Sunday, 26 November 2017

"It Was Either That Or Seeoouuyyx, Basically"

Ooh, I've done my back in.  Seriously,. typing this is agony.  I suppose I'd better stop.  Ow.  It even hurt typing, "ow".  Ow.  It even hurt typing, "It even hurt typing, 'ow'".  Ow.  Etc...


Beard of Destiny are an act we associate with mediocrity, tending to slip into well-meaning but second-rate Sunday afternoon line-ups, but you can’t judge someone by the company they keep, and athis duo is one of Oxford’s hidden musical gems.  Tonight’s show consists of thumping drums, blues-pickled guitar and a gold lamé jacket, and although the playing is pretty searing, the lyrics have a pier end cheekiness that makes for a nice change from broke down women and cheatin’ Chevvies, so that the Beard are a strange cross between Dr Feelgood and Chas ‘n’ Dave.  Crowd-pleaser “Hubba Bubba” is basically ZZ Top played with the cool intensity a noughties math-schooled strings and skins duo, plus any band that can leaven serious blues licks with a song called “The Ghost Of Larry Grayson Perry” is alright by us.

Cumberbatch’s Sherlock looks at a room, and clues and associations flip up as text in front of this eyes.  If he’d been watching Black Candy, the phrase “Rage Against The Machine” would have come popping out from every conceivable angle, until he couldn’t see anything at all, knocked over someone’s Green Goblin, and earned himself a sharp kick in the mysterious case.  Because Black Candy’s strain of rap metal really sounds like RATM.  Unless it sounds like The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”…covered by RATM.  And whilst it would be easy to shrug off a band reuniting for giggles who were second hand the first time round, it’s impossible to deny that they absolutely, and incontrovertibly, rock like bastards.  Flagrantly steal from whomever you want, boys, just keep kicking out the jams, and we’ll be there.

Cherokii are also a band for whom the pedal rarely, if ever, leaves the metal.  We’re exactly 2 bars into the gig before bassist and vocalist Jack’s outsize sombrero falls casualty to righteous headbanging, and drummer Felix’s top hat gets tossed away before the song ends.  And that’s what we want from a band like this, riffs, sweat, hair, and riffs, in none of which are Cherokii deficient.  They even have some extra riffs, in case some of them party too hard and have to have a lie down. 

As well as plummeting headlong, Cherokii are quite adept at arrangement, and give their songs nuance with a piccolo snare and a gloriously overloaded octaviser pedal, so the gig never gets homogenous, the amphetamine hurtle of “Shit Brown” balanced by the snakier, 70s groove of “Smoking Gun”, and there’s even room for a camply comic new song about identity politics and dinosaurs. If there’s one thing that niggles, it’s the relentless showboating; we’re all for a bit of theatre in our rock, but dragging a floor tom out onto a table, hitting it a few times then dragging it back won’t be giving Stomp any sleepless nights, and immediately siphons off the gig’s energy.  A silly hat will do for the stage craft, lads, just stick to making that excellent noise.  

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sleeping Partner

I'm hungry.  Might eat something.

DREAM WIFE/ VIENNA DITTO/ SUZI WU, Heavy Pop & Dork, Bully, 16/10/17

We’re a little confused.  We’re sure Suzi Wu says onstage that it’s her debut gig, but there’s already stuff on the merch table, the promoters felt unable to announce her presence beyond special guest, and she enters to a sprightly little bass and drums riff like a conquering hero.  Perhaps the last of these is just stagecraft, as Suzi certainly squeezes the maximum live impact from her bouncy dub pop.  At her best, such as an intriguingly asymmetrical Tom Waits cover, she sounds like Tricky channelling Gwen Stefani’s sassy nous, but at other times we’re kicked queasily back to 1994, and a well-meaning but ill-conceived crusty knees-up featuring Nicolette and Back To The Planet.

