Ossia/with support from: BOA/Drone/Jasss/Kahn & Neek/Robin Stewart/Serwed/Tongue Drum
“Coronavirus gives a new chance to communism . . . of course, I don’t mean the old-style communism. By communism, I mean simply what the World Health Organization is saying. We should mobilise, coordinate, and so on . . .” – Slavoj Žižek, Spectator US
I signed off last month’s commentary with the words: educate, agitate, organise. As Žižek attests, nothing has ostensibly changed in the interim in that regard, but just about everything else has. Sitting here, 28-days later, post-apocalyptic wallpaper fading to dull grey, it’s hard not to ponder. As we face impending martial law here in the UK (though, knowing the ineptitude of the current administration, it will doubtless be more like partial law), it’s almost impossible to know what to think.
Now we can begin to understand what 40-years of divide and conquer does to a populace. Behaviourally, it’s a free for all, a laissez faire sociological cluster fuck: no direction home. The plebeian cognoscenti, literally de-educated, systematically. Much of this has been about scattering the left, of course, to ensure little or no collective response: hence the ever pressing need for community, the rational imperative for radical reconnection. We can’t trust this PM (or, to be more precise, Demonic Cummings and his handlers); this Government exists to fuck the vulnerable in a co-ordinated and contemptuous manner; we can’t believe the MSM, on anything; we have no credible alternative in the sense of a universally reliable media; therefore we’re all making it up as we go along, to a degree. So, let’s take a look at what we do know:
“Coronavirus will slow the engine of capitalist globalisation as nation states seek self-sufficiency. It’s a time to rethink our world economic model – and ask whether a more progressive alternative is possible” – Ann Pettifor, Tribune
We are surrounded by politicians on both sides of the house who’ve spent the best part of the last five years telling us that Corbyn‘s middle-ground, Scandinavian socialist ambitions are recklessly unaffordable. These same people are now throwing money around like it grows on trees. Quantitive easing for the masses. Nothing like a national disaster to kick start a modest socialist revival. As our good friend Nev Clay pointed out on social media recently: “Everyone currently designated a key worker needs to join a trade union now. Because, when this is over, the Tories will be clawing back this £200bn+ with the sort of austerity not seen since the ’30s . . . workers, for the first time since the miners’ strike, have a chance to collectively exert pressure to retain and improve employment protections. After this, it’s goodbye to ECHR, goodbye to EU rights. Workers need to protect themselves and each other”.
In terms of ‘the fear’, it’s ramped up so high right now that even the most zen amongst us are spending disproportionate amounts of time staring out of windows. As Žižek astutely states above, this perfect storm presents opportunity: capital rarely misses a trick in that department. I shudder to think what’s being sneaked in under the cover of darkness as I type. This is their song from under the floorboards, a song from where the fourth wall is cracked.
Getting a handle on the continually shifting permutations of Covid-19 in terms of the eventual death toll is another constant. As is the best response strategy: social distancing versus social isolation; mitigation versus suppression. Time is such an important factor here, and as Žižek looks to the Hammer and the Sickle sociologically in the Spectator, Tomas Pueyo examines the biomedical realties of the next 18-months for Medium, with ‘The Hammer and the Dance':
Whatever the stuttering, tick-laden strategies of the few here in the UK have achieved thus far, the plight of the real key workers is raising major concerns amongst the many. United Voices Of The World are calling for six key amendments to the Government’s current plans: bypass the bosses, pay workers directly; offer all workers regardless of employment status the same deal; any worker who earns under £2,500 per month (equivalent to around £14.50 p/hr 40 hrs p/week) to be paid 100% of their wages; make it compulsory for employers to cease all redundancies and rehire all those already made redundant; don’t just suspend evictions, suspend rents; pay full sick pay to all workers.
“Can I give a message? Hello? Yeah, I’d just like to say, umm, let’s have some music now, huh?” – Joe Strummer/The Clash, ‘Lightning Strikes (Not Once, But Twice)’
The month had begun so promisingly. It had just started to feel like 2020 was finally kicking in. In the space of a week we’d made two trips to Cafe Oto in LDN: firstly for Demdike Stare‘s residency, followed by Young Echo‘s ‘Oto Takeover’. Both events were a literal joy. Cafe Oto is a fantastically relaxed venue, and the vibes on both nights were stunning. Like many independents all over the globe in light of the current crisis, Cafe Oto needs your help to survive. Every little bit helps, do what you can:
It’s only fitting, then, that we are blessed to feature Young Echo member Ossia in virtual conversation this month:
trakMARX: Welcome to the pages of tMx! To begin with, through the medium of your three favourite vinyl purchases thus far this year, how the devil are you?
