Race for the prize
Holy shit. What a week. After a dreary May of work deadlines, February-style weather and general mental and physical fatigue, everything has changed for the better. That mythical beast, the Great British Summer, has once again asserted itself against the odds: As I write this I’m sat under the shade of a yew tree in the garden, with only the chatter of nature as my soundtrack, tiny insects splatting against my screen and keyboard. Fucking bliss. What’s more, there’s only one day to go, repeat ONE DAY, till the World Cup. Wherever you’re located in the globe, I dare say World Cup Fever, a peculiar kind of mental illness, is infecting you or at least your familiars. It’s amazing. I actually awoke from a dream last night, flustered and sweaty, in which Becks was holding the trophy aloft and chaos had become order and the reason for being had at last become startlingly clear. I find it conceptually impossible to imagine what would happen in Blightey if England were indeed to succeed in their gargantuan task this month. I’m sure, the economy would collapse, plunging us back into the Dark Ages, just a full-on meltdown. Can it happen? Can we actually do it? I don’t know. But every cell in my body is screaming out for it to happen. So fingers crossed.
What’s more, I’m off to Sonar on Tuesday. My trip coincides brutally with the group stages of the World Cup, but I’m not about to complain; hopefully the collusion of unrelenting sun, glorious architecture, sozzled party people and sick sick sick music will make up for me missing such compelling fixtures as, say, Togo vs Saudi Arabia. But of course, it’s watching games like that which make the World Cup what it is…Anyway, Sonar is Sonar. There are already a few football-unrelated clashes on the schedule: Matthew Herbert’s performance at the ‘Sonar Pub’ is happening at the same time as Tiga’s set in the ridiculously large hangar-like thing out of town. On the face of it, it wouldn’t be a hard one to call – Herbert would win hands-down. But the thing is, he’s not doing a DJ set, and having previously seen him in that incarnation absolutely DESTROYING peoples limbs-n-brains, I have a feeling that the interference of Dani Siciliano and the Scale-vibed jazzy stuff won’t quite cut it for me. Tiga, the Peter Andre, or more flatteringly the Robbie Williams, of electro-house, will of course just be playing the narcy pop-tech top 100, but I’ve never seen him spin before, and I dare say that he’ll attract a huge and wasted army of revellers to his set. We’ll see. You can’t call this kind of stuff until it actually happens. As for the rest of the festival, well, I quite want to catch the feast of noodling helmed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, but as regards techno/electro there isn’t a great deal vying for my attention: the Spectral showcase, with Audion and James T Cotton banging out dem smacky sound, will certainly be worth a wiggle, but I’m more concerned with a couple of the off-Sonar parties: the Kompakt vs Musik Krause night, featuring the Wighnomys among others, the Poker Flat night, where I may finally get the chance to hear the mighty Steve Bug play out, and Trevor Jackson’s Output party, where Prins Thomas, Tim Sweeney and the like will be behind the wheels. Whatever we do, I’m sure a good time will be had, but I also should warn you now: this may be the last post I write for a fortnight, but if it’s any consolation I’ll be back with what will hopefully be an action and foolishness-packed Sonar diary. But this is all the future; let’s go back into the past….
On Friday, after a couple of days having finished my degree and progressing quickly from Herculean drinking and that ‘I can do anything now’ mentality to a state of listlessness, boredom and anxiety about my uncertain future, I decided I should get my arse back to Bristol for our Mutant Pop night. We’d already had two parties, but I didn’t attend either on account of what was, at the time, a punishing work schedule and battered, bleeding bank balance. So it was clearly time to show my face and play some tunes. Furthermore, my sometime ‘employers’ FACT asked me to review the Venn festival while I was at it, and not being one to reject the chance to pull some budget-Hunter Thompson moves I accepted the assignment willingly.
Venn is Bristol’s annual showcase of local musical talent, garnished with choice acts from around the world. Unfortunately, the two keynote events of the programme coincided with out own night down the road at the Arc bar: one was a performance at St George, a palatial concert hall with legendary acoustics, from Vashti Bunyan, backed up by a performance from the superb Max Richter (pictured above), producer of her new album. I was introduced to Richter’s own LP, The Blue Notebooks, a couple of years ago by Carnage – it’s a rich and emotional neo-classicist suite, with perfectly-weighted orchestration and judicious use of ambient electronic effects and found sounds. It’s a modern classic as far as I’m concerned, and I was gutted not to see Max and his orchestra play in the flesh; along with Music for Airports, The Blue Notebooks is one of my choice records for falling asleep to, placing me as it does in a divine, meditative halfway-house between wakefulness and sleep – you know the one, where you’re perfectly relaxed and dreaming, but still conscious enough to enjoy it. It’s marred only by the horrifically pretentious spoken word voiceovers from Tilda Swinton, but you can’t have everything. Here, as just a little sample, is one of the tracks; I’ll do a Richter-based post this month and give you some more then.
Max Richter - Shadow Journal // Fat Cat
Anyway, while we were plugging away at Mutant Pop, Bristol’s Malcolm X Centre was playing host to a night of very special madness: The Aliens, formed out of the ashes of The Beta Band, were joined by epic noise-mongers 65DaysofStatic and Glaswegian techno-disco-no-wave-acid geniuses Optimo (pictured left). For reasons already outlined, I didn’t make it down, but our friend Al Dare was charged with the task of looking after Twitch and Wilkes, and assures me that their climactic set provided ‘one of the best parties Bristol has ever seen’, which will come no surprise to you if you’ve ever heard them play before. After all, Optimo have the ability to make any party feel like the best party ever, no? Anyway, reliable accounts inform me that their night ended in extended drunken revelry, and with another member of the TAPE family (who cannot be named here for legal reasons) leaving drunken, abusive messages on Lazarus’s answer-machine at Optimo’s protest/behest. Kids, eh? Meanwhile, due to a lack of promotion and half our usual crowd understandably engaged at the Optimo gig, Carnage, Puffin and myself played to a very unpacked Arc Bar; still, a triple whammy of ‘You’re All Over My Head’, Hug’s ‘Dance’ and Man With Guitar’s immortal ‘Man With Guitar’ finally got the sparse crowd on our wavelength, at which point we handed over to October, our guest for the evening. Originally a student of d&b and breaks, October has moved over the years into more abstract broken beat territories and on into the proggy electro-house, dub-infused techno sounds you and I both love. His set on Friday was exceptional, dropping some of his own productions for Fluid Ounce in amidst the minimal and broken-not-broken goodness.
Quite apart from how exceptional his set was, I’d like to thank Jules for coming to play with us, and to apologize for not quite assembling the crowd he deserved. Seeing as I don’t recall meet anyone as heroically pleasant as October since, well, last October, I find it hard to imagine he was actually annoyed. With understandable excitement, he was telling us that the evergreen Peter Kruder had requested a personal audience with him at Fabric on Saturday, so let’s hope something good comes from that; certainly, October is a production name to watch out for and you can pick up his Fluid Ounce releases at Phonica…Gareth Watkins, one of our Mutant Pop residents, polished off the night and had us dancing bombastically to Chardronnet’s ‘Eve By Day’ and Tejada’s ‘The End of It All’, two tracks that I’ve recently been enthusing about on this here blog. The highlight of a strange evening, however, was Puffin’s impromptu MCing. I saw him lunge for the mic during ‘Eve By Day’ and thought, Christ, he’s drunk, what the fuck is he going to try…But then it came out, absurd and perfectly formed: ‘TECHNO,’ he said authoritatively. People whooped. When the monumental breakdown hit its stride, he added a ‘PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR IF YOU LURRRRVE TECHNO’ with imperceptibly mingled comedy and seriousness, summoning at once the spirit of a key-tar player in a 90s euro-house act and that of any decent, modern jungle toaster, and lo, people did put their hands in the air, and loved it. So. Techno MCing. Is that the future? Let’s hope, er, so. TECHNO.
Woke up on Saturday feeling like I had shit for blood, but managed to exhume Carnage from his bed-shaped grave and get us down to Havana, my old breakfast haunt, for one of their epic, 9+egg omelettes and a decent coffee. It was another glorious, sun-lashed day, so we headed down to Venn Festival HQ to get our press passes and survey the schedule. After some initial kerfuffle (‘Er…you’re not on the list.’ Always keep your confirmation e-mails with you, kids), our wristbands were fitted and we were taken up to a large attic room, where the radio station Venn FM broadcasts from for the festival’s short duration. Luckily enough, when we paid our visit it was Appleblim (pictured above), one of the fellas from the tremendous Skull Disco team, spinning – champion grotty dubstep sounds, for sure. After deciding there was virtually nothing we wanted to see at the festival, save for TAPE’s own (MC)Puffin Jack and Lazerboy, ‘shambolic’ (read crap) folkster Ariel Pink and Berlin electro-punk vixens Cobra Killer. People were understandably getting excited too about the performance from Basic Channel-affiliated Scion. There was no doubt in our mind that the climax of the evening would be the much-feted dubstep/techno night at Blue Mountain, which I’ll tell you about in good time.
