely limited to a few pub/club residencies around London. I’m charmed, though, by these eight tracks of low-slung machine gauze, equal parts bone-tuff dancers’ rhythms and ethereal wash. ‘Get Ready For The Programme’, which opens the tape, has something of Howie Lee’s burly delicacy. Detroit electro clapperbeats, such as on ‘Be There’ and ‘Bout’, are glazed with wistfully reverbed synth; ‘Tropic Universe’ is a juke-y rush with tersely micro-edited vocal samples and ‘Prize’ drags its drums through syrup with sultry results.

TBC Editions – Various Cassettes

TBC is short for The Brunswick Club, whose residency in a vacated Bristol building came to an end two years ago but who continue as an artistic collective. Recently, they’ve released three cassettes by Brunswick associates, neatly packaged and generally worth investigation. Dean Forest Riots, by J. Martin, explores Gloucestershire’s Forest Of Dean and its wealth of rural mythos. Things can get weird in the Forest, fairly warned be thee, and such is the case with this knapsack of percussive clang, electronic mulch and mangled vocal samples – although the bonus track at the end, sung by late folkie Bill Walters, is in fact my jam. Drips Of Fosterham are a duo, joined by several guests on their self-titled debut, who lean into surreal monologues and comedy sketches over wobbly, sometimes jaunty electronic backing. A woman – voiced by Skye Turner, who with Samuel Pilbeam comprises DOF – who finds herself “becoming a cathedral” as her body grows gargoyles is one notable highlight. And Right Into The River marks the first solo release under her own name for Tina Hitchens, who I’ve reviewed in here as Tisla and with technoise duo Harpoon. Mostly instrumental pieces led by her flute playing, exceptions such as the intimate vocal-and-harmonium number ‘A Shrouded Memory Anyhow’ stand out pleasingly without rupturing the broad mood.

Verdant Wisdom – Various Cassettes

A tape label based somewhere on the Herefordshire/Powys border, seemingly devoted to the music of a small circle of friends but noted for striking and relatively original takes on the dungeon synth subgenre: there’s a folk aesthetic and new agey/Berlin school vibe across Verdant Wisdom’s small catalogue.

The Conjuror’s Dream by Winter Seer opened the VW account with some myths & legends/ minor chord keyboard/ spooky wind FX fodder, before Middlewood’s self-titled EP laid some powerfully intimate rural ambient (and more wind sounds) on us. Oaklimb maintains the pastoral imagery on Woodland Passage, equally gentle and stern in its swelling movements and unique among these releases for specifying its gear (a Casio CZ 5000). And Uskk plants his flag on the Welsh side of the border with Yr Hen Ogledd: a concept album about the “bards, wizards, kings and giants” of Brittonic times, wordless but icily effective with its sustained minimal synth pulses… and wind sounds. Verdant Wisdom have more recent releases on Bandcamp, for which you’ll need to be quick on the draw once committed to cassette.

Yol – Viral Dogs And Cats
(Crow Versus Crow)

Maybe half my life ago, there was a fork in the road. Had I taken the other path, and applied myself sufficiently, I could be on a decidedly different plane of music writing now, dividing my time between penning SEO-friendly overviews of the new Damon Albarn album and faving quippy tweets by my appalling media transphobe friends. Instead, I fucked up and, as a partial result, write about artists like Yol. I regret plenty, but not this! Yol, from Hull, pals around with heads like Posset and Mariam Rezaei, and typically – on short-run releases like this five-track tape – combines found-noise Dictaphonic burble with truly headwreck vocal mannerisms. Through the gibbers, sobs and gurgles emerge poetic narratives about ice-cream and roads and plastic cutlery, relevant phrases repeated to the point of delirium. The opportunity to write the words “emo Phil Minton”, in that order, is one I recognise as a privilege, and for that I thank Yol and others like Yol.

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