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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Felix Kubin and the artless of Nottingham

March 23, 2008 at 9:57 pm (Concepts, Hypnotique, live reviews) ()

By Hypnotique

OK, here’s an experiment in words, perhaps not of the calibre of William Burroughs, but acting as something of a brain dump of some of my thoughts & emotions surrounding the show I saw in Nottingham this weekend by the marvellous Felix Kubin.

Felix Kubin, military wear

Mr Kubin is a Rennaisance man of impecible gifts, after my own heart, whose activities, according to his website, “comprise futurist pop, electroacoustic and chamber orchestra music, radio plays, performance projects, lectures, workshops and his own record label Gagarin Records.”

This hip Hamburger (Hamburgerin?) makes darn funky and twisted Deutsch techno rock using analogue synths and was a member of Blitzkrieg. In a word: he is a legend.

If you just check one thing to get a flavour, may I recommend this fine animated video about the ghost of Myra Hindley. Check out the excellent Podcast by the You Are Hear gang for the full set of the Corsica Studios London show with Silver Apples. And here’s a needless picture of me with Simeon from Silver Apples (Q – but who looks more like the pop star?):

Hypnotique with Simeon from Silver Apples

I was tempted to head down to it, for surely it would be a double-bill of mighty mana, but given he was coming to my home town that week it made sense to wait it out.

But therein lies the problem: Nottingham is perhaps not the best city for electronic experimentation, as my own (non-existant) low profile atests. It’s hard for me as Nottingham is my home town and I have all the usual home town loyalties (I’m even a fan of the ever-failing Nottingham Forest boys) but one has to admit it’s not exactly a cultural metropolis – and I personally found it a disheartening downshift to move from London (the global cultural city) to a place with an entire county population of 1million, limiting the catchment audience for any kind of niche or subversive cultural activity, and indeed the acceptance of being niche, subversive or cultural. Unless you’re a goth, then strangely you’re one of many. And (sigh), now remembering why I was happy to leave the first time age 18.

But the outlook is a faint shade of rose: there are some good promoters growing loyal audiences with the likes of Damn You! rocking out American indie or Brit equivalent bands and Johnny Scarr’s Mantile nights in ‘Chameleon Cafe’ – a truly bizarre former tea room site overlooking the municipal square putting on experimental noise, electronic, prog, doom and sometimes even more unexpected touring bands from all over the world. (last night’s Burial Hex show was a good ‘un. Forgive my bleary-fingered typing but Flemish support band Silvester Anfang – all nine of ’em – were sleeping in my living room last night – like most pissed blokes – boy did they have bad music tastes 🙂 ) It’s generally always good stuff, but a bit heavy on the bearded, long greasy-haired male afficionado types. But (sigh) you aint in the cultural metropolis now, dahling.

The Music Library and other events organised by the Via Vaudeville art collective were easily the most daring and quietly interesting nights, but as often happens in this transcient town, people move on (to London, mainly).

So back to the plot (remember that?). Whilst I applaud Ricky Haley’s Liars Club for hosting the divine Mr Kubin, a bit of publicity wouldn’t have gone amiss, given I had to make Sleuth-style enquiries to find out what was happening that would make Laurence Olivier and Michael Cain proud (but not Jude Law in that bloody awful remake). OK so lots of people go to Stealth, but has the average 18-yr-old got any interest in esoteric electro-analogue dada-rock?

Still it’s the first time in while I’ve been propositioned by a 23-yr-old who said “I’m only asking for my mate, he’s 20”. I got to use one of favourite “Carry On” catchphrases: “I’m old enough to be your mother!” (note: use in inappropriate contexts mainly, e.g. with persons older than self). Cradlesnatcher Hypnotique is definitely not. I’ve always been more partial to the beautifully maturing wane artistic male, preferably of a continental persuasion (thus perhaps my affinity for aforementioned Mr K, however, I’m even more prone to wax lyrical on the artist merits of any old Arian Berliner. Perhaps there is no objectivism in my cultural reviewer status. But let’s face it, it’s not much of a review so far).

Anyway, the set started v. late, but we’re off and myself, Johnny Scarr, Pieter and Jude held the micro-fort for refined audience appreciation. Mr K was resplendent in a modish tailored suit and two tone shoes, but clearly troubled by limited audience recognition. If, after all, you are a STAR then you wish to shine as such. I languish in obscurity so know no better. He kicked off and the kiddie-winks were curious. Their tiny teenage ears had never heard such SOUNDS where analogue synths crunch a beat, squelching in and out of sync, mice running up and down the sound spectrum with chants of “Hit Me Provider!” in fantastic Germanic tones Uber-alles. And that was before he brought out the BOLTS OF LIGHTNING (prop, not GWAR/Kiss style stage effect).

Oy vey baby! This is Hypnotique audio heaven. If only all night clubs were this da da da. A dangerous kind of fun. I danced like a mad cat, but the kids were suspicious, many choosing to stay in the suberclubs other rooms (which actually hosted a fairly tasteful selection of indie-pop (not too naff), house and later some fun and bubbly techno). Finally, people realised the action was happening on Mr K’s dancefloor. Or maybe they were all coming up. Or the other rooms closed. Who knows, but toward the end of the set people started flocking in and grooving, which lifted Mr K’s spirits and made it more like the event it should have been.

