Archive for March, 2017

Clue Club

The other day, I chipped in on a debate over split releases, which essentially revolved around the question ‘yay or nay?’ Personally, I like split singles. I commented that I would usually purchase a split release for one of the bands, but, often, subsequently get into the other.

It so happens that the first release by Clue Club, a subscription-based aspect of Clue Records  features two bands I’ve seen, heard, and enjoyed immensely in the last year. Split-singles-based projects seem to be popping up with increasing frequency (see, for example, the excellent Come Play With Me), and this represents a belting start to this one.

Fighting Caravans were up there with my favourite discoveries of 2016, and probably one of the best live acts I caught all year, on all three occasions I saw them. ‘It’s a Nice Ride (To be Fair)’ is entirely representative of their brand of fucked-up gospel-tinged desert country. Over a spacious, bittersweet guitar, Daniel Clark visits the classic themes of death and hell with a delivery that treads the thin line between psychopathy and self-destruction.

Similarly, the drifting, dynamic shoegaze of ‘Frail’ is exemplary of Colour of Spring’s sound, and provides a perfect stylistic contrast, too its counterpart, too. It’s a dense yet delicate song which conjures a heady atmosphere of blissful melancholy by means of understated vocals and bold, swirling guitars.

Clue Club subscription is available here.

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Christopher Nosnibor

There’s a perverse irony in my presence at this show in my capacity as correspondent for Aural Aggravation, a site devoted explicitly to music that’s underground and obscure. This is not least of all because I’m old enough to remember when the NME was a key publication for giving coverage to bands who were not only unknown and obscure, but often likely to remain so. In moving with the times, the NME has metamorphasised into a free, glossy, picture-rich publication that’s far more likely to feature Beyoncé than Bell Monks or break_fold. In fact, Bell Monks and break_fold won’t get a look in, and it’s not because they’re not artistically interesting or of merit. And as for feature-length reviews, forget it. All of which is partly the reason for my doing what I do.

Any show which sells out a series of 1,800 or so capacity venues is not underground by definition, and likewise any event sponsored by VO5. Still, it’s as much an indication of the nature of the music industry now that for tours to be feasible for even moderate-sized acts, they need corporate backing and to shift a shedload of merch. And of course, the corporate backers need to break into large markets. In other words, it’s economic, and it goes both ways.

So why am I here? In a word: Cabbage. It’s fair to say they’re a fairly unlikely breakthrough act. Manchester’s answer to Fat White Family, the band, who’ve been unequivocal in their opinions on The Sun, nationalism and Brexit, pithily describe themselves as ‘neo post-punk’ (most certainly not to be confused with the New Wave of New Wave) and are as far from the kind of aural chewing gum that’s sadly become synonymous with indie in the second decade of the second millennium.

I’m not about to pretend to be down with the kids: the venue is rammed with teens and student types, with older folk – and by the looks of things, some parents of the student types – hanging back. Because I’m not down with the kids, I can safely say I’m sure there was never as much cleavage on display when I used to go to gigs in my university days. But then, that’s perhaps because I never went to trendy gigs like this, who knows? Anyway, my knowledge of Rory Wynne prior to my arrival extends to a cursory Google search which tells me he’s an up-and-coming teenage indie rocker. Rory plays with a full backing band. Who knew? They’re conspicuously absent from his press shots. As a band, hey have a good energy, and Wynne looks to be enjoying himself up there. Musically, his up-tempo guitar-led alt-rock is perfectly passable, but does essentially sound like every early 90s US alt-rock act boiled down to its most generic form, and his cliché guitar-lofting poses get tired quickly. The set also has a rather strange ending: he thanks the crowd – who have been pretty tepid in their response – before launching into an instrumental number. A minute or so in, he carefully putts his guitar down and tosses his pick into the rows. Moments later, the rest of the band follow suite, toss their pics and wander off looking a bit confused.