Ossia: Hello boss. All good here, just keeping on, as they say. Long overdue addition to the collection: Prince Far I – ‘Under Heavy Manners’ (Joe Gibbs Record Globe) has been getting a good bit of rotation the last few weeks. Also found this gem from Speedy J (1997): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmEBT_fRA_k – and I decided Caterina Barbieri‘s ‘Ecstatic Computation’ (Editions Mego) was best listened to on wax, and haven’t regretted that decision.
trakMARX: Music is the great connector, and we’ve recently been reunited with an old sparring partner from our distant past, Mr Jim Pinckney, who these days DJs in New Zealand under the moniker, Stinky Jim. Exchanging communication for the first time in over 30-years, we discovered that not only do we share a love of Bristol sound systems, but that we were both in attendance at your Trinity bash with The Bug/Moor Mother last year! I mentioned that I’d be talking to you, and asked him if he had a question for you: “I’m kind of interested in how his Dad’s musical background has influenced him”.
Ossia: Nice one, I remember seeing on Twitter that he’d made it over from NZ for that gig. That’s special, I’m humbled. Yeah, my Dad definitely had my ears tuned in to sounds from an early age – still remember him playing the ‘Pink Panther’ bassline to me on the bass guitar as a kid, on repeat. And being stood in the street with him when he was busking with his sax. But as it is when you’re a stubborn teen, I was more interested in UK garage, grime, hip-hop and such things as a kid. Only in more recent years have I really started digging back into that early 80s post-punk-ish era that my Dad played a part in. I feel like I can relate to it and find inspiration from it much more now, for some reason. I like getting him to tell me stories from those times, like Mark Stewart camping on our sofa in London in the 80’s, helping himself to fridge contents. Definitely not advocating drink driving, but I think his story of driving the Pigbag tour van through NYC at night after a gig, so drunk he had to keep one eye closed to keep his vision focused, is probably my favourite story. It’s ok though, he became a motorbike instructor in later years and he can be trusted at the wheels, generally.
trakMARX: We recently discussed the lineage of Bristol record shops/independence in these pages with Chris at Idle Hands, and, considering your position as a literal one-man-cartel in Bristol right now, how influential have the practices of Pigbag, Y Records and the Cartel been in setting you on a determined path to independence?
Ossia: As I said above, I think it wasn’t until later years that I really started digging into these pockets. The independence thing just grew pretty steadily, and naturally – it all started by putting on a few nights in the basement of the Take Five Cafe in Bristol, and doing the odd radio show with Young Echo, making music, etc. Then came the idea to start a label. Then, with more music falling into our hands, came some more labels, then came the idea to open a shop and distribution through which to sell all these records directly, and to round up and shine a light on more sounds from the extended network of people putting out good stuff. RwdFwd.com is basically the roof for it all, and the machine that makes things move. I think the main inspiration, really, most of the time, is my friend Alex Digard, who I run all these labels and shops with, and the discourses we’d have about a DIY stance during a time when vinyl sales became a much more close circuit thing, which felt more within reach on a DIY level – we were able to contact enough shops ourselves, do the promo ourselves, etc, etc – as we were dealing with a few hundred records at a time, not tens of thousands, as it would’ve been in the earlier days of the vinyl industry.
trakMARX: We were out in Berlin last year and were totally blown away by the city. Considering the work involved in running a bunch of labels, your own music, and being a member of Young Echo: how does that all work? How difficult is it managing your concerns from a distance?
