Burn like a healing hand

What better day than this to sink into Andrew Liles’ slightly odd obsession with the Sisters Of Mercy? Looping and stringing out the choir from the start of ‘This Corrosion’ gloriously. Sadly it appears his full length instrumental electronic rereading of their debut as ‘First Monster Last Monster Always Monster’ seems to have dropped off his bandcamp page which is a pity. There’s a whole world of weird monster fixated stuff there if you want it. Here’s a youtube clip of his run at ‘Black Planet’ and the official ‘This Corrosion’ clip in its full swaggering preposterous glory because well, as ridiculous and overwrought as it clearly is – it’s also kind of irresistibly great. It’s the just the most… something thing. Somehow coolly detached and shamelessly histrionic at the same time. Happy hallowe’en.

SISTERS_LILES

 

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supernormal 2017

‘Pink twine binds the urinal bales’

What words can you find to contain Supernormal? As this year’s amazing festival recedes into the past a near constant stream of photo sets, reviews and youtube clips (here’s a great one) reveal incredible experiences that seem to only slightly overlap with mine or each other. It begins with the gazebo police, has stage diving children, a solstice’s worth of semi-naked cathartic rituals and culminates in a drunken Godzilla Vs Rodan brawl outside the bar. For such a small scale festival they sure pack in a lot more than you can ever hope to see. How to make something coherent of a pocketful of disjointed impressions. With glue? Here instead is a list of thoughts about bands I saw . . .

Friday – In a turn of events so inevitable we may as well start referring to it as a tradition I miss the opening band, the aptly named Not Sorry. So the first band I catch is No Form, who are led by an angry young chap, bordering on the furious. The band behind him make a fittingly ill tempered and formless racket, storms of noise and belligerence billow from the stage in the scorching sunshine. They are wonderfully at odds with the prevailing mood of relaxed and convivial expectation, conjuring the dark simmer of a crowded bus, stuck in traffic in filthy weather. “hi, everybody!”

The first performance I’m really looking forward to is R.E.E.L. in the cosy but spectacular AV space ‘The Vortex’. Putting the ‘group’ into supergroup R.E.E.L. are a boyband of veteran/inveterate electronic psych knob twiddlers bringing their experience to bear on some improvised soundscapes. Or they will be shortly, Matt Saunders (Magnetophone/Assembled Minds) and Farmer Glitch (pHarmerz, Hacker Farm) are struggling to get their lorry load of kit up and running while Saxon Roach (IX Tab) gloats in the shadows having successfully opened and plugged in his laptop. This gives the impression he’s just responsible for the visuals, and he is, but I’m later assured he was behind the vocal samples and various other stuff too. I guess we might call it hauntology, a lot of the signifiers are there (and later they’ll reprise last year’s SuperParanormal search for sound spirits in the woods) but improvisation is very much in the moment, while hauntology hides in the shadows of unreliable memory. Does it matter? “thank you for coming”. They layer up textures and sounds, it’s warm and inviting without ever being too comfortable.

For what it’s worth Howlround is definitely hauntology, building up drones using the chunky old reel to reel tape machines the English department used to put radio plays on at school when they fancied spending half the lesson smoking in the staff room. The ‘radio ham tinkering in his shed’ vibes are strong. Almost as much installation as performance he stakes a claim to the middle of the floor with a couple of poles supporting wildy extended tape loops running back to a reel to reel on stage. Atmospheric wooziness fills the space. While we’re all stood watching the tape go round and around it’s a curiously static experience. (yeah, I know).

Closing out Friday on the main stage, international headliners Wolf Eyes dick about underwhelming us and trying to get in the mood. Someone steps up and hands them a bottle. A confused “What the fuck’s Buckfast?” is met with a cheer by the crowd. Without doubt the rest of their set is much improved for the refreshments. I also find that imagining them as a wasted country band in a desolate bar in the middle of nowhere helps make the experience more entertaining. They’re more fun than last time I saw them anyway. Buckfast makes things better. At least for a little while. The evening ends with one of the Cosmic Dead splitting the crowd with a DJ set of near unparalleled awfulness – the drunker, more care free among us are in the bar shaking it to ‘Ebeneezer Goode’, Darude, and worse, meanwhile out on the hay bales there’s more than considerable discontent and threats of actual violence towards his person, which doesn’t seem the spirit at all.

Saturday

The clearly shifting moods of the rain gods are stirring a tangible panic amongst the townsfolk. I take shelter in the bar where an unprepossessing guy is steadily working through a list of unrealised ideas for the festival. It starts a bit monotone Partridge but builds in eccentricity and interest via printer orchestras and cold calling choirs to dying fly techno to become one of the best things all weekend, he ends by playing 40 types of birdsong at once. No one wants to follow him so he encores the birdsong causing PJ from Bad Guys to headbang so enthusiastically he almost falls over. Beat that.

The band with the girl in the pink wig turn out not to be Tirikilatops, who I missed due to the rain, but The Wargs. They play a sweet and charming indie pop elevated by softly swooning pedal steel becoming the first band this weekend to play any actual songs. Their set is interrupted by a downpour but by that point they’ve charmed us enough that we seek shelter and cheer extra loud to cover the distance to the stage. Keeping things on the fuzzily familiar nostalgia tip St Deluxe are basically a baby Teenage Fanclub. The Fannies’ ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ turned 20 last week apparently so I gave it a spin. Great songs and lovely harmonies but it marked the death, or at least middle age, of the band I’d loved. St Deluxe are much more like that earlier version of the band, the one open to experiments and blasts of hardcore riffing, who took three attempts to start a song, more in love with Dinosaur Jr than The Byrds, that band. How charming you find another bunch of young scots doing that kind of thing now probably depends on how much you loved it then or being too young to remember. They kill an amp and finish with a wonderfully ragged version of the Modern Lovers’ ‘She Cracked’. Back in the bar Lord Of Lords feature Jason Stoll off of out of all the bands and play a kind of meditative drone jazz. Could go either way this sort of thing (and perhaps sometimes does) but as their name suggests they are on the righteous path.

