New Weird Britain In Review For March By Noel Gardner

Noel Gardner returns with his latest round-up of New Weird Britain's boldest and brightest new releases, reviewing music from Helena Celle, Kate Carr, Mantra and more

Helena Celle

It’s extra satisfying when the stuff I dig out for this column comes from the geographical fringes of New Weird Britain as well as its musical ones: coastal outcrops, unfashionable counties, forgotten towns with zero scene. To this end, I will strive to reflect this in the May 2023 edition, to offset March’s consisting of two solo cats in Glasgow, a bunch more in London and one more apiece in Brighton and Bristol. I, like you, am sick of hearing about these places! Unfortunately, I like many of their musicians.

It is, for one thing, unclear to me how I’ve not previously featured Kay Logan in these columns (excepting a rounding-up paragraph at the end of 2021), what with considering her an electronic music alchemist operating at a higher conceptual level than all us earthbound dolts. As Helena Celle, she has a new LP on the Night School label, If You Can’t Handle You At Your Worst, Then I Don’t Deserve Me At My Best, and it’s an enormously fun jolt of spindizzy quasi-rave where computerised perfection meets welcome-to-the-real-world analogue distortion.

The LP brackets four shorter tracks on its A-side and saves a 21-minute epic for the flip. We begin with chewy electro/acid synths and clatterbeat junglist drums, ‘I Did It My Way’ inducing thoughts of 90s-vintage Squarepusher or Luke Vibert’s ravier gear, before swinging into filter disco-y melodic chiming, close-mic’d robotic purrs, Amiga 500 crud-thud body music and a musical recreation of what it would feel like if 500 flashbulbs popped off as you came out of court having been found not guilty of trying to kill God.

Whoever Abe is, as named in the B-side’s ‘Original Besttrack (Abe’s Oddysee Extended Mix)’, they ought to be honoured by the association with this seething soundworld of constant mutation. It’s noise techno, of a sort, but euphoric where many are sullen, with beats fucked enough to have been ripped from a Spiral Tribe bootleg and a ceaselessly hectic cut-up aesthetic.

Wormhook, our second Glasgow dweller, is on a pretty different musical tip on the face of it, with the songs on Workaday Strangeness: Gyrating Death Throes From A Void Axiom (Akashic) being built around ghostly, likely home-recorded plumes of vocal and organ. These are embellished with electronic post-production, cut from equally DIY cloth, and this intersection of the mechanic and the (all too) human prods comparable emotional receptors to Helena Celle, for me at any rate.

The lyrics of Martin Steuck, who is responsible for pretty much everything on Workaday Strangeness, sway from the introspective to the socially piercing, and are sometimes both (“I look out my window, what do I see / Mounted police dragging a body / I’m shielded by the double glazing”). It has a vulnerability and, conversely, a rule-bending self-belief that carries airs of private press 70s loner folk, or maybe more so Jandek. On top of this, there are various primitive interpretations of dub technique, a distant cousin of a soul croon on ‘Every Living Thing’, while ‘Folk From The Vaults Of A Death Cult D&B Version’ gives you advance notice of its Flying Saucer Attack/Third Eye Foundation moves via the title but is painted with Steuck’s own tics and (ar)rhythms.

The first album length release by Sam Barton, Acid Apple Satin Walls, also got brief appraisal in an NWB EOY roundup, 2020’s to be exact. Its followup, Kinetic Vacancy, is self-issued on CD and tape, the latter in one of those moulded cases they used to package soundboard recordings of raves in. It’s a better album than AASW, which stacked up kosmische-adjacent electronics, florid brass sections (Barton’s trumpet playing forms part of his contribution to London trio Teeth Of The Sea) and murkier slowcore; the results were highly enjoyable but, reasonably for a solo debut, hadn’t quite found a definitive sound.

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. ‘He Looked At Maps He Read Conrad’, which opens it, isn’t a vast distance from Container, although at this point the trumpet has yet to turn up. Its presence can give an elegiac counterweight to droney drift and zithery chord patterns of ‘Murmuration’, or imbue stout dance-rock shuffler ‘Mad Mickey’ with an almost Latin house feel. Elsewhere, ‘The Ingots Travelled West’ is like New Order remixed by Echospace, and my highlight among multiple challengers.

Continuing on a theme of delicate metallic resonance and puffed cheeks, Wedding Songs by The Duke Of Zuke hits its zenith on mid-album number ‘Rambo Waltz’. Here the Duke himself, Clint Trofa, has his impressionist guitar instrumental supplemented by the saxophone playing of David McLean, whose Tombed Visions label put this one out (in – again! – a ‘rave tape’ box). Not to suggest McLean’s stolen the limelight from Trofa on his first release in over a decade, as Wedding Songs is some high-grade jazz-informed ambient rock.

Currently London-based, TDOZ’s origins are in late-00s Milton Keynes, among bands such as Action Beat and musicians including McLean. Most of Trofa’s 2010s looks to have been taken up by his directorial career, and if we skim over the presence of Pot Noodle adverts on that portfolio then it’s viable to deduce a cineaste’s ear and touch to his nocturnal meanderings. Producer Jim Wallis intermittently adds drums, with a sound somewhere between Dirty Three and CODY-era Mogwai resulting on ‘Zampano’, and if the sampled birdsong renders the title ‘Early Morning’ a little on the nose one can still swoon to guitar tones that shift like ice floes. ‘The Architect’s Demise’, which follows it and concludes the album, is a noisily building rush somewhere between 90s spacerock and early industrial, ending with church bells and a round of applause.

Cue a diversion into field recordings with Oishi, who met after both moved from China to London to study at Goldsmiths. Once Upon A Time There Was A Mountain is their first physical release (through Bezirk, run by Quietus contributors Daryl Worthington and Tristan Bath) and comprises two side-long pieces that achieve discombobulation through distinct approaches.

The first captures a quarter-hour walking a dog in Illinois, and if the resulting edit is representative then it was a well-behaved dog, indeed quieter than the cicadas lurking in the foliage. Zheng Hao, on walking and recording duties, gave the tape to Oishi’s other half Ren Shang to manipulate, with Hao herself continuing this process via laptop. Side two is higher-key, the sound of mangling cassette tape (Hao is responsible this time, with Shang on laptop duty) battling for dominance with deep-toned generative noise effects and the smoothest country & western croons. The intent here was to achieve a ‘car radio out in the sticks’ effect, specifically the moments when it can’t pick it up properly, and if this preceding description doesn’t strike you as preposterous – or, even better, you’ve got time for sound art goofballs like Graham Lambkin or Gabi Losoncy – then Oishi might be for you.

Kate Carr too is a London incomer, and since moving there from Sydney in 2016 her practise has become more tightly focused, mainly on her inner-city surroundings. To that end, she’s probably the most significant field recordist of contemporary urban Britain, more so for being able to lucidly articulate the context(s) behind her captured sounds, be they sociopolitical, psychogeographical or other multisyllabic hybrid term.

False Dawn (Flaming Pines), Carr’s latest CD, is so aptly titled you wonder if that preceded its concept. It’s a slowly unfolding 27-minute early-morning symphony of avian trills, insectoid clicks, mulchy underfoot crunch and a faint, perpetual hum that might emanate from activity in the town across the way, or mere atmospheric electricity. Where was all this recorded? In Carr’s studio, with a bunch of kids’ toys and other noisemaking gizmos subject to digital processing and thus creating the trompe l’oreille result. This is a callback of sorts to another recent release of hers, Fake Creek, and more broadly to Carr’s interest in undermining notions of ‘truth’ in field recording, which effectively comes into play as soon as one is subjected to any sort of edit. If, then, you wish to think of this release as a quietly compelling ambient composition possessing solemnity and levity in equal measure, then you surely can.

Neil Andrew cut his DJing and production teeth in London, moved to Dubai in the mid 2000s for work – his day job, in the field of global hospitality design, has to make him one of the highest-rolling civilians to darken this column’s doors – and took up the Dolenz alias on returning. His grounding is in hip-hop more than anything, but while that influence has faded over time, don’t expect new six-track 12-inch Be Kind to typify the output of drum & bass label Exit, who’ve released it.

