Saturday, July 17, 2021

RIP Joe Cassidy

Very sad to hear about the way too young death of Joe Cassidy of Butterfly Child -  purveyors of gorgeous dreampop from Northern Ireland. 

The debut Butterfly Child EP Toothfairy came out on A.R. Kane's label H.ark! in late 1991,  simultaneously with the debut EP from Papa Sprain, his friend Gary McKendry's group. 

I made both the EPs singles of the week in Melody Maker (see below) and around that time spoke with Joe and Gary for a label profile of H.ark!. 

Another Butterfly Child EP, Eucalyptus, followed on H.ark!, and then they recorded an album each for a succession of labels: Rough Trade (Onomatopeia), Dedicated (The Honeymoon Suite), and HitIt! Recordings (Soft Explosives).  

Here's an interview with Joe around his 2015 album Futures done by The Thin Air

And here is a link to the bandcamp for the 2020 album Our Life in the Desert by My Bus a joint project by Joe and Gary McKendry. There, you can read a nice detailed account of the pair's journey through music:

"The emotion comes from a friendship lost, renewed and remembered, or as Joe puts it, 'a love story. One between two friends, the music they share, ex-girlfriends, pals who are no longer with us and the ghosts of old haunts long gone. It is a longing for a Belfast and a time that never really existed.'”

And here's a nice remembrance of Joe from Ned Raggett

And a tribute from Stuart Bailie at the Belfast Telegraph. 

Thursday, July 08, 2021

A busy week for  Kieran Press-Reynolds

He makes his Pitchfork debut with a review of NYC rap crew Surf Gang's latest album SGV1, described as "a mansion of sweet beats and vocal textures... husky whispers, slow-motion chirrups, reverb-laden echoes that flutter into nothingness" and with ensemble rapping that "feels like you’re watching the SoundCloud rap Avengers unite or some crossover episode between two hit TV shows". 

He also makes his Bandcamp debut with a profile of the netlabel dismiss yourself - the "nexus of hex" plus other freaky online microgenres, whose catalogue offers a trove of "glitchy burps", "alien jeers", "videogame ambient," "meme-havoc" and assorted bitcrushed beauty. 

And he's further been busy working at Insider, where he's done some fun pieces like this profile of  Vanessa Clark a.k.a. @glitchgirlmaster, the creator of TikTok's dance-craze of the summer. 

Friday, July 02, 2021

painted into a corner

Recently I read Janet Malcolm's famous New Yorker piece "A Girl of the Zeitgeist" - after her death, someone had tweeted a scan of the first two pages, which misled me into thinking it was a profile of the art critic Rosalind Krauss (a figure who radiates intellectual glamour - albeit not quite enough to get me to read the two books I've bought of hers, as of yet). 

Of course it's not about Krauss, it's a profile of Artforum editor Ingrid Sischy and a trek through the microworld of artists, curators, dealers and critics in 1980s New York.  It's incredibly sharply observed and acerbic stuff. 

One thing that struck me is how that whole milieu with its factions, feuds, spats and schisms resembled another microworld - you guessed it, music criticism. Not in the details or the ideological stakes, and certainly not in the status and money involved, but there seemed to be correspondences in terms of the rhetorical intensities, the investments, the stances struck, the personality types, the bitchiness.

I was particularly taken by a section where Malcolm talks with Carter Ratcliff, who wrote for Artforum and Art in America, and the conversation turns to the flamboyant critic Rene Ricard, whose approach was so different from Ratcliff's cool, dispassionate, historically well-informed way of going about things. (The reference to deAk is to another Artforum critic, Edit deAk, renowned for her fractured and elliptical style).


Reading that passage, it occurred to me that the Ricard approach - what Ratcliff elsewhere describes as a "sort of ecstatic, fanlike involvement... with one thing or another from moment to moment", and which was marginal within the world of art criticism -  occupied a much larger and more central place in  Anglosphere music writing -  and particularly in the U.K.  Such that the Ratcliff mode (deep historical knowledge, understanding of the craft side of making artworks, etc) was the more unusual occurrence, represented within British rock writing by figures like Ian MacDonald and a few others.  

"These gestures he makes in the vicinity of the new painting" seems like something that could be said of a certain breed and lineage of rock writer prone to an oracular, frothing-over mode of testifying, in which wild claims and far-fetched connections might be asserted that had little to do with the intentions or concerns of the artist. 

