New Weird Britain In Review For November By Noel Gardner

The return of Creation Rebel, the long-awaited full release of a 90s video game soundtrack classic, a pleasingly non-literal tribute to The Wicker Man and more all feature in your latest guide to the world of New Weird Britain

Creation Rebel, photo by Jeff Pitcher

Playing both sides, always on top: in the event of this column’s name ever being raised, I usually suggest no-one gets hung up about it, it’s just some loose words, etc. Unless something like the Folklore Tapes label hoves into view, whereupon I spin round and attest that, yes, this is what the ‘New Weird Britain’ thing’s all about. Their vibe is my bag, big time: “an ongoing research and musical heritage project covering and soundtracking the folklore, mythology and occult annals of the UK”. Something enjoying a little ‘moment’ at the moment, which I fancy they’ve played a small part in.

The first, early-2010s Folklore Tapes releases were packaged to look like books, and the newer ones are pretty much as mantleworthy. Larksong, an LP of jumbled solo turns, duets and spoken word, trumpets its manila inserts and riso printing; it’s the soundtrack to a film of the same name, viewable as part of an installation about the British textile industry. Participating musicians have entered into the thematic spirit, so although these songs, or song fragments, are ostensibly Topic-trad piecework, the sounds of fabric-making machinery and whirring film reels are also employed. It helps that musicians David Chatton Barker, Bridget Hayden, Sam McLoughlin and Mary Stark are all more liable to detune a piano or phreak a harmonium than settle for pat tastefulness. Emily Oldfield, too, closes Larksong emphatically with a poem which metaphorically triangulates music, industry and the human body.

FT’s other newie, a compilation tape in a wooden box titled A Web Of Braided Willow, is a 50th birthday tribute to The Wicker Man, and the presence of the four musicians on Larksong plus the likes of Dean McPhee and Rob St. John add up to a pleasingly non-literal reckoning with this particular cult movie. McPhee gets lipsmackingly wiggy, 70s spacerock style; Arianne Churchman hypno-loops a synth, intones something reverbed and ends up kinda like Lau Nau; and, following some bouts of ritualistic metal-scrape, degraded magnetic tape and cocktail-Satie tinkle, a stout conclusion with the ill (or at least vaguely queasy) winds of the Whitworth Vale & Healey Brass Band.

Dean McPhee’s a busy bee this autumn, cropping up early on I Thought I Told You – A Yorkshire Tribute To Michael Chapman and in more restrained mood. His take on the late folk guitarist’s ‘Caddo Lake’ could have you believing the pinch of callous on string was birdsong – a meditative gem. There are seven more Chapman covers on this LP, released by Tompkins Square as part of their Imaginational Anthem series; most of those assembled play it acoustic, like Chapman and unlike McPhee, but suitably for his legacy (he died in 2021) this is a space allowing for experimentation.

Variation is key: Bobby Lee is someone who I can’t really stick for a whole album, but am oddly endeared to his Dr. John type boneshake on ‘Heat Index’. Holly Blackshaw samples the Cornish coast – Chapman plied his early trade down there – for her torch-songed twist on ‘March Rain’; Andrew DR Abbott sticks to his baritone guitar instrumental path, reaffirming the affinity between Chapman and the Takoma Records set, and mossy trippers Hawthorn remove every stitch from ‘Kodak Ghosts’.

Oldheads again saluted with London dub reggae dons Creation Rebel and their comeback album, Hostile Environment. In fact, if your last record wasn’t 41 years ago, like Creation Rebel’s was, don’t call it a comeback. Closely linked to dub console master Adrian Sherwood in their 80s pomp, acting as backup on many releases through his On-U Sound label as well as their own recordings, this LP reunites band (three OGs, to be exact) and producer with blessed results: earthy roots zapped with Sherwood’s nonconformist technique.

Speaking of comebacks, a vocal credit on two Hostile Environment tracks for Prince Far I might raise an eyebrow, the great Jamaican vocalist having been fatally shot in 1983. It seems some previously unheard studio takes were used for ‘Swiftly (The Right One)’ and ‘This Thinking Feeling’, also a Daddy Freddy feature; I realise people can be precious about this sort of behaviour, but Creation Rebel are more entitled to it than pretty much anyone in this case, and the results are transcendent quilts of melodica, woodwind, tape manipulation and – of course – heaven-and-hell vocalising.

