Posts Tagged ‘experimental music’

Brighton Beat: Thurston Moore and friends live

January 27, 2013

Thurston Moore at Green Door Store

Thurston Moore, the Green Door Store Brighton, 26th January 2013. Photo by Melita Dennett http://www.flickr.com/photos/melita666/

 It’s not every day you get to see an old friend play an improvised musical face-off with an alt-rock legend, and it’s even more gratifying when said friend- Brighton drummer extraordinaire Andy Pyne, AKA Puffinboy, Foolproof Projects, and one-third of Medicine and Duty- more than holds his own against said legend, guitar hero to a (Daydream) generation, Thurston Moore.

I, by the way, hate the term ‘alt-rock’ as much as you do, but it’s a fair bet that whatever college radio jock or Spin magazine subeditor came up with the term, he (gotta be he) immediately defined it as “you know, stuff like Sonic Youth.” Moore’s former (?) band pretty much embodied that whole early nineties alternative music crossover; their pals Nirvana may have been more iconic, but they were too narrow, too specifically grunge where SY seemed to encompass and represent the whole diaspora of weird-ass music that was starting to filter through into the mainstream. Their story even sums up the whole era in microcosm: smart-ass post-punkers turned early ’80s NYC No Wave brats, gradually tuning their noise over the course of a half-dozen albums until they reached their decade-straddling imperial peak- the hugely influential 1988 double Daydream Nation, major label debut Goo and opinion-dividing, glam-pop-grunge classic / sellout Dirty (which I love)- then arguably moving gradually back towards their experimental improv roots over the course of the eight albums that followed (2006’s rock-recapitulating Rather Ripped perhaps excepted), not to mention the more consciously avant-garde side releases on their own SYR label.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that while Thurston Moore is a genuine icon and big deal rock star, it’s also no surprise to see him mingling so easily with the sellout crowd at this still intimate club matinee show; joining in with the improv event spirit of no barriers between performer and audience, no expectations, open minds and open boundaries. Because this is where Thurston came from and where, really, his heart and musical soul have always remained. He doesn’t exactly blend in- his tall, gangly frame is immediately recognisable and he hasn’t aged much in the 20 years since he was a regular fixture on MTV’s 120 Minutes– just a bit more pouchy- but he’s quiet, casual, approachable, and genuinely interested in the day’s supporting performers.

This is of course a benefit show to raise funds for this year’s Colour Out of Space festival. This important annual event, since 2006 Brighton’s more low-key, more artistically and experimentally oriented answer to Birmingham’s Supersonic, or an indoor, condensed forerunner of the mighty Supernormal, was sorely missed last year when it lost out on funding. So embodying the DIY ethos it celebrates, Colour Out of Space is Doing It itself, and will return in November, thanks to the support of artists like Thurston (who performed at the 2008 event) and everybody here.

Occult Hand are presumably named for the game played by a group of American newspaper journalists to see who could sneak the phrase “it was as if an occult hand…” into the most unlikely reports between 1965 and 2004. Dressed in natty hooded robes with a groovy cultish backprint, Isa Brooks and Henry Holmes crouched on the floor manipulating found sounds- eerie wails, what sounded like a demonic voice conjured in a seance- over the Kenneth Anger-esque film of some kind of Satanic ritual being projected behind them. It was an appropriate and evocative scene to walk in on, leaving the afternoon sunshine behind and passing through the black curtain into the Green Door Store’s dank and stonewalled back room.

In complete contrast, Lizzy Carey’s “Bag Lady Pot Pourri” was a warmly engaging performance based around at least two random elements; one being a bag of items bought from the closing down sale at the Hove charity shop Lizzy was a volunteer at (“fill a bag for a fiver” being the clearout offer), and the other a plastic pint glass of sticks she’d shake up to select which item would be pulled from the bag and made to contribute in some way. The result was an entertainingly chaotic cacophony: while the DJ span the 7″ singles she’d procured in the background, Lizzy played recorded interviews she’d conducted with her fellow charity shop staff, then over this read excerpts from tattered paperbacks, “played” a sheeps skull and a toy Thomas the Tank Engine, pressed old talking book cassettes into service, wrapped herself in a silk headscarf and a snake-buckle belt, and made imaginative use of a Connect 4 game.

