SOMETHING IN THE WATER
MAY 2012 ISSUE 1 95p
Illustration by Stefania Osk Omarsdottir
HYDRATING BIRMINGHAM ’ S CREATIVITY
the forgotten music scene of brum
“ THERE ’ S ALWAYS AN IDEALISATION OF THE PAST, AND THAT ’ S IMPORTED, EVEN THOUGH IT ’ S FICTION ”
- TIM FELTON OF SEELAND/BROADCAST
BRIAN DUFFY STEREOLAB
Illustration by Stefania Osk Omarsdottir
ILLUSTRATORS Jamila Walker http://jamilawalker.webeden.co.uk
Matthew Gorman http://www.matthew-gorman.com/
Stefania Osk Omarsdottir http://stebbaosk.com
Stuart Tonge http://www.firstfoldrecords.com/
Gareth Courage http://garethcourage.co.uk
Antonio Roberts http://www.hellocatfood.com/
Sian Macfarlane http://www.flickr.com/photos/sianmacfarlane/
Chris Cowdrill http://www.chriscowdrill.co.uk/
Lizzy Huthwaite http://artbizness.blogspot.com/
EDITOR, ARTICLES, DESIGN & LAYOUT: Ross Cotton
CONTENTS 4-5 ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE: The Japanese psych leader Kawabata Makoto reforms an old project
6-7 BRUM IN THE 80s WITH RICHARD MARCH: The Bentley Rhythm Ace/Pop Will Eat Itself bassist looks back on clubs and venues in the 80s 8-9 IN THE STUDIO WITH KELLI ALI: The ex-Sneaker Pimps vocalist talks about the sound of her upcoming release 10-11 THE RETURN OF UB40: Saxophonist Brian Travers reveals all about their upcoming album 12-13 HOUSE OF GOD: Brum’s longest-running techno club celebrates 19 years
14-17 THIS MONTH’S DEBATE: Vinyl, CD or Mp3? Which is better? Does it matter how people listen to music?
18-21 ELECTRONIC ARTIST COPPE’ CELEBRATES 15 YEARS: The Japanese self-admitting Martian invades Birmingham and talks about her latest album
22-39 RETRO-FUTURISM, BIRMINGHAM’S IMAGINARY WORLD: Looking back on a 90s music scene that took influence from a past image of the future. Including topics
such as night club Sensateria, the passing of the scene’s defining voice, Trish Keenan, the ultimate retrofuturist’s instrument, and quotes from the likes of Pram, Plone, Brian Duffy and Stereolab
40-47 FESTIVAL COVERAGE: This year sees the birth of Network Music Festival, a laptop, live coding event that will take place between
27th - 29th January at The Edge, Friction Arts, Cheapside. Find out more about the festival by reading the interviews with performers Birmingham Laptop Ensemble, Benoit & the Mandelbrots and Glitch Lich
48-53 LIVE REVIEWS: The Major Toms, Misty’s Big Adventure, The Autumn Almanac: The Slow Boat Sessions
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE KAWABATA MAKOTO DISCUSSES HIS LINK TO BIRMINGHAM Japanese psychedelic collective
Acid Mothers Temple have been bringing back the spirit on the seventies for quite some time now, mystifying their constantly strengthening British fan-base each time they tour the UK in a word-ofmouth compendium.
With a firm connection to Birmingham, consisting of album releases through the likes of Brummie labels Riot-Season, Static Caravan and even Swordfish records, it's clear that Acid Mother's return to Hare & Hounds on 5th November couldn't have been anymore warmly welcomed.
Illustration by Stefania Osk Omarsdottir
“[In 2001] Geoff Dolman from Static Caravan and both Andy's [Smith & Slocombe] from Resonant proposed me to make an album for their labels”, says lead guitarist Kawabata Makoto. The two Midlands based labels combined to become 'Staticresonance.' “It was Acid Mother's first release for UK. Up until then, we were a totally unknown band”, continues Makoto. “Then when Absolutely Freak Out (Zap Your Mind) was released, [The title a parody of Frank Zappa's first and second albums
“MY COSMOS SOUL IS ALWAYS TELLING ME WHAT TO DO”
“I HAVE A NEW PROJECT. THIS IS NOT ANNOUNCED YET” Freak Out! and Absolutely Free], we had a plan to tour the UK.”
As for their latest album, The Ripper at the Heaven's Gate of Dark, it seems a real treat for local label Riot-Season to release such a corker. “This new album is very classical rock 'n' roll”, says Makoto. Our music is not new; it's very old school and old fashioned..................................... “People say we are the first Japanese band to be touring the UK since the seventies. The last Japanese band, Sadistic Mika Band, they toured with Roxy Music. So after them, no Japanese band like us has toured in the UK. We've been touring here for eleven years now!” he says.
And how does Makoto and the other members of Acid Mothers create such a hypnotic psychedelic sound?
“We improvise”, he says. “Each time, we have no idea what will happen. My cosmos soul is always telling me what to do. I channel it; it's very easy.”
But we couldn’t leave Makoto without asking him what he will be doing next.......
“I have a new project”, he says. “This is not announced yet, but I played in a band called Mainliner in the early nineties..... Now, people seem to be discovering them again, so I want to reform that band”, he exclaims.
By Ross Cotton
SITW’s ALBUM VERDICT Maintaining their cosmic sound, Acid Mothers return with their 34th album under The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. line-up.
With countless other side projects under different names, such as Father Moo & The Black Sheep, it’s hard to keep track of the amount of releases from the psych collective, whose vibes and destinctive LSDthemed visions have stayed true throughout their career. Many of Acid Mother’s releases all too often slip under the radar, yet, this latest album is much more memorable and accessible than previous avant-garde works such as 2007’s Acid Motherly Love.
The track Electric Death Mantra stays true to the Egyptian hypnotics and trippy, mesmerising tribal warblings that cult fans have grown to love. While tracks including Chinese Flying Saucer allow a new, unique traditional garage rock edge to seep from the Japanese collective’s sound. In turn, providing the perfect introduction to a new audience, who wish to delve further into the hallucinogenic world of the Acid Mothers.
The new Acid Mothers Temple album 'The Ripper at the Heaven's Gate of Dark' is out now. By Ross Cotton
p o p
w i l l
e a t
i t s e l f:
talks about brum in the 80s
Residing in the creative
outskirts of Birmingham, Richard March's humble family-abode basks in the history of a man who has been in the music industry for over three decades. Firstly, as the bass player of 80s 'grebo' act Pop Will Eat Itself, and secondly, as one half of 90s big beat epitomisers Bentley Rhythm Ace, Richard's projects have taken him to fame, but he has always stayed true to his roots of creating music for purely enjoyment. With two new projects on the go, the Stourbridge-born musician holds a firm connection to Birmingham's creative industry. “When we started [Pop Will Eat Itself], we weren't part of any scene at all”, says Richard, whilst sipping tea. “We were just four idiots from Stourbridge who didn't really know what we were doing. We just liked to plug our guitars in and make noise!” Modest eh?
create something and it was easy to go, movement! Funny name!”
However, the bands who were considered part of this scene were only really similar in image, and not in music. This allowed all of the bands to flourish without stepping on each other’s toes so to speak. “There definitely was space for everybody to co-exist within that imaginary umbrella”, continues Richard, who saw no competition. “The Wonder Stuff were very successful in a classical song writing kind of way, whereas we were quite futurist in the way that we got involved in technology, with the use of samples and synths. If we were all doing the same things, it would have collapsed on itself.”
Today, it seems all too often that bands miss out Birmingham on their tours around the UK. Whereas during the 80s, it was an integral, buzzing area for bands to perform. This being more surprisingly on Broad St! Which is now the epitome of the 21st century creative-less club scene, and a way-out removal from any talent. Richard explains, “Below Alpha Tower, you can see it is all boarded up. There was a couple of night clubs there once......................... “The Stone Roses played there, and seven people went to see them! “And there used to be gigs on at this cellar of a warehouse, which was rented for 20quid a week. It was right by the canal and there was constantly an inch of water on the floor”, lovely!! “We used to have all night parties there and we built up from that. People were putting gigs in these places and they'd get a regular night”, he explains. I wish it was still as simple as this nowadays!
Although, the press soon pigeonholed Pop Will Eat Itself under the term 'Grebo', along with other Stourbridge-based bands Ned's Atomic Dustbin and The Wonder Stuff. “I suppose it was because of the way we looked, dressed and acted”, says Richard. “We had long greasy hair and dirty clothes, and the fact that people coming from London would always say to us, 'ALLROYTE MATE?' But I thought we were four reasonably intelligent people”, he jokes flamboyantly. “I mean the term 'grebo' is just Black Country slang to describe someone with long greasy hair, it's a school boy insult........................... “You dirty grebo bastards!” he shouts. What an eccentric! “The press like to pick up stuff and
MATE?” Pop Will Eat Itself's fame seems rooted in one venue in particular called Burberries, a place that holds a very strong legacy in Birmingham to this day. “That was right on Broad Street”, explains Richard. “A guy called Dave Travis used to run The Click Club there on a Tuesday from the mid 80s to the early 90s, and every band that you’ve ever heard of have played there. Jane's Addiction, Pixies, Wedding Present, My Bloody Valentine, Manic Street Preachers. It was a real pivotal part of the music scene and it was also really inspiring for local musicians................................. “We met Primal Scream there, got really drunk and they asked us to support them on tour........................ “Dave Travis is single-handedly responsible for diverting music to Birmingham. He's a real pivotal character”, Richard concludes.
So why doesn’t the rest of the UK give some admiration to Birmingham and its implicit past venues? Richard suggests an answer. “Because Birmingham's close enough to go down to London and come back the same day, it’s a lot more self-contained”....................... “Bands in Leeds or Manchester would have to go to London to hang out, so that people would be aware of them............................................. “Black Country and Midlands people are self-efficacious in a way. If you look at the musical heritage of the West Midlands, it's ridiculous. “You've got all those bands from the 60s and I think you're average Joe doesn't even realise that they come from Birmingham.............................. “The Move, The Moody Blues, Black Sabbath, Duran Duran, you can go on and on. Birmingham is
PAGE 7 nowhere near the cultural backwater that the rest of the country perceives it to be!”, he concludes.
“We'd always go out of our way to make it really memorable”, says Richard, whose face alone reveals very happy memories. “The idea of two guys with laptops is a bit boring, so we'd wear stupid outfits, have red lasers and massive drums. If we could’ve afforded it, we would’ve had things flying across the stage!” he exclaims.
with your pals”, he says. “And it's good for your brain, learning new stuff. It stops the on set of Alzheimer's if you keep developing new synapses and neural pathways so I've read!”, he jokes.
When Pop Will Eat Itself disbanded in 1996 to explore other avenues, Richard rose from its ashes in 1997 with a whole new project “And then I'm involved in this called Bentley Rhythm Ace. Along other project called The Boom Opwith old friend Mike Stokes, the duo erators”, continues Richard. wrote the big beat smash hit Bent“Which is this guy called Tom ley's Gonna Sort You Out, leaving In 2000, Bentley Rhythm Ace un- Dunstan, who's a producer. Its inmany fans of The Chemical Broth- officially split, but still played a few strumental, hip-hop-flavoured, and ers in a dancing euphoric frenzy. So gigs and DJ sets on odd occasions. he produces all this instrumental how did this project begin? In 2009, the duo reformed for a one- music under the name Automatom. “It literally just started off as me off reunion “best of” tour. “He put together a live band and I'm and Mike messing around. “We did a few gigs and a few fes- the bass player. There's a guitarist, “I had a home studio set up, and tivals here and there, and it was a percussion player and an MC who Mike was like, 'what does this stuff good fun to go out with your pals”, is this kid called DJ Switch............... do?', so I showed him how to work says Richard. “He’s an amazing scratch DJ, three the samplers. Then he turned up times world champion MC scratch with a bag of records and said 'yeah! Lets listen to this! Yeah, we'll sample that!’ And we just kind of by accident started putting some tracks together. One of our friends said we should send it off to record labels, so we sent one tape to one record label, just to see what would happen, and three days later, they rang back and said, ‘we love it! We want to put it out!' “It was a roller coaster and went like that for a couple of years” says Bentley Rhythm Ace. Mike Stokes (Left), Richard March (Right) Richard, who is still taken back a little bit himself. For a man who has been involved mixing! Last year, he performed at “Then we got asked to DJ for in two major successful projects, the BBC Proms. There was an orSkint records, who did a night at this Richard is surprisingly very down to chestra, and he's sampling the orclub in London called Heavenly So- earth, and his latest projects really chestra while they're playing, and cial, and the resident DJs were Fat do prove that he's only ever been in scratching sounds off that, at the Boy Slim and The Chemical Broth- the music industry for the enjoy- Royal Albert Hall............................. ers, which was amazing!................ ment and passion of it. “It's really interesting to work with “One of the owners of Heavenly Along with UB40's Brian Travers all these different musicians from Records, Jeff Barrett said 'I want and Broadcast's Tim Felton, different places”, Richard Says. you to be our resident DJs, you can Richard plays under the name The play the small room upstairs every Major Toms, a tribute act to Bowie “So one day I'll be sitting here with fortnight'. And it just went on from and Roxy Music. the sax player from UB40, and the there!”, he says. “There are eight of us in that next I'm sitting with some kid in his band. We really enjoy the social as- 20s who's just been the first scratch After this, Richard and Mike pro- pect of just getting together and DJ to play at the Royal Albert Hall! gressed to doing live shows, festi- doing rehearsals. Some of the “It's astonishing really!” vals and even got headlining slots. Bowie stuff is really quite challengBy Ross Cotton The duo went on to gain extra band ing, and sitting around this table members to make performances with Tim and Brian, just strumming Illustration by Stuart Tonge more exciting and dramatic. with a few beers, it's just a laugh
IN THE STUDIO WITH
KELLI ALI writer Kelli Ali is back recording new material, after her previous gothic horror release A Paradise Inhabited By Devils with pianist Ozymandias in 2010. An album that was inspired by the short stories of Mary Shelley, and breathed the same darkness of the early Cocteau Twins album Garlands. More notably, Kelli's career spawned from the hit single 6 Underground as the lead vocalist of the Sneaker Pimps, back in 1996, along with other chart entries such as Spin Spin Sugar.
From this, Kelli's trip-hop past with the 90s group led her to explore a range of other avenues, in progression to her wide spectrum solo career. “I love all kinds of music and get so bored if I find myself in the same musical situation too often”, says Kelli. “To me, making music is a journey, an adventure and such an integral part of my life that I need to keep exploring new ways of singing and making records. With each record I make, I feel as though I pay homage to some element of music, whether it's folk or pop or electronic music”, she says. “It wasn't an intentional decision to make an album in each genre, but it seems to be unfolding that way!” she laughs.
And Kelli's word stays true with her new project, as she moves away from previous styles that she has experimented with. “My next record is
much more electronic than my previous folk and classical explorations”, she says. “I am having a lot of fun writing it and I will probably produce it myself, so this will be quite a huge experiment for me! I've coproduced before and I always have a large influence in the production of my albums from start to finish. But this will be the first time I'll be doing the whole thing!”
“THERE’S A LOT OF HEART IN THE BIRMINGHAM MUSIC SCENE”
Birmingham born singer song-
Previous album A Paradise Inhabited by Devils is truly breathtaking, with Kelli's vocals reaching a whole new level of beauty and eeriness. Which in turn, radiates through pianist Ozymandias's delicate classical keys works. “Christophe Terrettaz [Ozymandias] is an amazing pianist and composer”, says Kelli, who’s clearly smitten with his sound. “When I heard his music, I was very excited, because it represented an opportunity to write very poetic vocals. I immediately had all these ideas for choral parts, which I had never really thought of attempting previously. It was quite a smooth progression vocally to push the voice a bit and explore more classical and even operatic approaches.......................... “I was inspired by the minimalism and precision of Phillip Glass's choral approaches and had met Michael Numan at one of his talks in London and became very inspired. “I also had a lot of fun reading all of Mary Shelley's short stories and tried to capture the romance and dark beauty of this fascinating writer's work in the songs................ “I went over to Switzerland to meet Christophe and finalise the structures and melodies of the songs after we had been working remotely for about a year and a half! It was so good to finally meet him and such a wonderful experience to hear him play his beautiful piano........................ “A Paradise Inhabited By Devils is quite an obscure record in many ways and we only released it digitally as we didn't have the means to market it. But I'm still very happy with it, and hope that it finds a larger audience some day.”
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
“I’VE ONLY SCRATCHED THE SURFACE”
The influence of horror is definitely something that has been key to the sound of Kelli Ali right from the beginning, and her vast career has included collaborations with the likes of Marilyn Manson and Mark Almond. Kelli continues to explain, “I love dark music, gothic music especially and you'll hear that in my next album! It has been inspired by great bands and artists such as Bat for Lashes, Bjork, Cocteau Twins and shows such as The Vampire Diaries and films like Near Dark......... “It's going to be a lot more edgy but still dreamy. Dream Goth; Maybe that's one of the threads within my music, it's always quite dreamy I guess”, she says. “I am in love with the vampiric culture and romance of Gothic music. Sisters of Mercy, Sioxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus are all the classics. They were the soundtrack to my wasted youth!”, admits Kelli.
Still basking in a dreamy scape, Kelli's 2008 album Rocking Horse floated a different summery folk vibe than previous albums and works since. Gaining a different influence from travelling around Mexico and California, this album warms the cockles of your heart with acoustic beauty. “I had been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens, Devendra Banhart and Vashti Bunyan and I had an acoustic guitar at all times, which inspired me to write in a different way”, says Kelli. “I started enjoying the change in my voice, singing in a more delicate and high-head voice, and the folk sound naturally evolved. Rocking Horse had great attention and was very well received. I was so grateful that a lot of people reviewing the album had an open heart. People are becoming more open minded in the way they listen to music and view artists, not so concerned with genre and more aware of the importance of exploration over commercial pigeonholing.......................... “It also helps that I'm completely independent now, so music journalists know I'm not being influenced by a record company to change my sound for commercial reasons..........................
“They understand that I am exploring music in my own way for myself, and my listeners hopefully take each album as its own entity.”
Kelli's Birmingham roots have always brought her back to the second city for inspiration, although she also gains a strong influence from travelling over the world, something that is clearly heard within her records. “I'm a gypsy at heart, but I can appreciate Birmingham more now I'm older.......................
“I found it a bit small and confining when I was teen with big dreams, but now I've been to a lot of other places, and found a sense of inner freedom. I am happy when I'm in Birmingham, there's a warmth there and a wicked sense of humour that keeps people smiling. There's also a laid back attitude that I have come to value more and more. And I recognise it in other parts of the world where money's tight, but love is strong and abundant........................ “There's a lot of heart in the Birmingham music scene, and some brilliant venues like the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath................... “From an early age, I was watching bands like Sonic Youth and Mud Honey in venues like The Hummingbird and Edwards. It was like a wonderland for a lonely heart rebel like me...... “Growing up in a musical city like Birmingham was a blessing, I hope it keeps its heritage as it becomes more cosmopolitan. I think bands always enjoy the warmth and energy of a Birmingham crowd”, she says. “At the time I joined Sneaker Pimps, I had already been playing around Birmingham for a few years in dive bars, so it was great to finally be in a band that would grow to be playing to huge audiences all over the world.................... “A dream come true.” And from then on, Kelli's journey into music has evolved more and more. “I have always listened to a vast mix of music and was never into just one sound or image”, says Kelli. “I love synths, guitars, choirs, strings and sitars. So I embrace them all at various times, and this probably means I will have a large panoramic body of work encompassing all the things that I love. I hope so!........... “I feel as though I'm just beginning to truly explore my own sound scape. “I've only scratched the surface.”
By Ross Cotton
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
THE RETURN OF UB40 BRIAN TRAVERS TELLS ALL....
Since forming in 1978, UB40 have
become a household name across the world. Spread over three decades, they have sold more than 70 million records to date, making the seven-piece pop kings one of the best selling artists to come out of Birmingham and the UK.
This year, the reggae Brummies are back with their twenty-fifth studio album. A release that will take a very different direction from previous works such as Labour of Love Part IV (2010), which saw Duncan Campbell join the line-up as the new, fulltime, lead vocalist.
Saxophonist, songwriter and horn/string arranger Brian Travers reveals the story behind the new album, and the influence that guided them to explore an unlikely music genre. “EMI said we've got to keep the lid on this, we can't talk about it”, says Brian. “I'm not supposed to tell anyone, but we're doing a country album. We've done some serious old classics and I've written seven songs on the album................................... “It's reggae and country music, which probably sounds very criminal, but it's absolutely beautiful. We've got a guy called Melvin Duffy playing lap steel guitar on it, he's a fucking genius and the nicest guy in the world. He's Robbie William's guitarist, that's how good he is!”
It's been two years since their last release, and four years since original vocalist Ali Campbell and keyboard player Michael Virtue departed from the band, following
the album TwentyFourSeven . “We haven't been in a rush to release a record”, continues Brian. “Without any build up, without using the PR, you're not gonna sell any. We let one go [referring to TwentyFourSeven]. “I fucking hated that title. It was Ali who left, he was a fucking prick at times. “We wanted to call it UB40 23 because it was our 23rd album, Ali said nah it's never fucking happening. “Then he squealed and squealed until we called it TwentyFourSeven, which is such a nasty, lame fucking title.................. “We gave it away with a paper because we weren't going to fucking sell any anyway. “Unfortunately, people had to buy the fucking Mail On Sunday. But firstly, it's not The Daily Mail, it's not that fascist rag, and anyway, who wants to preach to the converted? Stick it on The Mail, let them get it and say argh! I don't want that! Let them have freedom of choice and chuck it away! Stick it in their face a little bit!”
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
DETAILS OF THE NEW ALBUM REVEALED
With the new album nearing release, it was time to discover exactly how country
BRIAN TRAVERS: GROWING UP IN BALSALL HEATH IN THE 70s YOUTH CULTURE
“You bought the albums in them days with your clothes. You walked to the bus stop when you're going to your mate’s house and had your records with you.
We were all kind of mods. Working class boys without a lot of disposable cash and time, dressed as impeccable as you could. Tonic Mohair suits you'd get made. Our culture was all about
looking the best you can look, because that's really all we had, we only had ourselves. We didn't have any money, we didn't have any gravitas. So our music tended to be reggae and
soul and all the guys that dressed like they were doing there best. The more middle class kids, and I don't mean this as a class thing. The kids in grammar school and at university
PAGE 11 music became rooted within UB40's new style. And it seems that the seed had begun with a previously unreleased song from their back catalogue, featuring an old friend. “About fifteen years ago, we were with Robert Palmer, getting drunk, having a laugh”, says Brian, who used to share manager David Harper with Palmer before he died. “He was playing a Randy Travis album, and this song called On The Other Hand came on. We thought fucking hell, great song! So we went in the studio and recorded it with Palmer singing and us playing. But then [Palmer] died nine years ago, and we'd never done anything with the song................................ “We got it out recently, and there's this lovely country tune played by us, and it's kind of a nod to him really. We thought, we're gonna release this, we loved him a great deal, let's finish this off, let's do it and put something with it.”
Along with this re-imagined Palmer track, UB40's influence from country music had been picked up from relentless tours across the USA. “We've spent an awful lot of time in America”, says Brian. “If you put the radio on while the bus is travelling, you don't have to look out of the window, you can tell when you're getting to different places because the music changes. There's soul, R&B and Hip-Hop in New York. As you start going south, it starts getting a little bit more country rock, and then deeper country, and then it starts getting a little bit Cajon in Texas. And Chicago is deep bluesy, so you learn to really appreciate it. It becomes more than silly cowboy hats........ “People make fun of country music, but it's a fine genre. Really serious music, really serious playing. It's not three chord rock music, the songs have twenty seven chords! The music starts glowing and we like it.”
After completing the long-awaited On The Other Hand with Robert Palmer,
UB40 set off to create other country tracks for the album. “Then we did a Willie Nelson song called Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain, which was the first hit he ever had”, continues Brian. “We love Willie, he smoked a joint with us once at a truck stop in America.” Reaching for his phone, Brian begins to play their version of the track Blue Eyes. “Eey arr, have a listen”, he says. “It's not a mix, just a desk mix.” The track basked in a hybrid of new warmth, both from the soothing reggae beats, and the heated country sunshine of southern America. Which in turn, eliminated any racism that could still be linked to country music. “So that's a country tune turned to reggae”, he says. Next, Brian put on On The Other Hand, featuring Robert Palmer. A celebration of two genres fused together was heard even clearer, with playful and energetic, yet laid back depth. The distinctive vocals of Palmer immediately hit a nerve, providing the perfect tribute to such unique, sadly missed talent, nine years down the line. “We recorded most of this at my house, some of it in Los Angeles when Robert was alive and some of it in our studio that isn't there anymore”, says Brian. “I wrote seven country tunes in different time signatures, then we wrote them back to fours, into reggae. Some of them are going to stay as country tunes I think. I'm finding it................................. “We're still trying to grow, that's what we're always trying to do.” With no official release date set as of yet, keep an eye out for UB40's new project, which will be coming very soon.
“He lives in Birmingham now, we dragged him down about 25 years ago. He was The Doors only roadie. He drove the bus, set up the equipment and mixed the gigs on stage. And then Jim Morrison died. And Chris Blackwell who owned Island Records said to Harper, I want you to take this little band around America, and Europe for me. There weren't that many pro-roadies, managers back in the 60s, it was kind of your mates making it up as they went along, that’s why it was so nuts. Harper was a pro, and this band was Bob Marley & the Wailers, so he took this band all around when nobody knew them, mixed one of their live albums. Then moved on and became Robert Palmer's manager, then our manager as well.”
By Ross Cotton
Illustration by Matthew Gorman tended to have long hair and get stoned and be hippies. We all got stoned and took pills, we did that, but we didn't grow our hair long and we didn't have bare feet. And this was the thing, we wanted to
DAVID HARPER: UB40’s MANAGER STORY. AS TOLD BY BRIAN TRAVERS.
meet girls, we wanted to dance with girls, progressive hippie stuff from the 70s, you didn't really dance with a girl. Then the punk thing happened. It opened the game up for everybody.”
“Now I'm just getting into music, I'm not even a musician, I'm roadying for a punk band called The Suburban Studs. You can't blame me because of their name! I just
wanted to be at the gigs. And they were playing gigs with The Clash, Sex Pistols and The Jam, all the early punk bands. Because back in them days, there weren't so many bands.”
BIRMINGHAM’S LONGEST RUNNING UNDERGROUND CLUB NIGHT CELEBRATES 19 YEARS House of God started in 1993 from
the lack of a techno scene in Birmingham, earning the title for one of the longest running clubs in the UK. Neil Spragg has been Djing (under the alias ‘Sir Real’) at the long-established Birmingham club since the beginning, which celebrated its 19th birthday bash in true crazy 'HOG' style on February 25th.
The night brought an unconventional older crowd to the modern club scene, but that isn't surprising, because HOG have been developing their core audience for over the last two decades. “It grew out of us meeting at Birmingham University”, says Neil (DJ Sir Real). “The rave and techno scene was only just getting going in the UK, let alone in Birmingham.”
for this type of electronic music. And what better place to bring industrial dance sounds to the UK's industrial home that is, of course, Birmingham! “There were hardcore raves going on, but House of God was going to take the techno angle”, he says. “The crowd was always massively varied, and there was never any door policy or dress code. So basically you had a massive cross section of people coming in, which pretty much stays true to today....... “A lot of the people who got turned away from the big clubs in Brum at the time, like the house clubs, came to House of God. So it was and still is a very inclusive thing.”
“IT WAS SOMEWHERE FOR THE FREAKS TO GO TO!”
At around the same time, 60s psychedelic club night Sensateria was just drawing to a close after a ten year stint. Undeniably different musically, Neil agrees that the audience for both clubs would have been relatively similar to each other. “Sensateria was doing a retro psych angle, but in terms of the crowd, it was somewhere for the freaks to go to really. “Someone who didn't fit into the mainstream would go there, and that's very much the same for House of God............... “That hippie/freak angle was covered by both of us really, and the reason I got into techno was because for me, it was psychedelic. It's about the sounds being weird, and coming from a background of rock and electronic music, the first few techno records you hear sound pretty much alien;
In the early 90s, Neil had visited The Netherlands and became extremely inspired from the music, and the way that the Dutch scene worked. Thus making HOG one of the pioneering clubs to ship techno over to Britain. “There was a bunch of us”, he continues. “We went over to work, and we were all camping and raving there for a few months. That was definitely a spark from it, and we developed an idea to bring some of that to Birmingham.”
With the UK only just scratching the surface, Neil knew that there was a huge gap
neil spragg (sir real)
NEIL SPRAGG (SIR REAL)
house of god
“IT’S MY FAVOURITE, DESPITE HAVING TO SWEEP RAW SEWAGE!”
Although HOG has only ever held a strong cult following in Birmingham, the club has inadvertently helped develop some of its DJs in residence to critical acclaim across the globe. “Surgeon has gone on to become one of the most well known techno DJs worldwide”, says Neil. “He goes around the world on a weekly basis, and he's built a very good career out of it. His sound has been defined, and in return, he's gained us a lot of respect from other producers, clubs and DJs who've come and seen the place. But it hasn't made us any better known generally, because we don't pander to the commercial nature of it.................................... “Tony [Surgeon] is well known to purist techno bods, but really that's not what House of God is all about. It's an element of it, but if we wanted to really capitalised on that, then the people we'd be booking would be very different to the people that we actually book........................................ “So even though that's where Tony started and it had this big effect on his sound, it doesn't quite work back the other way. From a commercial angle, you have shot yourself in the foot. By refusing to bow down to what other people might expect from you, it allows you to have much more space............................. “It's liberating, but it's also constricting in terms of mass appeal.”
Over nineteen years, House of God has brought its odd/chaotic techno to a range of different venues across Birmingham. From The Rainbow Warehouse, where HOG celebrated their 16th birthday in 2009, to Subway City, which saw their recent birthday celebrations. “It started at Birmingham University, then it moved to the Dance Factory”, says Neil. “That was the back part of the Digbeth Institute, and we were doing fortnightly shows there for quite a while....................
In the 90s up to the early 00s, House of God ran regularly, bringing in an underground yet inclusive crowd. Nowadays, the club is a lot less frequent, as Neil explains, “It is very intermittent now........... “The last one before our 19th birthday was over a year ago. We totally missed the 18th birthday because the residency we wanted to play couldn't do it. So it just got deafed out............................................. “It all depends now because its only ever been a hobby really, it's not a commercial venture”, he says. And enquiries into the next possible HOG event don't give much optimism to regular attenders either! “We're looking to do some more outdoor stuff over the summer, and trying to get onto a couple of festivals. But who knows when the next thing will be. It could be Halloween! “In terms of regularity, you can only really bank on one a year, which is the birthday, and even then that might not happen! But if we missed the 20th, well, we just couldn't!......................................... “The next event is all in the planning at the moment, negotiations with a few people, but we'll see........”
By Ross Cotton
“Then we did a few at the Q club [at the top of Corporation St] in the mid to late 90s. After this, we moved onto The Sanctuary, which was at the Institute, and we did a few little clubs in Walsall Moseley and along the way.” Neil continues, “The Dance Factory was the best venue, because it really suited the kind of music we were playing. “Subway is similar, but The Dance Factory felt really intense and industrial, the whole feel of the place......... “It was a real sweat box, and we've had some mad nights there. It's my personal favourite, despite having to sweep raw sewage before opening the club, because the sewers would often overflow when you'd get there!” Lovely!
there wasn't anyone else using those kinds of sounds......................................... “So I guess that's part of the appeal for people who would have been into the same sort of stuff as Sensateria.”
WHAT’S YOUR PREFERENCE?: Vinyl, CD or MP3? Which are most popular in today's world? And does it really matter as to what format we listen to our music on?
The days of wax cylinders have long been forgotten, and some might even class vinyl as a defunct format in this 21st century. But others cherish their records as pride and joy, framing them and experiencing the whole package and artwork like a piece of furniture. And then there are the 90s kids, who grew up with CDs, which still have the physical aesthetics as vinyl (although scaled down), with additional portable qualities. But are MP3's the most efficient? Or have they altered the way we listen to music for the worse? Or are they simply just a new way of listening to music? Discuss!............
Essex-born singer-songwriter Kate Walsh says:
I need it to be tangible and hold its tange, and see the spines on the shelf so I know I can get inspired as to what to listen to. Download is all in the same font, scrolling down the computer screen. There's nothing to get your memory jogged or get excited about. And I think the younger generation has totally missed out on that.
“The thing about digital download is that it's all about a singles culture now. People buy one or
“I don't think downloading is wrong, I think illegal downloading is wrong, but
“CDs and records they don't compare [either] do they really. But it’s a bit late in the game for me. I guess I could start but it'd be expensive. It'd just be another thing to collect. I'm a CD generation anyway.
80s electropop-pioneer Gary Numan says: I prefer buying hard copies of things myself because I just like it to have to hold.
two tracks, the ones that they like, and they miss out the 70% of the album, and the tracks that probably I wouldn't have liked on first listen. But having had the album for a few years, they then become my favourite tracks.............
I don't think it's this horrible thing to do......................
“It's just when you see how hard it is for new bands to do anything, you just think for god's sake!
VINYL, CD OR MP3?
Former Egypt 80 keyboardist and Afrobeat legend Dele Sosimi says: I merge all chairs into one and sit on all three! People are different out there. There are old school vinyl lovers, CD lovers and MP3 lovers.
“We need to keep the three alive if we want to keep all of the fans happy.
Kelli Ali, Birmingham born singer-songwriter, and ex-lead singer of the Sneaker Pimps, says:
“I personally like the feeling I get from vinyl when you drop the stylus to start the first track. Then the high definition of the audio on a CD. Lastly, the ease of buying a single track from a digital release is a major breakthrough.
In a world where mass consumption and human waste threaten to engulf this beautiful planet and create a dirge existence, I am delighted that it is now possible to enjoy music in an everyday, every minute way over the ether.......................... “MP3 and all electronic media make this process of consuming art, beautifully simple and kinder to the planet. Therefore, for me personally beat any other format such as vinyl or CD.
“Art for packaging can still be created and enjoyed digitally, but I for one am relieved that vinyl is no longer being produced on a mass
scale and look forward to a decline in CD production.......
“MP3 is just the beginning of the technological evolution for music and as we evolve as an enlightened species, we will no doubt see music and all art enjoyed in ever imaginative, advanced ways.
“There will always be a beauty and nostalgia attached to the past and to vinyl and CD, but compare these older clunkier formats to digital and it is easy to see which makes the most sense for an ever productive race, in an age where every man and his dog is able to make an album. And wonderful that is too. Illustrations by Stuart Tonge
Grandmaster Gareth, lead singer of Brummie octuple Misty’s Big Adventure says:
I never really got into digital download.....................
“I'm just into records because they sound better, and it's a fact. The guy who mastered Ghost Town [by The Specials], he does lectures where he goes and plays people a track that he's mastered onto vinyl, CD and MP3. He shows that anyone can tell the difference, because a lot of people
believe it was people just being nostalgic.................
“The other thing with records, it's like an investment because they never go down in value. It's my pension..................
“I think that people should download stuff for free if they want to, as long as they go to gigs and buy T-shirts and support the band.
Alister Wright, lead singer and guitarist of indie/psych Aussie band Cloud Control says:
Obviously MP3s are good when you are on the road in my opinion.....................
“But it has to be vinyl for me. It's a cool process, like making a cup of tea. And there are special things like on this Oneida record I just bought, when you get to the end of side
A, it just loops forever because of some tricky pressing they did...............
“You can't do that digitally can you?.............................
“Anyway, vinyl sounds better and you get big sleeves to look at.
Godmother of Japanese electronica, Coppe’ says:
I actually love all formats.
“I still use loads of records and also CDs. The warm hissy noises from old records are like looking at some sepia-coloured photos from my Great-Grampa's album......
“They give me the same kind of shivers.
Birmingham based reggae/dub artist Prince Jamo says:
I've got an iPod shuffle, I don't use it. I've got my Walkman still. I've also got a portable DAT that needs fixing, I don't know anyone that'd fix that!......................
“Nowadays [reggae specifically] is simplified. People either DJ with laptops or CDs, but in our day it was more precious, the vinyl you had to look after.
“Dub-plates you paid 25 quid for, and that's a lot of money back in the day. So it was nice to have something unique and special that your sound would only play. Now it's just remix, anyone could do that...........
“I feel blessed enough to have seen it, I appreciate what it was then.
Illustrations by Stuart Tonge
WHICH MUSIC FORMAT DO YOU THINK IS BEST? EMAIL US AT email@example.com WITH YOUR OPINION. OR TWEET US @SITWmagazine.
CELEBRATIIG 15 YEARS OF RELEASES
COPPE’ IN A PILL
Coppe's vast career spans over 15 years, nestled
in between the birth of IDM and Trip-Hop, the oriental electronica 'Godmother' resembles a hint of both but not quite either, in her own expansive joy-pop world. Her latest release Coppe' in a Pill marks this 15 year milestone, of an artist whose sonic waves are still as advanced as Bjork’s are to this day. People say good things come in small packages, and it certainly rings true this time around, as Coppe’s pill-shaped USB collection is jam packed with treats. Released through her very own label Mango + Sweet Rice, this unusual music format contains over four hours of material, including videos, Coppe's best twenty songs, fifteen unreleased songs and an hour mega mix. The Japanese futurist really does have a vibrant catalogue of activities, something that seems more and more expansive each time her self-claimed 'Martian music world' is explored. So let the celebrations begin!
“I love cute things, my studio is full of them!”, shouts Coppe', who is always enthusiastic. “Since there are so many cute little USBs available, I thought, how about putting my music onto some of these cute little things. That way, not only music, but I can do visuals as well!!” she says. “I started to hunt for the cutest and encountered with this capsule-shaped one, and I knew right away this was my baby.” Unaware of the possibilities of this format, Coppe’ thought it was unlikely that any other artist would have released their material onto a USB prior to herself.
“I thought I was the pioneer, but when I started to research, there were a few made already. “Like Mr Scruff's; His USB is so cute as well!”
Coppe's own USB is uniquely and beautifully crafted, packaged up in a foam parcel. It's an object that brings back the arts to music. Something that is all too often lost through the non-physical MP3 experience. And it comes as no surprise to learn that this limited edition release has been snapped up very quickly.
“I was super happy when I heard from Bleep.com that it was sold out”, says Coppe'. “They've been ordered
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
“I LOVE CUTE THINGS. MY STUDIO IS FULL OF THEM!”
“ As far as the content goes [on the CD] it will be collaborations with an amazing artist from Georgia called Nikakoi”, announces Coppe’.
Additionally, contained within the USB will be a one hour mega mix, videos from American lounge-tronic duo Tipsy, and more unreleased music and remixes. “The whole music and content is all done now!” continues Coppe'.
On USB number one, Coppe's top twenty songs provide a beautiful introduction to a fresh pairs of ears, with the space-dancing Paper Soap [taken from the album Nauru] as a highlight on the bill. Its bouncy vibes hypnotise listeners through warped, warming trip-hop beats. While the track with IDM pioneers Plaid, [Jan & Jeff & Jungle Curry, taken from the album Peppermint] helps to define Coppe's trippy universe. A piece that contains a slow build up of euphoric breakbeats, weaved together by Coppe's scattered, soulful vocals.
“I’M MAKING USB NUMBER TWO AT THE MOMENT”
again and again, and now there are no more left!! So I've nearly made USB number two.” This time, the release will be a Lego-shaped USB and will also contain a CD album called Rays. The whole deluxe box set will be called Coppe’ In A Bloc.
But it has to be Lavender Oil [taken from her 10th anniversary album] with Dutch IDM artist Kettel that really starts those feet tapping. Arguably her greatest track, an infusing element of robotic shoegaze is brought in essence, and then re-designed against Bjork's spacious Hunter. Like Bjork, fame is something that has been rooted in Coppe' from the start. And as a little girl, her career skyrocketed after receiving a Japanese Grammy Award.
Coppe’ explains, “When I was still going to elementary school, I used to go and see my music teacher every week to learn music theories and harmonies. He gave me homework to complete three original songs, any lengths, every week.......................... “[Peke No Uta] was one of those homework pieces, and one day my
“IT BECAME A SMASH HIT AND WON ME A JAPANESE GRAMMY”
teacher asked me if I wanted to go to a professional studio and record this piece. I said YES!!!................................ “King Records pressed it, and since I was so young to be writing and performing my own piece, and since there weren't any singer-songwriters back then!, it became a smash hit and won me a Japanese Grammy!”
She continues, “you will actually hear Peke No Uta soon............................... “My friend Sutekh did the hour long Mango + Sweet Rice mega mix this time for my next USB, and he opened and closed with that track!” After this, Coppe's career flourished, and she began getting lots of offers to take part in various TV and radio shows.
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
“I've done movies, home dramas and variety shows”, she says. “This show called Poppers MTV was one of my very first. It's an MTV style TV show featuring music videos, and I was doing the interviews with most of the artists from foreign countries................... “I have interviewed James Brown, Ray Charles, Bryan Ferry, Robert Palmer, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Sting. You Name it; It was super fun!” Coppe' has also starred in Japan's highest rated home drama called Jikandesuyo!, adding an extra notch to her fame. “All I had was one scene”, she says. “I was the younger sister to this celebrity monsieur Hiroshi Kamayatsu. Him and me come out with a ramen noodle wagon after he says a one liner, usually its a famous Haiku. “All I had to do was
follow him and say thank you with a peace sign. It was probably the easiest job I have ever done. The director was the legendary Mr Kuze. He loved my character because I was so different from typical Japanese girls.”
Coppe's unconventional image really adds to her uniqueness, helping to define her pioneering sound with flamboyance. Including wearing her eyelashes on the bottoms of her eyes rather than the top! This quirky eccentricity translates perfectly on her fifteen previously unreleased tracks, which appear on Coppe' in a Pill. Je Pense donc je suis/Somewhere btwn 12 + 13 is one the most hypnotic tracks to feature, with Coppe' providing Indiansounding vocals between visionary guitar effects and rain-dropping beats.
While her trip-hop cover of Fever builds a new depth to the hit song, breaking it apart and reassembling it to feel like her own. In fact, there's a predominant jazz influential vibe felt in a lot of Coppe's music, including her cover of My Funny Valentine, which also appears on the fifteen unreleased tracks.
Her vocals really breathe a deep warmth in similar style to Eartha Kitt, and on her 2010 album Artificial Insemination, Coppe' covered Cry Me a River. Bringing Eartha to life, and sending shivers down the spines of any jazz fan fortunate enough to hear her version. “I was taking jazz vocal lessons around junior high school time”, says Coppe'. “I love singing jazz, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Julie London, there's so many legends that inspire me........................... “My great buddy collaborator Kettel, he's also into jazz. When he was staying at my place in Tokyo, we decided to do [Cry Me a River] together........................ “He's a great piano player, and also a great singer!”
“I’VE DONE MOVIES, HOME DRAMAS AND VARIETY SHOWS”
And Coppe's trip to Birmingham has also given her huge inspiration to make more music.
“I absolutely loved that awesome silver soramame [Japanese for 'sky bean'] shaped building [Selfridges] in Birmingham. I can't wait to visit again!”
By Ross Cotton
Coppe's remix album Coppe' vs. Bit-Phalanx – Yogurt is out now.
As well as her album Artificial Insemination, which features the original version of Yogurt.
Deluxe boxset and CD Coppe’ In A Bloc/Rays will be out in Spring 2012
“I ABSOLUTELY LOVED THAT AWESOME SILVER SORAMAME-SHAPED BUILDING IN BIRMINGHAM”
Illustration by Matthew Gorman
“I CAN’T WAIT TO VISIT AGAIN!”
It seems that Coppe's influences are limitless, as she continues to explain, “I'm a total music addict, Martian fruitcake here hahahaha!........................... “Bouncing, floating, swimming from trip-hop to jazz to tango to waltz, sometimes dodoitsu, always somersaulting in a Coppe' bubble.”
RETRO-FUTURISM RETRO-FUTURISM RETRO-FUTURISM BIRMINGHAMâ€™S MOST
UNDERATED MUSIC SCENE While Britpop was dominating the UK charts, another music scene was bubbling under the surface in Birmingham. It was a scene that took inspiration from a past, looking out to a glorious future. This scene was known as
Illustration by Gareth Corage
TRISH KEENAN, A YEAR ON...
year ago on 11th February, Birmingham lost one of its greatest creative minds.
It came as such an awful shock to music fans and musicians alike, as they learnt of Broadcast vocalist Trish Keenan's untimely death. Her highly original, breathtaking visions vibrated through sweet innocent vocals from a bygone 60s era that never was.
Trish generated an ethereal image and presence, which translated into the hearts of those who were captivated by her warmth. Surrealism, horror, fairy tales and fantasy are just some of the musical expressions felt within Trish's artistry, all accrediting to the fact that there was nobody as hauntingly beautiful as she. Ex-Broadcast guitarist and old friend Tim Felton remem-
bers, “she was very strong willed. Her life wasn't the easiest growing up........................ “We both lived in East Birmingham, Chelmsley Wood, Castle Bromwich, Castle Vale. So we had shared experiences.........
“Trish was living in a tower block in Bromford, just around the corner from my Nan's when I first got to know her............. “At that time in the 80s, looking slightly different was a lot more difficult than it is now. And living somewhere like that was a bit more dangerous”, he says.
“But she didn't take any shit and I was impressed! If you are into anything slightly different in those kind of places, you get to find out who the other people interested are very quickly.”
Both Tim and Trish obviously felt compelled to leave this side of Birmingham, and longed for somewhere to enable their creativity to shine thoroughly. “I grew up in Stechford, and I was born near The Swan [Yardley]. “Growing up in East Birmingham, it's a cultural desert. And to come to Moseley and there's people hanging out, and everybody was into music, it was like fucking hell, it's like being on holiday!”, says Tim. “People gravitate
Illustration by Sian Macfarlane
to Moseley because they feel more accepted”, he says.
Both Tim and Trish ended up moving to Moseley, which gave their talents the space to flourished accordingly. This allowed Trish's past fixations and emotive imagination to flow through unique, beathtaking, forwardthinking creations.
“Trish had a strong belief in her work ethic, and was never satisfied with the first thing that came up. She was full of contradictions and had some great insecurities”, says Tim.
With artists such as Graham Coxon and Paul Weller influenced by the pioneering world of Trish, a year on, the loss of such an original, celestial mind [at the age of 42] is still resonating through everybody who knew her.
Rumours have surfaced that Trish’s partner [remaining Broadcast member] James Cargill is planning to release a new album, containing vocals recorded by Trish before her death. If this album were to surface, it would provide the perfect tribute to Trish, allowing fans alike to keep hold of such an enchanting memory.
Trish Keenan will always be sadly missed by the music scene of Birmingham, and remains a create savour to England’s second city.
By Ross Cotton
SENSATERIA BIRMINGHAM’S PSYCH CLUB AND THE BEGINNING OF RETRO-FUTURISM Many of the bands involved
in retro-futurism were writing music as a form as escapism, rather than reflecting the actual industrial past of Birmingham, in which other Brummie bands such as Napalm Death, Black Sabbath and Scorn had taken influence from previously. Instead, our retro-futurists wanted to experience other fixations of the past, imagining the future through sciencefiction and psychedelic nostalgic visions. Similarly, there was a club night that began before the birth of retro-futurism, which also basked in the same concept. The club brought these bands together, fuelling their creativity in sixties expressionism. This club was called the Sensateria.
“It's hard to imagine now, but there was so much acid flying around, it was the days when you could skin up in a club and people didn't mind it. It's a bygone era now, but we had some great times”, says Mark 'Mack' MacDonald, who ran the club Sensateria, from 1984 to 1994.
“I used to just hire a room and completely dress the place in oil
wheels and parachutes, and it just became more and more popular. I did everything myself really, all the artwork, I printed the posters and put them up around Birmingham................. “I used to set off early with a bucket of paste, a bag and a
“The posters were unreadable on purpose”, says Mack.
“THERE WAS NOTHING MORE SIXTIES” -
brush, putting these posters up over walls, all down Hurst Street, hanging off the Subways. Then I'd get on the 50 bus to go home, and a bunch of Sensateria fans would get on the bus with these posters covered in paste that I'd just previously put up. And I'd think for fucks sake! I just risked getting nicked for that and you're just taking it home with you!”, shouts Mack who remembers vividly.
“We all met in the Sensateria”, says Tim Felton of Broadcast. “All the bands went to that club, and the first time people went there, they were astonished....... “All the posters used to be hand screen printed and they were almost unintelligible when you saw them pasted up...................
“THERE WAS SO
MUCH ACID FLYING -
“Most people were like, I can't read that! But if you knew about it, the message was out, there's a night here Saturday night”, says Tim,
MARK ‘MACK’ MACDONALD
“Sometimes I didn't even put the venue on it. I wanted to trial it to see how far I could go because people knew where it was, and it was still packed. I mean you couldn't do that now!”, he says.
The night began at a strip club called The Fantasy Club on Bradford St, and later moved to The Powerhouse [which is now an empty Oceana]. “It was there in the little room for a year or two, and then it went to the front of The Powerhouse”, says Mack. “I put on bands there like The Sea Urchins, Filipinos, Surf Drums, and I think my biggest claim was putting Spacemen 3 on three times, who I'm a big fan of!”, he says. “Yeah I saw Spacemen 3 there”, says Matt Eaton of Pram. “I think it was the first time I ever went to Sensateria. I remember thinking it was very sixties. There was nothing more
MODS OR ROCKERS -
WOULD LET YOU IN”
MARK ‘MACK’ MACDONALD
sixties than that, apart from actually going back in time to the sixties!”, he exclaims. “It was located all over the place and I think the classic one was at The Powerhouse.” “When we went in [The Powerhouse] for the first time, it was all done out in Tiki style”, says a reminiscing Mack. “It had Tiki heads and lights inside, it'd just been left for years, untouched since the sixties. It was rough and ready, but it had that real edge to it!”
After leaving The Powerhouse, the club moved to The Hummingbird, which is now The Birmingham Ballroom. “There wasn't any competition unless you were a very strict mod, or you went to [rock bars] Costermongers or Edwards”, says Mack. “When I started it in the mid eighties, there were no places to go to on a Saturday if you can believe that!............................. “Neither the rockers or mods would let you in, they both had really strict ideas..................... “You had to look right for the mod thing and for the metal thing, and if you didn't, you'd get hammered!” Very friendly! “So my thoughts were to turn the mods onto The Stooges, and that was the way I went in with it, and it worked. Everybody loved it!...................................... “The audience were very mixed, the rockers and the mods did come together, and then there were off-shoots of that.”
“I didn't just want it to be a piss up in a club”, says Mack. “I'd make people go to [record shops] Swordfish and The Plastic Factory [which no longer exists] to get there tickets............... “With each ticket, I'd make a lucky bag of games. One ticket was a printed t-shirt, so you'd have to wear the t-shirt to get in. “Another was a pair of batman glasses, which I put red and blue lenses in to make a 3D effect, and another was a cassette which had an hours worth of
The Sensateria played music from the likes of Captain Beefheart, The Nuggets, Frank Zappa and United States of America, which is where the story and influence begins for our Brummie retro-futurists. “I played Garden of Earthly Delights by United States of America”, says Mack. “That was when Jam [James Cargill] and Trish [Keenan] [of Broadcast] met. It was at that mo“WE ALL MET ment in their heads, and I IN SENSATERIA” remember people running to- TIM FELTON wards me going, what the fuck is this?!! “They music on it from the club............ just instantly got it straight away; “I can't quite believe this now, And that formed a band!” but if I hadn't brought the tickets into Swordfish the week before, The Sensateria was also I'd bring them in on the actual praised outside of Birmingham day of the gig, and people would for its unique approach to both be queuing up with these lucky music and art. Richard Norris bags I’d made!............................ [from the techno act The Grid] “I also did some really mad stuff, used to write for the magazine like Charles Manson coat hangStrange Things Are Happening, ers. So when you put the top of and spoke about the club on your shirt on the coat hanger, Radio 1. Richard highly recomCharles Manson was wearing mended Sensateria as one of your clothes!” the best psych clubs to go to.
Illustration by Stefania Osk Omarsdottir
Broadcast. (Left to right) Tim Felton, Trish Keenan, James Cargill
“I ALSO DID
Sensateria later moved onto the Digbeth Civic Hall Institute, then to the Moseley Dance Centre and finally ended up at Snobs. However, at this point during the early 90s, a new type of music and club culture had hit the mainstream and brought even more audience's together, threatening Sensateria's style, custom and approach.
“Halfway through doing Sensateria, there was that big explosion of dance music”, says Mack. “Everybody started doing a stupid amount of drugs, and a lot of people went straight into dance music, acid house
SOME MAD STUFF LIKE
CHARLES MANSON COAT -
MARK ‘MACK’ MACDONALD
specifically, which was mad...
“I'd done the club for nearly ten years every month, and I just started to lose interest. “The sixties thing had peaked, and a lot of people went over to Sweat which is a funk and soul night. It was quite an easy transition from Sensateria. It made people start to wear bell bottoms and go around thinking the seventies were brilliant. It just moved on in progression.”
And what's the likelihood of Sensateria ever returning? “I get asked a few times usually every year”, says Mack. “I don't know...... I would do it, but I'm really picky about venues. I think for a good night, the venue has to be right.” He concludes.
By Ross Cotton
(Left to right) Tim Felton, Trish Keenan and James Cargill, who met at the Sensateria and formed the band Broadcast Illustration by Stefania Osk Omarsdottir
.....LEADING TO THE RETRO-FUTURISM SCENE Other than the Sensateria, what else fuelled our retro-futurists to reference the past? What made them create music to depict a glorious future that was never achieved? And why was Birmingham the place for this thriving scene? We'll start from the beginning......
“Not particularly at the time by 60s pop; I wasn't particularly interested in that”, admits Rosie Cuckston from Pram. “I was more interested in feminism and I was influenced by The Raincoats and The Slits.”
know. I like things that I can't put my finger on why I like it................ “If I can really understand something straight away, then I tend to be less interested”, he says.
Rosie continues, “Coming to Birmingham, you suddenly realise “At the age of fifteen, I was really that there's life outside of your into Throbbing Gristle”, says Tim pop or punk, and other influences In 1992, Birmingham's ever-mustart to feed in like this tating Pram released their first [Lebanese music that's “I WAS mini album Gash. This was a playing in the backpiece that would pave the way ground of the interINTO THROBBING for a career in equally darkening view]. And another yet angelic parallels of the past, source of free GRISTLE AT THE which became encompassed in music is the library Pram's imaginary world. in town, which AGE OF FIFTEEN” used to have a masAt the same time, London's postpunk outfit Stereolab released sive collection of - TIM GANE their debut Peng!, after founding music from all over the member Tim Gane departed from world. [Fellow Pram memthe indie pop band McCarthy. Gane from Stereolab. ber] Matthew [Eaton] used to get Peng! brought joyous pop “All this whole dark electronic CDs out and sample that kind of melodies transfixed through voscene which I listened to up to the stuff”, she says. calist Laetitia Sadier's lyrics, while mid 80s, and I got into exotica Gash depicted much harsher, and lounge stuff mainly through After their debut album Gash, nightmarish visions from Pram vo- this kind of music, strangely Pram's sound slowly shifted, and calist Rosie Cuckston's self-reflec- enough”, says Tim, which begins incorporated many other different tive pallet. Although both albums to explain the sound of Stereolab styles of music to accompany the are completely different in sound, much more than the initial indusinitial harsher sounds. These new it was clear that Pram and Stereo- trial influence mentioned. styles are where the retro-futurism lab were influenced from the “I had a cassette by Throbbing [similarly to Stereolab's 50s exotsame pages of music history. Gristle, and there was a track by ica influence] began to take hold, Martin Denny who Genesis P Orparticularly found on the Pram re“I considered myself more from ridge was a big fan of, and in fact leases Helium  and Sarthe sort of blast first side of things. they based their entire Greatest gasso Sea . “So more awkward, noisy, shrill. Hits albums on the Martin Denny “Looking back on it now, and look. I suddenly Pram did use imagery, and music bought every influences from that sort of era”, “IT WAS A record by says Rosie. Martin “Things like the whole idea of a NOSTALGIA FOR A Denny, and Hawaiian bubble machine and TIME WHEN PEOPLE I really got stuff like that, it was all that influinto exotica ence of the 60s.............................. WERE OPTIMISTIC music. It “For Pram, it was a nostalgia for a was giving time when people were optimistic ABOUT THE FUTURE” me a sound about the future, and did see world that I great freedom in what might be - ROSIE CUCKSTON didn't really coming, such as everybody in fly-
(Left to right) Trish Keenan, James Cargill & Tim Felton from Broadcast. (Far right) Pram
PRAM, BROADCAST, BRIAN DUFFY, TELE:FUNKEN, PLONE, STEREOLAB
Illustration by Sian Macfarlane
Illustration by Stuart Tonge
Stereolab. Laetitia Sadier (2nd left), Tim Gane (2nd right)
ing cars and colonies on the moon!”, she says reminiscently.
a clear retro-futurist view. “There's a great film called The Shape of Things to Come, and it's “One of the themes in our earlier based on a H.G. Wells story. It LPs like Helium and the Meshes was made in the early 50s but it's EP was dreams of the future that about a town in the 40s, and the people had in the past”, says same town's life in the far future where there's this space war”, says Matt, explain“ONLY THE ing that as a group, they were highly influTRULY BRAVE CAN enced by this film.
than any other Brummie band from Mark 'Mack' MacDonald's club night the Sensateria. Mack was later took on board by Broadcast, and created visuals for the band’s live performances and music videos. “That came from a love of every wall moving with an oil wheel or a patterned wheel”, explains Mack. “Everybody was covered in light and it was overwhelming people. “From that I got interested in film projecting, copying the club scene of Midnight Cow and The Andy Warhol Factory.............................. “I bought 16mms and I used to run two 16mms side by side, split screen. Or I'd put both images on top of each other, so it would just run, and you'd get this randomness just going on........................ “And that was it, any other lighting was just so [Broadcast] could see what they were doing. It was always minimal lighting on stage with just these projections. I went around the world with them doing
In 1996, Birmingham's most iconic - ROSIE CUCKSTON retro-futurists Broadcast released their first EP The multi-instrumentalist Matt Eaton Book Lovers. Famously, the EP who still records music in Pram. title track was used in the sound“So people like George Orwell track to Austin Powers: Internaand fantastic old science shorts tional Man of Mystery  and and early cinema, 50s B-movies the group have since appeared and all of that. That came through live on a range of TV programmes our music, and a lot of the lyrics such as Later With Jools Holland as well. Rosie's space lyrics were and MTV, earning celebrity fans not sci-fi as such, but maybe from such as Paul Weller. Again, the someone in the position of the sound of Broadcast breathed past past, looking forward to a glorious fixations, taking influence more future which didn't quite happen”, he says reflectively. “EVERYBODY WAS This seems especially true within Rosie's lyrics on The Last AstroCOVERED IN LIGHT, AND naut, [Telemetric Melodies, 1999] as she sings, “leaving the IT WAS OVERWHELMING world behind, with all its prison thoughts. Only the truly brave PEOPLE” can be the astronauts”, providing
MARK ‘MACK’ MACDONALD
PAGE 31 it, which was fantastic. Then I did their video to Papercuts [The Noise Made By People, 2000], which had all these dream machines on it. [A dream machine is] this huge record deck. You put a light bulb in a tube with a pattern in the middle on the deck, and you're supposed to squint into the light and it gives this flickering effect. It supposedly gives you some kind of natural drug feeling. “The constant flickering triggers something off.”
that's imported, even though “IT’S NOT A it's fiction, because it TRUE REALISATION might have just OF THE PAST, IT’S ALL been one moment in PERCEPTION” time, or one - TIM FELTON person connected might have said something. You take “So on a fundamental level, that's that from the past, move it forthe only truth of retro-futurism”, ward and present it, but it’s not a says Tim Felton. true realisation of the past. It's all “Because if you listen to the Lead vocalist Trish Keenan was a perception and reality, which are bands, Broadcast were far more truly incomparable, inspiring figcompletely different”, he says. like a pop band than say Pram. ure to the city, and will always be “It came from a love of certain “Or Plone, who were purely an inmissed after her untimely death in types of music, a natural thing. It strumental group”, he says. 2011 after suffering with Pneumo- was that we loved these records, nia. Although Trish will live on in how can we sound more like that. “And then drawing in- “A lot of the synths I bought, I actually bought them around the fluences from dif“WE COINED same time they were released”, ferent things explains Stereolab's Tim Gane. and executing THE TERM “In the early 80s when I was a that influence teenager, I had lots of synths. A RETRO-FUTURISM” in a little bit bit like Pram and Broadcast, they more of a well were all into synths and electronobserved way. - BRIAN DUFFY ics and stuff quite along time be“The thing that fore they did the bands we know united the bands that them for. I liked the music that perfection through Broadcast's fu- were put into that category [retrowas made by the synths, and turist depictions of the 60s, with futurism] was the use of old techthey were quite cheap at that her uniquely soulful vocals imme- nology, which would have been time. With Stereolab, we used diately transporting listeners into seen as very modern at the time them because they have a certain her own self-created reality. [that it was invented]................... character, which I find difficult to Trish's partner, and remaining get anywhere else........................ Broadcast member, James Cargill “They're fun to play, they look is currently working on a British good and they always give film soundtrack due for release, you a surprise. Plus they while ex-guitarist Tim Felton have a certain poetry formed his own band Seeland about them........................ after departing from Broadcast in “The type of music that I early 2004. Felton explains, “we was writing really dewere all referencing the past, all pended on these type of the bands I've been in before instruments doing it.......... have referenced the past. But I “When it was put onto think all bands do in some way. other instruments, like “Perhaps with Broadcast, it was digital or soft synths, it more acutely observed................. never sounded good, it re“A lot of the bands I liked were ally was made to go with psychedelic sixties, and garage, organ and analogue and we referenced those sounds synths. Plus I have to say using analogue synthesisers........ that I think these old “People have always done that. If things look better than the you look at psych bands from the new digital......................... sixties, especially in the UK, they “It's a great design, and started referencing Victoriana great to look at on stage and started dressing in Victoand in the studio........... rian clothes. There's always an “Nowadays, there isn’t idealisation of the past, and
Illustration by Jamila Walker
Pram. The illustration depicts the band’s Museum of Imaginary Animals album era (2000)
PAGE 32 really anything to see because most people use softs and plugins”, says Tim Gane.
“There is that kind of quirkiness that analogue instruments aren't rock steady” says Theremin player Harry Dawes from Pram.
“I'd rather see someone wrestle with a modular analogue synth, knowing that they've got to repatch it, and that it might go out of tune”, explains long-time Birmingham music scene contributor and physicist Brian Duffy. “I was in a band where we had fifteen analogues on stage, and
“THERE’S A KIND
OF QUIRKINESS THAT
ANALOGUE INSTRUMENTS AREN’T ROCK STEADY” -
next sounded 80s, and then the next sounded 90s”, says Pram percussionist Laurence Hunt.
“They're going to run out of decades eventually! Who has heard of them recently?” says fellow Pram member Max Simpson.
“Exactly!”, agrees Laurence. “But yes, Will ESCAPE INTO THIS Greagory [from GoldFANTASY TYPE OF frapp] is really into his anaMUSIC” logue synths, there's a strong - BILLY BAINBRIDGE connection to retro-futurism. He indieverything was live, or sequenced rectly references that era when live from MIDI”, says Brian, who is analogue synths exploded.”, says talking about his project StyloLaurence, thoughtfully. phonic, formed with Robert Shaw in the 80s [Shaw had left the pop Brian Duffy continues band Swans Way, who had the hit to explain his projsingle Soul Train in 1984]. ect Stylophonic, “It was a project I worked on for a which had been long time, before there was even compared to Golda notion of retro-futurism............... frapp. “It was all “We coined that term [retro-futurabout using glamism]”, he says. our to escape the “I first heard the term when I men- drudgery of the tioned it about what we were working class exisdoing. We were kind of doing this tence”, he says. mix of Kraftwerk, The Walker “We were in a Brothers and Marc Bolan. It was process of escapsynthesiser glam rock................... ing, and we refer“The closest comparison now enced a lot of would have been Goldfrapp’s 2nd things from the album [Black Cherry, 2003]. When past while looking that came out, people were like forward to the fuoh god that sounds like your ture. It was always band!”, he says. about optimistically looking towards “When you think of recent bands the future.”, exwho look back, you do think Gold- plains Brian. frapp. Their first album Felt Mountain sounded 60s, their second “If you live in album sounded 70s and then the
Birmingham, you can either absorb your surroundings and become a death metal band, or you can escape into this fantasy type of music, which it doesn't relate to”, says Billy Bainbridge, from the three-piece synth band Plone. “It's about escaping the grimness of the city life, rather than embracing it”, he says. Plone released their debut, and only, album For Beginner Piano in 1999, after changing their style and sound from ambient techno [under the name Rehab], to soundtrack-type retro-futurism. “We started off being like a Warptypical intelligent techno group, and we played in clubs like chill out rooms. Then it just shifted when we started getting into different music”, says Billy. “We thought lets do something different with this equipment, why
Illustration by Jamila Walker
Plone. (Left to right) Billy Bainbridge, Mark Cancellara, Mike Johnston
PAGE 33 can't we produce stuff like Kraftwerk and Cluster. When we were doing the album, I was hooked on Zelda on the Nintendo. “And I used to be really into the music on the Commodore 64........ “There is something really good about it, the simplicity of it............. “There was an abundance of synthesisers that were cheap, so we picked up loads because we had access to it”, says Billy. “And the fact you've got to make something good out of such limited resources really interested us. You can only make two or three sounds at a time, and these limitations allowed us to end up with creative music”, he says.
“A LOT OF PEOPLE
WERE SHOPPING AT CHARITY SHOPS” -
control over what it's going to sound like. But it was incorporating technology into things............. It was like oh we can do this for 35 quid!” she says.
“In terms of equipment, we'd go to car boot sales”, says Billy from three-piece synth group Plone. “Which you can probably tell in the music; that childlike sound...... “We'd get loads of Moog albums [from car boots] as well, and they were quite a big influence.”
fascinating setting.”, says Max.
“Yes it was charity shops all the time, looking for anything”, says Tom [Tele:Funken].
“Vinyl is no longer the staple of charity shops though is it. It used to be”, says Rosie.
“If I found a classic, it meant the whole world”, says Tom. “I think when Rosie went to Black“I remember when Plone played pool and to a charity shop, finding at Camber Sands and they got Moog Indigo by Jean-Jacques through their first track and Mark Perrey, my head just exploded...... [Cancellara]'s keyboard wasn't “A lot of people were shopping at “I wanted to find that record as working, so he kept hitting it until charity shops and jumble sales well, and I never found another it made a funny noise, and then it copy for 25p!” stopped working and so Tele:Funken [Tom Fenn] they all walked off “SOMETIMES released his first album stage because all Distant Station  their equipment EQUIPMENT HAD along with space rock was so shit. Which HAPPY ACCIDENTS” Bristolian's Flying was a real shame”, Saucer Attack. His says solo musician - ROSIE CUCKSTON second album, the solo Tom Fenn, who rerelease, A Collection of leases material under Ice Cream Vans, Vol. 2 was rethe name Tele:Funken. because of the work situation”, leased in 2000. says Max Simpson from Pram. “Sometimes equipment had “The place where you could afford Both of Tom's releases harked back to traditional music settings happy accidents that were quite to buy your records and your and scientific futurism. nice if you managed to record it books from were charity shops “To me, retro-futurism was about right. But yes, all the equipment and jumbles sales. And a lot of celebrating the music of people was fairly temperamental”, admits the stuff being thrown out at the like the radiophonic workshop”, Rosie, who is talking about her time was from the sixties........... says Tom. own experiences with cheap “A lot of that art and media was “And it was back in those days equipment in Pram. visions of the future, and there that there was going to be this “The first sampler we used was a was a sense of irony because, by eerie scary future that we didn't Casio, and it just had that little the nineties, people had realised really know what to expect. That thing where you could record a that this future had never really was very much reflected in tiny little loop. You've got no been achieved. But it was still a sounds in like Doctor Who and other pioneering “RETRO-FUTURISM BBC productions. “There's that classic WAS ABOUT CELEBRATING THE one called The Dreams that Delia MUSIC OF THE RADIOPHONIC Derbyshire did the music to................... WORKSHOP” “I think at the same time, we were highly - TOM FENN
“THERE WAS NO
RIVALRY BETWEEN THE -
BANDS AT ALL”
MARK ‘MACK’ MACDONALD
“They've always had their own thing, and they've always had this great song writing. It was completely combined well, great songs, great sound, great style”, he says, reminiscently. “When you get to know people who are doing music like Pram and Broadcast, you always have a good affinity with them, because you know these people are really very perceptive about creating music. You never really read about it, you only encounter it when you speak to people.............................. “You realise how totally sophisticated they are about music, and it's really great talking to people about that because you find out you've got so many things in common. It's nice”, says Tim.
influenced by music from the 50s from London based act Stereolab. and 60s, coming out of radio cen“They'd played the Sausage Matres across Europe........................ chine which was a club owned by “One name that springs to mind in- one of the guys that owned Too stantly would be [jazz musician] Pure. That's how we both got on Tom Dissevelt. He had a sound the label. After that, we saw them laboratory set up with a chap quite a lot, we did gigs with them, called Dick Raaijmakers who was we even did tours with them and known as Kid Baltan.” we went a few times up to their Tom's first album [Distant Station] house in Moseley........................... took heavy influence from these “We got on really well with them musicians, and he began to incorand I always liked their records. I porate similar techniques into his thought they were a great band, own musical creations. particularly live as well................... “[The first album] was samples “The bands did borrow equipment “We were also related to Broadmade at different speeds, layered cast a few years later. On our label off each other”, says multi-instrudown on tracks. So in a way, it mentalist Matt Eaton from Pram. was a bit like mixing with decks, “And we played with Novak a except I was mixing with “NOBODY few times because we liked tapes. It was like how the them”, he says. GOT TOGETHER old guys did it, but it was onto a 16 track”, he says. “There are definitely AND SAID THESE “It was recorded in cross currents between Pram's studio, 'Colossal the bands, where there's WERE THE RULES” a similar influence and Studios', which was the size of a box, haha!” use of instruments,” says - MAX SIMPSON multi-instrumentalist Max It seems that all the bands under from Pram. the retro-futurism umbrella were “But there was no manifesto. It at the time [Duophonic], we reequally helping each other out, wasn't like dogma or something. leased two demo tapes. One was whether this was sharing studios Nobody got together and said by Darlin' who eventually formed or performing together. these are the rules.” into Daft Punk, and then the other “There was no rivalry between the record was by Broadcast............... bands at all”, says Mack, who ran “I just remember [manager] Martin Surprisingly, there’s also a more the club Sensateria. famous group, from Sheffield, who [Pike] saying he’d got this tape “It was like, is it okay if we borrow fit into the themes of retro-futurism from this band from Birmingham, this? Yeah okay. They were just perfectly. This group contributed in and that it sounded really good. I really lovely people to work with.... listened to it, and I was like yeah helping our own Birmingham “If everyone's on the same wave bands to perform in front of much [sounds like] United States of length and natural, something bigger audiences. This band are America! And we said straight good is bound to come out of it. the Britpop act Pulp. away, yeah we'll release their sin“Pram and Broadcast supported “We were Mr Cocker's choice”, gle. When Broadcast appeared, I each other and Stereolab were re- knew the sound instantly, which says Max from Pram. ally good pals. So yes, it wasn't was so great................................... “They rang us up and said, fifty just in Birmingham.”
“When we first did records with Too Pure, I remember Pram were also on the label, and I knew them because I used to see them when they came to play in London”, says Tim Gane
APPEARED, I KNEW THE SOUND INSTANTLY” -
PAGE 35 quid a show. We said, we'll do it!” “Yeah it was absolutely ridiculous!” shouts Matt.
“It was bizarre, playing with that size of an audience”, says Rosie. “[The audience] were bemused every night of the tour. Utterly bemused!”, she exclaims
GOT PICKED UP WITH THE BRITPOP THING” -
Optophonic Lunaphone [which allows him to make music from listening to the stars], to Brian Duffy's latest project, which limits “We had a phone call one day, do his output through using only a Roland System 100 synth [manuyou want to support Pulp in factured in 1979]. Okay, so that's Brighton?”, says Billy from Plone. all just Brian Duffy! There's also “It was a big concert, and we [ex-Broadcast] Tim Felton's band turned it down. We were thinking, Seeland, which was formed “WE WERE MR with Billy Bainbridge COCKER’S CHOICE!” [ex-Plone] in 2004. And - MAX SIMPSON Tim Felton's other project Hintermass, which is a solo effort that oh what's the audience going to he releases through the Ghost be like? oh well, we'll probably box label. And Pram's new project support Pulp again next year....... “But we should have took that op- with Joachim Irmler [from the krautrock band Faust]. And finally, portunity”, admits Billy. “Then one day, Pulp were DJing on Radio 1, playing their favourite records, and Jarvis Cocker was like, that was Plone there, which was great that they played us! [Pulp] were definitely the most interesting Britpop band and they didn't really come from that mentality at all.They seemed to have that same cheap keyboards and charity shop aesthetics as us. But they obviously got picked up with the Britpop thing”, he says.
Magnetophone have now become part of a whole new Birmingham experimental music scene, releasing material through the Brum based label/collective First Fold. So Brummies rejoice! We have a jam-packed flourishing music scene that's waiting to captivate your ears! You just have to do a little bit of digging to find those hidden gems.......
By Ross Cotton Illustration by Gareth Corage
With many of our retro-futurists such as Avrocar, Novak, L'Augmentation and Magnetophone yet to be mentioned, it is clear that this specific Birmingham music scene has remained everprotruding since the late eighties.
Today still see's the echo of such a diverse, thriving, unique oddity. From Brian Duffy's Modified Toy Orchestra [utilising the sixtie's invented circuit bending technique to obtain music from toys], to Brian Duffy's pioneering
Magnetophone. (Left to right) Matt Saunders, John Hanson
Illustration by Gareth Corage
THE THEREMIN THE ULTIMATE RETRO-FUTURIST’S INSTRUMENT The defining sound of retro-
futurism has always been the Theremin in my mind. With Pram's consistent relationship with the instrument, Broadcast's use of it on their track Until Then and Portishead utilising its eerie essence and groan on The Mysterons and Humming, the Theremin has evidently been rooted within the scene from the start of the 90s. And the instrument's mysterious past is clearly reflected within retro-futurism, helping to define that odd dream-like future that never quite was.
The whole concept of not actually touching the instrument to play it is still highly futuristic to me, and the magical, indescribable pitch that is detected from hand movements astonishes me every time. The device never fails to leave many viewers convinced of some sort of trickery behind the performance, and I can certainly see why it could be considered an illusion!
“At one point, the Theremin
was viewed as the future of music, and that's like 80 years ago!” says Laurence Hunt, the percussionist of Pram.
“When it was marketed by RCA in America during the 1940s, there was a thought that every home would have one”, says Theremin
“IT WAS THOUGHT
THAT EVERY HOME WOUlD HAVE ONE” -
player Harry Dawes, of Pram. “It was thought that this would be the new parlour instrument. Instead of having a piano you'd have a Theremin.” So how can such an early 20th century invention still seem modern and captivating to audience’s to this day? And why didn't the Theremin become a well known instrument across music history? Harry Dawes may hold some answers.
MELODIC AND HAUNTING”
signature, rather like in photography, Polaroid film has a specific signature. You recognise a Polaroid photo immediately just by looking at it........... “[To play the Theremin] your intonation is pretty much as accurate as your whistle; as your ear is.”
“It's a serious instrument....You can process it immediately how you want, and it's very melodic and haunting. Its got that defining sound
Therefore, such a unique instrument should surely be used across the spectrum of music, taking a similar role to the synthesiser within a band set up. So why is it not used?
“It's just associated with science-fiction movies and soundtracks”, says Billy Bainbridge of Plone/Seeland. “It's that cross between an instrument and a science experiment.”, he says.
“That's true, because in the 1930s they had them in orchestras. Theremin recitals for instance.”, agrees multi-instrumentalist Matt Eaton, of Pram.
Although Harry believes that there's many deeper reasons as to why the instrument has never really appealed to the mainstream on a wide scale. “I became increasingly interested in built-in obsolescence, he says very seriously. “The fact that a lot of products in life are built to have a limited life span, driving the capitalist economy so that you have to buy more. What this meant, as far as music were concerned, is that there was a growing number of instruments which never really reached their full potential. So all keyboards you'd be buying would be seceded a year later by another keyboard that did even more things, and the full potential was never realised at all.”
ample of this being Jimmy THESE STORIES Page's painful screeching atTHAT YOU DON’T tempt to play the Theremin KNOW WHETHER on Led ZepTO BELIEVE” pelin’s A Whole Lotta Love. - HARRY DAWES With other pop artists such as Goldfrapp following down the instrument and actually learnsame path, the instrument has also been used in comedian Bill ing how to play it”, he says. Bailey's stand up shows. Which “They make one sound essenall helped to take away the imtially and so I think people find portance of a unique creation, and replaced its originality with that limiting.................................. “In Pram, the Theremin is used cheap laughs. in quite a few different tunes. Sometimes it takes the melody, “It's possibly too one-dimensometimes it's a rhythmic thing sional”, says Harry. and sometimes it's adding little “So like a keyboard will do a million different things, and like textures to the piece. So in a band like Pram, it's a great in“For me the Theremin was the a computer will do ten million strument to have because it has perfect example of an instrudifferent things, the Theremin that singular sound, and has ment that was never fully only really does one. You very that cultish-ness that the band utilised. Largely because the quickly get bored with it unless have”, says Harry. Theremin was invented before you start to think about what the concept of electronic music you are going to do.................... Apart from a cult following and had really existed. People were “So the performer goes up, an array of Theremin convenjust using it to reproduce clasthey flap their arms about, and tions, the instrument did seemsical music like violin pieces then they play it really slowly, ingly play a famous part on and cello pieces.......................... and then fast and then they Good Vibrations by The Beach “And even now Lydia Kavina walk away, and the whole Boys. However, this is actually [inventor Leon Theremin's process has taken 30 seconds. understood a a common misgrandniece] plays this tune by “Whereas actually, by processconception. The Beach Boys [Edgar] Sampson, instead of ing the signal, for me by using did not use a Theremin! Harry using it as a sound source for a delays usually, there's a variety explains, “Robert Moog told us new genre.”, he says. of different effects. My approach is to concentrate on dif- that that's not the Theremin. It's Along with the classical reperferent effects and different lines a ribbon controller that he made for them!” toire, many other musicians and trying to be able to hold a only use the instrument as a note steady. It all involves enAnd further historical milenovelty sound. The prime exgaging with the stones reveal even more hazy areas and rumours for the “HE BECAME Theremin, something that could have also affected the instruVERY SUCCESSFUL, ment’s appearance amongst the mainstream. WELL KNOWN, AND THE “The Theremin is mixed up with
HE DISAPPEARED” -
MIXED UP WTH
these epochal stories that you don't know whether to believe or not”, says Harry.
THE TIME FOR
Cold War asTHE THEREMIN IS pect to it............ “And it seems IN THE FUTURE!” true that he cerThe mystery is especially true tainly did do some - LAURENCE HUNT during Leon Theremin's arrival sort of surveillance in America in the 1920s, after work in America while he pitch comes in. So you can he played his invention around was there. But it's all slightly have a glissando-type sound Europe. The events that folapocryphal and it depends lowed became very mysteriwho you talk to and where you that's very similar to the ous, and he was suspected of talk to them as well!”, explains Theremin sound......................... “But it also has a keyboard so being in the USA for other reaHarry, who doesn’t know exyou can actually have stepped sons. Harry Dawes explains actly what to believe himself. pitch as well. And there are further. “He became very sucsprings and lights on the cessful, well known and then A documentary about Leon he disappeared........................ Theremin was made in 1994 by speakers that produce sounds”, says Laurence. Steven M. Martin called An “This was what the future of “In America it was put about Electronic Odyssey. However, serious 20th century music that [Leon] had been captured this still failed to provide the was going to be......................... by the KGB and had been inventor with the true recogni“And then World War 1 haptaken back to Russia and put tion that he deserves, and the pened, and these early elecin a gulag.................................. instrument still remains to be tronic instruments vanished. “But in Russia, what they say the world's best kept musical “They were no longer prois that he was spying in Amersecret, the definitive meaning duced and manufacturing was ica and had returned to mother of retro-futurism’s ethos. aimed at war preparations. Russia, even though he was “And just recently they've incarcerated there until the “There's another electronic instarted to produce and manusixties. So the whole event is strument from the same era facture them again, 100 years sort of mixed up; there's a called the Ondes Martenot”, after it initially became popusays Laurence Hunt, perlar!” A crazy concept when cussionist of Pram. “THERE’S you really think about it! “Its got a wire that
A COLD WAR
ASPECT TO IT” -
goes through a ring attached to your finger. The wire and the ring make contact, and that's where the
“So maybe, the time for the Theremin is in the future!” concludes Laurence.
By Ross Cotton
Illustration by Gareth Corage
NETWORK MUSIC FESTIVAL http://networkmusicfestival.org/
Set to take place on 27-29th January at Friction Arts, Cheapside, in Digbeth, Network Music Festival is the beginning of a networking age. With performances from international, pioneering hi-tech musicians, who each bring their own experimental edge to the laptop, live coding experience. The festival will also present sound installations and workshops for the audience to get involved in, opening up Birmingham’s creative community for all to bask in. Set up by the Birmingham Laptop Ensemble (BiLE), SITW caught up with them, to find out exactly what the festival will bring to England’s second city.
BIRMINGHAM LAPTOP ENSEMBLE
Birmingham Laptop Ensemble
(BiLE) are a team of experimental sound performers. Focusing on instrumental and electroacoustic music, the ensemble improvises and interact together to generate and manipulate new ways of expression for live performances. The six piece (consisting of Shelly Knotts, Julien Guillamat, Charles Celeste Hutchins, Chris Tarren, Norah Lorway and Iain Armstrong), are also accompanied by glitch artist Antonio Roberts, who crafts supporting visual wonders for BiLE's on stage shows.
are playing two pieces [at Network Music Festival]”, says laptop enthusiast Shelly Knotts. “One of them we've performed at two other festivals, which is our XYZ piece, and then we are doing one of Les's pieces.”
“It's a premiere”, says fellow member Charles Celeste Hutchins. “It's a 'Laptopera', we're doing just act two of it, but as far as I know, it's the first ever
Glitches by Antonio Roberts
PAGE 41 opera for laptops!”, he says. “A guy I really like called Gino Robair did an improvised opera for really open instrumentation. There were guys performing it with singers and laptops. I also really like things with spoken text. So I thought, what if we did a similarly open opera thing with computers, but with more text”, says Les.
sounds or chatting to each other during the performance”, says Shelly. “So this is a way we could be really communicating. I've got my iPhone, if I move it one way, it controls one piece of sound, if I move it another way, it controls another part of the sound in three dimensions. And then, everybody in the ensemble has a sound that has three things you can control on it. “Then I can say, I'm going to control the pitch on Les's sound, the resonance on Chris's and the density on Julien's. So it's 3 dimensions with the iPhone controlling those things.............................................. “And we're all fighting the whole time to control each other's sounds.”
“WE’RE NOT ABOUT TECHNICAL FETISHES” - CHRIS TARREN
Shelly begins to explain the story behind XYZ, which will also be performed at Network Music Festival. “We wrote that for the New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference in Oslo in May last year.................................................. “The idea was that we'd all be able to control each other's sounds, with an iPhone or using a Wii-mote for example. I wanted to think of a way that wasn't just sharing
“It's like a big sonic battle!”, adds Julien.
“Sonic arm wrestle was the working title!”, says Shelly.
With elements of both art and music within their sound, BiLE fuse together two creative outlets and present their experiments through live performance. “It's very much a musical background that we all come from, and I think that translates into the approach that we take” says Iain. “I was a classical violinist.” Shelly adds, “and I came from writing instrumental music, to doing electronics, to doing BiLE........................................................ “We're more about exploring other avenues alongside the other things that we are doing. But the stuff that we're doing in BiLE is definitely influencing my other compositions. Working with a group of composers with other ideas just opens your eyes to other avenues”, Shelly says.
“We are always trying to create interesting music”, says fellow member Chris. “We're not about technical fetishes or using technology for the sake of it, we are just using technology as a way of enabling us to do interesting and new things. The technology is much more of an enabling factor, rather than a necessity.................................... “It's more about new ways of expression, rather than genre based roots,” he says.
“I STILL HAVEN’T GOT MY CHEESE GRATER BACK!” - CHRIS TARREN
“I HAD PORN SOUNDS ONCE”
- CHARLES CELESTE HUTCHINS
“The difference is that we aren't coming from a fine art background”, concludes Iain, who defines the collective’s style.
The sound of BiLE is very unique and unusual to most listeners, as they continuously adapt layers to their pieces with occasional improvisational qualities. “We generally rehearse quite a lot, so there's always an amount of structure”, says Julien. “We know what the aim is we want to create in a piece.................................................. “And when we start improvising, we have a stopwatch going. So people always have an idea of how long we are going for. It's kind of thinking about musical forms always happening.” “When we're nearing the climax, we'll say go on! Go crazy! Do something! Push the volume up!” adds Julien. “We always have a score”, says Shelly.
“And during the performance, we've got a chat open. We can always type at each other if someone's doing something totally crazy”, says Les. “And we have hand signs for things like 'Help! My computer has crashed!'.”
Live sampling is also a huge part of the BiLE collective, feeding electroacoustic elements into their sound. Iain explains further, “we are all designing our own instruments, and that can vary from piece to piece depending on the demands of the scores...................................... “If you need to sample something live and apply some kind of process to it, then generally we'll write a patch that meets that brief. Then there's flexibility; what you do to the sound is up to you............................. “Whether you want to make it more extreme or pitched based.”
While other samples used by the group are much more obscure than you could ever imagine. The following quotes should come with a warning! “I had porn sounds once”, Les admits.
“You had some good vocal samples as well, people being racist or homophobic?”, adds Shelly.
“Oh yeah”, Les continues. “They were all my offensive samples............ “I had one from the BNP which I didn't end up using because it was just too much. And then some representative in the states talking about how gay people are like a cancer upon society, which is a one-way speech. “And then George Bush talking about terrorism”, he says. “But the classic is Chris's cheese grater!” Adds Julien, who can’t help but laugh.
“I still haven't got my cheese grater back!, I can't grate cheese!” Jokes Chris. “And generally, some of the pieces that we play, define the material that we use”, says Iain, who attempts to bring some normality to the topic, but is evidently unconvincing. “So for the Partially Percussive one, we use metallic, percussive instruments like kitchen utensils.” “But I think all this comes from us being composers”, says Shelly. “When I go out, I have my microphone.”
“When we were in Venice, everybody had their recorders. They're always doing it it seems!” explains Antonio.
And what future projects are BiLE looking to pursue? “It would be quite fun to do a Chinese whispers piece,” says Les. “By modifying the sounds that everybody else was making.” “So that's basically to chain the laptops together”, explains Shelly. “Whatever Les makes gets sent to Iain, then whatever Iain does to it gets sent to me, then whatever I do gets sent to Julien, and then there will be one person at the end playing the eventual sounds!” “I'm personally trying to work out ways of
“LAPTOP PERFORMANCE IS A RELATIVELY NEW AREA” - SHELLY KNOTTS
having more control [with laptops]”, says Iain. “For me, it's about finding ways of making it more performative. That's the thing with the ensemble; it allows you to develop these different ways of playing..................................... “And it's also easier to do that as a group rather than on your own, because there are limitations”, he says.
“Laptop performance is relatively a new area”, says Shelly, who is keen to explore its depth. “People are still working out ways to make it an interesting performance as well as an interesting sound to hear........................................... “The thing I find interesting about BiLE is writing a piece that is specifically for a group of laptops, all connected via a network. And thinking about the possibilities that you can have from that specifically.
“We are all mixed ability coding types, the participation is about what you can bring musically to the group.” says Shelly. “That's what appealed to me”, says Iain. “There was no demand from the group saying you need to be excellent at coding, just as long as you can make sounds and you can control it................................................................ “I think that's what's great about the way we work.” concludes Iain.
By Ross Cotton Glitches by Antonio Roberts
- MATTHIAS SCHNEIDERBANGER
“WE’VE ALREADY PERFORMED IN A BANK”
BENOIT & THE MANDELBROTS
Taking their name from PolishFrench-American Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (who sadly passed away in 2010), German experimentalists Benoit and the Mandelbrots are a live coding laptop phenomenon.
Formed at the University of Music Karlsruhe, the four piece collective harness the process of writing software in realtime, expressing sonic structures as live source code.
“We had Alberto de Campo and Julian Rohrhuber as visiting professors [at the University of Music Karlsruhe], who were the first live coders”, says Mandelbrot member Patrick Borgeat. “They designed JITLib, the live coding extension for the SuperCollider programming language. Me and Juan played in a laptop ensemble called Grainface at that time, which used a lot of controllers like Wii-motes”, he says. “We thought it was kind corny and we wanted a simpler set-up.”
Fellow member Juan A. Romero adds, “after the experience with Grainface, preparing pieces, programming controllers and rehearsing, we thought it would be better to be more flexible and improvise more than compose.................. “We aren't composers and we were somehow taking this role, which I personally don't like......................................... “Thanks to Julian and Alberto, we saw the possibility of using our code in a live performance, so we just needed to practice instead of trying to compose............. “We concentrated on improvising, which gave us more freedom”, says Juan. As well as gaining inspiration from Julian and Alberto, the Mandelbrot fourpiece extend their musical creativity from a variety of other outlets. Matthias Schneiderbanger explains, “For me, the biggest influence is always the place where we will perform. Not only because of the fact that we mostly improvise on stage, but also because we really like to play in more inconvenient places”, he says.
- MATTHIAS SCHNEIDERBANGER
“This year, we've already performed in a bank, a library, a cinema and even a church. And these places always lead to new musical approaches and different styles of music.” Patrick adds, “I also think a lot of nonmusical inspires us a lot, like Internet culture, generative animation, graphics and movies in general............................... “Every one of us has a different musical background and taste, which plays a role in finding a sound.”
Improvisations and tests are clearly elements that make the Mandelbrots tick during rehearsal, as they build and expand their landscapes through their agreeable, complimentary sounds. “Improvisational possibilities are huge in theory”, says Patrick. “In live coding practices, there's always time as a very limiting factor.” Juan agrees, “the possibilities are limited by knowledge, the typing speed and the performance time. But I would say mostly, it would be knowledge......... “How well can you imagine sounds and write them into code, how well can you know your instrument.............................. “I've had experiences where errors and glitches took me to a different goal as the one I intended, but I liked that more than my original idea, and kept using that mistake in my favour!” he says.
However, surely there's a possibility that experimentation with laptops could lead to the risk of some sort of computer rebellion? After constantly being told what to do! It seems as though Matthias has also considered this idea. “In summer 2010, I faced this subject with a piece where the interpreters of live coded music
“I hope the machines will include us in their curriculum on Human Music History!”, adds Patrick.
With little over a month to go until Network Music Festival, Juan expects that the Mandelbrot set will bring a “broad audience” to Birmingham. He continues, “ we expect the people to get interested in programming music, or to see the programming also as a musical/performative activity and not something you do in your room in the dark.” Patrick adds, “Internet makes it possible that you never feel isolated with your work, as there is so much exchange. But you can never underestimate physical presence and seeing all these people performing live at one festival is a really big thing.” And what are Benoit and the Mandelbrots plans for the future? “I would like to make a world tour”, says Matthias. “And a gig in space would be cool!”
Fourth member Holger Ballweg agrees, “Yes, space would be sweet.................... “Sirius or this new found ExoPlanet comes to mind....” By Ross Cotton Glitches by Antonio Roberts
- PATRICK BORGEAT
“Some of us hear a 'beauty' kind of electronic music, others like it more 'noisy' or 'glitchy', others like more soft and ambient music, and all of it has an impact in our music”, adds Juan. “We also try to be as versatile as possible and try different genres.”
were human again..................................... “They had headphones on with live coded music, and had to reproduce the heard sounds with their voice for the audience. But generally, it is not a real problem for me to use the computer as an interpreter.............................................. “I am more concerned about the role of the loudspeakers”, he says. “We force them all the time to do even self-damaging sounds. I could even make a piece where the loudspeaker is insulting itself. It's not okay”, says Matthias, who feels very disconcerted.
“I HOPE THE MACHINES WILL INCLUDE US IN THEIR CURRICULUM ON HUMAN MUSIC HISTORY!”
“A GIG IN SPACE WOULD BE COOL!”
Glitch Lich are an innovative col-
“EVERY PERFORMANCE IS A TREACHEROUS AND EXCITING JOURNEY” - CURTIS MCKINNEY
lective of experimental musicians, who perform and collaborate with members spread over three different times zones. Developing new ways to create music and expanding on the idea of what it means to perform as a group, the four-piece study further in composition across their different bases on the globe.
Made up of researchers Cole Ingraham, Benjamin O'Brien and brothers Chad McKinney and Curtis McKinney, Glitch Lich craft realtime network music unlike any other group on the planet. “My brother and I have been performing music together our entire lives”, says Glitch Lich member Curtis. “In California, Chad and I formed a band with two fellow students at Mills College. This ensemble was informed by the work of The League of Automatic Music Composers, and The Hub, two members of which where professors at Mills. These ensembles focused on creating music through a process of collaboration, using computers via data networks as a medium to share music information. “Once we graduated, we all went our own ways, which is often the case. Myself moving to England, Cole to Colorado, Ben to Florida and Chad stayed in California, though he now joins me in England. Of course the band still wanted to perform together”, says Curtis. “Since we were already using networks as a medium for musical collaboration, it was only logical that we could extend the performance space by using custom programmed applications. Allowing us to use the same collaborative methods on a global scale........................ “Thus, Glitch Lich became an international ensemble!” says Curtis.
The group's goal is never to cultivate a sound, but instead to focus on the principle of experimental music. Researching new techniques for performance and sound production, the collective discover new ways of where music can lead to. Curtis explains further, “sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes it works more successfully than you could ever imagine.”
Although, it seems that the press may not al-
ways see Glitch Lich as innovative in their approach, and lack to understand what the group are really trying to do. “We recently received a rather humorous review from an individual unfamiliar with experimental music”, says Curtis. “They compared us to [American abstract expressionist painter] Jackson Pollock and horror movie scores. I believe they meant it derisively, but we all found it rather complimentary!” jokes Curtis, who clearly isn’t fazed by the onset of criticism. The sound of Glitch Lich is always one that treads on dangerous territory, something that Curtis is very much keen on exploring, as it's all part of the thrill to him. “Every performance is a treacherous and exciting journey”, he says.
“A large part of our work has researched the possibility of a group collaboratively influenc-
Network Music Festival will also feature an installation piece called Leech, which is one of Curtis's own creations. Harnessing BitTorrent downloads as data; the piece reveals the look and sound of piracy, using the actual music being pirated as a new musical composition.
Curtis says, “I began thinking about alternative methods of using networks in music. Almost everyone I know pirates music, including myself and many other musicians. I often hear about how we should support musicians by buying their albums from the same people who pirate music themselves! It's a strange dichotomy that no one wants to talk about”, he says. “I decided that it would be interesting to tackle the issue the one way I know how, through music and sound itself.........................
“ALMOST EVERYBODY I KNOW PIRATES MUSIC, INCLUDING MYSELF AND MANY OTHER MUSICIANS” - CURTIS MCKINNEY
ing chaotic structures, often through the usage of recursion and feedback. These pieces can be extremely surprising, and often feel more like herding wild beasts than actually performing music....................................... “At their best, the pieces produce results I'm not sure we could have ever derived in any other fashion”, he says. “When this occurs in performance, it's like a gift from Azathoth [a supreme being in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of H.P. Lovecraft].................................................. “On the other hand, sometimes the system just won't comply, and just produces boring or painful results. Worst-case scenario is a fatal technical glitch that brings the performance to a halt. However, I consider this to be a boon”, he says.
“To accomplish this, I set out to sonify the BitTorrent traffic of an actual act of music piracy. Gathering the data involves using Packet Sniffing [a piece of computer hardware that intercepts and logs traffic passing over a digital network] in combination with Geo IP location, and data mining a BitTorrent client........... “By using this information, I am able to plot all the individuals involved in a particular torrent onto a global map, to both visualise and sonify the pirated data that is being uploaded and downloaded................................................. “Simultaneously, I use the pirated songs themselves as a musical resource for effects processing as they download onto my computer”, explains Curtis.
Glitch Lich welcome anybody with an open mind to come and see their performance at Network Music Festival. “As long as people listen actively and critically, I am happy................ “If they react by buying the band a round and having a friendly chat about what the heck just happened, that would be optimal, though not required”, he jokes. And what are Curtis's and Glitch Lich's plans for the future? “We want to be the first organisation to design human eradicating AI, in hope that perhaps they will be more forgiving to us”, he says. “We are also currently researching how to more intimately involve beer in our performance practice. And I personally plan on creating more installation pieces that are illegal in at least one country.” The group certainly knows how to push barriers! Glitches by Antonio Roberts By Ross Cotton
THE MAJOR TOMS 27th DECEMBER, HARE & HOUNDS
For me, The Major Toms are more than just a covers band.
Steeped in Birmingham's pop from the 80s up to the 00s, the eight-piece supergroup is a celebration of the second cityâ€™s thriving past music scenes. The defining collective, - including members/ex-members from the likes of 80s indie band The Nervous Kind (Owen Comaskey), 90s retro-futurists Broadcast (Tim Felton) and 90s electro/house duo Bentley Rhythm Ace (Richard March), held a stage presence that averted expressions of each member's individual successes, and instead, focused on a homely, traditional enjoyment of music. But it was UB40's Brian Travers who unintentionally evoked the most history, breathing a warmth that reflected 1979, his first ever performance at that very same venue. Yet The Major Toms sound is obviously not just about Birmingham's history. Their covers of Bowie and Roxy Music were brought to life by tongue-in-cheek lead vocalist Owen Comaskey, whose overly stereotypical Black Country accent replicated a distinct rebellion
against the usual tribute act.
Yes, Owen isn't trying to be Brian Ferry or Bowie, he's just adding his own spin to some sheer crowd-pleasing classics. Roxy's Do the Strand being a definite highlight, bouncing between the band and the sardine-packed Hare, as fans of UB40, Broadcast, Pop Will Eat itself, and of course Bowie and Ferry rejoiced in the retro reminiscent experience. From old and new school goths to indie kids to golden oldies, The Major Toms welcomed anyone and everyone to bask in whimsical wonders, led by Owen's wit.
While Travers's jaw-dropping sax solos glued together the super group through intoxicating precision, devoting his emotion to a distinctive and highly iconic sound of Birmingham. The Major Toms are much more than a tribute act. They'll grasp hold of your music snobbery and bring back a lighthearted community feel, which is all too often forgotten in live performances.
Music doesn't have to be serious, raise that stiff upper lip. By Ross Cotton
MISTY’S BIG ADVENTURE 18th NOVEMBER, THE END, DALE END
“And we start with a minute of noise”,
says lead singer Grandmaster Gareth, who clearly sets the theme for the rest of the night. Total insanity. But tonight, it seemed like a gradual sort of insanity, easing those unfamiliar, fresh pairs of ears and eyes into the madness, which enhanced after every track.
Though, it wasn't just Misty's who oozed in oddity, their cult like fans were just as to blame, if not more. As each follower become infected by a weird and wacky dance virus, which engulfed the crowd. More to the point, Kate Thompson, a long standing fan of Misty's and singer of her own motley crew, KateGoes, was the one who had the power to persuade her fellow audience members to join in with the spinnin', the swayin' and the boogyin', initiated by the onstage antics of Misty's mascot dancer Erotic Volvo. Follow the trend and you're sure to enjoy the most entertaining band you'll ever see this side of modern life. Stand alone and judge, and you'll soon realise that you really are missing out on all the fun.
And this is all before I even mention the indescribable, incomparable sound of Misty's.
Of course, the highly relatable Fashion Parade is one of everybody's favourites, with fans replicating the catchy narrative that cleverly pieces
Illustration by Jamila Walker
together the issues surrounding pop music in a way that is highly entertaining. “Lots of money, lots and lots of money”, sings Grandmaster Gareth, defining the cash obsessed modern society. And in the next breath, it's, “lost the money, gone and lost the money”. Re-defining the sad 'throw-away' era of music, proving that underneath this madness, there's more to Misty's than meets the eye.
But let's not get too down about today's pop music, as Misty's keep spirits high with their vocal duet track I Want A Biscuit (You Can't Have One). Which Gareth describes as their emo song, a feud between Nick Clegg (played by Gareth himself) and David Cameron (played by saxophonist Lucy Baines).The downright daftness is glued together with an overly cheerful mix of salsa vibes, demanding you to move your feet and contrasting the depressed Gareth, who is the unfortunate sod who just isn't allowed a chocolate digestive. Never Stops, Never Rests, Never Sleeps is, of course, and always will be the track that sends fans wild into an adrenalin rush of racing organs, drum beats and tooting sax/trumpet wars. As Erotic Volvo blue face paint begins to run, you automatically know that the night has been full of energetic mayhem and crowd-pleasing triumph. Misty's Big Adventure define the idea of seeing a band live. If you want to listen to music, of course, play it at your own leisure. But if you want to be thoroughly entertained by a live act that incorporates everything from traditional theatre to comedy to two-tone, then Misty's are certainly the band for you. I know which I'd prefer.
By Ross Cotton
THE SLOW BOAT SESSIONS 19th NOVEMBER, IKON ART GALLERY
A mild autumn leads the seasonal change to be supported by the Autumn Almanac festival, the antithesis to April's Rites of Spring (which exhaled new life and freshness, even if it did mark the end of the art venue Ikon Eastside, which sadly closed.) While the Autumn Almanac breathes a different vibe of transitions, replicating the fallen multi-coloured leaves with rustic campfire sounds and visions. But this particular event basked in another form, as each artist had previously performed on a Slow Boat around Birmingham's canals in September, which had been hosted by the Ikon Youth Programme.
The sets flourish in inspiration from those slow boat journeys, brought to life with footage and sounds from the canal experiences. The floating visuals of water and canal sides really enhanced the whole event, as senses literally drifted along to the relaxing
sways and off into the distance. The first act were El Heath, a three piece consisting of two acoustic guitars and an accordion. They were the perfect start to a perfect line-up, instantly making the audience forget about New Street's stressful Saturday hub bub by taking listeners into a reclusive oldworld of romanticism. Their atmospheric and organic warmth took you into a fire-light daydream, experiencing a countryside of Birmingham that most people never knew existed, which is something that is clear just past the Symphony Hall, but is never really portrayed as an iconic image of England's second city, much to my dismay, because it exceeds beauty. El Heath's accordion expands and contracts, mimicking Birmingham's Venice in glory, replicating a de-stress tactic of a week's full of heavy work, as the slowly drawn instrument acted as an intoxicating breathing exercise, engulfing the crowd.
PAGE 53 The trend continued with the use of a Brian Eno-inspired soothing minimal synths, which swept into the background, adding a further depth to their natural vibes. Next came Tom Peel, who's acoustic set began with a Willy Mason-esque vocal reflection, but soon entered a world of complete lunacy. His attire matched similarly to Blur guitarist Graham Coxon, crossed with Shooting Stars's Angelos Epithemiou, while his actions exceeded their quirkiness combined. With the use of an ancient cassette deck strapped to his front, Tom basked in insanity, as he played backwards German and obscure, out of tuned beats, which subsequently resulted in an array of peculiar dances. This was, of course, after he fixed the tape deck, which became unintentionally/purposely tangled. But Tom's madness was nowhere near over yet, as he invited a member of the audience on stage, playing with embarrassment and humour like a cat and mouse. This time, strapped with a camera to his front, the eccentric experimentalist filmed himself and showed the audience on an old television, attempting to encourage his volunteer to speak while Tom himself shouts “who's your favourite band?” God knows what Tom's experience on the Slow Boat was like!
Laying the lunacy to rest, Poppy Tibbetts brings back a more reflective essence to Ikon, with her meaningful acoustic set, expressing everyday life with a personal touch. “It's nice to be in Birmingham, but all my songs are about hating Birmingham” she explains ironically. Poppy's sweet vocals give an extra layer of relevance to her expressive performance, demanding the audience to delve into her real life articulation, and understand exactly how she sees the world. Final act Boat to Row fittingly ended the night with their traditional folk music. A four piece collective of banjo, violin, keyboards and acoustic guitar, the rustic adventurers blew an Autumn breeze with their range of vocals. As each member sang a different tone, sending bonfire glimmers into the eyes of beholders. After performing at Moseley Folk Festival in September, Boat to Row are perfectionists at summing up the seasonal change and a clear choice for the Autumn Almanac. “It's really nice to be part of the Ikon Slow Boat Project”, says lead singer and banjo player Michael King.
And the audience were glad they were involved, as they perpetuated the canal experience as though the echoing Ikon had actually been transformed into a boat. By Ross Cotton Illustration by Chris Cowdrill
‘Something in the Water’ Illustration by Lizzy Huthwaite
Published on Apr 30, 2012
Published on Apr 30, 2012
Something in the Water is a Birmingham based magazine that delves into the city's past, present and future music scenes. The articles contai...