Anyway, we twatted around for most of the day, walking inanely up and down the Gloucester Road in search of stimulation, drinking Orangina, getting high, melting, and imagining that the classically, comically, tall, gay-seeming, blonde-as-anything German tourists consulting their map across the road were in fact Scion. We received confirmation that the Great British Summer had found its foothold when we walked into the pub to catch the tail-end of the England vs Jamaica friendly to find that our boys had creamed ‘em 6-0, with national joke-cum robo-hero Peter Crouch having netted a hat-trick. Good times. We hung around to watch Lazerboy play, and though the place had emptied out as people went home to rearrange themselves for the evening and/or get the last of the sun’s rays, Lazers’ set was one of the best things I heard all day – highlights included an old Naum tune on Speicher, Lawrence’s ‘Ananda’ mix and that bumpin’ Adam Sky track released on Crosstown back in the early days. By this stage, we’d consumed four or five pints, but you know what the sun’s like, it gives you delusions of inexhaustibility and we dropped off to meet some friends at a sorely-missed pub, The Pipe and Slippers. After polishing off a splendid plate of bangers-n-mash (why am I telling you this?), I proceeded to polish off another three pints and a gin-and-tonic, not taking into account quite how drunk I was rapidly, and irrevocably getting. Always the way. By this point Carnage had lapsed into a stoned perma-silence, a silence uncured by my incessant, drunken badgering of him. Sorry Richard. I was providentially punished for my boorishness later, as you will see.
Ariel Pink’s performance had to rank among the worst things I’ve ever seen. A sizeable crowd, representing Bristol’s palsied middle-twenties indie-kids, with their polka dots and red shoes, had gathered to check out this handsome ruffian. But Jesus. It sounded horrific. In fairness, they were having problems with the sound, not helped by the rising heckles from the crowd. As well as the perfunctory ‘YOU’RE SHIT!’,when Pink’s keys player asked the sound guy if she could be turned up, a solitary, perfectly normal-looking bloke behind me shouted right back ‘FUCK OFF BITCH!’ Who actually says that? In public? But of course I laughed. Cobra Killer, it’s alleged, cancelled their gig and flew back to Berlin with their unwarranted money because their hotel wasn’t deemed satisfactory. Can you imagine? So it was left to Puffin Jack to fill the void of sound, and fill it he did, rocking Robotnick’s ‘Dark Side of The Spoon’ among other treats, while Carnage toked, I spilled drinks on myself, and Lazerboy took advantage of the booth’s elevated position by chucking plastic drink-cups on unsuspecting punters’ heads. Ah, delightful.
After enjoying a particularly satisfying joint, sat behind the boot of a parked car outside the club which would be playing imminent host to the dubstep festivities, I realized I’d left my sunglasses in the pub. I sprinted back, wheeling and flailing like only a man ten-pints-to-the-good can manage, and, happily, retrieved the shades. Flushed and crazed with relief, however, I fell prey to my own astronomical hubris as I peddled back to the club. Having decided that a strong E or two would restore my brain’s balance (as if it would), I decided to stop dead when I heard a wily black guy casually working the street. There are no excuses for what followed, save for the overarching one that I was outrageously pissed and could barely see. After negotiating a fair price for a few pills, I handed the money over BEFORE he gave me the drugs. He went round the corner, supposedly to get his stash (like a street-dealer ever has a stash) and I, drunk, unwieldy, stood there diligently for about thirty seconds before realizing that there was literally NO chance that matey would be coming back. Having spunked away twenty pounds on nothing, you’d think even a severely inebriated Soft would have the good grace to accept his losses, power back to the club and get on with having a good time. But no. No, no, no. Just as I swivelled ruefully and decided to head back, I was accosted by another, slightly less wily, black pusher. He was all, ‘Why the fuck you tryina buy shit off him? I TOLD you he’s a crook mate, why didn’t you listen?’ After getting chummy with me, in a way that only a truly drunk and skunked idiot would fail to see right through, he managed to convince me to get some beans off him. OK, I said. And what did I do? Exactly the same thing. Literally, I was NOT thinking. Just gave him a tenner, and waited while he went to get his ‘stash’. This time, about five revelatory seconds passed before I cursed myself and ambled defeatedly back to the club. Lessons, as if you didn’t know them already: 1. Never buy drugs off someone in the street. 2. If you do, get the drugs before you hand over the cash. 3. Never attempt a drug deal when you’re so drunk you LITERALLY don’t know your arse from your elbow.
