Anunaku/Bengal Sound/CS + Kreme/Beatrice Dillon/Guilt Attendant
“A strange combination of sophisticated theory and technical incompetence” – Mary Harron, Melody Maker
Writing about The Mekons in 1979, Mary Harron inadvertently forged a template for many of us who prefer to toil ‘in the face of commercial and popular indifference’. Grubbing about in the margins researching this month’s column, I stumbled across the following article, and was reminded of a relevant anecdote from my own distant past.
The Mekon’s debut 45, ‘Never Been In A Riot’ (Fast Products), had been written in response to The Clash‘s ‘White Riot’ (CBS), a song that then Mekon, Kevin Lycett, interpreted as: “I want a riot for us poor downtrodden white people”. Back in June 1984, my then band, The Hop, supported The Three Johns at Leamington Spa Centre. I don’t recall that much about the gig itself, but I do remember calling round to see the collective Johns the following morning. They’d been put up by a local militant Labour activist, and were sunning themselves out in the back garden, casually reading political theory tomes, seemingly hangover-free. I stood there in my standard issue black leather jacket, the words ‘Gun Control’ emblazoned on the back in white paint, head throbbing, furiously bat-chain-pulling on a pack of Benson & Hedges, seriously considering my authenticity. Despite The Clash, Crisis and Theatre Of Hate badges adorning my lapels, I had to admit: I’d never been in a riot.
From that day hence I learned a very valuable lesson: there’s more to political activism than posturing. I had to wait a further 26-years for my first bonafide riot, the student fees protests of 2010 at the Tory party offices: 30, Millbank, Central London. The day itself had been largely peaceful, with around 50,000 students protesting against the proposed introduction of student fees at an event organised by the NUS and lecturers’ union, the UCU. I’d been a first year social work student at Coventry University at the time, and we’d mustered several coaches. I’d never even heard of interpassivity back then. Marching through the streets of the capital that day, it genuinely felt like we could achieve anything en masse, that the forces of oppression were no match for students armed with witty placards. The then Con/Dem coalition were proposing raising fees as high as £9,000, with cuts of up to 40% to university teaching budgets. The cost of an L500 3-year full time Social Work BA (Hons) at Coventry University for 2020/2021 entry is £9,250. Coventry University came 28th out of #132 in a league table of universities worst hit by budget cuts, according to a data set published by The Guardian in 2016.
As early as May 2010, British historian Simon Schama was predicting a new age of rage he dubbed ‘French Revolution Redux?’, in the pages of Dave Cohen‘s Decline Of The Empire blog. The MSM blackout on the ongoing le mouvement des Gilets Jaunes in France currently suggests that English citizens were more informed about social unrest on the continent back in 1789 than we are today, when they received regular updates by carrier pigeon. The English establishment circa 1789 were extremely concerned that the revolutionary fervour of France could surge into the country by osmosis, and they are equally scared today. From lazy cultural stereotypes of the hot-headed French in The Times, to Sunday supplement think-pieces on the cordiality of our British reserve, we are subliminally conditioned that we’re ‘not like that’. There will never be a general strike in the UK. We will never let you govern. In this post-everything era of fake narratives, it’s incomprehensible that a nascent revolution is once again simmering a mere 21-miles across the English channel, whilst we’re more concerned with hounding vulnerable TV celebrities to suicide.
“Self-taught photographer Andrew Moore grew up on Tyneside in the North East of England, in the early 1980s he moved to London to go to university. It was here where he picked up his camera, the first real photographs Andrew took were in 1983 to support a housing rights organisation, campaigning for better living conditions in the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets. From that point onwards he began to document the unrest triggered by the social and economic changes that came with Thatcherism” – Paul Wright, British Culture Archive
Mindful that under forthcoming internet regulation imperatives hurriedly being ushered in by the Tories, it’s a thin line between questioning methods of protest and incitement to riot, but the question is pertinent: interpassivity, what is it good for? Why do people record TV programmes instead of watching them? Why do some recovering alcoholics let others drink in their place? Why can ritual machines pray in place of believers? Why do those adversely affected by the policies of far right governments think that some big other will ultimately save them? Increasingly, I haven’t got any answers. All I know is: educate, agitate, organise.