Ossia: Yeah, it’s got it’s pros and cons to be honest, been struggling with the balance a bit. It felt good to get out of Bristol a bit more, and to explore a city which is a lot more vast and ‘new’ (to me). It’s helped me focus a bit more on my own studio time, and also to gain a bit of exterior perspective on what we, and I do. Bristol is quite the bubble. I do love it for that though. Actually, I fell back in love with Bristol even more since leaving. I really appreciate the people there. The attitude is top. Lots of friends are doing amazing things there, with little expectation other than a genuine love for the music & the art of getting it into people’s ears and heads. And yeah, logistically, with RwdFwd and the distribution work we do through it, it means I come back to Bristol as much as possible, pretty much every other month, at least, to get stuck in hands-on. Otherwise I’m just sat here in Berlin on the laptop trying to turn the cogs from here, and I start missing that over-filled, compact HQ of ours, with all the records, tapes and things everywhere, and that stretch to the local post office and coffee stop.
trakMARX: Berlin v Bristol: compare and contrast, as they say in academic circles.
Ossia: Berlin has more spatial freedom, in terms of venues, and of course geographically. It’s more international than Bristol, and more 24/7. You can find yourself in a decent bar at 6am on a Tuesday morning, no problem. And pretty much every corner of the city is perused by people during summer. There’s hardly any CCTV, compared to the UK. I like that level of trust in the public. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. There are more large scale events that attract people from all over the world. People are attracted to this place from all corners, due to it’s history as an affordable city, filled with creativity and a bit of anarchy. That seems to be fading a bit, though. Rent prices certainly aren’t the dream they once were.
Bristol. Well, it’s basically just a town, not particularly pretty, or anything. In fact, it’s quite rough around the edges in a lot of places, but I do find that it gives a good sense of a more broad reality, too, and keeps us grounded. Personally, what keeps me locked in, is the people here. I’ve made so many friends since I moved there in the early 2000’s, and it really is a family vibe. So much talent in that city, considering the size of it. It’s quite mad, really.
Ok, but now let’s be real for a minute: Berlin doesn’t have a real soundsystem scene here, in the sense of actual reggae sounds, stringing up oversized systems in places – ideally two, to go head-to-head during the night. Bristol, like many other parts of the UK, still has that Jamaican heritage and you can find the continuation of this heritage at places like the Black Swan and Trinity Centre, and you can sense it physically, and even spiritually, with the music in a way that I can’t seem to find here. Germans are more concerned with clean, good sound rather than this definite body physicality with sonic vibrations.
So to me, Berlin looses, overall. Sorry.
trakMARX: We were particularly impressed with Atonal and Kraftwerk, we are planning to return this year: will you be playing a set?
Ossia: No idea. I’m ready when they are.
trakMARX: It’s now 12-months since ‘Devil’s Dance’ dropped (tMx LP of 2019) and that massive night at the Brunswick. A year down the line, it still sounds like nothing else out there, in particular it seemingly stands to one side from the EPs, ‘Red X’, ‘Control’ and ‘The Marzahn Versions’. Considering your documented lack of confidence in your own music, how have the last 365-days changed the way you feel about your art, and how are plans progressing for the follow-up?
Ossia: Ha. Thanks boss, really appreciate the kind support. Yeah, I’m proud of it, as I am of all the records I’ve put out so far. I think the process of actually releasing something is just hard for me, I really have to feel comfortable and ready for it to get that stamp of approval, and to be made eternal in that way. I’m hoping that this will mean that in years to come people can dig back through my discography and find a lineage and a decent level of quality that stood the test of time. I’m ready to record the new album now, and really excited to do so. I have some sonic exploring to do, and I want to pull in a even more musicians for this next project, that’s all I’m saying for now.
trakMARX – On a Young Echo tip, the recent residency at Cafe Oto felt like a big step forward. What’s the collective vibe like in the camp right now, and when might we be blessed with a third long player?
Ossia: Yeah, that was a good one, I thought! Felt good to take Cafe Oto through its paces a bit, and for everyone to represent together across two nights. That last album took so long to put together, I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a new one anytime soon. We’re all too all over the place, and too undecided as a group, most of the time. But I guess it’ll happen at some point, and I look forward to it. It’ll have been 10 years of Young Echo soon. Should probably do something nice to mark that occasion.
trakMARX: Logistics: considering the Apollo Masters fire, the consequences of Brechtzit on touring musicians, and the folk devils and moral panics currently being ramped up around a certain virus, how do you see these factors impacting on your operations in 2020?
