A couple of weeks ago I saw My Bloody Valentine in Manchester. After recovering from the 10 minutes of glorious feedback known as ‘The Holocaust’, which nearly perforated my eardrums, the thing that stayed with me from the gig was how wonderful Belinda Butcher’s voice is. Standing towards the left of the stage clutching her guitar, she has an ethereal stage presence. Journalists often focus upon the power of Kevin Shield’s guitar, but I think it is the way Belinda’s vocals weave in and out of the chord patterns that makes MBV’s sound unique. I remember watching an interview with Thom Yorke where he said that the difference between Kid A and other previous Radiohead albums was the decision to use his voice as an instrument. MBV use Belinda’s vocals as a juxtaposition against the crashing power of the music, with her voice often barely discernible over its force.
Their second album Loveless had such a woozy atmosphere. Its recording is infamous; it took years to make and it almost bankrupted Creation records! Kevin and Belinda would lock themselves within a small booth inside the recording studio at night. There were often no lyrics written for the songs, so they would make up phrases and repeat them over and over. This makes the album seem dreamlike with some songs sounding like electronic lullabies.
An earlier MBV single, ‘Cigarette in your Bed’, uses Belinda’s vocals to entice the listener, which masks the unsettling content of the lyrics. ‘Falling down I like to watch you crawl around, / Arms untied, Scratching your eyes out with a smile.’ The lyrics have a real sense of menace, describing the murder of a lover, but Belinda’s saccharine sweet delivery gives the whole song an ambivalent feel. It’s a really brilliant piece of music and I can’t think of any other bands that could create such a tender, claustrophobic atmosphere. The song has striking resemblance to John Keats’s poem ‘La Belle damme Merci.’ This piece was about the tragic fate of a knight who fell in love with an elfin woman in the forest. She seduced him, before breaking his heart and leaving him abandoned.
Robert Smith from the Cure once did an interview for the NME and he got pissed off because the interviewer questioned whether his voice had declined as he got older. Smith insisted it had improved and the same can be said for Belinda. On the new album m b v, Belinda sings on half of the tunes. The atmosphere is quite different to Loveless. Kevin has said that ‘Loveless had been about creating another world, whereas m b v was about having one foot in another world and one foot in this one.’ Belinda’s voice creates the change. On ‘New You’, she sounds wistful and elegiac, quite different to the druggy feel of Loveless.
My Bloody Valentine are meant to have a whole album of new material. After the twenty year wait for this album, I won’t be holding my breath. I’ll try and catch them at Hop Farm before they disappear into their own world again.
By Ciaran Davis
Although ‘guilty pleasure’ is a problematic term – I couldn’t care less what people think of what’s on my iPod – Deftones’ 1997 record Around the Fur is an album that I have trouble explaining my love for. I don’t really listen to anything of a similar ilk nowadays but I find myself returning to Around the Fur on a semi-regular basis. It sees the band caught between two sounds: the juddering nu-metal of their debut and the dreamy violence of 2000’s White Pony.
I first listened to Around the Fur when I was fourteen. It was that halcyon summer of 2006 – I’d finished my SATs, the economic climate was sunny and Cristiano Ronaldo was the most hated man in Britain. What appealed to me most about Deftones was Chino Moreno’s voice. Cooing non-sequiturs over the top of bludgeoning riffs like a demented Robert Smith, Moreno is what makes Deftones stand out from the rest of the nu-metal brigade.
‘Mascara’ is an example of Chino at his most vulnerable and is oddly affecting. Foreshadowing the band’s later work, it’s a deconstruction of your typical nu-metal love song: a spindly guitar line turns into a discordant, wailing chorus before the whole thing’s draped in feedback.
The rest of Around the Fur is rather more aggressive. Opener ‘My Own Summer (Shove It)’ masterfully manipulates quiet/loud dynamics with a slick, sinister riff that intermittently explodes into a concussive refrain. ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’ is probably my highlight of the record. Listening to it now, I think I can detect the influence of My Bloody Valentine: its chorus is a turbulent wall of noise which Moreno’s ethereal voice slips in and out of harmony with.
The only thing that really lets the album down is Moreno’s occasional attempts at rapping. ‘Headup’ is an unsuccessful collaboration with Max Cavalera of Soulfly fame. It finds Chino in a particularly belligerent mood, hollering rhymes in an unfortunate tribute to Cavalera’s dead stepson. There’s also the annoying matter of the ‘hidden track’ at the end of the closing song, a practice which I’m glad seems to have died out in the 90s.