Next up were the vocal duo Here Hare Here. Theres was a truly astonishing Dadaist sound performance using only mouths and diaphragms; ullulating, grunting, whimpering, screaming, chanting, humming, muttering, howling glossolia, the one random intelligible phrase “No Raymond, I’m a pearl diver” making me think of the similar fragment “not now Geoffrey, I’m amphibious,” from Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch comic strip. Visceral and cathartic, what was surprising was how unpretentious this short performance seemed; stood facing us straight on, the pair were focussed and disciplined but unrestrained, metaphorically naked in their raw self-expression.

If Here Hare Here were like Yoko Ono meeting Kurt Schwitters at an outdoor screening of Withnail & I, then the trio of Karen Constance, Duncan Harrison and Dylan Nyoukis were like a banned episode of The Goon Show written during one of Spike Milligan’s infamous nervous breakdowns. It’s not such a frivolous comparison; the 1950s radio programme was hugely influential and ahead of its time in its experimental use of cut-ups, surrealism and crazy sound effects, which included pioneering work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Constance, Harrison and Nyoukis may have dropped the gags, but their set of sound collages included some amusing low-key physical theatre alongside the squeals, wails, grunts and tape manipulation.

I can’t comment on Lauren Naylor’s spoken word set as I didn’t catch enough of it, and I was disappointed that the veteran modernist poet Tom Raworth was a no-show- despite being listed on the initial event bill, he was apparently in Europe at the time. Brighton resident Raworth appeared alongside Moore at a sold-out show at London’s Cafe Oto last year, and I was hoping to have another chance to catch him here, but no such luck.

On then, to Pyne and Moore’s entirely spontaneous, improvised set. I can entirely believe that the first contact the duo had was an onstage handshake, before Andy passed Thurston a drumstick with which to percussively play his battered Fender Jazzmaster, the trademark screwdriver jammed beneath the strings. Cutting an unassuming figure with a grey woollen jumper still on over his shirt, Pyne began with a fast fluttering cascade of cymbals and hi-hat for Moore to warm up over, using an iron file to dance over the pick-ups. But before too long the pair had shifted dynamically into hard, droning avant-rock mode, resembling nothing so much as a primitivist, bassless Jimi Hendrix Experience; like the great Mitch Mitchell, Pyne was busy but tight, a mathematical squid behind the traps. His constant abstract expressionist splashes of percussive sound never concealed his ability to always be right behind the beat. Pausing only to- eventually- remove the jumper, he drove the set constantly forward as Moore hammered and wailed, his guitar technique at times disconcertingly phallic, but reminding us all that this was the guy we’d all first copped our avant-garde noise licks from in 1980s Snub TV bedroom mirror epiphany.

I certainly hope someone recorded this one-off, half-hour performance (varied and thrilling as it was, it didn’t need to go on longer), as it was a masterclass in improvised Rhythm and Noise (R&N?) jamming. Kudos to Andy Pyne for being in no way cowed by having to go head to head with Moore, and neither overplaying nor holding nervously back. And kudos to Thurston Moore for coming down to do the show, and for burning on all cylinders where it counted. His solo tour, including dates with cult folk guitarist MichaelChapman, continues around the UK through early February.

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Brighton Beat: Hamilton Yarns live

January 19, 2013

Hamilton Yarns seemed an unlikely choice of guest band at Synthesise Me, but their performance last night was both spellbinding and entirely appropriate. Bathed in the soft glow and turning colours of S.M.s trademark projections- courtesy, as always, of the Innerstrings Psychedelic Lightshow- the Yarns conjured up a womb-dream ambience in their packed corner of the Hotel Pellirocco bar, as insulated from the background chatter at the other end of the room as from the snowbound seafront outside.

