Sunday, 17 November 2019
Toy, Brighton based psych indie-rock five- piece, have a new album out soon, a selection of cover versions including their take on the Pet Shops Boys own cover of Always On My Mind. Their 2015 album with Natasha Khan as Sexwitch was one of that year's highlights, six psyche and folk songs from the Middle East via Sussex. Back in 2012 they released their eponymous debut, an album which had one track that stood head and shoulders above the rest- Dead And Gone, a seven minute sweep of euphoric guitars, softly sung vox and motorik drums. The build up in the fourth minute, breakdown and then guitar re-entry at 5.25 is heart-stopping.
Dead And Gone
It was remixed by Andrew Weatherall. He uses that hissy, steam powered drum machine he's so fond of and strips it all back, bass and wonky, whooshing noises, drones and synths from West Germany of the early 1970s, to make something utterly hypnotic and captivating.
Dead And Gone (Andrew Weatherall remix)
Saturday, 16 November 2019
There's an article about 808 State in the latest issue of Electronic Sound which opens with a paragraph about the enduring appeal of their breakthrough song Pacific State, a genuine crossover tune and hit record in 1989. The writer describes the song as 'plucked from that golden age between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11' (adding that it is something we need 'to embrace more tightly now in the age of austerity, Brexit and the divide and conquer politics of populism').
It's interesting to see the 1990s described as a golden period. Politically the collapse of the Soviet Union was famously declared by US historian Francis Fukuyama as 'the end of history', the triumph of western liberal democracy meant that little could prevent it from being the only desirable form of government and the only way to structure society. Fukuyama has rowed back on that since- as you might expect given the War on Terror, the Arab Spring, the financial collapse of the global economy, the right wing populism of Trump and Farage and the swing to authoritarian regimes from Hungary to Turkey. I found myself wondering whether the 1990s really was a golden age. I was 19 when the decade started and 30 when it ended. Your twenties should be a golden period in your life, old enough to do what you want as an adult, young enough not to be weighed down by it all. I remember various attempts to brand the 90s as 'the 60s upside down' and there was a tendency at the cusp of 1990 to promote a more spiritual, optimistic spirit for the forthcoming decade. Positivity was much mentioned. Bands went dance, loosened up, wore white, the music was filled with a sense of openness. The Poll Tax was defeated. Thatcher went. Bush followed. The Labour Party and the Democrats were resurgent.
But much of what's wrong now can be dated to the 90s. Liberal, centre left governments seduced by the power of the market, the blending of public and private in state provision, the sale of assets like the railways to the private sector, the destruction of the social housing stock, the idea that 'we're all middle class now', the belief that commerce would solve all problems, all date from the 90s. The first Gulf War too and the horrors in the Balkans. Balance it up with the freedoms gained by the people of Eastern Europe in 1989 and 1990, not to mention what was happening in South Africa at the same time. In the UK there was a genuine sense that music and youth culture were capable of creating community. Many people commented that acid house/rave was partly a response to Thatcher's declaration that 'there is no such thing as society'. Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. I don't necessarily disagree with the 808 State article and it's author (Ben Willmott), I like the idea of golden ages, they're seductive, and I like the idea of one that I lived through and was part of, but the truth is always more complex. Maybe for Ben Willmott and the people he describes responding to Pacific State in 2017, it's more about nostalgia, memories of youth. For the record, he says it isn't just nostalgia but something else- futuristic optimism plucked from that time and re-purposed in the present. I think I'm going round in circles now.
You can't wrong this can you? Wildlife noises, blissed out synths, synapse busting toplines, the rattle and thump of the drum machine and that sax part.
808 State's new album Transmission Suite was recorded in the transmission suite at the old Granada Studios building at the bottom of Quay Street in town, the room filled with consoles and equipment and a wall with eighty television screens and the lingering presence of Tony Wilson. The album is fifteen tracks of finely tuned, precision engineered electronic Mancunian dance music, Detroit techno clearly part of its DNA but with an eye on the future and the next step. Futuristic optimism.
Friday, 15 November 2019
One of the standout moments from Weatherall's recent Music's Not For Everyone show was by Acid Arab, a Parisian duo/collective. The clue is in the name- they combine, smart, tough acid house and electronic sounds with Eastern melodies, instruments and vocals. The new album Jdid (meaning new in Arabic) came out last month and takes its cues from the Mediterranean and the lands that border it. Music to transport from a cold Friday in November to a smoke filled basement somewhere near the Bosporus.
