Archive for the ‘New Music and New Discoveries’ Category

For the entirety of Saturday 21st March, 100% of revenue on Bandcamp will go directly to musicians – Bandcamp will waive it’s 10-15%. Given, here in the U.K. and across many western countries, we’re confined inside it’s the perfect time to fill the world with some tunes, take time to explore beloved or new artists, while simultaneously doing something to help a community hit very hard by the current events worldwide.

Across the music ecosystem, there have been major impacts from coronavirus. Touring cancelled, venues shuttered, recording plans on pause. Among my friends are sound engineers with no work for the foreseeable future; venue staff and managers who have seen their opportunities to earn a living shrink to zero for the time being; tour managers who rely on being on the road to make a dime and who are now stuck at home…And, of course, musicians who make the music and who have now lost the crucial component of their cash in pocket that hasn’t already been stomped by tech bros.

One of the best things about Bandcamp is that your money goes to the musicians you’re supporting. This is in stark contrast to Spotify where even if you spend 100% of your time and investment with a single artist, your money is added to the pool and divided according to the total share of streams for each artist – much of your money (minus the 30% that Spotify keeps) goes to people you’d never dream of listening to (at $0.006-$0.0084 per stream). The user-centric model of Bandcamp is another reason to support it and the attitude of Bandcamp, that they’re there to help musicians not just use them as product, is evident in their effort to move more money direct to musicians.

People I’ve been listening to a lot recently – not to say anyyyyyyone has to pay attention to my taste – include:

My Cat Is An Alien – perfect distressed ambience…

https://ellipticalnoise.bandcamp.com/

Ames Sanglantes and others at Hospital Productions:

https://hospitalproductions.bandcamp.com/

Myrkur’s new album of Scandinavian folk song:

https://myrkur.bandcamp.com/

And a lot of Weasel Walter’s wild activities:

https://weaselwalter.bandcamp.com/

Today might be worth spending a little of the money saved not going out on a Friday or Saturday night.

 

PS Just bought the new Phil Puleo release too:

https://philpuleo.bandcamp.com/

 

 

 

Needed a break from work so headed down to The Exchange, a local venue, and took a chance on a band I’d never heard before…

…Lucky me! Turned out the band in question was Sumo Cyco – and they rocked.

Carrying a full hour-and-a-half plus on stage takes a lot more than good tunes – though Sumo Cyco have those in spades. I admire those – relatively rare – bands with the smarts to make a show flow, switch, change, stay persistently engaging and avoid repetition.

How to go about it? Well, impressively, it sure as heck doesn’t mean having an acoustic guitar-led break to kill the energy. First things first, it makes a world of difference to see a band who look like they’re having a whale of a time. I couldn’t take my eyes off Matt Trozzi – drums – who grinned from start to finish while drumming so hard it looked like he had extra limbs. Meanwhile, on bass, Oscar Anesetti bears an uncanny resemblance to a really young Kirk Hammett and merrily engaged with the audience, pulled faces and tearing it up from the start to finish. At the heart of the band, Skye ‘Sever’ Sweetnam and Matt ‘MD13’ Drake, laughed, joked, and led the party.

Enthusiasm can get anyone a certain distance, add a ton of talent and you’ll wind up miles in front. The band were so sharp. Drake, Anesetti and Trozzi never missed a beat at any point. At one point Drake played his guitar one-handed while sipping a beer he briefly used as a slide, at another he was riffing at one side of the stage then bounded over to sing lines into Sever’s mic. Sever meanwhile called the audience close together to allow her to crowd surf on her back while continuing to hit every note.

http://sumocyco.com/album3/

Thank god this is a band that didn’t just rely on eternal calls to ‘put your hands in the air’ or to clap along or cheer – there was some of that, it’s a gig so what the hey(!), but it always fitted and was used sparingly. Instead, every band member – bar Trozzi – took a shot performing from on top of the monitor at front centre or flying kicking off of it. Sever wound up in the crowd quite a few times whether encouraging a moshpit (and skillfully whipping out of the way  before it got too crazy), or getting the audience to form a circle around her as she sang; being carried through the crowd on Drake’s back; later persuading the entire room to crouch down, sing along and get ready to launch back up en masse. A total blast! The band knew how to use the stage, the crowd, their instruments, their good spirit…What a combination. The use of tapes to fill gaps between songs, keep momentum, deviate from the guitar-bass-drums-vocals approach, made for some good moments of fun too.

The set-list was kick ass, new songs for the upcoming third album were carefully laced into the set (and all sounded great); songs like ‘Love You Wrong’ or ‘Run With The Giants’ led to singalongs (I learnt quick); the vibe varied from pop rock, to punk, to heavy rock – I’d promised not to headbang because my neck and back are sore at the moment but how could I resist? A brief bass solo was a nice surprise, guitar solos glowed white hot, Sever’s voice carries a crowd at all times.