Doubtless received wisdom to anyone familiar with the On-U extended universe, or dub in general, but the way this album reveals so much space while concealing so much detail is breathtaking. Every snare crack and rhythm guitar chime is just so, with Charlie Fox and Veral Rose a hypnotic dual-percussion team, and while ‘That’s More Like It’ is the most sonically lunched-out – Sherwood’s antics teetering on noise territory in moments! – Hostile Environment leaves countless Easter eggs in its engineering.

Soft Cuts, the debut solo album by Maria Uzor (released by Castles In Space) has dub in its production genes, for sure. Electro and acid, too; EBM and dreampop, postpunk and trip-hop. Much as a thread of innate personality runs through these multiple-shuffled modes, Soft Cuts’ spontaneous feel gives the sense of full artistic realisation.

You may have encountered Norwich-based Uzor as 50 per cent of Sink Ya Teeth, who brought to danceable punk a sensibility borrowed from UK garage and other club music. Which was cool, but this is a league above. The pneumatic, arched-eyebrow ‘Mighty Mighty’ is Gina X x Grace Jones x Tuxedomoon; ‘Silver Moon’ sounds like she’s lifted an RP Boo beat – not something easy to do convincingly I’d wager! – and ‘Your Approval’ is blissed-out floaty-dress chug that sounds plucked from an early-90s UK nexus moment when it wasn’t clear if techno was going to end up the domain of hippies, ruffnecks or pop stars. I caught Uzor live just after Soft Cuts was released and it was like this, but with a really funny and effortlessly engaging performer right in front of you, so that’s clearly terrific.

Wasn’t that long ago that PC World, and their heavy-hitting sultry leatherman polemics, had me shaking my fist like a pensioner with blighted tomatoes. I, though, was happy as a clam, watching ‘em in a weird industrial north London squat. Shortly after came new tape Infinite Dream Weapon, their third EP in total – released by Alter in the UK and DKA in the States, you get a different bonus remix depending on which version you buy, but this London duo should’ve won your affection by that point with three tracks of minty electronic body glower.

PC World’s Ryan Bellett and Will Deacon have emerged into a fertile, indeed global EBM-punk scene, and it wouldn’t surprise me if acts like Boy Harsher and Youth Code were formative, but they’ve dragged their operation to somewhere distinct, with ‘At Heaven’s Gate’ packing colossal Bomb Squad/Schoolly D drums hitched to Nitzer Ebb vocal contempt. The title track here, though relatively short, is a mid-EP palate cleanser with its electro-Vangelis spaciousness, but ‘Doublevision’ pulls us right back into necksnap city, like Pretty Hate Machine if it’d been produced by Newcleus. Slash YOUR winter heating bills by huddling round this steamy number!

A self-titled cassette by Distraxi (via Brachliegen Tapes) isn’t Alina Church’s first (or last!) release of 2023 under that name, but on account of me admiring this Bath-based artist’s cinematic take on power electronics for a while now, a writeup is overdue. Of Distraxi’s six tracks, the extremities are the most extreme. ‘Extension’ opens the album with portentous drumbeats from the other end of the corridor before blitzing the palate with powerdrill feedback, big-rig bass throb and ballgagged vocals; ‘I Can’t Save You’, at the end, tears straight into punishing midrange harshness and out-of-control junk noise.

Even amidst all this foulness, though, a synth line emerges and remains in place, resulting in something arguably describable as melody. This is a repeat feature of Distraxi, indicative of Church’s range and subtlety. ‘Precipice’ might constitute her most harrowing vocal performance – I don’t know for sure that it wasn’t recorded inside a padlocked sports holdall, put it that way – but only once we’ve been taken to a place of grubby euphoria by an extended arpeggiated sequence. A face turn to spacey dark ambient on ‘Slow Crawl Through Time’ is something I’d take a whole Distraxi album of, likewise ‘Heaven Absorbs’, 12 minutes of dub techno on broken gear for broken people.

Viscount’s debut tape has fantasy-style painted cover art, with a logo where the cross of the ‘t’ is formed by a sword; the musician behind the name sports chainmail on the inner sleeve and track two (of eight) is titled ‘Dungeon’. All stolen metal valour, I’m afraid, because 10 Past 10 is closer to Beat Happening than Bathory, though spiking its tweepop tendencies with persistent programmed drums and coldwave synth.

As with previous releases on Viscount’s label Noble Lowndes Annuities, it’s by someone from London arch-punx Hygiene, in this case bass player Lucy Anstey. Neither that band or her previous one, the gone-but-not-forgotten-by-me-anyway Primetime, offer meaningful clues to Viscount’s sound, but I’m well into it. A brace each of peculiar abstract synthstrumentals (the aforementioned ‘Dungeon’ and ‘Third Floor Corridor’) and cover versions (The Bartlebees’ ‘When You’re Happy You Won’t Understand’ and the deathless ‘Rose Garden’, a 1970 hit for Lynn Anderson) are mixed into sparkling DIY synthpop yearners in the approximate realms of Future Bible Heroes, Black Marble and Lust For Youth.

