Friday, 15 April 2016

Post Modern Protest.

Image by tim forster based on IWW 'Pyramid of Capitalist System' (1911)  

Sometimes gigs are like the mythological London bus none for a while then several at once-in this case three and all at The Lexington!

The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod 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,


The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod, the thing that made me link these three bands together isn't that they are similar musically-they aren't. What links them is that they are all 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, and at times downright hostility to the status quo. The Oscillation, White Hills and Gnod are protest music in a post modern era.

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 recordings of statements by George W Bush doctored so that he is apparently admitting his criminality and violence. Appropriation and subversion going on as a 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.

Gnod have often made their antipathy to life in neoliberal Britain known from their T-shirt with Cameron on emblazoned with the statement 'No More Lies' to Chris Haslam's 'Rebel! Rebel! 'We are many, they are few!' reply to the question 'What would you like to tell the world?' (6) Their latest album Mirror is the aural equivalent of Munch's painting 'The Scream' an album of authenticity that confronts the listener with the truth that life includes suffering and pain.  According to Gnod's Bandcamp page the album came out of, and was informed by, a period that included individual illness, societal self harm-the 2015 election result-and the realisation that as individuals we live in relationships of asymmetry to structures of power that are often hard to perceive but have a very real effect on our lives (7). At The Lexington Gnod maintained an incredibly focused, intense level of sonic attack for the whole set. But Gnod's intensity wasn't about turning every thing up it was about transposing and channelling responses of empathetic frustration and legitimate anger at life in modern Britain into a music that adequately expresses that pain and rage and the dread that that rage might turn out to be impotent. And deep in the mix of their wall of sound were the vocals, half heard, fragments caught, but in one of the songs coming through clearly, 'I want to be a stick in the wheel not a cog in the machine', 

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 Gnod opposing the capitalist status quo and it's destructive effects on the individual these bands have more in common than just being associated at times with a (very broad) musical genre . 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


(6)  Smith, S. (2013) 'Interview: Gnod'


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Gnod Live 9-4-16.

Image by Yvonne Forster.
The Gnod gig at The Lexington was on a Saturday so I had a bit of spare time in that London and ended up in the National Portrait Gallery at an exhibition of Leon Golub's work on the effects of hubris and power on the human face. A little while later, on the South Bank, I watched as a man with a tannoy conducted an interesting exercise in trying to provoke people, who wanted a quiet drink, into engaging in a discussion about the state of the country-an oddly timed attempt to 'wake people up'. 
Then, via Camden, it was off to a sold out gig near the Angel, it was an interestingly mixed audience for Gnod, a healthy gender split and age spread, an impressive Mohican, a variety of beards, some old guys with their ears to the musical ground, a girl in a t-shirt proclaiming 'Boyfriends are Overrated'. 
Support band were Blood Sport from Sheffield who played a non stop set of excellent funk tinged danceable post modern rock that went down really well and left me wondering just how many exciting, creative bands there must be in the  world! Must check out their album.
Gnod came on at about 9.45 as scheduled and played the most finely honed, perfectly executed hour of relentless, ferocious, wall of sound rock that I think I've ever witnessed.
In the past I have seen Motorhead in their Overkill/Bomber prime, Atari Teenage Riot, in fact ATR supported by Gum Takes Tooth(!), and Einsturzende Neubauten. I didn't have a decibel counter at any of the gigs so I can't claim Gnod were technically louder but they were more intense, more overwhelming, more powerful. A few bands I've seen have come close to this level of intensity for a patch, EN and PIL spring to mind, but that was just for sections of their set. Gnod maintained an incredibly focused, intense level of sonic attack for the whole hour. But Gnod's intensity wasn't about turning every thing up it was about transposing and channelling responses of empathetic frustration and legitimate anger at life in modern Britain into a music that adequately expresses that pain and rage and the dread that that rage might turn out to be impotent. 
In the Old Testament particularly the figure of the prophet reoccurs whose message often included railing against the injustices, oppressions and inequalities of their societies-predicting the downfall of the powerful and the freeing of the oppressed. At points in their set, with a bearded Paddy Shine straight ahead of me Gnod reminded me of a secular counterpart to those figures, both confronting power and giving voice to the pain of the struggling.
Gnod's set was made up of tracks from Mirror and new material, which presumably is the foundation for their next album- if tonight was anything to go by it's going to be a corker, with the last track on the night being as punk as it gets, it made 'Never Mind the Bollocks' sound like a collection of nursery rhymes! And deep in the mix of this wall of noise were the vocals, hard to hear, half hidden, fragments glimpsed-one song seemed to be questioning hegemonic masculinity and in an earlier song I made out (I think) 'I want to be a stick in the wheel not a cog in the machine', amazingly within hours I'd received a completely independent tweet quoting the same thought but by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed after being involved in an assassination attempt against Hitler, Bonhoeffer said 'We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself' (1). 
Last night, in an hour of ferocious goodness, Gnod echoed those sentiments.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Cathy Lucas, Vanishing Twin and Orlando.

