Fire!/Christoph De Babalon/Carlos Maria Trindade and Nuno Canavarro/Ameel Brecht/Kuniyuki Takahashi/Kinlaw/Leslie Winer and Jay Glass Dubs/Golpea Tu Cerebro
“Neoliberalism represents a highly efficient, indeed an intelligent, system for exploiting freedom. Everything that belongs to practices and expressive forms of liberty – emotion, play and communication – comes to be exploited. It is inefficient to exploit people against their will. Allo-exploitation yields scant returns. Only when freedom is exploited are returns maximized.” – Byung-Chul Han – ‘Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power’ (Verso Books)
“The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation”, so spoke Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the inventor of the Panopticon, a building intrinsically designed to maximise surveillance potential for the monitoring of those striving within. If he were alive today, I’d wager that Bentham would be genuinely appalled that a government with such a poor record on animal rights has so successfully subverted his model, forgoing the interests of ‘the many’ for the high interest accounts of ‘the few’, to develop a system in which inmate has become their own monitor: ultimately, their own jailor. Bentham’s utilitarian ethics doubtless rattle in their grave, stoked by later observations from Michel Foucault et al. that place the locus of right-wing policy solely on the outcomes (consequences) of choosing one action/policy over other actions/policies. Freedom is now measured by its relationship to unfreedom.
A text as essential to the average critical thinker as Mark Fisher‘s ‘Capitalist Realism’ (Zero Books), ‘Pyshopolitics’ delineates our current cultural surreality: a system that empowers us as individuals to exploit ourselves beyond the wildest dreams of traditional capitalist expectation. Big Data crunches the locus of control into the shape of a giant games console: shrinking the volume of virtual autonomy; unstitching the seams of connectivity; tearing the fabric of society to shreds. This contemporary crisis of freedom is the technological triumph of unfreedom, an age of dislocation celebrated endlessly in the newsfeeds of the disaffected, as they compete for the ever-decreasing attention-span of a rapidly-deminishing consensus. Amongst these ruins, we are compelled to search for rays of hope, radiant, shimmering, descending through the decimated roof of a shelter suddenly unfit for human habitation. A new generation will inevitably crawl from the wreckage, hopefully one who have educated themselves above and beyond the limited syllabus parameters of the Russell Group. It’s time to dumb-up. Time to educate, to agitate, to organise.
An incendiary soundtrack to a pivotal year, then, begins with one of the essential elements: Fire! The cleansing properties of the rapid oxidisation of any given material through the exothermic chemical process of combustion releases heat and light, Nordic trio Fire! bring the noise. Formed in 2009, Mats Gustafsson (sax), Johan Berthling (bass) and Andreas Werlin (drums) begin 2018 with their sixth full-length, ‘The Hands’ (Rune Grammofon). Billed by Rune Grammofon themselves as the band’s finest work to date, initial observations on the part of this listener concur that this is indeed no idle boast. ‘The Hands’ is expansive, yet remains conversely Fire!’s most concise effort to date. Clocking in at 37-minutes, it’s 8-minutes-or-so short of your average Fire! LP. That’s important. The brevity employed this time out has increased both clarity and diction, giving the record an improved traction that was at times absent from predecessor, ‘She Sleeps, She Sleeps’. ‘The Hands’, therefore, is a return to the potential exhibited by 2013’s ‘(Without Noticing)’, in short a stunning return to form. The titular opener establishes an intensity that deliberately wanes across both sides, towards the relative delicacy of the record’s closing title, ‘I Guard Her To Rest. Declaring Silence’. Having swayed my allegiance from trio to Fire! Orchestra these past couple of years, it’s a refreshingly optimistic start to 2018 that sees my loyalties swing back in favour of the trio, once again. The introduction of a handful of sampled spoken word interludes and the ominous presence of electronic device lurking amongst the shadows bring a new industrial menace to ‘The Hand’, and its a subtle inflection that scores large on the atmosphere front, priming me suitably for their Cafe Oto show in February. ‘The Hands’ is the first trakMARX mandatory release of this virgin year.
I was initially introduced to the music of Christoph De Babalon by John Peel, back in the late 90s. Peel was a fervent advocate of the Teutonic techno that birthed ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It’ (CFET), reissued this month on double clear wax, as a brand-spanking-new remaster. Deconstructing the 20-odd years since its initial release with its rebirth presence, this is a record that could have been recorded yesterday. Welding the progressive elements of jungle to the somnambulist tendencies of ambience is no mean feat, but it’s one that ‘If You’re Into It, I’m Out Of It’ pulls off with the kind of arrogance only found at pivotal moments in the arc of an artist’s career path. Although Da Babalon has continued to make valid artistic statements throughout the ensuing two decades, none have eclipsed this release, in terms of genre classicism. Recorded as the utopian fervour of rave culture had begun to eat itself, Da Babalon was committed to shining an altogether darker light onto the manufactured happiness that altered states of consciousness beget. The Berlin scene that informed this record was far more radical than the UK scene that inspired it, in every sense, with a parallel political sensibility that was never present in the UK. This is a record that demands its place in the here and now; a record that soundtracks the desolation of collapsing buildings, both old and new. Da Babalon re-emerges from the miasma as visionary sound-poet, get down and pay homage to the arrogance of his youth.
A more recent discovery has been Barcelona-based Urpa I Musell, a label born out of Discos Paradiso, a Barca record shop of note. The label’s mission is to make the music they love available to everyone, regardless of genre or era, and if that music happens to be local, then said love increases exponentially. Urpa I Musell’s second release is a collaboration originally released back in 1991, by Carlos Maria Trindade and Nuno Canavarro. ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ has enjoyed cult status in Portugal since its reevaluation in the noughties, and is considered a seminal record in the evolution of Portuguese electronic music, by luminaries such as Jim O’Rourke. Both artists were notable on the 1980s Portuguese pop-rock scene, Trindade with Corpo Diplomático and Heróis do Mar, and Canavarro with Street Kids and Delfins. ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ was recorded in the first six months of 1990, with each artist being credited for one side each, although both artists worked collaboratively on the recording as a whole. In terms of style and content, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ sits comfortably alongside the work of Roberto Aglieri, Paolo Modugno, Pep Llopis and Alessandro Alessandro, recordings that has swelled my library from labels of similar intent these past 12-months: Archeo Recordings, Freedom To Spend and Transversales Disques. Blending electronica with traditional instruments, interspersed with evocative spoken word samples, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ paints a vivid canvas of alchemical mystery, pushing envelopes and challenging boundaries, considering the era it was created in. In many ways, ‘Mr. Wollogallu’ can be heard as a sonic travelogue, a series of thirteen postcards that could have been mailed from anywhere around the Mediterranean. Its a joy to listen to, from beginning to end, one that grows in stature with every listen. A record to treasure from a label to love.
Every once in a while, a guitar player comes along who redefines your personal relationship with the instrument, and its eternal, exquisite potential. Last year, for me, it was Raphael Roginski, this year has dug it’s claws in early with Ameel Brecht‘s ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ (Kraak). A member of the extraordinary Belgian avant-drone troupe, Razen, Brecht strikes out here alone, with his solo debut long player. Compared to the haunting sonic sorcery of Razen’s incredible 2017 release, ‘The Xvoto Reels’ (three: four records), ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ is a relatively simple affair: just Brecht, a steel resonator, a resonator mandolin, and nine variations on a thematic air of awkward consummate beauty. Meditative, studious, ornate in clarity of tone, Brecht’s compositions reek of purity of essence. Silence expertly separates resonating timbres, creating gaps that allow phrases to exhale, breathlessly, as they wend their way deep into your heart. Executed with a deftness that enchants as it defines, ‘Polygraph Heartbeat’ sent me into a dervish whirl of emotional commitment at the drop of a busker’s hat.
Following last year’s exposure to Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s ‘Music For Nine Post Cards’ (Empire Of Signs), my interest in Japanese electronic music has been growing. Imagine my joy, then, when I stumbled across Kuniyuki Takahashi‘s ‘Early Tape Works – 1986-1993 Vol.1’ (Music From Memory), a new compilation that corners the developmental period of what Takahashi himself refers to as his ‘new oriental sound’. Exposure to the brave new sounds of Japanese clubland circa 1986 inspired Takahashi’s initial experimental explorations into minimal ambient house, shaped by a cosmic jazz sensibility, informed by a searching agenda of progression. An ever-growing arsenal of contemporary Roland, Casio, Korg, Boss, Foster and Yamaha analogue equipment provided a rich palate for Takahashi’s mannerist sonic canvases. These recordings were all captured in the artist’s home studio in Saporro over a period of seven years, allowing us to witness the evolution of a sound that continues to mutate to this day. 2017’s ‘Newwave Project’ (Mule Musiq) stands as contemporary testament to Takahashi’s longevity as an artist, and this stunning collection allows us to gaze longingly back in time, to where it all began.
Bristol, a city with a rich musical heritage, built on the solid core economy of sound system culture. From Ye Olde Punk Rock days of Revolver Records to the post-punk chicanery of The Pop Group and Pigbag; from The Wild Bunch and Smith And Mighty to Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead, Bristol’s evolution as a musical centre of excellence has been linear, much like the park at the heart of Temple Meads Quay. Owing much to the inspiration of such precedents are NoCorner and Bokeh Versions. NoCorner’s bid for world domination continues apace with Kinlaw‘s 6-track cassette, ‘Corfe’, a genre-surfing examination of the intersectionality at the heart of the underground hardcore continuum. Grime, jungle, dubstep, breakbeat and irregular waveforms are mangled up into dissonant vistas of unconventional topography.
Meanwhile, Bokeh Versions maintain the pressure with Leslie Winer And Jay Glass Dubs monstrously monotone ‘Your Mom’s Favourite Eazy-E Song’, a 6-track 12″ that pretty much defies classification. Former beauty queen Winer crossed over into avant electronica way back in 1990, with the legendary ‘Witch’. The cognoscenti responded, dubbing her the ‘Grandmother Of Trip-Hop’. Over the course of 32-minutes here, Winer drawls her husky poetic licence across Dubs roughshod riddims in an avalanche of word association. Constructed electronically by virtual exchange, oscillating down the wires between France and Athens, Greece: “I don’t care what you call it, as long as the program works”.
And finally, we end this month’s soundtrack with a compilation: ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro’ (Insane Muzak), the first ever vinyl compilation dedicated to the unknown-yet-fascinating Spanish underground cassette scene of the 1980s. Translating as ‘Shake Your Brain’, the complication’s title works as both cue and clue to the experience of listening to its contents at volume through headphones. Back in the day, with few resources but unlimited imaginations, Spanish youngsters began recording their interpretations of industrial, experimental and electronic music, at home in their bedrooms, on cassettes. Influenced by DIY, Futurism, Dada, and the early Industrial landscape of Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, Nurse With Wound, S.P.K. and Cabaret Voltaire, eyes were opened and minds blown by an underground network of groundbreaking radio shows, fanzines (Cloruro Sónico, Necronomicon, Particular Motors, Syntorama, El Papel de la Merienda) and mail order outlets, distributing the industrial revolution in vinyl and cassette forms. Capturing the individualism, sense of alienation, and active opposition to mainstream culture of these one-man operations, small collectives and scenes, underground tape labels began springing up all over the country: ä.d.n, El Consumo Del Miedo, Auxilio de Cientos, S.T.I., Obreros del Sonido, Toracic Tapes, 3EM. Cassettes were produced in obscenely limited numbers, exchanged by post amongst contemporaries, compiled and distributed through international tape exchange networks, escaping into the wider European continental ether and beyond by a form of cultural osmosis. ‘Golpea Tu Cerebro’ gathers the myths and legends created by the likes of LA OTRA CARA DE UN JARDÍN, COMANDO BRUNO, LÍNEA TÁCTICA. FRANCISCO LÓPEZ, UVEGRAF, ÉTICA MAKINAL, L’AKSTREMAUNÇIÓ, NEO ZELANDA, SEPTIEMBRE NEGRO, TÉCNICA MATERIAL, FÍSODO 13.4, EL ENTERRADOR ENTERRADO, 1985, ZUMBI-2, BRIGADA NADIE and more, to assemble this exemplary boxset of primitive harsh noise, dark electronics, wild tape manipulation, electroacoustic noise, and general homemade weirdness.