They say that it is easier to imagine Boris Johnson as a human being than it is to imagine a Christmas without John Lewis. This is the twenty-first century. New technologies should be liberating us from wage slavery. Automation: the yellow brick road to equality for all. Prosperity, liberty, luxury, happiness, solar-powered renewable energy, in every social home. Electric cars, efficient public transport, automated production lines pumping out ever-cheaper produce. The death of fossil fuel dependence, wave farms, wind farms, sun farms. Rapid advancements in genetic and synthetic biology. Revolutions in healthcare, food production and nutrition. Together, we can feed a world of 9-billion people. Together, we can create meaningful freedom, for everyone.
As the crisis in capitalism reverberates in our ears like a death knell, the need for a coherent response from the left has never been greater. The Marx revival continues apace amongst emerging media platforms, challenging the hegemony of the right-dominated MSM. Novara Media is one such organ, a vanguard committed to fighting interpassivity: waging war on the war on terror; the war on drugs; class war. Above all, Novara symbolise a hunger for a post-oligarchic system cleansed of all corruption. A new form of scapegoatery to take down those hiding in plain sight.
To truly achieve a Benthamite ambition of the greatest happiness of the greatest number, it is imperative that the left break ranks with lumbering public perceptions of Marx as abettor to totalitarian terror, to define new possibilities for the virtues of democratic socialism. Capitalism wastes time, energy and resources to cement a pyramidic hierarchy for an ever-diminishing elite. It reduces us all to beings so disempowered by the sheer complication of surviving within the system, that we either master it at the expense of others, or become slaves to the rhythm of mass exploitation. In the Olympic stadium of free-market dominance, only a minority make the podium. Socialists, meanwhile, believe in concepts outside of the Olympiad market place: time and space; self-determination; opportunity to embrace Socratic examined lives.
The co-founder of Novara Media, Aaron Bastani, sets out his stall for a future with a sociological imagination with ‘Fully Automated Luxury Communism’ (Verso). Over the course of 243-pages, Bastani deconstructs the possibility of FALC as the triumvirate of: ‘Chaos Under Heaven'; ‘New Travellers'; and ‘Paradise Found’. “We are set for peak human”, he expounds, “our technology is already making us gods – so we might as well get good at it – it’s time for us all to stop waiting and make history once more”. Critics and pro-capitalists the globe over will be falling over themselves to deride such wilful optimism. Cultural commentators with vested interests lining up to pour scorn on the suggestion that the human race is capable of saving itself. Climate change, resource scarcity, surplus populations, technical unemployment, all apparitions of left wing scaremongery.
Whatever the naysayers may say, our societies are closer to making these technological leaps than most people realise, and the neo-liberal right are planning to shape the Third Disruption in the image of private accumulation and corporate power. In order to avoid a mutually assured JG Ballard-esque ‘Cocaine Nights’ dystopian future, we must transcend our collective totalitarian memories of socialism as a failed experiment to embrace the pure humanitarian philosophy at the beating heart of Marx’s theories. Although he is no Mark Fisher, Bastani’s unabashed love of neologisms express the post-everything passion required to liberate human consciousness from the norms of capitalist society. To step outside the confines of established sociopolitical hegemony, to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, we must accept that the very act of disturbing normalcy is essentially disturbing. As Fisher states in the introduction to ‘Acid Communism’, the challenge facing the left is: “not to recover our ‘lost’ identity, to free our imprisoned nature, our deepest truth; but instead to move towards something radically Other”.
Agrippa – ‘Dead Weight’ (Par Avion): Third vinyl instalment from Par Avion, celebrating label co-honcho Agrippa’s unique production style: wonky, rolling, polyrhythmic techno. Sombre, reflective, and at times erratic, these four cuts further enhance both his profile as a producer of worth, and Par Avion’s profile as a label-of-note, in a teeming Bristolian underground awash with quality and innovation. Alongside brethren Henry Greenleaf and Meta, Agrippa is keeping it dreader than dread. These boys know what they’re doing.
Galya Bisengalieva – ‘EP Two’ (Nomad): Expanding on the incredible promise of ‘EP One’, Kazakh/British violinist Bisengalieva pushes the envelope yet further for her sophomore EP, collaborating with avant-turntablist Shiva Feshareki, to delve ever-deeper into the well-worn furrows of left field interest. Featuring three new pieces and an Actress remix of ‘Tulpar’ as a digital bonus, there are no available clips as yet, so you’ll have to make do with a clip of ‘Tulpar’ from ‘EP One’.
Burial – ‘Claustro’ (Hyperdub): The South London don returns to the fray with his first new material in two years, a high-tempo 2-step affair, complete with looping R&B refrain. A killer bass synth rises and falls below furious hi-hats, as pitch-shifted vocals fly left and right to nitrus oxcidic effect. Ostensibly a return to the Burial mapped out on ‘Untrue’, maybe a prelude to a follow-up long player? We’ve waited far too long.
Sarah Davachi – ‘Pale Bloom’ (W.25TH): Quietly Canadian Davachi seemingly releases a brace of long players a year. In the last 12-months or so, we’ve gained ‘Let The Night Come On Bells End The Day’ (Recital), ‘Gave In Rest’ (Ba Da Bing), her collaboration with Ariel Kalma, ‘Intemporel’ (Black Sweat), and now ‘Pale Bloom’, for Superior Viaduct imprint, W.25TH. Whilst recent outings have mostly focussed on the meditational and quasi-religious import of organ drones, and the role of scared space in creating devotional ambience, ‘Pale Bloom’ returns to her instrument of origin, the piano, to reinterpret J.S. Bach through a psychotropic kaleidoscope on side 1’s ‘Perfumes I-III’, before cutting loose again with drones and mangled strings for the La Monte Youngisms of side 2’s expansive ‘If It Pleased Me To Appear To You Wrapped In This Drapery’. Possibly my favourite Davachi release thus far.
