Monday, 16 July 2012

AtTheHeartOfItAll - Excellent free music

Being grabbed by something nasty, powerful and insistent in your own backyard is not usually an experience you'd want to repeat, but here's an exception. AtTheHeartOfItAll are a synth / guitar / drum machine trio from Weston-Super-Mare, creating an almighty sonic disturbance with their updating of the industrial template. Let's be honest - we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, and there's no use pretending things are going to improve any time soon. While it's nice to know there's a seemingly inexhaustible supply of laptop morphine out there to take our minds of the horror, sometimes it's a relief to hear music that's doing its best to stare it in the face. The band's name references both Coil and Aphex Twin, and that should give you a pretty good idea of whether you'll enjoy them or not. They're playing Kollaps in October. Meanwhile, you can grab new tunes 'A Romance In Colditz' and 'Ubik' from their Soundcloud for nothing.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Olo Worms - 'Yard Is Open'

What do we know of Olo Worms? There are at least four of them – that much is clear. They have links with Fife’s much loved Fence collective, they recorded a great session for the Marc Riley programme a couple of years ago, and their last EP was released as a USB memory stick in a miniature coffin. They’re probably based in Bristol. Beyond that, they’re a mysterious bunch – more like a communal brain with creative mania than a traditional band, and as likely to be discovered via their surreal videos or culture vulture blog posts as their actual tunes. The number of guests involved - King Creosote, Rozi Plain and François & the Atlas Mountains among them – only adds to the sense of this debut album as a collective endeavour.

Olo Worms seem prepared to turn their attention to almost any genre of music in the service of a lyrical whim. ‘Yard Is Open’ contains bits of everything – electronica, indie folk, hip-hop, psychedelia, lo-fi rock, even a hint of mariachi brass on the Mexico ’86-referencing ‘Back From England’. This magpie approach isn’t without precedents, from the crackpot genre experiments of Zappa and Ween to the cosmic pop collages of The Residents and The Beta Band (a likely influence), but – crucially – Olo Worms are waywardly individual. They’re also seriously funny in an irreverent schoolboy way, especially on ‘Barbershop’, in which priapic white-boy rap gives way to a Butthole Surfers-style psychotic dirge containing some belated advice for Kurt Cobain.

For all their surface daftness, Olo Worms have impeccable songwriters’ instincts when it comes to framing ideas. Curios like ‘Ol’ Boozy’s Chug Thump’ and ‘Eating Every Living Thing’ last long enough to act as fun digressions, whereas weightier tracks like the breezy ‘Strays’ or narcotic ‘Snake’ are given space to stretch out wantonly, the better to show off their fine construction. Nothing outstays its welcome. The closing ‘Sphinx’ – the album’s closing tour de force – is as mysterious as the beast that shares its name; six minutes of spirit summoning dance-rock mayhem that asks some serious questions about other bands’ lack of ambition. That an album as wilfully progressive as ‘Yard Is Open’ repeatedly delivers the emotional goods – creepy, touching, hilarious – is a massive turn up for the books.

'Yard Is Open' will be released 13th August. Download 'Strays' here.

Olo Worms play The Louisiana, Bristol on 10th August and The Old Police Station, Deptford, London on 11th August.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Dubkasm - Interview with DJ Stryda

Stryda and Digistep in the studio
DJ Stryda on Brazilian connections, the new Peng Sound label, and building a studio from scratch: a slightly extended version of a feature that appeared in Venue (R.I.P).

If you’ve dipped a toe in Bristol’s reggae waters in recent years, you’ll almost certainly have come across DJ Stryda. Those with longer memories may recall his late-90s sessions for Ragga FM, when he was barely out of school. More recently, he’s been a fixture on Passion Radio for well over a decade. Stryda – Sam Howard in civvies – is a familiar face in clubland too, whether as promoter and selector at Teachings in Dub, or supplying a rootsy contrast to the future shock at Subloaded.

