Black Cilice, Candelabrum, Aine O’Dwyer, Yellow Eyes, Sanguine Eagle, Giulio Aldinucci (interview), Godspeed You! Black Emperor
“Happiness was never important. The problem is that we don’t know what we really want. What makes us happy is not to get what we want. But to dream about it. Happiness is for opportunists. So I think that the only life of deep satisfaction is a life of eternal struggle, especially struggle with oneself. If you want to remain happy, just remain stupid. Authentic masters are never happy; happiness is a category of slaves” – Slavoj Žižek
According to Austrian-born existentialist and humanist Jean Améry (1912-1978), cultural alienation comes fitted as standard, in terms of the ageing process. As we age, he argues, we are unavoidably faced with numerous physical, social and psychological changes in our day-to-day lives. In addition, we are inundated by a youth-oriented culture, one that promotes novelty ideas, one that continually challenges our perceptions of what we define as society itself. As we grow older, so the argument progresses, we move relentlessly toward becoming nothing: uncoordinated, unfit, unfruitful, un-young, and unwelcome. For those of us who have lived underground for much of our cultural existences, any given Saturday night in the comfort of our own homes in the company of mainstream television can be a traumatic experience. Seemingly, the battle to remain even vaguely culturally relevant has become a war. The alleged curtailing of our ability to understand new developments in the arts, or in a changing society’s values, can instil feelings of inadequacy. If we are not careful, we can lose touch with the wider world, increasingly inhabiting a world of our own, confined to our pasts, strangers to the new epoch. As Žižek rightly attests: la lucha continúa!
Picking up that Iberian baton, Portuguese one-man, uber-undergrowth, lo-fi, raw Black Metal army, Black Cilice, has been emitting transcendental transmissions from a secret cave location situated somewhere on said peninsula for the best part of the last decade. Dozens of demos, tapes, sevens, splits, compilations and four full-length outings later, ‘Banished From Time’ (Iron Bonehead) stands as his most cohesive statement to date. Breaking with established behaviour patterns subtly, in terms of both artwork and sonic palate, the album builds on what has come before, to win new friends and influence the kind of people who wouldn’t normally pay attention to undergrowth black metal. The album’s immediate predecessor, ‘Mysteries’ (Iron Bonehead), was lauded by some on its initial release as Black Cilice’s breakout record, whilst being simultaneously dismissed by trve kvltists as his sellout record. Whatever your position on that score, the production values of ‘Mysteries’ were so dense that it was almost impossible, even for the seasoned ear, to differentiate betwixt guitars and vocals, with any vaguely discernible riffs being interred firmly in the subterranean quagmire of the mix.
This time out, however, those issues have been addressed accordingly, thus ‘Banished From Time’ benefits greatly from a newfound clarity. Don’t get me wrong, this is still resolutely un-engineered material cloaked as hex induction that will doubtless continue to trouble fans of high-fidelity production values, undergrowth or overgrowth, but on ‘Banished From Time’ Black Cilice has somehow reimagined the quintessential beating blackened heart at the core of the genre in compelling fashion. This triumphant release succeeds in straddling the gaping divide between traditional and contemporary Black Metal effortlessly, retaining that singular European connectivity to the Norwegian elders in a way that much contemporary global black metal fails to realise, capturing that air of mystery missing on ‘Mysteries’. Instrumentation and vocals remain submerged beneath a black sea of reverb, but the presence of an audible bass drum brings a bottom end to proceedings that has been lacking on earlier Black Cilice recordings. The songwriting continues to develop, the aforementioned vocal howls and shrieks are largely recognisable, whilst there are few more visceral guitar tones operating elsewhere in the entire genre pool. In attempting to banish himself from time, Black Cilice has instead created a timeless artefact of shamanic Black Metal artistry that will do his burgeoning reputation no harm whatsoever. You’ve got to admire a man who conforms incrementally on his own terms by refusing to conform.
Originally released back in 2016 in stunningly limited numbers, this two-track-twelve-inch re-release from Black Cilice alter-ego (citation needed!), Candelabrum, is strikingly different to the artist’s previous recordings, belatedly collated elsewhere on ‘The Gathering’ (Altare): “Candelabrum music deals with the world of the dead, a dimension out of most people’s eyes, but present in the life of many. The vastness and the utter darkness of such a dimension is so incredibly violent that any kind of representation through my music is just a pale dream in comparison” – Candelabrum
Where previously Candelabrum forged atmospheric instrumental pieces at funerary pace, ‘Necrotelepathy’ features a brace of compositions shaped by high pitched vocals, resonant guitars, shimmering keyboards and insistent drumming. Part I, ‘Distant Voices In The Darkest Night’, had me from the get-go, there’s something instantly engaging about this song that will pierce the dark heart of lovers of mournful melancholia the world over. Within one listen, I was genuinely considering purchasing a copy on Discogs there and then, exorbitantly priced at the time at sixty of our English Pounds. Thankfully, I resisted that temptation, to be eventually rewarded for my parsimony by Altare several months later with this timely reissue. Part II, ‘Prayers For The Damnation Of Man’, meanwhile, is somewhat heavier than Part I, but retains the spectral qualities of all true devotional music. As a companion record to Black Cilice’s ‘Banished From Time’, ‘Necrotelepathy’ offers relative contemplative relief. Alongside the equally mediative material collected on the aforementioned ‘The Gathering’, Candelabrum shine a light in the abyss that becomes ever-brighter the more your eyes become accustomed to the dark.
Originally scheduled for a March 2017 release, subsequently issued six-months-later due to paternity leave on the part of MIE head-honcho, Henry, Irish polymath, multi-instrumentalist and former United Bible Studies member Aine O’Dwyer’s eighth release is of an altogether more beguiling darkness than the black metal visitations examined above. Recorded between 2013-2015 in the shaft of the Brunel Tunnel, ‘Gallarais’ (MIE) could lay literal claim to being authentically more underground than Black Cilice or Candelabrum. The shaft itself is apparently 50ft deep, with an acoustic delay of around 3/4-seconds, and the record exploits this natural ambience to haunting effect. Further to this inbuilt echo, a square window in the ceiling of the shaft allowed the seepage of incidental noise: from tube trains 14ft-below; planes hundreds-of-feet above; and the mechanical noise of water pumps situated in the vicinity. O’Dwyer herself described this manmade cavern of industrialisation as her “mystic cave of transmigrational sound”. O’Dwyer had previously launched an earlier release, ‘Anything Bright Or Startling’, in the tunnel back in 2013, to mark its 150th-anniversary, simultaneously commemorating the deaths of six Victorian construction workers killed during the original installation. Following reflection on said launch led her to approach the tunnel’s director, Robert Hulse, and she was duly granted permission to carry out her ‘investigations’ over the next two-years.
‘Gallarais’ (the record’s title translates from the Gaelic as ‘church of the foreigner’, a funerary chapel in the shape of an upturned boat cited on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry) sets out to recreate the ‘abstract heritage’ of the fine art of ‘keening’, Irish professional mourners employed by families of the recently deceased for their incredible improvisational vocalisation. O’Dwyer sees the record as an imagined reenactment of a keening ceremony, using site-specific found-sounds, drones, feedback and additional instrumentation as dirge. Opening with the gorgeously delicate harp work of ‘Underlight’, and gradually hardening towards the extended choral keening of the closing ‘Hounds Of Hades’, ‘Gallarais’ stakes its claim to uniqueness through 8-accompanying pieces that experiment with, and extrapolate, individual aspects of O’Dwyer’s approach. Following the organ-based density of ‘Music For Church Cleaners’ (MIE), ‘Locusts’ and ‘Gegenschein’ (Penultimate Press), ‘Gallarais’ offers up sparse esoteric ambience that connects the shadows of the departed to the mourning energy of their families, playing the role of audio Kubler Ross model. After living with these recordings intimately for the past six-months, I can attest that their stature only grows with the passage of time. Tagann rudaí maithe dóibh siúd atá ag fanacht.
‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ (Gilead Media) is the seventh release (forth long-player) from Brooklyn’s psychedelic black metal horde, Yellow Eyes, one that further refines and expands their intricate art. When I began trakMARX, back in 2001, I was resolutely of the opinion that a band’s debut LP was invariably its finest hour, and that trajectories mostly continued on a downward spiral after that fact. Sixteen years later, much has changed, if not everything, and its thanks to bands such as Yellow Eyes that that perspective has been reversed, allowing me to fully appreciate the concept of progression, and the reality that the exact opposite of this maxim is true outside of the confines of punk rock orthodoxy.
Yellow Eyes’s previous record, ‘Sick With Bloom’, was equally revered here in these pages back in 2015, and has continued to resonate wildly in my collection throughout the ensuing two-years. I’m not going to mince my words here, I’m somewhat of a Yellow Eyes devotee. For me, they take me back to my pre-punk teens, to the sense of wonderment that gargantuan dinosaurs Led Zeppelin used to instil in my then-impressionistic mind. The emotional involvement of listening to Yellow Eyes, for me, has become ritualistic over the years I have been following the group’s development. If this suggests that I am heading for my second childishness and mere oblivion, then turn up the treble, pipes and whistles, I’m coming home.
Sam Skarstad, guitar, Will Skarstad, guitar and vocals (Ustalost, Sanguine Eagle, Vilkacis), M. Rekevics, drums (Fell Voices, Vanum, Vilkacis, Vorde) and Alex DeMaria, bass (Anicon, Obaku), returned to the their Connecticut recording cabin earlier this year to record ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’, directly to tape, as is their wont. Having recently returned from a trip to Siberia, the brothers Skarstad came loaded with field recordings capturing the sonic essence of Russian winter, and it’s these field recordings that shape the record’s animating principles. Teeming with melancholic melodiousness, the twin guitars of Sam and Will duel freely in a manner that would doubtless cause a nation of banjos to hang their fretboards in shame. With M.Rekevics drums higher in the mix, a new sense of space emanates from the speakers. Yellow Eyes core elements may have once been forged in the smithies of Asgard, but they are now resolutely adapted for use here in Midgard.
The record flows like the Yenisei across the Siberian plains. The journey is one blessed by a highly defined sense of melodic continuity. Contrasts between refrain and dissonance, tempo and temperance, and luminescence and shadow, create both tension and relief. ‘Blue As Blue’ and ‘Shrillness In The Heated Grass’ feature the close harmonies of a Siberian women’s choir, bringing a sacral component to an already atmospheric ambience. Elsewhere, bells chime, gravel is trampled underfoot, doors creak, locks engage, dogs bark, and Eastern winds howl around the edges of the finest set of songs Yellow Eyes have created thus far. With an ever-growing roster of side-projects orbiting around the Sibir Records/House Of First Light milieu, there’s every chance that the purity of ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ will be further enhanced again in 2019. In the meantime, hold this one close to your chest, and play it extensively, with the lights out: ‘Immersion Trench Reverie’ is released on October 20th on CD, digital and LP, via Gilead Media, and on cassette, via Sibir Records.
