Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Cafe OTO 26-10-15. Demian Castellanos and Tomaga.

Poster by Tim Drage.

Café OTO is a smallish venue tucked away just off Kingsland High Street in Dalston, and the night I went it had a friendly, busy vibe- with sofas and no stage it feels a bit like going to your hip neighbours for a gig in their living room! Unfortunately for me tonight it's a 149 to Liverpool Street and then a long train journey home so I had to leave early and missed last band up of three, Bitchin' Bajas, but caught Demian Castellanos and Tomaga.   
A man, a chair, a guitar, a pair of pointy boots and lots of pedals. Demian Castellanos is better known as The Oscillation's songwriter, singer and guitarist but earlier this year released a solo album 'The Kyvu Tapes' which is a collection of solo material from the 90s. I had only heard one track 'The Lizard Raga' which is quite chilled so didn't really know what to expect from a live show 17 years after the last track on the album was recorded but hoped it would be interesting. It was much more than that, it was exciting, atmospheric, visceral and far rockier than I had expected. At times it reminded me of the best bits of Rubycon by Tangerine Dream which is some achievement for one person irrespective of how many pedals you've got! When I wasn't staring at Demian's guitar playing the visuals by Antonio Curcetti (and others) of desolate landscapes in indeterminate places complimented the set adding to the experience.

Like radio messages from a distant constellation alerting us to the existence of artforms we had barely imagined Tomaga are a thing of wonder! Ignoring anything as mundane as genre or pauses between sections multi instrumentalists Valentina Magaletti and Tom Relleen create sets that perfectly balance structure and improvisation, a mesmerising collection of sound sculptures-cum-music, fluid, rhythmic, organic. Seeming to ignore any genre delineation whenever I see them they have metamorphosised again, a recognisable sound but with the components being constantly reconfigured and added to, this evening at Café OTO continued the exploration. It was at this point in the evening, after Tomaga had been on about 5 minutes, that no stage stopped being quirky and became a definite disadvantage as the guy at the front was sizeable and blocked my view of the band-although one positive consequence was that I did more fully appreciate Tomaga collaborator Ross Adams' visuals which as ever were spot on. Whenever I see this band live I'm convinced they might be the most innovative band around. In the mid 70s Bruce Springsteen was labelled the future of rock and roll by an excited journalist, fortunately he was wrong, the future is far more intriguing.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Disappears: No Fat, No Filler.

Photo by Zoran Orlic.
Chicago based band Disappears formed in 2008 and have already produced five albums and an EP (1), they've been described as Krautrock but their albums have such a sense of moving on, seem so distinct and subtly varied that any one label isn't going to come anywhere close to describing them. Their last album 'Irreal' saw them stripping everything back, quite different from the post punk sound on their third album 'Pre Language'. At The Lexington in February their set was built around 'Irreal' and was close to terrifying; sparse and foreboding (2).
Intrigued by a band who seem to produce such honed, complete albums and then shift again I contacted founder member and singer Brian Case who kindly agreed to answer a few questions.      

Q: I was trying to describe your music to a friend ahead of your gig at The Lexington earlier this year and ended up (lamely) with something like 'They're amazing- post modern rock with echoes of Magazine and early Psychedelic Furs!' Would you be OK with that? How would you describe your music? 

I'm definitely OK with that, great bands! I usually say we play minimal rock music, or post punk? I don't know it's hard - it works so differently when you're on the inside.
Q: When I was a kid I saw a film called 'The Man with the X-Ray Eyes', as far as I remember near the end of it all he can see is light, everything else has been stripped away. Is that what you were aiming for with 'Irreal', the removing of all extraneous content, music stripped back to its barest component parts?

Yeah, that's something we really focus on - stripping away as much fat as we can and having this direct hit. In my mind it usually falls into a black hole but I'm glad someone is seeing some light in there.
Q: Disappears have had a few personal changes, have those changes affected the creative process within the band. Do changing collaborations bring out different facets of the musicians, cause you to explore different aspects of the music? Do those different dynamics help keep things fresh?

Yeah, they all effected the band in different ways, but always positively. They've all pushed us to adapt which is really useful when you release records at the rate that we do. I'd say it's been pretty essential to pushing us into the sound we've arrived at.
Q: This November you are performing the album 'Low' at the 100 Club in London, about a year since you first performed it at The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (3).  How did that original idea and performance come about? Were you asked to play that album or was it your choice?

We chose the album, the MCA was hosting the US premiere of the 'David Bowie Is...' exhibit and wanted some bands to interpret his catalog. We had just finshed (or were finishing) recording 'Irreal' and were just about finished touring 'Era' so we had the time to really focus on it.
Q: That original evening is being released on vinyl and tape-was it difficult making the music 'yours' or did you try to stay as close to the original as possible?

It kind of just became ours based on the decisions we made about how to handle the material. The A side has some really nice moments, it is straight forward but there's still a lot to interpret. Once we figured out the B side and decided to do it without keys it was a lot easier to get our head around it. you just find the important parts and build around them. I'd say some of the songs feel like original music, that was a great feeling.
Q: The vocals are an important part of the Disappears sound- what kind of subject matter do you enjoy exploring lyrically?

Mmmmm...they're fairly existential I suppose, really I'm just asking a lot of questions or commenting on something I can't fully understand. They become how I deal with things or sus out what's in my head.
Q: When you play a gig do you aim to replicate the studio recordings or use them as a 'launch pad' to work out from? Does the immediate environment-the audience/ building-affect what you play or are you fairly self-contained?

We're self contained in the respect that we know how to push though the set and songs no matter what the situation is, but we all try and absorb the atmosphere and let the environment take over. If you're playing live I think it's really important to be effected by those things, make it about that moment and space.
Q: On her Twitter page Nic Endo comments that 'There is purity in noise (that) can serve as a very direct way of communicating emotion...'(4). Is Disappears music a transposing of emotion into sound or more conceptual?

I think it's both - we're definitely approaching things with certain concepts and ideas but the songs start organically and really only take shape when we have an emotional response from each other. I think it's pretty moody music so yeah, emotion is a big part of it - despite it's starkness.
Q: What cultural resources (writers/thinkers/musicians/etc) have you been influenced by, as people and musicians?

So many - but right now I'm reading the Philip Glass book and he's a really inspiring guy. Even the things he did to continue making music and surviving until he got recognition, he deals with them with such grace and unique perspective that it's hard not be completely charmed by everything he's saying.
Q: Do you have any plans for the coming year-a new album?

Yeah, we're writing it now, we have about half of it written? I don't know - it's hard to know where we're at or what it's sounding like at this stage. I never know until we're done mixing what we've got - I think I thought 'Irreal' was pretty light hearted when we were writing it and then after mixing I was surprised it was such a black hole. we're not recording until later in the year so I think we'll have a lot of material to work with which is not the usual scenario.