Another section in "A Girl of the Zeitgeist" also seemed to have a possibly discomfiting resemblance to certain phases of certain music papers. This time it's the critics Thomas McEvilly and Max Kozloff who are speaking:

Fortunately the weekly music papers - being so large and coming out so frequently and therefore having so much space to fill -  were almost forced  to be pluralist.  Unlike a monthly periodical with smaller space and a tighter coterie of writers, such as  '70s Artforum or October, the journal founded by Krauss and others who quit Artforum after an ideological rift. But also unlike a music fanzine. Of necessity, just to fill up the pages on a weekly basis, each music paper accommodated many voices. Consensus was harder to marshal except at exceptional moments of urgency in music history, like punk.  And even then, there were other kinds of music that needed to be covered - the established music scene and older bands didn't just cease to exist punctually with the arrival of punk, they kept on putting out records and touring. And there were genres completely outside the Old Wave / New Wave rock narrative. 

The closest thing to 1970s Artforum in music paper history I can think of is NME's almost-total exclusion of New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Oi! from coverage. But even then, it wasn't like the paper was 100 % post-punk. *

Also fortunately, even those music writers with I-Be-the-Prophet traits, tended to be more plural in their tastes. The  fast-moving, ever-changing nature of the music scene would usually buffet them out of their tunnel-vision fixity, forcing a rethink. Or they might simply be attracted by different scenes/sounds at the same time, requiring the suppleness to entertain different value-schemes simultaneously, oscillating between ideas from piece to piece.  


Still, I have to say (and here's where the forbidding intellectual glamour of Krauss comes in) I can't help but admire, still, this drive to totalize the field of current art production, to create a shapely picture that shoves the irrelevant to one side and projects a forward path through the mess. 

Because nothing's lamer or less useful really than eclecticism - liking a bit of this, liking a bit of that, for quite different reasons. Someone operating as a critic from that sort of non-stance, however neat their turn of phrase or sharp their sporadic insights...  it seems like a bit of a cop out really. I mean, from what basis do you issue your opinions?  If you've not mustered the will and determination and sense of purpose to formulate a system, or even a coherent perspective, why then should I put any credence in what is really just a random succession of reactions and judgements?   

It's a career path, though, for sure.... 

Someone once quipped of me - this was at the peak of my MBV/AR Kane/first-phase post-rock belief in the becoming-abstract destiny of electric guitar music,  the figurative focus of the human voice disappearing into rippling bliss-folds, texture >text - that I was in danger of becoming the Clement Greenberg of rock crit. Now I had not heard of Greenberg, so quickly acquainted myself with the precepts -  and concluded that this was simultaneously a high compliment and a sly and savagely on-point insult. (And perhaps a sage bit of advice, a friendly warning).

Luckily, rave came along to knock me out of that particular loop and into a different orbit...  

* Belatedly recalled this comment made to me by Andy Gill, who wrote and edited for NME during the postpunk / new pop / soulboys versus indie era: "We used to have editorial meetings at NME - they were ghastly affairs, arguments about genres and which things should be covered and which things should be ignored. I would be thinking 'we should just cover all of this'. I could never understand the factionalism, and the absolutist nature of the factionalism".

But I suppose what I'm saying is, "I did  - and still do - understand the factionalism, and the absolutist nature of the factionalism. Wouldn't necessarily want to live there anymore... but I also know it gets results". 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Full On, Non Stop, All Over

I was pleased to contribute an introduction to a new photobook documenting UK club culture:  Matthew Smith's Full On, Non Stop, All Over.  

Published by Trip City and available from todayFull On, Non Stop, All Over collects pictures taken between 2000 and 2005, when Smith worked for magazines like DJ Mag, Sleaze Nation, Jockey Slut, Mixmag, Ministry, Muzik, The Face and Bristol’s Venue  (poignantly, all print publications and mostly expired -  two survived, one expired and then resurrected itself as a quarterly - an indication that those were different times when a boom-time club scene could support its own dedicated media). Prior to that phase of being a working club photographer, Smith - a.k.a. MATTKO -  had been involved in the free party scene during the '90s, which is documented in his earlier book, Exist to Resist

Here's an interview at Creative Review with Matthew Smith. 

And here's a Mixmag interview

And here's Matt's archive of subcultural and countercultural photography

Saturday, June 26, 2021

the triumph of Time

 RIP Peter Zinovieff 

One of my favorite pieces, that  

"Chronometer 71 is a 1971 piece that comprises recordings of clocks in London's Big Ben and Wells Cathedral in Somerset. These were sequenced to a graphical score by [Sir Harrison] Birtwistle using Zinovieff's studio system to control several tape machines, much like an early sampler. The piece was created in Zinovieff’s second Putney studio, Musys, set up in the basement of 49 Deodar Road."The Wire

"It’s the first quad sound classical music piece.... This piece was designed with Birtwistle in about 1970...  But it was made as a quadraphonic piece, it was one of the first quadraphonic pieces." - Peter Zinovieff interview at Red Bull Music Academy.

Sir Harrison Birtwistle: Chronometer - for 2 asynchronous 4-track tapes

Realized by Peter Zinovieff at Electronic Music Studios (EMS), London using the Musys system developed by Peter Grogono (software), David Cockerell (hardware/interfacing) and Peter Zinovieff (system design and operation).

I have "Chronometer" on vinyl (it's the flipside to Birtwistle's The Triumph of Time - which is where that Zinovieff 1974 text comes from).

I also have it on the Zinovieff double-CD anthology Electronic Calendar of  2015. Which occasion prompted this Guardian profile of his career, achievements and intersections with pop culture. 

Birtwistle is not the only posh composer Peter Z collabd with  - there was also Hans Werner Henze 

And recently cellist Lucy Railton - resulting in Inventions for Cello and Computer

Now I am honestly not sure if I've ever listened to the first side of the album, "The Triumph of Time" itself, but if so, it was almost certainly just the once. Let's give it another go, shall we? 

Sunday, June 06, 2021

summertime sludge

Time during lockdown grew mushy and amorphous, didn't it? So it's not too much of a surprise - but a nice surprise nonetheless - to get a new Moon Wiring Club album in the early summer, rather than in the approach to Christmas as is usual. 

Here's the first promo video off of the elpee - "Catwalk of the Phantom Baroque"

The record consists of four long (ten minute or so) tracks infirmly situated in favorite MWC terrain - marshy but not completely gaseous... stumbling beats that never quite establish a gait... the dilapidated beat-structure wraithed around with after-images and palimpsests. 

Opener "Summoning Up  An Immaculate Ancestor" suggests 23 Skidoo in an advanced stage of decomposition. Third track "Empty Door in the Eye of Sun" wafts an eldritch whiff of Dead Can Dance... or perhaps an abandoned-house remix of FSOL "Papua New Guinea" with sunken floors, stairs missing, peeling wallpaper

The level of layering and apparitional movement within the stereo field is tantalisingly rich  and edible-complex.... a headphone treat (if also an inner-ear imbalance inducer).

Ian Hodgson elaborates upon the release rationale for this unseasonal excursion: 

"... it’s the sister release to The Most Unusual Cat in the Village ...  I’d written a lot of additional music / musicke / mew-sicke for that album with the intention of releasing it at some stage. While I was putting up the final promo image for that LP, which consisted of a phantom figure marching down an empty street in town... I instantly visualised the aesthetic for a sister album which more-or-less wrote itself / congealed there and then. 

"The main image I had was of a giant phantom catwalk circling around a clock tower in the dead centre of an empty town shrouded in green mist. While this was going on, the accompanying music would be drifting in from different locations all at slightly varying points in time. So a harpsichord would be playing 100 feet away in a street below, whilst a drum kit played from the top of a multi story carpark. You would be completely stationary, whilst the music moved around, continually out of phase. I wanted something that was stately, magisterial and completely knackered. The experience is sluggish (‘Is it day?’) and disorientating, and much like drowsy wasps in the Spring could turn nasty at any moment. 

"This Catwalk idea provided the structure for the album, and I composed 'Catwalk of the Phantom Baroque' and then arranged the other tracks into a narrative accordingly. The first track 'Summoning Up an Immaculate Ancestor', almost made it onto The Most Unusual Cat LP because it has (certainly for MWC) a pretty unusual sound but I think it works exactly right as the starter in the context of this LP ~ coaxing things out of a mirror for a supernatural fashion show but forgetting to close the doorway. 

"In my mind 'Summoning Up an Immaculate Ancestor' is classified as Sludge-Rock, but that doesn’t seem to be an actual genre and online seems to suggest Dinosaur Jr which is not what I was after. Maybe Slush Rock is closer? Music where everything has melted. That detuned repeated riff is what I imagine Sleep to sound like...  Maybe something like James Plotkin’s 'Joy of Disease' which is a perennial favourite is closer and certainly an influence ~  'Catwalk of the Phantom Baroque' ended up (because of the ultra-sloth pacing) sounding to me a bit like Bohren and Der Club of Gore ~ 'Empty Door in the Eye of the Sun' has a cavernous cathedral-ish reverb, that while initially dolloped on to coax out a tiny vocal sample (like a potters wheel) does provide definite goth ambience. The ‘Sunken Techno’ bit made me think of the 1999 Sturm LP ~ s one of my all time favourite records. 

"The beginning of 'Everything Eventually Goes Completely Grey' has someone saying ‘I met a ghost’ over a warped Carnival of Souls style organ, and the end of has a bit of a Thomas Köner vibe. TK on a budget anyway. I sort of see it as everything dissolving into a washing sea tide of grey mist ~ a collapsing aftermath after you’ve escaped. 

"Perhaps the main thing I like (and wanted) about this album is that (so far) it doesn’t seem to settle. Perhaps someone listening will immediately go ‘oh it sounds just like such-and-such’ which of course it may well do, but when I first received the test pressings I was amusingly puzzled + pleasingly disorientated with the results, as if the ‘off-season’ compositional time frame and condensed gestation time has conjured up something enjoyably unfamiliar and slightly out of control, and that feeling hasn’t yet gone away. "

Buy The Only Cat Left In Town direct from the Gecophonic gift shop

Check out some ancillary imagery at the Moon Wiring website.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Astral Squeaks - the new outer zones of alien rap vocals

And here's another fascinating Kieran Press-Reynolds piece: How Hyperspeed Squeals & Alien Whispers Became Rap's Final Frontier.  It's a deep-dive into the online realm of bedroom rappers who boldly go way out there, - beyond Playboi Carti's baby-voice, beyond even his fetus-voice - into      outermost zones of "rap-sing insanity" that sound more like "experimental ASMR or the national anthems of an alien civilization" than MC-ing as hitherto known. Artists like 645AR, lungskull, meat computer, Axxturel, sellasouls, islurwhenitalk, Jewelxxet et al are leaving behind words and even decipherable emotions for pure texture-play, breath-braiding and vocal-goo extrusion.

Here is Kieran's YouTube playlist for the artists and tracks mentioned in the piece.  

Saturday, May 22, 2021

from rapture to rupt: the journey of Seefeel

It was a really really nice to chat with Seefeel's Mark Clifford and Sarah Peacock - for the first time in, fuck me, decades - about the just-out-now reissues of their Warp era music: Starethrough, Succour, and the (okay technically on Rephlex, same difference!) maxi-EP / mini-LP Ch-Vox, which are available separately as vinyl but handsomely conjoined as the 4-CD Rupt & Flex, and in all formats come bulging with unreleased or barely-released goodies. 

 Here at the Warp site is my Q + A with Mark & Sarah covering the whole history of Seefeel from the Too Pure phase through Warp to the dispersal. 

Some of the absolute greatest music of the 1990s, but u kno dat. 

Strangely although the group featured in two of my back-in-the-day pieces (Ambient as 1993 Buzzword, and the first post-rock feature, in '94), this is the first really in-depth interview with Seefeel I've done - and I learned a lot. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Chip off the old Roblox

When I got my first piece in The New York Times - even though I'd done a bunch of things for UK newspapers by that point - it felt like an impossibly august place. Apart from anything else,  it was the first time I'd ever been edited (as opposed to having bits amputated from the piece without being consulted). And then there was the sight of it in the Arts & Leisure section, with that newsprint....  I was 27. 

Kieran Press-Reynolds, our son, just got his debut piece in The New York Times, aged 21. It went online today - the day before his graduation - and is in the paper edition Tuesday.   And we're in New York, our old home, for the ceremony, so able to pick up a physical copy. Where it bears the deliciously none-more-Times-y headline "Young Sonic Scofflaws Create Chaotic New Genre". Scofflaws!

I am proud, and impressed, and a little consternated, frankly. 21!

The piece is about a new music subculture that has sprung up around Roblox, a sandbox game. If you don't know what either of those things refers to, Kieran explains it very clearly.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

splice of life

Here's a fun piece I did for Tidal on musique concrète that starts circa 1948 with tape-music and follows the windy-windy thread through its sample-collaging descendants (plunderphonics et al) to hip hop and more.   


Friday, April 23, 2021

"What are words worth?"


Here's my 4Columns review of Lesley Chow's You're History, a new book from Repeater, which as I've noted here before is a wonderfully original and surprising take on pop music, that creates a  counter-canon of non-verbal bliss, a pantheon of ecstatic "oohs" that includes Chaka Khan, Neneh Cherry, Sade, Janet Jackson, Tom Tom Club, Azealia Banks, TLC, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj. You don't have to rate all or indeed any of those artists to enjoy the author's enjoyment of them  - the vivid precision with which she zooms in on their mouth-music magic, the exquisite attention paid to the non-signifying, synesthetic and purely sensual properties of singing. 

An argument for pop performers who treat lyrics as “pretexts to juice up the mouth” and “awaken muscle memory” mimetically in the listener, rather than the transmission of clearly articulated meanings, You're History is a proof-of-concept alternative to what Chow calls "the rationalizing impulse that dominates writing on popular music". The book is mostly a celebration, but it's also entertaining for its occasional swipes at good-on-paper artists (e.g. Janelle Monae, St Vincent) whose themes and stances inspire dissertations, but who are deficient in the textural scrumptiousness and tyrannical presence that commands fascination. Masterpiece-weary myself, I also nodded vigorously when Chow asserts her bias towards "the one-off hit more than the tempered masterpiece.”