One of those aforementioned satellite-hordes is Sanguine Eagle, who also count Yellow Eye’s Will Skarstad amongst their ranks. Sanguine Eagle regard their particular brand of dark art as devotional music, exalting an unfolding magickal current they describe as ‘storm mysticism': “The practitioner becomes a personification of the storm itself as he experiences the long and painful process of becoming severed from the dream or banal realities. Embodying its rapturous ability to devastate as well as bring remarkable resurgences of life, the storm is a perfect exemplification of the mercurial power that can be harnessed from knowledge of nature’s mysteries, wielded of course by one who knows, wills, dares and keeps silent. Knowledge of this frightening totality is so volatile it presents as much risk and danger as it does progress. While led through these vestigial mysteries, existence will persist as a subservient entity and all of perception becomes his temple. As the spirit goes through this harrowing castigation, one finally gazes upon the fruits of strength contained at the zenith-heart of the storm”.
With two cassette releases available digitally through the band’s Bandcamp page, ‘Individuation’ (House Of First Light/Psychic Violence) and a split release with Oppression (House Of First Light/Productions Haineuses), Sanguine Eagle are establishing a reputation for pushing black metal in an ever-further down the left hand path. The stand out track from ‘Individuation’, ‘The First Storm’, is a psalm of epic proportions, and the ideal place to experience ‘storm mysticism’
Giulio Aldinucci‘s ‘Borders And Ruins’ (Karlrecords) is a record born of it’s time. A symphony of subliminal beauty forged as sacred sound. A collection of hymns to the dispossessed, the dispersed and the divided, the lost and the wandering, playing out in a gothic cathedral of union already falling into disrepair. Descriptors ultimately fail to do justice to the complexities of Aldinucci’s art, but I hear it as dark ambient, acting as the juxtapositional foil to much of the black metal espoused above. ‘Borders And Ruins’ towers as a stain glass reflection of the instability of borders; borders as weapons of discrimination; leaking chaos and cultural ruin on both sides; impacting detrimentally on the relationship between people and territory.
trakMARX – How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?
GA – It is very difficult for me to try to describe verbally something that I try to push beyond words. When someone asks me, I usually just give a few basic cardinal points to orient (like ‘electroacoustic’, ‘soundscape’, ‘experimental music . . .), and a link to my Bandcamp page:
trakMARX – Considering your involvement in making music for theatre, film, and as creative art itself, which discipline do you consider to be your main passion?
GA – My greatest passion is definitely music, and I consider myself both a composer and a curious researcher/listener. I have loved visual art since I was a teenager; I fell in love with art-house cinema and contemporary art very early; my passion for Italian Mannerism came a bit later, during the university years when I also started to appreciate theater and ballet. Sometimes I think that if I had not become a composer, I would have tried to become a film director. A few years ago, I also started to learn the basics of photography (in which I find many analogies with the work and the research on the soundscape) and I am getting more and more directly involved with this art.
trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is your first LP for Karlrecords, and seemingly your first vinyl release. How did you get involved with the label, and is vinyl important to you as a medium?
GA – The LP’s story began with a demo submission to Karlercords: the label really enjoyed the album from the first listen, and we soon started talking about a vinyl release. I do not have a univocal preference about a specific format: I buy a lot of vinyl and CDs, sometimes cassettes, and I recently added to my music listening equipment a hi-quality music file player. In my opinion, the ‘best’ format always depends on the type of music, and I think the perfect medium for ‘Borders and Ruins’ is undoubtedly vinyl.
trakMARX – The vinyl edition of the album is a joy to behold, the silk screen print is truly beautiful, whilst the red vinyl adds that extra something – how important to you is it to present a complete package as an artefact, and what’s the significance of the points of the compass on each of the record’s labels?
GA – Thank you! It was a real pleasure to work with a label that curates every single detail of a release like Karlrecords perfectly does: the whole process, from discussing with Joe Gilmore about the artwork, to the choice about the sticker color, was very interesting and constructive. Everybody nowadays can buy or stream digital and, in my opinion, the physical format should be a piece of art by itself that shows how much care and love was put into the music, not only a ‘music container’. The inverted points of the compass on each of the record’s labels remind us how relative the description of geography can be, and consequently that no country or continent is the centre.
trakMARX – Italy is blessed with a stunning lineage of precedents in the field of experimental music, how important to you is the work of the likes of Giusto Pio, Lino Capra Vaccina and Claudio Rocchi?
GA – As a musician based in Italy, I really feel that my country has a strong tradition of experimental music: there is a constant worthwhile exchange between contemporary musicians, and it is not so uncommon to meet someone who worked together with important composers of the past. I think the strong point of Italian experimental music is its variety, its pluralism . . . that it is also one of the most positive aspect of my country.
trakMARX – In these times of mass migration, xenophobia and fear are being employed by neoliberal administrations all over Europe to lock down opposition to austerity and challenges to elite minorities, what does ‘Borders And Ruins’ offer in terms of political commentary in this regard?
GA – ‘Borders And Ruins’ was born while traveling around Europe: I’m always fascinated by (natural and political) border areas, where the boundary between different cultures becomes ‘porous’. When I think about this, I’m mindful of a statement by George Siemens that defines learning and knowledge as grounded on difference of opinion. The album was also born from a reflection on the instability of borders, seen as an extreme attempt to discriminate and rationalize that turns into a source of chaos and cultural ruins on both side, and their impact on the relationship between people and territory. The more I was working on the music and field recordings material, the more I was feeling the need of underlining the human presence element. I see this album as an opportunity to observe the nature and to ponder if the human being is at the centre of our society or not: everything seems to revolve around profit and statistics to prove how profitable something or someone is (from Facebook likes to the stock market), but emotions are not easy to convert into money or numbers. Very briefly, my album is an invitation to the knowledge, to go beyond our physical and psychological borders; the alternative will produce just ruins.
trakMARX – Could you tell us a little about what you mean by the term ‘sonic diary’?
GA – Since I started making field recordings, I named the files with a brief description of the soundscape, name of the place, and date. When travelling I use mostly a small recorder, in order not to be noticed, often my only travel diary is made by those files alone. I can easily say that my whole field recordings archive, with hundreds of hours of sounds, is my diary . . . a sonic diary of which every second can be modified and re-invented in endless different ways.
trakMARX – ‘Borders And Ruins’ is, we believe, the second episode in the PERIKLAS series – how many further instalments have you planned?
GA – At the moment, I’m fully concentrating on new compositions that are a direct evolution of ‘Borders and Ruins’, nobody has listened to them yet!
trakMARX – And, finally, how does it feel to have your music described as ‘an ambient masterpiece of sublime beauty and sacral majesty’?
GA – I feel extremely honored, it is the highest praise for my music, a kind of ‘reward’ for all the energy I spent working everyday on this album.
Returning to our keynote theme this month by way of conclusion, the ageing process not only informs individuals, it also informs groups, and consequently, the art they make collectively. In the case of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, this leads less to the kind of distortion and confusion cited above, but conversely to an ever-expanding clarity that in some quarters has been mistakenly labelled ‘conformist’. This concept itself is somewhat perplexing, given that GY!BE have made an anti-career out of resolutely refusing to conform for nigh on twenty years now. Ironic then, that in the same issue that Britt Brown mourned the death of the negative review in an article entitled ‘Collateral Damage’, another Wire scribe alluded to ‘Luciferian Towers’ (Constellation Records) as having all the artistic merit of a late-period Beatles pastiche. Granted, this was not a deconstruction worthy of the lauded Robert Christagu, but it was illustrative of the “dialectic between artist and appraiser” that seemingly “functions very differently in the 21st century”. It could be suggested, therefore, that ‘Luciferian Towers’ is illustrative of the dialectic between the radical left and the commentariat right, one that functions very differently in the 21st century.
To this writer, GY!BE represent a rainbow bridge to the (admittedly) naive idealism of the radical punk rock left of the late-70s/early-80s, which has (nevertheless) served as the core economy on which I have built a (fairly) robust ideological perspective, and in that respect they are peerless. With ‘Luciferian Towers’, GY!BE have set aside their sixth long player to exhibit their most rounded, composed and considered music to date. Gone are the apocalyptic samples of yore, the middle-eastern motifs of ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’, the guttural drones of ‘Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress’, and the at-times over-bearingly metallic nature of the group’s post-hiatus guitar arsenal, revealing instead a consistent pastoral sensitivity not normally associated with the collective. The addition of free jazz sensibilities, spaghetti western melody, mariachi horns, orchestral dissonance and reflective glances back over the collective shoulder to the lonesome twang at the core of the group’s 1997 debut LP further enhances the sense of absolute maturation at the heart of this record. Whilst it could be argued on some levels that GY!BE have spent the best part of two decades perfecting the crescendo they achieved with aplomb on ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven’ (Constellation Records), over eight movements here they universally reignite every touch paper they’ve ever lit in a firework display of emotion that triumphantly signifies change, growth and, ultimately, love, in its purest form. Admittedly, the filth and the fury are notably absent on ‘Luciferian Towers’, but in step with the world-over, circa now, the left are reconfiguring narratives. As George Monboit suggests at the outset of his indispensable new tome, ‘Out Of The Wreckage’ (Verso), “you cannot take away someone’s story without giving them a new one”. Whilst GY!BE may well be evolving away from the modus operandi of their radical past, they are developing a new story, and learning how to tell it. As Monboit asserts, “a new era has begun, loaded with hazard if we fail to respond, charged with promise if we seize the moment”. We need artists with vision at the vanguard of such a future, not lying on the sidewalk outside the Dakota building, shot full of holes.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe, Panos Charalambous, Davy Keyhoe, Yoko Yoshimura, Claudio Rocchi, Sonja LaBianca and Culture.
“To be at peace with a troubled world is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration” – George Monboit
A year on from my Orcadian Odyssey, this summer’s recess promised an altogether more modest road trip. Weighed down with the kind of existential angst associated with this time of year, fear of change and the malady of love plaguing my countenance, it was time to return to the homelands of Wales, for a week of reflective revisionism. As is traditional, I shaved my head to within an inch with the clippers, packed my trusty Peugeot with essentials, grabbed my copies of George Monboit‘s ‘How Did We Ge Into This Mess’ and Philip Hoare‘s ‘The Sea Inside’, and loaded up with music. With both daughters scheduled to be in tow, the controls were set for the heart of Cardigan Bay, Aberystwyth, and our caravan destination: Borth.