Cabbage, as one would expect are by far the most challenging, and exhilarating, act on the bill, and on account of that, all the more surprising for their inclusion. Is this what the kids are into? I’d like to think so: it gives me hope that songs like ‘Uber Capitalist Death Trade’ could be anthems for a generation. But I rather suspect that more of the oldies present have turned up for them, their enthusiasm for new music reignited by a band who combine the angular, jarring guitar lines of early Fall albums with a snotty punk thrash, while also evoking the spirit of The Stooges. The bass is nostril-vibratingly booming, and there’s an attacking edge to the sound even in this aircraft hangar of a venue. Many of their songs are brash, juvenile, perverse in a puerile way, but there’s a strong sense that they’re fully aware of this and are revelling in the awkward shock value of singing about necrophilia and masturbation. They’re shambolic / not shambolic – which is to say, they play like they don’t give a fuck, but are still tight, and can nail a motorik rockabilly groove with the best of then: Babyshambles they’re not. A week or so back, Lee Broadbent was in a wheelchair having fractured his pubic rami in a bizarre wall-leaping accident. Tonight, he manages to limped onto the stage and limp about a reasonable amount, but performs most of the set seated, sneering and snarling atonally from a slouchy, reclining position. But even this is an inverse type of showmanship, and contrasts with Joe Martin’s spasmodic flailings. Shirtless and scrawny, he comes on like Iggy Pop. They deserve a way more visible show of appreciation from the crowd: one girl is up on someone’s shoulders and a few people are bouncing around, but most are static and either filming or texting on their phones.

Cabbage

Cabbage

There’s a rush toward the front of the stage immediately after their set, but what I witness next is truly horrific: the audience finally start getting animated. There are people dancing and singing along – to the Courteeners, whose ’19 Forever’ is playing over the PA. People are snapping and filming the stage and grabbing selfies – while the crew set the stage for the headliners. There are whoops as each vocal mic is checked. And then the band walk on, half-hidden behind smoke and… well, the crowd mostly get back to standing around, snapping photos and WhatsApping with their mates.

Live, Blossoms are quite a different proposition from their recorded output. If their studio presents them as dark-hued indie, then live it’s the darkness that comes to the fore. The enter to a pulsating synth throb by way of an intro to ‘At Most a Kiss’.

The thunderous, steely electro groove is swiftly dampened by a so-so vocal and a bouncier pop tone. I don’t want to be too harsh in my critique of Blossoms, and will admit to having a soft spot for them, with a greater appreciation in light of their live show. They do have dynamic range and some solid, insistent basslines. They do convey a certain broodiness. The jiggish guitar line on ‘Blow’ has hints of The Sisters of Mercy’s ‘First and Last and Always’ about it, and there are three girls, about a third of the way back, up on people’s shoulders, arms waving arabesques: it’s starting to resemble a Mission gig. And the reference isn’t entirely out of place: with their accessible, anthemic sensibilities, Blossoms live call to mind the lighter end of the mid-80s goth spectrum, the point at which it had transitioned from post-punk to indie-goth.

Blossoms

Blossoms

I glance around the venue from the front row to witness an ocean of lofted phones. In fairness, they are visually striking and snap well. With dense smoke and dazzling spots and strobes casting the band in silhouette, they’ve got the Sisters’ visual stylings nailed: musically, however, they’re more Rose of Avalanche than Doktor Avalanche. On balance, it would be churlish to begrudge them: Blossoms’ music may be steeped in the music of thirty years ago, but it’s distinctive in the scheme of the commercial musical landscape of 2017.

Christopher Nosnibor

They say you should never meet your heroes, but having interviewed – if not necessarily met – a fair few of mine, I’ve either been extremely fortunate, or have chosen my heroes wisely. I’ve been a fan of Raymond Watts’ work as PIG since I first clapped eyes and ears on the band supporting Nine Inch Nails on the Downward Spiral tour in 1994, and I’ve spent the intervening years hunting down as much PIG material as possible.

I tell him this by way of an ice-breaker, as much as anything to get the fanboy shit out of the way early and to shake off some of the anxiety.

He looks – and sounds – genuinely surprised, with an astonished ‘no! You are kidding?’ when I tell him I’ve been a fan for many years, and a ‘wow!’ when I tell him how I came to be aware of his work. ‘That was the last time we played in this country! Shouldn’t we have grown out of this shit by now?’ he laughs. Never! It’s all about showing the kids how it’s done, I tell him.

We’re in York, and we’re seated on a big, plush, red leather-upholstered sofa in a corner of a ‘gentleman’s club’, which is situated above the Fibbers venue. It isn’t yet open, so the place is empty and the only noise is the throb of the soundcheck going on downstairs. The lighting is low, and red in hue. There’s nothing subtle about its reproduction vintage sleaze.

Raymond Watts is a tall man. A very tall man. I am not a tall man. Yet despite his towering presence which is more than purely physical, he has a most charming, disarming nature, which sets me at ease immediately. Even so: in getting down to business with the recording rolling, I look at my printed A4 sheet of questions. They seemed far wittier when I compiled them than they do now as I squint in the half-light. But hey, go for the Q&A, and see where it goes, I think.

I start with a gentle opener, asking what it’s like playing to a ‘home’ crowd, as someone who can genuinely say they’re big in Japan?

“Well, I can – was – maybe. I haven’t been there for a long time, but that’s where the natural constituency used to be. And then of course it became America, because my label, Wax Trax! was in Chicago. But there seemed to be more purchase in Japan, and I was also more interested in Japan. I liked it. It felt weirder. It was so fucking weird: it was like Blade Runner – why is there a train disappearing into the middle of that building? But how does it feel to be playing in the UK? Very weird. I was initially quite trepidatious about doing it. I never worked it so hard here, I lived in Berlin… And then you stop being so up yourself and someone asks you to come and do something. It’s fairly modest, but it’s great fun.”

PIG - Gospel Cover

It’s immediately clear that when he forewarned me there’d be a lot of editing required in my transcription, he wasn’t kidding. But then again, the digressions make for far more interesting interview matter than anything a direct answer might provide. I ask how this double-header tour with Mortiis came about.

“The reason why PIG is doing stuff again isn’t because I’ve been striving away at the coal-face for years and years. It’s been on the shelf for over a decade, as I was doing other stuff, for McQueen and all sorts of fashion houses”, he says. This explains the big furry Cossack hat he’s thrown onto the table and the audacious black faux-fur jacket he will later walk on stage wearing: Watts is a stylish man with an obvious sense of theatre. “…and looking after my kids, and doing other things, and having a full-on fucking ramped-up drug problem, the whole thing was a full-time job not doing music of the PIG variety. This weird series of events collided, which ended up with me being invited to do a little festival in Canada last year.”

One show became five, and thanks to his booking agent, five became twenty, at which point the need for some product to promote became an issue. Following a few phone calls between his label, Metropolis records, and various musicians, lo, ten days later, The Gospel was created. One thing led to another, and, ultimately a tour where the two artists could bear the responsibility and burden on a jaunt around the less obvious venues of the UK. As such, the latest burst of activity, as represented by a brace of EPs, The Gospel, a tour-only collection of offcuts and remixes and an upcoming remix EP is only partially reflective of the actuality. This brings me to the question of the PIG back-catalogue, which is diffuse and widely-dispersed, and almost impossible to track down in its entirety. How much of an impact did touring as the support for Nine Inch Nails in ‘94 have in terms of the band reaching a wider audience?

“It’s very difficult to find our stuff”, he acknowledges. “We’re almost the most wilfully obscure band you could possibly fucking come across. I’m always amazed when people come up and say ‘I’ve got all your things,’ and I say ‘how the fuck did you find your way to that?’ I mean, I haven’t even got all my shit! I haven’t got an American version of fucking Wrecked, for example, ‘cause there was one version in Japan and they have different tracks and I always made things incredibly complicated: ‘I’m going to release that song over here and that one over there…’ Talk about underground. We are genuinely under the fucking ground, it’s very difficult to get our shit.”

He has a habit of leaning close and extending his hands as if to guide his words directly into his interlocutor’s mind, but it’s by no means an aggressive manner or a delivery which suggests a desire to dominate. And while he swears prodigiously, and clearly has a penchant for ‘shit’ as a substitutive noun, he’s effusive and extremely well-spoken and articulate.

I’m wondering if he has a 12” promo for ‘Fountain of Miracles’, which features the amusingly puntastic ‘anal-log’ and ‘anal-hog’ mixes, like the one lurking in my collection, but instead ask about his having been a touring member of Foetus back in the late 80s. JG Thirlwell was involved with a couple of early PIG releases, and I’m curious to know just how much of an influence the mighty master of disaster has been on Watt’s work and his approach to composition.

“Yeah, that was a great band,” he enthuses. “He’s influenced me massively. I mean, if you’re going to be influenced by shit, be influenced by the best shit. He obviously carries an enormous stylistic truckload of things… that whole train wreck of musical styles: he’s got a whole great thing going on, and always has done. I met him when I was doing sound for Neubauten, ‘cause I used to knock around with those guys a lot. I met him in New York, and before I knew it, I was in his band with some of those guys from Swans… It was very fertile territory, working with him on some of the Steroid Maximus stuff. I’d already done PIG and KMFDM. It was good influence.”

I try to read out my next question as naturally as I can, and find myself compelled to suppress an inner wince: Wordplay – particularly alliteration and punning – is a prominent feature of all things Pig. It seems a uniquely English thing, and it never grows tired. What is it about the audacious porcine puns that you enjoy so much?

It raises a chuckle, and I’m relieved. “I like that fact that, honestly, it sounds good.,” he says. “Very simple. But also, it punctures pomposity, without meaning to alliterate again.” It seems he can’t help himself. “I didn’t plan that honestly,” he laughs. “I think when you say it’s quite English, you’re right, I hadn’t thought about that before, but it is quite an English trait. I can’t imagine it coming from an American, ‘cause it’s got low self-esteem and grandiosity rolled into one. It’s daft: it’s pompous, but it’s daft. So it’s got that duality. And it just sounds good. You can say a lot with ‘find it, fuck it, forget it’, ‘red, raw and sore’, ‘prayer, praise, profit’, or ‘vitriol, vice, and virtue’… I’ve always been attracted to slogans. Advertising. Red-tops. The Sun, The Mirror. Imagine being a headline writer: what a fucking job!

Is it fair to say that despite the dark subject matter, there’s a certain element not only of humour, but of parody to your work and its delivery? It’s something that runs a thread through all of your work under the PIG moniker, but the video to ‘Found in Filth’ seems to really revel in the absurdity and excess of rock clichés.

“Yeah, there’s a tremendous attraction in, say, the kind of fluff and nonsense of glam rock: we’re attracted to it. Like the foot on the monitor thing, were attracted to it, but t’s completely daft.

But you have to do it, because you’ve got the chance to do it…

“Exactly!” he ejaculates. “But don’t believe it too much. We’re all too old for that. Do it, but you have your tongue in your cheek. Dark subject matter is incredibly rich and fabulous, but it can get fucking tedious if you’re completely obsessed with it, and you have to puncture your own obsession every now and again.”

He’s one of the only men I’ve ever met who can say ‘fabulous’ and not sound like a cock. It isn’t campness, but there’s a certain flamboyance which radiates from Raymond that has hints of David Bowie it’s accompanied by a glint in the eye which betrays a wry humour and self-awareness.

“Also, it becomes incredibly preachy if you’re just obsessed with pointing the finger or droning on about yourself without any sense of puncturing your pomposity.”

I ask if it would it be fair to describe The Gospel as a concept album, or more as a themed work. On this, he’s unequivocal and concise: “No.”

“A lot of these things are quite happy accidents,” he explains. “It wasn’t all formed, like (adopts butch, brawling cockney tone) ‘right, I’ve got this idea!’ It was much more organic, and I changed things right up to the last minute.” It transpires that ‘Diamond Sinners’ arrived at the eleventh hour, and this was pivotal in the shaping of the album, providing not only the opening track but an idea for how the album should look. “It seems to look like a fully formed concept, but it wasn’t,” he concludes, honestly.

After he explains the very different approaches to album-making in comparing Praise the Lard and The Gospel, it seems appropriate to comment on the evolution of PIG sound and I ask if there a particular period or album he’s especially proud of.

“Like a ‘golden era’?” he asks, amused. “A lot of people say Wrecked was the definitive PIG album of the orchestral industrial metal hybrid thing that was done at that time, that was the most fertile period of this genre or whatever. To me, it’s no different, no better, or worse, than the other ones. I think I took my eye of the ball a little bit at the height of my substance abuse round about 2003, when I did Pigmartyr [issued initially as a Watts solo album, then re-released, rematered as PIG album Pigmata] , which was a bit of a fuck-up, and I didn’t even care it wasn’t the best mastered album in the world, but I was going through some of the words the other day and I was thinking ‘I should rerecord these!’”

I don’t push for the details of his substance abuse: it’s part of the backdrop, the context, but it’s not the headline here. It’s history, and speaking to Watts, who it alert and in good shape, I’m reminded of William Burroughs’ (quite baseless) claims for the regenerative powers of cyclical addiction and withdrawal. But more importantly, Watts doesn’t lend himself to a narrative of a man who faced hell and retuned from the abyss to re-emerge as a glorious renaissance man.

“I’ve become much more word-orientated than I used to be. I think the word is king.”

We continueriffing a good ten minutes after I’ve stopped recording and the interviewis over. After the show, which was ace, he hands me a PIG-branded condom, and I realise I’d omitted my question about this unusual line in merch. Still, I leave happy, and with the enduring impression that Raymond Watts is one of the most thoroughly decent chaps I’ve ever interviewed.

