At first glance, the European trio Bader Motor may appear to be offering us nothing more than a very knowing take on Krautrock records, with their obvious quotes from Kraftwerk and Neu! LPs, and probably other Germanic references too. However, I’ll forgive any project which has Fred Bigot as a member, considering my fondness for his solo records where he mixes electronic noise with rockabilly in a highly enjoyable manner. not to mention the unusual Melt Famas record with its over-amped guitars and drums. Bader Motor are Bigot with Arnaud Maguet and Vincent Epplay – the latter played with Jac Berrocal and David Fenech – and the three have appeared together before on Musique Pour Les Plantes Des Dieux in 2009. This record, Drei drei drei (VEALS & GEEKS VAGO17 / LES DISQUES EN ROTIN REUNIS LDRR #056), not only has the clever Krautrock pastiches assembled by these French wags, but also offers their slightly sardonic version of electropop, disco, and general Euro-murk – the sort of banal aural wallpaper that might blight your continental tour at any point between the airport, the shopping mall and the cafe. This may be what the threesome have in mind when they speak of “a new class of space [rock] and Riviera Krautrock”. Riviera Krautrock?! What does that even mean? I can’t think of anything worse than experimental music recast as another consumer / lifestyle option for the “Riviera set”, those rich buffoons wearing expensive sunglasses and swimsuits, if indeed such a thing even exists any more outside of 1960s travelogue movies, but I’m prepared to believe Bader Motor are up to something vaguely subversive and sarcastic. As it turns out, this LP is an enjoyable listen with its edgy mix of user-friendly beats and melodic drones combined with odd, queasy noises, rough textures, and outpourings of filtered glorp. From 12th August 2016; available as an LP or download.
Finding much to enjoy on this 2016 reissue of the third Painkiller album Execution Ground (KR025) from 1994, appearing as a double vinyl LP from Karlrecords in Germany. The trio of John Zorn, Bill Laswell and Mick Harris make a crazed and maximal noise full of things we tend to like, such as manic sax screams, heavy bass, remorseless rhythms, and plenty of lush studio effects such as reverb and echo. It’s much to my chagrin that I never bought their records at the time, but I intend to make good and investigate Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets as soon as possible. The structure of the original release was to pile on the crazy rock-friendly rhythmic stuff on the first disc, and then reserve disc two for the “ambient” mixes. Even so the second disc is every bit as menacing as the first, and the listener lives in fear for their life for most of the duration of Execution Ground.
I see the track titles make reference to Balachaturdasi and Pashupatinath, both of which terms are associated with Hindu and Buddhist rituals, a nod in the direction of esoterica which I tend to attribute to Zorn, especially with some of his later Tzadik releases when there appeared to be no gnostic subject at which he wouldn’t have a tilt, or at least profess an interest. This strain is conspicuously absent from the first two Painkiller records, which came out on the Earache label (a home to extreme speed metal, most notoriously Mick Harris’ original band Napalm Death) and whose track titles wallowed in gore, death, and other tasty taboo subjects. On the other hand, the image on the labels of a hanged man surrounded by a mod in a grisly fog will more than compensate and put the listener in a suitably morbid frame of mind.
While I’m not the world’s most loyal fan of John Zorn’s music, I find his crazy squeals make a tremendous amount of sense in this context, the studio effects improve his sound, and there may even be some edits which demonstrate he wasn’t wedded to the conventional jazz idea of recording a solo in its entirety. It wasn’t too long before this that he made the Spy Vs Spy LP, which drew musical connections between extreme hardcore and the free jazz of Ornette Coleman; clearly a stepping stone on the way to working with Harris. Laswell is probably known to most readers of these lines, and his profligacy in recorded and performed music since the 1980s is – erm – remarkable; as one example of his genre-straddling capabilities, the press notes remind us of his Last Exit project with Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon Jackson. One of many melting-pots where improv, free jazz, rock noise and funk exchanged their sinewy vibes in a sweaty, punchy mix. The parallels with Painkiller are evident, and if you enjoy wild free-jazz skronks on top of ultra-heavy bass rhythms, this is indispensable listening.
That particular blend of sound, which we could reduce to the simple equation “rock noise with wild sax noise”, immediately made me think of Otomo’s Ground Zero. Both bands seem to have started about the same time, and the possibilities of cross-infection are interesting to speculate on, although Otomo’s band went much further down the road of layering in intense cut-ups and samples from pop culture, before the band imploded from sheer exhaustion. Also note that their Null & Void album came out on Tzadik in 1995. That same year, the year after Execution Ground came out, we had Techno Animal and the first Macro Dub Infection record, where Kevin Martin and his friends carved out a further niche down this road, laying more emphasis on the dub mixing technique, but not neglecting the fine juicy noise. I suppose Painkiller were one of the monumental milestones that opened up this route of musical experimentation. Very good. From 12th August 2016.
GERMANY RUN UNITED MUSIC RU18 2 x CD (2016)
As part of Heimatlieder aus Deutschland, an initiative funded to shed light on the ethnic and musical diversity of modern-day Germany, producer Gudrun Gut has been commissioned to set up symmetrical, speaker-friendly setlists of eight re-recorded ‘traditional folk’ songs for the magpie-minded Vogelmixe; going on to give each a rhythmic makeover into the bargain. While first impressions suggest this pan-global melange is more vapid-minded cocktail bar than boudoir, Gut’s choices are apparently as informed by history as by personal taste: each of the songs tracing its ancestry as far back as the 15th century to nations to have immigrated to Germany and which can thus be regarded as contributing to the country’s current ethnic identity. Each nation (Turkey, Cameroon, Morocco, Croatia, Cuba, Portugal, Transylvania and Bulgaria) is also represented in the pool of musicians to perform the ‘original’ songs; the streamlined format of which ensures that such ‘confusing diversity’ will in fact prove pleasing to listeners with and without a studied interest in the multi-coloured purview of the much-loved ‘world’ music label.
While this visible striving for authenticity might seem at odds with the remix disc’s aesthetic of electronic beats and textures and melodic extrapolations, it’s just as easy to reflect on the ‘cover tune’ simulacra nature of the pieces themselves. These aren’t preserved in amber, but subject to the prerogative of whomever happens to bring them into the present moment, though by all accounts a good deal of care went into sourcing musicians as part of ‘an extensive research and recruitment process’. The underlying theme of ‘unity’ putatively runs through all songs as expressions of a trans-continental ‘melting pot’, bringing dynamic equilibrium to which must have been a task for the compiler, but who better than the DJ to effect such a transfer?
One further motive of the remix treatment is to address the supposed lack of representation of traditional folk music in modern German electronic music. Qualifications regarding cultural appropriation aside, Gudrun’s remixes are both inventive and light of touch, making adroit use of dub, club and electro-pop motifs. Her poly-stylistic subtlety is not completely removed from that which made Honest Jon’s Shangaan Shake selection such an interesting event, though it does lack that collection’s the producer headcount advantage. Under Gudrun’s watch, generic 4/4 beats collide into thorough deconstructions, tightly-wound Thomas Brinkman-sized samples loop-based rhythms and an almost hymnal resonance that bleeds from the past into the present. While not every piece is likely to please every listener, it is nonetheless a tasteful arrangement that can be enjoyed from many a distance.
Last noted Gaap Kvlt with his 2014 record Void; here he is again on the same label with Jinn (ZOHARUM ZOHAR 123-2). Gaap Kvlt affects an air of mystery, so we don’t know if it’s just one person or a group, though they display a penchant for esoteric pseudo-ceremonial drone and solemn techno beats in line with other releases on this Polish label. Jinn is vaguely trying to make some statement about the “sun-baked Moroccan deserts”, and possibly referring obliquely to the writings of American ex-pat writer Paul Bowles, who lived in Tangier for most of his life. I confess to knowing little about the work of this writer, though I appreciate there’s an aura of cultishness about him and his works that attracts some; it may be his sheer isolatedness, the fact that he couldn’t really connect to modern life and lived in solitude.
Gaap Kvlt doesn’t make much of an effort to interpret or explain Bowles’ work, but that may not be the point of the record. Its maker or makers trade in deeply mysterious ambient drones and atmospheres, occasionally propelled by implacable processed drum beats; apparently much of the fabric was derived from field recordings made in North Africa. The cover design by Mirt does its best to capture the essence of a Moorish mosaic. The “Jinn” of the title meanwhile probably refers to a demon or spirit found in Arabian and Islam mythology, and the track titles refer occasionally to prayer and to death, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Content-wise, this is something of a pan-cultural stew, with shallow and non-specific allusions to matters which have not been well understood or digested. Musically, the record has its moments, but the unremittingly self-important tone becomes wearisome. From 4th July 2016.
Imaginary Forces last came our way in March 2016 with the unsettling and implied violence of Corner Crew, a record he made for the Sleep Codes label. With the Visitation EP (FANG BOMB FB026), we’re back on the shadowy ground which we know and love him for ever since his 2013 Begotten cassette for the same label, and here are four tracks of grim and slow avant-techno laced with diabolical repetitions, mercilessly loud and heavy bass thumps, and joyless beats that are intent on propelling the listener down a slow but sure slide into oblivion.
London player Anthoney Hart projects a low profile in his music and image, a strategy which I admire heartily, and every release seems to be an attempt to undermine our collective certainties, using stealth and invisible means…each beat is a hammer blow delivered with the surgical skill of a geologist prising loose a keystone from a pyramid of power…the temples of the Establishment are sure to topple, but not before our masked hero has long made good his escape under cover of night. The A side contains ‘Preternatural’ and ‘Enlightenment’, both hugely effective pulsation and throb experiences that can sap the vitality from a hundred civil servants in just ten minutes.
The B side includes the unusual ‘(A Drift)’, a version of a Closed Circuits track which is even more skeletal and bare-bones in its arrangement (if that’s conceivable), where the beat is unprocessed and raw, arriving like the knocking of a hammer on an empty wooden crate (or coffin). Chris Page intones a dark and defiant lyric in a resigned tone of world-weariness, while around him strange minimal electronic tones dart about like small birds.
To complete the package and its tone of strange despairing symbolism, we have the excellent cover art: a troubling image of a man with a head split in two, blood trickling down his nose, yet wearing an impassive and calmly accepting expression. His striped shirt and jacket might almost mark him out as a businessman or other enemy of society. The half-tone printing employed on this monochrome image adds to the weird mood; you certainly wouldn’t welcome a “visitation” from this menacing apparition with his grey, clay-like features. From 19 May 2016.
The front cover of Teilstück Für Totalen Schwung (90% WASSER WVINYL022) is stamped with the text “archive release #1”, which made me think this was a rescue job from the past history of electronic music brutalism. This crude electrosynth noise certainly has got that “1980s edge” everyone is banging on about these days. “Past history” is about 35% right, since though Teilstück is a new record, the creators Kein Zweiter have an interesting history that starts in 1989.
Apparently the duo Gort Klüth and Klaus-Helene Ramp managed to endure each other’s company for about four years, then broke up. Then they decided to reform in 1998. Oddly enough there’s no evidence of any records released in all that time, until Muskeln + Kraft = Überlegenheit appeared on this same label in 2006. This record made plain its preoccupation with muscle-building young men pumping up their sinews, and may even have certain undercurrents of homo-eroticism. After another ten-year sabbatical, we now get this little gem. I’ve always been keen on the sub-genre of “men shouting and chanting over synth noise and beats” in electronic music, and I suppose we’d have to kow-tow to D.A.F. (who clearly inspired this duo) as the past masters, or the creators of the template, even.
But Teilstück goes further down the route of teutonic ugliness, insisting on its own “muscularity” and pumped-up sweatiness with every step we venture inside the gymnasium of endurance. Disco dance music for confused robots, laced with elements of NDW hostility and flashes of modernistic 1990s dub noise in the weighty bass tones. All the entertaining “party animal” material is on side one, where the winning combination of basic drum machine beats, minimal synth attack and single-minded chanting is massively appealing, to say nothing of the coarse and grainy production…side two holds the weirder ideas, including the positively bizarre ‘Endstation Gürtel’ which is like an experimental dream-scape with its fractured construction, horrid voices, and unusual ambient tones. It also offers the epic ‘Der Wagenmann’, which at six minutes is like a Wagnerian opera rethought as disco music with pompous string sounds, jarring dynamics and arrangements, and its lapses into choral singing and wacky sound effects of a drunken sex party from the Middle Ages. Great!
Also of interest: if you buy the LP you get a DVD with a video called Eine Richtung – Eine Saat, made by Jürgen Eckloff of Column One; Anette Eckloff, another Column One member, is credited with the “concept” behind ‘Kreislauf’ on side one. From 25 May 2016.
Last noted Klara Lewis with her Ett LP for Editions Mego, a memorable black pulser of rigid electronica abstraction in an all-black cover. Her newie Too (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 210) is on the same label, and again arrives in a black cover this time adorned with a line drawing by Klara herself. A woman’s head is superimposed with another head (perhaps two heads, even) until the layers of drawing multiply the intense eyes glaring in deathly fashion at nothing much at all. Klara has been continuing to perform her audio-visual show (music and projections) for the last two years apparently, and has now formed an association with Simon Fisher Turner, who contributed to two of the tracks here.
In this work, I’m continuing to enjoy what I read as a slightly aloof stance, and there’s a vague sense of detachment that exudes itself through this immaculately-polished set of layered electronic music with processed field recordings. Klara Lewis seems to keep “meaning” at bay, through her one-word titles that refuse simple associations, and her music that somehow remains disguised and ambiguous as to its true intent, even if it risks turning into wallpaper. Occasionally, as one the title track and ‘View’, rhythmic pulsations drive the track along, or rather seem to propel it like an unseen underground river; she’s never a one to over-state anything, and disinclined to mix her “beats” to the forefront of this very abstract art music.
Then there’s the even more abstracted episodes, like the dream-like ‘Beaming’, a charming and mysterious piece with its incredibly subdued tones punctuated with a mix of radio signals, distorted voices, and mixed field recordings. On paper that sounds like an uninspiring technical exercise, but ‘Beaming’ is a charming view through the fourth-dimensional mirror into another world, surreal, occluded, amazing details barely glimpsed. From 25 May 2016.
The album Rhthm (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono083) by Polish combo T’ien Lai is a highly diverse set of music, where the duo of Łukasz Jędrzejczak and Kuba Ziolek attempt many styles, many modes and many methods to realise their ambitions. They certainly aren’t short of ideas for what direction to take next, and there’s a large collection of tools in their box of instruments and synthesizers. There’s the systems-y pseudo-composed ‘W D’, a half-hearted attempt to “do” Terry Riley. There’s ‘Piknik Nad Rzeka Ma’, whose beats and sampled speaking voice derived from a French girl barking out an obscure text seems to have warped over here from around 1985. ‘SMZS II’ is pure Kraftwerk-influenced sequencer malarkey. But the evil robotic-march vibes of ‘Monotronik’ (where they are joined by the percussionist Rafal Kolacki from HATI and cymbal player Mikołaj Zieliński) are effective, and may reflect the fact that at time of writing T’ien Lai now consider themselves a quartet. I also enjoyed the short but chaotic ‘FX6’ which opens the album with a beautiful and illogical firework of noise.
