April mini reviews: Current 93, Merzbow, Billy Childish, Future of Sound

April 30, 2008 at 11:38 pm (extreme music, Hypnotique, live reviews)

By Hypnotique

I’ve been to a few shows lately, but as this website atests I’m a craply slow blogger so here’s a mini-selection of some of my favourite recent live shows from April 08.

Current 93 and Baby Dee, Royal Festival Hall, London

A glorified freak show filled the foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall – the pierced, body-modified, elven faced underclass who truly live in the dark side. Starspotting: Sleazy (TG, Coil), big old ugly fellow. Support was by Baby Dee, a truly strange harpist and vaudeville macabre singer and deep south hick who reminded me of a bag lady version of Madge from Neighbours. Trans-gender apparently (she should get her money back). I quite enjoyed her/his falsetto quirkiness, typical of the acts David Tibet (Tibs) champions through his Durtro label like (Mercury prize winners) Anthony & the Johnsons and (tulip tiptoer/paedophile) Tiny Tim (basically, vocalists that make Tibs sound like the equivalent of Mariah Carey). No doubt Tibs is secretly fuming “it should have been me!” when another of his proteges head to the stars, collecting gongs en route whilst he lies in impoverished obscurity (or so he claims).

However, the night endorsed quite the opposite – David Tibet is the true star whose light guides others. That night he was a god, and the former members of the Temple of Psychick Youth in his band and audience worshipped at his apocalyptic alter. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Tibs/Curent 93 – I love the concept and obviously I’ve nicked/applauded many of the ideas with Hypnotique. But at its worst the music is mediocre and repetitive, Tibet self-indulgent. The email newsletters with endless updates on the health of his cat and religious beliefs were nauseous. Then there’s the stories I’ve heard from a former-boyfriend who was a former-friend of Tibs & Tony Wakeford (Sol Invictus) that did little to endear me, realising the unhealthy power of the cult leader and gang mentality which I seek to reject in my own inner-solitary way of living.

Regardless, Tibs has a rare gift of communication, of aura, of transfixing the ether. His 9-piece band (incuding Andrew WK, all a bit rough in places but generally getting the spirit) conducted by Tibs took us on a journey full of not only dark shadows but light – pathos and joy. Guest appearances by Anthony (of ‘and the Johnsons’) and a mini-set of acoustic songs about a medieval homosexual poet by Marc Almond from his new album were delightful and showed just how deeply the spirit of Tibs has infected British music culture. Almond, camp old queen he is, almost outshined Tibs with his showmanship, a perfect execution of ‘pizzazz’. I got a last minute return ticket, last seat in the house, and was sat next to an older business gent in a suit who’d got the 1/2 return tickets. He didn’t know any of the bands but said he was in town with work and decided to pop along because he liked Marc Almond. May have got quite a shock…

Tibs claims to be the reluctant performer, UK shows are very rare and he seems to want the life of a reclusive fine artist rather than an acclaimed musician (although fine, is art work is not). But that is front – Tibs is gifted to perform, uplift and take us all into his apocalyptic Catholic world of sin, penance and run with all the pretty horses between. Uplifting.

Merzbow, De Montfort University, Leicester

I’ve always won the ‘D’ for ‘Dunce’ cap, but I thought Merzbow was more of an ambient electronic act. So I got a bit of an audio noise shock at this show. It was a collaboration with what seemed like a university lecturer and his class of music technology undergrads (an all-male collection of hairy, bearded 20-something wearing a range of extrodinary head wear). They had made their own buzzy, oscillator machines inside tin cans. The performance juxtaposed segments of the students making free-improv sounds with extremely loud sonic manipulation from Japan’s “King of Noise”. He remained very stoney faced behind the laptop, and the black box theatre setting gave the performance a hushed, reverent quality befitting the academic surroundings. Afterwards I wanted to bow to him. Totally mastery of the pure digital noise manipulation, with total control. Wish I’d brought some earplugs. You know what they say, “If it’s too loud…”

Billy Childish, Art Organisation, Nottingham

Like Felix Kubin’s show in Nottingham last month, this was another less than satisfying visit by a seminal figure to be received by a less than wholesome audience turnout. “This is the last time we play in Scotland. Next time, tell your friends to come – if you’ve got any,” Childish barked in jovial cockney-fashion, unaware that actually 50 is an amazing turnout for anything here. It is rare he plays this far north, and that in itself is a lesson to build your fanbase outwards at any time in your career. Never live solely in the M25 bubble.

