TRUST-THE-DOC: MUSICAL MUSINGS
by Neil March (Edition 9, 16th August 2018)
EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC SCENE: TIME TO SHINE !!!
The hot humid summer may sap the energy of even the liveliest souls at times but the UK’s Experimental Music scene is buzzing with activity and energy. So this edition of Trust The Doc shines the light on some of those involved in the scene especially but not exclusively in London where live events are thriving. Edition 9 is therefore a one-off Experimental Music issue. I will return to the usual wide spectrum of genres in Edition 10 in a fortnight’s time.
✦ VANISHING POINT: The inaugural event at the Ivy House goes like a dream
✦ JON SAMSWORTH: Aylesbury Composer & Artist pushing the envelope
✦ CHOLLY: Jon Samsworth collaborator building an impressive catalogue
✦ GAGARIN: Pere Ubu drummer has just recorded another superb album
✦ PRECOCIOUS MOUSE: Sound Artist gaining reputation for live performance
✦ FAR RAINBOW: Found Sounds combined with purpose-built effects units
✦ ROOKERY: Experimental music and cool improv mingle with spoken word
✦ BEN VINCE: Another chance to wax lyrical about improvising sax genius
✦ LUKE MOORE: Operation Lightfoot and other new music projects on the go
✦ DORCHA: Birmingham’s Freak Zone guests use differences to great effect
✦ ROTHKO: So we just featured Rothko but he is central to the whole scene
✦ NTS LIVE: The genuinely independent radio station that supports the scene
VANISHING POINT @ THE IVY HOUSE - 2nd August 2018
The inaugural Vanishing Point was a roaring success in every conceivable manner. A magical night at London’s first and so far only cooperatively owned public house and music venue saw a full house entertained in a sit-down-at-tables space with cool lighting and first class sound. The audience was chilled out and appreciative and the artists responded accordingly.
I opened the evening in my alter-ego as Environmental Sound Foundation and played a half hour set with synth, laptop and mixer [heavily adorned with environmental noise both for harmonic and effects purposes] including tracks off my new Sonic Sketchbook EP and my previous Disunited Nations EP including the BBC Radio 6 Music featured track Tibet. Just as with my set at the Good Hope Festival in Ladywell Fields a week and a half earlier it was the musical sound art piece The Inside Track that got the lion’s share of compliments afterwards. The live [in Ladywell Fields] version plus a new musical sound art track called Convergence 1 are on the new EP alongside the Radio Dacorum/Lonely Oak Radio featured 200 Seconds and my Drum’n’Bass influenced The Ebb & Flow.
Second to play was the inimitable Kerry JK, my fellow Fresh on the Net moderator. Kerry has been included twice in the same month [which is unheard of] in the BBC 6 Music Mixtape show. Kerry’s Punk Jazz piano, dark humour and music hall leanings made for an intriguing contrast while his engaging personality and superb piano skills wowed and won over the crowd. His story telling was highly entertaining and brilliantly disturbing. I had told the audience they were guaranteed never to have experienced an act like Kerry’s before and he certainly proved me right for all the best reasons.
Headlining the bill was another BBC Radio 6 Music featured artist and composer Jon Samsworth. Jon came with a full band of multi-instrumentalists who swapped about with the instruments, added layers of percussion and included pre-recorded electronics and found sounds. It made for a fantastic performance both aurally and visually.
The set included Jon’s FOTN fave Echoes from Cambridge Street and the exquisite Coconut Herald amid a genuinely diverse range of compositions that underlined both his skill as a composer and his band’s brilliance in interpreting and representing his works. Hear examples of Jon’s music at https://soundcloud.com/jon-samsworth
It was a fantastic evening helped by the contribution of close friends Paul, Kate and Nina and the excellent job done by sound engineer Andrew Ford. The buzz has continued on social media ever since and we are all dying to get on with the second Vanishing Point on 4th October. We now have all the acts in place for the December and February gigs too.
CHOLLY HAPPY MUSIC !!!
I have talked about Jon Samsworth’s marvellous music and his top-notch band. One of the members of that band is Chloe Tennant (aka Cholly) who, as well as providing live Violin, Piano and Vocals, is also an artist in her own right whose Soundcloud page [billed as Cholly Happy Music] reveals a growing catalogue of striking, original and haunting tracks that sit somewhere around the leftfield of Alternative Pop. Check her out at https://soundcloud.com/chollyhappymusic
Cholly’s music is intriguing not least because of the way very earthy organic sounds - Violins, Cellos, Piano, Percussion etc. - mix with very electronic ones, found sounds and Chloe’s ethereal upper register vocal harmonies which float and interweave, often within a sea of reverb, over unusual chords and unconventional structures. There is an element of the voice-as-instrument in her music which brings to mind the likes of Cocteau Twins and Bjork. There are also shades of other artists from a variety of points on the historic Pop and Art music spectra from Colin Vearcombe (Black) to Polly Harvey and from Kate Bush to Emily Hall. Ultimately we can speculate about influences, real or accidental, all day but it’s the striking originality of her sound and style that make her such an exciting prospect.