Kelman Duran – ’13th Month’ (Apocalipsis): Released digitally back in 2018, and now available on double clear wax, Kelman Duran’s epic ’13th Month’ is an impressive sample-driven journey through 90s hip-hop beats towards 00s reggaeton dembow. Inspired by time spent with the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, ’13th Month’ refers to the lunar structure of the Lakota people’s calendar, the album is Duran’s intimate response to the experience. References to Biggie Smalls and 2Pac bring both sadness and anger to the mix, ’13th Month’ is a vast progression from his patchy debut, ‘1804 KIDS’ (Hundebiss).
K-Lone – ‘Sine Language’ (Wisdom Teeth): Trippy, b-boy-baiting break-beatery from Bristol stalwart, rhythm research and development expert, K-Lone. Broken beats for big rigs. Dropping vocal samples onto pulsating electro-break mechanics like napalm, Charlie don’t surf, K-Lone don’t stop. Dropping the science like Galileo dropped the orange.
Anthony Naples – ‘Fog FM’ (Incienso/ANS): “A house music transmission filtered through fluorescent static, from a station out of place and time” emerges from the miasma, equipped with strident baselines, crisp motifs and dub-house atmospherics, challenging Shinichi Atobe‘s ‘Heat’ (DDS) as one of the finest outings in the discipline in recent memory. With nods to Naples’ compadre-in-sound, Brian Leeds‘ output as Loidis, ‘Fog FM’ presents celestial crescendo after celestial crescendo in an orgy of scuffed-up clubbery.
Pessimist and Karim Mass – ‘s/t’ (Pessimist Productions): UVB-76 Music/Ruffhouse compadres Kristian Jabs and Tom Cooper unite to throw down the gauntlet to Ossia‘s masterful ‘Devils’ Dance’ (Blackest Ever Black) in the album-of-the-year-thus-far stakes. Dread electronics, broken hip-hop, demonstrative dub and sooty drones, manifesting as 12-untitled cuts of menacing experimentalism across two sides. Play loud. Rewind.
SSTROM – ‘Drenched 9-12′ (Rösten): SSTROM is the project of Hannes Stenström, onetime member of Sweden’s Slagsmålsklubben, one half of enigmatic techno duo SHXCXCHCXSH (SHX). ‘9-12′ is the culmination of his ‘Drenched’ triumvirate on Rösten. Impressively prolific, Stenström’s work ethic cannot be questioned, his robust dub techno veers off the page towards psychedelia at times. Collectively, ‘Drenched’ is an enormous statement of intent.
Ulla Straus – ‘Big Room’ (Quiet Time): Pennsylvania-based producer and sound artist Ulla Straus follows recent contributions to the legendary ‘bblisss’ (bblisss) compilation and her collaboration with Pontiac Streator for West Mineral Ltd with this 8-track cassette release on NYC’s Quiet Time tape label. Straus cites her influences for the collection thus: “keeping pictures on a wall left there by someone else”; “daydreaming about something not real”; “hearing a friend walk through the front door”; “letting a plant die”; and “the silence of a room when the box fan is turned off.”
Batu/DROOGS004/Harrga/Heith/Helm/HXE/Jook/Kids C Ghosts/Rainer Veil/Xyn Cabal
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”- Audre Lorde (1988)
Deaths by drug overdose, suicide or alcohol-related conditions amongst middle-aged men in the UK have now surpassed those of heart disease. Originally dubbed ‘deaths of despair’ in the United States by Nobel Prize winning economist, Sir Angus Deaton, the phenomenon has now crossed the Atlantic. According to a new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) published on May 14th, deaths of despair amongst middle-aged British men have been rising steadily since 2010. In 2017, they drew level with deaths from heart disease, they are now chasing down deaths from cancer. Deaths of despair amongst women are also rising, but at a notably slower trajectory.
Deaton links US deaths to the current epidemic in over-the-counter/prescribed opioid painkillers; economic factors; faltering standards of living; the erosion of social institutions such as the church, trade unions, love and marriage. Although there is no comparable research yet here in the UK, opioid-related deaths have risen from 800-a-year in the mid-1990s, to 2,000-a-year currently.
Home Office data supports the premise that UK deaths of despair began to rise significantly in the mid-80s, around the time of the Miner’s Strike and Thatcher’s crushing of the British Trade Union movement. The subsequent decline in traditional manufacturing industries and the rise of service industries has consequently affected gender roles that have held sway for generations. In 2004, female employment rates were notably lower than those of males. In 2019, the IMF report suggest that this no longer the case, implying that women can be more employable than men in today’s marketplace in certain demographics, where traditional male perspectives of gender privilege are duly being challenged.
With deaths of despair spiking again post-2010, another causational candidate becomes apparent: austerity. The wholesale dismantling of the welfare state has included the introduction of draconian measures in controlling unemployment. The use of sanctions against those who fail to meet strict job-searching requirements have made the experience of looking for work progressively more soul destroying. With societal inequality at an all-time-high, and social mobility akin to Victorian Britain, the final solution of Thatcherite values in the UK circa 2019 are manifest in death and despair.
In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act. In a society that has destroyed all adventure, the only adventure left is to destroy that society. Self-love, therefore, becomes a subversive act. In order to heal Broken Britain, we must first heal ourselves, heal from within. We are conditioned from birth to serve others before ourselves. We are taught that any other way is selfish. We are instructed that hard work, stress and efficient production values lead to success. We are told that exhaustion is evidence of our true worth. We are indoctrinated to disengage from our feelings, to deny our emotional truth. To eschew wisdom in favour of logical, rational thinking. We are not educated in emotional first aid. Our mental health services have been in decline for the last twenty years. The NHS is under attack, privatisation by stealth.
To reclaim the power of self-love, we must begin by writing ourselves new stories. As Ben Okri states: “A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell themselves. Sick storytellers can make nations sick. Without stories we would go mad. Life would lose its moorings or orientation. Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart larger”. We need, therefore, to rewrite our own stories. We need to care for ourselves first. A complete and vibrant version of us renders us better for others. To be the best human being possible. The best version of ourselves yet. To fully realise our sense of purpose and potential, we need to show up, slow up, and pay heed. We need to care. We need to hone our present-moment-awareness, about what we’re thinking, feeling, experiencing, and about what others are thinking, feeling and experiencing around us. Human beings are social animals, isolation is the enemy of collectivism. Collectivism is the enemy of surveillance capitalism. Our connectivity to our fellow humans is imperative for our survival. Learn to notice self-as-context. To recognise our role as the micro within an ever-expanding macro. Our gut feelings tell us exactly what we need. We need to reconnect to the infant in all of us. Rediscover the imaginations that ignited our childhoods. We will need to be brave to crack these well-worn grooves in our cultural and personal narratives. To put ourselves first: to practice healing as a subversive act.
