Samuel Stephen Bowden is an English teacher (this is important) and electronic musician living in China. As 瘫滩疫 (literally “Paralysis Beach Epidemic”) he records punkish little electro tracks in a home studio with little more than a 15-key MIDI keyboard, field recordings and a computer. This is a fairly typical set-up for the home electronic producer of course, but it does have its limitations. What if, for instance, you want to just bash out some tunes on a piano? You have to load up Ableton, set up a piano patch, and then you’re restricted to little more than an octave. It was fortunate then that, when Sam begun working as an teacher, he found himself in a classroom with a full-size piano. So during break times the untrained pianist would settle down at the ivories, set his phone to record, and improvise, all with the intention of using ideas and recordings from these sessions in his 瘫滩疫 work. But this was a snagging point - whereas his electronic work is fairly straightforward, these sessions were anything but. Bizarre chords, close harmonies and irregular tempos are one thing, but more difficult is the highly vocal presence of his students. Transposing to a MIDI setup would have removed everything that made these recordings interesting. So he didn’t bother. Instead, he just released the recordings as is. Children and all.
The result is The Breeze - 26 short original minimalist compositions for piano in unconventional scales accompanied by an audience of, it has to be said, disinterested youngsters. This makes the listening experience quite unsettling - the performance seems to bear no relation to what is happening in the classroom, and the children seemingly offer no reaction to the music at all. What we seem to have is two unconnected albums - one of piano vignettes, another of school field recordings - played at the same time. On its own the piano recordings would have merit, indeed some of the pieces, such as opening track ‘Meadows’ are quite beautiful, but placed into this context it becomes something almost disturbing. Sometimes the children even enter the foreground, punctuating the performance by making silly noises into the microphone, as is their youthful wont. Some tracks, even by Sam’s own admission, are very samey, with a few simply being more refined versions of earlier pieces. The progression of the composer does make for intreguing listening though, and an insight you rarely get in the world of classical music. Reference points of Peter Broderick, Nils Frams, Hannu, Hauschka and even John Cage can all be heard, and I might add certain elements of The Cinematic Orchestra with them too. Arvo Pärt this is not, but if you like your piano with a twist, this might be of interest to you.
The Breeze is available for download from Bandcamp. Name your price. And thanks to Sam for his assistance with this article.
The expectations for Gary Wilson's London (and UK) debut show were very high. I had heard tales of performance art shenanigans, COUM/TG-style transgressions with milk and fake blood that saw the plug pulled on many a gig and, above all, great musical performances of his pioneering pre-punk-post-punk electro-lounge-pop. And, you know, it was my birthday, so I'd have been very sad if it was rubbish.
With his colourfully costumed backing band The Blind Dates (though judging by their appearance I doubt many of them were performing in the 70s) Gary glid on stage in a black jacket, marigolds and the biggest hair I have ever seen. (Was it a wig? Hope not.) Standing amongst the Shacklewell Arms’ tiny stage cramped with musicians and props, including a disembodied head, he performs a set that shows that all the gimmicks only enhance a superb live show. Much of the fifty-minute set came from the legendary 1977 album You Think You Really Know Me and 2010 album Electric Endicott, with classics like ‘You Keep On Looking’, ‘6.4 = Make Out’, ‘Where Did Karen Go?’ and an insane breakdown of the ‘77 album’s title track, with Wilson sprawled out on the dancefloor, threatening his audience with the question that no-one pre-2000 seemed to be able to answer affirmatively.
(filmed by ronniewibbley)
What the show lacked in the anticipated flying milk (you think you really know some people…) it made up for in great musicianship from The Blind Dates, and a commanding vocal performance from Wilson. As his band pratted about in space-age/Egyptian mummy costumes, his presence held everything together, much like the gaffer tape the band applied to his hair. Bizarre, but never shambolic, (Ariel Pink should take note…) it felt like the only way this music could have been presented live. A great show. Here’s hoping this wasn’t his last UK show.
Support came from Vindicatrix, whose Autechre-pop stylings would have been alright for 20 minutes, but stretched out over 55 minutes became utterly tedious. FYI, don’t be a support act that does a longer set than the headliner, especially when you’re only scheduled for half an hour. It makes you look like a dick.
Biggest shout out though goes to Luno, whose support in assembling his article and his praise for the final piece validated what is, for me, nothing more than a labour of love.
This is a nice article. I felt the blogger got what I do and treated me both kindly and fairly, which is rare and something I appreciate tremendously.
So thank you guys, you’re all absolutely lovely. As are you, the good readers.
That’s all for now. Keep an eye out soon for the belated review of Gary Wilson’s London show, and articles on disabled day-care rockers, summer camp girl bands, school-bound ivory tinklers and, straight out of Canada’s capital, one of the most genuinely jawdropping musicians I’ve ever heard. Exciting times…
NB. I originally wrote this for 4/7/13. Happy Independence Day.
The 4th of July is an important day for this blog, for it marks the first anniversary of the passing of Gerald Polley - professional dishwasher, religious leader, presidential candidate, animator, singer and psychic. He was no ordinary psychic though - not only was he in direct contact with God, Jesus and Muhammad, but he received word from Princess Diana, Patrick ‘the 2nd Doctor’ Troughton, Johann Sebastian Bach and a host of 20th Century singer-songwriters, including Kurt Cobain, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson and, most notably, John Lennon. (Not Paul McCartney though, which should hopefully dispell some myths.)
It turns out that death didn’t affect their ability to write songs, for Gerald and his wife Linda frequently received new and original lyrics from beyond the grave. Of course for copyright reasons they’re not allowed to be too similar to the likes of Eleanor Rigby or Heart Shaped Box, so they’ve adapted a new songwriting style - country gospel rock. Which is pretty lucky really, considering neither Gerald nor Linda could do justice to their particular vocal style, and that the Casio keyboard presets they use for these demos are all in the country gospel rock style.
Oh, and if none of this sounded impressive enough, they only received a song Jesus Christ himself. About Jimmy Kimmel.
At this juncture I would like to state that I don’t believe that the Polleys had nor have these abilities. It’s nothing personal to them, I just don’t believe anyone can have those abilities. And if I believe that, then it leads me to one of two conclusions: either they are two seriously deluded individuals, or they are master satirists. I cannot say for sure which one it is. What I know for sure is that the songs, whether written by Lennon, Cobain, Bach, Jesus or even the Band Aid-style dream team combination of John Lennon, George Harrison, Kurt Cobain and Johnny Cash all sound nigh on identical. Not merely in the performances, which showcase the limited range of both the married vocalists and their cheap keyboards, but in lyrical content.
In the days leading up to the 2000 US election, British filmmaker Barney Snow (director of Sky One’s superlative dance-based reality show ‘Ashley Banjo’s Secret Street Crew’ and BBC Three’s hard-hitting documentary about gender roles in society ‘The Week The Women Went’) visited the Polleys at their home in Fargo with their friend and confidant Jesse Torres to make an independent documentary about them called Where Has Eternity Gone?
I have been accused of being a part of the exploitation of outsider musicians in the past, that I’m treating them like freaks and always laughing at them, never with them. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and in watching this, while it’s easy to see why some people might look at this and laugh, my reaction was ultimately one of sadness. The climax of the piece, with the Polleys watching rolling news footage of the election results, cameras capturing their genuine pain when Al Gore looked like winning the presidency, is loaded with pathos that, even being as anti-Bush as I am, affected me. Maybe they are deluded, but as long as they’re not bringing harm to others, you have to respect their beliefs.
Credit should be given to Snow for not sentimentalising the film’s subjects - their lives and thoughts are presented as clearly as I would imagine possible, though it’s inevitable that the nature of what they do and their religious and political opinions mean that there is an element of exploitation to the film. That’s not really a criticism though, it’s just an unfortunate fact. It certainly deserves a place alongside other films like Jandek On Corwood or The Devil And Daniel Johnston. It’s only a shame that the timing of the film meant none of Gerald’s presidential campaigns were captured on tape.
