Howlround Closes The Gate – Vinyl Reissue Sells Out – That’s All Folks!

To celebrate my heroic non-inclusion in this year’s Record Store Day, due in no small part to failing to get my affairs in order, I was planning to use this week to spring something exciting onto a grateful world: namely a surprise vinyl reissue of Howlround’s third album Torridon Gate, in an edition of 100 only, complete with gorgeous screen-print of the sleeve by Hannah Brown of Modern Day Magpie and a natty translucent inner. However, thanks to the noble efforts of the good folk on my mailing list, I’m unable to do so…

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The fact is, I sent my subscribers an email last week giving them first dibs on the new record and they literally bit my hand off – the entire edition sold out in less than twelve hours!

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Sorry to disappoint those of you who missed out, but that really is your lot! The ‘name your price’ digital download is still available, but the number of regretful, peevish or outright inconsolable missives I’ve received in the last few days tells me it’s proving little consolation. However, the fact is that in my original email I promised it would be first-come, first-served, with no second edition and no re-reissue. And I intend to keep that promise until such future times as when it will prove especially financially lucrative to go back on my word and let everyone down – a major career retrospective, perhaps, a deluxe vinyl box set in mahogany, a nomination for the Mercury prize, that sort of thing. Frankly, such worries are quite a way off yet – not much point having a major career retrospective without having a major career first. But I digress…

Torridon Vinyl Close-up

I do plan to spring other surprises in this manner in the future as it’s quite an enjoyable (if not particularly lucrative) way of running my affairs and keeping my followers on their toes. If you’re not yet on my mailing list and gaining such preferential treatment yourself, why not send an email with the subject line ‘Yes! I wish to be kept on my toes re. this kind of thing in the future’ to robinthefog at gmail dot com? I will take care of the necessary and first dibs on my next vinyl surprise will be yours for the taking!

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To Radiophrenia news now, and congratulations to Mark Vernon and his team for the culmination of a successful week of broadcasting to Glasgow and the surrounding areas on 87.9FM (while streaming worldwide online), with a wide and varied programme of original radiophonic works, lectures and performances, including a couple of new works by myself (along with the writer Leila Peacock, of course).

I’m extremely proud to report that one of them, ‘Mount Shock – Music For Microphone Cradle’ was chosen as the work to mark the final broadcast, signing-off and closure of the station at roughly ten minutes to midnight on Sunday 19th. Quite an accolade with over seven hundred pieces to choose from!

Photo by Andy Popperwell

Photo by Andy Popperwell

Penultimately, the Howlround tape-loop quartet finally came out of dry-dock last week when I performed a solo set (Chris still being on his arts residency in Dubai) for the music technology students of Havering College in Essex. It was good to be back behind the spools and the students responded well to my demonstration of what it’s possible to achieve without resorting to plug-ins, fx pedals and other bits of digital technology. In fact it went so well that for a moment I almost felt ‘cool’ and ‘relevant’, but thankfully those feelings passed before I attempted to get too far ‘down with the kids’. Could have been seriously embarrassing for a chap of my vintage.

And lastly, I’ve moved house too. 80+ boxes of vinyl, tape spools CDs, books and other assorted ephemera (not to mention my army of tape machines) have been successfully transferred to my new abode in Penge, thanks to the efforts of some very strong friends (both literally and metaphorically). This photo was taken at about the halfway point, when there was still some floor-space in which to stand swinging a camera. No such luxuries now. I haven’t seen the carpet since:

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There are those who claim that moving house, performing a Essex-based solo tape-loop set and releasing a new record in the space of less than forty-eight hours is sheer, unadulterated lunacy. And you know what? I wouldn’t dream of arguing with such people. The upshot of all of this is that I’m currently sans-internet at the newly-appointed Fog Towers, which is why I’m writing this while day-drinking in Crystal Palace, next to two men engaged in a fascinating discussion about why it’s never a good idea to take cocaine at a funeral. If you’re thinking that sounds rather like stating the bleedin’ obvious, I should inform you that some poor misguided chump once offered me viagra at the send-off of a much-loved elderly relative, so perhaps such activities are more common than you or I might imagine. But all that’s for another time…

Anyway, for these reasons, and all of the above, it’s an exciting time. More soon, my friends, and don’t forget to subscribe if the mood takes you!