After half-a-century of serious writing about pop and rock, it can seem like the whole history is sewn up and there’s nothing left to be said.  But as you close Chow’s book, you feel the complete opposite: there’s so much more to explore and uncover. 

Chow is a film writer as well as pop critic, which made me wonder how she might apply her approach towards movies. I've long been fascinated by the way we simultaneously appreciate the skill that an actor applies to the creation of each character, while also taking pleasure in what is unchanging from picture to picture and role to role. The way a certain actor’s face crinkles when they smile or frown; the wonky stresses and swerves in the gait of speech; the husky wheeze of a laugh, the tangy aroma of a voice; movements of hands or eyes. However much the thespian tries to dissolve their self into a role, they only have the same physical materials to work with: "the grain of the person" to twist Barthes famous formulation, and which is flexible and malleable only up to a point... the outer fabric of self resists the histrionic exertion, the artistry of becoming other. For the viewer, there's a delicious doubling of perception, a tension between the actorly performance and magnetic presence. These are faces and bodies we like to look at - not necessarily because they're beautiful or sexy - voices we like to hear, almost regardless of the context.    

An interview with Chow at Todd Burns's Music Journalism Insider

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

New Forms


                                Check out Matthew Ingram's cool new street art project.

                                 A short film about it entitled Forms can be watched here

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Gods of the Hammer

!An exciting addition to the small body of gabber literature! 

Sbrang Gabba Gang: Gabber Reconstruction of the Universe, by Riccardo Balli

By an Italian but in English, written in a style that resembles the LOUD energy of a S.Wells sluiced through the unforgiving yet gleeful anti-humanism of a Biba Kopf, this monograph maps Italian Futurism onto gabba, and vice versa. So it's an intellectual entertainment - penned by one who knows viscerally whereof he speaks... who's sweated and stomped in the four-to-floor forge 'till the crack of dawn, and beyond...  been battered by drop-hammer bassdrum and blasted by hoover-noise...  soaked up the sensations and survived to make sense of the senselessness. 


You can get the book here or here or here 

Check out the praxis (deejaying, producing, running a label) to the theory at Balli's Bologna-based operation 

Some of Balli's previous publications


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

K vs K mindclash

My boy Kieran Press-Reynolds with news of a Repeater Radio meeting-of-minds tomorrow: 

"This Friday, I'm talking with Kit Mackintosh about his book Neon Screams: How Drill, Trap and Bashment Made Music New Again - discussing dancehall, squeak rap, conspiracy theologies, ad-lib posthumanism and more. After, we're doing a 2-hour mix-off live — it's going to be a ton of fun."

Start time: 8 pm UK / 4pm East Coast / 1 pm West Coast - Friday March 26 2021.  

You can also catch Kieran's latest Ctrl Alt Repeat show  - "Astral Squeaks: How Hyperspeed Squeals and Alien Whispers Became Rap's Final Frontier" - featuring tunes from 645AR, meat computer, Lazy God, Cartier God, Axxturel, sellasouls, islurwhenitalk, Yameii Online, lungskull, kmoe, Wxlfcrxw etc  -  archived at Mixcloud

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

phuture dancehall and non-verbal strangeness

 A couple of Repeater-things of interest to the parish - 

Kit Mackintosh whets appetites for his forthcoming Neon Screams: How Drill, Trap and Bashment Made Music New Again with a proof-of-concept mix that vaults through four decades of dancehall delirium. Already aired on Repeater Radio, it's archived for your delectation here

Tomorrow, Thursday 18th March, 2 pm Pacific, there's the online launch for Lesley Chow's You're History: The 12 Strangest Women in Pop, a constantly surprising and thought-provoking book  tracing a non-linear lineage through mainstream pop of non-verbal bliss, irruptive sensuality, and mouth-music magic -  a counter-canon of oozy oohs and sweet nothings that takes in Chaka Khan, Janet Jackson, TLC and Tom Tom Club among others. Chow will be in dialogue with parishioner Anwen Crawford. Information about how to attend here.  

In their shared focus on phonetic phuturism and liquified language Neon Screams and You're History are curiously complementary, yet do not overlap at all. 

Sunday, March 07, 2021

разорви это и начни снова / энергетическая вспышка / roztrhněte to a začněte znovu


This month will see the publication in Russia of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-84 by Shoom Press.  Translation by Ilya Miller

A virtual discussion of the book -   the author in dialogue with the critic Alexander Gorbachev -   organised by the British Council is happening on March 11 at 19-30 Moscow time. Details about how to attend here.

In other news, later this year  - late summer I believe - Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture is also coming out in a Russian translation, through the auspices of the publishing program of  the museum V-A-C (which stands for ‘Victoria – the Art of being Contemporary’). 