Another producer whose dues are overdue, from me, but who has had a hyperproductive year is Jonathan Taylor, aka acid icon Global Goon. After several years with next to no releases, 2023’s seen a deluge – including, and I’m one of probably about ten people for whom this is specifically pleasing, a transatlantic collab album with a guy who was in the late 90s screamo-era lineup of Indiana band Racebannon. Aside from that, the Acid Waxa label have issued three volumes of GG’s Painting With Acid cassettes – the third, which is just out, is a textbook showcase of Taylor’s pliable arrangements and womb-familiar melodic nous. ‘Dogpracticle’ is a bob-and-weave slow jam that’d feel almost sultry but for the gibberish vocal loop prevailing; ‘Crasdfghj’ is an arrhythmic, viscoelastic hardware workout testing the definitional boundaries of IDM’s initials.

Though the label’s been shuttered for years now, Global Goon is probably still best associated with Richard D James’ Rephlex Records, where he debuted in the mid-90s. Acid Waxa (who, to an extent, have taken up Rephlex’s acid/braindance mantle) make mention of the occasional suspicion during that period that this project was actually another RDJ alias. Taylor’s latter-day approach to track titles almost seems like a tribute to this, or a cosy embrace. On PWA 3, they mostly resemble WiFi passwords, and then there’s ‘Tregawskin’ – only a removed letter away from one of Aphex’s many musical pseudonyms, and this release at its fizziest and most mule-kicking.

Several strands of retromania and recontextualising converge in Dylan Beale’s Adamantium Rage OST: 21 instrumentals composed to soundtrack the Super Nintendo version of a video game starring comic book character Wolverine. Released in 1994, it was Beale’s first musical commission after having produced hardcore and proto-jungle for a few years; the game, by most accounts, was a dud, but its music, all synthesised strings, clipped digital beats and fast hip-hop scratches, was noted for being both dramatic and cutting-edge.

Several years later, grime happened, propelled by an early wave of producers who were junglists and/or gamers. I recall interviewing one, possibly DJ Oddz, in about 2002 and being technologically befuddled by a passing mention of beats created on Playstations. This had come to be considered a genre trope long before 2016, when ‘Tri-Fusion’ – one of the Adamantium Rage pieces – started getting touted as grime before time. Beale, who still works in the gaming industry, was cheerfully amused, but evidently on board, and after another seven-year stretch Sneaker Social Club have released his full soundtrack.

All else aside, it’s nice to have a contemporary reference point for 90s game scores which doesn’t have anything to do with vaporwave, but Adamantium Rage has tangible 2023 value beyond ‘curiosity’. The brooding delicacy of sinogrime is audible in ‘Cinema 2’ and ‘Nightmare World’, while the pads on ‘Under The Hellfire Club’ seem to anticipate UK garage; conversely, Beale’s previous dabbling in bleep techno and breakbeat seems to inform ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Geist’, and the second of two unused compositions tacked on here bears a marked resemblance to the Pac-Man theme – or, more pertinently, Aphex’s 1992 bastardisation of it.

A previous release by UK noise nomad Gary Mundy, as Kleistwahr, was reviewed in an early-2022 edition of this column, which debars him from further coverage under my informal rules. However, I’m ignoring that and concluding this month with his self-pressed Poles Apart LP, partly because it’s a collaboration – with New Zealand’s P Wits, aka Benedict Quilter – and partly because it lands on quite a different sound to that earlier album. (There’ve been two new standalone Kleistwahr records since – the latest, For The Lives Once Lived, sounds as frenzied as the project’s ever got.)

Poles Apart is actually a reissue of a cassette from 2021, with a track added to the original four. No credits are provided, but my guess is that Mundy is on synth, with Quilter on guitar and probably the grievously fazed vocals on ‘Poles Apart IV’. All elements are though cooked down into one psychoactive reduction: brutalist, blank spacerock that’s got the essence of Mundy’s best known band, Ramleh, and the NZ-peculiar approach to guitars that gave us bands like The Dead C and Surface Of The Earth. Guessing (again) both musicians recorded separately, but they achieve that ‘turn up, plug in, wig out, melt amp, return to earth’ vibe so essential to music like this.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today