Music can help us to heal. Music therapy has demonstrated efficacy as an independent treatment for reducing depression, anxiety and chronic pain. Music has positive physical effects, it can produce direct biological changes: reducing heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. When we listen to music, our brain releases dopamine, essential for the healthy functioning of the central nervous system. Music effects emotion, perception and movement. Music can recall associated memories, instigating positive transference. Music can physically heal us too: Fabien Maman, a musician and acupuncturist, devised the Tama-Do Academy based on his extensive research, that showed that human blood cells respond to sound frequencies by changing colour and shape. His findings demonstrate that sick or rogue cells can be healed or harmonised with sound.
With his first outing for the label since 2017’s ‘Murmur’, Omar McCutcheon (aka Batu) returns to Bristol’s Timedance with ‘False Reeds’. Crisp, spacious, deft of touch. Light, lush, insanely groove-worthy, Batu fleshes out the bare bones of his practice with arguably his finest work to date:
UVB-76 Music imprint DROOGS are back once again with their ill behaviour, this time in devastating effect, with this invigorating double-header from Holsten//Artilect. Holsten pretty much decimates the lower-end frequency delivery mechanisms of your speaker systems, along with any relative sense of bon homie you may currently enjoy with you neighbours, with sub-bass action of Brobdingnagian proportions. This one shakes the flying ducks off on the other side of the wall. Artilect, meanwhile, mines a late 90s seam, in a simmering display of static-laden intensity. Four slabs in, this label can do no wrong:
I’ve always been a sucker for the French language as a vehicle for radical discourse. From Metal Urbain to Rixe, the propensity for the Gallic tongue to convey the purity of disdain is unbridled. Miguel Prado (Nzumbe) and Dali de Saint Paul (EP/64, Viridian Ensemble & DSC) are HARRGA (‘a burn’ in the Moroccan Darija dialect). Formed mid-2017, ‘Héroïques Animaux de la Misère’ (Avon Terror Corps) documents their industrialised rage against the escalating Migration Crisis in incendiary fashion:
Shapeshifting is at the heart of Milan-based Heith‘s debut 12″ for his own Saucers label. Following-up his ‘Laguna’ debut for Haunter Records, and a handful of CDRs and 12″ releases over the past five years, the fractal 5-track ‘Mud’ EP blends experimental electronica with approximations of traditional elements with a vaguely Hispanic bent, to fashion an evocative and complete experience that is proving to be a true slow-burner with all who stumble upon it:
If you, like me, saw 2015’s ‘Olympic Mess’ (Pan) as a watershed of progression for Luke Younger‘s Helm, prepare to be dumbfounded by ‘Chemical Flowers’ (Pan). Composed in isolation at NO Studios in Essex, The Lowest Form bass-slinger and one-man-electronic-orchestra has excelled himself beyond all compare this time out. From the Alternative TV ‘Nasty Little Lonely’ quoting vibe of ‘I Knew You Would Respond’, to the bookended return to ‘Olympic Mess’ pastures of the titular closer, Younger drags rural nuance from urban decay in a festival of maturity that exemplifies his dedication to practice. Aided and abetted in these pursuits by string parts arranged and recorded by JG Thirlwell, additional cello played by Lucinda Chua, and saxophone by Karl D’Silva, Younger has crafted a post-everything masterpiece that elevates him beyond contemporary compare to a pantheon of his own:
London-based HXE (fka HEX) follow their previous outing on Liberation Technologies with the 4-track ‘INDS’ (UIQ). Continuing Lee Gamble‘s fine run of late, with essential recent releases from both Zuli and Nkisi, HXE’s enigmatic take on liquid industrialism provides concrete evidence of electronic salvage and deformity in practice. In collaboration with Paris-based sculpture artist Anita Molinero, ‘INDS’ inspires visual expression through sonic construction:
Brighton’s Jook finally delivers the much-anticipated ‘Flying Nimbus’ (Sector 7 Sounds) for the Bristol-based grime label. This one has pinged around the underground in the form of advance war dubs, nestling in the sets of the chosen few, for what seems like eons now, so its overground emergence can be rightly heralded as cause for celebration. All killer, no filler: and while the title track pushes all the low-end buttons for bass-mongers, its ‘Gold Rush’, for this soldier, that really sets this exemplary release up as future classic :
Catching John T. Gast in support of Ossia at the ‘Devil’s Dance’ album launch in Bristol back in February was a life-affirming moment. He seemed genuinely shocked post-set when I pounced to rain down the plaudits directly into his visage. Genuinely unassuming, a beacon of modesty, I’ve been mighty impressed with his body of work over the past few years, a real underground talent who’s doubtless happiest where he is. Anything he’s had his hands on has become a buy-on-sight scenario, and this 10″ dub plate from Kids C Ghosts – ‘Bankruptcy Dub’ (5 Gate Temple) – is no exception. Burialesque in many facets, but in no way homage. Follow the bread crumb trail, invest in the future:
Cinematic, expansive, inventive and eminently loveable, Rainer Veil‘s 5-year absence from our senses is brought to a close with the shockingly consistent ‘Vanity’ (Modern Love). Emerging with seemingly little fanfare from the contemporaneous commentariat, ‘Vanity’ is nothing short of exultation in excelsis: “Tracing rapidly mutating electronic forms, from ringtone hooks to latinate rhythms and Razor synth edits, ‘Vanity’ explores an instinctive swell of ideas and influences in perpetual and unstoppable forward motion, a sequence of flash frames captured and distilled for posterity” – Boomkat:
Finally, Athens-based Xyn Cabal debuts in fine style with the 5-track ‘Perfect Oracle’ (Death Of Rave). The imprint itself has long been a synonym for quality, and I’ve been an avid consumer of much of their output in recent times. Reminiscent in atmosphere and intent to Croww‘s 2017 for the label, ‘Prosthetics’, ‘Perfect Oracle’ has been years in the making, and the attention to detail across the EP surpasses that of many a long player elsewhere. Marshalling sub-bass loops, clattering rhythmic nuance, Messier 87 intensity darkness and Arabesque vocal samples, ‘Perfect Oracle’ is simply Delphic, in every sense of the term:
Benedict Drew/Dubkasm/E B U/Ghostride The Drift/Halcyonic/Jabu/Versa
“No more miserable Monday mornings” – Mark Fisher
We live in a society that conditions us to believe that system change is not possible. We live in times of deflated consciousness. We exist in an unprecedented period of economic anarchy in the UK. Our future dreams are literally shopping schemes. The Apple store our post-everything cathedral, where we worship ourselves: our hallowed space, our self-serving grace. Amongst this Cult Of The Individual, we are always at the centre of our own world. Alone in a crowded room. Staring at a screen.