Finally, completing the penetration of the post-Communist East, there will be a Czech language version of Rip It Up coming out in a few months time via the publisher Volvox Globator

Thursday, March 04, 2021

talking pirate radio adverts

A tweet from Death Is Not The End saying that the cassette version of London Pirate Radio Adverts 1984-1993 Vol. 2 is shipping out tomorrow reminded me I said I'd run the full chat with audio archivist Luke Owen here. So here it is: 

How did you get interested in pirate radio in general and in pirate radio adverts in particular?

I began tuning in to pirate radio from my early teens in Bristol in the late 90s - there was a lot of action on the dial back then and I was sucked in. It was a portal into the drum and bass/Full Cycle stuff happening in the city when I was too young for the clubs, and it also nurtured my love of reggae, dub and Bollywood soundtracks at a relatively young age. The ads were often infectious and endearingly DIY, and some were memorable to the point of fever loops, I can still remember one or two word for word. 

I came upon the Pirate Radio Archive website a couple of years back, and there I found a trove of recordings from across the 80s and 90s through which I could transport myself back in time to some of those broadcasts I had been brought up on. I had been running Death Is Not The End since 2014 as a record label and NTS radio show focused mostly on "deep digs" into early gospel/blues/folk, field recordings and various archival finds. Coming across these recordings I was immediately stuck by the desire to do something with them, and put together a mixtape for the Blowing Up The Workshop mixblog and subsequently released it on DINTE as a cassette. It was a bit of a left-turn for the label perhaps, but being both archival and field recordings I thought it fit. I'm interested in "folk music" having a broader contemporary remit, and what it can mean in context. To me, recordings like these pirate radio broadcasts can represent archival folk music of sorts - they are raw, impromptu and communal musical experiences. 

For me, the appeal of them is multi-leveled – there’s nostalgia, there’s period charm, there’s the amateur nature of them, some of the comedy ones are genuinely funny…   But I also think they provide a valuable and historically important archive of subculture and British ‘lifeworlds’, especially minority populations (e.g. you have the Greek salon ad on Vol 1 ).

Yes, a lot are hilarious and some to the point of being genuinely a bit unhinged in places... A big part of the uniqueness of pirate radio is in the ads I think - it reflects the alternative culture through the lens of local business and events in a way that often contrasts with the staleness of "commercial" radio as much as the music itself. The whole thing often just seems to thrive on amping up the madness a bit, because they can. The London Pirate Radio Adverts collection was also intriguing from a local history perspective. I've always been interested in the changing landscape of areas, the previous lives of buildings, music venues, long gone record shops etc. By chance a lot of the adverts I collected for this happen to be for clubs and bars in places in South East London and East London that I've come to know quite well since moving here in the mid-noughties so that's another facet of it for me. Also, Immigrant communities making use of pirate radio as a means to supply an essential community service is an inherent element to pirate radio as a whole I think.

I like also the range. You have the slick-aspiring ads (with a tiny bit of Smashy + Nicey about the patter,  quite common with pirate deejays before ’92 when it got a lot more ruffneck and hooligan in vibe -  or they’ll hire that voiceover guy that also appeared in cinema adverts, the one with the incredibly deep voice,  he pops up a few times on your tapes). And then the much more amateurish efforts.  

Redd Pepper? I'm never quite sure whether it's him or an imitator... He sure must have gotten a lot of work around this time regardless. There's another guy who seems to have been the voiceover guy for a large portion of reggae & dancehall/soundclash events in the past couple decades (this is him @ 5.40 on Side A) and is still going strong. I'm going to do my best to track him down, I think I might have a friend of a friend who hired him for an ad once.

I think there's sometimes a conscious effort to get someone with a posh accent (or affecting one) for some of the dances that are billing themselves as classy & exclusive affairs. Then you've got some hilariously oddball voices, and a really bad Scouse impression that I have no idea what it's trying to achieve! I think pirate radio in general is prone to jokes and reference points that only the small group of listeners (or more likely mates of the station and the DJs) are "in" on, and this can bleed through to the ads as much as the chatter.

They often seem to like putting FX on the voice.

Yes, the use of delay on pirate radio station voiceover and adverts seems to be a point of reference that's bled in from sound system culture. I think it also helps the adverts "pop" and the feedback has the handy effect of papering over cracks where they may often sound too muddy and amateurish otherwise. I've also added tape delay here and there to aid with the transitions from one track to the next - the idea was initially for this to have the flow of a mixtape as much as possible.

Most of the ads on pirates were for raves, clubs, records shops, occasionally a compilation or a 12 inch release … But  it’s interesting that quite a few of them are for non-music-related businesses -  there’s one I came across for a bakers, you’ll get ones for hairdressers or a restaurant.  Or on Vol. 1 the shop fittings ad for Trade Equip  and the one for Fidel’s Menswear.