Good advice to a new band is to play every gig like you’re headlining Glastonbury, no matter how small.  Even better advice to a band that has won its spurs is to play every gig like you’re performing direct to your mates, to avoid the pratfalls of pomposity and choreographed bombast.  Vienna Ditto are so relaxed and unhurried during this set, they only actually manage to play 4 songs, spending more time laughing with the crowd, vainly poking at a drum machine trying to get it to make the right noise, and looking like a Dickensian urchin and Chicago blues singer had met each other in a time warp and decided to get stoned instead of trying to work out how.  All very unprofessional, maybe, but the second of these 4 tracks is a glorious 10 minute reading of old favourite “Long Way Down”, which is half enticing torch song and half sonic abrasion, complete with rando-speed breakbeats and a guitar rubbed against the stage barrier.  The best possible advice for an aspiring band?  Be Vienna Ditto.

If Vienna Ditto look mismatched onstage, two of Dream Wife seem positively polar, the guitarist sporting an austere white bowl cut, like Joan of Arc meets Mr C from The Shamen, and the vocalist stalking round the stage in a tied off shirt looking like a 50s cheerleader gone horribly wrong.  Or, we should say, horribly right, as Dream Wife is a band that marries feminist ire to well-honed tuneful garage, and any soda fountain pin-up would be the better for sneering their way through new wave anthems and hand-picking a coterie of moshing “bad bad bitches”.  If there’s one criticism to make of this pleasing set, it’s the they never quite lived up to the promise of their opener, where the vocals were all taut, Talking Heads supercilious intonation, and the band pummelled poppily, like a whipped cream Ramones.  There’s a new strategy, get the patriarchy to dance themselves into submission.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Ya Want Me To Drore Ya A Pitcher?

 Skip this bit, it's alwasy boring, go straight to the review.

DRORE – TAPE TWO: LIFE REGRETS (Rad Nauseam Records)

And, welcome back to the Home Spending Network.  As promised, we’re here to take a look at Gleem Inframatic, the best stain remover on the market.  Now, you won’t find this in the shops, not even the sort of shops that sell highly limited edition cassettes to which you should go on 22nd September.  But, just take a look at this, we’ve applied Gleem to two of the worst, most stubborn dirty stains we could find: greasy chip fat, and Life Regrets, the new EP from Drore.  See, just a quick application will evaporate the chip-pan grease like that, and on the Oxford sludge you can see it...well, it takes a little more rubbing but...OK, this is quite a thick sonic residue, but Gleem can cut through even the blackest, most abstract post-grunge...err...right, just a small hitch, folks...what?  I’m trying, Steve!  I thought it would be alright.  After all, the opener “Novelty Tattoo Sleeve” has that Melvinsy chug, I figured I could deal with it...Sure, but then “Old Egg” renders the bones of a Bleach song into a stagnant rock jelly and...My jeez, it’s growing!  Steve, I swear this got bigger, just after the part where it slowed down like a black, exhausted lung...Aargh!  “Happy Accident” is a mutated atonal molasses trudge, it’s too much – turn the cameras off!  Steve – the cameraman’s been swallowed by the hideous thick guitar on “New Skids On The Block”, I can’t reach the camera, I can’t move!...hearing this music, it’s like doing the macarena in a vat of molten cheese...’s expanding...The rage!...The distortion!... can’t...the thick post-hardcore, it’s on’’ God, it’s full of starch...

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Supernormal 2017 Pt 3

Sunday starts quietly, as Sundays should.  Hapsburg Braganza is a solo electric guitar act, elegant, misty and minimal - think Papa M meets Roger Eno – and Pon Pon proffer softly malleted drums, subtle electronics, guitar and breathy vocals, as if someone had detuned a shy ghost.  It’s pleasant, but perhaps too reticent, and may have fared better on one of the more intimate stages.  Sharron Kraus’ extended treatments of dark, dark hearted folk songs are also understated, but immediately captivating, proving once again that trad songwriting goes to eldritch places metal would never dare.  Some soft, loamy recorder playing offers tiny fragments of light. 