Then there’s Dubkasm – the production handle he shares with childhood friend Ben Glass (aka Digistep), whose sax, melodica, guitar, percussion and keyboard parts are such a distinctive part of the duo’s sumptuous sound. “Ben’s the musician/producer and I’m the executive producer,” Sam explains, “although our roles very often overlap. One of us comes up with an initial idea, which then spins off uncontrollably as we discuss it.” Growing up in Bristol, they discovered dub “through listening to pirate radio, then at 15, we attended our first Jah Shaka session at the Malcolm X Centre.” Forming Dubkasm in 1994, their journey was fuelled by Sam’s career as a musician and Ben’s broadcasting. “Interviewing people for the radio show led us to meet Jah Shaka and Aba Shanti-I,” says Sam, and before long the soundsystem giants were picking up their tracks. “The reaction was overwhelming, seeing the crowd rocking to Aba flinging down a Dubkasm plate at Notting Hill Carnival encouraged us to release our debut 12-inch” (2003’s ‘Hornsman Trod’/‘Strictly Ital’).

If that sounds like a textbook apprenticeship, what happened next is one of those sideways lurches that are crucial to truly original music. “Dubkasm became a transatlantic operation,” explains Sam, “which is when ‘Transform I’ started to be created.” Ben, who has Brazilian roots himself, assembled the album’s nuts and bolts in Rio, drawing on local sounds that deliciously complemented Dubkasm’s reggae foundations. “Cuica, berimbau, cavaquinho, zabumba… many of these instruments were brought to Brazil by Bantu slaves,” Sam says. “So when you mix nyahbinghi rhythms with samba, you can feel the same African roots, the heartbeat.” Meanwhile, Sam was shuttling up and down the M4 recording vocalists like Dub Judah, Afrikan Simba and Levi Roots on a portable digital audio workstation. “We could record a lead vocal in Levi Roots’s frontroom, or traditional Brazilian instruments in a tropical bungalow.” The album title reflects the duo’s international blend of influences, juxtaposing “transformai” – a Portuguese word “used to urge someone to transform their mentality” – with “I and I”, the Rasta concept of oneness.

The album was an underground success and made specialist dub critic Steve Barker’s top 10 of the year in muso bible The Wire. It was followed in 2010 by Stryda and Digi’s own dub version, ‘Transformed In Dub’, and the less traditional ‘Transform I Remixed’ – a radical but respectful makeover by dubstep producers including Pinch, Appleblim, Headhunter and Peverelist. The remix project “came about through my friendship with Pinch and our promoting Subloaded and Teachings in Dub at Clockwork,” says Sam. “There was a whole host of dubstep producers living in Bristol so it was quite a natural process.”

Since then, Ben has returned to Bristol and the pair have been busy turning “a simple patch of earth into a fully functioning studio. We built it from scratch brick by brick. Although it's a fairly grass roots setup we still put in cavity walls, a soundproofed ventilation system and a double window. We felt a new studio deserved a new console and, with the help of Sountracs guru Tim Jones, we bought a 48-channel CM4400. It's built like a tank, with chunky dials and a retro meter bridge and it sits perfectly with our armoury of old school outboard - the tape echo, spring reverbs, and some home-made oddities."

The studio build seems to have given them a new burst of energy - their current single ‘Emotion’/‘Are You Ready’ contrasts the honeyed tones of Rudey Lee with the bravura deejay style of Solo Banton, and its video is creating a buzz online. Other projects nearing completion include a collaboration “with virtuoso musicians in Sao Paulo that picks up where ‘Transform I’ left off”, and a new album compiled from the restoration of early Dubkasm master tapes and mixed by “a UK dub legend” – out later this year. “Another project we are really excited about is our collaboration with Gorgon Sound. Kahn and Neek handed over their track ‘Find Jah Way’ which we remixed.” The first release on the new Peng Sound label, it’s being launched at the Take Five Café on 7 Apr. “Our releases slowed down during the studio build so it’s nice to be back on course”, says Sam.

If that wasn’t enough to be getting on with, there are the regular Teachings In Dub sessions at the Trinity Centre to organise.  “April’s instalment will be a landmark session,” says Sam. “London-based Jah Tubbys are meeting Bristol’s very own Jah Lokko. The last time these two sounds met was during the 1980s so it’s been a long time coming!” As a venue, Trinity is important to Sam: “It was there that Digi and I experienced our first reggae gig back in 1992, plus my grandparents actually got married there. I’m very proud of Bristol’s soundsystem history. It’s great to help keep this tradition alive.”