In a way I find the non-music related ads as some of the most intriguing and charming. It shows that the stations were often genuinely part of a thriving localised economy, and not just for soundheads. It seems a bit mad to think of a small high-street business advertising on the radio these days, and I suppose with the advent of social media marketing we're probably seeing the last of small businesses in print advertising to a large degree - it's just not attractive as you don't get to monitor the traffic it's generating and target your audience down to the minutiae, but it leaves a document of that business that can be preserved from a local history perspective (whereas when a business folds their online presence will likely disappear with it).

Even on the music history level alone, though, they are  valuable – there’s a sort of established history of rave where certain legendary clubs get mentioned  over and over (Rage, Labrynth, Innersense) and the same applies to the raves, labels, record shops. But these ads capture just how many clubs, raves etc there were, in all different parts of London or UK… many that have been forgotten or only ran for a short while. And there are addresses, times, prices mentioned.

Yes, the provision of full addresses, and often bus routes and the general specifics for the clubs and venues always gives me a pang of nerdy excitement. The addition of local landmarks, "under this flyover", "next to Tescos" etc. gives me extra info with which I can go sleuthing on Streetview and look at the ghost of the club mentioned in the advert (and for extra nerdery I can swipe backward in time on street view to see it's former guises too).

The raver’s dateline courtesy Chillin FM advert is very interesting and surprising!

Yes I was surprised to come across so many ravers datelines! I wonder if this is something you had come across before? Hooking up and meeting potential partners never struck me as a priority to pilled-up ravers but I must be mistaken... It was relatively before my time, and I suppose it's easy to be swayed by the dominant narrative of early rave being a drug-fuelled oasis away from meat-market bars & clubs, but there was clearly a market for it! I can't help being reminded of Father Ted's priest chatback line whenever I hear it, also.

I think you mentioned in that Crack interview how most people paused the tape when the ads came on…   so there’s a limited number of ad breaks that have survived intact.

Yeah I guess it makes sense that the music is what the majority of the listeners are there for, and the ads can do one - or indeed be edited out later. The sources I had were pretty much all online, so I suppose you could say that a portion of those who have ripped/digitized their tapes didn't stop their recordings when the ads came on, and rather they have cropped them out in the process. But in general it's the same principle as to when you would record a TV show on VHS - a waste of valuable magnetic tape space. 

What number did you accumulate before you started winnowing them down?

Maybe 100 total? It's been a bit of a blur to be honest. At some point I think I was losing it a bit.

It’s good that you have ads that aren’t just rave / hardcore / jungle, but others kind of music that were big then – like mellow house and progressive house etc.

It's easy to imagine pirate radio as exclusively a place for jungle, hardcore, reggae and dancehall etc. but yes it's refreshing. I particularly am interested in the popularity of rare groove and how that fits into the mix. The Under 18s Disco advert strikes me for it's mix up of styles - 'ragga, house, rap & swing'.

What is your favorite ad out of all the ones on the two cassettes?  Or top 2 or 3.

I think probably the Videobox rental shop is up there, it's the faux dialogue that just makes me smile. The Rolls Royce & A Big House in 89 is just fantastic for the list of celebrities who have "been invited", and that you simply need to go into your local hairdresser for £1 tickets.

Saturday, February 27, 2021


remiss have I been in not remarking upon recent releases that are remarkable

first-most would be the now six-weeks-out new album from Insides - Soft Bonds

usually when a favorite band reactivates after a long silence the chances are pretty good that the results will underwhelm

this is a rare example of being fully whelmed - 

it's every bit as good as the classic-for-those-who-know Euphoria

incidentally, the album and single by Insides precursor group Earwig were quietly made available again, in remastered form, a few years ago, and are well worth investigating. 


more culpable remissitude: also a month-and-a-half young now is Cosmorama by Beautify Junkyards - the Lisbon band's second album for Ghost Box (and fourth overall). Lovely dreamy stuff, you can get a taster here. "We need to bring colors to face these grey times!" says the groop, and it's too true. 


here's an interview with groop leader João Branco Kyron  - by Bob Fischer (originally published in Electronic Sound).  Among other things João explains where the name Cosmorama comes from: "it was Victorian entertainment, where people would go to see magnified images of exotic landscapes or far-away monuments."

coming soon (next month in fact) is a 7-inch single collaboration between Beautify Junkyards and Belbury Poly in the form of a cover version of The Incredible String Band's "Painting Box." (Perhaps they should also have done Pink Floyd's "Paintbox" for the B-side?)


less culpably remiss - lukewarm off the press news, a mere three weeks behind release day - here's another waft of ethereal evanescence from  Lo Five, whose run of releases of the last couple of years have been favorites moods into which to sink and trance out. 

