Hello you. On this week’s Near Mint show on Resonance FM, we’re going back in time to the golden pre-internet days of tower-block pirate radio, when the only way to communicate with the ‘massive’ was through a series of increasingly frantic, home-made commercials, loudly proclaiming how ‘true to the scene’ you were while deriding the hordes of ‘commercial sell-out rubbish’ being produced literally everywhere else. It’s going to be loud, relentless, rather shonky, oddly charming – and above all else an intriguing glimpse into an era that now seems an eternity ago.
GET IT NOW AND GET THE BUZZ!
Moreover, we’re visiting the lost world of radio advertisements produced by a shadowy 1990s collective known as the SU Corporation – a fiercely independent Essex-based consortium of labels such as Strictly Underground and Strictly Hardcore, masterminded by industry stalwart and true hardcore renaissance man Mark Ryder. It’s a subject that’s predictably close to my heart – few other records have ever given me the same frisson of excitement as I felt beholding the latest Strictly Hardcore releases in Pink Panther Records as a youngster. Their sleeves came loaded with words and imagery that told of the illicit thrill of raves far from my quiet home town – not to mention a disclaimer unflinchingly refusing to accept any liability for ‘speaker damage’ caused by their contents. And then there were the artists featured on the back cover – names like Undercover Movement, Hackney Hardcore, Soundclash, Sonic Experience and Fantasy UFO seemed tinged with mystery and exoticism, each pseudonym a gateway to a hidden world accessible only to those with their ears superglued to the streets. Look, I was barely thirteen, OK? This stuff is a lot more significant when you’re thirteen!
The uninitiated amongst you might well argue that this week’s show is just a bunch of Essex boys yelling for half an hour and it’s certainly true that there’s a fair amount of repetition – any listeners wishing to incorporate phrases such as ‘commercial sellout rubbish!’, ‘illegal pirate radio!’ and ‘Oi! Oi!’ into a drinking game will be on the floor within ten minutes. It’s also true that describing various releases as ‘the BEST live recording EVER!’ or ‘an album for your collecting section!’ does bring us close to the kind of territory that would be affectionately sent up later on by the likes of People Just Do Nothing. But, as with the more recent misadventures of the Kurupt FM massive, to my mind this only makes their work all the more endearing.
I can admit to being frequently amused by the home-made feel, low production values and unscripted, improvised nature of these adverts, not to mention by the slight cognitive dissonance caused by the labels’ differing uses of that word ‘illegal’: initially plastering it all over their compilations as a selling point, then issuing a disclaimer on later releases warning that anyone using their tracks on ‘illegal mixtapes’ would be sued ‘to the full extent of the law’ – rather a case of ‘having your hardcake and eating it’. But there should be no doubt whatsoever that my love for the work of The SU Corporation is genuine. The music is unsophisticated, noisy, abrasive and chaotic, packed full of helium-voiced divas, one finger keyboard stabs, bleeps, blurts and squelches, all over what sounds like a drum machine clattering down a flight of steps. And I adored it all. My schoolmates could keep their dreary old Oasis records and the so-called ‘real music’ they kept harping on about – this was my sound. Even if I did happen to be several hundred miles from its epicentre and with double maths homework to look forward to….
Seriously, just listen to the enthusiasm on display here – have you ever got as excited about anything in your life as whoever provided the voiceover on the advert for the Ultimate Drum And Bass Collection boxset? No credit is available, but I do hope he survived the recording – it sounds as if his skull is about to pop out of his forehead. For all the mockney banter on display here, there’s no doubt how deadly seriously these guys took their music and the scene they’d created. Having said that, if you manage to sit through the show’s opening exchange in a record shop, the rather strained encounters with bewildered members of the Brentford constabulary at an outdoor rave, or the closing recording of the SU team giggling in the studio without cracking a smile then a small part of you may well be already dead.
It’s so easy to forget that before everything was available online forever, THIS was how things were done. The SU guys never hung around waiting for permission or for big money labels to come in and scoop them up. They did it all themselves, being closely involved with pirate stations such as Unity 88.4FM in Romford (they feature in tonnes of vintage Unity broadcasts uploaded online, including this little beauty from 1993), hosting the Hardcore Hellraiser events and releasing all their own records – of which they are almost too many to count. Just have a look at the Strictly Underground and Mark Ryder pages on the online record database Discogs. Strictly Underground alone has a whopping one hundred and ninety three releases credited to it and I’m willing to bet that somewhere between half and two thirds were produced by Mark himself, either under his own name, as part of a group or using one of his various alter-egos. When you take into account that at its peak SU Corporation was releasing some twenty-five 12″s and seven compilations in a single year and that Mark simultaneously ran numerous sub-labels such as Jungle Mania and Vicious Pumpin’ Plastic, you begin to wonder how he ever found time to sleep. As the man himself says nowadays on his Twitter handle: ‘It’s all I do, it’s my life’. Could anyone doubt his sincerity?