Sunday, 5 February 2012

'Fabriclive 61’ (Mix CD, Fabric)

On this timely contribution to the prestigious mix series, Pinch reclaims dubstep as a flexible, subtle genre against the head-banging aggression that has come to define it for many. His own productions set the boundaries wide, from the ominous vibrations of his Henry & Louis remix to the slitheringly percussive 'Rooms Within A Room’ from the extraordinary Pinch & Shackleton album. Elsewhere, he does lush and mellow with Quest (‘In Dreams’), minimal and deadly with Loefah (‘Broken’) and 140bpm techstep with Photek (‘Acid Reign’). There’s also room for Berlin techno (EQD), experimental electronica (Roly Porter) and floor-wrecking cuts from Roska, Distance and Addison Groove. This is a tough, intelligent selection from a DJ at the top of his game.

BRS rating 9/10
This review originally appeared in Venue magazine.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

The Hysterical Injury - 'Dead Wolf Situation' (Album - Crystal Fuzz Records)

A few years ago, in the wake of Lightning Bolt's irrepressible onslaught, there was a wave of bass/drums duos who seemed to have missed the point. Super-fast drumming and thickening agent fuzz can trick the ears while the beer and volume are flowing. Take them home, and you're stuck with half a band.

On their debut album The Hysterical Injury do not sound like half a band. Annie Gardiner's bass fills the space of two or three less spirited instruments - its controlled abandon recalling Nick Zinner's driving-yet-expansive guitar on the early Yeah Yeah Yeahs records. Drummer Tom destroys skins with a similar combination of precision and fury - anyone would think they were related.

None of the that will surprise people who've enjoyed the band live, but the growing strength of their songwriting might. Rooted in classic-era alternative rock (Sonic Youth, early Hole, a generous slug of Throwing Muses), one thing that sets The Hysterical Injury apart from their peers is their embrace of melody. On 'Vex', Annie harmonises with herself like a scrambled disco diva casually inventing glam hardcore. On 'Maths', jerky indie verses give way to swooning choruses riding waves of noise. And then there's the monumental 'Cycle One', in which a sustained crackle of electricity sets the scene for a complex of conflicting emotions and delirious pop-grunge hooks. This morning I had to listen to it seven times in a row.

British rock has been comatose for years, and The Hysterical Injury are one of the few bands around that sound capable of waking it. If there’s any justice, they could well be making records on a bigger budget in a few years' time. They won't necessarily be better than 'Dead Wolf Situation', though - or at least they won't need to be.

The Hysterical Injury launch 'Dead Wolf Situation' at The Green Park Tavern, Bath on Saturday 11th February.

More info here

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Magic Band @ Thekla, Bristol. Sunday 4th December

When rock visionary Captain Beefheart passed away in December 2010, he hadn’t performed live in almost thirty years. Tonight his desert-wracked boots are filled by long suffering sticksman and arranger John ‘Drumbo’ French, whose imitation of his famously cruel master’s strangulated holler may well be a form of exorcism. The affable French is joined by Magic Band veterans Rockette Morton (bass) and Feelers Reebo (slide guitar), as well as prosaically named newbies Eric Klerks (guitar) and Craig Bunch (drums).

The first half is dominated by frazzled good-times boogie, as the band warm up with a selection of the Captain’s most accessible work, although the duelling slide licks on ‘When It Blows Its Stacks’ hint at the mind altering intensity to come. French switches to drums midway through ‘Kandy Korn’ - leading into a series of tricky instrumentals that show off the musicians’ enviable chops.

It’s a turning point. When French returns to the mic the band are in full flight, and frenzied crossroads hoedown ‘The Floppy Boot Stomp’ kicks off a string of classics - ‘Moonlight on Vermont’, ‘Electricity’, ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’ – that are among the greatest in rock’s canon. Sounding like a titanic tag team battle in which Elmore James and Howling Wolf wrestle Igor Stravinsky and Ornette Coleman for control of the universe, The Magic Band take us to rhythmic and melodic places that few others have dared to dream of.

This review originally appeared in Venue magazine.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Multiverse Music

A feature I wrote for Venue magazine, based on an interview with producer Ginz, half of Emptyset, whose album 'Demiurge' is one of 2011's most impressive releases. He's also one of four people behind Bristol's all conquering Multiverse Music, which is what we mostly spoke about on this occasion...

What connects dubstep, ‘Transformers 3’ and cats with thumbs? The answer is a recording studio on Whiteladies Road, home to seven record labels and a music publisher. All of them are run by Multiverse Music, a four-man collective whose best-known member is Pinch, the producer of classics like ‘Punisher’, ‘Qawwali’ and ‘Joyride’. You’ll have heard his colleagues’ music too, although not necessarily in a club.