Although Around the Fur lacks the nuance of Deftones’ later releases, it’s more sophisticated than the time period in which it came out would suggest. The production is crisp, the riffs heavy and the lyrics esoteric – what more could you want of a metal album?
Ahead of their show at the Harley on the 10th (you can purchase tickets here), we sent a few questions Rolo Tomassi’s way about the new album, influences and playing live.
You’ve mentioned that the new album is more direct and accessible than Cosmology or Hysterics. Was this a conscious effort from the beginning? Or was it something that happened more naturally while recording, like, toning down some particularly technical or mathy bits as you recorded them?
It happened naturally with the writing I suppose. The second half to Cosmology was a side of the band I wanted to explore more of. I feel like by using the ‘mathy parts’ of our band more sparingly they have a greater impact anyway.
After working with Diplo on Cosmology you went back to self-producing with Jason Sanderson. How did this affect the recording process – was it easier or slower or more relaxed, for example?
We had a lot more time which was amazing. Cosmology was a great experience in terms of the recording but we were very limited in our room for experimentation with the time frame we had. With Astraea we took our time and made sure we got the best out of each song we could because we could.
How has having Chris and Nathan onboard affected the writing & recording process? What have they brought to the table, so to speak?
By bringing them in they brought a different way of writing to begin with. Initially they were both living in Brighton (Chris is now in Nottingham) and so we sent around a lot of demo’s and recorded every practice we had which is something we hadn’t done before. Having the demo’s and constantly listening back meant for far better rounded songs. We could hear what needed changing and what we could improve on. Both of them have a wealth of experience playing in other bands and it was just cool to have people who approached and heard things differently on board.
Has your approach to live shows changed particularly over the last year or so?
Not at all. We still play hard, fast and energetic live shows. Thats the one thing about this band that couldn’t and wouldn’t change.
The general consensus online seems to be that the new album’s name comes from the character of the same name in Greek myth (that or an acronym for the development of British drone aircraft, apparently), who was a personification of justice. There’s also a pair of scales on the album cover. What’s the significance behind the album title? Was the theme or idea of justice important lyrically?
Me and Eva spent a lot of time looking into titles for the songs and the album. Greek mythology is something we’ve always found interesting and referenced. Astraea was something that jumped out when we read into her. The song ‘The Scales of Balance’ had already been titled and that was something that tied in. Also, in a single we’d released earlier in the year there was the line ‘Golden Age, Golden Age’ and it was prophesised that Astraea would return to Earth during another Golden Age. There seemed to be these pleasant coincidences that kept cropping up. Also, quite simply, I think it sounds like an album title.
Classical stuff seems to have been an inspiration in the past too, with song titles in the past like Agamemnon – does this just stem from an interest in mythology, etc, or is there something else to it?
Its mainly based around an interest in it. I like the grandness.
You’ve picked Blood Sport and Kappa Gamma to support you on the 10th – are there any other acts, local or not, who you’re into at the moment? Were there any bands that were especially influential while you were writing Astraea?
Speaking of influences, how big an influence do other media & artforms – especially film, literature, video games – have on your music or lyrics?
Film and literature definitely. I find myself a lot more intrigued and influences by film scores and how music is put against a visual element. Especially the dynamics and the emotion it can evoke. Literature has always been really important in what we write. I’d count Brett Easton Ellis, T.S.Eliot and Truman Capote amongst my influences for my contribution towards lyrics.
Finally, if you could go back to any point in time and see a now-defunct act live, who would it be?
One of my favourite bands is a now defunct American rock band called Jejune. They put out one album and a handful of 7”s. I’d love to just be able to hear those songs live.
Actress’ recent Boiler Room appearance brilliantly captured the whole aesthetic of Werk. Clad in a white Adidas top worn with the hood tightly drawn, he played a set that encompassed the darker shades of grime and techno. He ignored all the hipsters gathered around him, playing records purely for his own enjoyment. Originally Werk was a London based Club night, which aimed to deliver something a bit different, a bit out of the ordinary. Actress, aka Damien Cunningham and his friends, Ben Casey and Gavin Weale would often promote nights without announcing who would be playing, a refreshing change from promoters who book star names, with no consideration about creating an identity for the night. Werk was very successful in how it achieved a singular aesthetic; techno pioneers Modeselektor played their first British show at a Werk night. As the decade progressed, Damien Cunningham began to produce under the name of Actress, and Werk gradually shifted from a club night to a label. The uncompromising artistic vision which had made the Werk nights such a triumph was carried over into the label. The influence of Detroit can be traced across the label. In an interview with FACT, Actress said he ‘could get lost in Metroplex records for days.’ Metroplex was founded by the Techno pioneer Juan Atkins and his forward thinking attitude to creating and selling music has clearly had an impact on Werk. Underground Resistance also were a significant influence, particularly in their ‘grand identity’ which was linked with the music.