Anunaku – ‘Stargate EP’ (3024): Last year’s superb ‘Whities 024′ debut twelve announced Anunaku (aka TSVI) as a rhythmic don to watch. ‘Stargate’ literally picks the mic up where it fell, with three lengthy explorations on metrical measurement across the drum spectrum. Adorned with eastern promise, the titular ‘Stargate’ is the winner here for me:
Bengal Sound – ‘Culture Clash Vol. 2′ (Bengal Sound): blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cassette-only release that emerged from Farhad Ahmed‘s Bengal Sound Bandcamp page (second press incoming, keep ’em peeled) in January. If you thought Vol. 1 was dope, prepare to be literally sickened by Vol. 2. This is hands-down the sharpest weapon in the Bristol producer’s armoury to date. Prolific, six release across five labels in two years, Ahmed is possibly the most versatile of the current Bristol massive. Grinding up grime, dubstep, hip-hop, garage, Bollywood soundtracks and R&B in his petri dish, Ahmed is experimenting in a laboratory all of his own right now:
CS + Kreme – ‘Snoopy’ (The Trilogy Tapes): Utterly blindsided by this immensely seductive, incredibly sensual, mindfuckingly psychedelic debut long player from Conrad Standish and Sam Karmel. Elegant, mysterious, and blessed with some of the finest bass riffwerk this side of Tal Wilkenfeld, ‘Snoopy’ has my ass in a tailspin. With aspects of all, yet derivatives of none, devout genre sceptics CS + Kreme sound like they recorded ‘Snoopy’ in Melbourne, Berlin, Bristol, Manchester and London, simultaneously. With antecedents as justified and ancient as Suicide, Roland S. Howard and Ed Kuepper, there’s still room in the cans for some ‘Blue Lines’ era Massive Attack, and possibly even some Baxter Dury:
Beatrice Dillon – ‘Workaround’ (Pan): Universally lauded, highly anticipated, ‘Workaround’ arrives to fanfares from every quarter. I’ve been waiting with baited breath ever since Dillon’s ‘Two Changes’ (Paralaxe Editions) collaboration with Rupert Clervaux back in 2016, and with what amounts to childlike impatience since witnessing her 2019 ‘Ecstatic Materials’ appearance in Birmingham with Keith Harrison (who, incidentally, we bumped into again at Ossia‘s ‘Devil’s Dance’ launch night at the Brunswick Club, just a few weeks later). Needless to say, you need ‘Workaround’ in your life: “Working for a rise, better my station/Take my baby to sophistication”:
Guilt Attendant – ‘Suburban Scum’ (Hospital Productions): Nathaniel Young, aka Guilt Attendant, lives and works in NYC. He produces music under the monikers Hofmann, Kohl, Moral Extrication, and richard_p, runs the Severed Mercies and Blankstairs platforms, and designs artwork for both Dais and Hospital Productions. ‘Suburban Scum’ is his long form debut, delivering eight slabs of dank executive techno shaped by Young’s challenging Christian upbringing. Designed to slam warehouses crammed with revellers to the walls, Young himself poses the million dollar question: “Can one be truly redeemed if their sins and their present form of reality bear no distinction?”:
“Be realistic, demand the impossible” – Herbert Marcuse
Whatever you do, don’t do anything subversive this year. Please, do not challenge authority, defy expectations, offend anyone, or use music or literature in ways they are not ready for. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time listening to Ellen Arkbro, Satoshi Ashikawa, Shinichi Atobe, Bengal Sound, Bomb Sniffing Dogs, The Caretaker, Panos Charalambous, Count Ossie And The Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, Beatrice Dillon, Kelman Duran, John T. Gast, Heith, Catherine Christer Hennix, Huerco S, Inoyama Land, Jan Jelinek, Kamikaze Space Programme, King Midas Sound, Mary Jane Leach, Logos, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, Madteo, Kali Malone, Kevin Richard Martin, Nozomu Matsumoto, Nkisi, Daphne Oram, Ossia, Perila, Bernard Parmegiani, Pessimist, Poet And The Roots, Prince Far I, Slikback, Masahiro Sugaya, Piero Umiliani, Barney Wilen, Xth Réflexion, Hiroshi Yoshimura or Young Echo. Make sure you download the specified number of hot albums from your Apple Music prompt list: ten selected titles per month, all the same genre. Ignore any temptation to think for yourself. Do not even dream of illegally downloading inferior quality files from minority blogspots.
Do not think critically. Do not develop a sociological imagination. Do not create disturbances. Do not deliver outlandish performances. Buy all your books from Waterstones, based on reviews read in the TLS, or The Observer New Review. Don’t read anything by Jesse Ball, James Ellroy, Mark Fisher, Byung-Chul Han, Srecko Horvat, Daisy Johnson, David Keenan, Raoul Martinez, Ottessa Moshfegh, Derek Owusu, David Peace, Max Porter, Roger Robinson, Jack Shenker, Olga Tokarczuk, Ocean Vuong, David Foster Wallace or Slavoj Žižek. This is only your life, not a protest rally, stage, or psychologist’s assessment protocol. Just listen to worthwhile music, read something of value, that’s all we demand. Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. Together, we can make 2020 the year of the Second Great Refusal.
Since we last spoke, I’ve mostly been holed up in the tMx bunker, reassessing the various reassessments of my fellow cultural commentators from across the world wide web. Apart from a brief new year’s spiritual forage into Dumfries and Galloway for a little stone bothering at Cairnholy, it’s mostly been about coming to terms with post-election blues. Politically, my conclusion in that department has emerged as the realisation that I have spent the majority of my life thus far in opposition to one government or another, and that, all things considered, I’ll doubtless live out the rest of my days in a similar position: la lucha continua.
Musically, I’ve taken the time to declutter, to catch up with things I’ve either overlooked or afforded scant attention previously. I’ve spent time with Bomb Sniffing Dogs, absorbing the multitudinous wonderment of their beatifically poetic ‘Word Wall 2’/’The One Show’ (The White Hotel); toyed for hours with the complex and twisted techno of Konduku‘s masterful ‘White Heron’ (Nous’klaer Audio); immersed myself in the incorporeal incantation of Kali Malone‘s deeply affecting ‘The Sacrificial Code’ (iDEAL Recordings); skanked around the bunker endlessly to the life-affirming joy of JonnyGO Firgure‘s essential ‘Crucial Showcase’ (Bent Back’s Records); and curled up snuggly of an evening in the warm embrace of Ellen Arkbro‘s mesmerising ‘Chords’ (Subtext). On the incoming front, I’ve tempered the temptation welcome every newcomer that wanders aimlessly past my browser window, in the interests of maximum quality control:
FUMU – ‘Skinned’ (Youth): Strafing the industrial dancehalls of Manchester with the follow-up to 2018’s excellent ‘Sinuate’ (Youth), Turinn associate FUMU returns proffering 4-slabs of Teeside terror on 7″ wax. Blending collapsing house, contaminated power electronics and a 21st century punk rock attitude, FUMU blows the doors open to begin 2020 with a fuck-off-bang! Volatile.
