Wednesday, 31 January 2018

pH2 - Gut Acid (2017)

For the sake of argument, let's assume our understanding of music works like language. You're born, you learn to make noises, you learn to imitate words and phrases, and eventually you learn what they mean and are hopefully able to arrange them in sequences of your own composition. I say hopefully because I'm not convinced everyone gets all the way with that last stage, and some seem to be stalled, having no need to express anything much beyond what they can say with a few stock phrases; and so it is with music, which is why there will always be artists who sound more like tribute acts than anything in their own right. It's easy enough to work out why such and such a piece of music has a certain sound, and how to duplicate it, and that's what most people tend to do.

Peter Hope, on the other hand, seems to have a particular insight in so much as that first and foremost he understands what music does, how it works, even before we've got to the instrumentation or the notes. Both Hot Crow on the Wrong Hand Side and Destroy Before Leaving had pure strains of blues and even jazz running through their DNA without necessarily imitating anything; and now there's Gut Acid, another wild tangent spun from a similar understanding, albeit an understanding of something completely removed from pastures in which the Box or Exploding Mind did their thing. As I understand it, Gut Acid came in part from tracks issued as Criminal Face and originally recorded at the height of acid house at the tail end of the eighties, along with more recent material expanding on the same in collaboration with DJ Parrot and David Harrow. So it's vintage material, or in the spirit of vintage material, or possibly both, but the important thing is that it sounds fucking great right now.

In the wake of acid house, as it all turned to techno or went Balearic or whatever, the bargain bins filled with failed acid, records which missed the target because they'd never quite understood what they were trying to do in the first place, imitating a sound and in imitating it, somehow ending up resembling one of those fucking awful 12" extended mixes some Trevor Horn impersonator routinely pooped out for every shit band going. The lesson in this was that not anyone could cut a dance record after all, and certainly not acid house. Gut Acid uses a few of the same boxes you may recall from Phuture and those guys, and there's the occasional non-tune representing the equivalent of a keyboard smash on a Roland TB303, but as with Hope's other efforts, this is a long way from the methodology of Noel Gallagher pretending to be a Beatle, and there is a lot here which you won't have heard before; but what he duplicates, and which he gets absolutely spot on is the feel of acid, the spirit, the euphoric bubble up and surge seasoned with a hint of something dark. These eight tracks pound and hypnotise, inviting even the most sober and drug free amongst us to concentrate on mesmeric glitches and details.

I'd say more but there's only so much point to writing about music, and I don't want to turn into Paul Morley; besides which Gut Acid is one which really speaks for itself, and it's only a few quid so you should probably give it a listen.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Nocturnal Emissions (2017)

Lordy - 'tis good to have brand new Emissions vinyl through the mail in 2017, even a brand new vinyl assemblage of material recorded more than a quarter of a century ago. This would be greatest hits but for the relative obscurity of the material, and that everything here was specifically generated back in the eighties, so nothing from Mouth of Babes, Collateral Salvage or the reggae album.

Regarding the Emissions, one quote which has always stayed with me is the description of Caroline K as a sort of female John Cooper Clarke, which I recall having read way, way back, possibly even before I'd even heard the band, although somehow not in the 1981 issue of Neumusik wherein it first appeared. The screwy thing is that, as I see from the insert which comes with this vinyl double, the review was written by Andrew Cox, whom I first met in 1990 and knew for a number of years prior to his somewhat tragic demise in 2009, and who was my best pal for a long time, roughly speaking; and yet I never realised it was himself who wrote that description until now. I'm not even sure what to conclude from the revelation, except that it's possibly indicative of how important the music of this band has been to me over the years; if you want to call it music, because you don't have to and it probably doesn't matter either way.