Radiophrenia – How It Is

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Very pleased to announce the launch today of Radiophrenia, an art radio station broadcasting live on 87.9FM for one week only (13th-19th April) to Glasgow and the surrounding areas, also streaming worldwide via Radiophrenia.scot. Curated by Mark Vernon and Barry Burns and with a programme of several hundred exclusive and original radiophonic works, including contributions from Octopus Collective alumni John Hall and Felix Kubin, Jez Butler, The Resonance Radio Orchestra and many, many more. My own submissions include another collaboration with the brilliant Leila Peacock and a brand new tape-composition using a recording of a New Broadcasting House microphone with a squeaking cradle. You’ll have to tune in to hear them in full of course, but magnanimous fellow that I am,  I’ve included a sneak preview:

The schedule can be perused here and you can also follow the latest updates on Twitter. I’m predicting that I shall be listening to this a lot over the coming days, partly owing the relentlessly high-calibre of people involved, but also to attain some respite from heroically supervising the packing of thousands of records into boxes. But that’s for another time…

Another recent collaboration that I can finally reveal is Michael Garrad‘s entry to the Kings College Creative Responses to Modernism competition, a dramatized extract from Samuel Beckett’s 1961 novel How It Is. Barry Ward provides the voice and I provide the soundtrack. The results are as relentless and visceral as anything I’ve been involved with to date, and it’s about as intense and bleakly thrilling (or thrillingly bleak) as anything the great man ever wrote.

This recording is interested modernism’s concept of making it new and conversely how outmoded techniques can evoke the futuristic and etherial. A squeaking drawer is the source for the electronic sound, recorded and manipulated on ancient quarter-inch tape machines, extracting hidden sound. The reading is monotone, breathless and the digital recording eliminates dynamic with harsh sibilance, distortion and extreme compression.

I can’t claim to be much of a Beckett scholar, though from my own perspective he made a huge contribution to radiophonic drama with works such as pioneering radio play All The Fall in 1957. It’s said that he was hugely influenced by the creative possibilities of then-nascent reel-to-reel technology, a fascination that manifests itself most obviously in works such as the quietly horrific Krapp’s Last Tape. And on a more personal note, I have a print of the Beckett quote ‘Fail again, fail better’ blu-tacked to the wall of my studio next to the mixing desk. It’s been a constant source of solace, as anyone who invests their career and general happiness in the functioning of a number of broken down and erratic tape machines will be able to readily imagine. Hand-painted by Sarah Tanat Jones as a reward to donors to her recent Kickstarter campaign, it’s a quote I first read on the back of a Peanuts calendar, of all things, a surprisingly deep nugget of wisdom compared to the previous day’s entry – ‘take snacks on long road trips to avoid having to buy them’.

In the selection from How It Is, the narrator, static in an abstract land of mud, has a lucid moment, reminiscing of ‘life above’ with his wife, whose death torments him. The piece crosses futures and pasts, warmth and harshness, and in its form exists out of body, place and time.

It’s another rather hurried post from me, unfortunately, as I must return to my frantic box-related activities. But hopefully these two and the promise of many Glaswegian radiophonic delights for the week ahead will keep you sated until THIS happens:

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Can I Get An Amen? The World’s Greatest Drum Loop Reaches Radio 4

For those of you who missed it on either The World Service’s ‘Weekend’ and ‘Newshour’ programmes, or Radio 4’s ‘PM’, here’s my report on ‘Amen Brother’, the rapidly snowballing fundraising campaign by British DJs Martyn Webster and Steve Theobald to give something back to the surviving member of the group that one day in 1969 inadvertently created arguably the most influential six seconds in the history of recorded sound – The survivor is Richard Spencer, the group The Winstons and the track… Well, if you’re reading this you probably don’t need much of an introduction, but here’s a potted history:

In further developments, the World Service’s feedback programme Over To You has now dedicated half of its most recent edition to listener’s reactions to the report and the campaign, largely because, as the producer informed me, ‘Twitter went mad over it’. Respect is also due to redoubtable presenter Rajan Datar for choosing this as his own favourite amen track of all time.