Billy Childish is thought to be one of the most prolific artists of the punk/post-punk generation, releasing over 100 albums, 2000 paintings and 40 poetry publications. 49-year-old Childish reflects the ‘JFDI‘ attitude of the punk era I so admire. This event at the very amazing boho, community artspace The Art Organisation was to celebrate an exhibition featuring many Childish works – mainly heavy oil textural pieces.

Childish’s band is a long-suffering vagabond trio of a lady bass player in a nurses uniform, and a big bald chap in a fez on drums. But the lithe, moutachied Childish rules the show, with plenty of wise cracking stories, impromptu performance and lots of rollicking good tunes – classic post-punk but with great hooks, great choruses and biographical stories. He said, “go home, and one day you can tell your kids and grandkids you’ve seen a real rock n roll band”. And damn it, it did feel, that maybe that night, for the first time I had.

Future of Sound, Birmingham Midland Institute, Birmingham

More lecture than gig, Future of Sound was part of the Art of Ideas event put on by a whole bunch of quangos to celebrate all things art and Birmingham. It’s been heavily blogged and collected over at Created in Birmingham – I just got a snatch of the talks night called “Future of Sound”. The two things I’d gone for (Modifield Toy Orchestra and Martyn Ware) were cancelled and the event got off to a duff start (pardon pun) with a panel led by Toy Orchestra guru Brian Duffy leading a panel of what could losesly be described as leaders in Birmingham’s sonic art scene including members of Dreams of Tall Buildings, Pram and jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch.

The talk was a demonstration of all the wrong things about talking about Birmingham as a ‘scene’ rather than a place where people just happen to live and do stuff, and also the idea of trying to coax this out of artists in order to instill a desire for cluster, place or pride. But it was also interesting in all the amazing things under the surface happening in this sprawling city that need coaxing out from under the concrete.

Collectively, the inarticulate, scruffy blokes had nothing to say – and epitomised how I felt at 21 when I was involved in the fledgingly ‘lofi’ indie scene (led by Broadcast, Pram, Plone, Avrocar et al) and I had to make a hard decision about whether to stay or move on. I chose to move on then because I never felt I would fit in with the betrodden, introspective world of these guys. I was too young, too ambitions, too outspoken.

Yet in isolation, when the guys talked about their work they were hugely articulate and fascinating. I only caught a bit, but Dream of Tall Buildings guy talked about their experimental work including mumified tapes, handmade artwork and conceptual ways of packaging their organic sounds. Brian Duffy, a NESTA fellow and intellectual superbrain, covered the history of sound, aurally reproducing the sound of stars and the theories of relativity in 3D form, tanslated into circuit-bending speak & spell projects including programming ZX Spectrums. Damn I wish I’d taken notes, with his brains and my looks we could’ve taken over the comos by now…


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Babyslave at the Nightmare Rave Part 3

December 19, 2007 at 9:40 pm (electronic music, extreme music, Uncategorized)

Joe Ladyboy’s pic’n’mix guide to Portishead’s ATP 07:

1) The (very VERY) Good:


(Portishead, Malcolm Middleton, Chrome Hoof, Sunn O))), Damo Suzuki, Seasick Steve, Thurston Moore, GZA and The “Porta-Wu”).