Multiverse was founded in 2003 by Rob Ellis (Pinch), James Fiddian (Fidz) and James Ginzburg (Ginz), an American who needed a visa to stay in Bristol after university. “I looked at my options, and the only viable one was to start a business,” he remembers. “But looking back at the business plan, it’s funny – by this stage we were supposed to be millionaires.” Multiverse might not have made them rich, but it’s been very influential, not least in the rise of dubstep. It was 2004, says James, when his friend Dickon (ThinKing) “started going on about this night in Shoreditch – FWD at Plastic People. He dragged a few of us down there and we had our minds blown.” Immediately connecting with the new sound, they used their Subtext label to unleash ‘Lion’ and ‘Pop Pop’, two stunning 12”s from shock-and-awe duo Vex’d. “We weren’t expecting them to sell”, says James, “because the music was obscure at that time, but they did well. ‘Pop Pop’ is still one of my favourite records.”

They founded Tectonic, which became the most important dubstep label outside London. It championed a techno-influenced strain of the genre, perfected on albums like 2562’s ‘Aeriel’ and Pinch’s ‘Underwater Dancehall’. “We were putting out seminal records that we didn’t realise were seminal at the time,” James says. “But to think about what we were doing as influential is to have serious delusions of grandeur.” He believes dubstep has moved away from the sound Tectonic pushed anyway. “We’ve put out some bangers,” he says, “but you’re in a club playing what you think are bangers, and then some kiddie starts playing the devil’s music and makes your tunes sound like... soft jazz or something. Nobody really likes the tag dubstep any more, because it bears no relation to what it was at the beginning.” Tectonic’s releases have since diversified, and Pinch is working on an album with maverick producer Shackleton: “I don’t know what you call it,” James says, “but it’s very strange.”

Definitions aside, Multiverse imprints have been involved with many of the most exciting club sounds of recent years, from October’s submerged techno to Baobinga’s good times, anything-goes ‘bass music’. Running labels on behalf of emerging Bristol producers is a speciality: “We started Kapsize for Joker, Wow! For Gemmy, Build for Baobinga.” Next up is a label for Guido, whose ‘Anidea’ album for Punch Drunk was one of 2010’s finest. Bristol is important to them, says James. “It makes a big proportion of the music that’s considered seriously in various genres. Before, you had places like Jamaica and Iceland, and you wondered how they were producing such a disproportionate amount of what you heard. When I came to Bristol in ’98 there was a list of influential names, but now you can just keep on rattling off interesting things that are happening.”

As Tectonic, Build and the rest push the boundaries of dance music, the re-launched Subtext is where they’re “taking things completely out of the nightclub”. James – who produced breakbeat and dubstep as 30Hz and Ginz – is half of “weird sound design and noise” duo Emptyset, and their brilliant ‘Demiurge’ album takes minimal electronica into the realm of pure sound. Paul Jebanasam, the collective’s fourth member, previously made dubstep as Moving Ninja but now concentrates on “composed music – a crossover between minimal classical and industrial drone”. They’re also working with Roly Porter of Vex’d, whose aunt is known for her mastery of obscure instruments like the ondes Martenot. “They recorded her playing various instruments and Roly created a universe out of that,” says James. “It’s simultaneously incredibly aggressive and blissful.”

As composers, they’re increasingly in demand. “Fidz is a pure composer,” explains James. “He wrote the music for the Cravendale ‘Cats With Thumbs’ ad. Then we did the trailer for the ‘Transformers 3’ movie – that was one of Paul’s.” They’ve also scored an advertising campaign for Lexus, and licensed tracks to films like ‘Children of Men’. “It’s not like we’re making jingles,” says James. “Film trailers feel like a culmination of all the weird stuff we’ve done. You can make alien sounds and big explosions and somehow it’s economical.”

2009’s must-grab Multiverse retrospective ‘Dark Matter’ was dominated by dancefloor material, but James says “I’d love it if in two years what we were doing was so diverse that you’d struggle to put it all out on one compilation. Hopefully that’s the way things are going to go.” The important thing is that the collective is sustaining for everyone involved. “It’s very difficult to make anything happen in isolation,” he says. “But when you’ve got a community of people who are doing good things, you can create a world that people connect with. Otherwise, you’re just throwing things out into a sea of stuff.”