Ossia: Oooph. Yeah, feels like the world is turning so, so fast at the moment. A very interesting time to be alive. I feel like big changes are coming to society, politics. And besides all this, the slow, but sure departure of humanity as we’ve known it is already beginning. I mean, to be honest most of us already live in a virtual world a lot of the time, and it’s only a matter of time until we accept further technological and scientific ‘improvements’ into our lives, and perhaps, even, our bodies. I mean, even what we’re doing right now, this exchange, exists only online, even though we speak only of the real world.
And yes, now this COVID-induced reminder that the world and what we consider as ‘normal life’ may indeed not always stay the way we’ve known it to be. The virus is putting a lot of things into question, and perhaps also providing some answers along the way, isn’t it? For example, how important is it that we continue consuming the way we have been? Or perhaps better, how important is it that we make drastic changes to our consumer and lifestyle habits, not just for C-virus reasons? Then there’s this new realisation of strength in numbers, of community. I’m particularly enjoying seeing a refreshingly positive community attitude from many, since we’re all in this together. This virus is a fairly even playing field for everyone (although I do worry about the elderly, and the countries with less infrastructure and financial backbone) – and I think it’s a good reminder for us, about the fact that we’ll all die sooner or later, and in the meantime we should probably look out for each other, and treat each small thing with importance and appreciation. Now we just need to convince those who are controlled by greed and without care for others, that they will also die as normal humans, and that happiness is relative.
Regarding the music industry. It has survived many crashes and burns over the years – from ‘home taping is killing the music industry’ to Napster, through to Spotify. I can only really report on more current scenarios, but I guess what’s happening is that everything is being so spread out and made so readily available all the time now, with social media/streaming, etc, that it means it really is hard to sustain the individual amongst the masses. Maybe there are also just too many of us trying to be a part of the music industry and culture, and perhaps it was never going to work out this way. But arguably, the music scene is currently at it’s most fair, accessible and open, too. I’m seeing it become more of an international thing since the network has widened and everyone can contribute in some way. I just wish we could pull together a bit more, and each person who appreciates music and art would try their best to support it, however much they can – at least in some way that goes further than the assumption that the 0.1 pence you paid for those streams on Spotify is of any real, sustainable, help. Whether that support is being shown by buying a record; paying for a download via bandcamp; paying for a ticket to a show; buying merch, etc. It really does count. I know this from seeing it first hand. We rejoice at each order made through RwdFwd, for example, it really is a crucial time for support if you want people like us to continue doing this. We never got much financial benefit from it, but we do need to be able to sustain what we’re doing. The vinyl industry is really fucking hard to navigate right now. Records that would at least sell a bare minimum of three hundred a few years back, often struggle to sell a hundred copies these days. And that’s not helping us to keep the music affordable and available, and perhaps, most importantly: creatively unrestricted, for everyone. Can’t be that hard to muster up a couple hundred more vinyl buyers per record, surely. Come on!
And yeah, the Apollo factory, and with it 80% of all vinyl lacquer manufacture burning down, was really not what we needed after being slapped with increased prices and less room for negotiation with EU pressing plants due to Brexit. Hopefully some of the major labels will decide to back off from their needless reissues now though, at least, and give some breathing room to independent labels. And hopefully pressing plants will continue to keep their prices as low as possible, for the greater good of this struggling industry. I really hope it doesn’t, but if vinyl dies, it’ll be another step towards a total digital age, really – there’s not much art left, that has this physicality like vinyl does, and I think we need to nurture physical aspects of our lives more and more, in this age. We all spend way too much time in front of screens as it is. All that artwork that won’t even become physical anymore, the hands on work that is involved, and keeps lots of people in business; the time spent listening to music without staring at a screen; the (almost ancient!) craft of making a quality record, and these carefully reproduced artefacts for memory and sound – if that goes away, I certainly won’t be as excited about putting time into the pool anymore. I think it will take away a big amount of ‘human feel’ & craft in the music industry, and in turn the music will become even more disposable and undervalued than it already has become. Same goes for clubs. I hope DJs continue to at least play a few records in there. CDJs are great, and they do what they do very well, but I feel like we’re loosing a certain pacing, a perhaps less-fast-tracked attention to quality, and also an appreciation of imperfection and a certain ‘danger’ in DJ sets these days. I’d find it a shame if turntables are not a standard part of the set up in clubs anymore, and I don’t think it’ll help labels and artists be able to keep selling records, to be honest.
trakMARX – And finally, what’s in the pipeline across the board for your labels, and what’s the one big release you’re really looking forward to in 2020?
Ossia: Got old friend, and highly talented bastard Robin Stewart (Giant Swan/The Naturals/ATC) stepping up with a record for NoCorner which has been in the works for a long time now. There’s a new Manomars LP for Young Echo Records which is mastered, and ready to come out once this situation has calmed. Sounds next level good, can’t wait for people to hear it. Make sure you get his previous record in the meantime, it’s high art. Also working on a big compilation for LAVALAVA with a mad amount of musicians who’s music I love. Can’t wait to present that one actually. New record coming on Hotline soon, and on Mechanical Reproductions . . . more info soon. Besides that, I’m currently picking favourites of the past Peng Sound Records catalogue, along with some old crackly unreleased dubplates for a mix cassette which we’re releasing as soon as possible. Feels like the right time to do this. At that point we’ll be making the past catalogue available digitally (only via direct purchase from us though, for full support) – which has been a tough decision, but the financial fight is real, and we need all the income we can get at the moment, in order to keep this running. Plus, it’s nice to know that anyone in the world, no matter where they are, or wether they have a record player or not, can support the music.
BOA – ‘Outer Gateways’ (Styles Upon Styles): Gary Geiler (Ovis Aurum) and Kevin Palmer (BestAvailable Technology) reunite for the first time in 5-years, following up their ‘Warp Purpose Vol. I’ (Seagrave) 12″ with the expansively cinematic ‘Outer Gateways’. Over the course of eight mesmeric tracks, the duo deliver constant invention with their aural interventions: ‘They are friends who make music to fight a failing future’. ‘Outer Gateways’ has dropped on cue. Step through this portal, and together we can explore space:
Drone – ‘Flooded’ (System Music): Drone returns to System Music to follow up ‘Amphibious’/’Lucid Dreams’ after dropping ‘Horror’ for Sector 7 Sounds last time out. Four exemplary cuts of forward thinking dubstep here, plus an SP:MC remix. Sparse, yet rich, plenty of low end, sumptuous:
Jasss – ‘Whities 027′ (Whities): Jasss returns with her first solo vinyl offering since 2017’s sterling ‘Weightless’ (iDEAL Recordings) and it’s an absolute future rave heater. This has been bubbling around in lesser forms for a while now, so good to finally have it in a high fidelity format. Both sides raise the pulse along with the blood pressure. Here’s to a better future for all. Another Whities winner:
Kahn & Neek – ‘(Having A Sick Time) In The Mansions Of Bliss’ (Sector 7 Sounds): Bristolian institutions at the top if their game, with this super solid sub-bass four tracker. Been smashing this to bits all over the park for weeks now. You could say I’m hooked. Yes, I am:
Robin Stewart – ‘Time Travel’ (The Trilogy Tapes): Strongest gear yet from Giant Swan member Stewart, in my humble opinion. This grabbed me by both ears from the get-go at 8am in the morning the day it dropped, and when something lodges in my brain like that early doors, I’m rarely likely to let it go without a fight. Dubwise, justified and ancient:
Serwed – ‘Serwed 2′ (West Mineral Ltd.): When one of my favourite labels teams up with two of the most innovative individuals (Flaty & OL) on the Russian broken techno underground, its time to raise the red flag. I’ve been looking forward to this one so much. Their first for Asyncro was astounding, but this possibly surpasses it, time will tell. It feels more organic, but again plays the wild card approximately half way through, with the guitar flecked ‘In Spare’ this time playing the role of the funk-assed ‘Radiant’ from volume one. I’m up to my neck in Gost Zvuk right now:
Weird Weather – ‘Tongue Drum’ (Whip+Lash): They’re dirty, they’re filthy, they’re never gonna last. Straight out of the traps for Whip+Lash with this dapper three tracker. Expectations have been super high on this one following the impossible to scoop 10″ white label promo that dropped back in June of last year. Impeccable, grubby, gnarly ‘techno tonk’. Grab a piece of the action here: