Sunday, 13 November 2011

Denis Jones: Then & Now

Years ago, neatly tucked in alongside Humble Soul’s other local traditional folkies including Liz Green and John Fairhurst, Denis Jones was merely one part ‘electronic’ dabbler, while remaining for the most part safely concurrent with 21st Century folk & blues.

Ever since then, he has slowly but surely drifted out into a sea of spliced soundwaves and, in pairing with multi-instrumental beats merchant David Schlechtriemen (also of The Pickpocket Network, HoneyFeet and Driver Drive Faster), his soulful side is being rejected for something altogether more immediate. The quaint (if wrongly attributed) folk-tronica tag has long since been shed. Tracking his progress as a musician very much open to experimenting with his art, you can still sense the early learning in folk and blues, notably in tonight’s recognisable tracks ‘Beginning’ and ‘Clap Hands’, but Denis has used his accumulated coats of technological paint to embrace something far more hard-hitting, raw, visceral and primordial: dance music.

If you were to see him tonight for the first time, his abundance of facial follicles would seem more sonically apt alongside pre-shave Beardyman or moustachioed Andrew Weatherall than folk’s William Fitzsimmons or Iron & Wine. The audience are still heckling for the standouts of his first two LPs: “‘Elvis’! ‘Sometimes’!” they plead; “Judas!” you can almost hear them thinking. From David’s arrival partway through opener ‘Clap Hands’ until he departs again for ever-beguiling curtain closer ‘Beginning’, it is a deluge of electronic indulgence. During that time, some shuffle uncomfortably and reminisce about more intimate climes of days gone by, sat cross-legged in crammed south Manchester bars, but in realising his own musical present and future, he is steadily leaving that audience in the past.

Or is he?

Denis’ ever-developing brand of dance noise would most cohesively fall into the IDM category alongside the likes of Walls, Fuck Buttons and Ghosting Season. But Denis and David (or Tatetitotu, as they're tentatively calling the project) are unchained by genre and also retain a certain organic feel that some peers cannot boast. Their compositions are untethered to the workings of a macbook, generating a production less disguised than the others. Looped sample pads and a mesmerising array of gadgets seem over-complicated, but groundings are often laid by the more human elements. Denis’s acoustic guitar plucked with intricate precision; his vocal howls and hollers adding an entombing atmospheric intensity. In this sense it could be interpreted as in keeping with the bluesy roots.

And does a dance music orientation necessarily leave folk and blues behind? If the folk and blues leviathans of days gone by had access to the sound warping equipment that today’s sonic sculptors readily employ, would they too reshape and adapt? Indeed, they did adapt. John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters trailblazed with electric blues; John Martyn championed alternate guitar tunings; Don Van Vliet rewrote the recording rulebook in his secluded forest cabin (albeit a rulebook that few would willingly follow).

That progressive dynamism is as fundamental to the synthetic as it is to the natural. Indeed, the open-minded are shifting their feet to the Denis/David duo’s block rockin’ beats. The only sticking point would be that it’s not Denis Jones as advertised; it’s a wholly different racket. nods to John Fairhurst, Adrian Crowley and Alin Coen Band as reference points, but those are inaccurate and inadequate to his direction; every step he’s taken has been away from those peers. Which means that local promoters Mind On Fire are way ahead of Tuneglue. They saw the sonic signs more than 18 months ago by pitting him alongside the likes of From the Kites of San Quentin and xxxy on a bill topped by Mount Kimbie; next week (Thursday 17th November) they’re taking that a stage further by seamlessly coalescing him (plus David) with the supports for IDM electronic glitch tweaker Shigeto at Islington Mill.

And so to the future, which for Denis should include many more of the kaleidoscopic frames distributed on entry to this gig – albeit with more of a light show to hammer home his realignment in techno-musical technicolour. The specs, incidentally, are an apt side-story and one that lends credence to Denis’s strides into dancefloor-filling territory. Distributed on entry to the Deaf Institute, they build a hallucinatory experience with minimal effort, cost and after-effects; the silver screen is dabbling with 1980s 3D comebacks, so why not independent music? Many seem sceptical, but taking on the paraphernalia of Biff’s infamous Back to the Future crony means you’re only a short leap into the surreal away from a psychedelic Chemical Brothers or Orbital spectacle. Not often will this be used as a simile, but then it hasn’t been often that Denis has provided an encore with the ballistics of a D’n’B beats bombardment.

Words: Ian Pennington
Photography: Stephen Hicks
Poster: Mind On Fire


  1. Can i just say i took those photos on my phone, which i had just got that day and was messing about with the effects button, i didn't realize they would end up on here at the point of capture. That's why they are mainly w*nk!

  2. Cracking read, Ian. Great depth and really does the man justice.

    Keep on keepin' on,