Anyway, I finally found myself in Blue Mountain, a club I haven’t frequented since my first year at uni, when I used to make the exodus across town to catch people like Kool Keith and Mr Lif. London-based Bass Clef, formerly known as RLF (pictured above), who I’ve raved about on these pages before, absolutely KILLED it, with his live dubstep gubbins, brilliantly (and not even faintly embarrassingly) augmented by FX-ed up cowbell, theremin and, er, trombone. Seriously, it’s only a matter of time before this guy blows up; here’s a pair of his tracks for your delectation:
Bass Clef - Untitled (Strings) // CDR
Bass Clef - Silverlink // CDR
Bass Clef has a 12” coming out on Blank Tapes later in the year, followed by an album; we’ll let you know when it’s due to hit. Meanwhile, try Werk's Planet Grim compilation, which features his tune ‘Welcome to the Echo Chamber’, and check out his out his blog, where you’ll find mp3s of his own productions alongside other select musical booty.
Ralph (that’s Bass Clef’s real name; in true Bristol incestuous style he used to work at Imperial Records with Puffin) was set up by the ‘nicest man in dubstep’, Brizzurrrl kingpin Pinch, who slaughtered the mushrooming crowd with evil frequencies and killer snare patterns (As Sherburne opines in this month’s Critical Beats, dubstep indeed is all about the snares now). All these sounds have found mad favour in Bristol, a town which has always taken bass culture to heart: dubstep unites the jungle, downbeat and hard techno sounds which in themselves have always been insanely popular in the West Country, so it was no wonder that some of the gathered dancers, unitiated in what has until recently been a very London-centric sound, looked like all their Christmases had come at once.
Kode9, boss of Hyperdub, who put out the recent Burial LP which you’ve seen me wanking over this past month or two delivered a blinder, drawing on proper jungle and pitched-up techno sounds to give some dancefloor dynamics to the standard bass sludge. I tried to talk to Kode9 as I ordered myself a pair of tequilas at the bar (it’s amazing what you think’ll make you feel better when your four thousand sheets to the wind, eh?) but he looked at me pleasantly but fearfully, as if I was a crackhead stalker, so I contented myself with a nod and smile of appreciation. I have a lingering fear that I may also have patted his head, but let’s not even think about that…Dub-techno heroes Scion were also on form, and it almost goes without saying that they were indeed exactly those gay-seeming, tall, blond-as-anything German tourists we’d seen consulting their map earlier that day. By this point I had absolutely no idea what was going on, though, and I apologize for the fact that I can’t even begin to accurately critique what I was hearing post 1am. We left around 2.30am in search of Bristol’s fairly legendary all-nighter pub, The Star and Garter, but by that point I had reached the end of the line and thank God we all agreed to call it a day. For once, I was more fucked than Carnage and he managed to escort me home safely, though the sandwich I rabidly purchased from the Esso garage found its way onto the floor as soon I opened the packet. I remember, though I wish I didn’t, picking up the two halves of the sarnie and trying to isolate those bits which hadn’t made contact with the ground. Jeeeeesus. Not Sodom and Gomorrah, I’ll grant you, but I surrendered more dignity than I had to spare that day/night.
Rhythm & Sound - See Mi Version (Basic Reshape) // Burial Mix
Kode 9 - 'Babel' April Mix // CDR
It’s amazing that I didn’t just kill myself when I woke up, but I actually rose feeling fine, save for the unavoidable mental blankness. I hooked up with some old friends and, somewhat erroneously, chose to drink through the afternoon, by the end of which I realized I had twisted my ankle somehow the night before, and not noticed. Four days on and it’s still swollen beyond recognition, but it’s on the mend, and should be back in action if only to be twisted again in Spain next week. I rounded off the weekend by limping to see Battle, the sourly over-looked indie-rockers who eschew skinny-tie effeteness for the golden combo of genuine charisma and blokey non-appearance. There were fuck-all people there to see ‘em, but it was a solid performance, and I was pretty transfixed throughout. If my leg had been hurting less, I would probably have some more illuminating thoughts to share. Sorry.
I got back to Oxford on Tuesday, since when, apart from drinking, I’ve been nursing my ankle back to health, and lying on beautifully located lawns smoking myself into blissful oblivion. One thing which has been helping me along the way is this...
Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom - Relevee (DFA Remix) // DFA/EMI
It’s absolutely sublime, with that sumptuous New York-in-the-summer sound and nod to piano-house (I’m digging pianos so much these days), but I’m only going to keep it up for a day, otherwise I’ll have DFA/EMI threatening to kill my parents or something. Thanks to Ian T for hooking me up with it.
This is it, then, till I get back from Sonar. But I will, if I have time, do you my TAPE: TEN SUMMER SLAMMERS, mp3 booty of the highest order. So look out. And, of course, Carnage will be returning soon with a vengeance and an arsenal of good tunes, so keep checking back.
P.S. Now that I'm finally actually posting this, there are officially 0 days to go till the World Cup. Boom! I thought this day would never come...Enjoy the sun, enjoy the football and, above all else:
COME ON ENGLAND!