New track Lonely provides an uptempo and intense demonstration of all these qualities, kicking off with attacking strings over a drone bass, evolving percussion and delightful vocal harmonies as electronic elements become more prominent. The three versions of One a Day are all excellent and add a haunting quality, enhanced by the use of open fourths and fifths in the vocal parts. RInse Repeat + Remix is also compelling listening. It is real testament to the strength and quality of her work that I feel moved to keep listening to the same tracks again. And I am not the world’s most patient individual so that is quite an endorsement.
THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD OF GAGARIN
If you are ever fortunate enough to meet Gagarin (aka Graham Dowdall), he is a warm, unassuming and instantly likeable individual. It is only when you start to delve into his history that you realise how amazing it actually is. Fact One: Graham is the current drummer with legendary New York Post-Punk pioneers Pere Ubu who, I bet most of us didn’t know, are actually based in Brighton these days! He also spent some six years recording and touring as part of Nico’s band. But as if working with one member of the Velvet Underground isn’t enough, he has also worked with the amazing John Cale. Add names like Cabaret Voltaire to the list and then wind the clock forward to discover Graham is a sometimes member of Rothko. Jeez, this guy makes my history look somewhat insignificant by comparison! Ha ha ha, not that he would see it that way obviously.
What was amusing was that I had been listening to Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music as usual on a Sunday night and Stuart Maconie had played a track by an artist called Gagarin which was really rather good. Hmmm, I thought, I know that name but cannot remember why. A day and a half later I am having a coffee with Graham in Goldsmiths University where he teaches and I studied and it comes up in conversation. Then the penny drops. Graham is Gagarin! Duh!
So you can imagine I was pretty pleased when he agreed to headline our [Demerara Records] inaugural The Music of Sound @ Cafe of Good Hope gig in Lewisham on 1st November. Having listened a fair bit to his new album Corvid over the days since our meeting, I have been quite simply blown away. Graham calls it composed electronica which it kind of is but then that definition does not do justice to the breadth of ideas and really thoughtful choice of sounds. It’s an experimental and unusual approach to music but the results are quite exquisite and life-affirming. Listen to a redux of the album at https://soundcloud.com/gagarin-1 along with other fine tracks including the Rothko remix of his excellent Autonomist which is, of course, the piece I heard and loved on Freak Zone. I can’t wait to experience his live set.
PRECOCIOUS MOUSE: RODENT ROBOTICS !!!
Precocious Mouse has been pretty busy of late, playing the experimental music and sound art circuit around London and gaining quite a reputation for his compelling live performances. A listen to his work at https://soundcloud.com/precocious-mouse gives one an indication as to why. Plenty of cleverly building ambience and controlled events that unfold within gradually evolving soundscapes.
Precocious Mouse is Cal Wood, a London-based Sheffielder [if that is a word!] who has utilised his creativity in combination with his knowledge of all things digital. He performs with just a laptop and mixing desk, presenting his unique soundworld as a sonic picture that adds colours and features as it goes along. He will be headlining the next Vanishing Point at the Ivy House on 4th October and supporting Gagarin at The Music of Sound at the Cafe of Good Hope on 1st November so I get to have him playing my gigs twice in as many months. Should be good.
FAR RAINBOW: EVERYDAY SOUNDS & INEXPENSIVE EFFECTS UNITS !!!
Bermondsey duo Far Rainbow are not conventional in any sense of the word. The pair, Emily and Bobby, use drums and electronics to create gradually evolving soundscapes. They also have a special liking for what they call ‘random objects’ such as electric toothbrushes, milk frothers and electric shavers processed through what Bobby describes as ‘... a junk shop daisy chain of cheap effects’. If that sounds intriguing that is because it is.
ROOKERY: EXPERIMENTAL ART MUSIC MEETS THE SPOKEN WORD !!!