We called Bruxa Maria pummelling?  Well, some parts of Cattle’s performance are like sandpaper rubbed against the face by an angry Judoon, but unlike so many rock cudgellers, they know when the barrage must end, and space be found to give the songs shape.  So, there is room for some electronics-benighted death sax, a chilling a cappella section for the howling vocalist, who appears to have been possessed by a constipated demon, and surprisingly funky business from the dual drummers (ESG cowbell patterns are this year’s vocal delay unit, popping up in multiple acts).  Made perfect by a summer school session of Crowdsurfing For The Under Eights.

Mary Ocher is notable for two reasons.  One, she and her band are clad in what appear to be Earth, Wind & Fire stage outfits modelled from spaghetti, two her quirky, chirpily bouncy music is so varied, moving from a quiet synth opener to dessicated funk via unhingedly jolly library music not a million miles away from Syd Dale, and some raven-stalking that’s come straight from “Venus In Furs”.  All this with a delicately stentorian voice that makes us think of an anti-matter Nana Mouskouri.  Jesus, we’ve not thought of Nana Mouskouri in thirty years, Supernormal does strange things to the mind.

Olivia Norris presents a short dance/mime piece, in which she contorts herself awkwardly across the barn in an unnerving white mask, before erupting into an unexpected drag club mime to barely remembered Britsoul pipsqueak Roachford – it’s like 80s child nightmare fodder Noseybonk scripted by a horny Beckett.  Not all the extra-musical elements are worth the effort, though.  The Dream Machine turns out to be an old van that we’re invited to paint, which works out as ugly and pointless as you’d expect, whilst Happy Birthday Pig Face Christus is merely 4 people chanting the menu items from the catering vans in a pseudo-religious style and giggling smugly, and we should have woken them from their complacency with a chipotle enema.

A tribute band isn’t the usual Supernormal fare, but when it consists of songs from Pink Floyd’s The Wall lovingly eviscerated in a style that recalls V/Vm, The Residents and Ween, it begins to make more sense.  The Stallion have horrifically pitch-shifted vocals, and the ugliest projections it is possible to make with a cracked copy of Doom and a Roger Waters mask.  The slogan “you’re fucking with The Stallion” regularly flashes in queasy fluorescent text; we rather feel the opposite...

*Zoviet:France* beam in fizzing, hissing tones, like messages from a distant nebula, where it’s always 1997.  Sonically dated this may be, but it is utterly beguiling, and the shifting tones float like clouds scudding behind waving trees as night falls whilst you lie on your back in a field (and we’d know).

MXLX starts his cheaply insistent industrial set as John Carpenter playing Godflesh, and ends it as Alec Empire weeping incoherently outside his ex’s wedding reception, before being carried from the tent by a small throng of listeners.  That’s the Supernormal experience all over, moving from the absurd to the dramatic, before ending in budget valediction.  You should definitely get a ticket next year.  Don’t hang about though, there is a big community of people already planning their 2018 visit. Not least two Nightshift writers and a nice man from the midlands.

Supernormal 2017 Pt 2

Little note: I didn't see the gardening opera, sadly, and that part is from the description by Colin May, another Nutshaft writer and absolute expert on all things world, folk and avant-classical.

Just as a vindictive rain storm is followed in minutes by glorious cerulean sky, Supernormal can leap from the strangest sounds imaginable to straightforward rock.  Wargs play honeyed indie in the style of Throwing Muses at their sleepiest with some soothing pedal steel, whilst Aggressive Prefector are a no messin’ meld of Motorhead and vintage thrash, with songs introduced in a voice that sounds like an aged Tony the Tiger in rehab after the Frosties money has run out.  College rockers St Deluxe disappoint, though, sounding like Harmacy era Sebadoh without the geeky charm.  As s if there the festival’s nanotech is trying to fix the wound of normality they cause, we walk away to find one of the trees has sprouted crash cymbals like fungus, which children are happily bashing.

