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.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Moby - Play (1999)

I was torn over this one, memories of kind of liking the singles in spite of myself conflicting with an impression of Play as music for middle class dinner parties - an uncomfortable update to the bluesy negro spiritual brought into the master's parlour for the entertainment of the women and kids; and of course you all know this album wouldn't have been anything were it not for samples from Sounds of the South: A Musical Journey from the Georgia Sea Islands to the Mississippi Delta. Yet the more you play it, the less you notice the contrast between the gospel sampling tracks and everything else. In fact the more you play it, the more you realise that what misconceptions you may have acquired are probably bollocks.

Wikipedia calls it electronica which I suppose is fair enough. I expected techno, or at least that genre which arseholes insist on identifying as instrumental hip-hop; but downtempo is as good a term as any, that being roughly what it is, and that being what it has in common with the likes of Aim, Fingathing, and so on. A lot of this stuff is kind of cock obvious - that shuffling Back to Life beat, stadium strings, those samples and tinkling piano falling just short of being the melodic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting; but it works because Play doesn't seem to care what you think of it, and it's all so obviously well meant and recorded in such generous spirit as to dispel any objections accumulated through subsidiary association. It's Fatboy Slim without the element of trying far too hard or the self-consciously cool sampling. It's really just a wee baldy man having a fucking great time in his studio, and it's a wonderful thing to listen to when you've had a shitty day and need something without too many sharp edges.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

We Roll 100 Deep (2017)

I don't normally bother with downloads for all sorts of reasons far too dull to expand upon, but Peter Hope seemed fairly insistent that I give this one a chance. I don't really know him beyond facebook, but he's always struck me as a man of taste, so I conceded seeing as it was a freebie. I was a bit bemused when the fucker turned out to comprise thirty tracks amounting to over three hours listening, but sod it - I burned the thing onto three separate CDRs and took it out with me on my daily cycle rides in preference to hearing it on the PC whilst sat on my arse. That was about three weeks ago, and this is pretty much the only thing I've listened to in all that time. It's a bit on the long side, but this material really got its hooks into me.

We Roll 100 Deep is a free sampler of tracks issued through New York Haunted, a net label run by a Dutch producer called Drvg Cvltvre and specialising in experimental house and techno, it says here; so yes, I'm a bit out of my depth, although not so much as I thought I would be. We're well and truly into the era of techno as waveforms copied and pasted between different parts of a screen, but thankfully it's still doing what it did when I had a bit more of a clue, and - amazingly for something with three decades of history - still moving forward, still finding new ways to get your back up off the wall, as Kool & the Gang would have it. This stuff isn't quite so minimal as the last time I poked my head around the corner of the door - which was admittedly a while ago - and the first thing which began to sink in as I listened was the sheer diversity of music.

There was a point back in the early nineties when it became obvious that at least a few of those purporting to expand upon the legacy of acid house had actually forgotten how acid house once sounded, and how you might not hear the same beat twice in an hour because the form was still prone to experimentation, crucially avoiding the formulaic; so not everything was strictly four to the floor bass drum and hi-hat bum-tsk-bum-tsk-bum-tsk-bum-tsk. I suspect most of that tendency came from young men with expensive samplers who liked the idea, but er - well, no - I'm not actually going to get out there and dance, I mean it's not really my thing…

Anyway, the repetition of having the same track remade over and over again seems not to be a problem with New York Haunted. About half of these do all sorts of things with beats you might not expect to hear on a piece of music aimed at a club environment. The emphasis is on grooves and atmosphere, the more hypnotic the better, pounding bass and an alien clatter - not much in the way of tune, but then it's not something which seems necessarily missing. Equally, there isn't anything which really just does the same thing for eight or nine minutes. There's an evolution going on in most of these tracks, and the evolution of something which feels so organic that it's difficult to equate it with zeros and ones on a computer screen. If it doesn't always sound like techno as I recall from Villalobos and Shackleton and those guys, it strongly feels like it, even when we have tracks which seem to share DNA with Throbbing Gristle or Nocturnal Emissions or some obscure krautrock act pissing about with a sequencer. Then there's RSS B0YS' Y00R00B 0N which sounds like techno would have sounded had it been born in North Africa rather than North America; and MEZE's obligue Miami bass take on PIL's Religion; and Damaskin's Signal doesn't even have a beat, although I suppose you could sway around to it, and it took me a few listens before I even noticed.

Peculiarly - and I suppose luckily - the hardest track turns out to be pH2's Plastic People, Man, a beast of a beat which could quite easily have been slipped in between Phuture and Mr. Lee without anyone realising; and I was about to thank Peter Hope for the tip and for bringing that particular track into my life when a spot of last minute homework enlightened me to the fact of pH2 actually being himself. I suppose it seems obvious when you think about it.