Not all experiments work out of course. This year the reusable cups are black. Very goth, very metal. Also great for attracting heat and wasps to your cold and delicious beverage. If only wasps were delicious. In the heady, sometimes bewildering, cultural onslaught of something like Supernormal you try to stay open minded don’t you? To be reasonable and such. But some people just aren’t having it. Evil Usses appear to have a ladybird book of annoying stuff bands could do that they’re working through with giddy vigour. Hideous jerky time signatures and awful synth and guitar sounds abound. I think it’s safe to say that some of them listen to too much Zappa. It’s not for me then.

Gee Driver, Bruxa Maria

In the bar, Beards are a welcome relief and surprise. I’d almost call them ‘fun’ but I know some of us fear and mistrust the f-word. They’re exhilarating and bright and hectic in an abstract early 80’s kind of way. Putting the fun in the post-punk funk, if you will.

Now then, Bruxa Maria arrive full force and very definitely elevate the intensity of things a notch or two. As a special Supernormal two fer one deal they’ve got both Matt Cargill and Mark Dicker twistin’ the knobs of dirty electronic rage. It’s fierce and brilliant. And SO loud. Bruxa have managed to come up with a unique take on the familiar hardcore/metal/noise rock blend that has both a reassuring ‘rightness’ about it but still has room for surprises. My God! they absolutely killed it.

As you may have heard, Big Lad have recently changed their name from the more troublesome Shit Wife. You’d probably be surprised at just how much amusement can be got from rearranging those four words by a bunch of drunk idiots in a field. They bleep and clatter at a ferocious pace. Their set is an exhilarating, party starting joy spasm, a roar of pounding rhythm and giddily spiralling electronics. Whatever, they’re upstaged completely by the first appearance of the crowd surfing kids who’ve become a rare constant in reports of the weekend.

Big Lad whacks drums

Of course it has, the sight of kids being carried aloft by the crowd to the sound of Big Lad‘s demented battery captures everything that is special about this festival in a perfect moment. But they’ll be back.

My only succesful trip over to the barn to see anyone play this year is to catch Joanne Robertson who plays in near total darkness lit only by a table lamp at her feet. It perfectly focusses our hushed attention on her delicate vocals floating over her gentle guitar. She sighs and strums and breathes out mysteries, the songs dissolve on your tongue. It’s like a dream, like going to watch a ghost perform, extraordinary.

There had been some on specific excitement about the appearance of Jaxson Payne going into the festival, I can’t recall where from now, but I find myself a little underwhelmed. He’s impressive to watch if you’re aware that it’s all live as he nimbly summons sounds from his MIDI kit, no backing tracks or loops just good old fashioned real time electronic cunning. But technical prowess and modified gear are one thing, the result is another and if you’re sat further up the hill paying less than thoroughgoing attention well, it sort of sounds like an old trip hop record more than a dazzling high wire run towards the future. As Saturday night festival headliners go, you know going in that Bong are not going to bring the non stop party jams. Not even if the magic Buckfast fairy returns. Which is a shame, we could all do with a little headbanging or butt shaking on a Saturday night. They come out and play their chord. It’s a good chord, it deserves 40 minutes. I’m sure it’s not as easy as you think to play it for that long either. If you can sink into it, dissolve your ego and become one with the universal mind and so on then what they do is pretty cool. I’m drifting in and out though. Has the drummer fallen asleep on his snare? They’re joined this evening by Bridgit Hayden who brings an extra layer to things. It grinds on. And then it stops.

 

Sunday

Manchester’s three horsemen of the apocalyse Aggressive Perfector are named after an obscure-ish Slayer song and their E.P. is called ‘Satan’s Heavy Metal’ and if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know then you’re probably one of the more puzzled folks standing amongst the otherwise grinning crowd. They seem aware of the essential stupidity of their venture but never stoop to playing it for laughs. A time capsule of a band, worshipping at the feet of the big four and taking us back to a time before the kind of drone/doom epic weight of last night’s Bong set arrived. Wonderfully they have a song that starts with the ‘Be My Baby’ beat, the guitarist even throwing in the first line with a grin.

Giddy with our thrash metal kickstart we retire to the bar where I’m reminded of my dear old uncle testily exclaiming “I can’t watch a man play a desk”. Left Hand Cuts Off The Right is a bunch of droning hauntology table top tinkering in the now familiar fashion. Amongst other little treats he appears to assault a small stringed instrument of traditional provenance with a battery powered cappucino whisk. If that’s not a strident metaphor for our broken culture then I’m possibly sleep deprived and still too sober.

Hooray for Death Pedals! No nonsense, double down stroke riffing in a Quo via hardcore vein and perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon. It’s something of a worn old truism that any decent band has a good drummer and with bands of this propulsive, breakneck ilk I often miss just how good until I catch them live. So it proves again today, nothing flashy but the man’s a beast. Had I remembered to protect my overheating brains with a sun hat I’d be tipping it with vigour. Meanwhile, as if to throw doubt on my drum musings, bass lad Wayne is sporting a Metallica T shirt with mischievous glee. It’s the band shot off the back of ‘Load’ too. I liked ‘Load’ actually, even the ridiculous country song, what about it? They don’t sound like Metallica, they sound like Hot Snakes even throwing in a cover of ‘Plenty For All’ to help you out. If you don’t have any Hot Snakes handy you can safely substitute some over-caffeinated Mudhoney for similar results. They’re less chaotically overexcitable in person than I expected, more wryly amused and relaxed but they’re still great.