2) The Good (but not quite as good as the above):


(Richard D Aphex Acieed III, Professor Branca, Kling Klang, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Autolux, The Blessing, The Horrors, Oneida)

3) The Mad, The Bad, The “ish” and The Downright Bloody Annoying:


(Jukes, Malakai, Boris, St Julian Cope of Tamworth, Rosie Red Rash, John Parish, Earth, Sparklehorse)

4) Some random notes on the weekend:

i) Charlie Machine is either a very good gamesman, or a very lucky bastard when it comes to ten pin bowling. Either that or the rest of Babyslave are just woefully shit at “sport” in general.

ii) Julian Cope was my biggest disappointment of the weekend (and 2nd biggest disappointment of the year after Bonnie “Prince” Billy at the Royal Festival Hall in January). Liked the new album, loved the Japrocksampler book, but this performance was turgid, dull, uninspiring and completely lacking in both charisma and tunes – NOT words that you’d usually associate with a Julian Cope review.

iii) Shoulder massages rock. Particularly after 4 hours of ProgDoomMetal.

iv) So do waterslides designed for 8 years olds

v) The John Hurt chest-bursting scene in Alien IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY, OK!!!!

Sincerest Regards

Joe Ladyboy (December 2007)

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Babyslave at the Nightmare Rave Part 2

December 18, 2007 at 3:12 pm (Concepts, extreme music, Hypnotique) ()

Hello chums,

Hypnotique here playing blog triple-header catch-up from Charlie Machine’s part one ATP review.

Babyslave & friends took their first annual away day conference to the splendid All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Butlins, Minehead, Somerset. A kind of busman’s holiday on acid (or more specifically a cocktail of fine port, vodka, amino acids and whiskey smuggled into a Ribena bottle to evade festival security).

It was my first ATP and my first trip to Butlins, and I found the whole experience rather exciting, being used to the more typical Reading/Glastonbury kind of festival involving mud slides and deflating igloo tents (changing into a gothic fairy outfit in such surroundings to play the Poetry Stage at Glastonbury was one memorable gigging experience in 1998).

My two main observations on the ATP ethos thing is that although it is an out-and-out ‘alternative’ event, with a doom/American indie/neo folk slant (see Boris, Om, Sun)))) for terms of reference), hosting it in a holiday camp of contemporary chav dimensions (more Benny Hill than Belsen) presents a transition of the main streaming into the scene in a strange juxtaposition: Mr Wu Tang “Gizzer” Clan proclaiming “Hey Minehead, whazzup?’ being an ironic case in point (how doubly wondrous had he said “Hey Butlins, whazzup?’).
Secondly, everyone is very civilized for a festival. Admittedly they’re an older, tamer crowd than the Download, V or Glastonbury punters, but it lacked that Sunday night excitement of Reading in days of old when the Hell’s Angels would turn up to have a fist fight with the indie kids and turn over a chemical toilet or two. Although our chalet had poor fittings, removing the cistern was sure to involve industrial machinery we did not have to hand. Everyone politely waited their turn on the super-scary Space Bowl flume at the swimming pool and there was no death by drowning, no bottlings, and no crazy chalet parties till dawn. Like music scenes generally, the festival has evolved to become increasingly niche, ensconced in genre and lacking in tension. More of that later.

Day log:

– Friday 7th Dec
Myself and Charlie Machine finally arrived on site after various bus/ Butlins screw-ups having consumed a rather nice bottle of vintage port, sans stilton. Myself and Charlie were surprised to find we were staying in the kid’s room with beds somewhere between the size of a cot and single bed with plastic covers. Handy: wipe free. Joe Ladyboy showing off (as usual) that his chalet was better than ours and had a kitchen and oven and everything. Rock n roll.

– Sat 8th Dec

After a conversation on Friday with Charlie Machine about what a nasty but inspiring genius Stockhausen was, particularly his transition into electronic music because he could not control the performance parameters of acoustic musicians precisely enough, we awoke to hear the fiend had popped off to the great helicopter string quarter in the sky.
Stockhausen is dead: long live Stockhausen.
Synergy, synchronicity or the curse of Hypnotique? We all got mashed then watching Alien in the cinema. Can’t believe the other b-slaves left me in there, when I woke up I was scared rigid and thought I’d been taken into orbit with a giant squid.