Gerald Polley (with wife Linda) 29 January 1947 - 4 July 2012
For now, I’ll leave you with one of JS Bach’s all-new songs. In the Polleys’ own words:
Johann Sebastian Bach who has recently become skilled at composing rock and roll music, which helps keep people in The Afterlife happy. This is one of the favorites he has produced. It’s just a fun song which also has profound meaning.
It’s been a while… sorry about that. Moved house. Anyway, I’m cheating with this one a little, as they’re no longer outsiders. But this EP’s too good not to share.
ShiSho was formed nine years ago by Ohio sisters Vivian and Midge Ramone. They were seven and three years old at the time. They helped to define the “youngwave” movement of quirky child musicians with songs like ‘Christmas Time In Paris France’, ‘Punk Rawk Boy’, a cover of my favourite New Order track, ‘True Faith’, that semi-reverse engineers it to sound like a Joy Division demo (these are all on Rainbow Jumpin’ Demo, so if that doesn’t make sense, listen and understand) and the SubGenius favourite ‘America Will Punch You’.
Undoubtedly, when they started, they were outsiders. Three year olds are not generally musically trained, and are certainly unconcerned with following traditional musical forms. Of course, time has ravaged them, and now, nine years later, they have released a far more polished debut EP, at the ripe old ages of sixteen and twel… oh for goodness sake. I’m twenty-six and can barely play the kazoo. Vivian and Midge on the other hand, with a combined age only two years older than I, have put together a release that can genuinely be compared to the likes of They Might Be Giants. How annoying.
Not that annoying though, because it’s my own fault I can’t play anything, and The Sisters EPis brilliant. The development of their performance and the higher fidelity of their recording hasn’t affected how fun this punk-folk duo are to listen to. Opener ‘It’s Coming To Get You (The Evil Clown Song)’ manages to capture both the fun that some might associate with clowns through performance and the utter terror others might through lyrics. ‘Ohio Man’ meanwhile is a scathing attack on the foibles of their neighbours, whether they’re attacking laundromats or shooting robots.
No, this isn’t a sensible EP. Nor is this a sensible band. Even at their most satirical, as in last year’s single ‘My Dear Republicans (The Fiscal Cliff Song)’, they can still chuck in a reference to Darth Vader. But a) they’re kids - they’re meant to be silly, and b) when it sounds this fun, who cares? Name your price over on Bandcamp, or go see them live for hard copy. Now, I won’t be posting about ShiSho again. They’re bound to break the mainstream soon enough, and besides, they know too much…
Tuesday 7th May was a good day for outsiders. Not only did Luno, operating as Normy, release a new, typically soul-searching EP called Brittle & Weird, but outsider legend Tonetta had a busy day too, appearing on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 and releasing his first ever official digital album, Red Wine, via Woozy Tribe.
Link only available in America. Unless you use a proxy server. Hint. NSFW.
The main problem with reviewing Tonetta, as the founders of the Tonetta Tumblr found out recently, is that once you’ve reviewed a handful of his tracks, you’ve effectively reviewed them all. So where to start? Bit of back story I suppose…
Tonetta is of course no stranger to the internet - he’s had more YouTube videos removed for various violations of their terms of service than I’ve had hot dinners. (I think I might mean this literally - there have been thousands.) Some have attempted to compile this work before, with bloggers compiling enormous unofficial releases and Black Tent Press releasing four LPs worth of material since he publically outed himself five years ago. That’s after a full 23 years of writing, performing and producing his own music and music videos to an audience of pretty much no-one. Then again, it cut both ways - he wasn’t listening to anyone else’s music during that time. As he told The Quietus…
I don’t think [those things] would help at all because it would probably make me sound more like other stuff, you know what I mean? If I listen to music it’ll make me sound like these people… I haven’t listened to the radio or watched TV since 1983.
So what does this, his first full length digital album, give us that can’t be found elsewhere? Well, initially, there’s tenderness. And that’s surprising, given his tendency to waver between being creepily perverted and lyrically ridiculous. So opening track ‘Fathers’, an earnest ballad to dads everywhere, untapered by any creepiness, is all the more shocking than his often juvenile misogyny and misanthropy, purely because it’s neither of those things. And even more amazingly, there’s no drum track.
Then you reach track 2. Opening line:
Anybody out there got a hard on?
So the answer to that question is, the most part, “not much.” ‘Is There Any Meaning To Love?’ retreads similarly earnest territory to ‘Fathers’, but overall it serves best as a showcase for whatever it is that makes Tonetta so addictive. And it is addictive. Despite the apparent flaws in his character that resulted in a complete breakdown in communication between Tonetta and Black Tent, the dubious nature of his views on women as demonstrated in tracks such as ‘81 Inch Prime Ass’, ‘Doin a Dyke Tonight’ and Red Wine’s ‘Hot Little Fuck’ (these are far from the only examples), this point stands - watching a man with a voice so gravelly it makes Chris Rea sound like tarmac prance in front of a homemade green screen while adorning a variety of vests, thongs, tutus and hand-painted masks, is undeniably entertaining. I don’t mean this as aa backhanded compliment. Some of his lyrics and melodies are incredibly catchy; under different circumstances he might have been writing for Lady Gaga or Rihanna.
Red Wine is available for download from Woozy Tribe’s Bandcamp page on a donation basis, with 100% of donations going directly to Tonetta. Meanwhile, rumours abound of an official DVD compilation and website in the near future. For now, up-to-the-minute info can be found at the official Tonetta fan page on Facebook.
Loads of posts in the works at the moment, including a review of Gary Wilson's UK debut…
Very excited about this. Gary Wilson, accidental inventor of new wave when everyone was still making punk happen, is touring Europe for the first time ever. Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and France are all covered, but he’s also coming to the UK:
'You Think You Really Know Me' on its own would make this an awesome prospect, but since his post-2000 resurgence he's produced some seriously strong material too, so all omens are good. I'll be reviewing the London show (on my birthday!) so expect that soon…
Two acts defined hip-hop in 2012 for me. One was Death Grips. The other was JRocc.
JRocc (Not that one. Or that one.) is Justin Lampson, a 19-year-old MC and producer from Sydney, Australia. Taking influence from old school hip-hop merchants as diverse as Dilated Peoples, Wu-Tang Clan and Eminem, he has just followed last year’s Heart Of Stone EP with released his debut mixtape (but since the term makes me think of hand-recorded C-90 cassettes, let’s call it an album) Suicide Note, released online Sunday just gone.
Oh, and he has cerebral palsy.
Why is this relevant? Because he makes it relevant. Let me explain.
Cerebral palsy is a group of non-progressive motor diseases that cause physical disabilities in its sufferers. Being non-degenerative, it means the condition never deteriorates from the age of about three-years-old. Given the musculoskeletal issues that can arise from the condition, it can seriously affect communication, causing sufferers to affect a drawl within speech.
Now that you know this, think about the idea of someone with this condition then rapping and producing. It results in a completely unique take on hip-hop that sounds like a live version of the late DJ Screw, the pioneering Houston DJ who played hip-hop 45s at 33rpm. When your speech is slurred, you have to change the way you write, because you’re rapping two or three times slower than virtually ever other MC on the planet. But don’t think this makes JRocc a technically bad rapper; on the contrary, he possesses far better flow than some rappers I can think of. Half of Odd Future, for a start. It’s far from conventional, but it’s undoubtedly there. Oh, and he produces too. Quite how he does that is completely beyond any explanation I can think of, but it’s never anything less than competent, and at times brilliant. It takes a brave man to sample the notoriously abstract ‘Tubular Bells’, as he does on Suicide Note’s ‘Vice Grip’.
So that’s the form. What of the content from “Sydney’s Original Spastic Spitter”? (His words, not mine. Can’t say they sit too easily with me, but hey, it’s his right to say it.) Well there are some of the old school gangsta rap tropes at work here, the kind pioneered by NWA, along with a certain level of posturing, as demonstrated on Heart Of Stone’s ‘Under The Microscope’:
You can’t change me Rearrange me Obstruct my point of view Writing rhymes You know my shit’s true I’m under the microscope
Confession booth sessions Trying to learn my lessons Count my blessings This is how loneliness affects me Mind’s fucked because I’m rejected Neglect breeds insecurity All I need is purity This is nothing new to me
The juxtaposition between his old school production and this kind of lyrical content is remarkable, because instead of marrying the beats with self-deluding grandeur as is often the wont of gangsta rappers, he is keeping it about as real as it gets. Having cerebral palsy is a pain in the arse, and he’s in a position to say it. Often when you hear of disabled artists its presented in such a way that it celebrates what they have, while conveniently avoiding the problems they have on a daily basis. JRocc tackles it head on with Suicide Note in a way this manages to be profound, but very entertaining.
JRocc in the studio
JRocc clearly won’t be for every hip-hop fan. But if you have an open mind, and if you’re reading this you probably do, you will absolutely love this. You’ll never have heard anything like this before. Anyone looking for an insight into the Australian underground hip-hop scene should also take note, given his extensive collaboration work. Laura One and B-Don in particular provide excellent verses on ‘Hip-Hop Saved My Life’, ‘Spit Your Game’ and ‘Morphine’, with the latter also providing production work on Heart Of Stone.
He’s only been active for about a year, but already has a decent chunk of material available. If you live in Sydney, head over to Lopez Records for copies of Heart Of Stone and Suicide Note on CD. For the rest of us, you can try contacting him on Facebook for CDs, but your best option is to go digital. Heart Of Stone is available to stream on JRocc’s SoundCloud account, and is for sale on iTunes. Suicide Note, in the modern mixtape tradition, is available for free on MediaFire.
If you’re in Sydney, you might also be interested to know that he will be making his debut live appearance in the city on Friday 10th May 2013 at a disability fundraiser. I get the impression that this is a private event however, so you will need to contact him directly at his Facebook page for information on this. If I weren’t on the other side of the world I’d be there, so if you don’t have that excuse, do what you must to get there.
PS. Hello to any new readers here via Luno’s kind reposting of my earlier post. If you’ve contacted me, please accept my apologies for not replying as yet; I’m not ignoring you, I’ve just been really busy.
Meet Luno, the alter ego of 32-year-old Massachusetts native Norman Chaplin: musician, songwriter, author and former stripper at San Francisco’s impeccably named Nob Hill Theatre. (Find it on Bush Street.) Untrained, teaching himself guitar and piano as a teenager, he begun recording in the late 90s as Loosey, duetting with his cousin Klizzie for the album Bathmat Flowers.
It’s not until 2002 that his story takes a more unusual turn. As Luno, he records debut album Kid, self-released the following year. Thus begins a prolific streak of recording that seems to have culminated in the release of at least half a dozen albums in 2012. (2013 is young though - he’s already released an album and two singles, and is planning more…) In 2004, he moves from New England to San Francisco, where the aforementioned stripping and hustling gave inspiration to his 2006 and 2007 albums Notes from Little Saigon and Music for Drunken Anti-Socialites.
So what of the music? Well his influences seem very wide reaching - though he describes his work on Bandcamp as “blues” (and “queer) there are also elements of folk, Americana and even modern r’n’b. His guitar playing is almost percussive, in a kind of Les Claypool way.
At first listen, lyrically this seems to be covering some very sleazy territory. But a closer look suggests something far more involved. Let’s take the track ‘Neptune’, from 2012 album Queen - a song that repeats the line “he was a hot motherfucker” eleven times, as well as the line “and the pollywog flogged his hog like a good little sea dog”. Neptune, of course, is the God of the sea, and as such has become a point of reference in Naval initiation ceremonies. At this point I’ll hand over to Luno himself:
One widely known ritual involves ‘Pollywogs’ (new naval recruits) being baptized before and even interrogated by a representation of Neptune upon their initial crossing of the equator. The ceremony often includes considerable hazing, which inevitably reminded me of fraternities and sports clubs. (“And the pollywog flogged his hog like a good little sea dog.”)
Of course, the planet Neptune was named for the deity due to the rich blue color of its atmosphere. I mention its twelve moons (of which it actually has thirteen) in relation to the apostles of Christ and the arguably misogynist revisionism which excludes the thirteenth.
If one concept proved essential to Queen from the very beginning, it is the celebration of sexuality, (which I believe Neptune celebrates to begin with,) as well as to make a thorough mockery of patriarchal and monotheistic authority.
Outsiders haven’t been this far outside the closet since Peter Grudzien, nor this seemingly sleazy since Tonetta, and seldom do they lend as much meaning and back story to their music. There is lots more I could say about his work, but since he likes to let the music speak for itself as far as possible, my best advice is to listen with intent.
Of his vast output from the last ten years, my personal favourites are the aforementioned Notes from Little Saigon, an autobiographical account of his stripping years, and Filth: Nude, a remixed version of his Filth album that strips (excuse the pun) it of all synth parts, leaving only his voice and an absolutely unique guitar sound. But there’s so much to find here that you’re bound to find your own favourites.
He currently offers free downloads from three Bandcamp accounts, each covering a different period of output:
He was kind enough to send me links to his pre-2010 catalogue, including Notes from Little Saigon, but I won’t be posting links to them just yet, as he intends on remastering much of this output. I will be sure to link to these as and when. He is currently renovating his blog, which will also link to his work:
Furthermore, he is a founder and curator of the A Pile of Lo-Fi! net-label, and he has published The Boys Room, a collection of poetry exploring themes of “nature, self and sexuality.” This is free to read online, but requires a subscription to Scribd to download or print.
The main problem The Magic Band have as a touring group is… well, the lack of Captain Beefheart, frankly. As their front man and songwriter, he gave electric, unpredictable performances of some of rock and roll’s most esoteric, fascinating compositions and arrangements. Remove him from the equation and you can’t help but feel that all you’re left with is a competent backing band.
That was my main concern when seeing them live in Colchester last weekend. Not unjustly either I think – the last backing band I saw perform without their original front man was The Blockheads, a group of men who look utterly dead inside performing songs that were only ever interesting because of Ian Dury. But Beefheart’s work was always far more complex; compare a track like Moonlight On Vermont to Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and the difference is glaring.
The Magic Band as they are now, with original member John French replacing Don Van Vliet on vocals, and long-standing members Denny Walley and Mark Boston with Eric Klerks and Craig Bunch, are very faithful to the original work, which is to their credit, because it not only puts paid to the idea that much of their work was improvised, but it would seem crass to perform it any other way. French does not and cannot replicate the depth of the original vocals, effectively playing Paul Rodgers’ role in the reformed Queen – he’s not trying to be Freddy Mercury, he’s doing it his own way.
Unsurprisingly, this feels like a greatest hits set (well, they’re unlikely to poach from Unconditionally Guaranteed, are they?) so every track feels like a classic. There was a leaning towards early material, with much of the repertoire from Safe As Milk, Trout Mask Replica and the two Spot albums. Their first set felt the more restrained of the two, with tracks like Big Eyed Beans From Venus and Lick My Decals Off Baby coming close to wrongfooting the audience. Their second set however, opening with both Bakes of Hair Pie and climaxing with Moonlight On Vermont, showed exactly what was so brilliant about Captain Beefheart – arrangements that are as sublime as they are ridiculous, and some of rock’s most uniquely angular lyrics.
Friends had warned me that they had found previous Magic Band shows boring at best, and desecration of Vliet’s memory at worst. I couldn’t disagree more – even without having the man himself on stage, this is as fine a rock performance as I’ve ever seen. They seemed to enjoy it too:
…other bands would kill for an audience like that! The bottom line is that we had an immense evening with all of you and got back at least as much as we gave. Our audiences are probably the most respectful open-minded people you could ever hope to play for and it makes this job the best job in the world! Thank you Colchester.
Support came from Cambridge wonk-pop maestro Pete Um. A friend of mine once described him as me, in ten years time. He’s got an album out on Felix Kubin’s label. Check him out.