As my daughters now come fitted with headphones as standard, I had planned an outbound journey soundtrack focussing on unknown genre specialists, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, following the recent announcement by Constellation Records that September 22, 2017, will mark the release of the ensemble’s third post-hiatus record, ‘Luciferian Towers’. Informed by such grand demands as an “end to foreign invasions; an end to borders; the total dismantling of the prison-industrial complex; healthcare, housing, food and water to be acknowledged as an inalienable human right; and that the expert fuckers who broke this world never get to speak again”: ‘Luciferian Towers’ is a single album comprising four pieces, recorded in the “midst of communal mess, raising dogs and children, eyes up and filled with dreadful joy”.
Following an early morning Hep C clinic at Warwick hospital (I’m now one year clear of the virus!), daughter one and I headed for SuponA to collect daughter two. As soon as my youngest clambered aboard the Skylark and shotgunned the aux cable, my soundtrack plans lay like digital confetti, strewn across the desktop of abandoned hope. She’d prepared a playlist especially for the journey, so for the first hour or so we sang along to Busted, Eminem, The Killers, before eventually descending into the murky world of grime as we inched through Worcester, yard by yard.
The outward journey was in itself a trip down memory lane for me, as many a Morgan family holiday had begun this way, back in the 70s. We’d owned a static caravan back then, on a farm near Dolau, a small village in Powys, Mid Wales, in the community of Llanfihangel Rhydithon, on the edge of Radnor Forest. Worcester, Bromyard, Leominster, Kington, Knighton, Presteigne, all place names that hold particular significance in my addled memory banks. Despite the oft-constant white noise, I can still vividly remember getting my first pair of cherry red Docs in Ross-on-Wye; walking across the Radnorshire hillsides, testing them out to the sounds of Led Zeppelin‘s ‘Physical Graffiti’, rattling the cans of my state-of-the-art Sony Walkman; reading about the oncoming punk rock explosion in the pages of Sounds; on the verge of teenage rebellion and an incoming unknown genre. Impressed with Sid Vicious, Malcolm Owen and Johnny Thunders‘ nihilistic take on recreational drug use, I eventually shot up heroin in the very same caravan, with my then drug buddy, Eddie Cornett (sadly no longer with us), en route to a court appearance concerning the liberation of a DDA cabinet from an undisclosed apothecary, at Barmouth Magistrate’s Court, in the early 80s.
By the time we approached Rhayader, a compromise had been reached over the soundtrack, and my requests were forthcoming from daughter two’s Spotify platform: a selection of Public Enemy jams, some Beastie Boys, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, followed by New Order‘s ‘Blue Monday’, until she lost connectivity near the Red Kite Feeding Centre, and the sound of drum and bass leaking from the headphones of daughter one in the back was all that broke the silence. We pit-stopped in Rhayader to take on vitals, fuel and seek comfort, where every other establishment is seemingly owned by a Morgan: we had come home. With Aberystwyth just a short haul away up the Wye, and GY!BE‘s ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ (Constellation) now emanating from the speakers, we hit town mid-afternoon, just as the sun was breaking through the dull blanket of cloud that had smothered us like a damp sleeping bag for most of the journey.
Aberystwyth lies at the heart of Cardigan Bay, originally established in response to a fortress built in 1109 by Gilbert Fitz Richard, on the south bank of the Ystwyth River. A university town, owner of a second (now ruined) castle, built in 1277, and controlled by Owain Glyndwr between 1404 and 1408, Aber is also home to ‘Hinterland’ (Y Gwyll), the BBC Wales crime noire TV show that has aired in 3-series (25-episodes) on BBC4 over the past few years, starring Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias. The sun finally melted the clouds late afternoon, as we strolled through the town getting our bearings. I’d soon located the building used as the police station in ‘Hinterland’, and although the facade was draped in scaffolding, the front doors gave inwards as I tentatively pushed, and I found myself in the iconic hallway, expecting DCI Mathias to appear at any moment. The place felt abandoned and ever-so-slightly creepy, and although sorely tempted to walk deeper into the building in search of more familiar settings, I lost my nerve, and scarpered back out into the late afternoon sun. By early evening, we’d settled into our caravan at Brynowen Holiday Park in Borth, and were shooting pool in the arcade when my mate Charlie and his family caught up with us. Charlie lives in Borth, he’s a film maker and fellow recoverist, and the holiday promised time for us to catch up, plan future capers, and witness the local premier of his new film, ‘A Thin Place’, at Borth cinema, scheduled as the finale of our stay.
The holiday also provided ample chance for me to catch up with the virtual pile of new releases that life had gotten in the way of. With the girls off sampling on-site entertainments, I took the opportunity to delve into some Robert Aiki Aubery Lowe. Brooklyn-based RAAL is somewhat of a polymath, an artist and multi instrumentalist who works in the realm of spontaneous music, often under the moniker of Lichens. Raised on a diet of Gustav Holst‘s ‘Planets’ and hardcore punk, since arriving in the public eye in 1997, RAAL has played out with 90 Day Men, Dreamweapon and Om, launching his solo career as Lichens with ‘Gyromancy’ (Thrill Jockey), in 2008. ‘Two Orb Reel’ (More Than Human) is one of two RAAL releases this summer, a modular synth record with precedents set in both Holst’s ‘Planets’ and Jean Hoyoux‘s recently reissued ‘Planètes’ (Cortizona). Described by RAAL himself as a sci-fi music from an African perspective, ‘Two Orb Reel’ comprises 14-parts of visceral synthesis, many no longer than a couple of minutes, strewn amongst four more lengthy pieces. With impressive dexterity, RAAL ushers shimmering soul and simmering dread from his hardware, a magi time-traveller invoking spirits from the expanse of deep space: lighting the pitch black with modular tones, shooting melodies, and a wealth of fascinating textures. 21st century electronic chamber music, transcending its polarities: droning electronica and crystalline ambience. A listening experience suspended in isolation, demanding connectivity, filed under: unknown genre.
‘Levitation Praxis Pt 4′ (DDS) is a beguiling treasure to behold. The second RAAL release this summer comes courtesy of Demdike Stare‘s imprint, on translucent pink vinyl, housed in the most exquisite of sleeves. Commissioned by New York’s Museum Of Arts And Design to contribute to a Harry Bertoia exhibition in 2016, RAAL and video director Johann Rashid descended on Bertoia’s eighteenth-century stone barn in Barto, Pennsylvania, to film and record RAAL bringing a decidedly more composed approach than traditionally employed to Bertoia’s collection of Sonambient sculptures: metal rods and gongs that produce highly distinct, resonant sounds when struck, brushed or touched. Interweaving his own incantations and chants, RAAL pushes genre boundaries into the unknown, with the ethereal meter firmly in the red, over two sides of stunning wax, conjuring sprints from the air, casting spells like a zen master, at one with the universe.
The following morning began the way of many a British family holiday: torrential rain, kids refusing to get up. I set out early with Charlie to visit his office unit at Aberystwyth University, ostensibly to check out local bike hire options. Despite the inclement weather, my mood was buoyant. The short journey into Aber involved the kind of hills that would tax a fit car, and by the time we arrived, I was already contemplating taking the entire week off two wheels! Summit Cycles subsequently reneged on their advertised hire packages, and the decision was duly taken for me: cycling canceled. After a morning discussing recovery futures and the feasibility of launching a new rehab in Aber, Charlie dropped me back to Borth, and I dug up the girls for a trip out to Devil’s Bridge. Apart from the infamy associated with the psilocybin festival of 1979, Devil’s Bridge also features heavily in the expanding narrative of ‘Hinterland’. According to folklore, the bridge itself was built in one night by the Devil, as part of a thwarted plan to possess and old woman, her cows and her dog. The Devil was eventually outsmarted, and hasn’t rebooked a holiday in Mid Wales since.
As the rain lashed down on this humdrum town, we clambered up and down the ravine steps, marvelled at the sheer force of flowing water, and re-enacted the scenes from Iwan Thomas’s death. We ate lunch in the The Hafod Hotel, scene of the children’s home at the centre of the unfolding ‘Hinterland’ narrative. As we ate, a fairly impressive DCI Mathias clone sat a few tables away with his family. The irony was wasted on the girls, however, who had no idea what I was talking about. Driving back into Aber, the sun began to emerge, lighting the stunning vistas of the Cambrian Mountains. The streams of the valleys glinted in the sunlight, finer details slowly emerging from the mannerist canvas. As the coastline unfolded on the horizon, the clear division between cloud and clear sky beckoned us. We arrived on the sea front in Aber late afternoon, the mid-August sun filling the sky. We parked up, and dropped down onto the rock pools along the sea wall. Daughter two, her left foot plastered following her recent operation to remove bunions, inched her way deftly on one crutch, whilst daughter one forged ahead in search of crustaceans and interesting stones to throw at her sister. As I sat at the foot of the seawall, basking in the by-now radiant sunshine, I watched the girls make their way, chuckled at their incessant banter, and pondered the velocity of time.
With stomachs rumbling and daughter one itching to access the 2p-machines on the pier, we climbed back up to the seafront in search of decaf coffee, cake, iced-drinks and gaming tokens. While the girls mooched about in town, I wandered up to check out Andy’s Records, infuriatingly displaying a sign saying: ‘back in five minutes’. I waited for about seven. Andy didn’t return. I wandered back past Summit Cycles, who had loads of impressive bikes for sale, but none for hire, and we eventually settled in Coffee #1 for late afternoon refreshment. A poster on the wall advertised a record fair that had taken place the Saturday before we’d hit town. All bad things come in threes! With evening beckoning, we returned to Borth to meet up with Charlie, his partner Becky, and her son Tom, for fish, chips and an impressive sunset on Borth beach.
Following an evening of pool in the entertainment complex, I retired to my chamber with Panos Charalambous‘ ‘Fullness of Harmony’ (Rekem). From the very moment I unearthed this 1-sided 12″ vinyl wonderment via Soundcloud, I had the instinctive feeling it was going to become a record to treasure, and, sure enough, its the presently the pride of my collection. Record collector and artist Charalambous, a 59-year old out of Aetolia-Acarnania, Greece, is a DJ with a difference, swimming in an undisclosed genre pool all of his own. Using unorthodox styli, ranging from an eagle’s talon, to rose thorns, to agave leaves, Charalambous reconfigures his enormous collection of indigenous Balkan folk vinyl and shellac to reveal the sound of esoteric vibration as cacophonous perfection. Along with Stratos Bichakis indispensable cassette release, ‘Greek Etho Music Location Recordings’ (V-I-S), this slender collection further evidences the ‘Out-Of-Africa’ theory that would appear to pump at the heart of traditional Balkan folk.