I was really looking forward to seeing Cattle and they do not let me down, coming out the gate raging from the get go. With two drummers and no guitarist it’s percussive, bass heavy, noise rock. There’s electronics and even some surprisingly tuneful sax in there too. It has that perversely cleansing feel that huge waves of filthy distorted sound sometimes do, odd bits of Palehorse, No Means No or even Killing Joke pop up but they’re really getting into their own grimy, shouty, noise groove. About half way in there’s a pause in the screaming rage and the singer makes a sweet little speech about how moved he was to see the kids crowdsurfing to Big Lad yesterday. No sooner has he said this than dangerously drunk and unfit adults are once again trying to keep a procession of flying children from faceplanting. It’s wonderful.

We recover from all this excitement by starting a lengthy queue outside the Vortex to wait for UKAEA which is a new-ish project from Dan (Guncleaner, Sly & The Family Drone). At this point I am, for whatever reason, expecting Dan and Cargill to face each other on stage and make a bunch of abstract electronic squiggles for our entertainment/confusement. I am much mistaken about this. When we’re finally allowed in they and a range of accomplices are gathered in various states of undress and caked in clay body paint and straw. They have bowls of this at the front with which to annoint anyone foolhardy enough to join in. There are queasy, swirling drones and the folk horror/wicker man vibes are strong. I guess we’re in for something much more theatrical. The visual/ritual aspect is so arresting you only gradually become aware of Dan, over in the corner, slowly and masterfully building an absolutely mind blowing set of live hardware techno. It’s completely banging, an outstanding set. 

 

Probably the biggest and almost certainly the longest running name on the bill Zoviet*France are nonetheless still a very fringe concern. You can’t really be sure what you’ll get but they bring a subtle and assured half hour or so of textured industrial ambience. It’s absolutely lovely and yet I can’t quite relax into it, my fidgety brain still half expecting a lopsided clanking rhythm to pick up at any moment and take us somewhere else. I’m away back to The Vortex for more body paint and ritual catharsis. What everyone will tell you about AJA is she rolls about on the floor in her pants screaming, which is true but, inevitably, far from the whole truth. Firstly, there are the layered looping vocals and the huge wonky distorted beats, and the noise. It’s a lurid, visceral sound that’s almost as much of a physical presence as she is. After all, she’s tiny and she’s on the floor over there somewhere in the middle of the crowd. Most of the time you can’t see her but you can hear her scream. There’s costume and face paint and so on and it’s very much a performance in that sense but getting down into the crowd for a lot of it has the effect of making it a shared catharsis rather than just a spectacle. It’s clear by the end that she gets a lot out of doing it and is delighted and moved by the incredibly positive response – she later tells a friend around the fire that she often plays to small crowds who have no idea how to respond.

The final set comes from Container, a perfect way to close out the weekend I would have thought. A slender, studious looking chap in a tasteful jumper tinkers with a laptop, a drum machine and a four track to produce glorious rough hewn lumps of noise techno. What more do you want? I’m pretty delighted with it but there are mutterings from others which I think are along the lines of expecting a techno DJ set that gradually builds in intensity and has a bit more variety or something. Picky. My mate Dave stage dives because it’s so good. I’m with him on this. Whole thing and many more besides are still slowly being uploaded by the good people of IMPA TV . . .

Lastly, when you think it’s been as brilliant as it possibly can a Godzilla costume appears and pitched battles begin in the hay bales outside the bar. Then there’s Rodan too. Does it get any better than that?

It does not.

. . . and Finally (Supersonic video clips and such)

Supersonic Festival are throwing a little thank you party tonight down in Digbeth, putting this year’s hugely successful festival to bed with a few light refreshments and some dancing. After a year away not only did this year see a bigger, better, fuller programme than it has for the last few but the organisers Capsule have since succeeded in their application to the Arts council’s National Portfolio which essentially secures funding for the next four years. We’ll drink heavily to that. Up top here is a pretty good clip of the Oxbow Choir, partly obscured but sounding incredible – Niko Wenner himself has confirmed there are high quality recordings of this one off performance that may eventually see the light, so that’s something to look forward to. For contrast here also a clip of technology failing dismally to capture the full bore onslaught of Nic Bullen‘s ‘Universal Detention Centre’ performance. There wasn’t a lot to see to be fair although Bullen is mostly obscured by a pillar in the clip. You could even argue there wasn’t that much to hear either, cetainly that translates to phone clips through laptop speakers anyway, it was more a manifestion of sound as a suffocating physical presence. Although that makes it sound a lot less enjoyable than it was. John Matthews, the guy who made both of these videos, has a bunch more on his youtube channel, generally at the better quality end and including a lot of acts I missed on the weekend that I’m slowly catching up on, I suggest you do the same. As far as ‘Universal Detention Centre’ I’m not sure there’s any plan to do anything further with it, Bullen has said he’s retiring this type of performance for a while concentrating more on his gentler electro-acousmatic stuff (And I guess, caveman hate rock combo Rainbow Grave) so this may be your only chance to get an idea of it. Turn it up to 11 and press the speaker against your abdomen or something.

