Thursday, 17 March 2016

Peculiar Protest for Peculiar Times.

Image by Yvonne Forster.
It was not exactly Eddie Izzard's 27 marathons in 27 days but I'm now in my 50s and three gigs in five days, including two trips to London felt like a bit of a big ask, two psych gigs and one folk/punk-I was going to have to pace myself, get enough sleep!

The Oscillation, The Levellers and White Hills were all excellent gigs, wonderful times of transcendence from the mundanity of the everyday. In an instrumentalist post/modernity where so much and so many are seen as a means to an end the importance of benign experiences that are ends in themselves includes that they can be counter cultural, resistance-play.

The Oscillation, The Levellers and White Hills...when I sat down and thought about it there is a theme running through all three bands-they are music of the alienated, they make music that is at least ill at ease in neo liberal capitalist modernity and expresses that alienation, that resistance. even a hostility, in the case of The Levellers,  to the status quo. Most know where the latter are coming from but The Oscillation and White Hills are also protest music.

On The Leveller's 'Last Man Alive' 2005 tour the band came on to doctored recordings of statements by George W Bush so that he was apparently admitting his criminality and violence. The Levellers politics are well known so this gig Intro may not be too surprising but how is it relevant to either of the other two bands? If you can get hold of a copy of White Hill's superb and brave 2007 album Glitter Glamour and Atrocity and listen to track 6 'Love Serve Remember'- what you have is the same form of appropriation and subversion going on, the same means of protest against the Bush regime's neo liberal imperialism and violence. Now remember this was an album released by an American band in the middle of Bush's second term (1), that takes courage and convictions. If you want an idea of how America can view dissenting musicians watch 'Shut Up and Sing'. 

You may also want  to check out White Hills' Hp-1 which looks at structures of control and power and 'So you are .. so you'll be' which explores the individual's agency within those structures (2)-the band attempting to stimulate consciousness and thought about these issues and what our response/s to the world around us could/should be. To quote Ben Hewitt when he contrasts White Hills with more traditional protest music '...what if the protest music of the 21st century... takes (the) form (of) a pure blast of sound?... mind-altering loops of psychedelic rock?' (3) I would want to argue that in his piece he is setting up an unnecessary tension between lyrical content and musical style-but his point that 'protest music isn't dying, it's just mutating into something multi-stranded, multi-layered and altogether more insidious'(3) is an important one, as is that effective protest will always be embedded in, and relevant to (sub) culture.

The Oscillation probably wouldn't be included in many peoples lists of protest bands  but their last two albums have explored the alienation of modern urban life, the lived experience of many in this capitalist age. On their website they commented that ‘The Oscillation’s third album “From Tomorrow” is an attempt to find some kind of new mental and spiritual zones, away from the psychological effects of the modern urban landscape, and the curious emptiness of the digital social world that we are forced to inhabit. The introversion of these bleak and unsettling conditions are reflected back as music with all the ambiguous emotions of hope, despair, aggression, indolence and narcoleptic bliss’ (4) in an interview from September 2014 Demian Castellanos talks of the homogenization and gentrification going on in London and other cities and the accompanying increase in anesthetising entertainment. In a recent interview he commented that the same issues had been present while making the new album 'Monographic' but that he was working on his response to those issues and felt more hopeful of not being 'over run by it' (5). Here is a songwriter conscious of capitalism's corrupting effects on  social space, culture and  the individual-and allowing those concerns to inform his work. Good music and musicians, like all artists, can alert and envision us. Sometimes when I go to galleries I need to read the accompanying text in order to really get a piece of art-extra information opens up the slightly obscured meaning, the same can be true with bands.

Which returns us to unapologetic anarchos The Levellers who need no accompanying notes! I have to admit to being a bit out of touch with them, the last  albums I got were Truth and Lies and Letters from the Underground-2005 and 2008 respectively (6)- and that would have been roughly when I last saw them. I had forgotten how good they are! They still evoke hope and sadness about how the world could be and how the world is. Like the film Pride they contest the top down narrative of consumption, competition and individualism reminding me of what is really important in life; community, hope, the belief you can make a positive difference...and raucous good music. As Emma Goldman implied radical shifts to better should include dancability!
Whether it's The Oscillation's consciousness of the corrosive effects of late modernity and gentrification and the need to resist assimilation or White Hills calling out George Bush and putting together a triptych of albums exploring structures of power and the individual's response or The Levellers simultaneously opposing the capitalist status quo while pointing to something better these bands have more in common than one would initially think. They may be at different points on the spectrum but they all give (at least) hints that things can be a whole lot better than they are.


(2) Terich, J. (2013) 'w: White Hills'

(3) Ben Hewitt 'Review' of H-P1 at

(4) 2014



Thursday, 10 March 2016

The Oscillation-Psychedelic Post Punk?

Photo by Antonio Curcetti.
It's been about a year since The Oscillation played London and roughly two and a half years since their last album 'From Tomorrow' so I was excited and intrigued by their launch gig for new album 'Monographic' at The Lexington. A train journey, a look round the Frank Auerbach exhibition, and it was time! First up was Sterling Roswell (yes he of Spaceman 3 fame) who should have had a band, but couldn't, and who had also badly damaged his ankle recently and so had to play seated. Despite these drawbacks he played a cracking solo set of Byrdsish jangly pop before being joined by a drummer for the last two songs and someone on a Sub Phatty for the last song-his impressive new single.