Thursday, 14 November 2019
I spent Sunday evening at The White Hotel in Salford. First things first, the venue is not and never has been a hotel. It is down a side street surrounded by derelict buildings, some empty lots, a few down at heel shops and takeaways and Strangeways Prison just across the road. If the building looks like a 1970s brick and corrugated iron converted garage, that's because it is. The steel shuttered doors are still in place and at one point Thurston uses one to play his guitar. Beer is served from the pit that once would have been used to work on the underside of cars. It is not salubrious. It is dingy and smells of oil. It is, therefore, the perfect place for some noise. Thurston Moore has always tried to keep one foot in punk rock and rock 'n' roll with the other in the avant garde and free jazz and this show does both but with the foot in the avant garde more firmly planted. No vocals, no singing, just three guitars and drums, the final night of a European tour with his band including Debbie Goodge, ex- My Bloody Valentine, on bass. The gig consists of one song, played for an hour, a version of the first disc of last year's three disc Spirit Counsel album. You might think finding spirit counsel in a converted garage in Lower Broughton could be tricky but Thurston and band do their best to lead us towards something transcendent.
Opening with a long ambient section, drummer Jem Doulton splashing the cymbals with beaters as the guitarists tune up (or detune up). Eventually the guitars start to hum and feedback gently and Thurston stands, head back and eyes closed. As the noise builds they wait, coming in together on Thurston's nod of the head, then stick in that groove waiting for him to nod his head again, tension and release. Later on as the noise builds he shouts the changes over the music '1- 2- 3- 4', the group piling in or dropping out bang on the 4. The hour long piece, Alice, Moki And Jayne, keeps circling back to a four note guitar part and although it looks improvisational it's clearly all very well rehearsed. When the four note refrain has reached the end of its part the band crash into some heavy riff rock or growly three guitar rhythms. At one point a beautiful chorus like melody takes over, the group locked in and hypnotised. There are freeform parts and drumless parts- in one section Jem pummels the cymbals over wailing feedback, shards of cymbal noise ricocheting around. There's a long feedback section, Thurston pushing his guitar against the steel shutter, over his head and then throwing his arms around the guitar. Freakout and meltdown. Repetition and flow. There are echoes of Sonic Youth, some of the chords and the playing the guitar with screwdrivers or pens on the neck of the guitar but it's also absolutely not Sonic Youth.You could watch it and think that it takes itself a little too seriously, that this is the practice room stuff of much younger men and women, jamming for hours without ever really getting anywhere, rock musicians playing at being avant jazz. But it's real and coherent, physical and powerful and as good a way to spend an hour in a garage on a Sunday night near Strangeways as you're going to find at this stage in proceedings.
Wednesday, 13 November 2019
On Sunday I spent much of the day in converted industrial spaces at art and music events. The afternoon event was organised by Dave Haslam, the man near the centre of much of what has been happening here since the mid 1980s. He's recently written a short book about Haring and, with the exhibition at the Tate Liverpool running at the same time, put together some events to celebrate Keith's life and to raise some money for AIDS and art charities. The venue was Fairfeld Social Club, a large, double arched space underneath the railway at the back of Piccadilly Station- a really good use of a post- industrial space with a very welcoming feel. There were DJs playing 1980s New York tunes, live music from a singer called Husk, an In Conversation With... Q and A with Samantha McEwen (who met Keith at college and shared a flat with him in NY in the early 80s), a recreation of Keith Haring painting Grace Jones (minus both Keith and Grace but with willing stand ins and it wasn't warm in there so hats off to the Teneille ), live painting in the style of Keith Haring by graffiti artist Boo Whorlow, an auction of the paintings and a Haring t-shirt and some energetic and passionate live poetry.
This is Grace Jones from her 1981 album Nightclubbing and a track which speaks for itself.
In the evening I went to The White Hotel in Salford to see Thurston Moore. Of which, more to follow.
Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Warp are celebrating thirty years of releasing records. One of the releases for this landmark is Aphex Twin's Peel Session from 1995, four tracks from Richard D. James including this one...
Making music that is weird or odd is relatively easy. Making music that is weird or odd and also shot through with brilliance and sounds genuinely timeless is less easy. Slo Bird Whistle sounds like nothing else and if you have a cat is likely to sent him/her on edge too.
Monday, 11 November 2019
Top- the field at Serre, the Somme, where 585 men out of the 700 Accrington Pals who went over the top on 1st July 1916 were killed or wounded in the first twenty minutes of the battle.
Bottom- the view towards the British lines at Beaumont Hamel, as seen from the German front line. The Newfoundland Regiment lost 700 men on the same day as they tried to cross the ground in the centre of the picture.
I'm increasingly uncomfortable with the way in the last few years the poppy has been politicised but remembrance is important. I also think as a nation we need to find a way to move forward from the world wars of the Twentieth century. There is an unhealthy obsession with aspects of them in some areas of British and English life.
This is new from an ambient/drone outfit called Private Mountain. Just A Strange World is seven minutes of immersive, melancholic noise and beautiful swirling soundscapes. The track Private Mountain that follows it is similar but twice as long and with water and birds.