We awoke to clear skies, electing to spend the day around the campsite, digging further into Borth itself. After a lazy start, we wandered up the beach, venturing as far as the expansive sand dunes of the Ynyslas Nature Reserve. Ynyslas demonstrates all stages of dune formation and growth, from sandy shore, through vegetated shingle, fore dunes, mobile dunes and fixed dunes, to scrub. They are home to a rich population of orchids, mosses, liverworts, fungi, insects and spiders. Many of these species are rare, and some are unknown elsewhere in Britain. Sadly, the girls seemed somewhat disinterested in exploring the dunes, so I decided to return later in the day. Next stop was Borth railway station, another ‘Hinterland’ set piece. The backdrop of the Cambrian Mountains across the scrub plain from the station platform is a truly enduring image. We wended our way along Borth High Street, snapping furiously. Brightly painted houses shone in the sunlight: yellows, pinks, blues. Giant purple dinosaur prints from Borth Carnival painted onto the pavements. We stopped for coffee and lunch in a beachside cafe, before returning to the camp site. The girls spent the afternoon in the arcade, while I took a brief swim in the campsite swimming pool. With the daughters engrossed in 2p-machines, happy to loll about the site, I took the opportunity for a few hours alone, making my way back to Ynyslas.
The late-afternoon sun had strengthened in its intensity, the dunes looked idyllic bathed in light, bright blue skies merging with the sea on the horizon. Reflecting as I walked, I was flooded with a sense of joy that quickly melted much of the frustration that has built up this past year. It had begun to feel like I’d been fighting a war for the past five years, but at the death it had felt like defeat, not victory. As the sand parted beneath my bare feet, I was acutely aware of the futility of such thinking. This world is a beautiful place, and positivity is at the heart of possibility. Change is challenging, but it is also inevitable. Life is fluid, and although the song appears to remain the same on the surface, hidden tides alter the verses and choruses below. With changes afoot professionally, and children growing up fast, I’m on the cusp of something new and potentially exciting. Time to grab it with both hands. Tomorrow never knows: be here now.
We spent the evening with Charlie and family. Becky prepared a giant pasta feast. We sat out-back in the sun, gassing away. At sunset, we drove up to the headland to snap away at the drowning orange orb, as it sank into the sea. Borth is famous for its sunsets, and this one didn’t disappoint. Back at the caravan, the girls went in search of entertainment, and I retired to my chamber to assess Davy Kehoe’s debut mini-album, ‘Short Passing Game’ (Wah Wah Wino). Fashioned by a palate laden with the taut motorik rhythms of Krautrock, the cross-faded sensibilities of dub, the vast ambiguity of post-rock, and the improvisational bloody-mindedness of folk-jazz-peculiarity, ‘Short Passing Game’ boasts shades of Neu!, Suicide, Tortoise and Andy Weatherall, at his Boy’s Own best. Dublin’s Wah Wah Wino could be the most exciting label to come out of Ireland since Good Vibrations. The label’s ‘Absolutely Wino’ double vinyl compilation is already going for silly money on Discogs, whilst Keyhoe’s debut is already in its second pressing. ‘Short Passing Game’ is a strange fruit from beginning to end, impossible to pigeonhole. Indispensable, frankly.
I awoke early the next morning, the telltale sore throat of impeding man-flu rasping my oesophagus. It’s always the way: stress and fatigue build up; holidays bring relaxation; defences down, the bugs kick in. A common occurrence, though probably just a common cold, truth be told. Typical. Soldiering on, I dug the girls up, and we headed south down the A487 out of Aber bound for Aberaeron, a charming Georgian port town established in 1805 by the Rev. Alban Thomas Jones Gwynne, crammed full of brightly painted buildings around a bustling harbour front. Families busy crabbing off the quay, fishing lines draped out into the harbour. The sun fought valiantly to burn off the clouds, the temperature simmered in the early twenties. It may of been patchy, but summer was trying its damnedest. We holed up in a family restaurant at the corner of the harbour and took lunch. Plodding round the town after eating, we began consulting estate agent’s windows, impressed with the relative paucity of price. A relocation is bubbling under, the call of the lands of my ancestors grows in volume daily.
Back in Borth, we met up with Charlie, Becky and Tom, for a visit to Borth’s submerged forest, a host of gnarled tree stumps spread along the beach, about halfway between high and low water. Radio carbon dating suggests that the trees died between 4,500 and 6,000 years ago. The forest is often hidden under a layers of sand, so we were pretty lucky that conditions allowed us to stroll through these haunting ancient woodlands. As the sun died on the horizon, we dug in for the evening at Charlie’s. Becky again fed us proud, this time with platefuls of chicken curry and rice, supported by bowls laden with Penguin biscuits and chocolate chip cookies. It emerged that I’d caught Charlie’s man-flu, and with him already beginning to wilt, Becky offered up her ‘potion’, and I struggled to down as many spoonfuls as I could. By now shivering, tired from the exertions of the day, feeling a tad sorry for myself, we returned to the caravan, and the girls duly wandered off towards the cabaret-infused atmosphere of the Brynowen entertainment complex. I retired to my chamber with the suitable ambience of Hiroshi Yoshimura‘s ‘Music For Nine Post Cards’ (Empire Of Signs). The abject serenity of this essential re-issue was just what my aching throat and running nose required. If a doctor had been involved, I’m pretty sure it would have been prescribed. Largely unknown outside his native land, Yoshimura’s singular art first began making waves on the post-Fluxus scene of late-70s Tokyo. Recorded at home on keyboard and Fender Rhodes, ‘Music for Nine Post Cards’ deftly delivers tunes of stunning simplicity, smothered in the resonance of ample reverb. The keyboard tones throughout are sumptuous, their bass notes swell as they slumber, undercurrents of substance, countering the sweetness and light of the top-lines. Within the space of the first three tracks I was smitten. No wonder this record is held in such high regard by those who know, it is everything they say it is, and more.
Friday began bunged up, my nose running as if to mimic the fresh rain cascading down the hills flanking our caravan. Summer was under intense atmospheric pressure to morph into autumn, and spirits floundered accordingly. Following breakfast, we democratically decided to head out in the car towards Machynlleth, the seat of Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404. We’d been advised not to expect much of the town, and in that respect, we weren’t disappointed. By the time we arrived the rain was torrential, and the girls simply refused to leave the car. As we passed through the town, we noticed a signpost designated ‘scenic route’, heading up into the Cambrian mountains. Daughter two seemed momentarily energised by the sign’s footnote: ‘single-track road’. The prospect of danger coupled with the reality that we may actually be able to rise above the dank clouds spurred us onwards and upwards. With GY!BE‘s ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ blasting from the speakers, we began to climb.
The road narrowed accordingly, bends increased in regularity, and the portentous nature of ‘Yanqui U.X.O.’ began to unnerve the girls. Daughter one, by now unplugged and paying attention, suddenly, complained that the music made her feel like we were going to “fall off the edge of the mountain”. In silence, we pressed on. As we rounded the umpteenth bend and began a long straight to a summit of sorts, we passed a lone cyclist, massively impressed at his exertions. Daughter two wound down the window and shouted encouragement, rabidly. The cyclist seemed elated by the gesture, and waved frantically as he disappeared in the rearview mirror. Despite not clearing the clouds, the views in every direction were massively impressive. Off-piste, in for the long haul, we hithered and thithered, to and fro, through majestic forests, around expansive lakes, over cattle grid after cattle grid, marvelling at the temporary waterfalls lashing down of the mountains, and the kamikaze sheep, cows and horses hurling themselves at the car. The landscape reminded me of Norway, and for a while I began to fear that we’d gotten lost. Wandered off-grid into a forgotten world of single-track isolation. As usual in these situations, the petrol gauge light came on, and the girls began to moan that they were hungry. Unperturbed, I pressed on through the trees. Eventually, we emerged in the relative conurbation of Llanidloes, just in time for three full Welsh breakfasts and a full tank of gas. Llanidloes takes its name from the early 7th century Celtic Saint Idloes, and is popular with hikers who walk on the scenic footpaths surrounding the town, including Glyndwr’s Way, which in conjunction with Offa’s Dyke path, forms a 160-mile circuit around Mid Wales, and local passage over the spine of the Cambrian Mountains.
We ate that night at the Victoria Inn, with Charlie’s family and friends. Folk were in town ahead of the next night’s screening of ‘A Thin Place’, and nerves were suitably jangling. A raw-blues crooner was rattling away on the ground floor: “I woke up this morning, my throat was sore”. By now I was feeling absolutely lousy, head throbbing, nose streaming, so we made for the caravan after eating, and the girls headed for Entertainment World, while I retired to my chamber of woe with Claudio Rocchi‘s ‘Suoni De Frontera’ (Die Schachtel). A legend in his native land, Rocchi had form in the late-60s with Italian psych-prog troupe Stormy Six by the time ‘Suoni De Frontera’ was originally released, back in 1975. It has since become a somewhat of a cult relic, capturing the dawn of Italian electronic experimentalism as the genre was formed. Recorded at home with a VCS3 synthesizer and guitars, Rocchi treated his recordings heavily with tape delays and echo effects, utilising post-production techniques as a creative tool in an innovative manner largely unheard of back then, Rocchi reflected the influence of Harmonia and the German contemporary underground. Infused with oscillating loops, astral synth excursions, sharp collages of vocal snippets and electronica, the 16-sketeches of ‘Suoni Di Frontiera’ sound as alien today as they must have back in the mid-70s. Described by Rocchi himself as “diving deeper into psychoacoustics, a practical theory on healing music, mind resonances, inner flows“, ‘Suoni Di Frontiera’ sits somewhere between Kluster and Cluster. Go on, you know you want to!
I was feeling no better by dawn, awaking altogether too early, I wandered down to the beach-front Nisa alone, for Vicks Sinex nasal spray and painkillers. I spent the rest of the day in bed, leaving the girls to do their own thing around the complex. As a concession for my miserablism, I ran them into Aber late-afternoon for junk food, ahead of the night’s big screening of ‘A Thin Place’. At 7pm we made our way into downtown Borth, to the Libanus 1877, the venue for the screening, an amazing cinema and restaurant, transformed from a 19th century rustic chapel, fitted with the most comfortable red leather cinema seats and a 4K projector. Reminiscent of the Electric Cinema in Birmingham, Charlie couldn’t have chosen a more perfect venue to share his work with his community. A red carpet had been laid, and photographers were snapping all around.