The iDEALIST – ‘Anti-Fascist Dubs, Spiritual Electronics and Unconscious House Music (Malmo Inre): Joachim Nordwall‘s dubwise alter-ego’s output has been somewhat prolific over the past 12-months, and with this 8-cut excursion on Malmo Inre, he may well have landed his best catch yet. Undeniably sensual, this deeply psychedelic collection explores contemporary erotic tendencies compatible with artists associated with West Mineral Ltd, Motion Ward and Anno. Arousing.
TNT Roots – ‘Raw Dub Creator’ (Bokeh Versions): Much anticipated and endlessly rewarding revisionist collation of over a decade’s work from Northampton Earthquake Don, TNT Roots. ‘Raw Dub Creator’ compiles a handful of mighty tracks made from 2006-2018 that were all previously self-released on CDr via Roots’ own Lion Musik label: featured cuts span his TNT Roots and Yahweh Warriors aliases, as well as solo sounds released as Earthquake. Righteous sounds.
Ulla – ‘Tumbling Towards A Wall; (Experiences Ltd): Ulla Straus’ debut solo release on Experiences Ltd builds on the considerable erotic tension she’s amassed through her work with Pontiac Streator over the past couple of years. Deeply sensuous timbres and gossamer textures inspire soporific waves of sexual suggestion. For all the lovers in the house. Stimulating.
GE2019 Autopsy/Scores On The Doors 2019
“My good old prophet Marcus Garvey prophesised it/St Jago de la Vega and Kingston is going to meet/And I can see with mine own eyes/It’s only a housing scheme that divides” – Culture
Whatever it is that divides us, said division has never been more resounding. As those of us on the left pick up the shattered shards of an exploding ideology following the filth and the fury of a debilitating campaign that proffered a reasonably basic choice between compassion/function and dispassion/dysfunction, the country has spoken, and it said: “Fuck the NHS. Fuck public services. Fuck the EU. Fuck workers’ rights. Fuck our free movement. Fuck trade. Fuck jobs. Fuck immigrants. Fuck young people. Fuck disabled people. Fuck poor people. Fuck homeless people. Fuck honesty. Fuck decency”. England is indeed a bitch, and there is no escaping it.
As the post-mortems stack up, and the opinion pieces flood in like the rain water that already precariously fills the ditches of this weeping nation, we await yet another prolonged bout of precipitation, before said ditches inevitably disgorge their contents, spilling filthy, furious water all over the roads that are so vital in getting us to our commuter jobs, and into the consumer houses of leave voters built on flood plains. As we dig deep at this festive time of year to buy our loved ones NHS gift cards, it’s OK to hurl racist abuse at passers-by, because the gold standards have been set from above. All’s quiet on the capitalist front, once again. Markets responding. Pensions bubbling. Entitled sighs of total relief. As Jonathan Cook observes, the bubble has burst, like the banks that will doubtless follow. The illusions of the left fly like a tattered red flag, fluttering furiously in the nuclear wind of propaganda fallout.
Just a week ago, as I wiped the tears of laughter from my cheeks in Leicester Square, at the heart of the metropolitan liberal elite’s entertainment industry, Stewart Lee‘s Boris Piccaninny Watermelon Letterbox Cake Bumboys Vampires Haircut Wall-Spaffer Spunk-Burster Fuck-Business Fuck-the-Families Get-Off-My-Fucking-Laptop Girly-Swot Big-Girl’s-Blouse Chicken-frit Hulk-Smash Noseringed-Crusties Death-Humbug Technology-Lessons Surrender-Bullshit French-Turds Get-Stuffed FactcheckUK@CCHQ Johnson routine was already falling on seemingly deaf ears. Where on the ‘Content Provider’ tour, satirising the waxen-haired Etonian pseudo-dictator was greeted with rapturous applause and derisive laughter, this ‘Tornado/Snowflake’ audience were considerably less convincing in their veracity. As I laughed, I was increasingly aware that I was largely laughing alone. Tectonic plates had inexorably shifted, and I’m not eluding merely to the belt notch on Lee’s trousers alone. He’d hit the stage earlier with the quip: “Julian Assange has let himself go”, which is something the incarcerated and emaciated Assange most definitely will not be doing any time soon. The injustice surrounding the fate of the former Wikileaks founder and the fickle nature of a Stewart Lee audience surely set the parameters for what is to come? As Dan Evans-Kanu reports from Bridgend, “Boris has not been turned into a hate figure, quite the opposite in fact: his carefully cultivated image of the harmless, benign clown has been promoted relentlessly by the media, and this cosiness could not even be punctured by the rare occasions his mask slipped in public, revealing the sinister bully that lies beneath it”.
So, where do we go from here? Well, I for one refuse to get caught up in the blame game. It’s important not to vilify demographics, only to critique the system, not those trapped within it. We are the resistance now. I’ve heard defeatist talk of ‘one-party states’ and ‘being locked out for a generation’, but these perspectives are merely an extension of the propaganda that intricately weaves this fabric of interpassivity. Remember, if your various news feeds present a reality you don’t recognise, and scrolling through them leaves you desensitised, its important to recognise that we have retreated into a simplified and often completely fake version of the world. As rs21 states, “We knew that all the wrong people would be celebrating if Boris Johnson won this election. Donald Trump, the hedge-fund managers, the racists, the misogynists, the fossil fuel companies, Big Pharma, big agribusiness, the billionaire press barons. We all know the threat that a new Johnson government, and its supporters, pose to us, the people we love, live with, work with, care for. We are all too aware of the possible implications of a vote for these creeps in the crunch period of the climate emergency, after years of austerity, sadistic attacks on migrants, disabled people and the poor”.
Scores on the doors: Following the glowing response to last year’s tMx A-Z, we felt it only fitting to consign that particular format to the wastebin, where it rightly belongs. That’s the thing about being here now, it keeps you on your toes. The plan for a return to listmania with a raft of artist’s Top Tens was duly scuppered by a combination of time erosion and election fatigue. Instead, we’ve complied tMx Top Tens in LP, 12″, 10″, 7″, tome and celluloid flavours. It’s been a year of discernment here in the tMx bunker, where quality has prevailed over quantity. So, come with us now, as we dig through the crates to come correct with the very best in dancehall culture:
trakMARX: Long Players of 2019
1/ Ossia – ‘Devil’s Dance’ (Blackest Ever Black)
2/ Pessimist and Karim Mass – ‘S/T’ (Pessimist Productions)
3/ Logos – ‘Imperial Flood’ (Different Circles)
4/ Ulla Straus and Pontiac Streator – ’11 Items’ (West Mineral Ltd.)
5/ John T Gast – ‘5GTour’ (5 Gate Temple)
6/ Boreal Massif – ‘We All Have An Impact’ (Pessimist Productions)
7/ King Midas Sound – ‘Solitude’ (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
8/ Quirke – ‘Steal A Golden Hail’ (Whities)
9/ Tribe Of Colin – ‘Aquarius’ (Honest Jon’s)
10/ Rainer Veil – ‘Vanity’ (Modern Love)
trakMARX: 12″ of 2019
1/ Porter Brook – ‘Groundwork 001′ (Groundwork)
2/ Bengal Sound – ‘Never Mind’/’Short Stay’ (Bandulu)
3/ Ossia – ‘The Marzhan Versions’ (Berceuse Heroique)
4/ Al Wootten – ‘Body Healthy’ (Trule)
5/ Anunaku – ‘Whities024′ (Whities)
6/ Y U QT – ‘You Belong To Me’ (South London Press)
7/ Ghostride The Drift – ‘S/T’ (xpq?)
8/ Heith – ‘Stone Lizard’ (Saucers)
9/ Various Artists – ‘CL002′ (Cold Light)
10/ Logos – ‘Fifth Monarchy’ (Berceuse Heroique)
trakMARX: 10″ of 2019
1/ Kids C Ghosts – ‘Bankruptcy Dub’ (Not On Label)
2/ Bengal Sound – ‘Young Skeleton’/’Coroners’ (Innamind Recordings)
3/ Lapo and Ago – ‘Youth Pon The Corner’/’Legalise’ (Killa Sound)
4/ VersA – ‘Passing Light’ (At One Music)
5/ Adam Prescott – ‘Ism’/’Schism’ (Lion Charge)
6/ Bash – ‘Jubilee’ (Trule)
7/ Skeptical – ‘Musket’ (Not On Label)
8/ O$VMV$M – ‘CL002′ (Cold Light)
9/ Junior Dread and Halcyonic – ‘Can’t Hide’ (Firmly Rooted)
10/ HXE – ‘INDS’ (UIQ)
trakMARX: 7″ of 2019
1/ Roger Robinson – ‘Stay’ (No Corner)
2/ Tilliander – ‘Expect Resistance’ (Dub On Arrival)
3/ The Idealist – ‘Deep Shit’/’The Drop’ (iDEAL)
4/ Undefined (featuring Rider Shafique) -‘Three’ (ZamZam Sounds)
5/ Withdrawn – ‘Shelter’ (Empty Head Rich Heart)
6/ Andy Mac – ‘Dawner’ (ZamZam Sounds)
7/ Seekersinternational – ‘BadmanBoogie’/’KillDemSound’ (Future Times)
8/ Marcus Anbessa – ‘The March Of The Falasha’ (ZamZam Sounds)
9/ Jay Glass Dubs – ‘Thumb Dub’ (Dub On Arrival)
10/ Karma – ‘Crampton Beat’ (ZamZam Sounds)
trakMARX: Cassettes of 2019
1/ Ossia – ‘Live At The Brunswick Club’ (Tape Echo)
2/ Broshuda – ‘You Always Stay Beautiful’ (No Corner)
3/ Best Available Technology – ‘Broken Teeth And Dog Hair’/’Old Haunts’ (Plaque)
4/ Ula Straus – ‘Big Room’ (Quiet Time Tapes)
5/ Giant Swan – ‘S/T’ (Keck)
6/ Nammy Wams – ‘Yellow Secret Technology’ (GTI)
7/ Nkisi – ‘Destruction Of Power’ (Collapsing Markets)
8/ Zuli and Rama – ‘Noods Radio’ (Noods)
9/ Madteo – ‘Forest Limit’ (DDS)
10/ Salac – ‘Sacred Movements’ (Avon Terror Corps)
trakMARX: Book Of 2019
‘These Are Situationist Times! An Inventory of Reproductions, Deformations, Modifications, Derivations, and Transformations’ (Torpedo)
“I’m proud you call us gangsters, nevertheless you are wrong. We are worse, we are situationists.” — Jacqueline de Jong, 1962
“The Situationist Times was a magazine edited and published by the Dutch artist Jacqueline de Jong during the years 1962–67. In its multilingual, transdisciplinary, and cross-cultural exuberance, it became one of the most exciting and playful magazines of the 1960s. Throughout its six remarkably diverse issues, The Situationist Times challenges the notion of what it means to be a situationist, as well as traditional understandings of culture in the broader sense and of how culture is created, formatted, and shared. ‘These Are Situationist Times!’ provides an in-depth history of the magazine while probing its contemporary relevance. The book also presents the material De Jong assembled in the early 1970s in collaboration with Hans Brinkman for a never realised seventh issue of ‘The Situationist Times’, devoted to the game of pinball.
trakMARX: Film Of 2019
It felt visionary at the time of viewing, it now feels like a premonition. For all the reams of column inches etched in response to Todd Philips‘ ‘Joker’, none have been more poignant than those of Slavoj Žižek: “The three main stances towards the film in our media perfectly mirror the tripartite division of our political space. Conservatives worry that it may incite viewers to acts of violence. Politically Correct liberals discerned in it racist and other clichés (already in the opening scene, a group of boys who beat Arthur appear black), plus also an ambiguous fascination with blind violence. Leftists celebrate it for faithfully rendering the conditions of the rise of violence in our societies. But does Joker really incite spectators to imitate Arthur’s acts in real life? Emphatically no, for the simple reason that Arthur-Joker is not presented as a figure of identification. In fact, the whole film works on the premise that it is impossible for us, viewers, to identify with him. He remains a stranger up to the end”.
Final thoughts: this month’s header image features the home of Ronald Jarman Bridle, the engineer who oversaw the construction of Spaghetti Junction, at the heart of this broken nation. Whatever happens next, the solutions will be complexed. We are at a junction. The road out of this farce will require the massed vested interests of those who seek to inherit, not those who have cornered markets and entrapped the populace. They say that education is wasted on the young, but I suggest that’s largely designed to perpetuate this broken system, rather than co-produce something fit for purpose that could lead to greater equality and the redistribution of wealth. I, for one, will not go gently into that good night. I will continue to burn and rave at the end of the day. I will rage against the dying of the light. I raise a Beck’s Blue to education, agitation and organisation.
“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side”
Idle Hands/with support from: Best Available Technology/John T. Gast/Logos/Madteo/Ossia/Andy Stott
My love affair with the record shop began in earnest back in the early 70s, at an electrical store in Warwick called Bonel And Curtis Audio (Ltd). A friend of my mother’s, Tony Ayers, worked there, and he’d wink conspiratorially when applying unofficial discount to my meagre purchases, before slipping them into a brown paper bag. The shop itself stocked TV and audio equipment to the left of the store, with racks of vinyl grazing nonchalantly to the right. In those pre-punk days, much of their vinyl stock was classical, operatic or easy to listen to. Amongst the remaining racks of what was deemed ‘popular’ music at the time lay pockets of interest marked: ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘Deep Purple’. I can vividly recall the hours of pondering that would take place prior to a purchase, and the weeks of regret that would often follow. Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ (Vertigo) being one case in point: the moment I got it home I was annoyed beyond belief with the frankly ridiculous artwork, especially in comparison to the mystical allure of their iconic self-titled debut. It became the first record I ever took back and swapped, setting a precedent of obsessive compulsive behaviour that has mutated over the years, but remains stoically the same to this day.
By the time 1977 arrived, I’d amassed twenty-odd albums of pre-punk dinosauria. With cashflow a constant concern, I lugged my nascent collection down to Renton’s in Leamington Spa, where I proceeded to swap the entire cache for the debut LPs by The Stranglers, The Clash, The Damned and Wire. I’d entered the shop with my collection in a cardboard box, and left with it in a single plastic bag. In 1978, I became the ‘saturday boy’ at Discovery Records, in Stratford-upon-Avon, one of the new-fangled independent record shops that would fuel the punk rock explosion’s exponential growth across the nation. By the end of the year I’d quit college, and was soon managing the shop, whilst the owner expanded his empire in Leamington Spa, and later, Solihull. The 80s duly arrived, and Discovery ended in tears, for me – or, to be more precise: an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal, which I lost. I eventually landed a new position at Red Rhino (Midlands), aka Nine Mile, pulling and packing orders. Nine Mile were the Midlands hub of The Cartel: a co-operative organisation founded by a number of independent labels to handle their collective distribution, pooling resources and assets to enable them to compete with the larger distribution network of the major record labels.
Discovery was a right of passage, it felt like being at the centre of the universe when it almost mattered, as punk rock yielded to Two Tone, and the eclecticism of the post-punk era beckoned. There were queues around the block from 8am on the day The Jam released ‘Going Underground’ (Poydor) on double 7″. Our punk rock idols had begun to invade the BMRB charts, and TOTP was suddenly more interesting than the Old Grey Whistle Test. At Nine Mile I felt I’d arrived, my employers, Robin Hurley and Graham Jelfs, were positively parental towards me, and the kindly guidance of Simon Holland provided camaraderie that set the experience in stone as one of a lifetime. I pulled and packed thousands of records by the likes of New Order, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Billy Bragg, The Sisters Of Mercy, and sent them out by courier van to the far flung corners of the realm. Nine Mile also founded Chapter 22 Records, with a roster that boasted Pop Will Eat Itself, The Wonderstuff, Balaam and the Angel and The Mission.
In time, the need for the kind of income that could support a mortgage reared its ugly head, and something inside me died. As my tastes evolved with the arrival of hip-hop, I began a long and fruitful relationship with Don Christie’s Records in Birmingham, purveyors of fine dub, hip-hop and house. The shop’s Rastafarian regulars weren’t altogether keen on the advent of hip-hop or house music, however, and the sound of teeth being kissed often accompanied my visits. My social anxiety struggled on occasion, but before long I’d worked out when the hip-hop/house distro van dropped by, and co-ordinated my crate digging accordingly. Trips to Birmingham were often twice or thrice weekly, in those days, combined with visits to Tempest, Swordfish and Plastic Factory.
Wherever I travelled back in the day, I would trawl the streets in search of vinyl emporiums. On my first visit to Bristol on June 10th, 1980, for The Clash‘s Coulson Hall date of their London Calling Tour, I climbed the stairs to Revolver Records for the first time. As Tom Friend captures thus: “Revolver was a really important shop. It was scary, because we were just kids, but it was great. A good friend of mine, Richard King, wrote the book ‘Original Rockers’, which I read and then immediately re-read; it perfectly captures that period in Bristol. You’d go into Revolver and be pretty intimidated, but would always find interesting records. There’d be a lot of records out the back that weren’t for sale, and Roger would say: ‘Come back later, I’ll tape it for you’. You’d go back at the end of the day and he’d put the record on a tape for £1. Later on, there was Purple Penguin, Imperial. They were important shops because it was pre-internet, pre-mobile phones. You just knew if you went there, there was a good chance you’d meet people you knew, other bands. It was a golden era”.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Bristol this year, and in particular I’ve bought a bunch of vinyl from Idle Hands, one of the city’s most vital establishments. Idle Hands takes me back to the days outlined above: the days of collectivism; the days before the internet and digital identity; the days when music could talk. Despite the ravaging passage of time, the song resolutely remains the same. Technology may come, technology may go, formats may change, but the humble record shop still has its role to play at the heart of any cultural enclave worth its salt. I spoke to Idle Hands’ proprietor, Chris Farrell, for his thoughts on Bristol’s cultural heritage, its record shops, and its current golden era:
trakMARX – Bristol’s record shop lineage, from Revolver through to Rooted, is steeped in cultural significance. What are your enduring memories of record shopping in the city, and what does it mean to Idle Hands to be part of this illustrious heritage?
Idle Hands – When I first got to Bristol in the early 2000s, it wasn’t always the case that I could find the records I wanted. The city was dominated by DnB and hip hop, and although I like both those genres, it was at the point when I had burgeoning interest in minimal house and techno. The stuff I wanted was hard to find. I wanted to be buying Panytec records, but most likely came home with some RnB from Virgin Megastore in Broadmead. The best shop at the time in my opinion was Imperial Music. I was lucky to get a job there in my 2nd year at uni. That opened the city up to me, and I met a lot of people outside of the student bubble. I got introduced to areas and clubs I hadn’t been to before. I’m still close with people who I met back then. I used to like ‘Eat The Beat’ too, it was probably a bit cooler than Imperial. It did deep house, broken beat, jazzy type stuff, and this being Bristol, it did DnB as well.
I was in there one day, I hadn’t been to bed and was quietly minding my own business listening to records in the basement level. I was listening to an electro record when another customer came and changed the speed on the record to make it faster, and gave me a grin, as if to say I was an idiot. I was a bit flummoxed (most likely stoned) at the time, but realised later they thought I had been listening to DnB at the wrong speed. That tells you a lot about the dominance that DnB had in this city.
One of the reasons I opened my shop was to keep some continuity with the shops that had been before, an unbroken thread if you like. That is still one of my motivations to this day. I had learnt the trade by working at a number of different shops. I think there are elements of each shop I worked at in Idle Hands. Rooted Records was the first place I had worked that actively wanted to link to the outside world, this was largely down to Pev. He had forged links with Disc Shop Zero and Hardwax, as well as having the attitude of celebrating Bristol, with his first label Punch Drunk. Mark Stumbles, who was my boss at Imperial Music, really knew how to run a record shop, and I’ll forever respect him for that. He has been a big influence on what I want to achieve with my shop. He was a right grumpy sod at times, but that was probably down to me being a 21-year-old wreck head. Pete at Replay was a very hands off boss, he left me to get on with managing a 2nd-hand shop in my mid-twenties, which has stood me in good stead.
trakMARX – Idle Hands began life as a label, before establishing itself as a shop in 2011. Considering the harsh economic conditions prevailing, and the number of record shops closing their doors across the UK, did it feel like you were taking a massive risk at the time?
Idle Hands – It did, but at the time I didn’t know what else to do. I’d been working in record shops for nearly 10-years at that point, and was already pretty much institutionalised. It felt like it might only last a couple of years, but I had to give it a go. It wasn’t that hard to set up, I got the shop fittings and a deck from Rooted as severance pay. I was able to sub-let the old DMT shop and live above the shop, which kept costs down. I didn’t have much stock to start with, but slowly built it up. The first couple of years were hard. I was skint. I know shops that have spent more on their in-house stereos than what I opened the shop with.
I had some lucky breaks in the first year with ‘Skins’ filming in the shop, and a friend put us forward for a number of things with a well-known energy drink company. If I hadn’t done those the shop would have closed within 18-months. DJ-ing helped me, too. The support and encouragement from friends can’t be underestimated, either – people like Rhythmic Theory, Sean Kelly, Shanti Celeste, Kowton, Andy Payback, Hodge – and a number of other close mates (they know who they are) really helped.
trakMARX – Bristol’s music culture is one of the most vibrant and diverse in the UK right now. Does it feel like Idle Hands is at the heart of the city, capturing the vibe of ‘being here now’?
Idle Hands – I think it would be arrogant of me to think that. There was a time when record shops were a clearer reflection of what happens in a city musically, but that was before the onset of the digital revolution. I try to reflect it as best I can by supporting Bristol artists and labels, but realistically I stock a small selection of what happens in this city, some of the best music being made in the city doesn’t even make it onto vinyl. There are a number of MC-based grime tracks that years ago would have been on vinyl or CD but they are more of a youtube thing these days.
trakMARX – Economically, times are tight, how difficult is it keeping your collective heads above water, both with the label and the shop?
Idle Hands – Time and money are a constant struggle. I don’t get much time off, and I can’t get ill – but if it was easy everyone would be doing it, right?
trakMARX – Idle Hands (the label) has dropped some sparklers this year – particularly in the form of K-Lone, Crump and Dan HabarNam – what constitutes the right profile for an Idle Hands release?
Idle Hands – Quite hard to say, really, when I know, I know. My mate Giz pointed out that I always go for quite minimal, sparse tracks, usually with some kind of dub influence.
trakMARX – Back in the days of Revolver, independent labels, shops, bands and artists communicated and collaborated through an interactive collective known as The Cartel (Rough Trade, Revolver, Backs, Fast, Small Wonder, Fast Forward, Red Rhino, Nine Mile, Probe, etc). It seems so antiquated now, considering the overarching connectivity of the internet, but does the same spirit of support for independents nationwide exist these days?
Idle Hands – I think it does to an extent, I chat to the other shops. I feel a kinship with shops like Tribe up in Leeds, they do a similar thing to us. Kiran who runs Low Company is an old mate. I chat to Rubadub a fair bit too, because of their distro. I’m friendly with the other record shops in Bristol. If I’m ever in another city, I’ll try and pop in and show some support.
trakMARX – Which other enclaves across the UK do you feel rival what’s coming out of Bristol right now?
Idle Hands – I don’t think it would be fair to say without getting out and about and seeing other cities. If I go and DJ in other cities you can get a sense of that by chatting to the promoters, but even then it is just a snapshot. I know Leeds has a really healthy club scene, played at Wire last year and that was good. I guess you just have certain cities that are a bit more musically minded than others and always have been – you expect to hear new producers from Glasgow or Manchester, and obviously London. I am aware though that Bristol probably punches above its weight in terms of size.
trakMARX – Bristol seemingly has a plethora of labels releasing consistently stunning product. Who’s impressed you this year?
Idle Hands – There are a ton of great labels here all doing good things, from Bokeh Versions to Futureboogie. In terms of newer stuff, my mate Dean has set up a label called Cold Light Music, three releases in, and each one is great. Another mate Yushh has set up Pressure Dome, which has galvanised an emerging 2nd wave of UK techno producers in the city, great to see her doing that.
trakMARX – We’ve attended a few memorable live shows in Bristol this year – particularly Ossia at the Brunswick and The Bug/Moor Mother at the Trinity – which have been the standout performances for you this year?
Idle Hands – Dancing to Eris Drew on a mid-week night was pretty special, if you haven’t seen her DJ, you really should. She’s so good, she can play tunes I don’t even like, and I’ll still be loving it. In terms of live music, I went to see Spectrum earlier this year, that was good, he still looks so cool. I was trying to see what shoes he was wearing, but couldn’t quite clock them. If anyone has an update on that, then please let me know, it might sound daft, but these things matter! I also really enjoyed going to see the Orb in Worcester, the city where I’m from. It was me and two old mates, it just made a lot of sense on that particular night, I enjoyed it maybe more than I maybe should have.
trakMARX – And finally, what’s the most satisfying aspect of your work with Idle Hands?
Idle Hands – I like seeing my friends get some success. If I can help with that, then great. On a day-to-day basis, I like the fact that in this little corner of the retail world it isn’t like selling potatoes, as I once heard Serge from Clone say. True, the accounting, ordering, and all the rest of it, is the same as any other shop – but we get to trade in people’s creative output; their passions, joy, struggles and dreams, all expressed in music. I think that is quite special.
This month’s soundtrack brims with promise. It’s been a busy month, strafed with quality drops from respected artists. Despite the ideological challenges 2019 throws up with alarming regularity, there’s always music to take away the disgusting taste of late period capitalism. Portland, Oregon’s Best Available Technology kicks us off with the 14-track ‘Broken Teeth & Dog Hair’ (Plaque). Collating data from the B.A.T. archives assembled over the last decade, accompanied by ‘Old Haunts’, a 40-minute cassette-artefact of meditative healing, the vibe is accommodating and expansive. Kevin Palmer has been releasing material under the Best Available Technology moniker since 2012, for labels such as Opal Tapes, Astro: Dynamics, Further Records, Working Nights, No Corner, 12th Isle and Styles Upon Styles. Working in the grubby, dubbed-up margins between the faders, Palmer conducts his brooding electronic manipulations with gritty aplomb. There’s a warmth here that fosters further exploration of those aforementioned archives. With his extended ties to Bristol coming not only through his work for Plaque, there’s a Best Available Technology v WithDrawn rekkid on the way in the not too distant future, so I’m reliably informed. Keep this frequency clear.
