As many of you will know by now, the writer, blogger, theorist and philosopher Mark ‘k-punk’ Fisher passed away last weekend. I’m not going to try and sum up the seismic contributions to contemporary culture that Mark’s writings have made – and will continue to make with the recent publication of his latest collection, The Weird and the Eerie. Many others, including Simon Reynolds writing in The Guardian, have done a much job of summing up his work than I could ever hope to. Instead, I’m paying my own small tribute by devoting this week’s Near Mint show to playing some of his very favourite jungle records very loudly indeed. The tracklisting was inspired by one of my own favourite pieces of his writing, ‘The Twenty Greatest Jungle Records Ever Made’, a roll of honour lovingly assembled for FACT magazine back in 2011 – and it goes without saying that everything on it is a banger:
‘The jungle was a fictional space as much as a genre, a brutal ‘90s update of William Gibson’s cyberspace. Jungle’s innovations were collectively driven, not attributable to individual auteurs, but to ‘scenius’, the interaction between DJs, producers and the ‘massive’ on the dancefloor. Breakbeats and bass sounds would evolve from track to track, as if they were audio lifeforms subjected to an intense process of unnatural selection…’ k-punk, FACTmag, 2011
Of course there was only ever going to be one track with which to start this tribute: the 1993 effort from a nascent Goldie which inspired the title of his second collection of writings in 2014. One of my all time favourite records, written about most brilliantly in one of my very favourite books. He will be missed indeed. Bravo, Sir, and RIP.
Hello you. Great excitement this week, not only because it’s time for the first Near Mint Show of 2017, but mostly because for this latest episode of Resonance FM‘s number 1 show devoted to the joys of obsessive record collecting, I’m handing the keys over to fabulous New York based label The Ship to Shore Phonograph Company. Label boss Aaron Hamel has been kind enough to put together an exclusive guest mix for the show, hand-picked from their back-catalogue of cult film music, video game soundtracks and all manner of delightful weirdness in-between, reissued in deluxe vinyl editions – plus the odd wax cylinder. You are in for a treat!
Yes, it is indeed an embarrassment of riches, but the obvious place to start is a cut from one of their earliest releases (and the album that brought them onto my radar), a blood-red vinyl issue of the soundtrack to Manos: The Hands Of Fate. Notice I said ‘issue’ rather than ‘reissue’, because frankly I’m not sure many other labels would have considered giving this ‘brave experiment’ of a movie the OST treatment up to now. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of falling into the hands of Manos, I can reveal that it was a low-budget, low-talent, low-everything 1966 atrocity made as a bet by a Texas fertiliser salesman. Punishingly hard to watch, appallingly acted and bafflingly edited, it makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like 2001: A Space Odyssey; yet if imbibed for long enough it’s becomes oddly, surreally entertaining.
What passes for a plot is a riff on that old horror staple of a family on vacation losing their way, with our heroes in this instance ending up at a remote desert ranch populated by Torgo, a creepy henchman with enormous knees and ‘The Master’, who looks not unlike a sort of satanic Bob Carolgees (ask your Dad). What we can say for sure about the film is that the fertiliser salesman won his bet. And that the soundtrack of skronky jazz and slightly skewed torch-songs is not without its lo-fi charms. Other soundtracks in the mix include the delightfully creepy main title themes from George A Romero’s Martin and Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. I have to confess to not having been exposed to either of these films as yet (and having read online synopsis I’m not sure I would wish to be), but the soundtracks do make me curious for more – plus both must surely be blockbusters in comparison with Manos.
As well as vintage film soundtracks, the label also specialises in archive video game music and the show features tracks from Taito house band ZUNTATA’s Arcade Classics Vol. 1 and Konami Kukeiha Club’s soon to be released soundtrack to the Sega CD game SNATCHER. Finally, things are brought right up to date with a track from Thomas Happ’s soundtrack to his own Axiom Verge video game, a recent release very much modelled on late 80s / early 90s side-scrolling platform adventures such as Metroid. Just as the graphics and gameplay take inspiration from the pixelated games of yore, the soundtrack also plays with the pallet of 8 bit bleeps and chirps beloved of that era and the subsequent ‘chiptune’ movement; but toughened with additional bass weight and additional shades of techno and dubstep over the top. Nicely done, Mr. Happ!