Possibly we can assuage that loss and the unfortunate cancellation due to injury of Art Of Burning Water with their own ‘All Obedient Beasts Worship’. Which takes the loosely similar approach of building a set of noise jams out of samples of their band recordings. It’s free to download and scare the neighbours with. As it’s AOBW there’s at least one great title, this time ‘Feed Me With Your Hiss’. They’ve not put out a lot of information about what happened at Supersonic but happily it seems Grief is now on the mend and although they’ve had to cancel the next few shows, that he’ll recover from his injuries and return to making a racket. Pint?

Oh, also, if you went and haven’t done their little survey about it then you should go do that, only take a few minutes, share your love and so on – click on the cute little sausage doggie here . . .

Expressway To Woven Skull

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l-r: Willie, Natalia, Aonghus. Image by Colum O’Dwyer

 

This is the full version of an interview with Natalia Beylis from Woven Skull, conducted by email ahead of their Gateshead show in July.  I first saw Woven Skull at Supersonic Festival in 2015 and they were a highlight in a weekend full of them, leaving me stunned and mumbling to anyone who’d listen about ‘if Godspeed were a folk band’ (not an accurate description, as we’ll see later). Since then, they’ve become regulars at all the right festivals, never failing to utterly captivate the audience, and released a barrage of essential releases through various sources. I must have seen them ten times in the intervening years and drunk with them a few times too. I kicked off the interview with Natalia by asking her to tell me a little about the band’s origins. 

So firstly, can you tell me a bit about how Woven Skull came together. I know you and Willie met in the States, but how did a Ukrainian lass end up living in the middle of Ireland?

Soon after I was born my parents decided to hit the high road. We snaked through Europe, spent a few months living outside of Rome and eventually ended up in Baltimore which is where all of my memories begin. There must be a roamer’s strand on my DNA because I could never fully stay put. I met Willie [Stewart, drum and percussion] when I was living in Pittsburgh and he was on tour with his old band Bambi. A few months later, I followed him back to his hometown of Dublin. As the officer at Dublin Airport Passport Control said to me the other day “Whatever possessed you to shack up with an Irishman?” I have no real answer. Maybe he dosed me with a spell? Eventually we moved into a big warehouse space in the city. It attracted all sorts of everyone. Aonghus [McEvoy, guitar] lived with his parents up the road and used to come over with two of his friends nearly every day. They didn’t drink at the time and would just silently sit there on the couch. Sometimes they would play hackeysack. There’s a lot that drew the three of us together musically. We were all always at punk gigs. We all like Crass. We all like Smegma. Once Aonghus left the dry life behind we all found we had a common love of partying as well. Eventually the guy who owned the warehouse realized Willie and I were living there and it wasn’t just the artist studios we’d claimed it to be. We’d got so used to somewhere cheap with plenty of space that it was hard to adjust back to a cramped expensive city house. So we headed out to where there was no one to bother with all our noisemakings.”

Was there a set idea of what the band was going to be or was it much more informal than that?

The beginnings of what morphed into Woven Skull were sparse, with me writing monophonic tunes on a little bowlback mandolin, leaving expanses of space for whatever would eventually come to fill itself in. My friend Ivan Pawle was the first one I tried playing these lines of music with: Ivan on hurdy-gurdy and Willie accentuating the most skeletal of all rhythms on a frame drum. Ivan was soon called away to dig up bones so we brought Aonghus into the fold and that’s when the spaces began to swell. We were in no hurry to cement the sound of the band. We still aren’t. I reckon it will keep morphing alongside us as we go. The only thing that remains constant is that there are us three at the core. Beyond that we’re always getting stirred from playing and recording with a bunch of inspiring musicians.

Woven Skull

There’s quite a contrast between Woven Skull live and many of the releases. I believe the idea with Lair Of The Glowing Bantling was to capture something like the live incarnation (or as it was at that time) but there’s a lot more field recordings, abstract collisions, concrète elements, soundscapes and things with the tapes. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Since Willie and I live about two hours from Aonghus, we rarely have short band practices, preferring instead to get together over a few days. This gives us plenty of time to create sounds outside of those we set aside for our live gigs. We’ve played together for so long that I feel completely at ease trying any ideas out with Willie and Aonghus. Sometimes they look at me like I’ve grown arms out of my eyeballs but I never feel judged and without that rush of having a restricted time in a practice room, we can give any notion a try. Thankfully though, there’s enough honesty between us to admit when it’s going woefully wrong. When it’s going right, we record it. Our practice room is awash in noise making possibilities: bundles of seashells, a pump organ, disintegrating kids toys. They get added in, and a lot of what we end up with is delicate and abstract or calls for the kind of listening atmosphere that we aren’t trying to create with our live set. Live, I just wanna swaddle the space with everything we can push at it. The Bantling LP is the first one that we recorded with an engineer in a studio and it was an attempt to capture the songs and atmosphere of our stage performance. I think we nearly got there though it’s still got a delicacy over our live sound. Our other recordings give more of an insight into the space in which our sounds are created, into the sounds that are going on around us while we’re recording and into snippets of our writing process.

Thinking about the live band again, you’ve had various comparisons (including from me) of being like an acoustic / folk take on Velvet Underground or even Godspeed You! Black Emperor, that same sustained intensity. Do you think of the band as being at least partly rooted in folk, and what else comes into play in terms of the sound? You’re all clearly immersed in a wealth of experimental and esoteric music.