Staying in South East London the Crystal Palace-based trio Rookery are another unique presence. Mixing experimental music and sound art with spoken word, they bring an interesting mix of organic and highly musical individual instrumental play with found sounds and lyrics that take on a highly socio-political character. The instrumental line-up of Alison on Clarinet, Piano and Accordion; David on Kalimba, Omnichord and Melodica and George on Spoken Word, Typewriter, Ether Pad and Harmonica makes for a rich mixture of ambience and drones with fluid improvised playing. It is also a very good advert for why you might want to check them out live.
BEN VINCE: SCINTILLATING SAX BATTLES WITH INDUSTRIAL SOUNDS !!!
Still in South East London Brockley-based Ben Vince is a composer, improviser, DJ, virtuoso Saxophonist and experimentalist with a penchant for pitting his mind-spinning sax playing against big crunching beats and a large dose of industrial noise. His music is exciting, intense and prone to compelling sonic mood swings.
I have of course written about Ben both in Trust the Doc and two editions of Fresh on the Net but that just underlines how highly I rate him as one of the leading figures pushing the envelope in experimental music. That he is performing live on Late Junction this week reinforces that view.
LUKE MOORE: OPERATION LIGHTFOOT AND OTHER STORIES !!!
From the wilds of South East London to the North West arts epicentre of Chester where we find Luke Moore, a musician with his fingers in a few pies including the excellent Operation Lightfoot who have also been recently featured in Trust the Doc and Fresh on the Net in articles written by me.
Operation Lightfoot defy genre and refuse to be squeezed into any specific box, sometimes preferring song-based music often involving singer Sophia Ben-Yousef and at other times going down an epic soundtrack-style instrumental path. They will be headlning Vanishing Point on 6th December so, if you are able to be in South East London, why not come and see and hear for yourself?
DORCHA: TURNING DIFFERENCES INTO THE BASIS OF A TIGHT UNIT !!!
Birmingham’s Dorcha claim that their members all have different musical outlooks. Well that may be true but they seem to have turned this potential problem into a definite strength. Their music defies categorisation, so varied are their influences and so unpredictable are events within their tracks.
Vocals are often adorned with interesting harmonic interplay while musically they can veer from sounding like an edgy guitar alt pop band one moment and then going into complex experimentalism the next. I have only recently discovered Dorcha and it is a joy to be finding more surprises as I delve into their catalogue.
ROTHKO: FROM MULTIPLE BASSES TO SYNTHS & AMBIENCE !!!
Back to London, Rothko scarcely needs much introduction and it is only recently that he [Mark L Beazley] was featured in Trust the Doc. But I couldn’t credibly write about the experimental music scene and not mention Rothko. He has been there since before many of these artists had played their first notes. But his sound has continuously evolved and the new album Blood demands more blood sees him use synth and ambience as the central sounds with the Bass Guitar, usually his trademark, relegated at times to a mere accompaniment. It is also arguably his best ever work. Check out a generous helping of tracks on his Soundcloud page.
NTS RADIO: A GENUINE INDEPENDENT RADIO STATION FOR NEW MUSIC !!!
At a time when the BBC has, inadvertently or not, cut the already limited hours per week for new music by giving over some of the designated time to guest playlists which, interesting as they often are, mean people playing tracks from their existing record collections rather than radio playing new tracks by emerging artists, the opportunities for leftfield artists to have a national platform are scarce.
The takeover of shows like Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 by Reduced Listening has certainly sent the jury out for an extended time with big question marks over why suddenly it has become so much harder for emerging artists [including those who have had BBC Introducing support] to get played. It feels like the Beeb is putting commercial concerns above its role as a public service broadcaster at times and the amount of music that cannot credibly be described as new let alone cutting edge on Late Junction is a worry. Likewise the tendency to hand the Thursday edition over to someone indulging their record collection and to have done the same with the Freak Zone Playlist and ditched Freakier Zone apparently for good. I wait in anticipation to see whether Radio 3 allows Elizabeth Alker’s excellent Unclassified back on air.
So thank heavens for radio stations like NTS Live which broadcasts in four locations internationally, two of them (London and Manchester) in the UK. Like Resonance FM, who I have written about in past editions, NTS Live enables a wide range of shows to be curated and presented individually, giving generous coverage to a large volume of new and cutting edge music week on week. Having had my own music played just this week by none other than the aforementioned Ben Vince, who was a guest on the excellent Alien Jamz with the awesome Chloe Frieda, I am now making a greater effort to identify and familiarise myself with some of the shows particularly focused on experimental music.
So there you have it, folks. This has been a special one-off edition dealing with the UK Experimental Music scene. The next edition, due for publication on 31st August, will signal a return to the usual highly eclectic format. Thanks for reading this version.