There is, one reads, a conceptual thread to the EP, relating both to Andrew’s Clapton/Leyton-area neighbourhood and the idea of returning to more atomised community-based living in the face of an ongoing sustainability crisis. (I would be curious, shall we say, to know how he squares this with his line of work.) This manifests in the track titles, which pun on or otherwise reference local places of interest, and a couple of East End-sounding people’s vocal samples. Instrumentally speaking, Andrew’s liking for doomy, chest-rattling bass takes ‘Dungeons’ close to someone like Loefah; ‘Dolenz, Sumgii – Nil Feels’ has slick synths that recall the Bristolian likes of Joker and taut snares from an aggier strain of dubstep, and ‘Hackney Leech’s step into postpunk climes via its live-sounding bassline is atypical in Dolenz’s catalogue and a tasty potential future direction.

Indi ‘Mantra’ Khera has enjoyed longevity as co-promoter and resident DJ of London drum & bass night Rupture. She and partner David Henry, aka Double O, both seem like the goodest of eggs and can probably take some credit for the genre being more interesting and creative in the last few years than much of the previous 15 or so. With this in mind, Mantra’s four-track 12-inch Damaged (Sneaker Social Club), her first standalone release, induced an immense rush of youthful nostalgia in this listener. Not that it’s backwards-looking, or old skool in its aesthetics. Just that hearing the vicious, complex breakbeat choppage on ‘Murda’ takes me back to hearing jungle for the first time, as a callow teen with essentially no points of reference, and thinking how are they doing that?

Nearly 30 years later and I still don’t really know, but more importantly Khera does, and as a rhythm assembler she switches up more hectic modes with bouts of slower-paced dread. ‘Victory Dance’ is a steel-plated skitter that closes out on a boom-bap beat; ‘Damaged’ the track proceeds at halftime with an elephantine kickdrum in its locker. EP closer ‘Ala’ is a lighter bite, its deep, thoughtful melodies more like something you might have found on (say) 90s-era Peacefrog.

Ever More Precise Accounts Of The Cave, a tape of two lengthy collage pieces on fine Jordanian label Drowned By Locals, opens with the slur-slow sound of someone expounding on the mentality of porcelain egg collectors. Elitist perverts with a commodity fetish, they’re saying. Not the words of Thomas LaRoche, whose release this is (they’re from a book titled Cultures Of Collecting, which I found on account of its text being one of the few search results for “porcelain egg collectors”), but we can assume he endorses the sentiment. Or can we?

LaRoche, a noise musician from England’s south coast, often releases via his own label Research Laboratories and sometimes in the sort of ‘art editions’ you can’t actually play. Cited influences for this one, whose cassette shells have been heavily scratched with some sort of blade, include “heroin use” and “Neil Diamond”. Very esoteric, I’m sure. From introductory egg-nerd shade, we continue through birdsong – once again, and real this time I think – timestretched NWW-flavoured industrial drone, barely-there surface noise disturbed by a barking dog, some sort of family-friendly gathering (maybe a beach?), the Fugees’ ‘Ready Or Not’ pitched down to inertia and some trickling water sounds that may instigate the need to pop to the lavatory. If these stitched-together sonics seem unfocused at first, they dig their talons into you with repeated listens.

I’ve featured produce from Liam McConaghy’s label Aphelion Editions in here a few times, as well as post punk band Repo Man, for whom he plays guitar – but haven’t got round to his ambient solo alias Microdeform until now. Reassess Your Life Priorities, nearly 80 continuous minutes of music released by fellow Bristolian tapeheads Liquid Library, is thoroughly haunting my chapel here and now, though, so let’s make up for lost time.

The compositions McConaghy presents here are previously unheard, though as old as 15 years in some cases he says, and in no order other than what was deemed to work best if presented like a DJ mix. Given that beats are absent often as not, this effect is achieved in style, moving from isolationism to dub to ambient techno to abstract glitchiness with efficient fluidity and manipulating the mood as if with a conductor’s baton. There are parts you might think of dancing to and parts which seem primed for self-induced post-midnight shiver sessions. Reassess… is both a useful introduction to Microdeform and a good example of how to make a mix of low-key music work.

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