Not so long ago, we streamed the video for ‘The Mound’ from the debut double-A-side single by Girls in Synthesis. We’re now pant-creamingly excited to be able to share its partner, ‘Disappear’. Yeah, we like riotous, scuzzed-out punk noise, so get your lugs round this:

Helen Scarsdale Agency – HMS039

Christopher Nosnibor

We live in a world of noise. We live in a decaying, post-industrial world. The so-called developing world is on an inexorable trajectory toward the same calamitous end, a world of tertiary industry and a level of noise – literal and metaphorical – which the framework of postmodern hinted at and but failed to fully appreciate the totality of its eventuality. To contextualise Natural Incapacity requires a certain grounding in postmodernism and the idea of a society defined by information overload. But, to reframe my comment on the shortcomings of postmodern theory, it essentially fails to account for the impact of the culture on those who find themselves existing in that culture. What have we done in making such technological leaps with so little consideration for the psychological consequences? Has the human mind evolved at a pace correspondent with the technologies we’ve made? What does the infinite noise actually sound like in the middle of that blizzard of information?

Natural Incapacity is an immense work, with a total running time of some two and a quarter hours across its two discs. Housed in a hand-rusted cover produced by Jim Haynes, this is serious art. The album soundtracks not the external noise so much as it does perhaps the internal noise, and the experience of the collapse of everything into an amorphous cyclone of everything happening all at once. The human brain simply isn’t built for the world in which we find ourselves. There’s so much talk of ‘white noise,’ but ultimately, total overload is an entirely different kind of noise, an explosive noise, simultaneously conveyed as the sound of collapse, of panic, anguish, and screaming despair.

Disc one is the shorter of the two, with has a running time of an hour and two minutes. A dark, quiet rumble soon breaks into a dense, harsh wall of sound. Tidal waves crash and planets explode in slow-motion, creating layer upon layer of textured noise that pounds the senses relentlessly. This is heavy, brutal stuff. The violent turbulence is punishing, effecting a psychological disturbance. The moments of calm are but brief and heavy with tension, the suspense of how and when the next wave of noise will erupt. And erupt it invariably does, tearing the fabric of the atmosphere, an annihilative volume of atomic force.

There’s no obvious shift moving onto disc two, but the effect of so much oppressively dense, murky and irredeemably inhospitable noise is cumulative. As the time crawls on, one senses the walls slowly moving closer, the light and oxygen gradually being pushed from the room and the life slipping from one’s soul.

Hums and whirs offer cold comfort in this funnelling fermentation of foul decay as factories collapse in slow-motion under the weight of so-called progress. The absence of vocals renders this even more disturbing, in that there are no obvious signs of human life to be discerned in the churning melee. As such, were reminded of our ultimate obsolescence, and there can be no bleaker prospect than that. Natural Incapacity is nihilistic in the absolute, a soundtrack to the end of time.

 

Relay for Death - Natural Incapacity

We’re elated to bring you a video premiere in the form of ‘The Brightest Stars Leave The Blackest Holes’ by Leeds three-piece purveyors of contempoary prog, Zeitgeist.

The new single is taken from the Vacuums EP, released today.

Zeitgeist’s keyboardist, Aleks Podraza comments on the track’s inspirations: “The tune in itself is about planetary death, and how nothing is permanent, no matter how big. The title can also be considered an allegory for human death, and how we miss the ‘brightest stars’ amongst us.

I spent a lot of time during my wrestle with my own existence and its meaning looking up the different theories surrounding the big bang. One theory I came across was that the big bang was a result of a past universe being swallowed up by a huge black hole, but so dense was the mass that the black hole became that it itself collapse and a huge explosion of matter happened. And here we are. So expiration and death, in accord to this theory, are just part of our universe’s cyclic existence, which I found a comforting and inspiring thought.”

Zeitgeist’s keyboardist, Aleks Podraza comments on the track’s inspirations: “The tune in itself is about planetary death, and how nothing is permanent, no matter how big. The title can also be considered an allegory for human death, and how we miss the ‘brightest stars’ amongst us.

I spent a lot of time during my wrestle with my own existence and its meaning looking up the different theories surrounding the big bang. One theory I came across was that the big bang was a result of a past universe being swallowed up by a huge black hole, but so dense was the mass that the black hole became that it itself collapse and a huge explosion of matter happened. And here we are. So expiration and death, in accord to this theory, are just part of our universe’s cyclic existence, which I found a comforting and inspiring thought.”

Watch the video here:

 

A new Oxbow album? Yep: their seventh LP, Thin Back Duke is out through Hydra Head on My 5th. As a taster, they’ve offered up a video for ‘Cold & Well-Lit Place’. It may or may not be a reference to Ernest Hemingway’s 1933 short story ‘ A Clean, Well-Lighted Place’, but it’s belting. Watch the video here: