Posts Tagged ‘Cabaret Voltaire’

Cold Spring Records – 16th April 2021

Edward S. Robinson

William Burroughs maintained a prolific output over the course of his lengthy career, and not only in the written form, committing many hours of recordings to tape. Yet even now, Brion Gysin’s contribution remains largely overlooked, despite being not only the man who ‘discovered’ the cut-ups and introduced the idea to Burroughs, but as a long-term collaborator and an outstanding polyartist in his own right. This album devotes a significant portion of the second side to Gysin’s recordings, and goes some way to redress the balance, although one suspects the immense Burroughs mythos will mean Gysin will eternally exist as a (lengthy) sidenote.

A great many of those recordings made by Burroughs – with Gysin – have been released, and a number are almost legendary in Burroughs circles in their own right, notably the 1965 introductory collection Call Me Burroughs (re-released recently), and the collection of audio experiments released in 1981 on Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial Records as Nothing Here Now But the Recordings.

Now, the last time I reviewed a Burroughs release, Let Me Hang You, back in 2016, I copped some flak from certain quarters of the online community of Burroughs fans and experts for having failed to spot that what was pitched as a ‘new’ recording excavated from the archive was in fact a previously-released recording of Burroughs with new music. My bad, as they say: I’d failed to fully research all aspects of my 1,400-word critique. Like The Who, I won’t get fooled again.

The liner notes for this vinyl-only release contextualise as follows: ‘Rare recordings of beat/cut-up writers and artists William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. Comprises the complete recording of Burroughs reading live in Liverpool in 1982, plus performances by Gysin of a selection of his permutated poems, as well as home recordings made by the pair in Paris in 1970. All recordings are taken from original tapes in the British Library collection.’ If ‘rare’ suggests unreleased or otherwise incredibly difficult to find, it’s worth noting that this exact track listing was released on CD, with a running time of sixty-six minutes, in 2012 by the British Library on its own label under the title The Spoken Word, credited to William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin and is available via Discogs for a tenner. The cover image is also the same as the British Library release. That said, of all the Burroughs CDs I own, this isn’t among them, and I’ve never seen a copy or heard the majority of the material, and in many ways, this is as much about the artefact as it is about the material, and if the title seems a little lacking, at least it’s descriptive of the contents.

The Live in Liverpool recording is an interesting one, recorded as it was the night after Burroughs’ reading in Manchester as part of The Final Academy tour, where Burroughs featured alongside Cabaret Voltaire, Psychic TV, and 23 Skidoo, as well as screenings of the experimental movies Burroughs made with Gyson and Anthony Balch. The Manchester Hacienda performance was filmed, but only edited highlights made it to the ‘Final Academy Document’ released in 1983 on Factory subsidiary IKON, and re-released on DVD by Cherry Red in 2002.

However familiar you may be with Burroughs’ voice, the first few minutes of playback on a recording has an impact. No-one else sounds like Burroughs: that perfectly-enunciated drone – well-spoken, slow, deliberate – not a drawl as such, just a flat, paced rhythm with unique intonation and timbre just hits you somehow. And so it does again as that voice echoes across the decades from c.1963 on the first piece, ‘The Beginning Is Also The End (Excerpt)’, also credited elsewhere by its opening line, ‘I am not an addict, I am the addict’. Cracked, as dry as parchment, the voice summarises one of the leading themes of his work, particularly his most famous novel, Naked Lunch.

The Liverpool set opens with a reading from the foreword from his recently-completed but as-then-unpublished novel The Place of Dead Roads, where he outlines the world view that divides the population into Johnsons and shits. Obviously, back in 1982 he could not have predicted the rise to power of a shit called Johnson. The performance finds Burroughs – then aged sixty-eight in fine form – sprightly, energetic, and engaging, and demonstrating precisely why he was in demand as a spoken-word performer during his later career. He’s not only a great performer – clearly well-rehearsed, he doesn’t fluff a line, and his timing is impeccable – and entertaining, but he’s also funny, the tongue-in-cheek humour perhaps translating better via the medium of spoken word than on the page. The lively characterisations are delivered with gusto, and the audience response speaks for itself. You didn’t have to be there to appreciate this, but is certainly makes you wish you had been. Touching on smallpox and ‘anti-vaccination cults’, we’re once again reminded of Burroughs’ prescience.

Gysin’s voice – also well-spoken, but distinctly English and sounding for all the world like a 1950s newscaster as he advocates trying cut-ups for yourself to see the words ‘gush into action’ – contrasts with Burroughs’, and the audio quality of ‘Cut-Ups Self-Explained’, recorded between 1960 and 1962 but which would not see the light of day as a text until 1978 on the publication of The Third Mind, is somewhat muffled. But as an archival recording, it’s absolute gold. It’s hard to really know what’s going on during ‘I Am This Painter Brion Gysin’, and it sounds like the scraping of a marker against a wall-mounted pad. You feel as if you’re only getting half the story.

But then the sequence of ‘pistol poems’ is something else: bewildering, baffling at times they are best appreciated as sound, and works rather than poems hearing Gysin work through the permutations of ‘I’ve Come To Free The Words’, ‘No Poets Don’t Own Words’, ‘Kick That Habit Man’ and ‘I Am that I Am’ is revelatory (the latter featuring some wild pitch-shifting and delay / echo effects), although his delivery of ‘Junk is No Good Baby’ is simply hilarious. The layered cut-up experiment of ‘Calling All Reactive Agents’, which featured on the Break Through in Grey Room album on Sub Rosa in 1986, is also a remarkable example of rudimentary sampling and looping a fill two decades before the start of the real electronic revolution which saw the likes of Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus advance the principles in a musical context.

The four short Burroughs tracks that close off the album are scratchy experiments in multi-tracking that might not sound like much now, but in context, they provide essential insights into recording history.

As such, while this release provides no material which hasn’t been circulated before, it does bring a remarkable collection of material back into focus, and perhaps to a new audience – and of course, on a format that previously wasn’t available. For that experience of sitting down and concentrating, vinyl is hard to beat, and this is a release worth digesting at leisure.

AA

a2467006287_10

Klanggalerie – 18th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s no questioning Eric Random’s pedigree, having begun his musical career with The Tiller Boys with Pete Shelley and Francis Cookso before becoming part of the post-punk and experimental milieus of both Manchester and Sheffield, recording his first solo works at Cabaret Voltaire’s studio, and later fronting Nico’s band until her death in 1988. But while many artists dine out on their former glories – and it’s true that since the majority fail to scale to any great heights, a brimming resumé is something to celebrate, there’s equally a certain truth in the belief you’re only as good as your latest work.

No-Go is his fourth album since his return in 2014 following a lengthy time out. Pitched as a step further into an electronic dance direction, and inviting comparisons to Wrangler and Kraftwerk, No-Go is brimming with 80s stylisations, and all the 808 and Akai snare cracks and robotix vocals you could imagine are crammed into these eleven tracks.

A jittery stammer runs through the entirety of the opener, ‘Synergy’, while all over, multiple other synth sounds swipe and bleep over the ultra-retro groove, and all over, Random recaptures not just the sound of the late 70s and early 80s scene in which he was so deeply immersed in, but also the feel of the period. It’s easy to forget just how vibrant the energised spirit of newness was around that time, with the rapidly evolving – and ever-cheaper – technology opening new doors to seemingly infinite possibilities. This was music that sounded like the future in every sense, and while a lot of it may sound dated now, the fact there appears to have been some kind of revival or renaissance under way for the best part of the last 30 years speaks volumes. Of course, where Random differs from the oceans of retro revivalists is that he’s not attempting to reconstruct a fantasy version of a bygone era: he was there, at the cutting edge, doing precisely this.

‘Compulsion’ is a bleak wheezy cut with tinny marching drums and vocal that are oddly reminiscent of early New Order in their flat, distanced delivery. It’d Depeche Mode that spring to mind in the opening bars of the buoyant yet bleak ‘Is the Sun Up’, but then

‘Sinuous Seduction’ leaps out on account of the sample of William S. Burroughs narrating a segment of Naked Lunch, and while one of the numerous passages about giant black centipedes may not be revelatory or even particularly inventive, it does serve as a reminder of Burroughs’ vast influence on music, in particular acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, who swiftly recognised the analogy between the cut-up and the sample, something Burroughs himself had initiated with the experiments he conducted with tape in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Ian Sommerville. But then, equally, there’s just something about Burroughs’ creaking, dry-as-sticks monotone that is just unbelievably cool, and also sends a unique shover down the spine, distinctive to the point of being immediately recognisable, and also really not of this world, that detached, flat intonation about stuff that’s plain weird is perfectly suited to the music of the early years of the electronic age. The track itself is sparse, monotonous, robotic, and while it’s as much an example of doomy Eurodisco in the vein of The Sisterhood’s Gift, it’s not a million miles away from The Pet Shop Boys circa Disco – and that’s by no means a criticism.

Sandwiched between this and the blustery hard-edged disco of ‘No Show’, the ‘It’s come again’ offers some welcome respite with its more loungy leanings. Things get lively to the point of dizzying with the last few tracks, which are uptempo an mega-layered with bewilderingly busy arrangements, and it’s a tense climax to an album that shudders and judders, bubbles, foams, and fizzes with electronic energy.

In going back to his roots, Random has really hit the zone and delivered some old-school stompers in the process.

gg347_front

Editions Mego – 1st November 2019

The 80s was an exciting and revolutionary time, and UK label Some Bizzare gave a platform to some of the more unusual exploratory and experimental acts around the middle of the decade, meaning that while acts like Depeche Mode and Soft Cell were mainstays that brought in funds, they were able to release albums by Soft Cell offshoots like Flesh Volcano, as well as work by Foetus, The The, Coil, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Cabaret Voltaire. Their reputation may have slipped in later years following various stunts and a major falling out with Neubauten over unpaid royalties, but the legacy very much remains strong.

The Elbow is Taboo was Renaldo & The Loaf’s fourth and last album of their initial phase prior to their return in 2010, which was released by and Some Bizzare in the UK and Ralph in America in 1987. Marking a significant expansion and evolution on their previous outings in compositional and instrumental terms, and the result of three years’ work, it’s considered to be ‘the definitive statement by the group in this early period’.

There was a 2016 reissue, with a stack of ‘elbonus’ material and I’m sold on the pun alone, but this Editions Mego reissue has to be the ultimate, as in addition to the elbonus stuff, the first 300 vinyl copies and digital editions also include bonus bonus 7” tracks ‘Hambu Hodo’ live and a remix, ‘Hambu Hoedown’, which ultimately sees the album’s original nine tracks expanded to twenty-two. Comprehensive is the word.

But is it any good?

It’s leftfield, weirdy and experimental: the album’s first piece, ‘A Street Called Straight’ melds medieval folk with tribal drumming and something pan-pipey and hints at neofolk but then goes off at some odd tangents, before ‘Boule’ does some kind of quirky somersaults across traditional Japanese music and sparse, clattering electronica. It’s the stuttering, busy-yet- rattly percussion that defines the oddball and off-kilter compositions, from the wonky country twangery of the title track to the marching Krautrock groove of ‘Hambu Hodo’ that lands somewhere between the pulsing electro of DAF and the zany mania of early Foetus. ‘Critical/Dance throws some jazz and atonal bleepings into the mix. It’s this offbeat eclecticism paired with an emphasis on rhythm that renders The Elbow is Taboo simultaneously compelling and bewildering.

The slew of bonus material on Elbonus ranges from fragmentary loops to fully realised versions and songs, spanning disorientating sound collage to audio collisions which are simply dizzying, not to mention quite inexplicable.

If ever an album qualified as a lost classic, it’s The Elbow is Taboo. So if the 80s underground is your scene, you need this. And if it isn’t, then it’s time to get educated.

AA

Renaldo & The Loaf – The Elbow is Taboo

Front & Follow – 15th November 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Front and Follow is a label that’s carved a special niche in the cassette release corner of the industry, and has, for those in the know, become a trademark of quality. But sustaining such consistency – or even anything – as a one-man operation is hard work, and often with little reward. As such, while I was sad to learn they’re taking a break, they’re signing off with an incredibly strong release, courtesy of Ekoplekz, who is also embarking on an indefinite break.

The album’s pitched as ‘drawing parallels between present day Britain and that of the turn of the 80s, Ekoplekz looks back to that era’s industrial and post-punk soundtrack for inspiration,’ and the press release continues: ‘In a land increasingly brutalized by austerity and divided by nationalism, the tensions that informed some of the post-punk era’s most important works (Red Mecca, Unknown Pleasures, Metal Box) haunt this collection of bleak postcards from the present’. The present is indeed bleak, unless, of course, you perhaps run a hedge fund with billions backing a no-deal Brexit or you’re a major corporation invested in climate change denial or pharmaceuticals. But then, if you’re in that bracket, you’re probably on your private jet grabbing bitches by the pussy and going gammon about these smelly hippy protestors or somesuch. For the rest of us these ae dark times that require a dark soundtrack, and as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s no surprise that we’re experiencing a different kind of 80s revival at the moment. Brutal and divided pretty much sum up both UK and US politics and cultures , as well as further afield. Who actually feels safe on the street? Who actually feels safe as a career artist? Who isn’t remotely concerned, doesn’t feel concerned, panicked, anxietised? We don’t need Duran Duran replicas like The Bravery, and even Editors and Interpol’s take on post-punk feels lightweight in the face of the crises that define the current – and so Ekoplekz plunge deep back to the late 70s source to dredge real darkness and despondency here, and in doing so, In Search of the Third Mantra soundtracks the present – bleak as it is.

With In Search of the Third Mantra, Ekoplekz sets his spheres of reference out early, with ‘High Rise Dub’ carrying Ballardian connotations and ‘K-Punk’ taking its title from the seminal blog of the early noughties by the late Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated. This, then, without wanting to sound elitist, is no mindless replication of an array of retro tropes, but a considered assimilation of myriad sources, distilled into something wilfully challenging. We would expect nothing less of K Craig, filmmaker and front man of currently-resting Last Harbour. This is quite a departure, but works in context: while we don’t get brooding vocals and arch-gothic sonic structures, there’s a brooding nihilism that rumbles at the core of In Search of the Third Mantra in the same way it lurks so many albums of the period, and a lot has to be credited to the production.

It’s got grooves and danceable beats, but it’s also possessed of a dehumanised detachment, a sense of distancing and dislocation: you’re in the zone and in the space where you’re feeling the distance, the disfunction. The fact that this doesn’t fit, the fact that you don’t fit.

The spartan electronica of the former, with its dubby bass and rhythm that shuffles and clatters conjures a sense of alienation and otherness, while the latter brings things down a notch darker, laser bleeps and eerie vaporous notes hover ominously. ‘Do the Meinhof’ goes full motoric, channelling the insistent industrial grooves of DAF and Cabaret Voltaire into a tense death disco pounder laced with icy synths.

The sonic touchstones are all very much in evidence as the listener is led through a haunting desert of sound, dark, murky, menacing. ‘Accept Nothing’ has hints of The Cure’s Carnage Visors soundtrack, and the atmosphere which permeates all ten compositions is unforgiving and inhospitable.

There’s a degree of linearity to the album’s sequencing, and each track feels sparser, less defined, and with this progression there comes an increasing sense of collapse, of emptiness, and while sonically, the pieces are spacious, the atmosphere is evermore paranoid. One feels as though familiar structures are falling away, disintegrating. By the time we arrive at ‘Heart Addict (In Make Up)’, there’s little left beyond an almost subliminal, stunted dub bass that twitches anxiously alongside a barely perceptible beat, and we’re left, alone, disorientated, and teetering on the precipice just inches from the void.

AA

Ekoplekz_cover

Consouling Sounds – 25th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Barst’s first full-length album is a reference to William Burroughs’ novel of the same title. Of course it is. Burroughs’ influence on music is immense, and where the is no direct absorption of his ideas or methodologies, musicians since the 1960s have been citing him as an influence. He remains, arguably, one of the ultimate countercultural icons of the twentieth century.

While Barst acknowledges ‘the fragmented, the transcendental and the viscerally unsettling imagery of his work’ as an inspiration point for this richly detailed sonic journey of an album, there’s also a nod to the cut-up technique devised and formalised by Burroughs and Brion Gysin in 1959. There’s logic to this. The cut-ups, both on paper and when subsequently applied to audiotape suggested immediate practical applications in the production of music, and if there was a link between the concept of the cut-ups and the work of Throbbing Gristle, it was acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus who really rendered the connection a direct one.

The cut-up intrinsically connotes a hybridity, a drawing together of eclectic sources, a combining and collaging of fragments to forge a multi-layered intertext, while simultaneously providing a creative liberation, in which the creator is subservient to the material.

While Burroughs claimed to have abandoned the cut-up by the time of his final trilogy, which consisted of Cities of the Red Night, The Western Lands and The Place of Dead Roads, there was a certain disingenuousness about this: the cut-ups continued to inform his writing, albeit in a more subtle form, and with the editorial input of James Grauerholz who reshaped the works with an eye to a more commercial text. The result was a more accessible mode of writing, but one which evoked something of a fugue-like state, in contrast to the annihilative cerebral barrage of his works of the 1960s. This is perhaps the point at which Barst most readily intersects with Burroughs, in offering a work which, as the press blurb explains, sees ‘layer upon layer…fitted to build up a work of art… Cutting up sounds, and layering them from very subtle to incredibly huge.’