All in all, what a quality use of an unplanned evening! Sumo Cyco smashed it in Bristol.

 

Been listening to this quite a bit recently: it’s Zoe Hansen’s latest Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) video. Essentially – layman’s ignorant version (i.e., mine) – the subtle sounds create physical sensation within the body, these gently relaxing vibes, tingling, more intense feelings in the brain and so forth.

Makes a difference in a day to just clear 30 minutes, bring the lights down low, settle back, let the sounds fill up the mind so I’m not thinking, my brain isn’t ticking over thoughts, it’s just following sound.

It does something similar, for me, to the peacefulness I found in listening to dark ambient – Sleep Research Facility and the like – music that just filled a room and pushed the world out the door for a time…

IMG_8163

One of the (substantially true) cliches about the British is that we’re fixated on the two world wars of the early-to-mid 20th century. Certainly the subject comes up remarkably often and is a surprisingly constant source of reference given there are so few living participants or witnesses remaining (someone who was five years’ old in 1945 is now 78-79, someone who was five years’ old in 1918 is now vying for position as one of Britain’s oldest residents.) In some ways it’s understandable: to be British is to live in a relatively crowded country where most streets follow courses laid down hundreds of years ago, where digging down any depth reveals we’re walking on past settlement, where we’re rarely far from a physical remembrance of decisions hundreds of years old. The British character seems to have drawn something from this shrouding in memory – we mostly live in the property and belongings of past generations. I can’t help but think of that when I listen to Ghost Box, Trunk Records, The Caretaker, Burial – it’s a very British musical form, this eerie invocation of relatively recent cultural heritage: rave, jungle, the BBC – things that once sounded like the future and, of course, faded to become just an accepted and steady present before acquiring a dusty vibe that marked them as the past. Maybe it’s an aspect of life in a wet climate, that crispness and sharp decisive lines become mildewed, warped and mangled.

Anyways, ramble over. I had the pleasure of seeing Bikini Kill over in Brixton on Tuesday evening supported by the deeply cool Big Joannie and The Tuts.

IMG_8160

Remarkable seeing how Bikini Kill’s significance as a band that meant something more than music has given them the ability to fill a venue of this size so many years later. My friend was disappointed there was no music from any of the participants’ later bands (Julie Ruin? Le Tigre?), but maybe that’ll come (perhaps accompanied by new music) if the band stays together – there’s surely only so many times Bikini Kill’s nineties catalogue can be reiterated. Musically, it’s very much of it’s time and there’s a fairly stable and relatively unvaried palette at the centre of it all – sounded great on a big stage though.

Kathleen Hanna is such a wicked front person: a whirl of movement, eye-catching body language and captivating anti-rock god posture. She’s also a voice of rationality taking the chance to share her observations on the state of modern politics, then/now comparison, positivity and forward motion. Definitely not a ‘holier than thou’ figure, what I heard was both someone committed to their beliefs but equally committed to be humane and celebrating common humanity too – to not lauding herself over anyone.

My friend was determined to head to the front so we ducked our way through gaps in the crowd until she was ensconced in the first/second row and I held myself a couple of rows back. It was really enlightening hearing her thoughts afterward: “this is the first time I’ve been to a show and felt safe at the front.” It was so notable that the girls  were looking after one another even as the mosh-pit surged as heavily as at any other show. I really value being challenged in day-to-day life and I realised immediately that, as a bloke, I’ve never had to think twice before heading to the front. With my eyesight being less than brilliant I’ve always needed to be fairly close to feel that connection to a performance, plus I actually like seeing not just hearing the creation of music. It felt like a flash of the blindingly obvious to be reminded that it isn’t necessarily such a thoughtless decision for a woman to step in close. Great to attend a show where this was called out and people were asked to make an individual choice – some went forward, many stayed back.

It was funny to see that crowd-surfing has become a bit of an embarrassing relic indulged in only by a tiny number of people: I remember losing the appetite for it at a Feeder gig in 2000 or so when someone’s boot cracked down on a friend’s nose and she had to spend the majority of the show in the toilets trying to stem a substantial flow of blood before we took her home because her head was spinning. Part of me wishes the mosh-pit would follow, I’ve never had much interest in slamming other humans – I bounce, pogo, headbang and vibrate to my heart’s content but I just feel sheepish when my energy collides with someone else’s space.

