New Weird Britain In Review For November By Noel Gardner

Noel Gardner looks the length and breadth of this island for music made or inspired by migrants and aided by those in other countries. Waqwaq Kingdom portrait by Marco Tinari

The two-and-a-half-and-a-bit years of this column’s existence to date has been, you’ll appreciate, a weird moment in the history of Britain: a weirdening, or loosening, of long-received notions of what Britishness means. I don’t necessarily think any of the music I’ve reviewed in it wouldn’t have been made in a different – more static, less immiserating – political landscape, but everything of modern life here is but a degree or two away from the choking effect of conservatism, neoliberalism and populism.

With all that said, I try not to use a column with ‘Britain’ in its title as an excuse to make inane Brexit shoehorns, but am merely going to note that much of the content this November is made by migrants moving in one direction or another, or inspired by the history of the same, or aided by people in other countries. This is a feature, not a bug; paramount, in fact, in my personal conception of New Weird Britain’s function.

Chav Anglais, the debut LP by Locean, is very much a product of Manchester’s noisy underground – more on that in a sec – but is released by Artificial Head, a label from Houston. The relevant connecting wire is likely Neil Francis, who’s credited with “tapes and electronics” in Locean and who sings on a 2015 Terminal Cheesecake live album which Artificial Head pressed up. Francis is also an on/off member of Gnod, as is Locean drummer Jon Perry, and the remaining personnel of David McLean, Jefferson Temple and Lauren Bolger each busy themselves in other, closely aligned city-scene pockets. Be assured, though, that the spacious psychedelic no wave draped across Chav Anglais feels like no-one’s sideproject, but a focused, intuitive unit.

Four songs of seven, six, eight and 21 minutes, there is variety within Locean’s expanses, but if you don’t vibe to the opening ‘Air Hostess’, skronk dub repetition with This Heat’s vision and Can’s hypnotism and Band Of Susans’ windtunnels, then I suspect that’s it for your enjoyment prospects. Bolger’s vocal style, a disassociative drawl that somehow makes me think of both heavy eyelids and bulging eyeballs, might not be to everyone’s taste – but hearing her slur “I point this knife at YOU” over deeply dark, fearfully sparse noir-jazz on ‘Skyn’ skeeves me out in a good way. A gearshift into more aggro mode for ‘Pussycat’ is complemented by Temple’s wild, rootless guitar wrangling and what I think is analogue camera-flash sounds deployed as rhythms, and ‘No Skyn’, the side-length closer, finds the freedom to lay down several of Locean’s markers in its runtime.

Dead In Chellow Dean, the first solo long player by Andrew DR Abbott is a co-release by labels from Leeds (Cardinal Fuzz) and New York (Feeding Tube), and trades in a strain of instrumental folk which emphasises the cross-continental exchange of motifs and techniques over multiple generations. Although he’s only released one other thing (a live cassette on the Bloxham Tapes label last year) since I started writing these columns, Abbott’s appearance here is overdue, on account of his past-decade activity being formative in my submersion in 21st century UKDIY: guitarist in two Leeds bands, Kill Yourself and That Fucking Tank, both possessing big rusty riffs and a side as ribald as those band names suggest.

I reviewed a Tank album on this website over a decade ago (yikes), and noted the inclusion of a John Fahey homage. It felt unlikely at the time, but in solo mode Abbott has embraced the expressionist intimacy of the American Primitive folk style. His guitar is actually an eight-string baritone model, and the arrangements tend towards the deft and dense, apart from a brief two-part piece on what sounds like a marimba, ‘Ballad Of The Empty Tortoise Shells’. Languidness, as on early tracks ‘Heaton Wild Woods’ and ‘Daisy Hill Return’, can be deceptive, their tempo rising sharply and wavering with fingerpicked elegance. The jazzy fluidity of Bert Jansch inhabits Dead In Chellow Dean acoustically and spiritually, and some of the high-pitched, mournful tunings remind me of Greek trad folk, although this may well be projection. More definitively on-the-table, and rather less droppable an influence, is Mark Knopfler, whose misty solo number ‘Going Home’ is scuffed up by Abbott and offered up as a Bandcamp buyers’ bonus track.