There is no doubt that Actress is central to Werk. He signs artists, but also releases records. His most recent release, R.I.P. came out in 2012 and is my favourite album. It’s definitely an LP that ‘grows’ on you. I liked it on my first listen, but the last few months the album has trickled into my sub-conscious, every listen providing a different sound, a different loop sound pattern. When people listen to Burial, they often say how he conjures up an empty feeling, the comedown from a rave: R.I.P. evokes a similar isolated feel. On ‘Marble Plexus’ for example, the repeated vocal loop sounds like someone crying through layers of reverb. Where Burial and Actress differ though is the scale of their music. Burial focuses upon the relentless monotony of modern life, while Actress creates an epic soundscape for another world. Actress says that his main influence for R.I.P. was John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost. The poem begins with Satan after his fall from heaven and follows his attempts to ‘subvert God’s Kingdom’ through the temptation of Adam and Eve. The scale and complexity of the poem is mirrored in R.I.P.: the apocalyptical descriptions of Satan’s new kingdom appear in tracks such as ‘Shadow from Tatarus’ which is unrepentantly dark. My favourite moment on the album is toward the end of the sixth track ‘Jardin’. The song is a meandering collection of fractured notes, which seems to follow a pattern before they split into another loop. At the end of the track, just as the notes gain coherence, there is a sudden sound, a great metallic shudder. The album then changes direction, with the songs becoming more fully formed and coherent. That’s probably the thing I love most about Actress’ music; the way he makes his tracks seem so dramatic. It’s so refreshing when you compare Werk to the rest of the British dance music scene. So many of the tracks that are being released seem so dispensable, it’s nice to hear music that challenges you, rather than another house anthem.
On the second track ‘Ascending’, Actress uses a production technique called side chaining. This is where the bass is compressed and then uncompressed, having the effect of making the music sound like a wave rather than a continuous sound. When you listen to R.I.P. on a pair of headphones walking down the street, the side chain technique means sounds such as the traffic or a conversation seep into the music, making normal life sound transcendental.
In 2009, Werk released Zomby’s ‘Where were you in 1992?’, a glorious homage to the jungle scene. Although stylistically very different to Actress and other Werk artists, the EP fits in with the label’s other releases. It is bold in its artistic vision, creating complex tunes using the familiar jungle breaks. More importantly the album is full of some fucking bangers; ‘Tears in the Rain’ uses an infamous Blade Runner sample and I can proudly say it was the tune that got me into dance music. Recently Lukid released his album Lonely at the Top on Werk. Tunes such as ‘Riquelme’ and ‘This Dog Can Run’ are devoid from the influence of the dance music scene and can feel overwhelmingly sad at times. The best thing about Lukid is the YouTube videos that accompany his tunes. ‘Chord’ for example depicts Steven Seagal on a chat show, with Lukid providing a sonic backdrop of moody, dense music. It’s a really bizarre video. Lukid’s dalliance with art is not uncommon on the label. WERKHAUS is the artistic side of the label, aiming to mix visual and audio art; the effects are often stunning. Recently Actress performed live in the Tate’s Turbine Hall, creating an act heavily influenced by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The various endeavours of the label put it beyond the standard dance labels that heavily push artists in order to gain maximum income. Werk’s records are sporadic, but every EP is such a rich and rewarding listen. Actress’ Ghettoville is due for release next year and hopefully it’ll continue the fine output that Werk has already produced.
The much anticipated release from Brainfeeder affiliate Captain Murphy (rumoured to be Flying Lotus himself, as well as Tyler the Creator or Earl Sweatshirt) has just been released as a 35 minute video that can be streamed via his website. Alternatively some kind soul took the time to cut up the video into its separate tracks which can be downloaded here.