– Sunday 10th Dec –

Braced the fierce coastal winds once more for final day of fun – that sad feeling of the holiday over almost before its begun. Made full use of the pool facilities.

– Mon 11th Dec –
Back to work, tired but revived. Just to prove you can’t stop the rock, I wound down by going to see the lovely Thomas Truax (like a modern day cabaret Harry Partch) play with Duke Special (a really charming band featuring a dreadlocked, make-up stained bandmaster from Northern Ireland) on a pirate ship in Bristol. And had by camera pinched by a wicked rogue with all the ATP pics. Feck.

Musical delights:

Portishead – this year’s ATP curators. Their first show in 10 years (where have you been?) after too long holed up in Easton, Bristol, smoking some big fat ones – and debuting material from their forthcoming new album. Shock horror: new material is heavy but upbeat, straying radically from the trip hop sound that became so iconoclastic. Beth Gibbon’s voice is as cracked and mesmerising as her fragile frame. Top Trumps.

The Horrors – big hairdos for big hair anthems. Proper heroin-chic rockstars straight out of a manga comic. Too much fun for this early in the festival!

Chrome Hoof
– more disco less metal than I remember from this year’s Supersonic, and they didn’t have the giant chrome hoof expanding into the ceiling, but they got us onto our pentangled dancing feet. Can you believe they are from Tottenham? I say more bassoons in rock.

Julian Cope – as a life long JC fan, I found this show appalling. Too much rock out, and not enough wall-to-wall classic tunes. I saw him play Nottingham this year and he was witty, tuneful and did some lovely stuff with the melotron. Not so at ATP – complained about the colour of his chalet, said said nothing until the end of the set and musically, compared to the other acts on the bill, played an obvious, bland and unoriginal set. Finally, he started his crowd rousing spiel at the end – too little too late. Copey’s fundamental problem seems to be that he IS the influence for many of the band’s playing: an English eccentric, a trusted curator and an originator – the Cornucopia shows at South Bank in 2000 reviving many classic krautrock and cult bands was inspiring. But Copey cannot BE the new generation of stars he bangs the drum for like Devandra Bernhardt, Om etc. He’s an aging rock star – more Bruce Springsteen than Andy Warhol. And letting down your lifelong fans because you’re in a stroppy mood or don’t like brown M&Ms/bathroom fittings is an unforgivable offence for ANY artist. Boo hiss.

Thurston Moore – it’s not fair that this Sonic genius is nearly 50 and looks 15. He is still cool as f*** and he still rocks. Mr Cope, take note.

Damo Suzuki – jamming with a selection of ATP musos including Geoff from Portishead. Not a long enough set for a proper immersion, but a good one. Damo is so little and lovely and cuddly – I think he is a Japanese Jesus.

– enjoyed this immensely at Supersonic this year – imagine a deep, multi-layered, ever-growing drone with a man in an incredible outfit (part-Viking, part-giant courgette) lathered in heavy smoke, incanting in Latin in a super woofer bass-heavy voice. Not just a goth thing, but something quite primeval, medieval and transcendental. Not a dry (ice) eye in the house.

Hawk and a Hacksaw – didn’t get into this as much as previous shows, but good fun involving Hungarian fiddles and zithers. Interesting fact: mister HAIH used to be the drummer in Broadcast. Still begs question: how can Hungarian folk music be contemporary alternative music?

Rosie Red Rash – As I’ve been working recently with the music ‘industry’/ community in Bristol, I was keen to check out the many Bristolian pals of Portishead on the bill and ‘discover’ a new local talent. But on all occasions, I was so disappointed – the worst offenders being these ‘ladies’, four schoolgirls attempting punk – with no ability (though the bassist was fantastic) or songs, it appeared – but their fishnet tights were lovely. Sorry Portishead, it’s fine to ‘curate’ to scratch your friends’ backs, but make sure they deserve the platform of this nationally significant festival, as most of these acts seemed like they’d never left their bedrooms before, and should probably have stayed there.

