Friday, 22 May 2009

Storsveit Nix Noltes - Royal Family Divorce

For The Stool Pigeon

Even to people familiar with avant-garde music, Storsveit Nix Noltes (translation: "Nick Nolte Big Band") sound like an intriguing proposition. Made up of between 9 and 12 Icelandic musicians depending on who is available at any given time, Storsveit are an Eastern European folk music arkestra with a punk-rock aesthetic. Taking the kind of stomping Balkan rhythms that have been so popular in certain circles recently, notably via bands like Beirut, Devotcha, Dresden Dolls and A Hawk & A Hacksaw, Storsviet take traditional arrangements and turn everything up to eleven.

Which isn't as crazy an idea as it might sound - much of this music is traditionally played at moments of celebration or mourning, and comes with a certain element of celebration or intensity. What Storsveit do is develop the potential of this potently combustible sound to mix with a primordial paste of other genres. Sludgy metal riffs rise up out of nowhere, free jazz trajectories intersect and clash with squalls of feedback, all scraped over groaning accordion and screeching violin. It's full on, totally unpredictable, and pretty much relentless.

Storsveit started as a collective of music students in Reykjavik who wanted to explore possibilities and just play out. They manage to translate that excitement energy into a frenetic live show. They now live and work in bands all over the world, so it's quite an undertaking to get them all together - providing just the sense of occasion they need to keep their excited energy going. That kind of group mentality is not an easy thing to translate and express as recorded music sometimes, but this album is a fair summation of Storsviet's sound - and will hopefully draw some richly deserved attention to this fascinating oddity of a band.

They're due over in the UK in 2009 - don't miss them.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Deerhunter @ London Scala 19/05/09

For Drowned In Sound

MP3: Nothing Ever Happened
MP3: Never Stops

Bradford Cox sure has a way of breaking down the unspoken formality of a gig situation. Whether telling a ten minute story about what happened in a bookstore on the way to the show, trying to beg, buy or barter rare band t-shirts from audience members, joking about online piracy, or, as he does tonight, relaying breaking news of arrests from the Black Lips tour and dragging audience members onto the stage for (two) renditions of "happy birthday", Bradford's high-speed chat is something to look forward to in itself. He comes across a pretty self aware, wired and witty guy, and it's easy to like him. There's a lot of the outsider icon about Bradford Cox, and it's inextricably tied into what makes Deerhunter quite so appealing.

But this comes two thirds into tonight's sold-out headline performance, after an uninterrupted 40-minute block of music from across the Deerhunter back catalogue. From a light, ambient introduction, they burst into a floor-shaking 'Cryptograms'. Reverb piles up, forming tight loops that skate over the swathes of guitar. Deerhunter's self-styled "ambient punk" tag has never made more sense than on an epic 'Lake Somerset' - the simple, chugging, bassline powers along the cavalcade of resounding noise that falls from Bradford's fingers, via an imposing pedal rack. Bradford's voice is often reverse-reverbed, coming into focus through a thick mist of effects, and giving an odd out-of-time lip-sync effect.

Deerhunter's swirling, enveloping sound is hypnotic and evocative. It operates on levels beyond what I normally expect to find in music. Inside the wall of sound that Deerhunter create, the tight little loops, echoes and repetitions form fractal patterns that dance around the mind and create a linger impression of something larger. All of that "shoegaze" echo and delay that some might treat as nothing more than a stylistic decision is here employed as an expression of the infinite. It's music the body and mind respond to instinctively, a direct kind of communication that bypasses critical faculties. This sound embeds itself on your mind like the midday sun does on your retina.

This band are the real fucking deal.

See them next at Koko in August.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Pagan Wanderer Lu - Dreamtrak Session Part 2

With Laura Wolf on drums, Oli Dreamtrak on keys, PWL on vocals & keys, Will Stairs To Korea on Trombone, Chris Alcxxk on 'bone, and me on guitar.

The album is out on CD in June on Brainlove. eMusic and iTunes - right now!

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


A diary piece for The Line Of Best Fit. Band pics by Richard The Thane.

So, we're in Simon's rickety car, screaming down the motorway, chasing that patchy of blue sky that seems to be constantly moving away from us somehow. The moustachioed Major Matty Hall is our car's co-pilot, having shotgunned the front seat, like a bastard. He is conducting a short seminar on the difference between nuclear and thermonuclear bombs. We are hurtling towards Minehead. The tape player is apparently frozen, so I am piping The Horrors' new album through my tinny battery powered speakers.

It's ATP. yayTP. The lineup this weekend was ostensibly selected by 'The Fans', or at the least the excitable ones who buy tickets in time to effect the voting.

Christopher Alcxxk of Internet Forever texts me. He has picked up ten of my favourite Portuguese custard tarts for me from the bakery near his house. We have a boot full of booze and breakfasts. I'll be sleeping on a sofa in someone else's chalet this weekend - ATP press tickets come sans-accommodation - and I'm gonna be doing some cooking to say thanks.