Stripped down to their core trio, Hamilton Yarns adapted their usual acoustic, experimental-pastoral, lo-fi kraut-folk to a form more suited to Synthesise Me’s electronic music theme, and went down as well with the regular crowd of open-minded electronica buffs as with the boho girls sat cross-legged on the floor sketching the band as they played. Iain, Joss and Alistair presided over a Bagpuss antique shop of analogue synthesisers and battery-powered organs, plus autoharp, trumpet, bass guitar and Joss’s sparingly-used snare-and-cymbal drum set-up. From this coven emerged lullabies for lost spacemen, hints of early Tangerine Dream style ambience but scaled down to Farmers’ Market level, denuded of pomp and grandiosity to reveal a more satisfying and subtle pathos and poignancy instead.

Strange burbles from the ether suggested 1950s Bakelite wireless sci-fi serials, the village moon project constructed from a shed. And finally, most unlikely of all, the first- to my knowledge- Hamilton Yarns cover version; a minimalist take on Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Hello’, delivered with all the emotionally-repressed passive aggression of a red-faced municipal library pants-fumbler, incapable of eye contact but still in need of a love and affection he just can’t find among his collection of musty matchboxes and dead field mice.

Mention too must be made of Jason Williams’ extraordinary DJ set, incorporating the use of a 1970s spectrum shifter with a supposed pedigree of past owners taking in ELP and dubious pre-Numan punk-synth pioneers Rikki and the Last Days of Earth, as well as a shot glass ingeniously substituting for the centre spindle of an ex jukebox 45. One hopes for more in this vein from all concerned.

Medicine and Duty- Don’t Use ‘a’ (Foolproof Projects)

May 27, 2009

medicineandduty

 

Nothing is certain. This is the latest album from  Brighton’s premiere live experimentalists, Medicine and Duty, but even that should be qualified: it’s not ‘new’ anymore, as it came out at the end of last year, and to be honest I don’t know if it’s still their latest. Technically, too, it should probably be called a mini-album, being just seven songs long and less than half an hour in duration. Nothing is certain. And I’m not even certain of that.

The first thing that strikes the listener is that this is a far more mechanically-generated record than their previous releases, or indeed the band’s usual live shows. Matt Colegate and Jack Cooper have left their guitars at home and are credited instead with ‘electronics,’ but they are electronics of a particularly dense and fearsome nature. You could dance to this, but it’s not a ‘Dance’ record.  Andy Pyne’s drumming heads boldly out on open-ended expeditions into overgrown and rarely-trod rhythmic territory, where robotic birds fall keening from dark skies and ancient humming force fields wait to trap the unwary. Holy Fuck are another band who started out along a similar path recently, but after the primitive rave-inflected wave oscillations of the album’s opening track Medicine and Duty leave them far behind,  exchanging nods with Sunburned Hand of the Man instead as they pass each other further into the wilderness.     

The album’s title seems like an injunction never to take the obvious, easy option; Eno’s oblique strategies reduced down to one basic principle. The individual track titles give little away, but point to a general aesthetic: ‘Jury Rigged,’ ‘Maths on Fire,’ ‘The Blind Toolmakers,’ ‘Horizontal Tracking,’ etc. Although all three band members are credited with vocals, the tracks are essentially instrumentals, with any lyrics rendered either inaudible or incomprehensible, chanting, wailing and speaking in tongues: the ghosts in the machine, making their presence felt. Meanwhile, the music moves from claustrophobic industrial noise to oddly beautiful echoes of crystalline jungles, from surreal semi-oriental landscapes to the abstract language of mechanised desire, much like a slim volume of short stories by the late JG Ballard.

Listen: the machines are singing.   

Go to: www.foolproofprojects.co.uk