For me two things come to mind when I hear the term ‘folk music’; the first is the traditional music of a specific group of people from a specific place and the second is the music that’s evolved from the Irish, US & UK folk traditions. We fit neither of those definitions. Someone did once describe us as creating self-imagined folk music. I kinda like that idea; that we’ve invented our own country and written the traditional music for it. But we are not a folk band and we are not rooted in folk. People who come to us with that expectation with inevitably be in for an unexpected surprise; pleasant or disappointing. We’ve never played acoustically live. Even though I play an acoustic mandola and various members join us on violas, violins and cellos, everyone is amped up, often running through pedals and FXs. There’s a lot of pushing the limitations of what is conventionally done with the instruments and how loud and nasty acoustic instruments can go in a live setting.

 

Tell me a little bit about the scene / community at home – I know you’re fairly near David Colohan [Raising Holy Sparks / United Bible Studies] for example, but I have this mental image of a busy scene of drunken improvising and collaboration?

Willie and I live in the least populated county in Ireland. It’s generally very, very quiet and I often find myself communicating with the sounds of four legged & winged creatures more so than two legged ones. David is our closest musical pal living about 45 minutes away. The elusive Fuzzy Hell is about an hour away. In terms of musicians I collaborate with, those are the only ones around. There is however a fine group of general creative misfits (architects, poets, woodturners) that regularly come out to gigs at our house. Plus tons of visitors pass through. People are always up for getting out of the city to wreck some sound havoc for the weekend. That’s often when the drunken improvisation kicks in.

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David Colohan

There’s a sense of the importance of place – and time – that comes through really strongly in your music both in Woven Skull and your own work [Natalia has recorded in various incarnations, often for her own Sofia label], of things being in the moment and the location being part of the experience. Can you tell me something about that?

I had a little black cat named Pussolini (Puss Puss) (RIP). He was always trying to get something across through his ceaseless meowing. It got to the point where I wouldn’t really notice it in the present. But I’d be editing back through recordings and there’d be the Puss Puss meow: at the end of a Woven Skull track, in the midst of a field recording of the gurgling of the bathtub sink, providing vocal accompaniment to piano tracks. I like when the place sneaks itself into recordings. Audibly sterile environments make me antsy.

 

Whilst I know you’re all a bunch of drunkards and tearaways, and I’m including David in this, there’s nonetheless a vibe I get around you that I would hesitate to refer to in terms of spirituality or anything – I have no idea if any of you have any religious impulse, although Aonghus probably has a GG Allin shrine – but there is something that feels ‘other’ in some way. Maybe it’s just coming across a group of people who are working towards something so creative and powerful, I dunno. I now realise it would have been better to ask this question over a bottle of rum at Supersonic than by email but fuck it. Do you have ANY sense of what I’m getting at?!

This question made me realise that I don’t personally have a working definition of spirituality so I asked Willie how he would define it:

“Being able to put yourself in a atmosphere or headspace where you feel comfortable, confident and at ease. That could be falling into a trance while listening to music or walking through the woods.”

Through his definition, I can safely say that David spends a lot of time in the woods and Willie spends a lot of time walking the boreens around our house. Maybe that’s how they find this sense of ease?

I was at a Sufi gig recently and there was one Sufi fellow that was doing a particular dance, he was rocking back and forth and had one finger pointed up to the sky rhythmically ticking along to the beat. I realized it was, to a tee, the same dance a friend of mine used to do at punk gigs years back. There were two other Sufi lads grooving along in a way that were you to pull them out of the audience and drop them into the middle of a Sleep gig and they would have looked right at home. Would they have even noticed? It got me thinking of that film Rock My Religion by Dan Graham which intersplices footage of people dancing at 80s hardcore gigs with Shakers ecstatic trance dancing. Hmmm……where am I going with all this?… it’s all the one I guess. Whatever gets you to that place of ease without imposing yourself upon others along the way.

But you know, No Gods No Masters at the end of the day.

I know you and Willie have a BIG thing for Moroccan / North African music: how did that come about, what is it about that music that grabs you and do you think it feeds into the band? 

Every time Willie and I visit Morocco there’s just always live music everywhere: in the squares, floating above the rooftops, creeping down the alleyways. We both initially got into Moroccan music through listening to the Master Musicians of Joujouka and it’s their sound that drew us to travel there. It’s a different experience to listen to music in the place where it is written. When we got to Morocco we were inundated with Berber, Gnoua, Sufi & Chaabi music. Tapes are super cheap down there so it was easy to start coming home with recordings from all across Morocco and North Africa and slowly sorting through the sounds back at home. With Willie being a drummer I guess there’s that draw for him to North and West African rhythms. But we’re both into music from all over the lands. Eventually we’ll start making our way down and across to other places too. [Willie has a fanzine looking at his love for Moroccan music available here]

We don’t consciously feed anything into the music we write. But all the sounds I’m hearing must be mixing in their somewhere. That’s just the way it works.

N & W

Natalia & Willie DJing at Supersonic Festival 2017

 

Back to a more mundane question: you’re touring England in July, are you doing it all with $un $keletons or just Gateshead? And do you have a release / releases coming out to accompany it? If so, what?

We’re doing four shows with $un $keletons: Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Todmorden plus we’re doing an afternoon generator gig about 15 minutes south of Gateshead. It’s in a very secret location. Can you guess where it is?! There will be more info closer to the time on all the usual channels.

Woven Skull have two releases coming out for this tour. A 10-inch on Lancashire & Somerset Records which is us playing with Jorge Boehringer and Eleanor Cully. It’s noisy and free form and we let Willie use a full drum kit for it. We’ve also got a tape coming out on Cruel Nature (His Cattle Are Pets And He Goes With The Moon) which has a photo of me, my brother and my granny on the cover. It’s a more delicate and possibly more formidable release.

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The other new thing we’ll have with us on this tour is a viola player named Ailbhe! This is very exciting. She’s a shredder. Get ready.

And what next, after the tour? Any other releases or big plans we should know about?

We’re at the final mixes of a new LP. So after tour we’ll be looking for a label to take that on and we’ll be planning some big tours around it’s release. Also we’ve got a split 7 inch coming out on God Unknown Records this autumn. It’s got Thor & Friends on the other side. Plus we’re all always working away on material from solo stuff and our other bands and there’s some of that stuff coming out soon.
Thanks, Natalia

Natalia

Natalia being a minstrel at Sin Eater Festival 2016

Woven Skull play Gateshead Old Police House on July 21st alongside $un $keletons, Wreaths and Luna Del Cazador

https://wovenskull.bandcamp.com/

 

 

Compositions For The Young & Old : Supersonic Sunday

“Supersonic, are you ready to Rock?” Yes bab, yes we are. The atmosphere in Boxxed for today’s first set is pretty electric. Local youngsters HAQ123 are playing their first gig to a pretty full and expectant room. They’re so young two of the band are still at primary school. People have brought their own youngsters down to the show and Supersonic’s generally warm sense of communality has tweaked up a notch or two. They’ve an elderly bass player as well but it’s clearly a classic case of ‘in the band ‘cos they’ve got a van’. They’re brilliant. ‘Sabbath super charged on haribo’ is a fair enough description of their feisty punk doom. The faintest glimmers of any stage fright are soon banished by some foot on the monitors, pointing into the crowd, rock ‘n’ roll shape throwing. Their confidence can only grow and what we might see them bring to this stage in years to come is anyone’s guess but for now they’re huge fun and, as I’m told the youngsters say, they smashed it.

Later on The Space Lady, who is older than all of HAQ123 put together, will also charm us with all the warm feels over in The Crossing. Essentially a drug battered old cosmic hippy with an equally aged and charming casio keyboard wheezes through a selection of covers and a few originals. On paper it has ‘kitsch fun’ and ‘outsider art’ scribbled in all the margins but that’s to underplay the sweetness of her voice and miss her personal warmth on stage. By about midway through only the most embittered cynic would not have wanted to hug her or adopt her as their mom/grandma. ‘Born To Be Wild’ and “psychedelic cowboy song” ‘Ghostriders In The Sky’ are the highlights for me. At one point she even sets aside her keyboard picks up a guitar and leads us through a sing along about healing the earth. So throughly won over is the crowd that we do it. It’s like a magic trick, the song deals in the most naive and simplistic of hippy eco platitudes and yet she sings it with such openhearted sincerity, so free of the usual earnest, preachy tone that comes with that stuff that you have to go along with her. Everyone’s having such a great time that we let her do another song and she goes and spoils everything by doing ‘Imagine’. “Damn it Grandma, take yer medicine!”

Still buzzin’ from my haribo-HAQ-high I make it into the shed to see what grampa’s been building in there. Pierre Bastien creates his own amazing mechanical musical machines and teases some unique sounds out of them. The pairing with Tomaga is a genius one because the results are often not that far from their own explorations. It’s a gently captiviating set. For all that they’re machines he gets some remarkably organic sounds from them. The general feel is of a soundtrack to a lost Oliver Postgate series, maybe an aborted spin off show for The Clangers’ Iron Chicken. Lovely stuff.

The market place has a small stage tucked in the corner and flanked by shimmering cabaret curtains. It’s an oddly ineffectual performance space, a transient audience using the tea room, mooching the merch stalls or heading past to elsewhere but it hosts DJ sets and talks and such over the weekend if you grab a table near enough to pay attention. we’re gathered around debating whether it’s too soon to start drinking and listening to The Sunken Hum Tape Splice, which is Natalia of Woven Skull mixing four tape decks of found sounds and field recordings. It’s a multi-coloured ambient patchwork, there’s sounds of nature, a gloriously feisty american evangelist and a sweetly burbling child that turns out to be Natalia herself. It could do with being a bit louder but then, as the name insists, it works beautifully as an always changing, surprising, background of sunken hum. As I cave to the call of the bar I catch Mohammad finishing one monolithic slab of drone and leaning into another. En route to my frosty refreshment I pass a patron remarking “If they were playing anywhere but here they’d get fucking bottled”. He may have a point. I do love a bit of drone but, perhaps aware of the lack of onstage drama in their performance, they’ve taken to wearing cowls and wizard hats that seem to undercut rather than underline the weight of their sound. It’s like a poundshop Sunn O))). I’m also curious as to how the name has failed to cause them any grief yet. Essentially though Mohammad is not for arms folded, back of the room, ‘impress me then’ types or dilettantes popping to the bar, it requires commitment. Get in there and get lost in that giant sound or don’t. There’ll be no hooks to pull you in.

To be honest Snapped Ankles are wearing even more ridiculous stage outfits, although happily not quite as much as last time I saw them, when it was even hotter and I feared they would collapse from the heat at any moment. By rights their ‘Jack In The Green makes pulsing electro out of logs and moss’ stick-schtick should make me really want to throw bricks at them for being useless hipster twats but their music’s not bad. On today’s evidence it’s not captivatingly great either though, so let’s call it a score draw.

Casual Nun are a strikingly hirsute, double drummer powered, heavy psych-punk beast of a band. They’ve only been around two or three years but they’re really getting into their stride now. They claim inspiration from the hairier, freakier end of krautrock and similarly wild Japanese sonic warriors but the double drum churn still makes me think of The Butthole Surfers. Not the pantomime clowning and parody songs but the deranged heavy psych freak outs of stuff like ‘Jimi’. Since I saw them last summer they’ve put out a couple of records and obviously spent time honing and sharpening their sonic weapons because they are SO much better now, and they were pretty good then. About a third of the way into the set they shift up a couple of gears and from there on in it’s just immense. They’re a highlight in a festival of highlights and leave having secured themselves a raft of new fans.

Which sadly you can’t say for Princess Nokia. Beforehand excitement is tempered by a worry that hip hop artists have, well, a bit of a history of taking a half assed approach to live performance. With heart sinking, head shaking recognition we realise this turns out to be the case. She hasn’t brought a DJ, a local one is doing her best with no rehearsal playing Nokia’s recordings for her to rap over. Not working with backing tracks or loops, just straight up playing the records vocals and all. It gives weird sibilance on the S sounds and Nokia a chance to drop out on some lines although she’s bang on it, to be fair. The flipside of that is there’s no room to stretch, move or freestyle anything when you’re constantly hitting the same flow as the record. Karaoke has more room for expression. Princess has other ways to express herself though. ‘Tomboy’ is fierce and we’re collectively shrugging and rolling with it but a couple of tunes in she decides that what the programme calls an ” ambitious artist who creates a universal language that will talk to all kinds of people” is not so keen on the age range and ethnicity of the crowd she can see from the stage, that we don’t know what she’s talking about. A little hissy fit sours the mood and pointlessly gives away all her power as a performer. It’s possible she’s feeling as tired as we are, she picks a fight with the DJ, she doesn’t want to be here. Those among the crowd who stick with her try to warm the mood as things wear on but Nokia eventually leaves mid song and someone has to come on and let the DJ know she won’t be back.

Back in the big room with the grown ups Oxbow have found a way for noise rock to age gracefully. It’s no small achievement. For tonight’s show they have pulled together a local choir, with conductor, who range across the back of the stage as Eugene prowls its lip shedding his dapper outfit and rolling his shoulders. Ten years in the making ‘Thin Black Duke’ sees them add classical nods, strings, piano and allsorts to their dense, literary rock swagger. You can almost feel the dread hand of prog itching to get in but they’ve shut its fingers firmly in the door. There is no indulgent bloat, the songs are taut and keenly crafted, and the choir is beautifully integrated into the music making it all the more effective. It’s a masterful performance, not a note out of place but still living and breathing and dynamic. All this and fronted by the most authoritative, take no prisoners stage presence of the weekend. Seriously, you wouldn’t mess would you? Even some of the choir look astonished/nervous to see him in full flight. Incredible end to another incredible Supersonic weekend. Let’s not leave it so long this time.

Is it hot in here, or is it me? : Supersonic Saturday

As any fool know, the sun always shines on the Rotunda, but it doesn’t often beat down quite as hard as it does this weekend. Limp Pink Whinging Brits are a late addition to the weekend’s eclectic and extensive bill. Today’s line up is one of the most amazing I think I’ve ever seen but even without the heat it looks set to be an exhausting marathon of musical greatness. Buckle up buttercup, there’s a lot to get through. Kicking off with an expanded Ex Easter Island Head (their Large Electric Ensemble drawing to some extent on the same pool of Islington Mill musicians as Anonymous Bash). 16 treated guitars laid on table tops and played with mallets. Conducted by one of their number, the band are still and focussed. They dress uniformly in black. It’s very much at the point of a bunch of experimental rock musicians becoming an avant garde chamber orchestra. It would be easy to mock the precious fastidiousness of the performance were it anything but a practical necessity and the resulting music less beautiful. They play a glowing minimalism that nods to Nyman and Reich. Regarding a conversation yesterday, you could probably build something similar out of loops on a phone app and yet the subtle flam and shifts of having a large group perform it give it a breathing organic quality that would be missing. It’s a fine way to start the day

Haress play a slowly unfolding atmospheric set suited to the muggy warmth in the room. Shimmering, interlocking guitars unwind leisurely through the haze. Makes you wish you were sat on a porch staring out at the blazing sun beat down as the day slides by, rather than standing watching a group of seated, motionless musicians. The desert blues from the welsh borders, lovely stuff. More evocative of starkly british landscapes, Laura Cannell‘s music pitches me into a lone, melancholy walk through windswept cliffs and rainwashed hills to the shore of a deep still lake to watch the sunlight moving down the side of the valley. The birds that crowd her tracklists make only scarce appearances. Maybe that’s the point. It’s impressive if sometimes hard to love, I’m ok with watching a woman switch between playing the violin and two recorders but I can see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Saturday evening and I finally venture into Wild and see what’s going on there. “We’re a black femininst punk band, that’s kind of our thing.” Big Joanie draw on a lineage from The Slits up through C86 and riot grrl and play a pleasing post punk rumble. It’s more lo-fi and communal than in-yer-face-identity-politics, thoughful more than furious. “Are you dancing?”, “No, I’m staying in and reading Bell Hooks”. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either. Although it might explain why their closing cover of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ is a genius idea that falls just slightly flat in reality. Or it might be the heat in here.

Grey Hairs are melting before our eyes. Supersonic, as you are aware, is an amazingly eclectic, wide ranging festival with acts from all over the world playing all manner of adventurous sounds. Ironic then that one of the bands we are most excited about seeing this weekend are a garage band from just 50 miles up the road. So it goes. Things can be mysterious that way, like why is “I thought it was a line, but it’s a circle” such a fantastic lyric? What does it even mean? Grey Hairs might appear to be a fairly standard issue punk/garage band but the key thing to note is that they are really, really good at it. The songs are tightly wound and bursting with tension. By Supersonic standards they’re practically non stop pop smashes. I can quote you lyrics for a start. Despite the heat they play an complete blinder. Doubters are converted, believers are thrilled, sweat flows. Chris appears to be playing two guitar parts at once which is quietly impressive rather than vulgarly flashy. Even right at the close as they hammer down on that last riff there’s a little showbiz wrong footing as ‘The Chin pt 2’ features an unexpected bass/ vocals switch over. Absolutely killer.

