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tQ Subscriber Release: Hitiloma & Nat Sharp

J.R. Moores speaks to Mark Pilkington and DORANBOT-3000 (in place of our own John Doran) of Hitiloma about this month's tQ subscribers release – a collaboration with the mighty Nat Sharp recorded live at this year's Acid Horse

To receive Live At Acid Horse 24 by Hitiloma & Nat Sharp, become a Quietus Sound + Vision subscriber

That settles it, then. Music journalists are all, at heart, frustrated musicians. Some of them just don’t know it yet. Those who deny it? Give them a few more years of writing pithily about Charli XCX and they’ll soon be eyeing up second-hand modular synthesisers and fancying themselves as the next Pet Shop Boys. Even the literally towering figure that is John Doran, in days of yore the roundly respected “Angry Quietus Editor“, has succumbed to the lure of amplification and is now dabbling in the infernal art of music making. The ponce.

John Doran, of all people! Once the composer of reviews so withering he received death threatening compact discs in the mail with song titles like ‘John Doran Is A Pretentious Chump Who Wants Ramming Up The Backside With A Corroding Trombone (Radio Edit)’. After a few high-profile DJ sets with Steve Davis of avant-disco-prog supergroup The Utopia Strong and Big Break fame, this giant of IDM, NWOBHM and MSP criticism has the cheek to think he can rival Sylvie Simmons’ ukulele record or the Cliff Jones-fronted Gay Dad? 

At least the deluded fool hasn’t attempted this on his own. No. He’s roped in fellow writer and publisher Mark Pilkington as co-conspirator. Under the guise of Hitiloma, the pair perform improvised electronic music to audiences who’d probably prefer to hear them read aloud a few paragraphs about cultural intersections in an authorial monotone delivery.  

Instead, such spectators are subjected to a cacophony of electro rhythms and esoteric samples. Sometimes a guest vocalist is involved as well, whenever such a singer can be convinced they won’t ruin their career and reputation by association with Hitiloma.   

To be fair, Live At Acid Horse 24 is – whisper it – a fun listen. You loyal subscribers might even get something from its half hour of abstract fluctuations. But we don’t want Jay-Dawg and Sergeant Pilko to go all big headed, lest they get ideas above their station and try to write a four-disc operatic concept album about some long-irrelevant dickhead from Scandinavian mythology. 

Doran is too much of a coward to be interviewed in the capacity of a musician for his own website and presumably his collaborators aren’t committed enough to the harebrained project to discuss it in excessive detail either. So for the purposes of padding out the copy for this feature, we’ve had to feed a batch of JD-based content into OpenAI chatbot software and hope its approximations of his interests and tone are halfway useful for shedding a modicum of light on the recording.

“The main reason I started dabbling in this kind of sonic tomfoolery is because it’s a slightly more dignified way of having a midlife crisis than buying a shiny fucking motorcycle,” says DORANBOT-3000. “Eurorack synthesisers tend to come cheaper on the market than a brand new Harley-Davidson. Also, there is less chance that you’ll ride it headfirst at full speed into a tree, although some of our pieces do approach what that might sound like.”

The duo formed after Pilkington and Doran collaborated during a GNOD R&D show at Corsica Studios and, so far, they have only taken to the stage three times. Hitiloma didn’t have trouble getting on the bill at Acid Horse because the festival is run by Doran and Pilkington so in that respect it’s a bit like when Boomtown Rats turn up at one of Geldof’s charity concerts to do that bloody ‘Mondays’ song. This year Hitiloma were joined by Natalie Sharp who’d intended to perform on a chaise lounge but after some logistical issues with said furniture saw her performing from beneath a duvet on a mattress instead. A popcorn machine was also involved.   

“As a trio, we did shockingly little preparation,” remembers Pilkington, “though we all prepped our respective parts, even if we didn’t know how they would fit together. While John and I live in the same village, thanks to our insanely busy lives – not least of which is organising Acid Horse – it’s surprisingly difficult to get together to jam or rehearse. We had one session a couple of days before the gig, to make sure the synths were talking to each other okay, and a breakfast chat on the day with Natalie to work out some kind of structure… And that was it. Hopefully you can’t tell!”

“I believe my basic instructions to the other two were as follows,” adds DORANBOT-3000. “They could do almost anything they wanted as long as they didn’t make a single noise that would make me think of Shame, Kneecap, Jacob-Rees Fat Dog, Coldplay, Royal Trux, ‘Miracle Worker’ by Dave Stewart’s SuperHeavy or Pubic Service Dismasting. If that happened, I’d have no option other than to throw my equipment through the window and march into the canal next to pub, never to be seen or heard from again.”

While there are some musicians who relish rehearsal, practice and preparation, and like to have tight control over their instruments and compositions, that is not how the freewheeling Hitiloma operate. “Actually as a non-musician – or at least one who can’t read music and struggles to remember melodies and patterns – I find the idea of having to perform within a fixed arrangement or score terrifying,” says Pilkington. “I’ve almost always performed in loosely-structured improvisatory settings and groups, so I was fairly comfortable with our setup. When you’re improvising, you’re free to make mistakes, as long as you do them with deliberation and a meaningful nod of the head.”


“More seriously,” continues Pilkington, “while I hugely admire and enjoy virtuoso precision-playing, as an audience member I also love the sense that a band or a performance might fall apart at any moment. If that happens, and the players can pick up the pieces and build something new from the ruins, that’s magic. In our case everything ended very abruptly thanks to Nat’s popcorn maker blowing a fuse, but it worked!”

Among the general cacophony and wordless vocal melodies on Live At Acid Horse 24 can be heard a looped snippet of dialogue taken from a certain ’90s film. “I recognise it from Lars Von Trier’s Europa,” notes Pilkington. “But John was the sample-wrangler so I don’t know what, if anything, he was trying to say. That we should all be voting Reform at the general election?”

This is neither confirmed nor denied by the DORANBOT-3000 which at this point in the interview begins to malfunction rapidly as it spurts out a string of largely nonsensical and frankly libellous sentences which vaguely relate to the net worth of the hedge fund podcaster Winston Marshall. 

As for the future of the festival itself, it looks as though things are looking up. “It was a weekend of unbridled joy and incredible music. Not even 24 hours of hammering rain could dampen this horse’s spirits,” says Pilkington. “I think John and I were both doubtful that we’d want to do it again before the weekend began, but within a few hours of people arriving, we’d both flipped that around. The fact that we could present trad noise and full bore sonic experimentalism alongside Irish folk musicians and a Syrian Kurdish wedding musician in a pub in the Wiltshire countryside, that people would come – and that we’d break even (just) – is something of a miracle. The Acid Horse shall ride again!”

All artist fees are being donated to Medical Aid For Palestinians

To receive Live At Acid Horse by Shovel Dance Collective, as well as a host of other benefits including exclusive essays, podcasts and playlists, and loads more specially-commissioned music, become a Quietus Sound + Vision subscriber. You can do so here

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