Afterwards we had a little shouting chat with him above the typical club din. The man was crippled, this was no night to end his UK tour and I felt ashamed of my shallow little hometown. I questioned (again) my own presence here – could I create something of my own where there is nothing, or is swimming against the tide the path to drowning? Anyway, I know you won’t be back Mr K – just as every other fantastic and unexpected performer who passes through and does a half-arse half-empty show never will. Another one bites the dust.

But just to say I adored what felt almost like a personal show purely for my own pleasure, and that’s gotta be worth something. I’m listening now to his 2004 album Matki Wandalaki. Lovely stuff, and who’d have thought Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello” could ever sound so romantic. I once had a bad experience when I worked at Universal Music when a Lionel Ritchie gold disc fell on my head. That was a bad day in the office.

So I look forward to seeing another Kubin show another time, a better place.

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Jean-Jacques Perrey and AV Festival review

March 17, 2008 at 4:13 am (electronic music, Hypnotique, live reviews) ()

AV festival logo

On my Hypnotique blog I flagged up that I would be at the AV Festival with the posse for Jean-Jacques Perrey. Here’s a mini review of the couple of bits I saw of the North East’s AV Festival, an international festival of electronic arts, music and moving image. I went to two days of the 10 day event (1st and 2nd March).

Saturday 1st was really a day of catching up with, appreciating, and wigging out to the crazy new electronic pop sounds of Jean-Jacques Perrey with his new musical partner (and biographer) Dana Countryman as part of the Radiophonia day.

I last saw Jean-Jacques and the extended clan one very snowy and icy February in Berlin for the 2006 Transmediale festival. A crazy all-night club-night saw colourful costumed ravers doing some serious partying to the 1960s sounds from the man they call ‘the father of techno’.

Gateshead was surreal and similar – at the elegant The Sage concert hall, stretching on the banks of The Tyne across from Newcastle like a beached giant armadillo. The afternoon was a sedate lecture (which I was priviledged to introduce, stating that if it wasn’t for the 1960s electronic music pioneers we just wouldn’t have the rich audio landscape today, and I for one would probably not be an electronic musician.) Jean-Jacques demonstrated a little of his tape loop technique with splicing block, followed by the debut screening of Mal Meehan‘s excellent interview film “Life Laughter and Loops” (available to buy soon!).

We retired for dinner in the city filled with stag and hen revellers in bunny costumes and nun’s costumes, a surreal setting for equally surreal conversation with Dick Mills who claims more people are interested in his specialist knowledge of tropical fish than his legacy as the director of BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop.

jean jacques perrey live Dana with CD

The evening show was marvellous – a mixture of classic old and new tunes including ‘Strangers in the Night’ and ‘E.V.A‘ with wacky and disturbing tape loops. What amazed me was the spirit and energy of the audiences – all kinds of people of all ages – can-can-ing, grooving to this crazy, catchy music. There were some very young (18-20) folks, perhaps discovering this ‘ancient’ music through BitTorrenting, Wikipedia and other amazing means of transfering knowledge and music today – before their parents came to collect them. (How rock n roll is it to go to a gig to see someone your granddad’s age?!).

jean jacques perrey live

Here’s some videos I took (on YouTube) to give you a flavour of the atmosphere from the floor, at appalling low quality!!

E.V.A.:

Cat In The Night:

Crazy Russian dance song (not sure title):

Sunday 2nd March:
In whistlestop fashion, I took in a few highlights including artist talks about the Broadcast Yourself exhibition and a yummy brunch at the fantastic community run Star and Shadow artspace and cinema. The exhibition concerned the historic context of arts in broadcast television, of which there are painfully few examples. In included clips of ‘art sabotage’ taking over the broadcast airwaves in guerilla fashion in USA and South America, and discussion of new works including a community TV project in a Mumbai market by Shaina Ananad and Nottingham’s own Active Ingredient discussing their fun new work for Make TV “Fantasy A-List Generator”, decontextualising celebrity interviews whilst encouraging the exhibition viewer to dress up in a disguise and become a fake celebrity.

I must admit that in the manner of many discussion by ‘serious’ artists, a lot of the debate traversed my non-art PhD bear-like brain like a passing corcorde, but it’s interesting to note that the nature of broadcast media is radically changing, offering new platforms for pure art visual content, yet meaning that the impact caused through wider distribution of visual fine arts will be lost. This exhibition will simply not exist in 10 years.

I scooted by ‘Works for Television’ inside a caravan on the high street, looping art works with industrial, textural themes in a cosy, nano-complex, en route to the outstanding Baltic art gallery, a Tate-style contemporary gallery serving as exemplar of Newcastle’s amazing regeneration. I was struck this visit just how gentrified and dynamic the city is today. John Cage’s Variations VII for various industrial sound-reproducing equipment had been recreated and rerecorded for the festival and was presented in both its original and new recording, which are striking different, I guess as result of the combination of a) a new interpretation and b) the variations of new, digital devices.

An evening show by Warp lovelies Autechre (after a very windy, cold circular journey where my destination was always ‘just left and left again’ according to the always accommodating locals) rounded off my visit. But I didn’t get it: it was more chin-scratching dance music that no one was dancing too. Something has gone wrong here that child-like electronic music from the 60s have the old and young up and grooving, whereas so called intelligent dance music has people densely thinking and not dancing. And maybe not even thinking.

So there you have it. Just a sample, but the programme of AV Festival was jam-packed with art and audio goodies across the North-East and would have definitely warranted a longer stay. I very much look forward to checking out the next AV Festival in 2010.

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