Two essential drops from the man like John T. Gast have brightened the campaigning gloom somewhat. Catching him destroying the sound desk live with Ossia at the Brunswick earlier this year was a major highlight, and this new brace repoint the cement in what has become a buy-on-sight relationship. ‘5GTour’ (5 Gate Temple) comes on CD and digi only, featuring 12 x ‘airplane tablet constructions’, issued in conjunction with 5 Gate Temple’s China/Japan tour, Nov 2019. It’s tempting to say this is Gast’s strongest material to date, but the man paints from a diverse palette, and whatever the perspective may be, the results are always a veritable mannerist canvas. Hitting the racks almost simultaneously, ‘Kings X’ (5 Gate Temple) arrives with more air in its tires, pumped up and floor bound, but still tinged with the spectral beauty that blessed his Kids C Ghosts‘ ‘Bankruptcy Dub’ (self-released) 10-inch back in May. Rack both up next to Tribe Of Colin‘s stupendous ‘Aquarius’ (Honest Jon’s), and set the controls for the heart of the sun.
Logos follows his magnificent ‘Imperial Flood’ (Different Circles) with this immaculately dressed four-track EP, ‘Fifth Monarchy’ (Berceuse Heroique). Strident by comparison, ‘Eska’ carries the heavy manners across a mass of Korged-up low end, both in its original form, and Ossia‘s devastating remix. Sandwiched between come ‘Dust’ and ‘Ghosted’, a pair of skanking steppers, squelching through spring-hiss-dread with menace aforethought, but no hint of malice. Another essential brace, two-by-two, we board the ark.
The sirens went off on Madteo for this soldier back in July, with the eclectic paranoia of ‘Forest Limit’ (DDS) on cassette. The cover to that bore the legend ‘may the bridges I burn light the way’, a sentiment I have been plagiarising the fuck out of a daily basis ever since. ‘Dropped Out Sunshine’ is Madteo’s debut album for Demdike Stare’s DDS label, delivering 12-slabs of freestyle fuckries on canary yellow wax over 4-sides. If ‘Forest Limit’ was claustrophobic and oblique, ‘Dropped Out Sunshine’ bathes in West Mineralisms, displaying a rugged kinship, but not biting. Warmly inviting, engagingly coherent and ultimately rewarding, Madteo has fashioned one of the strongest long players of the year here, maintaining DDS’s solid gold action in what has been a relatively quiet 12-months.
Don Ossia set the bar high back in February this year, with his flawless double-barrel meisterwerk, ‘Devil’s Dance’ (Blackest Ever Black). That record has held sway across the year for these ears, thus my anticipation ahead of ‘The Marzahn Versions’ (Berceuse Heroique) was palpable. Returning to Berceuse Heroique for the first time since 2017’s ‘Gridlock’, ‘The Marzahn Versions’ doesn’t disappoint, delivering four variations on two interpretational themes. My personal take: ‘Crowd Psychology’ marks out its territory from the get-go, a nigglingly insistent motif takes your ears hostage and refuses to negotiate. No one makes it go dark like Ossia right now, and the dubbed-up ‘Mob Psychology’ burrows ever-deeper into our collective psychological dissonance to highlight the dysfunction at the heart of project divide and conquer. ‘Hack Dance’, meanwhile, seemingly points both barrels at the billionaires that control the Divine Comedy we laughingly refer to as our free press: whirling dervishly, ever-downwards, towards Dante’s Inferno in purgatorial descent. ‘Hack Dub’ closes proceedings with the light of the dub shining in through the cracks. As Leonard Cohen once observed: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in”.
Andy Stott returns with his first release since 2016, and his first EP since 2011, in the shape of ‘It Should Be Us’ (Modern Love), a double EP, comprising 9-tracks in its digital form, with one less on the double 12″ smoked out wax version. It’s been a quiet year for Modern Love, and ‘It Should Be Us’ fulfils a similar role to that of Demdike Stare‘s ‘Passion’ this time last year: marking time until Stott’s next full-length, scheduled for 2020. That said, ‘It Should Be Us’ is no stop gap: recorded earlier this year, its practically an album in its own right, running to 47-minutes on the digital version. I’ve previously been able to keep Stott at arm’s length, by and large. I enjoyed fleeting moments of both ‘Faith In Strangers’ and ‘Too Many Voices’ (both Modern Love), but nothing has previously hijacked my attention like ‘It Should Be Us’. Under heavy rotation in the tMx bunker, I’ve been inspired to reassess my relationship with Stott, an exercise that is proving how wrong ears can be at times. Both the title track here, and the closing ‘Versa’ are amongst the most sublime genius 2019 has yet proffered. Lauded, seemingly universally, Andy Stott has returned.
And finally, by the time we meet again, we will have decided who we want to dig us out of the mass grave dug by the Conservative party these past nine years. Exercise your right to vote by registering and casting. This is a pivotal moment in time for the UK, and for anyone in doubt of the need for real change: life expectancy predictions in the UK have fallen to levels last seen 16-years ago, as widening social inequalities lead to a rise in avoidable deaths in disadvantaged communities. Chose wisely. Chose life.