In order to raise our standards of living to the next gaming level, in compliance with our hardwired desire for survival, in line with unilateral global equality, we need to raise our consciousness. We need to be expressly conscious of our class, our place within this broken system; conscious of the primary goal of equality at any cost, the precious gift of diversity; above all, we need to be universally conscious. If you ever want to experience how inconsequential you are as an individual: go outside, find a green space, lie down, look up at the sky: focus on how insignificant you actually are in the grand scheme of things.
Human beings have an innate ability to survive. We could, therefore, learn much from those who have had to change in order to survive. It’s time we asked ourselves a few uncomfortable questions: Aren’t you bored with all this? Do you feel over-stimulated? Why do we spend 2/3 of our lives at work? Why do we participate in an exchange mechanism that rarely gives us back what we put in? When did you last have an original idea? How scared are you? Isn’t it time we talked about desire? When was the last time you felt valued? How do you rate your sense of community? When was the last time you felt part of something? Can you resist temptation on every level?
Post-Capitalist Desire, therefore, is the concept that we can reimagine the successes of Democratic Socialism and Libertarian Communism through the prism of evolved consciousness, at a universal level. Super-therapeutic practice, according to Jeremy Gilbert, allows us the opportunity to do “something more than just fix people up, to repair some of the damage done by daily life under advanced capitalism, enabling people to become extraordinarily empowered precisely by enhancing their capacity for productive relationships with others.”
The forces of divide and conquer at play within our current system despise the cohesion of collective movements. That’s why they’ve worked so hard, and for so long, to disconnect us from each other, and, more importantly, from ourselves. The Cult Of The Individual is no sociological accident, this is social engineering at its most divisive. Our ability to manage stress has a profound influence on our potentially contracting an array of common diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and multiple sclerosis. A stressed population is a managed population. The big wheel of industry keeps on turning, 24/7, emitting sparks that rain down on us as symbolic violence.
In the shadow of that wheel, when considering our hopes and fears, we find ourselves hopeless and fear-stricken. As Deleuze observes in ‘Postscripts On The Societies Of Control’: “There’s no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons. There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope”. As Spinoza further expounds in ‘Ethics': “Hope is a joy not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt. Fear is a sorrow not constant, arising from the idea of something future or past about the issue of which we sometimes doubt”. Hope and fear are essentially interchangeable; they are passive affects, which arise from our incapacity to actually act. Like all superstitions, hope is something we call upon when we have nothing else. We don’t need hope; what we need is confidence and the capacity to act. Confidence is hyperstitional: it immediately increases the capacity to act; the capacity to act increase confidence; we become a self-fulfilling prophesy, a virtuous spiral: “Confidence is a joy arising from the idea of a past or future object from which cause for doubt is removed” – Spinoza, ‘Ethics’
Emerging from this miasma of despair, Extinction Rebellion‘s militant actions in London over the Easter period have provided exactly the kind of inspiration outlined above, to a diverse spectrum of likeminded human beings across the entire globe. Commonality of cause; simplicity of message; passion of delivery; integrity of action; humility of behaviour; these traits have marked Extinction Rebellion’s April Actions as the most impressive green direct activism since the anti-nuclear protests on the 1950s. With over 1000-arrests, and establishment arms aloft at the disruption to holiday period shopping, these brave and vulnerable warriors recognise full well the importance of eco above ego.
Professionally, I work with people largely broken by the symbolic violence of the big wheel. People with little or no option but to manage the pain their lives have become through the medium of self-medication. We talk about the need for personal recovery as the first step to social recovery. We support each other to self-heal through the exchange of mutual aid. We encourage the development of recovery identities, using empowering person-first language; we nurture the recognition of diversity as gift; and learn to transcend the pain of the ego by celebrating the body as the eco-system of precedence, in order for survival to be achieved. There are parallels here with an emerging Acid Communist manifesto. An antidote to hope and fear, the confidence to deliver change through direct action. This is the time for action. This is decade zero.
No stranger to the practice of consciousness raising, Benedict Drew is an “artist who works in sound, video, sculpture, installation and performance. He is also a fearless explorer of our fractured isle. Previous releases have seen him crawl through oceans of Tory slime and sift the psychotropic neural networks of half-hammered, food-fasted commuters”. ‘The Ughhh Ballads’ (Bloxham Tapes) is described by the label as electronic music from the Isle of Thanet, continuing Drew’s exploration of tainted transit, inside and out: “A psychedelic gong bath for the Leave Means Leave generation over two sides of magnetic tape”.
If ‘Crawling Through Tory Slime’ (Mana) seemed futuristic back in 2017, this cassette-only issue finds the rest of the planet catching up. Having lived with the former on rewind for 22-months, I actually felt both qualified and prepared for the arrival of ‘The Ughhh Ballads’. Following Drew on social media, I am visually connected to his expanding worldview via his artwork, I therefore welcome this reconnection on an aural level. Side A finds us trapped in a room with Andrew Neil’s nose (bad feeling); escaping the false memory of a once great nation boogie (good feeling); standing stone tour guide (bad feeling); in praise of the chemical that produces the effect of feeling empathy (good feeling). Side B, meanwhile, casts a spell to protect you from the negative energy radiating from the copy of the Daily Mail being read by the person sitting next to you on the train (bad feeling). Everything we’ve come to expect from Benedict Drew, only more psychedelic. He’s opened up the doors of perception, raised his conscious game, maybe it’s time to follow him down the rabbit hole?
With a lineage of recorded sound that stretches back to 2003, DJ Stryda and Digistep are stalwarts of the eternally vibrant Bristol underground. Together as Dubkasm, they’ve release five long players and dozens of 12″ 45s. Their sixth full-length, ‘Shady Grove’ (Peng Sound), pays dub homage to their hometown district of St Paul’s: “We dedicate this album to the community of St Paul’s in Bristol, now being stifled by gentrification. We hope this LP is a musical window into a time when the neighbourhood, despite being plagued by poverty and constant racist intrusion from the authorities, had an energy, a rebellious spirit and nightlife that inspired the music which has made Bristol world famous.”
Setting yourself up against the wall of classic dub sides of the 70s/80s/90s when building a contemporary dub album is a strategy fraught with danger, circa 2019. After all, in a medium often best served on 7″, it’s a thin line between homage and parody. Thankfully, with ‘Shady Grove’, Dubkasm have succeeded where other recent attempts have fallen short. Using a spectrum of dub wise production, from the vintage tape-delayed, spring reverb driven, analogue-baked sounds of the 70s, to the digital effects of the 80s and 90s, the vibe throughout is of authenticity. Guided on your aural journey by extensive liner notes composed by the band themselves, ‘Shady Grove’ proves to be part local cultural history, part travelogue, all first class education in the fine art of dub technique. Featuring contributions from local dignitaries: Tony Caddle, Aran Shamash, Rider Shafique, Dub Judah, Blood Shanti, Stanley Andrew, Solo Banton, Bliss Lion, Tom Fenech and Wes O’Neill, ‘Shady Grove’ encapsulates the spirit of a community on the frontline of gentrification.
Referring to her uniquely singular style as ‘Swamp Pop’, Bristolian Ella Paine follows her recent 4-track EP with this full length debut as E B U: the 10-track triumph, ‘Hinge’ (No Corner). Conjuring aspects from radiophonic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, alongside elements of Kanky? Ongaku, Japanese environmental music of the 1980s, Paine smuggles her smudged pop sensibilities into the mix to vibrate at ever-higher frequencies, inviting us to ponder the nature of existence through her work. ‘Hinge’ could therefore be imagined as the mechanism on which the doors of perception are hung: an opportunity to explore our sense of self, to embrace our universal consciousness. Explored best both at volume and in great depth, ‘Hinge’ will not be bracketed easily. Be prepared to be intrigued. Be prepared to be smitten.
Having brought much joy to this household throughout 2018, the West Mineral Ltd. posse come again in full effect with Ghostride The Drift, ‘S/T’ (xpc?): a 5-track 12″ on D. Tiffany‘s new imprint. Sounding like little else out there right now, Ghostride The Drift is described by the label as ‘outer rim junkyard elektro’.
Recorded in Berlin in 2018, with Ghostride The Drift Huerco S, Exael and uon have forged a template for exploration as equally magnificent as their own individual work (each released essential records in their own right on West Mineral Ltd. in 2018, you should own them all). Reminiscent in places of Aught artists such as Topdown Dialectic and Xth Réflexion, ‘Ghostride The Drift’ may have seemingly taken forever to arrive, but now they’re finally here, let the celebrations commence.
Following a couple of impressive collaborations in 2018, Bristolian Halcyonic returns to our decks with this freshly minted debut 10″ plate for new imprint, Firmly Rooted. Veteran rootsman Junior Dread rules the mic on ‘Can’t Hide': “wicked dem a run/but you know they can’t hide/they are living in a darkness/cos they can’t stand the light”. On the flip, old skool Bristol don Rob Smith dusts down his RSD alias to deliver a deep dubstep revision.
The latest 12″ on Young Echo Records delivers a pair of drastic reworks of Jabu cuts from 2017’s outstanding ‘Sleep Heavy’ (Blackest Ever Black). ‘Fool If’ remixed by J Glass Dubs breaks up the insistent rhythm of the original, adding sax, synth stabs, and acres of space, to gargantuan effect. Meanwhile, on the flip, SKRS tend to ‘Wounds’ by hoovering up the groove from the final third of the original, hiking it above the vocal in transformational style. If ‘Sleep Heavy’ filled you with soporific euphoria, this is another essential side for your collection. To these ears, Jabu are on the cusp of greatness, and I’m not fussed if they were born that way; achieve it; or have it thrust upon them.
Harmonica-led, reverb-drenched, Versa‘s ‘Passing Light’ (At One) marks another debut for yet another killer label out of Bristol. This one’s been doing the rounds on pre-release digital for a few months now, and it’s an act of pure wonderment to finally have it in my hands and on my deck on 10″ dub plate.
And finally, for those with a need for something more stimulating in terms of architecturally-related reading material, Issue 30 of The Modernist is upon us: “Infrastructure is where the fields of landscape, architecture and engineering meet one another, often in support of ambitious projects realised through collective means. In the post-war period large-scale government schemes were narrated as feats of engineering and focussed on ideas of taming nature or overcoming great obstacles in the drive for progress”.
In the post-capitalist period, large-scale consciousness raising, powering collectivist solutions, is the only way we will be able to tackle the feats of bio-engineering required to save nature, to overcome the obstacles that stand in our way in the drive for genuine progress. This is the time for action. This is decade zero.
Broshuda/The Caretaker/Dive Reflex Service/Nozomu Matsumoto/Msylma/Rian Treanor
“Art has the potential to convey scientific data, complex ideas and concepts in a powerful way that words or graphs fall short of” – Pekka Niittyvirta
Through the simple projection of synchronised beams of a combination of lights of different wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, two Finnish conceptual artists have created a powerful commentary on the rising sea levels that threaten our planet. With ‘Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16′ W)’, Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho have enveloped buildings and their surrounding landscapes on the Outer Hebrides with white lines symbolising the levels rising seas are calculated to reach in the near future. Everything below these lines will be submerged.
Installed at The Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre in Lochmaddy, on the Isle of North Uist, an institution that has already seen its own further development blocked due to concerns around rising sea levels on site, the location alone speaks volumes. With ‘Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16′ W)’, Niittyvirta and Aho have merged artistic vision with visionary art to create an installation that is not only aesthetically engaging, but more crucially, socially conscious. ‘Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16′ W)’ visualises the abstraction of projected data, conjuring up the near future in front of our eyes. The power of art to empower the heart: to brave the rising waves of naysayers; to challenge the status quo, from below.
According to Slavoj Zizek, “the lesson of global warming is that the freedom of humankind was possible only against the background of the stable natural parameters of the life on earth (temperature, the composition of the air, sufficient water and energy supply, and so on): humans can ‘do what they want’ only insofar as they remain marginal enough, so that they don’t seriously perturb those parameters of life. As our freedom to grow as a species starts impacting the world, nature’s response then curtails our freedom. ‘Nature’ becomes a sort of social category in itself”.
It is, therefore, simply not enough to recycle; to buy organic food; to repost memes about climate collapse on social media platforms; to hope that someone will do something about it, eventually. Before it’s too late, obviously. As nature itself melts into thin air. When only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Will you wait until your genetically-modified bulldog spontaneously combusts on your carefully manicured lawn? Will you risk third-degree burns on your way down to Waitrose? Are you looking forward to the first season of ‘Water Wars’ on Sky Atlantic? As Zizek concludes, “maybe, unfortunately, only the shock of an actual catastrophe can awaken us. And then we will become aware of the ridicule of the fights between our nation states, of America First and Brexit games, when our entire world is slowly disintegrating and only a large collective effort can give us hope”.
“Sisters and brothers: today, our Mother Earth is ill. Everything began with the industrial revolution in 1750, which gave birth to the capitalist system. In two-and-a-half centuries, the so-called developed countries have consumed a large part of the fossil fuels created over five million centuries. Under Capitalism, Mother Earth does not exist, instead there are raw materials. Capitalism is the source of the asymmetries and imbalances in the world” – Evo Morales (November 28, 2008)
“Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try and do things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have and should have. A broken heart is the worst, it’s like having broken ribs. Nobody can see it, but it hurts every time you breath”. So begins Broshuda‘s profoundly affecting ‘You’ll Aways Stay Beautiful’ (NoCorner). Having experienced both a broken heart (romantically, and metaphorically) and broken ribs (fell off my bicycle a few weeks ago), and in light of the theme of this month’s column, I choose to hear Broshuda’s latest broadcast as a call to arms, rather than self-obsessed wallowing. I’ve spent many hours being inspired by this release, I even texted my estranged younger daughter another vital quote from it: “spend time with your parents, treat them well. Because one day, when you look up from your phone, they won’t be there anymore”. I’ve also started ringing and visiting my mom on a more regular basis. An earnest reaction to a piece of sound art, you may surmise?
As Evo Morales states so evocatively, the clock is ticking: the need for participative change is suddenly imperative. If a graphic designer and sound artist from Berlin can inspire change in an ageing fanzine writer in middle England through the medium of sound art, then there is surely hope for everyone: the power of art to affect behaviour? The power of love? Current data suggests that as a species we are buying more self-help books than ever in the post-everything era. Text-to-speak conversions offer remote counselling online. Cyber-therapists deliver random interventions, eternally. Feedback loops of information, advice and guidance, bouncing off satellites in space, infinitely. Swimming in the same gene pool as recent releases from Sam Kidel and Nozomu Matsumoto, ‘You’ll Always Stay Beautiful’ asks important questions around the compatibility of emotional need and automation, as the artificiality of our accrued intelligence threatens to break all of our hearts, all over again.
‘Everywhere At The End Of Time (Stage 6)’ (History Always Favours The Winners) brings The Caretaker‘s 20-year project to a close in suitably sombre tones. From the haunted ballroom, to our place in this world fading away, The Caretaker has carried us over the threshold of acceptance of our own mortality. Like all truly meaningful art, the project has invoked joy and pain, in a compelling manner that has ultimately proved dependency-forming. Like all addictions, what began in pain has ended in pain, even if we are no longer capable of expressing it. Stages 4-6 have proved the most rewarding. It has been fascinating hearing the format gradually crumble to a residue of greyscale rubble. With each subsequent Stage, the trepidation has mounted. Stage 6’s industrial dub is decorated with fleeting glimpses of what has come before. Rising waves of primordial scree wash over compartmentalised loss. How do we summon any learning from this brutal defeat? Can we in some way celebrate at least the end of what has been a long, slow decline? As rolling thunder pummels redundant synapses, neurotransmitters approach the final broadcast. Our place in this world is truly fading away. Yet, even amongst these formless shadows, the final throws suggest the faintest presence of ethereal escape from this mortal coil, before the needle hits the wax one final time: a choral denouement suggesting testament, and, perhaps, closure?
Vinyl debut from Bristol’s Limbo Tapes, ’01’ is a beatific summation of mesmeric invention, created lucidly within the hallowed confines of the Dive Reflex Service bunker. Hunkered down on the rug of excellence, cutting holes akimbo, this exemplary record is a surefire back-to-back rewind. Largely beatless, the collection is driven by the rhythmic cadence of a loop here, a crackle there, a sample here: the odd lonesome snare or tambourine, buried deep within the mix. Instrumental, except for a stunning vocal cameo on ‘Via Della Morte’ from Jamileh Lee, Dive Reflex Service summon up the spirit of ‘Untrue’-era Burial in a seance riddled with the lineage of a city haunted by the ghosts of magnificence. Pressed on heavyweight vinyl with full-colour artwork and high quality digital download, mastered and cut at Stardelta Audio Mastering. Limited to 300-copies worldwide, act quickly to avoid disappointment.
Tokyo-based performance artist and curator Nozomu Matsumoto fucked my head up back in 2018 with his hypnotising debut 12″, ‘Climatotherapy’ (Death Of Rave). ‘Phonocentrism’ (Long Form Editions) takes his art to another level altogether, with its extraordinary blending of diverse sources: Cemetery, DJ Obake and Emamouse, amongst a host of other contributors, to transmit an incredible environmental forecast that sits so succinctly within the theme of this month’s column. Apocalyptic in tone, Matsumoto veers from rap to metal; from ambience to thrash; from auto-tuned chicanery to fretboard shredding; punctuated by haunting vocals from Sumiko Matsumoto. Inexplicably not yet released on wax, available digitally from:
Having lived all over Zuli‘s superb ‘Terminal’ (UIQ) for the past few months months, I was beyond elated to stumble across one of the stars of that set’s unheralded debut full-length: Msylma‘s ‘Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum’ (Halcyon Veil). The timbre of Msylma’s incredibly affecting vocal on ‘Kollu I-Joloud’ was one of the many reasons I fell for ‘Terminal’ so heavily. So, unexpectedly coming across his debut album without warning came as a massively welcome surprise. Scored by a strictly minimalist instrumental range comprising electronics and percussion, Msylma is ably supported in this regard by Zuli, 1127 and Karim El Ghazoly. Sung passionately in the classical Arabic vernacular, ‘Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum’ features 11-tracks informed by the ancient pagan traditions of pre-Islamic and Quranic poetry. Available only digitally at present, I am assured by the label that the vinyl will drop by summer 2019.
Fathered and mentored by sound artist and curator, Mark Fell, Rotherham’s Rian Treanor has a four-year developmental arc behind his Planet Mu debut, ‘ATAXIA’. The record’s familiarity in shape and texture draws comparisons to one of his father’s collaborators best work to date, namely Gabor Lazar‘s ‘Unfold’ (The Death Of Rave). From the playful text-to-speak opener, ‘A1′, to the relative maturation of eminently funky closer, ‘D3′, Treanor treads a zigzagging path through a veritable radius of variations. ‘Ataxia’ literally means ‘the loss of control of bodily movements’, and the record’s asymmetrical properties fittingly jar involuntarily against each other with multifarious ease. As intrinsically playful as it is wilfully obtuse, ‘ATAXIA’ grows across its sides towards the recognisable early peak of ‘B2′, only to expand further on the back nine. Elsewhere, ‘C2′ nods towards Equiknoxx‘s languid skank, whilst ‘D2′ cements those earlier Lazar correlations.
Jay Glass Dubs/Eli Keszler/King Midas Sound/Nihiloxica/Daphne Oram/Ossia/Finlay Shakespeare/Tilliander
“Who we are has never been more incompatible with who we need to be. What we have become is the greatest threat to ourselves and the planet. We have been perfectly groomed, psychologically and spiritually, for disaster. We have become hard. We are the people of the apocalypse” – John F Schumaker
Forty-six-years after the New York Dolls established that frustration and heartache is what you got, we are slowly beginning to recognise the surreality of the human personality crisis at the heart of the uber-consumer experience. The state of the average being’s social character is that of mere marketing personality: condemned to eternal suckling on the cathode ray nipple, except even that analogy has now been superseded by cyborg-served algorithmic moon beams done super rapid on a laser beam. The age of cultural infantilism is upon us, psychological neoteny is where it’s at, baby. Thoughtlessness is the new black; the cult of the individual dictates that my pain and sadness is more sad and painful than yours. Narcissism, sociopathy, dishonesty, inequality, all strutting their stuff along a catwalk near you. This moral blindness in the face of mutually assured destruction has become the norm. When I was at school, we had a mock election, the apathy party won. How prophetic that now seems: “We are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the plight of others” – Zygmunt Bauman
Unitary Urbanism emerged from the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus/Lettrist International‘s Alba Platform in 1956, and was further contested by the Situationist International (SI) well into the early 1960s. At its core, it concerned the rejection of functional approaches to urban architectural design, and the compartmentalised practice of detaching art from its surroundings. Unitary Urbanism challenged the grayscale of metropolitan edifice to question where function ends and play begins: “‘Whatever prestige the bourgeoisie may today be willing to grant to fragmentary or deliberately retrograde artistic tentatives, creation can now be nothing less than a synthesis aiming at the construction of entire atmospheres and styles of life. … A unitary urbanism—the synthesis we call for, incorporating arts and technologies—must be created in accordance with new values of life, values which we now need to distinguish and disseminate” – George Williams
Urban Solitude, meanwhile, has materialised from the post-everything miasma of cultural collapse to conceptualise the irony of dislocation theory and disconnection in urban environments. Metropolis: a place called home by many, and a home to many without a place. Urban Solitude imagines the technological bubble we inflate around ourselves to shield us from the energy and competition of the metropolitan landscape, one that can overwhelm every sense of our bodies if left to its own devices. Despite the intensity of our urban surroundings, there are gaps in the space/time continuum, and we access our seemingly cherished solitude via uber-modern means: when left to our own devices. Absence of conversation; lack of human connection; a dearth of any collective experience, the human mind loses focus on what it means to be a part of something bigger than the self. Externally, you are consumed by the streets, you feel a part of their energy. Internally, you are distracted and detached, bonded algorithmically, a slave to the rhythm. Solitude becomes the co-existence of being just another face in the diseased arteries of the metropolitan thoroughfares. Urban Solitude expresses the death of the collective experience to question where society ends and self begins.
Triumphant in the aftermath of ‘Epitaph’ (Bokeh Versions), Jay Glass Dubs broadcasts yet further emissions from the eternal echo chamber in the form of a 7″ for Joachim Nordwall‘s Dub On Arrival imprint. ‘Thumb Dub’/’Index Dub’ deliver exemplary dubwise deconstructionism of the highest order in just under 10-minutes. ‘Index Dub’ is the more abstract of the two cuts, with hints of the choralism of ‘Epitaph’ interred deep within the competing reverberations. ‘Thumb Dub’, meanwhile, errs backwards, into JGD’s recent past, with a cut and dub that vaguely resembles St Etienne‘s version of ‘Only Love Will Break Your Heart’, but I could be mistaken. I often am.
Hot on the heels of the unmitigated glory of ‘Stadium’ (Shelter Press), Eli Keszler is back once again, like the renegade master that he most assuredly is, with a new 3-track EP, ‘Empire’ (Shelter Press). Keszler’s unremitting quest for stillness, tranquility and beauty in a dystopian metropolitan landscape continues at languid pace. A soundtrack to urban solitude, clinging abstractly to the illusion of order during unspecified decline, Keszler refines and redefines similar tropes to those explored on ‘Stadium’ at the intersectionality of free jazz, expressionism, percussion and electronics.
‘Solitude’ (Cosmo Rhythmatic): “a meditation on loss. A loss that has been enforced and unexpected. It’s about processing the irrational and incessant feelings of rejection and loneliness, like listening to the tenderness of love disappear to be replaced by skewed logic”. Reduced to a duo, once again, Kevin Martin and Roger Robinson reconvene as King Midas Sound, for a tortuous 12-track trawl through the North Sea of despair. Dressed in partnership with Japanese contemporary photographer, Daisuke Yokota, his monochromatic tones and textures ideally compliment the obsessive, compulsive negativity that dominates ‘Solitude’. Over minimal electronic soundscapes, Robinson recalls the intensity, diction and delivery of Linton Kwesi Johnson in his dread beaten and bloodied despair. This is a painful listen, and anyone who has danced with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross will recognise the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance at play. Melancholic and immersive, ‘Solitude’ is the sound of an amplified pain and sadness more sad and painful than even our own.
Nyege Nyege Tapes maintain their productive start to 2019 with this impressive cassette release from Nihiloxica. ‘Biiri’ expands on the promise of their 4-track self-titled cassette debut with this further 4-track exploration. Honed by a year on the road, Nihiloxica dig ever-deeper into the rich seams of the Bugandan techno underground to mine the progressive developmentalsim at the heart of ‘Biiri’. Fusing electronica to the indigenous core of their traditional influences, Nihiloxica evidence the immemorial at the epicentre of their darkness as a portal to transcend space and time.
Dropping as I type on Modern Love associate, Young Americans, ‘Oramics’ is the long-overdue vinyl reissue of the Clive Graham compendium of Dapne Oram, material originally issued on CD in 2007. Electronic music pioneer and contemporary of Delia Derbyshire, Oram was the founder and first director of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. Distinguished by its eclectic light and shade, ‘Oramics’ has been mastered at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin to allow the listener to travel back in time for that ‘almost-there-when-it-mattered’ experience. Over two and a half hours through 44-tracks, this is a journey into sound art at the moment of its inception. The sublime ‘Bird Of Parallax’ could have been recorded just yesterday, for all these ears are worth. I defy anyone to explain the process by which such visionary practice can transcend decades to remain artistically relevant to this day. Mic up that Kango, Blixa, this is the sound of ground being broken, echoing down the wormholes of relativity.
Daniel Davies, aka Ossia, has been toiling away on what would eventually become ‘Devil’s Dance’ (Blackest Ever Black) for almost as long as some of us have been anticipating it. In this temporary unequal world, that expectation can still capture the imagination at a time when we are actively encouraged to lower any expectation is a wonder in itself. I’ve been waiting on ‘Devil’s Dance’, doggedly, for months, a period of time equivalent to eons in this era of the short attention span. Set in concrete, built in the vast spaces between sounds, ‘Devil’s Dance’ transpires as it transcends, to dwarf its contemporaries. Sprawling from the speakers with Babylonian intent, Ossia captures the multifarious essence of myriad soundsystem cultures down the ages to fashion a masterpiece of isolationism that invokes the all-encompassing dread at the intersection of solitude and society. At its widest vistas, ‘Devil’s Dance’ embraces the modern composition of Lucy Railton‘s ‘Fortified Up’ with the oscillating glissandi of ‘Vertigo’, the 23-minute culmination of Ossia’s transcendental meditations. Elsewhere, ‘Radiation’ offers glimpses of Mats Gustafsson‘s Fire! through the lens of Ollie Moore‘s sombre sax, whilst ‘Hell Version’ delineates comparable hauntalogical tundras to those of Demdike Stare‘s ‘Wonderland’. Ossia has masterfully defined 2019 barely two months into its infancy: this is a record that will stay with you far beyond its allotted fifteen fame-filled minutes with this fanzine writer.
Previously unknown to me until a month ago, the variegated talents of Finlay Shakespeare’s ‘Domestic Economy’ (Editions Mego) are a revelation to behold. Steeped in the lineage of 80s electro-pop and dark-wave, ‘Domestic Economy’ invokes a pantheon that includes The Normal, Robert Rental, Thomas Leer, Blancmange, Depeche Mode, The Human League, Heaven 17, et al. With a vocal that echoes Mark Hollis, Robert Smith and Peter Gabriel at times, Shakespeare exudes an existential angst that defines the edginess of his art as a balance of emotional and rational practice. Supported and abetted by Russell Haswell, Shakespeare’s uncanny ability to bring retrospective structure to improvisation fair takes one’s breath away. ‘Domestic Economy’ is a post-everything implement that no informed household should be without. It’s a record that keeps on giving, one that will rest close to this turntable for many years to come.
And finally, to complete an admirable roster for this month, and thematically conclude this column, the second offering from Joachim Nordwall‘s Dub On Arrival imprint is this absolute belter from Andreas Tilliander. Swathed in the aura of Basic Channel, ‘Expect Resistance’ conjures the revolutionary intent of the Situationist International (SI) as viral carrier demanding a generational shift away from apocalyptic Urban Solitude towards ‘Respect Existence’. The greyscale is no longer the oppression of our architecture, but instead the oppressive architecture of our very minds. Art interpreting life, life interpreting art. Interpretation is everything. Interpretation matters. We have to reconfigure out what’s going wrong here. One of theses days, we’ll get ourselves organasised. Find the common ground. Identify commons. When we share, everyone wins.