I’m pretty certain I’ve written before in these pages on the subject of my great affection for so-called ‘oldskool’ hardcore and jungle music, so much of which is based on the sampling and reinterpretation of this most crunchy and distinctive of all the so-called ‘breakbeats’. It was the first music I truly loved and early exposure to labels such as Reinforced, Strictly Underground, Suburban Base and Movin’ Shadow proved a genuine future shock to my tender teenage ears. In unguarded moments I’ve even commented that jungle was just about as funky and futuristic as machine music ever managed to get, and that the early work of artists such as Shy FX, a pre-jazzy 4Hero and a pre-Strictly Come Dancing Goldie were often as unwittingly avant garde as anything dreamed up by other more lauded pioneers of 20th century musics, your Schaeffers, your Ras and your Moondogs. While I admit that that last sentence will probably have made quite a large number of people surprisingly angry (and acknowledging that coming of age in that period is bound to have clouded my judgement on the subject), I do sometimes feel it was the last time music and technology took a genuine step forward together into the unknown. And to those who might sneer at some imagined lack of sophistication in tracks such as ‘Original Nuttah’ or ‘6,000,000 Ways 2 Die’ (and such people are surprisingly legion), I can only point out that, whatever your thoughts on hardcore and jungle, it’s one hell of a gateway drug to all kinds of weird and wonderful music. To debate this further, send a heated email to the usual address.

To the uninitiated, the 2004 documentary on the Amen Break by Nate Harrison is still essential viewing, providing far greater historical context and critical theory than I could offer here. For my own part, news of a campaign intending to give something back to the surviving member of a group responsible for the backbone of so much music over the past three decades struck a huge chord, as it clearly has to thousands of others if £22,000 worth of donations (at the time of writing) is any kind of yardstick. Online sampling database ‘Who Sampled‘ lists over 1,500 individual tracks that have “officially” used ‘Amen Brother’ in whole or part, but as someone with a personal collection of amen-sampling tracks in the hundreds (at least), I would wager that’s a conservative estimate – it could be two or even three times that figure. And the original band never saw a bean. A worthy cause indeed.

For added value, I’ve included a slightly truncated transcript of my Nate Harrison interview below. I started by asking him for his own take on the cultural impact of sampling:

Nate Harrison: In the late 70s/early 80s and definitely throughout the 80s sampling technology was developed. And this is not something even per se to do with pop music, but just in terms of technology, it became possible to record any sound and essentially play it back as an instrument. You could take somebody’s voice or banging pots and pans together. You could really take any sound and kind of ‘musicalize’ it if that’s even a word, by mapping it across a keyboard and playing it like an instrument. One of the first things that sampling allowed for is the re-use of older recorded material, so for example in the case of the amen break, you could sample the drums and then re-play them as if they were your own drums. And so, voilà – you would have your own drum beat under your song. Sampling really took off in the 80s, you can absolutely hear [it] in the first instances of hip hop music.

RTF: There are so many breaks to choose from and many by much more famous and ‘visible’ artists. What could have made this break, taken an obscure B-side of a lesser-known soul group such a phenomenon? 

That’s a really great question – why did it become so popular, why did the Amen break become such a lynchpin? I think there’s no real right or wrong answer I would say the sample itself is very long, as compared to funky drummer, the tighten up break or the apache break, there’s a lot of material to work with in the amen sample itself. And it is not only long, but the rhythm itself is kind of syncopated, so there’s lots of variations on the drums you can derive from sampling the original break and then sort-of chopping it up and re-arranging it. One of the sort characteristics of the other breaks is that they are just one bar [in length]. You can loop it but you can’t do a whole lot [more] with it, other than get really specific and chop up just the snare and what have you. But the amen is really conducive to chopping and rearranging. It also sonically just has this kind of punch to it that I think really makes it unique. There’s something just about the groove of that break and especially the way people chop it up, of course, but there’s just something about the way the drums hit and the funkiness of it – but also the robotic-ness of it. For me, it’s this perfect blend between very organic sounding and very robotic-sounding at the same time.

Your documentary on the break is still getting a huge amount of attention over a decade later – what inspired you to first make it?

I had come from a musical background so I actually had made a bit of music myself. I was very much into UK drum ‘n’ bass culture – although I didn’t live in the UK, I lived in the US – but I was very much into that kind of music. But at the time I was also in graduate school and I was working on various projects, and I just thought an interesting project was to talk about the intellectual property issues of this particular break. I knew of the break already, I knew that it had come from a band called The Winstons, but that’s really all I knew. So I set forth and spent several months just doing as much research as I could about it. But that was back in 2004, youtube didn’t exist at that point, Wikipedia wasn’t what it is today, it wasn’t as easy as it might be today to do some of that research.