Making what appears to be her musical debut is Charlotte Mair, who lives in London and as Avon MeanTime (the name refers, I’d imagine, to her upbringing in that obsolete region of south-west England) fashions extremely blissed-out flotation tank ambient. In Dreams is a 24-minute cassette on James Watts’ Panarus, which for a label that launched last year with an EP of techy death metal has increasingly tended towards minimal beatlessness. Mair crafts this music with analogue synths – couldn’t tell you which ones, sorry nerds – pieces like ‘With The Tide’ regressing from gentle arpeggios to barely-there humming drone. ‘Drifting Slowly’ (Mair prefers her track titles on the nose) harnesses the memory of a ghost of a dub techno bassline, like hearing Deepchord at five a.m. with a fever. ‘Floating’ and ‘Out Of Body’ suggest a starker reading of the ‘fourth world’ aesthetic, babbling bitstreams and alien chirrups of the electronic jungle and all that, and ‘Descent’ is a lush sliver of Emeralds-like cosmic wash to conclude.

Always relish the chance to rep the more extreme end of UK noise music in here, yet it’s liable to leave me regretting the limits imposed by time and space. Here, for example, are two new cassettes released by Outsider Art, a label run by Dean Lloyd Robinson aka Knifedoutofexistence, and they’re both straight up eyebrow-singeing. They’re also just a fraction of what’s shaking, at any given time, on the island that invented power electronics: self-contained nanoscenes of artists who most probably consider this column and the website that hosts it about as relevant to their practise as Rolling Stone. Ergo, if a release of this nature gets flagged up here, someone didn’t try hard enough to keep it away from my dead piggy eyes. Onward!

Dave Kirby, or Satori, was doing this shit over thirty years ago – pioneering power electronics label Broken Flag released his earliest creations – so maybe all attention is equally good. Or bad. Or not. I’ve never read an interview with him and so can only go on his recording career (various tapes until the early 90s, when Satori was a band, then reviving it as a solo project in the late 00s) and the merciless soundbath of his Outsider Art release, The Braver The Bull The Better The Bullfight. ‘Burn Out Your Eyes’ employs the numbing thump of a techno-style kickdrum behind flatlining static and machine growl, ‘Closing The Gates Of Hell’ bisects air-swallowing harsh noise and and panic-attack ambience with a contemplative midsection and ‘The Paranoid Ward’ threads petulantly slammed doors and demonic howls into its wall-like rumble.

Ordeal By Roses is, relatively, legitimately New: A Petty And Childish Obssession is the second cassette by south Wales musician Alexander Evans, Outsider Art having released his first earlier in 2019. Where that one was a pretty relentless barrage of churning metallic screech and hoarse vocals, here we get… well, still that, but leavened by melancholy sweeps of spacey synth, on ‘Sacred Waters’ (which also opens with a sample of Nick Cave being interviewed) and ‘Empty Chair’. Like Knifedoutofexistence himself, Evans has, I’d venture, absorbed influence from the more apocalyptic wing of hardcore punk as much as, say, 00s-era Prurient, but over 18 minutes here he takes Ordeal By Roses into an innovative niche within UK noise.

The (also) young but consistently interesting tape label Gob Nation supplies a four-song EBM hosedown by PC World, a duo of one Australian (William Deacon, vox) and one Brit (Ryan Bellett, music). Says here they met in the States and reconvened much later back in London, and I’m glad they did because this is a low-key (active for a year or so, played maybe ten gigs) late-decade treat. ‘Running Man’ is a brash opener, punky and confrontational like early DAF or Liaisons Dangereuses, but Bellett is wise to the relative poise of early wave electro as well, as on ‘System And Structure’ and the dead-on sequin-jumpsuited computer funk of ‘Next In Line’. ‘The Drift’ straddles both modes with a Transmat Records techno melody and a delay-sodden vocal glower by Deacon.

English but currently living in that city in Germany where they keep all the DJs, as a producer Patrick Conway releases breakbeaty quasi-lo-fi house under his own name while also shuffling through various pseudonyms. One, Low End Activist, debuted in 2017 with ‘Park End’, a smashing freak-garage vehicle for grime MC’s grime MC Trim, and returns two years later with six-track EP Low End Activism (Sneaker Social Club).

Cool backstory for this one, inspired by camcorder footage of reggae soundsystem Muzikon playing outdoors in Oxford, circa summer ‘88. Conway was there, and claims to recall the day with a clarity that has to put him in his forties (my rationale for this being that aged six, I went to a festival where Poison Girls apparently played, but can’t remember anything about it apart from a really class bouncy castle); here, from the stretched-and-sliced toasting that opens ‘Street Level’ onwards, he weaves samples from the video into his own crisp, stabby and suitably low end rhythms. ‘Signal To Noise (Ratio)’ utilises the sparseness of digidub while riding pillion with abstract drum&bass heads like Pessimist, while the title track hoiks up the tempo but backmasks and gloopifies the drums as a clash for dominance occurs between Basic Channel swing and Massive Attack Mezzanine creep. ‘Neighbourhood Nationalism’s console-game grime melody and the murky, stuttering closer ‘Muzikon 90’ top off a great EP that makes good on its intention to hail the black British music continuum and its Caribbean roots, while sailing beyond pat copy jobs.