Back in the house Liz Muir & Caitlin Alais Callahan are trading sparse tension cues on cello and double bass, and it’s like the Jaws theme slowly decomposing in an abandoned potting shed.   They also recite a Goethe poem over long vertiginous lines, which drifts into a pure, delightful performance of a Scottish folk tune: in 20 minutes, the set’s a microcosm of Supernormal’s rich variety.

At most festivals, soundbleed between stages is infuriating.  Once Supernormal has recalibrated you, it can be exciting.  Whilst contrabassoon/low brass trio Ore are sharing hushed, funereal tones beneath a gnarled tree, the sounds of children playing on the nearly tyre swings, and snatches of Evil Usses rattling away on the Shed stage make it seem all the more eerie.  They conclude with what is essentially a monstrous doom riff played on a tuba. This is, of course, awesome; though if you hadn’t guessed, you probably shouldn’t have read this far, anyway.

Even by Supernormal standards the tiny BEEF Octopolis space is a hidden obscurity.  Over the weekend we witness Graham Dunning DJing field recordings (surprisingly fascinating), Bruce McClure & Wojtek Rusin’s opera based on readings from a gardening magazine (surprisingly sinister, especially the terrifying phrase “Next, pesticides”), and Fouli’s Daughter, a potted history of the foghorn continually interrupted by its own subject (surprisingly a highlight of the weeke-PAAARAAPP!!).

Supernormal may be a cavalcade of surprises to which one should not bring expectations, but we’d be disappointed if the bill didn’t include at least one ruthless hardcore pummelling.  Bruxa Maria’s slamming intensity clears a path through our consciousness like a Vogon constructor fleet, but can still turn on a sixpence at screaming harpy Gill Dread’s hand signal.  Just exhilarating.
The Vortex might provide sensory overload, but also hosts one of the calmest, most thoughtful pieces of the festival, The Dead Rat Orchestra’s Tyburnia project, weaving folk songs from the area around what was once London’s execution hub into a single, 80 minute tapestry, whilst a trio of crackly films are projected.  Anti-capitalism rubs shoulders with William Blake, and the South Sea Bubble bursts in the nightmarishly melting face of Tony Blair.  We intended to give this show ten minutes; we ended up emerging blinking 80 minutes later to find that dusk had fallen and that we’d bought a CD and book set.  The evening ends with Jaxon Payne’s lithe V-drum solo, nodding towards Art Of Noise and Kraftwerk, and Kuro’s windswept drones and eldritch folk vistas, a paranoid British take on fractured jazz we call Twin Peak District.

An Event That's Above The Standard

A lot of this appears in the new Nutshaft, with extra words form my good friend Sam Shepherd.  There is a little bonus material here, but for mreasons of space - also, there were a good few strong acts I saw and didn;t write up in the first place, such is the wealth of joy to be found at Supernormal.  I urge everyone reading this to go next year (unless it means I can't get a ticket).

SUPERNORMAL, Braziers Park, Ipsden, 4-6/8/17

Four years ago we helped a man looking for a bus stop in Oxford.  He’d come from the midlands to attend his first Supernormal, so we were in fact able to accompany him right to the festival gate.  Within one hour of arriving at this year’s event, he barrels over and shakes our hand vigorously, just like the last two years.  This tells you three things about Supernormal: it’s very small and intimate; it is more friendly than a Quaker meeting house made from MDMA; most people who attend once are instant converts, returning every year.  Matana Roberts, in her excellent solo sax concert (part Coltrane spirit quest, part New Orleans gutbucket grit, with sententious spoken interjections a la Laurie Anderson) celebrates the event, noting the open-minded nature and the pleasing lack of security: “You’ve embraced the freedom but are recognising the boundaries”.  Aside from a rumour that some toilets are closed because someone had made a s(h)ite specific artwork having confused Pat McGeown with Cy Twombly, it appears that she was right, those people who believe anything goes are also those most likely to be considerate of their effect on others.  And, as usual, the effect of Supernormal on us was joyous, disorienting and inspiring.