When I mention the break to people, that documentary is usually the first thing they refer to! It seems to have had a huge impact in spreading awareness of the history of the amen and where it comes from. 

That’s really humbling and nice to hear, it’s also I feel a little bit uneasy about it in the sense that I think it’s really The Winstons that should, especially G.C. Coleman, the drummer, who unfortunately passed away some years ago. [I]t’s really them that should be getting the spotlight, I’m just some geeky white kid from New York! I don’t consider myself to be part of that history at all, but I definitely think it’s a history that should be known.

Apparently [Winstons frontman] Richard Spencer was completely unaware of the break’s seismic impact until the late 1990s?

Yeah, I haven’t spoken to him directly, though we did email one another many years ago about this and by that point he was aware of it and he wasn’t exactly happy about the situation, you know, he felt a little bit bitter and I can’t say I blame him. I think he was – a lot of people were – just caught off-guard as to the novelty but also obviously the economic viability of sampling. You know, it’s really the backbone of so much music. And hip hop, as an example, makes a lot of money, drum n bass music made a lot of money. So to have one of your old records blow up – anywhere from Goldie to Squarepusher to Trent Reznor to Dr. Dre, to everybody you can think of has used the amen break at one point or another, and yet you haven’t really seen any money from that, it’s a little strange.

We’re talking potentially thousands and thousands of tracks. You’ve talked about entire scenes being based almost solely on this drum loop. I think it’s that aspect that fascinates me particularly

Yeah, in terms of how the scenes developed around the amen, it’s a really amazing trajectory, where we have rave music in the mid to late 80s, then the tempos of the music start getting faster, and then gradually breakbeats, again because of sampling technology get introduced, so rave music kind of morphs into what you might call hardcore techno or hardcore breakbeat music, then the amen is introduced and that kind of morphs into early jungle, then that gets maybe a little bit sanitised, some people might say, and turns into drum ‘n’ bass music, and then that splinters off into all sorts of places like drill n bass and breakcore and even today’s dubstep. There’s so many permutations at this point, it keeps subdividing into little genres.

I was trying to think of other examples of this phenomenon in modern culture, the only one that sprung readily to mind (more so, even, than other breakbeats) was The Wilhelm Scream?

Absolutely – it’s the Wilhelm Scream of breakbeat music!

To the extent that it’s became almost expected of any contemporary producer, a sort of tipping of the hat?

One of my favourites is Luke Vibert’s alias Amen Andrews. [The name] is obviously a take on [erstwhile This is Your Life presenter] Eamon Andrews, but it’s nothing but music composed with the amen. And he made those [records] later, a few years ago, but they reference early rave music, they sound like they should like they should be from the early 90s, when in fact they’re from the early-mid 2000s. But he’s intentionally making this kind of old, nostalgic amen rave sound. So there’s definitely this kind of self-consciousness about it. The US musician Keith Whitman aka Hrvatski made an entire album basically with nothing but the amen, Squarepusher, I would say, about 80% of his music incorporates the amen in some way. So there’s definitely this sense of – on the one hand, maybe, over-use, but on the other such an over-use that it becomes this right of passage, you have to if you’re serious electronic musician, you have to do an amen track if not an amen record.

What are your thoughts on this campaign to give something back to the surviving original member of the band?

I think it’s great! When I saw it – a friend of mine forwarded it to me – I kind of kicked myself for not having the same idea! I think it’s really great, I think it’s awesome that they’ve raised … what is it, over £16,000 now? [NB – currently over £22,00] As much as that’s awesome, I think it’s super awesome, that’s really pennies compared to how much the track has been used. And if Richard Spencer and the rest of The Winstons had actually collected royalties in the first place, it would have gone way beyond that. But at the same time, it’s this kind of paradoxical situation, it’s precisely the lack of control over the amen that allowed for it to spread and mutate and to develop into all these sub-genres. That’s the argument for this kind-of ‘copy-left’ argument, that if you regulate all this stuff, if you make it so you have to get permission all the time, that kind of impedes the progress of culture. And in some ways the amen story bares that out, it’s precisely because no-one stopped anybody from using it that it grew so much and it’s become such a huge thing in culture today.

It appears that a lot of DJs and producers who achieved success using the break have also been helping to spread the word and also donated themselves. 

Absolutely – as they should!