You can keep up to date with the label’s activities by visiting their website Shiptoshoremedia.com and I for one am trying very hard to resist the temptation to head there right now and throw $$$ around like it’s going out of fashion. Thanks to Aaron and everyone at the label for treating us to such an awesome mix and I’ll hopefully be welcoming them back on the show before very long. I’m pretty sure The Master would approve – isn’t that right, Torgo?
Hello you. This second part of my 2016 retrospective was supposed to appear on these pages over a week ago, but the new year has brought with it fresh challenges and fresh demands for my attention, so there’s been precious little time to marshal thoughts and stockpile memories to treasure. I realise that by now it’s probably far too late harp on about the old year, particularly as so many of you are probably trying to blot out the fact that it ever happened. Nonetheless, I’m a firm believer in starting each new year with a blank canvas, and that a certain amount of deck-clearing and slate-cleaning is paramount before doing so. Plus the fact is that despite the many unpleasant and upsetting incidents that occurred, both personally and in the world at large, the year still offered up a number of opportunities to engage in highly stimulating projects, many of which I consider to be worthy of at least one last hurrah before I finally send them packing. So here, with minimum of fuss, are ten randomly selected moments that actually gave me reason to get out of bed in 2016:
1. Live at the Brunel Museum:
Starting off nice and simple, Howlround’s final set of the year took place just a few weeks ago at the bottom of Brunel’s shaft in Rotherhithe, East London, courtesy of Adam Parkinson, Rob Mullender and Goldsmith’s EAVI collective. Could there be a more appropriate venue for our performance of industrial-mechanical concréte sounds played out on vintage equipment? Off the top of my head, only one, but that comes along later…
2. Radio Revolten:
As part of a month-long series of experimental broadcasts and performances in the East German city of Halle, Howlround provided two live Revolten sessions, the first a live performance alongside Chris Cutler (in fact, due to his having to catch an early flight we were technically headlining!) and then the studio session broadcasting live on FM across Saxany-Anhalt, from which the above clip is taken. Oh, and I also ended up DJing for almost six hours in the cinema and then spent most of my wages on weird old electronica LPs in a sleep-deprived stupor. A damn fine way to spend a week, all told, if little costly. Thanks to Knut and Sarah from Radio Revolten and Glenn from Octopus Collective for making it all possible, plus Gabi Schaffner for this decidedly spiffy photo:
3. Halim El-Dabh Profile:
What an honour it was to talk to the great man and pioneering composer Halim El-Dabh for Radio 4, in celebration of his new album Sanza Time, produced in collaboration with the musician Ron Slabe and released during his 95th summer. Halim first made electronic music history far back in 1944, and has no plans to retire any time soon (‘I have a whole big job ahead of me!’ he chuckled when I broached the subject), let’s hope we can all match that sense of wonder and excitement when approaching our own centenaries. Frankly I’m still amazed Radio 4 let me cover it…
4. East Tower Residency, White City:
Produced in conjunction with arts organisation White Noise and Resonance FM, Howlround’s brief here was to create a site-specific performance and a suite of recordings designed to capture the essence of this unloved and neglected part of the former BBC Television Centre complex in the weeks up to its demolition. Using nothing but the sounds of the building, the project began with wandering around the deserted upper floors gathering source material and ended with a live performance and broadcast from the top of the tower in front of an audience of invited guests. A personal highlight was discovering the most magnificent bass tones simply by pushing my sound recorder into a large cardboard tube left in one of the offices and hitting record – hey presto, phat dubstep-style bass with no effort at all! Strange to think that these recordings are now pretty much all that is left of this former long-term home of youth programming, the destruction of which came almost immediately afterwards. Whereas Amboy, that other main inspiration for recordings produced this year, had been a more or less a ghost for years and remains so today, this building was rapidly becoming one the entire time I was there. Now there’s practically nothing to show it ever existed. Apart from some luxury flats, but it’s not as if they’re in short supply in London nowadays, is it? Still got a handful of recordings from these sessions I’d like to put out at some point….
5. Delia Derbyshire Day:
A report produced for Radio 4 back in January, celebrating the legacy of the pioneering ‘sculptress of sound’ Delia Derbyshire through premiering rare and previously unreleased recordings from her archive, commissioning new works from modern artists inspired by her work; and even engaging in Radiophonic composition workshops for children and families. A pleasing mixture of unheard treasures and opportunities to inspire ‘the next generation of wonky musicians’ as workshop leader Caro C put it. ‘I think [Delia] would have been ticked pink …and then pitched in!’ added archive custodian Dr. David Butler. Could not have said it better myself…
6. The Museum Of Last Parties:
The most amazing evening, performing at the Museum of London at the behest of the ever dapper of Mr. Jonny Trunk. Howlround spooled tape loops with DJ Food on decks ‘n’ FX to create a sound installation over the course of several hours, all to an audience lounging on asteroid-shaped beanbags and all in the very shadow of the 2012 Olympic Torch! We haven’t yet had a moment to go through the three hours of recordings we captured that night, but I’m sure it’ll surface somewhere eventually. Quintuple vinyl box set, anyone?
7. The Blow Vol. 2:
So proud of this split cassette recorded with Time Attendant for Manchester’s Front And Follow label. Howlround’s side of the cassette was created entirely from a single sound source discovered on a trip to legendary almost-ghost town Amboy in the Mojave desert, with my friend Kaitlyn and a Garth Brooks CD. The strangest thing is how cold and slushy it ended up sounding, despite being recorded on one of the hottest, driest days I’ve ever experienced, something that I’m putting down once again to the endlessly transformative properties of tape. The reviews went even further:
‘Manually manipulating reels that feel like they’ve only recently been exhumed, the duo weave a dense tapestry as haunting and immersive as Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson‘s Legend Of Hell House Soundtrack’ – The Wire, Nov 2016
8. Live at Brompton Cemetery:
Beating Brunel’s shaft by a narrow margin (not a sentence I ever imagined typing), venue of the year was certainly the gothic domed splendour of this listed Victorian chapel as part of the London Month Of The Dead festival. Set in the heart of one of London’s historic ‘Gardens Of Sleep’, could there be a more suitable venue for a candlelit autumnal performance of Howlround’s ghostly tape loops, unearthly wheezings and spooky clankings; all consumed by a sell-out crowd through the warm fuggy glow of a Hendrik’s gin cocktail, one of the strongest liquids this scribe has ever imbibed? I very much doubt it! Once again, nothing has been done with the recordings as of yet, but I’m quite sure they’ll come back to haunt us all eventually, once I get a moment to go through them! Thanks to Stephen from Antique Beat, Suzette from A Curious Invitation and that one lady who jumped up to help when one of the tapes started spooling all over the floor of the chapel. Greatly obliged, all….
Thanks must also go to Nick and Sam of Hook Research, who shot this rather super video of my preparations for the performance as part of an article entitled ‘Hearing Hidden Worlds’:
9. Cities And Memory London Underground Sound Map:
As a final choice this was a no-brainer. Two years in the making, Howround’s fifth album proper is the soundtrack to an astonishing experimental film by Australian director Steven McInerney, released on 180g vinyl (complete with streaming and download links) on his own Psyché Tropes imprint. Almost certainly the most beautiful looking-and-sounding project I’ve ever been involved with. It’s early days still, but already had kind words from DJ Food and Dr. Alex Paterson of The Orb, with hopefully more to follow. Order your copy here.
For this soundtrack, the group have created their most ambitious work yet, made entirely from tiny and insignificant sounds, that, when amplified and extended via magnetically charged oxide particles of the tape, take on a dramatic new identity. Taken from source material discovered in London, Yosemite and the Mojave desert, these sounds, through simple manipulation, gradually cast off their moorings and head into space, chiming perfectly with the film’s recurring themes of transformation and altered perception, switching scale in a heartbeat from microscopic topography to the vast distances of the cosmos. Shot entirely on 16mm film with a musique concréte soundtrack, it’s both science and fiction combined, marking a dramatic new direction for all involved.
Well, that’s enough to be getting on with. There was so much else I could have written about, so many other great moments – I haven’t even touched on all the amazing episodes of Near Mint, for example – but this is probably enough to be getting on with. Plus the bar where I’m typing this is playing a soundtrack full of those heartfelt acoustic songs that are always about catching people if and when they fall, so I think we’ll just consider my slate well and truly cleaned and hopefully you’ll join me in heading into the New Year with a smile on our lips and a song in our hearts.
I’m probably the last person on Earth to get round to it, but ‘Happy Belated New Year, Everyone’! Wishing you and yours all the very better for 2017….
Presented for your delectation, my now traditional (this is the third!) musical review of the departed year in mixtape form, featuring great big slabs of some of the amazing sounds that graced the Foggy turntable over the last 12 months. 2016 was an absolutely fantastic year for music of all genres, which is just as well, because it was a truly rotten year in just about every other respect. And in these straightened times, I’m convinced that it’s more necessary than ever to accentuate the positives and try and use the current rude health of our culture as a noisy way of blotting out all the crass, vulgar, wealthy, sneering, tax-avoiding faces that otherwise seem to have a complete monopoly on the media….
To whit, just have a look at some of the produce on offer here: From Kid Lib fusing my two great loves of Radiophonics and Jungle, Sculpture at the top of their game and new releases from old friends such as Brood Ma, Kemper Norton and Mark Vernon; to discovering artists such as Vanessa Amara, Tongues Of Light and even a new release from legendary electronic music pioneer Halim El Dabh! I could go on (and frequently do – incessantly, so I’m told), but it’s probably better just to let you dive in and the sample the delights first-hand. Strap on your ear-goggles and let’s roll:
If forced to pick one musical highlight of 2016, I would say the biggest musical surprise was certainly the return of Aussie sample overlords The Avalanches – with apologies to those of you who apparently assumed it would be a recording of a squeaky gate or a radiator or something. If you had told me this time last year that they would be imminently releasing a follow-up to their much-loved Since I Left You after a sixteen year hiatus, I would never have believed you. Had you told me it would actually prove to be on a par with their debut (and in some ways eclipse it), I would have summoned you a nurse. But there you have it, sometimes the hype truly is justified. It should have been a sprawling, unfocused mess and in many ways it was, but complete with a gossamer light touch and the sense that it was all being flung together effortlessly in front of your ears. And, most crucially, in a year in very short supply of simple joy, Wildflower was an album completely stuffed with it. Bravo, gents. Just don’t keep us waiting so long for a third….
That tracklist in full (because it seems Mixcloud doesn’t do that any more):
Tongues Of Light – Healing (Extract)
Kid Lib – Falling
Demdike Stare – Sourcer
Lone – Triple Helix
Sculpture – Zyprazol
Brood Ma – Molten Brownian Motion 1
Konx-om-Pax – Stay
The Sprawl – Drowning In Binary
Ordinate – OR21
Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Extract)
Graham Dunning – Fictional Toxins
Cosmic Neighbourhood – Dragonfly
Dan Hayhurst – Polyphase
Cavern Of Anti Matter – Hi Hats Bring The Hiss
Merz – Serene
Assembled Minds – Through The Morris Light
The Avalanches – If I Was A Folkstar
Beatrice Dillon & Rupert Clervaux – A Different River Once (Extract)