With the addition of Cathy Lucas on keyboards The Oscillation are now a five piece (musicians plus Julian Hand) and that has given the band a fuller sound and, as befits an album launch, their set was packed with a pleasing amount of new material-most of which I hadn't heard before as I picked up a CD at the gig. First impressions are that the new songs are a shift in feel to a new darker, more muscular Oscillation with an edgier sound. As always Valentina Magaletti and Tom Relleen kept everything tight and creative with Tom's bass as almost a lead instrument on one of the new tracks and with Julian's visuals extending the music into the visual the live experience was as immersive and captivating as I'd hoped . They seemed to have a bit of that 'hard energy' about them that was noticeable in the best of the post punk bands and I'm really looking forward to exploring this new album! Is psychedelic post punk a genre?

A couple of weeks ago I had asked Demian Castellanos, writer, singer and guitarist with The Oscillation for an interview, and it tied in nicely with the launch gig. He has always tackled existential questions about modern life and that was something we picked up on in our interview.

I think the first single released as The Oscillation was in 2006 (1), subsequent to that there have been four studio albums, and now 'Monographic' out on 11 March. Looking back has each album been a distinct entity and then you've moved on or are there overlaps, threads running through, themes that re-appear?

Yeah I think they all overlap as you say. Lyrically there is some minor evolution about the way I think about stuff. I've moved on from outright negative personal feelings to questioning what everything is about and how we relate to the bigger picture around us. It's kind of less personal but more personally honest in a way (maybe).

Around the time you recorded 'From Tomorrow' you commented on your website that the album was a response to the 'curious emptiness of the digital social world' and the 'bleak and unsettling conditions' created by late capitalism (2). What are some of the issues and preoccupations explored on the new album 'Monographic'?

More of the same although I'm less bothered by some of that stuff now, I mean I don't feel that same sense of isolation as then. I think all the same stuff is there and going on, even more amplified but I'm realising that you have to try and change from within to not get consumed by it and become self destructive. I can't change the period I was born in so I'm trying to change my reaction to it somehow.. I haven't figured it out but I feel a bit more confident that it's possible to not get over-run by it.

I saw that 'Monographic' got a great review in Q Magazine and also read an intriguing comment that the new Oscillation material has a Siouxsie vibe! What do you think...?

Yeah I'd agree and happy if people can see that influence. I still love a lot of that era of music and am a huge fan, especially up to Ju Ju. I love John McGeogh's guitar sound. I think my next guitar would have to be a Yamaha SG actually (ha ha)!

Last year The Oscillation expanded to a 5 piece (4 musicians plus visuals) with Cathy Lucas joining you on keyboards, how did that come about?

We went to a 3-piece for a while as our previous keyboard player moved to Berlin because he decided he'd had enough of London, which is fair enough. After a while we all started to miss that layer of sound and I met Cathy through Valentina joining Cathy's new project (currently called) Orlando. That's been a great addition to the live set up and provides a new dynamic which is great.

How has the creative process changed over time-or has it changed? Do you have an overarching idea of where you're going when you start a new album or does it tend to evolve?

I don't know if it's changed that much. I'd like to find a way to work quicker and not get too OCD with mixing and writing but it all just takes me a really long time. The album just evolves with the tracks, I don't think I ever have had a concrete idea of what kind of album to make other than to try and develop the songwriting and the sound. I think I get more into changing the production than the songwriting really.

When you go in the studio is the album pretty much complete in theory and its just a case of recording or is it still a work in progress?

It's all quite a work in progress so that's why it takes a while to finish. I'm quite vague I suppose and don't have very concrete ideas about anything apart from the desire to try and change perceptions and reactions to things.

You have had a year off from gigging with The Oscillation and in that time you released 'The Kyvu Tapes Vol. 1', a collection of your work from 1990-98, played solo shows and released 'Live at Soy Festival' in October (3). I had only heard one solo track before I caught you at Café Oto last October and I really enjoyed your set, exciting, atmospheric and rockier than I had expected. What was it like to play as a solo artist after being used to a band? How did you find the whole experience?

I liked it though I have to admit I was very nervous about playing on my own. It was a great experience and quite a good exercise in itself.

I'd really like to do more actually and see where it can go. The weird thing was that I didn't really play anything off the album as the material was so old. I ended up writing new material for the set but I've forgotten it now. I planned to start recording it properly straight away but never got round to it so it was nice that I had one show where I could get it recorded properly as it was.

I still got a lot of ghosts to exorcise from that period and just finished mixing another ambient feedback album from that same time.

I reckon I'll try and record some tracks live with a drummer, sort of a Durutti Column vibe mixed with ambient drone and quite extreme noise.

You play a lot of gigs in the UK and mainland Europe, how is the psych scene going in your experience or does it vary from country to country?

I think the psych scene is really cool actually, it seems to embrace quite a lot of different bands and styles of music. there's a lot of festivals booking lots of really great bands that are quite diverse that includes everyone from Night Beat, heavy Sabbath-esque bands to Zombie Zombie and Tomaga (Tom and Val's project). So I think it's quite inclusive even if the word "psyche" conjures up kind of connotations. I haven't really noticed how it changes from country to country to be honest, maybe I'm not very observant!

The new album is out next month, does that mean we can expect to see a lot of The Oscillation gigging over 2016?

We'll be gigging a lot in March and April and then there will be some festivals over the summer which should be good fun. After April I got a lot of other stuff to concentrate on and also there will be new albums from Tomaga and Orlando and hopefully some solo stuff again at the end of the year. I'm really curious to see what the year holds for The Oscillation and everyone.

What bands/films/books have you been enjoying lately?

The last book I read that blew my mind was Star Rover by Jack London. My memory for films is fucking useless, I know I've seen quite a few though. Ex Machina was cool (thinking of modern films) but I re-watched Jacobs Ladder which I thought was amazing (again), I totally forgot where it all led to!

Big thanks to Demian for his time...and he's right Ex Machina is excellent!