I always thought the John Cooper Clarke comparison was a bit silly, personally, but never mind. I assume Andrew was referring to When Were You Last in Control of Your Dreams and Aspirations?, the first track on both this and Tissue of Lies from which it is taken, and upon which Caroline intones a blandly officious list of contacts, to the secretary of the British charity commission and so on. Tortured instrument noises noodle away and underneath it all is a rhythm which sounds like a ticker tape machine doing the hucklebuck. It's a peculiar track not because of the noise or juxtaposition of contrasting elements, or because it sounds like it doesn't realise anyone would be listening to it as music, but because it isn't even trying to be art from what I can tell, at least not art by the usual terms. As with much of what Nigel Ayers has done over the years, even those tracks which sound like pop records, there's still that suggestion of channelling, or of something which simply resembles art or music from where the rest of us are stood. I don't know if there's been a concerted effort to avoid the more mannered, affected renderings of those working in roughly the same field, but sometimes it feels like it. The music of Nocturnal Emissions often seems to represent an attempt to get at the unalloyed essence of its subject, whether that subject be social, political, or psychogeographical. There's no showbiz here, no angle, no sales pitch, no pandering to an audience, no attempt made to sell your own anger back to you.

The big surprise with this collection is how well it all hangs together, how consistent it all sounds with the same basic sensibility underpinning the noise, the dance music, and even the prospective whale song. It's all coming from the same place, which wasn't so obvious when these tracks were limited to separate discs, and there's a truly generous spirit to this music, a joyful dissident noise which will have you punching the air even when the thing coming from the speakers sounds like a truck reversing over a photocopier.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Robert Rental & Glenn Wallis (2017)

Having misspent at least some of my youth knocking around with Glenn Wallis, I vaguely recall having heard this as one of a million tapes plucked from the drawer of a million cassettes with nothing written on them at two in the morning. We'd usually been in the pub for the best part of the evening and I'd most likely be gearing up to my third or fourth report of being completely fucked and wanting to go to bed and we can listen to it in the morning, can't we? If that sounds like a complaint, it isn't, and should be taken as namedropping combined with an indicator of Glenn's absurdly prolific work rate. We once lived on the same continental land mass, even in the same town for a while, and he was always recording, tape after tape of experiments, fucking about and what have you; and the tapes all got slung in a drawer, and that drawer was pretty fucking full. As you probably know, some of that material was polished up or re-recorded and released on Konstruktivists records and tapes, but I always had an impression of the material which reached a slightly wider audience being the tip of the iceberg. He played me a lot of tapes of things I never heard again over the years, and of the stuff he played me, it was mostly pretty great.

Here's a good example, lovingly restored and pressed onto vinyl by Dark Entries - Glenn improvising with Robert Rental, whom you may remember had an album with Thomas Leer on Industrial Records: two men improvising, guitar, effects, Wasp synth, tape recorder and almost certainly a couple of those special jazz cigarettes. It's simple, powerful, almost certainly improvised live onto tape, and quite clearly descended from Cluster and the like. It's proof, if it were ever needed, that you don't need either an ostentatious display of technology or conventional musicianship to make a statement. It makes me very happy to hear this music again, and by means of a more durable format. There have been a ton of artists associated with the unfortunately misleading industrial label who released far too much over the years, spoiling a once deserved reputation with noodling excesses which should have stayed in the can. Glenn Wallis, on the other hand, is someone whose unreleased back catalogue could stand a little more mining. This is a great release, so let's hope it's part of a general trend.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Mex - Do You Wanna Fuck Around? (2017)

Just to kick off in what will probably seem like one hell of a tangent, independent art cinema is, perhaps surprisingly, very much an unfamiliar realm for me. I've seen the odd thing inevitably borrowed from Ted at work, but most of those were weird and terrifying, and probably not representative of your average independent art cinema production. My friend Noel made purchase of a Ben Dover video whilst visiting London and so we watched a bit of that seeing as Noel was kipping on my sofa. For the uninitiated, Ben Dover produced a whole string of independent art cinema videos in which himself and a bloke with a video camera travel England, proposing sexual intercourse to random women working in shops, service stations, or just out walking the dog. The encounters seem casual and opportunist, even if they're almost certainly staged, and the appeal is probably mostly in the cheap and cheerful realism. Ben Dover's independent art cinema looks as though it could happen at the end of your road with one or more of the neighbours; and Ben Dover himself resembles a self-employed plumber more than a mogul of independent art cinema, although I suppose it could be argued that he sort of is a self-employed plumber. Anyway, all I can remember from the one Ben Dover production I watched was a scene in which our man enters an actress whilst persuading her to additionally stimulate the penis of the bloke with the camera, who accordingly chirps, 'This is indeed an unexpected bonus!'