Three hours of music is probably a bit of an imposition on anyone's time, but not when it's this good - neither a single duff track, nor even really anything which settles for copying something you've already heard. This one feels less like a download and more like a fucking amazing night out.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

SPK - Machine Age Sessions (2014)

I've seen SPK described in reverent terms defining them as untouchable pioneers of harsh electronic noise, and at the other end of the scale, as comical industrial chancers. On the one hand, those first two albums still take the paint off the walls like not much has done since, but on the other, SPK probably did more to inspire misuse of the letter k than even Porridge, and one of their early tracks was called Germanik, presumably on the grounds that Hitler had been German and that Germans like to march around and bark orders, so that's quite scary when you think about it. I suppose, there's also the fact of their signing to Elektra and turning into Level 42…

The way I heard it - as related by a friend who knew Graeme Revell through having spent his youth hanging out with Throbbing Gristle - was that Graeme Revell really, really, really, really wanted a sampler when they first came out, and thus reinvented himself as leather trousered metal-bashing popster so as to sign a ten album deal with Elektra for a ton of money, or something along those lines. He bought his sampler and recorded Machine Age Voodoo - which is the one that sounds like Level 42 - and then decided he wanted out of the contract; which he effected by recording the other nine albums in a couple of days. They were too shit to be released, and so Elektra let him go. That's what I heard anyway.

For what it's worth, I actually like Machine Age Voodoo. It's a bit too louche for its own good, could do with rougher edges, and is a lousy follow up to Leichenschrei, obviously; but aside from that, it's not a bad album on its own terms. In fact the worst thing about Machine Age Voodoo is that it failed to deliver on the promise of Metal Dance and those earlier forays into synthpop recorded for a John Peel session around the same time.

I've been waiting for that album for about thirty years, so it was a nice surprise to discover that it does actually exist, sort of, albeit as this bootleg - one side of Peel tracks, with a Kid Jensen session on the flip. The labels are black due to having been sneaked out of some naughty pressing plant in the dead of night, and the sleeve is minimal and underwhelming, but the quality of the pressing is wonderful.

This is the version of SPK which turned its metal-bashing to more musical ends, borrowed a sequencer from DAF, and pretty much invented all of those Front 242 types in the process. This was what Depeche Mode thought they sounded like, an adrenaline rush of frenetically grinding synth contrasting with Sinan's surprisingly beautiful, even ethereal voice while someone pounds seven shades of shit out of an oil drum. The Peel tracks are as electrifying as they were at the time of broadcast.

Then we flip over the disc to find the sessions recorded for David Jensen, or Kid as he liked to be known, the stuff which everyone seems to have forgotten. Jensen's show was broadcast exclusively on medium wave, and that's where these recordings come from, straight off the wireless - big fat muffled mono with a ton of hiss and Jensen talking over the fade out, channelling his inner Michael J. Fox like a good 'un. It would be a pain in the arse but the tracks are actually better quality here than on the thirty-year old cassette tape I still have somewhere or other, and they're also probably the worst thing Revell ever recorded so I'm not sure it matters. SPK seemed to be gearing themselves up for making a ton of money and were smoothing out their sound. The sequencers were a bit less frantic, more like something you would hear on a Karel Fialka song, the metal had been replaced with fashionable roto-toms; and yet somehow this material is difficult to dislike because it's the sound of SPK selling out as hard as they could, but not quite able to get there without sounding sarcastic. But, Can You Dance To It? - on which Revell raps like a jolly English master at a boy's school - resembles one of those local charity records which would occasionally garner five minutes coverage on a regional news show. The rest of the tracks patently represent a warm-up for Machine Age Voodoo, halting impersonations of bland synthpop hits, not quite achieving the balance and as such resembling some sort of Situationist appropriation which didn't quite work. The strangest thing is how, despite its peculiar blandness, the Jensen session is weirdly engrossing specifically because it's the very last thing you'd ever expect to hear from SPK. Strangest of all, despite its flaws, this album which never was is actually better than the soundtrack stuff he did later.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Cravats - Dustbin of Sound (2017)

The return of the Cravats with a brand new album in 2017, a full quarter century after the last thing you could describe as such - which I suppose would have been Grimetime's Spirit of Disgust, sort of - probably qualifies as improbable, but perhaps not so improbable as the possibility of said brand new album being as good as it is; and it's very fucking good indeed.

The Cravats revivification looks a lot like some old spiky tops getting back together for one of those nostalgic festivals of which there suddenly seem to be so many, working out how to play the old hits, and in doing so noticing that the spark is still there; except that I'm guessing, and that this isn't quite the Cravats as were. The Shend is naturally still present and correct, or as correct as he's ever likely to be; and there's Svor Naan, with the rest having been reconstituted from remnants of the Astronauts, the Bevis Frond, the Joyce McKinney Experience and others. At first the thought of the Cravats without Robin Dalloway seems peculiar, and given the passage of time it all adds up to something which shouldn't work; and yet work it does.