For me, what was interesting was to be placed in a position of awkwardness, where I couldn’t relax or just be thoughtless – this was NOT a bad thing. A lot of the time, faced with discomfort, the most human reaction is to reassert one’s own righteousness and lash out – it’s worth resisting this and taking time to question oneself. Very quickly, just by virtue of following a friend, I felt I was too close to the front. I was never able to really let go during the show because I was trying my best to not let the mosh-pit crush the front rows, trying to keep my balance and not get hurled onto the people around, passing water back between songs, stepping alongside one girl’s male friend so she had a bit of cover while replacing a contact lens…But, in truth, one’s own perception of one’s gig etiquette isn’t really relevant: it’s all eye of the beholder – I could never be sure what I thought was good behaviour was being thought of that way, my friend’s assertion that “you’re not a dick,” really didn’t cover it.

It was a very positive gig, the spirit was wonderful, it was nice to see girls being able to get together and set the course…But beyond gender, beyond any group identity based on a shared ideology or belief, people are still people. Hanna made a point of stating that the left wing needs to stop spending so much time applying purity tests to fellow travelers, to accept diverse of practice and approach, that individuals needed to stop trumpeting their own righteousness over others. Amen! But still, in the audience, there were authoritarian personalities who were more interested in asserting this opportunity for power by policing those around them. A gentleman had accompanied his girlfriend to the front row – legit! He’s entitled to stand with his partner. One girl took issue with this and used “girls to the front!” to barrack him until he bluntly refused to move. Crazily someone thought it was alright to then punch him in the head. Agh…No, nothing as low stakes as a musical performance should ever justify physical violence and ‘girls to the front’, I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a positive encouragement not a statutory regulation or a club to thud over someone’s head. Certain girls in the moshpit were as keen as any bloke could ever be to hurl themselves, or other human beings, into one another – at one point the back of someone’s head connected with my nose and I saw stars for a bit. I spent a lot of the gig trying to brace so the surging bodies wouldn’t hit others on the outskirts of the pit – equality does mean the right for anyone to be as self-centred as anyone else – as I said earlier I’d still like to see mosh-pits vanish into history.

Another incident erupted close by me and, after the gig, my friend commented “he looked like a typical Incel…” which made me wince – judgment by appearance when, in truth, he just looked like a skinny punk kid. Whatever the argument that sparked it, it was notable how quickly a dozen people had lined up against this guy to force him out. I can’t comment particularly, I didn’t see what occurred so I have no opinion, but mobs make me uncomfortable – I don’t believe for a second that all those people had a clue what had happened or were acting on a thoroughly accurate perception. I took the opportunity to head right to the back and watch the rest from there. A small cluster of guys were definitely going for it in the mosh-pit and I’d been very nervous about being lumped in with them already. People often privilege their own perception over a more rational acceptance of uncertainty or a belief that other people aren’t to be lumped into friend/foe categories and dealt with accordingly.

The crucial thing for me is that none of this soured me on the righteousness of Bikini Kill or the assertion of female-friendly gigs! It was a privilege to, for once, be the person who had to question whether I was doing the right thing at a show; and the vast majority of people were a courteous and fun-seeking bunch. Like anything, there’s always that 5% who can’t or won’t be decent – ah well. There are people on the right who would likely claim that the behaviour of a tiny percentage of people says something about the wider cause of liberalism, humanitarianism, feminism – rubbish. Pointing out a few difficult people doesn’t say anything at all about a cause that transcends individuals (just as fiscal rectitude, respect for historical/cultural roots, etc. are not bad things at all and the bad behaviour of a few people on the right does not say anything about the wider intellectual currents.) People have great difficulty remembering that they are simultaneously (a) an individual and (b) part of numerous wider impersonal groupings.

First things first, where am I going to be on Friday May 3, 2019? Attending the premiere of Marco Porsia’s film “SWANS: Where Does A Body End?” at the Indie Lisboa International Independent Film Festival. And the 6th May? Right back at the same venue for the second screening. How about Friday 10th May? Oh that’s different. I’ll be in Brussels for a weekend break…And watching the third screening of the movie.

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the honour of seeing several rough cuts of the movie at various stages in it’s development and it’s amazing how much has gone into the work – and how powerful I’ve found it each and every time. Breathtaking.

Busy past month beavering away on various endeavours – around which there’s still been time for music. Record Store Day, I visited Specialist Subject Records at The Exchange here in Bristol – it’s on my front door and jeez…This crew make me feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the current music scenes afoot in the U.K. and around the world. Just a sea of underground and indie vinyl from bands I find myself looking up over and again. I wound up walking out – after a very pleasant chat with the staff – with:

Birds in Row “We Already Lost The World”

https://birdsinrow.bandcamp.com/album/we-already-lost-the-world

Television Personalities “Some Kind of Happening: Singles 1978-1989”

https://recordstoreday.co.uk/releases/rsd-2019/television-personalities/

And, finally: Bossk “Audio Noir”

I had bought the I/II reissue on a previous visit so I was helpless to not wide up with Audio Noir this time around (https://bosskband.bandcamp.com/album/i-ii-reissue-3).