Nkisi’s 7 Directions album was exalted by this website as “polyrhythmic cosmic gabber” on its release in February, amidst a general wave of justified praise. The UK-dwelling Congolese rave explorer recently followed it with the lower-key Destruction Of Power, a tape in groovy art packaging (oversized, partially melted plastic slipcase wrapped in two necklaces) on French label Collapsing Market, and while this half hour of cloud and thunder was never gonna secure the same breadth of appeal as 7 Directions, it’s every bit as much a showcase for how hard Melika Ngombe goes. ‘Destruction Of Power’ is a 17-minute suite for swirling, storm-on-Jupiter trance synths and Amiga-crunchy pell-mell hardcore breaks, subjected to a thicker layer of distortion than even that implies – think Lenny Dee sending a demo to Harthouse Records, or similar. On the flip, the same track again, this time live at Cafe Oto, and changed up enough to justify the double exposure. There’s vocals, for one thing, specifically Ngombe barking “DESTRUCTION OF POWER” here and there; drums chestbursting out of the mix, toms and hi-hats ramped up to near-speedcore levels; a closing segment of jaw-dislocating hardcore acid intensity that fades before the applause I’m pretty, pretty certain Nkisi received.

So WaqWaq Kingdom were whom I was thinking of when I wrote this column’s opening paragraph, indeed they’re the apogee of it. Both members grew up in Japan, moved to the UK as young adults and have lived in Germany for a few years now: Shigeru Ishihara runs a Japanese streetfood spot in Berlin, Kiki Hitomi lives in Leipzig with her partner, leftfield dub producer Disrupt. What this bio-blab elides is how musically formative their time at British residents was – for them, neither having made music before living here, and for me too. Ishihara used to go by DJ Scotch Egg, and was a sort of radioactive growth on the mid-00s breakcore scene, with his 15-minute sets of fucked-fairground rave made on Gameboys and borrowed gear; he played shows I booked more times than I care to count. Hitomi’s first project Dokkebi Q caught the ear of Kevin Martin, vocal turns on various Bug and King Midas Sound numbers resulting. So wherever they’re at right now, there remains a part of them on this isle, anywhere subwoofers tremble, and that’s why they’re still allowed in here.

Let us, then, talk about Essaka Hoisa (Phantom Limb), WaqWaq Kingdom’s second album. It’s delightful stuff, playful and pliant but with hypnotic depth to its rhythms and textures. ‘Mum Tells Me’ has the unconventional pop smarts of early MIA; pitched-up pumper ‘Gift From God’ is a bit like a Nyege Nyege Tapes roster member covering ‘You Spin Me Round’ by Dead Or Alive, something I consider a strong positive, and ‘Warg’ flirts with Congotronic clatter within its form-ignoring reading of dub. The broad sonic vibe is so buoyant that five minutes of industrial ambient (‘GaGa Qu’) can slip by almost unnoticed. Lyrics, sung in Japanese and English by Hitomi, are more downbeat, touching on the vocalist’s late parents as well as multiple laments for the follies of man. Two songs in succession (‘Doggy Bag’ and ‘Itadakimasu’) advocate ethical eating in a culture that habitually wastes food, which for Ishihara is an implicit volte-face as someone whose trademark onstage gambit used to be throwing miniature scotch eggs at his audience.

Having spun round the block umpteen times over thirtysummat years with Terminal Cheesecake, Skullflower, God and most recently Melting Hand, Russ Smith has a guaranteed seat at the table here, too. At the time of writing, mind, he’s living in a tiny southern French village and last I checked has no plans to move back to the UK, because… fucksake, just look out the window. Or read a paper. Actually, don’t bother.

Anyway, Smith is still making music: with Cheesecake, whose latest album came out in May, as part of a duo named Plastic Face, and solo as Tabby Sensibilities. A compilation of tracks under the latter two names, spanning 1993 to 2019, has just been released on tape by New Zealand label Independent Woman, or you can just cop the download from the embed above if you want to ‘think about the environment’. A compellingly lunched-out listen awaits regardless, with the 90s-era Tabby pieces on a frazzled Randy Holden / Dead C instrumental guitar tip. Plastic Face folds in beats and samples – possibly the doing of Chris Roe, its other member – but still has a loping Portastudio loner vibe which I dig deeply. ‘Maple Neck’, whose age is unlisted, is worth admission fees alone for its Roy Montgomery-worthy high plains ghost-rock.

All these years and Russ Smith has never lost his hardcore. Here’s to thirtysummat more!

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