Scarcely a moment to bask in the joy of that it’s off to see Richard Dawson. Turns out he’s one of those marmite appeal artists, hard to believe but there are people who don’t love him. Not many here though as he packs out the hall. Such doubters might be pleased that he’s got himself a shiny new red guitar, perhaps imagining he might ring a more gently tuneful sound from it. Mightily, he manages to get pretty much the same abrasive, randomly squeaking and buzzing sound as he did before. Launching his remarkable new record ‘Peasant’ he’s playing with a band, who all appear to be having a fine time. Except Jonnie. Jonnie broke Richard’s beloved old guitar and his fall from grace makes up most of the set’s comedy interludes. I reckon they get through about half of the new album tonight. If Dawson seems slightly ill at ease with leading a band he shouldn’t worry, it works wonderfully. ‘Soldier’ is particularly glorious and its anxious refrain plays in my head for days after. The band takes a break for a solo vocal reading of ‘The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter’ an old murder ballad he says he got from Mike Waterson. As usual it’s an emotionally powerful moment and simultaneously ties him to deep tradition and illuminates the quality of the originals it sits perfectly alongside. He drags a gaggle choir from the crowd to join in with the amazing ‘Ogre’ and then tops that with a widescreen stomp through ‘The Vile Stuff’. By turns moving, hilarious, hallucinatory and confounding it’s an absolute tour de force of a song, a great close to a brilliant set.

The overlapping, clashing sets are really coming thick and fast by this point in the evening, sending us scurrying back and forth from one stage to another. Their recent record is two giant slabs of swoony ambience and subtle atmospherics but Italian power trio Zu are raging full force onstage. Blaring, skronking, squawking amazingness exactly as you’d have hoped. Excellent. Meanwhile back in The Crossing Jenny Hval and her band are engaging in some rough and ready prop based theatrics and dressing up. There’s a step ladder on stage. No horse head goth up it eurovision style though. Jenny wanders the stage with bulbous textile offal draped across her shoulders and wonders aloud about venues and property prices in a stream of conciousness monologue. Amazingly she gets away with it. She has a calm and charming voice, speaks slowly without affectation, she probably could start reading the phone book and that’d be just fine. It’s unclear how scripted and how free form it is but she concedes as she wraps it up that “it could probably use some editing”. They go into ‘The Secret Touch’ and you have to agree little more focus on the great songs she has to draw on would be nice, but it’s a minor quibble.

Wild is packed to the back and probably hotter than it’s been all day for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. They’re on fire. Huge pile driving Sabbath riffs on a wave of roaring noise, their particular thing is quite narrow but it’s a good thing and they do it well, stretching it into twisted shapes over crushing repetition. Reckoning the chance to see them again will be ’round sooner I head off to catch a bit of Raime. They’re a good deal less spartan than on record, which is probably for the best. Still recognisably them but rougher, looser and more rocking. It’s still pretty unapproachable though, uneasy and dystopian.

Colin Stetson playing the saxophone is hell of a thing to witness. It must surely be the most physically demanding musical performance I’ve ever seen. He seems drained by the end of every number, shaking out his hands and talking to the crowd to regain his breath and strength. The spectacle of a man wrestling an instrument almost as big as him is one thing but close your eyes and the music he’s playing is much less adversarial. Largely leaving aside the sort of full frontal skronk Zu were pushing through earlier Stetson’s playing is often remarkably delicate and supple for such a beast of an instrument. Droning and clanking a bit, but really a thing of tough beauty. From the sublime to the ridiculous then. Black clad and wearing sunglasses after dark Electronica Wizard might very well be a joke that got out of hand – yep, Electric Wizard and Sabbath covers on electronic gear – but they are doubling down on it, pushing it to work instead of playing for laughs and the result is both fun and convincing. Great slabs of filthy distorted sounds plus a pounding live drummer, electro doom could in fact have legs. Robot ‘Iron Man’ legs. I’m completely exhausted and really very drunk by the end of their set but I think they finished on ‘Children Of The Grave’. It was amazing

By the time we get to Zonal I’m about dead on my feet (where’s those robot legs?) and it’s all I can do to stand up in the face of the ridiculous bass warfare coming at me. Zonal is Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick’s new post Techno Animal Project. A fun game to play this weekend has been a kind of Zonal bingo – which of Kev and Justin’s many projects does the band you’re watching sound most like? It’s not as easy as you’d think. Also, what Zonal were going to be like, apart from tremendously loud, was an open ended question. To which the answer is – they’re going to be very much like Techno Animal might be if they started it now. Sluggish hip hop beats, massive amounts of bass and a bunch of industrial drones and clangs over the top. Mix together the recent Bug Vs Earth and JK Flesh records and you’re close. It doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises then, even while being of a reassuringly high quality. Justin seems to be having a great time, swigging on cans and lurching about, bending over to crank a knob round sending another wave of noise crashing over the waves of bass. I can’t help imaging him chuckling ‘snoochie boochies’ to himself as Kev expressionlessly mans the controls. I’d be enjoying it more myself were we not at the ragged end of a long, long day. The dragging downbeats are pushing me into the arms of Morpheus. Night kids.