Around that I’ve been taking time to fill in my collection of Burial 12″s and spending time with Leyland Kirby’s latest (final?) utterance as The Caretaker – things of beauty. check out Bliss Signal too!

Reading-wise, I can’t speak highly enough of How To Survive A Plague by David France (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/12/how-to-survive-a-plague-review-david-france-activists-aids-treatment-hiv). By the final chapter, when there’s finally a true chink of light and hope, I found myself tearing up and gulping with relief – totally sucked into this account of people striving to survive, to protect loved ones, to claw their way into the consciousness of a world that wanted to pretend these weren’t real people deserving of care or attention. Amazing.

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/the-tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-i/

I was honoured to be asked by Trebuchet Magazine (thank you Kailas and Naila!) to contribute a brief article to their website…And I totally failed them by contributing a lengthy rant instead! Luckily they’re kind people and found enough of substance in my growling that they were happy to publish it as a two part discussion piece.

In essence, have you noticed how inescapable ‘the beat’ is? In a world of infinite possibility how limited the possibilities used actually are? I’m not talking absolute rejection but I like the thought that my world might be limitless rather than limited by unconscious design.

http://www.trebuchet-magazine.com/tyranny-of-the-beat-pt-ii/

https://thevinylfactory.com/features/an-essential-guide-to-public-image-ltd-in-10-records/

For a couple of years now Vinyl Factory has been allowing me to come up with brief spotlights on ten releases by an artist – always an enjoyable experience siphoning down to a certain core and bound to cause disagreement given my ten worthies very likely don’t mesh with many other people’s own lists. But that’s the fun of any public opinion, it invites others to say “no,” or to suggest alternatives. The funniest two comments I’ve received? Number one was on a Nine Inch Nails focused piece where someone wrote that not including Pretty Hate Machine or Still was a “tragic mistake which discredits the whole of your so called ‘introduction to NIN'” (answer: I love Still but had to leave something out while Pretty Hate Machine just isn’t on my list of favourite NIN releases at all.) The other was on a piece focused on Coil where, having listed all the things they would have preferred I include the comment said “It seems like some of these choices were poorly made – a lot of compilation albums that all have ‘Amethyst Deceivers’ on them.” To be fair, I agreed that remakes of Amethyst Deceivers cropped up probably way too much in the latter years of Coil – but trying to choose Coil releases is like deciding which diamond is most sparkly.

My view is always I refuse to write about an artist I don’t respect or enjoy (the two don’t have to coexist – I respect Radiohead but only enjoy them in patches. I don’t want to spend my limited time focusing on anything that doesn’t enthrall me – there are enough such distractions in the world.

So this month I decided to swallow the whole of Public Image Ltd’s discography whole, with a couple of John Lydon sidebars added on for good measure.

The greatest enjoyment I took from it? Comparing Commercial Zone to This Is What You Want…This Is What You Get! The original piece was two, maybe three times as long – there was just so much to say about the comparison. For a start, Commercial Zone gets that extra ‘gloss’ that sometimes adheres to anything that can be described as lost, secret, unofficial – anything with that outlaw edge. I wanted to try to disregard that and consider how it really stands up. Truth is it’s a mixed bag: some of the songs gain an eerie and atmospheric vibe in early demo form – if you like horror/sci fi movie soundtracks, it’s great. Other tracks though are just blatant noodling and tossed off time-filling. Thing is, that’d be a pretty balanced description of the official album too: so it just becomes a Pepsi/Coke question – depends on your tastes because neither is significantly above the other.

The least enjoyable moment isn’t visible in the final post: having to listen through Happy? (1987), 9 (1989) and That What Is Not (1992) in search of something good to say about them. It killed me. I respect and enjoy John Lydon’s work deeply: most artists are hard pressed to wind up with one truly significant band let alone two; to make one album that people might claim as an all-time favourite let alone three or four (depending on your take on Flowers Of Romance.) There’s something about that late eighties-early nineties British guitar pop tone that never hooked me even as a cheery nine or ten year old. The jaggly drums, the over-production, the gleaming plastic vibe of so much of that time. I just can’t fathom what Lydon was singing about by then: the mansion liberal substituting CNN for any contact with life – harsh but I see little evidence on those albums of it being unfair. Still! To digest them in detail and in full was something I’d meant to do for ages. Two whole weeks working those albums round and round, giving them all the energy I could, then realising it was hurting to write about one of them let alone all three.

The most obvious moment, well, sheer truth, I love the first three PiL albums: such a distance travelled, so many different terrains explored, words and sounds that work, humour and seriousness in equal measure – glorious. And the two comeback reecords have been very pleasing.