The new lads are so well suited to the job at hand that it feels as though they've probably been there all along, at least in spirit, and thus Dustbin of Sound could never, ever be mistaken for anything other than a Cravats record; and if the absence of Dalloway is discernible in any shift of emphasis, then it's only because this is a different record, just as Motortown was different to The Bushes Scream, and The Bushes Scream was different to Toytown. This one's less jazzy than they've been, more of a growling motorbike beat, but still taking your ears places few other bands will tread through the magic of saxophone squiggles, angular guitar, and the Shend opening up your brain to reattach the wires to all the wrong nodules.

I'd pick out the best tracks, but they're all great with not a dud in earshot, although I suppose All U Bish Dumpers deserves some special commendation as the one which brings a tear to my eye.

The squirrel's role was to goad idiots
toward an unidentified trestle montage.
Chemical biscuit in Neptune franchise,
oh yes.
The mud and worm college closed for good in the 1440s
with the loss of hundreds of jam jars
Look at that rocket.
Look at that rocket.

Yes, I know, and yet it feels somehow like a protest song sung with genuine feeling, the sort of thing U2 would have given their collective left bollock to have written, but which will forever be beyond them because they lack imagination. Like everything else on this record, it's - not even round, but a toffee-hammer-mammoth-bassoon shaped peg in a world of square holes. With the levelled playing field of homogenised juxtaposition as entertainment, with our ever-shrinking imaginations responding to Lady Gaga momentarily pulling a face as sooooooo random LMFAO, the Cravats remain very much a liberating cry of genuine unreason, something too weird to ever be sold back to us as a Happy Meal, and this may even be their finest album.

You should order this one from Overground Records. In fact you should probably order everything from the Overground catalogue because they're fab.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

The KLF - The White Room (1991)

My suspicions were aroused way back in the eighties when an interview with the lads in some music paper revealed how they had taken to calling themselves Rockman Rock and King Boy D, just like the rappers you see on the telly, and which seemed to carry a faint stench of trying too hard. At some point I was slung a tape of 1987 (What the Fuck is Going On?) by someone who assured me it would blow my mind, which it didn't, and in fact I thought it was fucking awful. Then there was Doctorin' the Tardis which was also wank, unless you regard everything which makes a reference to Doctor Who, no matter how ham-fisted, as a work of genius. It was big, bold, crass, and populist according to theories set forth in their book about how to have a hit single, but it sounded exactly the same as their supposedly philosophically cunning underground material to me. Finally they became the KLF, most of which passed me by, excepting a version of What Time is Love? which I had on some compilation album, and which was okay, I guess.

Surprisingly, I didn't have high expectations for this record. To be fair, I didn't have any expectations, not really. The above impressions were fleeting, and there must surely be some reason for their popularity, I told myself. The White Room seems to be in all sorts of lists of best things ever, so fifty cents in a sale seemed like a risk worth taking.

Except I get the thing home and find I've bought me a fucking hip-house album, and whilst hip-house may not have been an entirely worthless genre because there are always exceptions to any given rule, it sort of was when you really think about it; and this is hip-house fused with whatever you call music recorded by middle-aged white guys utilising the voice of a black man suggesting we put the needle on the record when the drum beats go like this. Underneath it all are a couple of nods in the general direction of acid, trance, or whatever title it had been given that week. They're decent enough tracks, but as with everyone else who ever knew better through having been to art college, the KLF can't let anything simple work on its own terms and have to throw a shitload of once trend-setting tech at it as a self-conscious distraction from the fact that they might have felt more comfortable rocking out as a traditional Hawkwind covers band. Thus did we end up with stadium house, which in this case can be equated to Trevor Horn's idea of dance music, which can in turn be equated to the proverbial unidexter at an arse kicking competition in utilitarian terms. Naturally the KLF hired a bunch of marginally funkier helpers so as to keep the thing from bearing too close a resemblance to a school geography project, not least being Tony Thorpe of 400 Blows; but ultimately the best which can be said of The White Room is that it isn't quite as funny as Porridge's attempts at house music.

Excepting things involving Ken Campbell and the novels themselves, has anything good ever resulted from thematic overinvestment in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's Illuminatus! trilogy? I'm struggling to think of anything. It might be argued that Drummond and Cauty eventually redeemed themselves with their worst artist of the year award and the spectacle of Rachel Whiteread puckering her mouth into a dog's bottom of disdain as she grudgingly accepted all that lovely lolly whilst loudly announcing that it would of course be given to starving artists, because it matters that they shouldn't have to get real fucking jobs like normal people; but that came after and as such provides little consolation as one struggles to get through the full, terrible forty-three minutes of this bollocks.