Truly this is a journey back to a lost world of open air raves, of home-made rooftop transmitters, of cat-and-mouse games with the Police, the DTI, and unscrupulous bootleg tape manufacturers. A world that, as far as I’m concerned, can’t help but make much that came after it look rather rather dull by comparison. And, finally – let’s face it – a world that has now gone forever. But it’s a happy thought that for half an hour at 6pm on a Tuesday evening (not to mention 10.30 on a Thursday morning), the SU Corporation get to rule the airwaves once again. Or: ‘Oi Oi!! Strictly ‘Ardcore Records are back in the place!’ as they would put it. Bravo, gents…
Hello You. A very special double-bill of Near Mint this week, bought to you by Resonance FM royalty, Mr. Richard Dexter Bentley. One of the station’s veteran programme-makers, Richard can usually be found helming long-running Resonance institution The Hello Goodbye Show on Saturday afternoons, a delightfully chaotic zoo of a programme featuring as many live bands, gig listings, random poets and interviews as can possibly be jammed into ninety minutes and a medium-sized radio studio. For these two very special editions of the nation’s favourite programme about obsessive vinyl consumption, Richard has dipped into his own mammoth archive with a self-imposed rule of strictly choosing only 7″ B-sides with black and white artwork, which might just be the most super-niche thing that we’ve ever done on what is already a pretty niche-y kind of show. Mind you, if the results are always this good we’ll certainly be doing it again. There’s punk, post-punk, wonky pop, electronics, ska and many more obscure delights besides, and it’s certainly curious how such a narrow selection process can lead to such varied riches. Fill your boots both above and below.
This brings us neatly onto the subject of Resonance FM‘s imminent 2017 Fundraiser, which officially commences next week. As ever, the nation’s finest community arts radio station needs YOUR help to keep it on air for another year – and in our current climate we surely need them as well, more than ever! For his part, Richard is organising another two-part special, ‘The Pay As You Go Hello Goodbye Show’, in which his programmes on 11th and 18th of December will be auctioned off at the rate of £10 per minute, so do visit his website here and buy yourself some airtime for a good cause. These shows are always a lot of fun, with listeners, programme makers and a myriad of former guests sending in all manner of quirky delights to fill up the gaps. I’ve just bought three minutes of my own and still have no idea what I’m going to do with them. Must dig out the old thinking cap…
As well as my one hundred and eighty seconds in the spotlight, I shall be guest-hosting two fundraising specials of Jonny Trunk’s OST Show later on in the afternoon on the very same dates, but more on that later. In the meantime, there’s a whole programme of fundraising events and special auction items up for grabs, so do dig deep for a good cause and visit the Resonance FM Fundraising Website here. After all, the thought of a London and indeed a world without stations like Resonance just doesn’t bear thinking about…
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:
Cities and Memory in collaboration with The London Sound Survey produced this epic sound-map of the London Underground that mixes up field recordings of many of the stations on the network with a number of artistic interpretations provided by a diverse selection of musicians, producers and sound artists. Perfect for getting lost in, you could spend hours happily immersed in the huge amount of work available for you perusal. Or if you happen to be in a hurry, Howlround’s own contribution, a treatment of Embankment Station, can be found here. Far more pleasurable than having to interact with the London Underground in real life, as I’m sure I won’t need to tell you.
10. A Creak In Time:
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:
Of course there were many tracks I didn’t have time to include, but honourable mentions must go in particular to Tom White, Rothko with Johny Brown, Tetherdown, Puce Mary, rkss and Monkeys In Love (for this adorable promo video alone – admit you wish these people were your friends). It’s amazing how quickly two hours vanishes when you have so much quality to choose from.
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)
- The Avalanches – Saturday Night Inside Out
- Tom Scott – Dewpoint
- Freeholm Wilson – House By The Sea
- The Dandelion Set – Judy Switched Off The TV
- Anohni – 4 Degrees
- Revbjelde – Strensham Chunt
- Ekoplekz – Working Man’s Dub
- Halim El Dabh & Ron Slabe – Cirrocumulus
- CukoO – Rain
- Drömloch – Beguine
- Sarah Angliss – Jellied Heel
- Kemper Norton – Seven Stones 2
- Tongues Of Light – Healing (Extract)
- Vanessa Amara – Untitled (From ‘You’re Welcome Here’)
- Mark Vernon – Cracked Shell (Tape Transplant)
- Mark Vernon – See You On The Other Side
Hello You. Hope you have had a splendid Christmas with lots of family, food and fun in the correct ratios. I got two whole days off and spent them mostly outside surrounded by a blur of dogs, so I was happy. I was even happier on Boxing Day, which brought glad tidings of not one but two lengthy packages aired by the BBC that evening, in spite of my being ensconced up in the hills of Cumbria in the midst of the aforementioned canine-blur. Thanks to these tidings, I’m able to finally share with you a short radio drama I produced a few months ago with award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a piece of fiction she wrote inspired by a particular 419 Scam letter that went viral earlier this year.