The album effectively has five tracks, but they’re mastered as two, corresponding with the sides of the vinyl: as such, track one consists not so much of three tracks or chapters (‘The Threshold / The Rite / The Passage’) but three movements segued together to form a longform piece. Likewise side / track two features ‘The Western Lands / The Fields’

Screeding noise fills the spaces in the rich shoegaze swirl of the first movement. The drums are muddy, partly submerged, distant amidst the maelstrom. The whole thing drifts… ‘The Rite’ is built around an insistent beat and pulsating, looped synth motif. It’s perhaps the most overtly structured, and the most overtly electronic track on the album, laying down an expansive desert groove that transports the listener to another space altogether. An immense sonic swell bursts into a multi-layered, infinitely-faceted cathedral of sound, which gives way to engine-like drones. What is this? Where are we? In the afterburn, tectonic thuds shake. A deep, murky bass warps and grinds against a decayed industrial rhythm to create a sinister, post-apocalyptic soundscape.

The moody, dark ambience of the title track melds an almost ritualistic, ceremonial spiritualism to a thumping electronic beat. Low in the mix, the vocals howl out in a barely intelligible expulsion of soul-burning anguish. Part black metal, part Prurient, devastatingly barren, it’s perhaps one of the most innovatively genre-breaking tracks I’ve heard all year. The vastness of ‘The Fields’ is an experience beyond words. The percussion hammers out hard, but low, grinding explosively but largely buried in the immense swathe of layered sound which is totally immersive. But then, the storm is over. The grace and elegance of the piano-led play-out is contrasting in the extreme. But this is beautiful music, and provides welcome respite.

The Western Lands is an accomplished work, and an incredible achievement, both conceptually and sonically. A different kind of epic.

 

 

Barst - The Western Lands

Gargarin Records – gr2035 – 1st November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Something is very wrong. Ok, so there are lots of things that are very wrong, but in particular, there’s something wrong with A K Klosowski, and by the sounds of things, his audio archive. And his tape deck  – or decks, to be more accurate. Listening in 2016, one might think that whatever combo of kit constitutes a ‘kassetteninstrument’, something is awry, that the heads are worn and the tapes are chewed, with loops and samples continually playing at random, all at once.

But context is important here and the mic on this album creates digital technology by a mile. As the blurbage explains, ‘Long before digital sampling was affordable for everyone, A.K.Klosowski invented his Kassetteninstrument, a custom-made music apparatus consisting of eight SONY-Walkmen combined with a mute/demute mechanism. The outputs of the instrument could be controlled both by hand and by an automatic trigger module. In addition, a drum computer and some effect machines were fed into the circuit. This technique allowed for very intuitive and simultaneous control over the analogue tape sources.’

Eight Walkmen? That would have required some wedge back in ‘82 to ‘84 when these recordings were produced. …plays the Kassetteninstrument is perhaps an album of its time, but still holds up on every level in 2016. It’s chaos from the offset, and the whole album is a riot of snippets and sounds, bits and pieces, crushed together to create something… different.

Elsewhere, grating, mangled synth sounds and extraneous noise skrawks and clanks hither and thither, and processed beats slither and jitter beneath vocal snippets, robotix voices, whipcracks and car crashes. It’s all going on: synapse-popping, electrode-melting disco and stuttering 80s inspired electronica interfuse in an audio wilderness.

At times it’s an awful cacophony; at others, the mood is playful, while at others still, it’s darkly sinister. Bendy organs and warped tape loops, stretched and scratchy, make weird, woozy wigouts. With motorik rhythms twisted out of time, it’s like Krautrock on acid, with nods to Throbbing Gristle and Suicide, William Burroughs and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s pretty fucking cool.

 

A.K. Klosowski - …plays the Kassetteninstrument

With the cold wave revival well under way and  a swathe of artists from mainland Europe at the forefront, there’s no shortage of dark music for dark times in circulation. Released 20th May on Kwaidan Records, Wendy Bevan’s ‘Sweet Dedication’ is as chilly as the Arctic Circle in winter, but also has a dreamy quality and a keen pop edge. It’s also got a subsonic bassline and a drum track that’s pretty much lifted fro Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Nag Nag Nag’ while also hinting at early March Violets. And that’s precisely why we dig it. Hear it here:

 

 

Wendy Bevan

 

http://wendy-bevan.com/