Weirdly, it turns out that Mex once came fairly close to providing soundtrack music for Ben Dover; or at least I'm sure I read that somewhere. Do You Wanna Fuck Around?, subtitled Soundtrack Reflections on a Golden Age of Vice, is therefore an album of what could have been, music for imaginary independent art cinema productions. Naturally it's instrumental, barring snatches of dialogue invoking celluloid seventies blueys more than Ben Dover encouraging giggling cashiers out of their knickers. Musical cues come from psychedelia, bits of the Velvet Underground, and things which have since been reclassified as acid jazz in certain quarters - organ swirling over a big fat beat with blues guitar licks squirting hither and thither, at least as wild and sensual as those films always seemed to think they were despite so often resembling Abigail's Party with budget cuts in the wardrobe department. Doubtless owing to the inspiration of similar sources, whilst this could almost be a funkier, wrinkle-free Led Zeppelin in terms of instrumentation, musically it makes me think of Fatboy Slim, or rather what Fatboy Slim should have sounded like, that same sort of punchy bass heavy go-go but without the whole element of trying too hard.

As might be discerned from the first paragraph, I'm hardly an authority in the field of independent art cinema, but it seems to me that the one thing Mex gets wrong is that I don't recall ever seeing a bluey with music this good. In fact, the few I recall had awful midi-synth soundtrack music of a general type which ended up recycled as vapourwave and Go Kart Mozart. So here is an album which is actually better than the thing it's trying to be, if you see what I mean, and another argument for Mex as one of the most underrated artists and producers in the biz.

Procure yourself a copy by following the link to Mex under Some Stuff at the top left of this page.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Atari Teenage Riot - Burn, Berlin, Burn! (1997)

I expected this to sound like Altern-8 with a bit more welly, but as I now realise - admittedly two decades after everyone else - the hardcore of Alec Empire's Digital Hardcore label refers as much to the sheer racket of Bad Brains and other 500MPH American punk bands as it does to anything more closely associated with a dance floor. Many years ago when I was in Academy 23, Pete Williams - our drummer - told me that it was his ambition to combine punk rock and industrial music; because it was 1993, and everyone and their milkman had some fucking project on the go, because no-one would be seen dead admitting that they just wanted to rock the fuck out. It had to have a higher purpose, and inventing a cross between Bourbonese Qualk and the Cockney Rejects was Pete's, give or take some small change. Anyway, leaving aside the sheer arseache of anything invoking the much overused term industrial music, I guess Alec Empire beat him to it. The tools of composition may be the same as whatever it was 2 Unlimited used in construction of their mammoth eurosmash No No No-No No No No-No No No There's No Limit, except the samples are mostly a wall of punk rock guitar and the tempo knob of the drum machine has been twisted around as far as it will go; and surprisingly, the production is kind of rough and dirty, so it actually resembles early Nocturnal Emissions or something off the first SPK album more than anything. I expected noisy but sort of clean, maybe a variation on that Trent Reznor sound - but no, it's just a big fucking distorted noise, a bomb going off, over and over at rollercoaster headache velocity with some girl yelling about the evils of capitalism until she gives herself a sore throat.

If that sounds like a criticism, it isn't supposed to be. Like any form of music overdriven to the point of absurdity, the noise works on an almost physiological level with appreciation coming as much from the point at which it stops as from the actual distorted signal. It works as a slab of overwhelming rage delivered in short bursts, yet with the yelling conveying a much stronger sense of purpose than any of those Cookie Monster metal bands to which Atari Teenage Riot bear superficial sonic resemblance. This is what Sigue Sigue Sputnik failed to deliver combined with what riot grrrl managed only some of the time, but louder, angrier, and - against all expectation - more fun. I expect this also explains why the Prodigy turned their back on children's novelty records round about the same time.