The rest of the set shows them veering around – beats, ambient, melodic tunes…anything they can do to “experiment” with instruments, computers, and the studio, yet there’s always this lazy back-pedalling into conventional sounds and arrangements which blunts the “alternative” edge they wish to project. No denying the instrumental skills of this pair, nor the impressive assurance with which they set about their tasks, and the textural density of these outputs is evidence of much hard labour by Kuba Ziolek at the mixing and production end. Rhthm just feels like they’re trying to say too much in a short space.
This is their second album for the label; their more intriguing and esoteric Da’at was noted by Pescott, and the pair have a declared interest in Jewish mysticism. The release is packaged in a triple-gatefold digipak with a restrained geometric device on the front, and a garish psychedelic collage visual horror on the inside. Plus there’s a Herbert Marcuse quotation printed on the inside. From 21 June 2016.
Last heard from Sturqen in 2012 with their Praga album for Kvitnu, the label that loves all things heavy and dense…the Portuguese duo of Cesar Rodrigues and David Arantes have been active since 2008 and continue to carve their own furrow in the swirling world of dark techno-mechanical blackness. Their Cura (KVITNU 45) shows they are still preoccupied with machines and their work remains themed on the idea of industrial mayhem, described here as a “journey through grimy machines”…consequently, a black and airless world is what they create, with remorseless hammering drum beats sucking up the air and the only relief to our plight is offered by electronic devices and synths occasionally treated to resemble the howl of an electric guitar.
Cura is also a “concept album” of sorts; the title means “cure” in English and an enclosed note muses on the idea of what modern medicine can really offer us by way of effective treatment, perhaps thinking of such aggressive techniques as chemo-therapy to cure cancer. Sturqen propose a radical alternative to mainstream medicine with their music, calling it a “negation of the negation that suppressed that which is strange to a healthy system”, and offer the album to the world as “an act of healthy violence”. Presumably this is all a metaphor. I don’t think they seriously intend Cura to be played henceforth in hospitals everywhere over the PA system, thus causing ill patients to leap from their beds instantly, but their argument has not been fully thought through. It seems simply to be a rather solemn and over-elaborate way of saying “take it or leave it” when you hear their music.
This aside, there is a lot to enjoy on Cura, and I like the stern and unblinking qualities the pair are capable of unleashing, even though their sounds are not quite as dark and violent as they evidently seem to think. From 8th June 2016.
Blast (or B.L.A.S.T.) are a French four-piece of contemporary jazzers led by the trumpeter Pierre Millet, who also composed all the music on Derrière Le Manège (PETIT LABEL PL051); I’m a trifle surprised Millet hasn’t shown up on the screen before now, given his sizeable output – he’s in at least three other combos beside this one, namely Hand Five, Renza Bô, and S’il Te Plaît Madame. He’s been releasing records on Petit Label since 2008, and also seems to have a foot in the hip-hop camp if his work on the B. Boyz EP is any benchmark of the situation. Joined here by J.B. Julien with his Fender Rhodes electric piano, the bassist Antoine Simoni and wild-card / secret weapon Pierre Troel who is credited with “MPC”, they turn in six entertaining cuts heavy on the dance-floor beats, the Fender Rhodes riffing on tasty chords, the weird electronic sounds, and the echoplexed trumpet, all the while doodling their easy-listening slow-groove charmers in languid style. This normally wouldn’t appeal to me at all and if feeling unkind I’d lump it in with some of the clunkers we’ve received from the French label Circum-Disc (particularly the mediocre Flu(o)), but there’s a sense of fun lurking between the beats that adds warmth, and makes me feel I can trust these Blasty Garcons. Some of these oddball vocal interjections and electronic smart-bombs might be coming from Pierre Troel, who as Fulgeance and Peter Digital Orchestra has created a minor stir around Ile-De-France with his DJ antics. While B.L.A.S.T. are sometimes a tad too smooth and facile, and have a propensity for tasteful music that might become tiresome, the album still has enough mood-changes and tricky surprises to make this an enjoyable and entertaining spin. From 18 April 2016.