I was also going to include a longer interview with Steve Theobald aka DJ Deluxe, the campaign’s co-founder, but we ended up talking for over an hour on the subject, and I was hoping to have this cranked out by teatime. Besides, actions speaking louder than words, I thought it might be a better idea to share a couple of his own productions with you, released on legendary hardcore label Knite Force and – of course – with chopped up amens proudly in place. Ear goggles at the ready:

Pretty banging, right? Have another: With so many hundreds and thousands of tracks out there, picking the ultimate ‘amen roller’ would leave even the most devout junglist scratching their head, but here’s my personal favourite – Shy FX’s ‘Simple Tings’ from 1995, in which Andre Williams slices G.C. Coleman’s legacy into ribbons before recombining and twisting it into wild yet intricately syncopated patterns without losing any of it’s robotic funkiness. Play loud:

And finally, if you haven’t donated to the campaign yet, might I urge you to visit http://www.gofundme.com/amenbrother and just do whatever feels good and right?


Wheel And Listen Again, Selectors – Global Beats DJ Special On BBC World Service

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Rather a treat for lovers of banging tunes from The World Service this week, as the latest instalment of it’s on-going Global Beats series is now available for your listening pleasure – and this time I’m pleased to say it was my hands on the faders. In this edition, DJs from Denmark, Brazil, Russia, Thailand, Spain, Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan share their stories, clubbing tips and their current favourite floor-fillers, with quite a few surprises along the way. First broadcast last Sunday, those who missed out have some 28 days at the time of writing to listen again.

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DJ Edu striking the classic ‘Devious Masterplan’ pose

The programme is presented by 1Xtra’s DJ Edu, hastily juggling his voiceover duties around his current job of travelling all over Africa sampling some of it’s finest nightclubs and actually getting paid to do it, which sounds like a fantastic job, though I’m informed is actually quite tiring. It was produced by Catherine Fellows and mixed and edited by myself in a marathon, 15-hour, caffeine-fuelled, deadline-thrashing super-session. In fact, far from travelling to Africa, swanning around in nightclubs or hobnobbing with our global selection of tastemakers, Catherine and I barely got to leave the studio or see daylight for about three days, except to fill up on coffee and crisps. I realise that it is possible to shave a few hours off these sessions by just doing basic fades in and out of the music, but as you’ve probably worked out long ago, that really isn’t how I roll.

Anyway, we we’re both very pleased with the resulting programme, which we’ve tried to make sound as close to  a DJ set as possible, with all the music punching through nice and loud and neatly slotting together – with perhaps the honourable exception of the bouncy techno from Bishkek, which is in a class all of its own. I certainly picked up on a few fantastic tracks that I otherwise would most likely have never discovered and am at this moment seriously considering emigrating to either   Copenhagen or Bangkok; torn as I am between the strident electro of the former and the vintage Thai funk of the latter.

It would hardly be necessary at this point for me to launch into some sort of rapture about the glories of music bringing people together, but I will say that it’s a truly great thing that even in these straightened times there is still room for this kind of cultural feast on the World Service. Where else am I going to find out what they dance to in the clubs of Kyrgyzstan? Long may it continue.

You can listen to the programme here and check out lots more from Global Beats series here. I’ve also included two of my personal favourite tracks below. Fill your Global Boots, as it were!


Kickstart Day For Night – Funding Film Noir

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Just in case you haven’t had enough of my recent demands for fundraising cash, what with the Resonance FM auction and all (with thanks to Mr. Nick Stone for a very generous winning bid on my tape-loop editing workshop), I’d like to draw to your attention another most worthy cause; this time set amongst the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, California (rather than just opposite the Pret-A-Mange on Borough High Street). You may recall a few weeks ago my mentioning the publication of Drink The Rest Of That, a collection of short stories by Foggy-collaborator and genius raconteur Guy J. Jackson? Well, a few weeks is a long time in Hollywood, possibly the only city in the world -as I discovered last year- where you can be heckled for walking; so now Guy has another project on the go, as the writer for a contemporary film-noir currently in development entitled ‘Day For Night':

(Obviously this video is embedded from the Kickstarter page, so instructions to scroll down and sideways should be taken with a pinch of Hollywood salt)

If Alfred Hitchcock, Raymond Chandler, and a desperate actress/waitress had a love child, it would be Day For Night. A tightly wound psychological thriller set in present-day Hollywood, this film examines the fine line between nurturing a dream and fueling an obsession—and what happens when you cross it. Populated with distinct and dynamic characters, Day For Night comes from an award-winning team of filmmakers who have been inspired by the L.A. Noir genre. 

Fans of Guy’s amiable surrealism and dark, twisted comedy will already have a pretty good idea of what to expect of this collaboration with Tasmanian director Michael Chrisoulakis. Those wishing to learn more can find further information on the film’s Kickstarter page, as well as Facebook or Twitter accounts. The film is already partially shot and has reached 50% of it’s funding target, but there’s still quite a way to go on this ‘all or nothing’ Kickstarter campaign and just over two weeks to reach their goal, so please go to their funding page and just do whatever feels good and right.

OK, that’s the hard sell over. Here’s another story from Drink The Rest Of That as a reward:


Come Splice With Me / Come OST: Special Prizes For 2015 Resonance FM Fundraiser

It’s #FundRaisingWeek once again at Resonance FM, which means another seven days of special broadcasts, one-off events and lots and lots of highly desirable items up for grabs in this year’s Ebay auction, with all money raised helping to keep the greatest radio station in the world on air for yet another year. And in these straitened times they need your help more than ever. So, what’s up for grabs in 2015? Here’s my own contribution:

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‘A Howl-To Guide’: A Day Of Tape-Loop Creation With Robin The Fog

“A glorious morning spent searching for extraordinary noises in ordinary places in the company of sound artist and composer Robin The Fog, followed by an instructive afternoon dubbing those sounds onto magnetic tape and creating and editing wondrous tape loop compositions, with the results to be broadcast on Resonance FM at a later date. Recording and editing equipment, including tape machines and razor blades, will be provided and the lucky winner(s) will be sent home with a tape spool of their handiwork”.

Speaking personally, a day spent doing this sort of thing is my idea of heaven, and I’m hoping lots of you will agree at least enough to make a decent bid. Further details (including an important disclaimer against razor-related loss of thumbs or other injuries) plus innumerable other delightful items available at the Special Resonance FM Fundraising website here. But the vast majority of you who require no more persuading to support this worthiest of causes can simply whizz straight over to the item’s Ebay page and BID NOW!

Please make the bids nice and high, because 100% of the money raised goes straight to Resonance, and of course because playing with tape is tremendous fun and I’m reliably informed that I’m reasonably affable company. If this workshop ends up being even half as profitable as last year’s ‘Howlround Haunts Your Home’ project, the lucky winner is in for a very enjoyable experience indeed:

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Another item currently up for grabs is an old favourite – ‘Play OST For Me‘, in which the highest bidder wins the chance to present their very own bespoke edition of The OST Show, with all their favourite soundtracks and every whim indulged by that redoubtable broadcaster, smutty raconteur and general man of letters Jonny Trunk, who has promised to be on his very best behaviour for the occasion. This item always proves surprisingly popular, so GET BIDDING QUICKLY! I shall be popping up on this Saturday’s show to promote both this and the aforementioned tape editing workshop, plus we’re also expecting a visit from the brilliant Pete ‘Monsterism’ Fowler; who has very kindly donated this completely awesome original work to the cause:

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My sources tell me there may also be a four-year-old guest on the show, but he is purely there for entertainment value and most certainly NOT up for auction. More details on all of this as we get them and I might even be able to shoe-horn in some new tape music by Howlround that’s currently in production. Unless Jonny pulls that face again. You know the one:

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Konono No. 1, Focusing On Africa and Designing Your Life

Presented for your approval, my report on the magnificent Konono No.1‘s three-day residency at Cafe Oto in London, as broadcast this week on the BBC World Service programme ‘Focus On Africa‘. Freshly arrived from Kinshasha, and with translation provided by Ata Ahli of BBC Afrique, band leader Augustin Mawangu talks about his reaction to London crowds and the history of the band he now leads, originally founded by his father back in the late sixties:

I was lucky enough to snag a ticket for the opening performance before their unprecedented five-show run sold out, and to interview this relaxed and talkative chap enjoying an entirely justified after-show high – who could blame him? But the path of the broadcast journalist is seldom paved evenly and this first commission of the year came with a minor caveat: along with my usual list of questions, I had been asked by the Focus editorial team to obtain ‘vox-pops’ from members of the crowd after the group came off stage, just in case the following afternoon’s interview should fall-through and the package need fleshing out. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I am most certainly not a fan of our on-going mania with soundbite culture, encouraging random passers by to engage in idle conjecture in lieu of actual meaningful or factual content. In fact, I object to it all rather strongly. But, as you may have noticed, the BBC are all for it, and I like to think I’m mature enough to put my own mis-givings aside and go with something vaguely resembling the flow, especially when finances are tight and my editor is calling the shots – ‘bitch gotta make rent’ as Caitlin Moran might have put it.

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The unique amplification of the group’s three likembes is what gives Konono No.1 their unique sound

Of course, walking up to complete strangers brandishing a recorder is seldom an agreeable position to find yourself in, so as I strode semi-purposefully through a venue packed to capacity with post-gig revellers, I resolved to ease myself gently into the proceedings by starting with someone I recognised. Quickly spotting an old acquaintance whom I knew to be something of a music expert, I reasoned he would be as good a place to start as any.

Or so I thought. In hindsight, my polite request for his thoughts on the evening proved to be quite an error, for they opened up some kind of internal flood-gate, resulting in a rather unexpected torrent of vitriol about just how much he hated soundbites and interviews of this nature and mainstream broadcasting in general; finishing with the suggestion that I go stick the whole endeavour up my proverbial – not quite what I was looking for. Attempting to pour oil over these ridiculously over-troubled waters, I explained that I wasn’t terribly keen on this approach myself, but had an editor to answer to; which was met with the snarky riposte ‘No you don’t. You design your life how you want it to be!’ While I was momentarily trying to figure out what the hell that actually meant, my subject then delivered what he clearly considered the killer blow by proceeding to ruminate for the benefit of my recorder on just how harrowing the holocaust must have been – his idea of a compromise, presumably. Such thoughts off his chest, and with no apparent plans on the horizon to design a life other than that of the pretentious, self-righteous ass-hat he had apparently become since our last meeting, I decided to leave him to it. Surely one of the strangest ever responses to a polite ‘How did you enioy the show?’

The funny thing is that in principle we appear to agree on both the subject of soundbites in journalism and the horror of Hitler’s final solution, but I can’t help thinking that it’s a little unsporting to try and shoe-horn the latter into an item that, given the current state of world-affairs, was presumably one of the very few remotely positive or light-hearted news stories Focus On Africa ran that day. I also like to imagine that I can maintain such opinions without having to resort to being a complete dick about them when probed on the subject.  This is after all a report on a concert, an enjoyable and friendly social event, not the scene of some unholy apocalyptic massacre. Thankfully all this nonsense was rendered entirely immaterial the following afternoon, when Augustin gave such a fine interview that everything else was deemed superflous to requirements. I had originally decided that this encounter was the single most ridiculous thing to have happened in 2015 thus far until a bizarre incident this morning in which some mad old trout branded me a ‘Popinjay Hipster’. Now THAT is how you do soundbites! Or at least it would be, had I been recording her…

konono-No-1

Konono No.1 – Founding member Mingiedi (who also built the instruments and amplifiers, but no longer tours) and son Augustin at the front.

These minor quibbles aside, thanks must go to Augustin Mawangu for being such a candid and interesting interviewee, Ata Ahli for the translation from French, Kim Chakanetsa for being super and tour manager Michel Winter for his help in arranging everything. I should also thank Vincent Luttman of Nostalgie Ya Mboka for providing an equally fascinating history of the band that was very sadly cut for time. I shall have to make use of his contribution one day, but meanwhile you can take advantage of his expertise on Congolese music for yourself by tuning to Resonance FM every Saturday at 1330. He was also the very first person in the UK to host a live performance by Konono No.1 way back in 2004, though everybody else seems to have forgotten this fact.

Seriously, this band are one of the most incredible live acts I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing and I urge you to go if you happen to have access to any of the cities they’re visiting as part of their European tour this month. It’s a pity we couldn’t have had longer with Agustin as there were so many more questions I would have liked to put past him, but the interview had to be slightly curtailed – partly because it was freezing and partly due to the presence of two middle-aged men dropping C-bombs and borderline racist remarks within earshot of my recorder. Weirdly, they appeared to have actually attended and enjoyed the gig as well, which made their aggressive and confrontational posturing even harder to figure out. What a confusing mix of human nature I’ve encountered while compiling this report. I suppose we shall just have to chalk it up to people increasingly designing their lives how they want them to be, which may prove rather tiresome for the rest of us in the long-run…

POPINJAY HIPSTER x


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