Silver Apples
– Probably my festival highlight – a rare outings from Simeon and his oscillating wildly “Simeon” machine – kind of early invention of drum machines and trance from the 1960s, ferociously ahead of its time. His story is one of tragedy – failed recognition at the time for their two seminal albums, then a tragic accident at a gig during their 90s revival left Simeon predicted to never walk or play again – but miraculously he has, although his partner in crime in the meantime died. But Silver Apples are back, and the sounds are as hypnotic and lovely as before. Doing the groupie bit, I sidled over to his lounge table to give praise and got my photo taken with Mr S.

John Parrish
– piece of advice: write some fucking songs.

John Cooper Clarke – great gags, crap poetry from the Jack Kerouac of punk poetry.

Fuck Buttons – laptop duo who seriously rock. Fun.

The underground musical future is diverse, healthy and growing its audience. But it seems to me that although some acts here did invent their genres, many are aping others, and there seems to be a dearth of true originality of style/performance. Too much clichéd post-ironic rock posturing or shoe-gazing ‘no performance’. As digital domains collide with real-world experiences, it seems to be that the proliferation of genres/scenes with no over-riding ‘movement’ is creating more homogenisation than originality, the bittersweet irony of globalisation. Maybe pop did eat itself?

Babyslave really should play ATP in 08. Once we’ve refined our 360 degree music/media offering, we will truly be ready to rock on a bigger stage.

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Prussian Blue: Sensationalist or Censorship?

July 21, 2007 at 10:39 pm (extreme music, politics and society)

Saw that highly odd documentary on 4OD this week entitled Nazi Pop Twins about the music of White Supremesist teen folk duo Prussian Blue. Like most Channel 4 fodder, it’s typical ‘shock doc’ material designed to provoke a reaction. Actually, there’s a healthy debate on C4’s Culture forum about the programme.

Josh 933 comments:
“You can’t solve the ‘problem’ of extremism by simply outlawing it, you have to explain why there’s a better, more fulfilling, ideological alternative to the White Nationalists or whoever. Free speech for all, not some, that’s equality.”

There’s no denying that Prussian Blue’s material is one-dimensional, neo-nazi nonsense, stimulated by their barmy mother who is clearly three swastikas short of an SS Bunker. Teaching three-year-old daughter Dresden (yeah, really!) her ABC (“A is for Aryan, B is for Blood…”) case in point. The oh-so-cute smiley-Hitler T-shirts the girls wear and jig-round-the-swastika is a clever marketing ploy on mom’s part, but although they’ll never achieve commercial success, they’ve clearly already achieved what attention-seeking mom wants through appearances on ABC News etc. She is, after all, just a pushy mom with a copy of Mein Kampf nestled next to Mrs Beeton.

What really offended me about all this, wasn’t the fact that actually the girls couldn’t sing or play, their music was poor and songs mediocre. It wasn’t grandpops cattle brand in the shape of a swastika. It was the utter sensationalist and bias reporting of filmmaker James Quinn. Quite clearly, he had no interest in using his journalist skills to make an objective or intelligent report on the twins and the wider issue of rising anti-seminitism, ‘white pride’ etc, but intended to shoot and edit to portray the family in the worst possible light. The ‘band’ have fans, otherwise they wouldn’t be touring Europe, but the portrayal was they were vilified by everyone under the sun.

Like many of these shock-docs, the subject is the ‘butt’ and the film made under false pretences. The rare exception being the genuinally rounded documentary of Bernard Manning: Beyond the Grave on Channel 4 recently. Gave the self-confessed racist codger enough rope to hang himself while filming his own obituary. Bizarre, yet touching and very funny. Bless him.

I digress. The real danger I’m highlighting here is that censorship, or deliberately sensationalist coverage of so-called ‘extreme’ politics, art or music (remember Manning was a mainstream and highly successful TV comedian in the 1970s, and the National Socialists had a few ‘fans’ in the 1930s so it’s all contextual) is in itself an attack on liberal society. When I googled to try and hear some of Prussian Blue’s music to make up my own mind, I found their website had been temporarily taken down, the only presence on Myspace was an anti-Prussian Blue group and a pro-Prussian Blue group but no profile or music. These ‘closures’ are unlikely to be related. However, there was some material on YouTube including a bizarre ‘white pride’ rant message piece (with no indication of whether it was produced by the band or a fan) and a happy meadow video, which you can judge for yourself. (I’m actually suprised their videos did stay on YouTube given their heavy-handed censorship, I had heaps of trouble trying to post a humorous naked eclair video by John Callaghan). The comments onYouTube are usually dumb-ass and ignorant on a good day, but this one by the “Victory Day” video took it to another level:

“id love to rape them in theyre (sic) mouths and then stab the baby in the head just to show how not cool nazism is. word” – theodoubleg

So when I finally got to check it out, my conclusions:

– A few catchy numbers, bit Alan Morris for my tastes – had they got the souped-up funky production of Joe Ladyboy they might be passable, but I can’t see any of these getting played at the National Front Disco.

There’s nothing wrong with swimming against the sea, running against the grain, and creating controversy with what you do – it’s damn hard and puts you in a vulnerable and weak position in society, so you would only do it if you really believed in your view. As Winston Churchill put it:”You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something.” As I would say, “You’ve never seen enough until you get thrown out“. Or as Prussian Blue say “Stand up for what you believe in” (even if it’s hideously flawed and offends 99% of the globe).

Art and music exist to reflect and challenge conventional views of society. It’s happened in France already with the Paris riots and increasingly in UK and USA, we have increasingly divided communities, fuelled by events and policy (e.g. terrorism, immigration) and between what is perceived to be an inbalance in the treatment of how freedom of speech differs between races and so-called ‘positive discrimination’ policies in society. Some rappers in France openly convey anti-white lyrics. The debate on the merits and flaws of multiculturalism and integration has never run more fierce.

Like Sex Pistols, Throbbing Gristle, Laibach and Ken Livingstone, it can take some extremism to challenge and change society for the better. By cutting short the debate, the many-headed hydra under the surface will bubble and later explode. I would hate it if Babyslave‘s music was ever censored. We’re controversial, but we like to think in a philosophical way, but it’s better to be banned than to be compromised in what you do.

Yet it’s the so-called liberals who tend to be the most reluctant to have their viewpoints challenged. In the UK, it’s more socially acceptable to be a Communist, Anarchist or Animal Liberationist than a Fascist or British Nationalist – though all are forms of extremism that have been linked to the rise of violence and terrorism. There’s no peace and love in the ALF. Are Screwdriver a better or worse band that Chumbawumba? The later, of course, having ‘sold out’ to EMI to have a chart hit which served as a drinking song more than political rally. Personally, I believe the world is greater enriched by exploring both ‘extreme’ points of views. Paradoxically, porous ideas and cultures are, after all, what changes the world.

I myself have stood in the face of Eastbourne’s liberals for standing up for an alternative view point, to start a debate following the aftermath of the London 7/7 bombings. Those coming to the gig to be ‘shocked’ (as it claimed in advance publicity) by extreme art, Foxtrot Echo, Tony Wakeford et al, turned out to be easily offended (I faced fairly limp-wristed threats afterwards), as this ‘exhibit A‘ recording testifies…

In hindsight, I may not have said and did what I did at the gig, but it was an immediate and direct response to the political and society ‘demons’ dancing publicly at the time of recording. And I think Prussian Blue, when they get over their angst, testostorone adolescence will probably make some more tempered music, less skewed to holocaust denial and maybe something a bit happier, like chasing butterflies in that pretty meadow. Then no one will care about them anymore, their time will be done.

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