Not Sorry admittedly ease us in gently, sounding like lackadaisical PG Tips chimps tired after a hard day moving wardrobes, playing half-speed Talking Heads lit-funk.  Lush Worker soon ups the ante, with a landslide of guitar skree and gravel.  Like the famous image of the duck/rabbit this is simultaneously blissfully soothing and aggressively coruscating, depending on how you squint your ears.

Just as the red kites swirling above the field were introduced to the area having nearly become extinct, Supernormal has managed to locate the last bleeding pair of infamous COUM Transmissions performers to perform some pieces for the first time in 40 years.  COUM Flakes’ first number consists of someone resembling Transformers era Orson Welles doing a Tom Waits song, with the flatbed trucks and strippers replaced by Nazi war criminals.  Despite obtuse lyrics about torturing prisoners or advert voiceovers having a barney, the music is pleasingly approachable, Gene Krupa tom tattoos underpinning warm chords that recall early Pink Floyd (more of them later).

Next in the Cthulhu cathedral structure called The Vortex, home of the multimedia immersion, Rapid Eye Electronics Ltd present a twisted government information film in which Black Dog electronica spooks itself in a hall of mirrors whilst convoluted regulations for duels are presented over images of vintage dancers.  It’s like a paranormal Public Service Broadcasting featuring Elizabeth Price (and with better beats).

C Joynes turns out not to be an operetta about Ernie Wise’s hairpiece – keep up at the back – but a fantastic solo guitarist, tangling English folk tunes into Fahey skeins and snaggles.  An arrangement of the “Whittlesea Straw Bear Tune”reminds us of walking folk guitar encyclopaedia Duck Baker’s trad revisions, whilst a snippy plucking technique has whiffs of stylists as varied as Davy Graham and James Blood Ulmer.  A bird flies into the medieval barn in which we’re sitting, duetting with an intriguing arrangement of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, as if to flip the Venerable Bede’s analogy: life is short, but you can make some pretty amazing things whilst it happens.

There’s often a patronising, belittling air when African music is described as raw – the noble savage myth doesn’t become any more palatable with added tape hiss – but sometimes raw is the only word that will serve, and Ghana’s King Ayisoba’s set is as infectiously bludgeoning as the heaviest hardcore band to grace the Shed stage . On record Ayisoba dips into hip hop and highlife, but here we just have mantric chanting, hammering riffs from the two string kologo, relentless percussion and some sort of transverse didgeridoo we can’t identify that sounds like God blowing his nose.  Unstoppable.

Eric Chenaux’s set opens with some abstract wah wah guitar, like the soundtrack to a Futurist porn film (“I’ve come to fix your washing machine and/or insane death device”), and it’s fascinating, but his voice floors us, a truly stunning, sweet soul croon made for serenading the dawn.  With the seasick guitar underneath, it’s like listening to Marvin Gaye record the little known LP No, Seriously, What The Actual Fuck Is Going On??

Surprsingly, Wolf Eyes leave the sonic excoriation behind, in favour of thoughtful vistas.  Even so, it’s hard to work out where the sounds are coming from, with a sax that sounds like a synth, and crunchy guitar tones embracing the Lou Reed style blasted poetry.  The set is still shocking, though, because of the flagrant double denim.   

Tirikilatops’ colour saturated Timmy Mallett mania is a little too much for the start of Sunday, so we locate a comfy set in the refined environs of Braziers House for Steve Beresford & Colin Webster.  Beresford is using the house piano, but spends most of his time plucking the innards, or playing with a portable Toys R Us of devices, although a few bars of random tango surprise us; Webster starts with rusty gate sax, before apparently exploring every tone - and detachable part - of his saxophone.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Oddfellows Union

Charlbury Riverside this weekend, Supernormal the next; in their very, very different ways, the two best festivals to be found in Oxon, and quite possibly soe way beyond.