By the time we get onsite, we've already missed Grouper. Apparently she had an early slot because of travel arrangements (before people were even allowed into their chalets) and played a pretty grumpy set to a half empty room.

After some epic trundling around the chalet village with my luggage on a trolley, I make it into Casiotone For The Painfully Alone in time to catch a few highlights from his brilliant new record, "Vs. Children". I get a text - our chalet window has been smashed in while the others were at Tesco getting booze, and there's glass everywhere, including on the sofa I'm sleeping on.

Jeffrey Lewis is next downstairs plying his ever-engaging anti-folk, then HEALTH, who turn in one of the performances of the weekend: a battering, powerful, committed set. I'm a convert.

I pop back to the chalet to survey the damage. Butlins have cleaned up our chalet and boarded up the window. I sit down for a minute, and end up boozily sleeping through Devo. Fail. Back in the festival, everyone is talking about how good they were.

It's around this time that I bump into Andy from Fuck Buttons, who says their set is going to be 80% new, with a new beginning. The crowd is heaving. "The Fans" are, tonight, increasingly messy, dressed up kids staggering around with wide pupils. I'm still pretty straight at this point and feel a little bit old. Unusual for the famously 'beardy' ATP festival. Fuck Buttons launch straight into a new song, and don't let up for an hour - their new set is more about beats and building momentum than their previous layered noise stuff. There's a rhythmic, wriggling section with Andy squeezing sounds out of a Gameboy, an extended, dancey, layered up new song with softer drum and synth sounds than usual, and a new ending with some searing bassy bursts and powerful drumming from Ben. If there's any criticism to be made, it's that some of the transitions are a bit long, and let the build/release energy drop rather than peak, but it's a good solid performance, and a great introduction to the new songs.

Saturday morning, and I still haven't got those damn tarts off Chris. We keep missing each other. It's turning into an ongoing custard tart saga. We play crazy golf. The Cave Singers are audible coming from the main stage. The golf isn't at all crazy. It's just small.

The Acorn is my favourite show of the weekend. They're perfect on the pavillion stage, their warm sound filling the space, resonant and embracing. The two-drummer rhythm section fill every space with sensitively played taps and beats, carrying along the wonderfully emotional and engaging songs. The hairs on the back of my neck go up, and my body feels suddenly ablaze with adrenalin, and I breathe in the sound. Connection: made.

We bowl. I win. Win!

Beirut play the electronic songs from the new album as traditional arrangements, and they stand up well. "Would you prefer it if I put on a donk on there?" asks Zac. I'm half surprised that my answer is no.

Sarah Pickles of team ATP is having a big wedding party on the Saturday night, so we head over. Marnie Stern is there! I croak out a feeble fanboy "hello Marnie Stern!", much to the amusement of my so-called friends. The Pontin's 5-0 descend at 5am and disperse us. Chalet parties till dawn, then the seaside for a blue light sunrise. A man with a musical backpack goes spinning past us, to the strains of "North American Scum", wheeling down the beach and into the surf, followed by a flock of dancing hippy kids. I fall into bed satisfied that as much fun as humanly possible has been squeezed out of Saturday night at ATP.

By the time I'm capable of functioning again, the Sunday lineup is sparse. The headliners are repeated with both Sleep and The Jesus Lizard playing again, even though neither of them were full to capacity on Saturday. Doubling up the headliners was understandable when there was a queue around the block at the Camber Sands site for someone like Sonic Youth, but here it seems excessive, especially considering the ever-escalating ticket price.

I don't know if my mood is something to do with it, but Parts & Labour seem really weak. I can't get into Killing Joke, but then I've never liked them much really. Spiritualized play a bludgeoning, unsubtle steamroller set of gospel-tinged stadium rock that sounds more Oasis than Spaceman 3. It's a big, satisfyingly large and solid sound - but size isn't everything.

Chris finally catches up with me in the smoking area, and sadly hands over the box of tarts, which has congealed into a solid mass of soggy pastry and warm custard.

It takes the sheer happiness explosion of The Mae Shi to get the blood pumping again - their odd mixture of jerky guitar lines and screamo, and their chubby-faced emo-tinged manboy 90's pop-punk sound is accompanied by all kinds of ace theatrical stage antics, including their trademark move - covering the crowd with a giant rainbow-coloured cloth canopy. Fun times.

The rest of Sunday night is spent playing poker and making a dent in the last tray of beers. I'm too exhausted for the party/melee/dance-off/bro-down down at the Crazy Horse bar this time around.

The next day, I hang around a bit longer than usual as Simon steels himself for the drive after 72 hours of sleep deprivation. Within hours, the hall is full of extended families, and the shutters have gone up on confectionary stalls, and the bouncy castles have been blown up. The main hall is full of Lego-coloured plastic furniture, and the only soundcheck that's happening is for bingo. I finally fall into the car, and fall asleep, and wake up back in London a few hours later.