"We need to bring greys to efface these garish times!" says the groop, and it's too true

release rationale: 

waiting to return to a life that no longer exists. A prosaic acceptance of living in slow motion. Waving from a distance as familiarity sails into the mist. A world of possibilities slowly folding back in on itself. Looking out of the window listening to a muffled storm. Trapped on an island that's far from paradise. Gazing over the water and contemplating the tranquility of the other side.

God's Waiting Room represents a creative detour for Lo Five, who has temporarily given leave of his senses and usual production methodology in order to explore a sensation that had become more apparent in recent months - a serene ennui, patient acceptance and mild disillusionment. This is perhaps representative of our collective consciousness, particularly for those trapped in the British Isles.

assembled from tape manipulated 78rpm record loops, field recordings, acoustic and synthetic melodies, God's Waiting Room is an experiment in contrasting sounds and an exercise in restraint.




finally, what a relief, no remissness required here at all, I'm several weeks early in fact - a new EP by an artist whose 2018 album on Hyperdub I really liked: Proc Fiskal. It's called Lothian Buses (a tiny taste is available here)  and extends the sound and approach of Insula, which I earlier described as "a frisky, fidgety weave of grime / Eski / 2step rhythms with glinting splinters of melody and calligraphic tone-smears that seem to come out of the Sakamoto / "Bamboo Music" / B-2 Unit realm... with  snippets of everyday speech and outdoors atmosphere, seemingly captured on the eavesdropping sly, woven into the fabric"  

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

 Here's my paean to "Digital Love" and Discovery, part of a terrific NPR Music multi-authored tribute to Daft Punk.

My #2 favorite Daft Punk tune: 

                             Before I ever heard their records, I saw them live - at their US debut. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Experimental Jetset - Superstructures

I was really excited to participate in a project created by Dutch artist collective Experimental Jetset, in which they invited a bunch of critics and theorists - including Owen Hatherley, McKenzie Wark, Ian F. Svenonius and many others - to write annotations to a text of their own. These annotations are mostly more like mini-essays than footnotes, so the size of the accumulated supplementary text far surpasses the original document. The resulting compendium Superstructures is a  visually and typographically exquisite volume dense with stimulating writing addressing four zones of 20th Century utopian urbanism:  The Constructivist City, The Situationist City, The Provotarian City, The Post-Punk City

(If you are thinking my footnotes would be restricted to the part on post-punk, actually no, I had some things to say about Situationism and even Provo, via a certain favorite psychedelic song). 

The book can be ordered directly from Roma Publications in Amsterdam, but is also widely available in art bookshops and museums etc through Idea Books distribution. 

Here is the official release rationale: 

"Superstructures (Notes on EJ, Vol. 2) is an inquiry into the role of the city as an infrastructure for language (and simultaneously, into the role of language as an infrastructure for the city), as seen through the lens of four historical movements: Constructivism, the Situationist International, Provo, and the Post-Punk explosion. Based on a research project (and accompanying exhibition) by Experimental Jetset, the publication features footnotes written by 20 guest-authors – including Linda van Deursen, Owen Hatherley, Dirk van den Heuvel, Tom McDonough, Adam Pendleton, Simon Reynolds, McKenzie Wark, Lori Waxman, Mimi Zeiger, and many others. The 420-page paperback comes with a 26-page zine, zooming in on the design typology of the original exhibition."


Although Superstructures is Volume 2 in a trilogy of Notes on Experimental Jetset volumes, it's actually the last of the three to be published (yes, confusing, but apparently there's a logic to that). 

Here is Experimental Jetset's explanation of the entire project series: 

"The first one (‘Statement and Counter-Statement – Notes on EJ, Vol. 1’, from 2015) was basically a monograph, showing our work as a whole. We also asked some people (Linda van Deursen, Mark Owens, Ian Svenonius) to write essays about us, without mentioning us – so that was a nice twist.

"We’re very bad (extremely bad) in doing lectures – but we explain the paperback in full during this talk:

"The second one (‘Full Scale False Scale’ – Notes on EJ, Vol. 3’, from 2019) basically focused on one single project – the long-term installation we recently created at the MoMA in New York. It’s basically a reader, compiled of texts we read while working on that particular project – mostly texts that deal with the transition from European early-modernism to American late-/post-modernism.

"The third paperback (‘Superstructures – Notes on EJ, Vol. 2’, from 2020) is dealing mostly with our influences (Constructivism, the Situationist International, Provo, Post-Punk), exploring the ways in which these movements used the city as an infrastructure for language.

"In other words, the first book (Vol. 1) is about our work as a whole, the second book (which is actually Vol. 3) is about one specific project, while the third book (Vol. 2) is about our influences in general."