IRREGULAR FOLKS SUMMER SESSION, Victoria Arms, Old Marston, 1/7/17

Irregular Folks say they don’t do headliners, and when the very first act on the bill is the outstanding Yorkston Thorne Khan, we’re apt to believe them.  As we’re alternately buoyed up by Moving Shadow influenced double bass swells and snarled in dense brambles of sarangi we watch a special gazebo being set up to stop anyone mooring up a punt and getting in for free, which has to be the most Oxford piece of security ever – we feel bad about sneaking in drugs inside our Brideshead teddy bear, now.  If we wanted accompaniment to such well-heeled crime capers Jack Cheshire’s artful, bucolic English prog is the perfect choice, a gyroscopic blur of prog-pop that spins jazzily somewhere between Wilco and Fridge.  Occasionally a tiny bit prissy, but overall entrancing, and all enhanced by some Stornobass.

A bugbear of ours is journalists who only ever compare female musicians to other woman performers, but there are no male equivalents to the tastefully breathy kookstimme of someone like Joanna Newsom, let’s not beat around the Bush.  Laura J Martin’s tastefully looped pop tapestries are actually at their best when she swaps the wide-eyed vocals for some percussively cheeky Herbie Mann flute workouts, anyway.

Oly Ralfe’s meandering piano fripperies are the only mis-step in the musical schedule, but he does allow us to recline on the satiny cushions of the bordello-kino on Mini-Movie Island, a home for short films whose highpoints are leftfield comedies, reminding us that Buxton and Serafinowicz are as responsible for bringing as much quirkily literate originality to British popular culture of the past quarter century as Welsh or Cocker.  Not that the Brits have cornered the market, as proved by a talk in the consistently excellent Odditorium lecture-yurt about cartoonist B Kliban, forgotten influence on the syndicated surrealism of Gary Larson or Rupert Fawcett.  And of course there is the genius of Paul Foot, who MCs the whole day with the spiralling manic desperation of a teaching assistant failing their workplace assessment.

With her sparse programmed backing Hannah Bruce at first reminds us of fellow Oxonian Esther Joy Lane but soon has us thinking of mid-80s Carly Simon and the airbrushed windswept vistas of vintage Chris Isaak, and so keeps us fascinated even when we’re not entirely convinced.  There’s more stately, minimal pop from Rozi Plain which would probably sound harmlessly pleasant if you were enjoying the sun and the Vicky Arms’ ales, but which is spellbinding when you give yourself up to it:  we’ve heard of acts rewarding close attention, but Rozi Plain pays out like a banjaxed one-arm bandit, their dinner party kraut subtlety drawing us in more with every track, until they sound like The Sundays played by To Rococo Rot.  Doing a Sun Ra cover makes you awesome; doing one so it sounds like The Cardigans languorously evaporating in a greenhouse made of spun sugar makes you the best act of the day.

Go Dark is the new act featuring Doseone, alt hip hop yarnspinner and abstract geek hyper-poet whose style is ADHD meets AD&D.  Musically the duo, with fellow button puncher and mike wrangler Crash, is brasher than much of Doseone’s older work, supplying stuttering glitch treatments of shiny sass-pop that sounds like a Flying Lotus remix of Gwen Stefani’s greatest hits or a version of Basement Jaxx’s Kish Kash made on a cubist SNES, and the presentation is more brazen by a factor of about one squillion – the camp stagewear with rainbow arm insignia is as much Bucks Fizz as it is Buck Rogers.   No wonder the event programme writes the band’s name ALL IN CAPITALS, you can’t miss this Dayglo sonic explosion, and you shouldn’t miss next year’s Irregular Folks session, either – how many gigs feature great acts and a fireworks display and a TED talk on werewolf erotica, eh?  Book your getaway punt now, and join us in 2018.