‘A Thin Place’ tells the tale of Grace, a young heroin addict, and her her alcoholic doctor, Jamie. Imprisoned by the horror of addiction and sexual co-dependency, the pair experiment with a powerful natural hallucinogenic in a bid to travel the spiritual road to recovery. Since the dawn of humankind,
With our entourage set for a night of post-screening celebration in the Friendship Inn, daughter two and I retired to the caravan, leaving daughter one to party the night away in the custody of Charlie and Becky. Back in my chamber, the perfect counterpoint to the noire of ‘A Thin Place’ was waiting for me, in the form of Sonja LaBianca‘s delectable ‘About Room, Room to Be, Rooms’ (Eget Værelse), the debut album from Selventer‘s saxophonist and composer. An album grounded in the warmth of natural reverb, the pieces aired here are all field recordings captured in rooms LaBianca considered blessed with the prerequisite acoustic properties, including the bell tower of the Simeon Church and the Burn in Albertslund. Recorded in collaboration with Aske Zidore and Andreas Pallisgaard, including cameos from Asger Hartvig (tenor saxophone), Jaleh Negari (percussion) and Cæcilie Trier (cello), ‘About Room, Room to Be, Rooms’ is a poetic collection of sublime melody, one that captured my heart indefinitely on first listen.
I awoke on our final day in town feeling relatively better than at any time during the previous 48-hours. The sore throat had retreated, and my breathing had returned to something approaching normal. I’d booked a table for a blow-out Sunday lunch at Libanus 1877 the night before, and after a relaxing morning in bed with The Observer, we made our way downtown on foot to eat. The restaurant itself was as equally impressive as the cinema, and the food was delicious. Daughter one and I plumped for roast pork, whilst daughter two settled on chicken, all with oodles of veg, roast and new potatoes, and lashings of gravy. We treated ourselves to a pudding each, and I ended proceedings with a decaf coffee. For anyone else looking to give up caffeine, choosing to detox during a period of illness is a pretty effective way to dismiss any withdrawal symptoms. Stuffed full of hearty Welsh faire, we returned to the caravan to change into beach friendly attire. The sun had got its hat on, and daughter one was determined to hit the sea before our departure.
We walked back down to the beach to meet up with Charlie, Becky and Tom. Charlie was shattered from the exertions of the screening, and promptly fell asleep on a towel. With Tom and daughter one away to to the sea, I left daughter two with Becky, and climbed the costal path to Borth Monument for a reflective resume of the week. The view from the headland back along the town and the seafront, looking north to Ynyslas, held my eye for a good while. It felt like home, and I knew I’d made the decision to work my way out of the Midlands, to relocate here, to the heart of Mid Wales. Holidaying with my girls over the last seven years of my sobriety has created a bond of solidarity between us that could never have developed with the old, selfish, drunken me. Memories of Cornwall, Devon, Lincoln, North Yorkshire, Norfolk, and the Isle of Wight came flooding back, quality time as a single dad, building adult relationships with two young women, no longer girls, no longer little. They swear like troopers, they swear so inventively, they make me laugh like a drain, and I love holidaying with them. Charlie and Becky both commented that they were a credit to me, which seven years ago, is something I could never have imagined.
We all climbed back to Becky’s at dusk, Charlie all apologies for his beach snoring. We said our goodbyes, gave grateful thanks for their generous hospitality throughout the week, and made our way back to the caravan for our final night. The girls couldn’t resist one last dose of cabaret, otherwise known as wifi connectivity, apparently, and I retired once more to my chamber, with the 4oth anniversary edition of Culture’s immense ‘Two Sevens Clash’ (VPR Records). It’s a record I have owned many times, and in many versions, over the years since its release in 1977, and now its been expanded to include a host of 12″ disco mixes, DJ cuts and dubs. A masterpiece of biblical proportions, ‘Two Sevens Clash’ sits atop the pantheon of seventies roots reggae, a colossus. With newly added dubs mixed by Errol T and chatter from the likes of I-Roy and Shorty The President, the only downside is the relatively questionable fidelity of a couple of the bonus cuts. That aside, its the perfect companion to VPR’s recent mandatory reissue of The Congos’ ‘Heart Of The Congos’.
“Perhaps all pleasure in only relief” – William S. Burroughs
As a Recoverist, an activist in long-term-recovery from substance misuse, I have spent much of the last seven years reflecting on the complex needs, behaviours, tendencies and spectrum-related issues that have shaped my self-medication of the existential pain that dominated my misusing existence. Somewhere between what Raoul Martinez defines as the twin peaks of ‘the luck of birth’ and ‘the myth of responsibility’, I eventually realised that I was no longer prepared to accept what I had become. This process of change has inspired a critical re-evaluation, an ongoing process of personal discovery.
Whilst it is important not to get hung up on labelling, it is also vital to understand the personality of disorder, and the fundamental principles at the heart of dysfunction. We all share more in common than we do differences, and we all sit on spectrums of disorder, as well as continuums of improving health and wellbeing. Obsession and compulsion play their role in the choices we make, of both lifestyle and self-medication, and long after the toxins have been removed from the bloodstream, these disorders seek explanations, and, eventually, compromises, in order to allow us to instal order where chaos once ruled. Learning to ‘be here now’ is way easier to say than it is to do.
“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden, but it’s there” – Gabor Maté, ‘In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction’
I have taken much from the work of Maté, himself a self-confessed compulsive-obsessive classical music collector, and I fully recognise the importance of attachment, conditioning, trauma and resilience in shaping human responses to what Bruce K Alexander frames as ‘the Age Of Dislocation’: “Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life. People adapt to this dislocation by concocting the best substitutes that they can for a sustaining social, cultural and spiritual wholeness, and addiction provides this substitute for more and more of us”.
Although I have no formal diagnosis in place, extensive psychotherapy and screening by the National Autistic Society strongly suggest that Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Anxiety Spectrum Disorder have historically shaped my response to the world around me. Understanding spectrum behaviours allows me to improve not only my own responses to the world, but also those I work with professionally as a substance misuse practitioner.
Having detoxified the substance pollution from my personal landscape, it has become increasingly possible for me to identify negative behavioural and personality traits and manage them appropriately. For those of you by now wondering where this month’s column is going with all this, my consumption of music and the collection of vinyl artefacts features heavily in this suite of behaviours. Over the years, I have grown and lost many a collection, and the forces of compulsion and obsession have played their part continually.
As a teenager, I began to grow my first collection in the land of the dinosaurs, the older-brother-dominated world of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow and progressive rock. Back in those days, the cultural tendency to long-ponder the proliferation of gatefold sleeves on the event horizon of double live albums meant that I spent as much time polishing the record’s covers than the records themselves. I was obsessed with the pristine nature of the artwork, rather than the quality of sound. Once I had satisfied myself that a sleeve was free from any evidence of human contact, I would compulsively slide it into a protective PVC cover. Before long, I would extend this practice to polishing the PVC sleeves themselves. This presented untold anxiety whenever my nascent collection was under scrutiny from visiting friends. Girlfriends teased mercilessly with regard to the polishing, and certain friends would deliberately remove album covers from their sleeves just to check out my disproportionate reaction, often verging on palpitation. Elements of this obsession survive to this day in my inability to care for records whose sleeves have been damaged: bumps, dinks, grinds, stains or, heaven forbid, seam splits, the curse of the mail order shopper.
The arrival of punk rock’s year zero revealed a new tendency: I exchanged the thirty or so albums of my meagre collection in one transaction, and left clutching records by The Damned, The Clash, The Stranglers, and the ‘New Wave’ compilation on Sire Records. This process illustrates the irrational variation in the perceived value of a record whenever it’s engaged in some kind of exchange process. These days, collection culls lead to yard sales on Discogs, to fund the ever-increasing cost of meeting the need of incoming desires and purchases. Heaven knows the amount of money I’ve lost on the terrible deals I’ve carried out, desperately motivated by the compulsive need to own a particular record, in that particular pressing, now.
Back in the day, vast tracts of time would be consumed travelling the record shops and vinyl emporiums of the land, digging through the crates, in search of illusive ‘wants’, and brand new ‘needs’, bartering deals with a proffered carrier bag of considered gems in the hope of exchange. The death of the record shop and the rise of the internet has inevitably changed this practice intrinsically, but the song remains the same. Every night, on returning from work, I trawl the online portals of Boomkat, Soundohm, LVEUM, Mr Bongo, Honest Jon’s Records, Low Company, and beyond, in search of vinyl medication at the close of another day at the coal face. Increasingly, the moments between discovering a ‘want’ and clicking ‘add to basket’ resemble the rush a gambler experiences when their horse crosses the line, or the euphoria an opium smoker embraces as another deal burns on the foil.
In the last few years, I have been forced to face the fiscal reality that this practice cannot go on indefinitely. Around eighteen months ago, I set up a Discogs account in a bid to address the situation in a meaningful and constructive manner. Whilst I still outspend what I bring in by some measure, I am now at least functionally accountable for my actions, and, although I would hate to be labelled a ‘flipper’, from time to time records do sell for more than I paid for them. For a while, I naively figured that this could become some kind of business, replicating the unbridled joy I experienced as a youthful sales assistant at Discovery Records. Unfortunately, the cost of postage, mailers, commissions to Paypal and Discogs, and the time spent tripping between the post office and home, means that I’m kidding myself to be thinking that I do anything other than break even. In the end, I view it instead as responsibly managing my mental health.
Storage, meanwhile, presents its own collection of obsessions: filing; alphabetising; quandaries over genre pollution, leading, inevitably, to genre quarantining; PVC versus poly sleeves; ringwear; accessibility issues. For many years I’ve operated an A/B/C system, with the A) shelf housing my contemporarily treasured items; the B) shelf housing punk, hardcore, black metal and industrial/noise; and the C) shelf being, presently, a space on the floor where aforementioned relics from the pre-punk dinosaur days languish in the shadows of their former glory. Then there are the culled overspills, a couple of hundred items of which are listed on Discogs, and hundreds more awaiting listing, or a bulk disposal at some opportune juncture. Thousands of records, thousands of pounds, hundreds and thousands of grooves. The crown jewels of the 1976-84 British punk rock explosion represent a pension of sorts in their own right, but this cache was sadly depleted following a psychotic episode in 2008, triggered by Interferon/Rebetol, leading to the disastrous dissolution of that particular collection, along with the a catacomb full of extremely valuable black metal.
As someone who considers themselves to be a Marxist, it’s somewhat perplexing to consider the extent to which capitalist markets dictate the way I consume and collect music. In my defence, the majority of the records I’ve bought in my lifetime have been released by independent labels, or, these days, by the artists themselves, but I am guilty of using Amazon on occasion in a ‘must have immediately’ moment of compulsion, for that next-day-delivery delirium. A few years back, a girlfriend would text me nightly with the words: ‘do not add to basket’. As I ponder the passage of time, and reflect on these issues had they not been flagged-up, or, worse still, were I ever to operate a computer whilst under the influence, whilst in possession of a valid credit card, things could be far, far worse. Sober, drug free, and with a working understanding of the compulsions and obsessions that shape my behaviours, I am able to build responsibility parameters of my own, and police myself through the process of maturation.
According to relevant research, around one-in-three people in the Western World collects something or other. Collectors are often portrayed negatively as obsessive, socially maladjusted oddballs, in thrall to acquisitive drives, yet collectors cherish things about objects that few others appreciate, and are not necessarily materialistic in their motivations for collecting. At worse, record collectors have been described as socially maladjusted obsessives, no different to trainspotters! However, research by Dr. Susan Pearce reveals collectors as a group to be socially average, in many respects. Pearce argues that “collecting falls into three distinct categories: ‘souvenirs’, items or objects that have significance primarily as reminders of an individual’s or group’s experiences; ‘fetish objects’ (conflating the anthropological and psychological senses of the term), relating primarily to the personality of the collector; the collector’s own desires lead to the accumulation of objects that feed back into those desires, with the collection playing a central role in defining the personality of the collector, memorializing the development of a personal interest or passion; ‘systematics’, with the broader goal of creating a set of objects that expresses some larger meaning. Systematic collecting involves a stronger element of consciously presenting an idea, seen from a particular point of view, and expressed via the cultural world of objects”. I recognise elements of all three of Pearce’s categories in my collecting habits. Records to me have always been objets d’art (both aural and visual), as well as cultural expressions of intent. As well as the accumulation of artefacts, as musicologist Simon Reynolds has observed, record collecting also involves the amassing of data, information and knowledge of the culture surrounding artists, cults, scenes, milieux and movements. Is there something unique about recorded sound that dictates such slavish devotion?
The soundtrack to this month’s column reflects its subject matter. I’ve been obsessed with the following records for the last four weeks:
As I warned you last time out, Keiji Haino‘s ‘Watashi Dake?’ (Black Editions) has remained close at hand at all times. A work of sublime genius, its a record that demands devotional attention. It was recorded in the dark, in the dead of night, and I find those the best conditions in which to lose myself in its thrall. Utterly captivating in a way only true improvisational wonderment can attain.
Jac Berrocal‘s ‘La Nuit Est Au Courant’ (Souffle Continue) is described by the label as ‘Don Cherry jamming with David Bowie and Brian Eno in Berlin’, and is perfect for long summer’s nights of reflection. Alongside Jacques Thollot, Bernard Vitet and Michel Potage, Berrocal represents the pinnacle of the 70s French free jazz underground.
Jean-Francois Pauvros And Gaby Bizien – ‘No Man’s Land’ (Souffle Continue) is considered to be the the unsung hero of French No Wave, with absolutely no equivalent to challenge it in the massed ranks of France’s avant-garde. The record is rightly championed as the key artefact of a nation’s improvisational output. Recorded in 1976, it sits alongside This Heat‘s S/T debut as evidence that mediums other than punk rock were available that long hot summer, long ago. The irony is that it has outlived its spikey-haired contemporaries, in terms of shelf life, and is here now, for the first time to these ears, to stimulate and beguile in equal measure, a testament to its uniqueness.
Jean-Francois Pauvros And Gaby Bizien – ‘Pays Noir’ (Souffle Continue) collates three unrelated recordings from the same sessions as ‘No Man’s Land’, an essential addendum, there’s a godlike genius element to the spontaneity of this duo that sets them apart from the in-crowd.
Paolo Modugno – ‘Brise D’Automne’ (Archeo Recordings) – originally released on Stile Libero (Italy), ‘Brise D’Automne’ pays sumptuous homage to the Spiritual/New-Age/Folk/Electronic and Experimental coordinates of the 80’s Italian underground.
Lal and Mike Waterson – ‘Bright Phoebus’ (Domino) – 1972 folk-noir masterpiece, long recognised as one of British music’s legendary lost classics. Demonised on release, canonised by revisionist historians, ‘Bright Phoebus’ was widely regarded as folk music’s ‘Sergeant Pepper’ moment, a folk-psyche gem that has only been polished by the passing of time.
Croww – ‘Prosthetics’ (The Death Of Rave) – a record made from bits of an old record, namely Slipknot’s 1999 S/T debut: “Croww has turned Slipknot’s cultural cadaver into a polysemous mutant that works as a brutalist DJ tool, or indeed as an introductory mixtape/imagined soundtrack boldly expressing the artist’s individuality, which feels deadly important in an age swamped by mimetic clones blindly chasing empirical populism on one hand, or all too happy to wallow in staid ideas of nostalgia on the other. It’s a beguiling reminder that there’s always a third hand, a third track or third path”.
“Anything can happen in life, especially nothing” – Michel Houellebecq
In this state of capitalist surrealism, nothing is the norm. Something is but nothing. Something it is not. Nothing is worth anything. Nil plus nil is nothing. Notes change hands at an alarming rate. It’s impossible to prosecute the elite. Even when they would appear to be breaking every law in the land. If they are challenged, they simply lie. It’s nothing to do with them.
A month or so down the line from the Peasant’s Revolt, billions out of pocket to the DUP, the Northern Irish Peace process in jeopardy, the Magic Money Tree shaking like Stevens, the illegal May administration propped up by a bung-ho interpretation of the concept of ‘mandate’ has issued the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill (formerly the Great Repeal Bill). This Bill gives government ministers the right to change the law without a vote in parliament. Sections 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill outline how delegated powers and ‘Henry VIII’ powers can be used by ministers to change the law. Ministers will, for instance, have the power to either replace oversight bodies of the EU (e.g. EURATOM), or to simply abolish them entirely.
The Bill states that ministerial powers can be used to address ‘deficiencies’ in EU law, and gives a list of circumstances (in Section 7 (2)), but crucially says that the legitimate uses of the powers are ‘not limited’ to the list given. So, it’s entirely unclear what the ultimate limits are. If the government wants to do anything that creates a criminal offence or establishes a public authority, it will (in theory) have to seek a vote in parliament, although there will not be the usual scrutiny of the full parliamentary process. If it wants to do anything else, it will have the power to do it, with minimal opportunity for MPs to intervene. If a government minister deems the matter to be ‘urgent’, they will be able to opt out of the vote in parliament. Frighteningly, there are no standards beyond a minister’s competence to define what ‘urgent’ actually means, suggesting that it will be ‘interpretive’, thus very difficult to challenge this use of power in the courts. Section 8 of the Bill gives ministers powers to change the law in order to comply with Britain’s international obligations, but gives no direct definition of which obligations. Without a clarification, it is theoretically possible that this will give ministers the power to change British law without a vote in parliament in order to bring us into line with newly negotiated trade deals, for example, the selling off of what’s left of the NHS to Donald Trump.
In a month that’s witnessed bribery, corruption, corporate manslaughter, acid attacks, hate-preacher inspired white van terrorists, and a cartoon May clinging to power like a refugee clinging to an upturned hull in a freezing North Sea, my soundtrack has reflected the powerlessness I have felt in the midst of all this insanity. As communities crumble at the first apparition of fear, division and resultant mistrust breeds paranoia and angst. The ultimate realisation that there is nothing we can do in the face of this onslaught plays on the mind. We find ourselves turning in on ourselves in recrimination and doubt. Sleep patterns collapse, and we begin to question the things we enjoy. We find ourselves treading water, killing time:
“Who has never killed an hour? Not casually or without thought, but carefully: a premeditated murder of minutes. The violence comes from a combination of giving up, not caring, and a resignation that getting past it is all you can hope to accomplish. So you kill the hour. You do not work, you do not read, you do not daydream. If you sleep it is not because you need to sleep. And when at last it is over, there is no evidence: no weapon, no blood, and no body. The only clue might be the shadows beneath your eyes or a terribly thin line near the corner of your mouth indicating something has been suffered, that in the privacy of your life you have lost something and the loss is too empty to share” – Mark Z. Danielewski, ‘
Typically, my flagship record at the heart of this poisonous summer of discontent is as dark as the heart of British society itself. Black Editions‘ reissue of Keiji Haino’s solo debut from 1981, ‘Watashi Dake?’, has opened up a portal to the Japanese avant garde that will doubtless shape the coming month: you have been warned! Originally released in a minuscule edition by the Pinakotheca label, the album has become the stuff of legend over the last forty years, and we’re suckers for legends and myths here at tMx. My previous exposure to Haino’s work had been minimal, but I find myself being drawn into his vast art like an innocent child compelled to enter a maze in a gothic horror movie.
‘Watashi Dake?’ is a zen experience, a profound and challenging listen that betrays its age to remain as young as the day it was born, urging us to be here now. Haino’s vocals are whispered, then screamed, they rasp as they soar, they crack as they emote, they punctuate the atmospheric silences, almost at random. Silence is the uncredited instrument at the epicentre of ‘Watashi Take?’. Ethereal guitar figures entwine, this music is ancient, yet newborn, connected to the energy that flows through us all, flitting like shadows across the windmills of the mind. Haino states in a supporting interview (available through the Black Editions link below) that the album was composed in the moment. He is clear that his intention was to confound, his ambition to see his uncategorizable music filed under Country and Western. Invoking rustic blues, medieval chant, shamanic incantation and wilful awkwardness, ‘Watashi Dake?’ repeats and stretches Haino’s theme in trance-like-proto-post-evertything fashion, this record stands resolutely alone in a cannon of one. Black Editions’ issue is beautifully presented in a gold and silver cover featuring the photography of Gin Satoh that recaptures Haino’s original wish for the album’s initial release that proved too expensive to fulfil back in 1981. ‘Watashi Dake?’ is a piece of living art, a masterpiece created in the dead of night. A lesson in spiritual naivety for an impoverished West, a gift from the wisdom of the East.
Our second escapee from the past emerges from the dessert mist like a mirage of hope in a dust storm of depleted uranium. Morteza Hannaneh was a co-founder of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ (Collapsing Markets) was originally recorded in the 1960’s for Tehran Radio. The recording had remained lost for decades, until being rediscovered by Hannaneh’s grandson, and is duly presented here in stunning artwork by Thomas Jeppe, issued by Parisian label, Collapsing Markets. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is basically a musical set to a Ghazal, an ancient Arabic ode, a poetic expression of the pain and beauty of love, loss or separation, written by Hatef Esfehani, a famous Iranian poet of the 18th century. The narrative focusses on the principles of Sufism and monotheism in the form of a love story between Hatef and a Christian girl. Hannaneh’s arrangement echoes the rhyming structure of this ancient classical form, maintaining traditions reaching back to at least the 10th century. ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is a widescreen cinematic glimpse of a culture that has been all but obliterated post-revolution in most Western preconceptions of Iranian culture. Issued in a limited edition with d/l code and an accompanying booklet complimenting Jeppe’s artwork, ‘Tschashm-e-Del’ is an essential operatic reminder to adventurous listeners that we’ve not heard it all before.