Photo by Kathy Coleman.

Orlando is the current musical identity/project of multi instrumentalist Cathy Lucas who adopted the name from a Virginia Woolf novel about a gender-bending dreamer who lives for 500 years! In March 2014 she released 'Earth Moon Earth and Other Round Trips' a split tape with Tom Furse and in March last year came 'Play Time', again a split tape, with Tomaga on Ram Tapes. On this Orlando sounds like the offspring of a 60s Sci-Fi soundtrack and a 70s Cinema advert but live as a full band it feels like you could be witnessing the rebirth of (a very danceable) Flower Power! In fact such is the difference between the previous work released and the live incarnation that she’s naming the new group Vanishing Twin. Cathy is also involved with the School of Hypnosis, an East London collective that re-interprets minimalist pieces at living room parties. Last year they prepared a self penned piece 'Sonic Tides' for Station to Station at the Barbican in July 2015.

Last year Orlando and Tomaga released a split cassette 'Play Time: Music for Video Games' on Ram Tapes-how did that come about and what was the concept behind it?
I find there is a special kind of beauty in music that stretches out beyond itself, into some other world, implying it, but not fully revealing it. That’s why I love soundtracks so much, and library music generally. There is mystery there, inviting you in. Part of it is the sounds – far more interesting and un-identifiable than other genres.
So for the cassette music I start with a piece of music I like – in the case of MFVG it was Theme for a Telepathic Amphibian – and that inspires the concept. All the other music was written around that, as a soundtrack for videogames that have never been made. I had been talking about doing a RAM tape with Tomaga for a while – we were just waiting for the right idea that would click for both of us.
For the Round Trips tape, the song Earth Moon Earth became the first chapter in a story about escaping to the moon, enjoying a newfound freedom, but then eventually getting home sick and returning to Earth. Tom interpreted ‘Round Trips’ differently, creating slowly evolving loop-based music on his modular.
Last year you did a July tour of Italy-how did it go? Do you find playing live brings an extra dimension to the music?
The last 3 months have been a transition from Orlando being my own solo project into becoming a band. By playing live, it has gradually become the sum, or maybe more than the sum, of it’s members, sprouting heads and spreading out beyond the songs – Italy solidified all that. A new approach needs a new name so we've called the group Vanishing Twin after my lost sister, absorbed and internalised in utero when we were both just a cluster of cells.
What sort of response have you been getting to the album?
The most common response is “I don’t have a cassette player.” 

For people who are unaware of your musical past can you run us through it, you were part of Fanfarlo weren't you...?
I played a lot of music as a kid without hearing much recorded music beyond a few tired Beach Boys cassettes. My family was musical but not that into the culture of music. I got into records as a teen – mostly 60s and 70s rock and pop – and wore flares and flowery shirts, but growing up in Brussels suburbs that turned out to be quite a solitary pursuit. I got my first real education as a member of a psych-folk band called Tanakh in 2004. The guy Jesse Poe had moved over from Richmond Virginia to Italy where I was living. He showed me so much stuff – introduced me for the first time to the idea of violin in a band with stuff like Dirty Three and Ghost, but played me all kinds of music for the first time, experimental, jazz, soul, folk…
When I moved to London I played in various different bands, picking up a bit of this and that, mandolin, keyboards, singing, musical saw. My main squeeze Fanfarlo took off a bit in the states so we toured a lot, and I had so many incredible experiences with those guys. But by the time I was getting serious about recording and production, that was winding down and Vanishing Twin was taking shape. I wanted an antidote to the world of serious pop and industry pressure, to indulge myself with something far out and fantastic. And I also wanted to learn the craft of recording, reconnect with music making in a new way and follow something through from sound wave to cassette deck. I started the Association for the Re-Alignment of Magnetic Dust (RAM), a small tape label, as an outlet for that. Each one split with another artist because...why not?
Is there a sense of continuity between Vanishing Twin and what you have done before or does it feel like a fresh start?
Vanishing Twin is a natural development and extension of Orlando, but feels like a definite break from everything before. I’ve always been involved in other people’s visions, and continue to play with various groups, and produce other artists, which I love, but Orlando and Vanishing Twin feel very personal and separate from all of that.
What are your plans? How do you see Vanishing Twin developing? From what I can gather from now on you are going to keep the name 'Orlando' for your solo work and the band is now going to be known as Vanishing Twin-is that right? Is that because the band is sounding very different from the material that has come out under the Orlando moniker so far?
Precisely: I'll still be Orlando on my own, and Vanishing Twin will be the five of us. In 2015 we went into the studio with producer Malcolm Catto and the resulting LP from those sessions will be released in the Autumn on Soundway Records, so that's the focus right now. No doubt there will be more from Orlando at some point in the future. Nothing beats a party for one down the rabbit hole with all your gear. That is freedom!
Since February 2015 you have been playing keyboards with The Oscillation, how did that come about? How is the European tour going?
Yes, The Oscillation is part of our big circle of musical friends in East London and they wanted a keyboard player. We’re currently touring Demian’s new album Monographic.
What musicians have you been influenced by
Too many to count. But Gary Wilson, R Stevie Moore, Bruce Haack and Todd Rundgren are all home recording heroes of mine.  Then I’ve got very much into the sound of 60s and early 70s library records (Umiliani/Zalla, Roger Roger, Ruscigan, Nardini, Libaek, Subotnik, Marletta, Perrey, Casa, and many more…). These are so mysterious and inviting to me, and also so free because of the way were made – fast and furious. It gets me into the mindset of recording as a daily practice and process, rather than just a means to an end. But to be honest the biggest inspiration comes from the people that I work with directly. The members of Vanishing Twin: Valentina (To)Magaletti, Phil MFU a.k.a. Man From Uranus, Susumu Mukai a.k.a. Zongamin and Elliott Ardnt are a constant source of wonder in how they interact with their instruments. Tom Furse is an insatiable workaholic, font of technical knowledge and voice of reason. Malcolm Catto, who is producing our current set of recordings, keeps it very fucking real. And they all have excellent record collections. What more could I possibly ask for?