November is the cruellest month: it’s cold, wet and involves the first slew of essay deadlines of the academic year. Since coming to university, I’ve been on a mission to find the best music to soundtrack those Lemsip-fuelled sessions that inevitably take place in the wee hours of the morning before a deadline. Here, I present to you a selection of my favourites.
The Rainbow - Talk Talk
A hazy, shimmering piece with a wonderfully restrained refrain. Let its climactic raucous harmonica solo wash over you and massage your synapses as you grapple with your essay.
Remedios the Beauty – Oren Ambiarchi
Fifteen minutes of crackling, melancholy ambient.
Homemade Mountains – Christina Vantzou
Celestial neo-classicism in a similar vein to Grouper’s work. Orchestral strings well up and fade away – beautiful.
Huntington Ashram Monastery – Alice Coltrane
Jazzy harp-oriented mysticism from Flying Lotus’ great-aunt. It’s easy to track the influence she had on Cosmogramma’s mutant bass.
First Floor Metaphor – Theo Parrish
For those times when freeform ambience doesn’t quite fit the bill. Provides a lovely rhythm to match the beat of your typing to.
Xtal – Aphex Twin
Kind of goes without saying, really. ‘Alberto Balsaam’ is another of my favourites from Aphex Twin.
Odottava – Uusitalo
Offkilter techno from one of the Finnish maestro Vladislav Delay’s many monikers.
E2-E4 – Manuel Goettsching
Released in 1984, this hour-long piece based around a single two chord riff has proved very influential in the development of techno and house.
Imagine (Blue Potential Version) – Jeff Mills
A glorious marriage of minimalism and Detroit techno. Soaring instrumentation, driving beats – what more could you want?
Music for Eighteen Musicians – Steve Reich
The godfather of essay-writing music. I return to this again and again.
SPOTIFY PLAYLIST HERE
When I was a young lad I hated onions, really despised them, would not go near any foodstuff that looked as if it might have come into contact with an onion at any point in time. These days I love onions, cook with them all the time and can’t imagine a barbecue without them. The point is that as we age our tastes develop and change, normally in the way that we are better able to appreciate subtleties. But still life is, and will always be, the most tedious and dull attempt at expressing beauty ever witnessed, capable of reducing rooms of schoolchildren into wishing they were in a maths lesson instead. I get why some people appreciate it, don’t get me wrong: being constrained by what is essentially a set formula and using that to show your true artistry that comes through years of persistence and practice is one of the many reasons I adore German minimal techno, but with still life it’s always just a drab, brown bowl of fucking fruit.
A worrying thought for me then, is this current school of thought with regards to playing in a band live. It’s along the lines of ‘practice as much as possible, become as tight and honed as a band that it’s possible for you to be and then gig relentlessly until you become even more finely-tuned’. The problem with this approach though, which is evident when you see one of these types of bands play live, is that the enjoyment and spontaneity of playing live has long since gone and what you have instead is a group going through the motions, possibly with a few examples of pre-rehearsed flair.
Of course, I’m not slagging off every band that takes this approach, because when a band gets it right the results are spectacular, as anyone who’s ever been to a 65daysofstatic gig will testify to, and with certain genres and types of bands it’s the only real approach you can take: nobody wants a see a sloppy and badly rehearsed funk band. It’s just that when it comes to smaller rock gigs, gigs where I’m not paying ten quid to see a band I adore, I personally would rather a band be able to have fun whilst playing live. Sure they’ll probably play a couple of duff notes, and the drummer might not be perfectly in sync with the rest of the band, but who gives a flying fuck? Not I. It sure as shit beats watching a band with expressions on their faces like they’re watching a Terry & June marathon on ITV3.
It’s certainly more in touch with the spirit of rock & roll at any rate.
By Chris Bollington
A free compilation from Vase (label owned by Jacques Greene) was released earlier this month to say thank you to the fans (what a sweetheart!). It shows off the variety of artists on the label and features a free track from the owner, one not to be missed. Download it here!
Photos from our show at Dada yesterday featuring Algiers, Pjaro, Che Ga Zebra, Brazinskas and Jupiter In Jars. Photo Credit: Will McEntegart.
Ambient composer Christina Vantzou has just released this video of her performing with six cellists. Very sombre stuff, perfect for the dying days of autumn. Her album No. 1 was one of my favourites of 2011 - it’s well worth a listen if you’re a fan of Steve Reich, Philip Glass or Grouper.