The titular subject of this month’s column arrives in the form of Benedict Drew‘s ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ (Mana Records). Artist and composer Drew is a regular collaborator with the likes of Rhodri Davies and Chris Watson. His latest exhibition, ‘The Trickle-Down Syndrome’, is in residence at the Whitechapel Gallery from 7 June – 10 September 2017. ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ is Drew’s first vinyl release on the newly established Mana label (Andrea Zarza, curator at the British Library Sound Archive, and Blowing Up The Workshop founder, Matthew Kent), following a string of cassette releases expressing his visual realisations in audio format through his Bandcamp page. The record features two extended workouts that simmer and bubble like a saucepan of John Collis Browne cough mixture being reduced to passable opium oil. Chiefly embracing the art of dub, Drew has absorbed shapes thrown by recent Helm releases and, arguably, Pan‘s ‘Mono No Aware’ collection, and redefines them here in marginally accessible soundscapes. Rhythms clatter like Tube trains, electrically propelled at high voltage, the crackle of static, as psueodo-bass lines splutter temporarily, then fade from the terrain. Ghostly figures of alleged structure haunt the mixing desk like the half-formed memories of a particularly bad dream. Whereas Mana label-mate Mariétan (see below) used the sound of barge engines back in 1981, Drew engages similar oscillations, recalling the original washing machine gurgles of traditional acid house. Elsewhere, analogue tones gurgle and mutate beneath the slime. Its a short-attention-span sufferers field day. A concentration-obsessive’s nightmare on Redchurch Street. Designed rather than composed, ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ neatly documents the interpassivity at the heart of passive collusion, circa 2017.
Electro-acoustic sound interpretation is nothing new, we find, as Drew’s Mana label-mate Pierre Mariétan confirms with his expansive ‘Rose Des Vents’ suite. Commissioned by the French government back in 1981, as Keiji Haino was pushing the envelope thousands of miles away to the East, Mariétan was blowing minds here in the West. A Swiss composer, Mariétan studied under Stockhausen, Boulez and Gottfried Michael Koenig. Charged with documenting the urban landscape of early 80’s France in a musical format, Mariétan explores the contradictions between music and found sound. Presented as a collage of ‘field recordings, interviews, vegetable market catcalls, braying animals and urban hubbub’, ‘Rose Des Vents’ reflects a psycho-geographical map of Parisian locales, such as Bezons, Herblay, Montmagny and l’Isle Adam. For nigh on two-hours we glide through the past, imaginary passengers on a barge of transmission, soaking up the cultural resonance on a fascinating journey into sound. Make no mistake, this is a trip: a collection of scenes that form an aural play as cohesive as the narrative we encountered above in ‘Tschashm-e-Del’. ‘Rose Des Vent’ is a joy to behold, an interaction that inspires and excites, a cultural Tardis that shares the theme of discovery that acts as the kernel of this month’s column.
The /\\Aught label captured the imaginations of the abstract techno milieu briefly a couple of years ago in a strictly cassette-related medium. Revisited here in vinyl stages by Chained Library, the label duly announces itself with a brace of limited wax excursions. Agnes commence proceedings with the two-track 12″, ‘012016002001’, a razor-sharp acid bath of abstraction, rattling with attitude and intent. Both tracks fluctuate and vacillate in rhythmic abandon, like a metallic butterfly flapping its wings, aware of the hurricane that will surely follow. Xth Réflexion’s ‘/\\05-06′, meanwhile, combines both their previous tapes for /\\Aught over two slabs of clear wax, neatly housed in an over-sized semi-rigid perspex sleeve that will drive shelf-obsessives to distraction with it’s refusal to comply to standard specifications. Grubbing about in the same dubbed-out margins as Benedict Drew, Xth Réflexion gray-out with the best of them in a market-leader sense of relative originality. There’s very little out there that sounds like this, and nothing as competitive has emerged from the primordial slime in similar regard since the dawn of the decade. These 10-tracks are genuinely that essential.
The last brace of musical considerations this month come from Smagghe and Cross, and the essential Often Music. I have been living with ‘MA’ for a couple of month’s now, and every listen continues to surprise and engage me on a hitherto unexpected level. It’s hard to argue with fellow old person Andrew Weatherall’s summation of this remarkable record from an altogether remarkable label:
“At times the way the voice skipped intermittently, the recording sounded like an exercise in Uncle Bill’s scissors technique but in my defence the mic I was using was hidden. I knew Jean was recording me, he’d asked for an interview after finding my name in one of his black notebooks, but Jean didn’t know I was recording him. He was tuning into fading echoes and when he thought the tape machine was off he left an echo of his own. I caused such scenes on the way to and at kindergarten that first day my mother never bothered risking damage to my nascent psyche by making me return. Consequently come first grade my petulance had precluded me from the nursery school forged friendships of my new classmates. It’s why I’ve always been an observer. But I’ve never been an archivist. I never wrote the intimate details down. If you fix them on paper there’s a danger of shared ownership. The black notebooks contain coded references, the meaning once obvious now somewhat cryptic. Names, some possibly anagrammatical and numbers, presumably long dead phone lines. There are a few sketches but no photographic evidence of any kind. This to most of the population, with its need for minute by minute high def validation, sounds like a curse. I however feel blessed. Evidence is the enemy. Magick for me is the carp in Herman’s monastery pond. Brief flashes of gold as I disturb the murky silt of memory. It’s there that one of the only two recordings of Jean’s voice comes to an end. Jean has his copy obviously but if I know Jean, it’s long been lost or destroyed”.
An addendum to ‘MA’ has since emerged in the form of ‘Untitled’ (Often Music), a two-track 10″ carrying the rapturous candour of ‘Jazz’ and the ‘cubist electro-acoustic dimensions’ of ‘Assassin De La Popcorn’. Smagghe and Cross are an unlikely duo, self-styled blind observers and one-eyed cats: a perfect fit in the audio-soup assembled for this month’s soundtrack of abstraction.
In conclusion this month, the Tories intention to push the country to the absolute brink is exemplified by the new UK Drug Strategy 2017. The government’s latest policy relaunch claims to be upping the ante in its war on illegal drugs in the midst of rising death rates, but with the ring fence removed from local authority health spending, and up to 50% cuts in funding in some areas, the policy has been roundly criticised by those in the field as more of the same: nothing. Seemingly, this is just another day at the class war class for the Bullingdon’s class of 1987. The latest available figures reveal that deaths are soaring: 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were recorded in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014, the highest since comparable records began in 1993. Cocaine deaths reached an all-time high in 2015, and deaths involving opiates doubled over three years to reach record levels. In Portugal, where they decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001, there are 3 drug overdose deaths per million citizens. Here in the UK, that figure is 44.6 deaths per million. Meanwhile, Uruguay is the first country in the world to legally regulate marijuana, and retail sales commence in late July. We are repeatedly told by ministers and lecturers that we line in an evidence-based world, and in Scandinavia, Canada, South America and Australia, that evidence is being used diligently in combatting the inequality and social injustice that informs mass self-medication and dependence. Here in the UK, we’ve somehow conspired to turn a relatively liberating concept such as asset based community development (ABCD) in to ABCDWP.
As the residents of high rise buildings all over the land have begun to realise, the lives of ordinary people are worth nothing. The society of the spectacle is stumbling towards the end game of decline, where civil unrest will eventually turn class war to civil war. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
The Peasants’ Revolt began in May 1381, triggered by a recently imposed poll tax of 12-pence, levied against every adult, wealthy or poor. The revolt was not just about the ethical distribution of capital, however, these peasants had a raft of issues around social justice, inequality and civil liberty. Their demands focussed on employment rights, social mobility, and an end to the oppressive practice of serfdom. Inspired by the work of proto-human rights activist, John Ball (John McDonnell), the revolt was led by Wat Tyler (Jeremy Corbyn). On 13th June, the rebels reached the capital, and traversed London Bridge. Once in the city itself, they attacked civil targets, destroying legal records, opening prisons, sacking homes, and killing individuals they suspected were associated with the Royal Government.
The parallels between the Peasant’s Revolt and GE2017 are heavily pregnant with artistic licence: May humiliated in June, forced into an unethical pact with the DUP, described as an agreement of ‘confidence and supply’, possibly in breach of both the Good Friday Agreement and the British Constitution. Humbled and ridiculed on the shores of political wilderness, berated, even, by members of her own party, themselves no strangers to backstabbing or assassination, condemned to form the spineless backbone of future LSE theses on ‘how not to conduct an election campaign’. Throughout the process, the May backhand wobbled, as she performed U-bend-turn after U-bend-turn, stumbling effortlessly, tripping through the cornfields of her own mind, like the Black Knight in ‘Monty Python’s Holy Grail': waffling, cowering, as the mighty Corbynator wielded Excalibur through her mandate, slashing her stealthy plans for the private sale of the NHS to ribbons: “It’s only a flesh wound!”
After a seven-week campaign that saw Labour produce a fit-for-purpose manifesto that set the hearts of neo-socialists alight, Jeremy Corbyn has become the most powerful political figure in the UK. On a night destined to go down in political history, or, at the very least, Owen Jones‘ special Guardian journalist’s notepad, the largest Labour swing since the Atlee administration of 1945 smashed neoliberalism in the face with a 3-wood of pubic contempt, simultaneously fucking the Blairite tendency in the arse with a rusty sand wedge. The youth of Britain stirred, doubtless mobilised by the shock of a relevant cover story in the NME, as hundreds of thousands of young people got off their lazy arses to kick the fuck out of pompous Tory politicians whose lazy stereotypes idly propped up the bars of gentleman’s establishments across the land. Old and young united in fear, motivated by survival principles usually associated with the kind of post-apocalyptic landscapes pre-election debating audiences were seemingly including in their policy demands.
As Corbyn filled public spaces with his adoring acolytes, fox hound Barry Gardiner ripped apart the paramilitary wing of the BBC press corps, tearing out the throats of Murdoch’s minions on a daily basis. Emily Thornberry captured hearts and minds with her meticulous accuracy and her unflappable delivery, the antithesis of the cliche-by-numbers stable strength of the May crash test dummy. Like a mannequin doused in grey paint, all the May could do was implore us to watch her dry. In car-crash media interface after car-crash media interface, she hurtled through windscreen after windscreen, in search of private health care initiative leverage mechanisms.
Meanwhile, bombs went off, atrocities were committed, the May refused to debate, and the BBC moved ever-further into an identity crisis that basically rendered it the Official Propaganda Department of the Conservative Party: for Lord Haw Haw, read Laura Kuentssberg. The May appeared in cowsheds, lay-bys, farmer’s markets, and well known dogging sites, but, as the cameras duly panned back, the big reveal was nothing more than a handful of specially bussed-in colluders, crisis actors on their day off, pimping for extra cash to cover dementia-related support for their elderly relatives. As the campaign trundled on, the elite’s desperation to smear the unimpeachable Corbyn forehand grew more desperate by the hour: Corbyn was in league with the IRA, Hamas, the PLO, he’d once gone on a picnic with Vladislav Surkov, during which he’d professed his love for the work of Yury Shevchuk. As all of this played out, the greatest trick Boris Johnson ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.
Day by day, poll by poll, the gap closed. The right wing media, unable to subvert reality any longer, screamed: “mind the gap!” Through a tear in the space-time-contiuum, relative truth began to seep into the consciousness of the masses, by cultural osmosis. Palpable hope filled the air like pollen, forced down by the proliferation of CO2 gasses emitted by Murdoch’s patented Anti-Corbyn spray canisters, issued to all News Corporation journalists. As Tory millions were pumped into their faltering campaign through an offshore pipe under the cover of darkness, Labour activists controlled social media platforms with brilliantly executed content, including a series of shorts by renowned director, Ken Loach. Tory ministers were leaving copies of their manifesto in whorehouses, expensive restaurants, massage parlours and airport departure lounges, in the vain hope that they could lose every last copy before voters worked out that they were emptier than George Osborne’s soul. The ever-growing list of celebrities endorsing the party of The Many dwarfed Jim Davidson and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who urged anyone who’d listen to consider the plight of The Few. Amber Rudd insisted there was no magic money tree, but there was, and it was taking on a decidedly tangoed hue (later found to be Dutch Elm Disease, or William Of Orange Disorder).
As June 8th eventually receded, a nation considered the least painful way to keep abreast of incoming results and unfolding events. The smart money settled on Chanel Four’s ‘Alternative Election Night’, hosted by Jeremy Paxman, the cunt’s cunt. Despite the obvious pain of having to stomach Ann Widdecombe, not even the irrepressible smugness of David Mitchell or the tedious gameshow hostery of Richard Osman could dampen emerging enthusiasm for the rapidly collating data. The exit polls had manifested earlier, smothered in the afterbirth of optimism, like a newly born lamb. Throughout the ensuing night, those who give two shits about anything else other than themselves lovingly licked clean every Labour hold/gain emitted from the womb of the ballot box.
Dawn eventually revealed a Parliament hung on Gallows Hill. The loser had won, and the winner had lost. Neoliberalism lay fatally wounded on the Rococo lawn of its Painswick mock-Tudor mansion house: “Come back, I’ll bite your bloody legs off”. The May refused to do the decent thing, and by 12.30pm on the 9th of June, she was on her knees, begging the Queen to let her form a government, with the aid of a Loyalist Paramilitary terrorist organisation, somehow intrinsically different to the terrorist organisations she had so recently condemned Corbyn for fraternising with.
Throughout the climax to the campaign, my soundtrack to this pantomime of performance has been the fifth-album-proper by post-everything Tyneside troubadour, Richard Dawson. ‘Peasant’ (Weird World), a record truly worthy of such narrative conceit, is a double concept album set in the dark ages (circa 450AD to 780AD) in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Bryneich, which covered North-East England and South-East Scotland in the 6th and 7th centuries. Developing Dawson’s fascination with Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North), ‘Peasant’ explores the asset-based functionality of community through the eyes of twelve of its members: ‘Herald’, ‘Ogre’, ‘Soldier’, ‘Weaver’, ‘Prostitute’, ‘Shapeshifter’, ‘Scientist’, ‘Hob’, ‘Beggar’, ‘No-one’ and ‘Masseuse’. Dawson himself describes ‘Peasant’ as “a panorama of a society which is at odds with itself and has great sickness in it, and perhaps doesn’t take responsibility – blame going in all the wrong directions”.
Dawson generally considers his art to be community music, and in essence the central theme of ‘Peasant’ challenges the process of divide and conquer that is at the heart of the neoliberal personalisation agenda. Dawson suggests that the all-encompassing darkness of the dark ages has much commonality with our own fractured society, circa now. At its most pessimistic, it ponders whether Britain always been broken, simultaneously promoting the healing properties of connectivity in a considerably more optimistic manner. Dawson considers it to be an album of hope, a record he wants to be absorbed by as many people as possible.
Musically, ‘Peasant’ evolves beyond the structural minimalism of ‘Magic Bridge’, ‘The Glass Trunk’ and ‘Nothing Important’, for his fullest sounding record yet. Resplendent with flowing melodies, quivering on the edge of Dawson’s trademark avant-skronk, the signature sound of the album is that of jug band, equally in thrall to The Incredible String Band, The Magic Band, The Fugs, Davey Graham, or, most pertinently, Comus‘ 1971 opus, ‘First Utterance’ (Dawn Records). Dawson is aided and abetted by the Davies family: siblings Rhodri (pedal harp, lever harp, gong ), Angharad (violin) and father, John (trumpet, flugelhorn, soprano, trombone). Dawson himself handles guitars, drums and electronics, and the ensemble is augmented by a chorus of Jake Billingsley, Nathalie Stern, Sally Pilkington, Nev Clay, Dawn Bothwell, Rachael Macarthur and Vic Eynon. Recorded and produced by Sam Grant at Blank Studio in Byker, the sonic depth and breadth of ‘Peasant’ is equal to that of the Tyne itself.
Beginning with appearances, the record’s sleeve is a departure from the largely black and white textures of Dawson’s previous three outings, more in keeping with that of the Weird World reissue of ‘The Glass Trunk’. The lurid red and yellow of the cover’s graphics, and the use, once again, of the photography of Ben Wayman, establish a visual lineage that feels as if it may progress further down the line with future releases. Pressed on vibrant yellow vinyl, the limited edition comes with a set of twelve postcards, and is signed by Dawson personally:
Having spent a week or so in the company of ‘Peasant’, I’m slowly beginning to get to grips with the sheer exuberance of its expansiveness. The first few listens were exhausting, such is the enormity of this record. Having grown used to the intimacy of Dawson’s work over the last few years, the grandiose arrangements and the fullness of sound take some digesting. It has been suggested in some quarters that ‘Peasant’ is not a record that grows on you, but that seems an utterly ridiculous claim, to these ears. Every time I’ve sat down with this album thus far, I’ve discovered something new lurking in the aural miasma.
‘Peasant’ opens with the brief instrumental, ‘Herald’, a fanfare for the uncommon man, that quickly dissolves into a series of parps, vaguely reminiscent of Stewart Lee farting the ‘National Anthem’ during his ‘My Cat Jeremy Corbyn’ routine. ‘Ogre’ follows, the first song to be issued to Dawson’s impatient fanbase (Dawson had been working on what would become ‘Peasant’ when I last spoke to him at Supersonic Festival, in June of 2015!), back in April, announcing the timbre of what was to be expected in June. The song itself is as big and as ugly as its title suggests, stretching Dawson’s vocal dexterity from warm whisper to soaring falsetto, shimmering with Davies’ harps, hurtling towards a closing stanza that sets the choral tone for much of what will follow in its wake.
The second taster, ‘Soldier’, is up next, and on election day, and long into that historic night, I clung to the relevance of its lyrical theme: “I am tired, I am afraid, my heart is full of dread”. Post-middle eight, and post-exit poll, the mood changes: “My heart is full of hope”. ‘Weaver’ enters discordantly, then somehow manages to outdo its predecessors in its inherent magnitude, before rising to a choral denouement that invokes some hitherto unrecorded Ben Wheatley soundtrack. The video that accompanies the song portrays Dawson dancing around a walking cane, uncannily resembling a younger John Lydon, whilst lyrically the song contemplates the nature of gossip, spreading its own strangely prescient rumours, again hugely relevant on election night: “precipitating the early onset of Labour”.
‘Prostitute’ examines the oldest profession with tender refrain, flecked with psychedelic guitar lines and plinking, plucking nylon. ‘Shapeshifter’ struts along at a relative pace, as Dawson peaks and flows through the parameters of his range with untold glee. The most upbeat song on the record, Dawson has a long association with shamanic tendencies, and the subject of shapeshifting retains relevance to many prominent figures in our contemporary world. Nothing is what it seems, everything hidden within plain sight, that is the slight of hand of capitalist surrealism. ‘Scientist’ continues the forward motion, but at a slightly lower tempo. Make no mistake, these two songs are key to the continuity of ‘Peasant’. The song ends with Dawson’s take on the big rock ‘final bonk’, but on nylon guitar, instead of a Gibson fed through a wall of Marshalls.
‘Hob’ is another election night favourite, nestling delicately at the outward bound section of the record. The song tumbles down the stairs of inflection with a gentle shove from one of Dawson’s sweetest melodies, as old as time, as fresh as a the spirit of victory in the air. As the slowly stacking numbers pointed more assuredly to a hung Parliament on the morning of June 9th, the line “at the murmur of dawn there’s a knock at the door” assumed an ever-ominous portent for the May. The peel-of-bells riff of ‘Beggar’ is a campanologist’s delight, punctuated by stomping percussion that jumps out of the mix like a jack in the box. Angharad Davies’ violin shines with radiant beauty here. The penultimate ‘No-one’ is the record’s second brief instrumental interlude, bubbling with electronic interfaces, like a burst of static interference from a radio station of the future beaming its dissonance backwards into history.
‘Peasant’ closes with ‘Masseuse’, Dawson’s single most ambitious statement to date. The song recounts the tale of the quest for ownership of the enigmatic ‘pin of quib’. Riding a bastardised 80s hair metal riff interspersed with breakdowns that equal the darkness of ‘The Vile Stuff’ in texture and tone. For 10:49, every trick explored in the previous 50-minutes is tweaked to perfection for a stunning climax, basically a mini-opera in itself. The silence that follows only emphasises the brilliance of what just taken place. Every time I listen to ‘Peasant’, I find myself having to draw breath and reflect on the utter magnificence of what has just occurred.
That same silence on Sunday June 11th resonates like a bell from the ghost of the May. Again, I find myself reflecting on the magnificence of what has just occurred. The peasants have revolted, and a new radical politics has emerged from the confines of neoliberalism to promise the formation of a transformative Labour government that will echo the convictions of its 1945 precedent, in both ambition and integrity. More people have joined the Labour Party in the last 48-hours than populate the entire Conservative Party. Our membership is currently 800,000, and rising. Corbyn is a hair’s breadth away from the keys to 10, Downing Street, and all over the land, young people are singing his name as they pour out of the nightclubs of our towns, our cities, our hearts. I have waited all my life for a moment such as this. Avante, comrades, the battle has been won, the war in earnest begins here.
- trakMARX: ROCK AND ROLL, GARAGE PUNK, PSYCHE, HEAVY METAL, PROTO PUNK, KRAUTROCK, JAP ROCK, PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK, INDUSTRIAL, BLACK METAL, DOOM/DRONE, POST ROCK, NOISE, AVANT ET L'ART DE L'ETRANGER