Mirror by Gnod; Unflinching Honesty.

Image by Yvonne Forster.
The first album I have by Gnod is Chaudelande from 2013 bought after hearing the track Tron being played by a DJ at Corica Studios one night in late 2014 or early 2015, it's an intense album of excellent space rock. I haven't got round to Infinity Machines (2014) yet but came straight to Mirror.
Edvard Munch was a Norwegian artist of the late 19th/early 20th century (1) whose most famous painting is The Scream-you will probably know it even if not by name. It depicts a man alone on a bridge surrounded by a swirling earth and sky looking like he has been overcome by a sense of alienation from himself and that around him, as though he has realised that his individual pain is a minute proportion of the collective pain that stretches out behind him, around him and in front of him. It's a brilliant yet harrowing picture, that most of us at some stage of our lives can relate to (or maybe I'm wrong, perhaps some people's lives don't include these points?). Its a painting that confronts us with a very real, though thankfully for most of us a small, part of the human experience. 
Mirror by Gnod is the aural equivalent of 'The Scream' it is an album of authenticity that confronts the listener with the truth that life includes suffering and pain. The album is made up of 4 tracks; The Mirror, Learn to Forgive, Sodom and Gomorrah and a remix of The Mirror. According to Gnod's Bandcamp page the album came out of, and was informed by, a period that included individual illness, societal self harm-the 2015 election result-and the realisation that as individuals we live in relationships of asymmetry to structures of power that are often hard to perceive but have a very real effect on our lives (2), with in fact the individual and those structures often being mutually constitutive. The album sounds like an expression of the legitimate pain, rage and sadness that these experiences generate for those moved by human empathy. Musically it has echoes of PIL and Gang of Four (3) and on the first track particularly the intonation of the vocals is reminiscent of Bob Calvert, especially on the Hawkwind track Steppenwolf. Each track on Mirror is distinctive and has it's own identity but in it's musical style, bleakness and anger there is a coherence.
There is an album by Atari Teenage Riot called Live at Brixton Academy 1999 - a live album of the set the three members of the band who were able to carry on at the time played supporting Nine Inch Nails. It was recorded at a time when individuals in the band were ill and the band was close to collapse and is completely different from their previous material-it's an extraordinary 30 minute Noise set (4). To me it is the sound of defiance- it says we may be going down but we're going down fighting. Mirror has something of that about it, it is the sound of a band refusing to be overcome by individual struggles or societal dysfunction, their response isn't self anesthetisation, losing themselves in distraction or looking away from the sources of pain and anguish instead it is to confront those problems, to empathise with the victims and transpose the pain and anger experienced into this (hopefully) cathartic album.
Gnod's album Mirror is an uncomfortable listen, a superbly realised unflinching expression of how we do, and should, respond to human pain and societal dysfunction, it's also a reminder that really good music often forces us to engage with reality not flee it.   

(3) Fraser, I. Mirror; Gnod 
(4) Atari Teenage Riot 'Live at Brixton Academy 1999', 2000, DHR Ltd. (From sleeve notes by Alec Empire)