419 letters, a kind of ‘phishing scam’ designed to trick gullible people into parting with their money, are a common enough occurrence, of course. Shortly after the death of Michael Jackson, I received an email that purported to be from his Doctor, claiming that as the King Of Pop™ was now unable to complete the ‘charity tour’ he had been planning, this had somehow freed up millions of dollars that he now wished to donate posthumously to sad orphans with leprosy or something. It speaks volumes that this arrived in my inbox at roughly the same time as the quack in question being sentenced to jail on prime-time US television for the involuntary manslaughter of the most famous person EVER. Most 419s are more sanguine and keep their feet firmly on the ground: they are generally written by pastors or exceptionally pious widows who happen to find themselves sat on a veritable goldmine that they can’t access due to a cruelly bureaucratic twist of fate – and only a random internet user like YOU can save the day. Generally banal but not inconceivable, it’s certainly true that very few of these letters play quite so fast and loose with the outer limits of plausibility as this one from a Mr. Bakare Tunde:
I am […] the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home. In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars […]
You get the idea – it’s basically a piece of science fiction that has now inspired another. Produced over the course of several weeks during the summer and with a voice track recorded from Lagos down the world’s worst ISDN line, ‘Afrofuturist 419’ was finally published a month or so ago in science fiction journal Clarkesworld Magazine, who very kindly allowed it to be broadcast on the BBC World Service’s flagship news programme Focus On Africa in celebration of Nnedi’s recent awards success. Here, Focus presenter Audrey Brown introduces the story:
It’s traditional to tell each other spooky stories at this time of year, but today we’re bringing you something a little bit different. The Nigerian American writer Nnedi Okorafor has had a particularly busy year, with her science fiction story Binti winning both the 2016 Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella, adding to the long list of accolades for her stories that explore other worlds and fantastical realms while retaining a strong connection to her Nigerian heritage – part of a wider tradition that has become known as ‘Afrofuturism’.
Here she presents her own take on a rather less noble form of storytelling that also got a lot of attention in 2016 – a so-called ‘419 scam letter’ begging for help in getting a stranded Nigerian Astronaut back to Earth. Recently published in celebrated American journal Clarkesworld Magazine, this audio version stars famous Nollywood actor Tchidi Chikere, members of the BBC’s Hausa service – and our own Robin [The Fog] on hand to provide the Sound FX. It’s not for the faint hearted…
Incidentally, it may interest you to know that the various sounds of ‘The Thing’ that features in the story were largely created with handfuls of paper and soap, while the bleeping spaceship atmosphere was provided by analogue synth tinkerer Mr. Jonny Stutters. You can find the transcript as it appeared in Clarkesworld here. The post also features the original audio files of the story, which can be accessed directly here. But for the full effect, listen again to Focus On Africa’s Boxing Day edition here for the next thirty days or so. Extra special thanks to Nnedi and Tchidi for being such a pleasure to work with, Haruna, Maura and Rachel from the BBC’s African services, Jonny and his magic bleeping boxes and of course to Clarkesworld Editor-in-Chief Neil Clarke for allowing us to broadcast it in the first place. Much obliged to you all!
All this excitement was followed a few hours later by something much more earth-bound and traditional, a seven-minute report I produced on the history of audiobooks at Christmas that closed that evening’s edition of The World Tonight on Radio 4. Introduced by Matthew Rubery, author of recently-published The Untold Story Of The Talking Book, it features numerous ghosts of Christmas past – quite literally with the inclusion of a 1934 recording of perennial favourite A Christmas Carol as well as the vintage voices of Charles Laughton and Dylan Thomas bringing us some festive tales of days gone by. You can listen to the feature as it went out on The World Tonight on the BBC website here (about half an hour into the programme) for the next few weeks, thought it’s probably best consumed within the next day or so, while savouring your last vestiges of Christmas cheer.
Speaking of which, while it doesn’t have much to do with our business here today, I used my Christmas gift token to buy a copy of the new Oxygene 3 album by Jean-Michel Jarre. Dear old Father Fog used to play me a cassette of the original Oxygene to calm me down as a baby, in doing so perhaps unwittingly kick-starting my complete infatuation with all aspects of electronic sound. It’s a work I’ve always loved and this latest volume is a most worthy addition to the series, but I can’t help feeling that someone in the packaging department might be harbouring a grudge against the Gallic synth master:
Not very respectful, but it did raise a giggle or two when shared on Facebook. Don’t worry, M. Jarre. I still love you! I really do, actually…