Monday, 27 February 2012

Paper Tiger - Illuminated EP [Mind On Fire Records; MOF007]

Mind On Fire Records’ seventh recording project (third vinyl imprint) savours an artist whose music never lingers on the same idea for too long. Although Paper Tiger often perform as a septet, this EP holds the hallmarks of the band leader Greg Surmacz’s solo laptop and sax slot supporting Shigeto at Islington Mill last year; unable to sit still while scratching the itch of galactic jazz with self-described knob-twiddling.

‘Delight Dub’ is a good example of that progressive inclination. Beginning with a bubbling calm like Four Tet’s ‘Reversing’, they then introduce assertive beats, fidgety glitches and subtle womps and by the midway point it’s a bustling forum for stop-start staggered propulsion and scattered trails of thought. It’s not dissimilar to the title track of their ‘Send Me’ single via Jus Like Music Records last year for its helium ridden vocal clips and spliced sci-fi until brought to rest by a late cosmic synth refrain.

The title track ‘Illuminated’ holds a more straight-forward musical flow that welcomes in the band’s trademark saxophone, but this is generally a record of darkly ambient turbulence filled with ADD and constant shifts in focus, not too far removed from the structure-abrogating Brainfeeder label’s output.

The flip side sees Blacksmif’s remix of steadily looped builds joined by a Wisent reworking as scrunched and jagged as the paper protruding from the cover artwork designed by onefiveeight’s James Hayes. Each offering an alternate perspective whilst remaining true to the various directions trodden by Paper Tiger's originals.

Words: Ian Pennington
EP cover art: James Hayes (onefiveeight)
Gig photography: Nathan Gibson

Illuminated EP is released on 27th February 2012 via Mind On Fire Records. The Paper Tiger EP launch event is at Soup Kitchen on Friday 2nd March and includes a Paper Tiger laptop/sax set, Raphael Attar, Blacksmif, Agent J (Groovement) and Mind On Fire DJs; free entry before 11pm.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Antwerp Mansion: Gig Photography (Air Cav, Foreign Hands & Ivan Campo on Thursday 24th November 2011) and Previews

To precede the next Now Then monthly gig at south Manchester's best venue for arts, music, antics and boundless creativity, Antwerp Mansion, here's a look back at some long-overdue photography from our vaults.

Ivan Campo set the scene with harmonic folky tales to a relaxed early crowd.

Foreign Hands then raised the tempo...

...before Air Cav celebrated their newly pressed debut album, Don't Look Indoors, in typically rousing fashion.

Air Cav's Spring UK tour begins in Preston on 2nd March, calling at Kraak in Manchester on 6th March.

All photography is courtesy of Ged Camera, while the Air Cav flyer design was by Craig Brown at Beards Club Illustration and the flyer and poster art for forthcoming Now Then gigs (below) is by Hattie Lockwood.

Thursday 23rd February is the date to keep in mind for the next show (tomorrow for anyone reading this hot off the press), which is a co-promotion with alt / prog / experimental rock label Superstar Destroyer Records. The musically multi-dextrousCyril Snear headline what will be one for the hardcore eardrum bangers and chin-stroking fans of intricate axe-wielding alike.

Liverpool's Always The Quiet Ones and Superstar Destroyer's Black Market Serotonin support.

Also at Antwerp Mansion this (long) weekend will be a music and art crossover looking at the recent evolution of the venue itself from decrepit former Conservative meeting house to South Manchester's answer to Islington Mill. The {EVOLVE} exhibition launch features music from Death To The Strange and more, along with the work of 27 artists under the Creative Transit banner.

And finally, next month's Now Then Antwerp Mansion gig (Thursday 22nd March) features a debut performance of a new Dayse & Aver live band show with former members of The Mind On Fire Band sharing the stage with The Natural Curriculum's talented wordsmiths. Exciting new local hip hop collective Mothership Connection support along with Yorkshire label Sinoptic Records' razor sharp lyricist Krankit.

Words: Ian Pennington

PS. Just announced is the Now Then My First Moth Records show at Dulcimer. Unrelated to Antwerp Mansion, but well worth a trip to Chorlton on 8th March to catch Neko Neko (performing a debut collaboration with Najia Bagi on vocals), DJ Mischief, WhoAmI & Trebor, Omas and Aver. (Poster design by Beards Club Illustration).

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Interview: Superstar Destroyer Records

Prog is not a four letter word, claimed Twisted Nerve’s purveyor of rare psychedelic records Andy Votel atop his 2005 compilation. Linguists would beg to differ, but the sentiment lies in the expansive nature of a much-maligned genre. From Genesis to Tool via Jethro Tull and Radiohead, many recording artists have been branded ‘prog’, whether correctly or otherwise, but Alex Lynham points out that “being 'progressive' is a state of mind; it's about cramming in ideas and not being afraid to let motifs and threads just unwind on their own.”

And Lynham should have at least a fairly good idea. As a music writer for many websites and publications from Line of Best Fit to Classic Rock presents: Prog, the co-founder of Manchester based label Superstar Destroyer Records has been able to pick the brains of many a musical mind, from Oceansize’s Mike Vennart to Amplifier’s Sel Belamir. But his favourite chin wag has been with Ben Curtis, a guitar formerly of The Secret Machines and currently playing with School of Seven Bells, an interview which “was amazing,” says Lynham, “as he's possibly my biggest influence as a guitar player – I asked him all these geeky questions about past bands, effects and stuff and he humoured me, which was great.”

Prog as a genre often has to defend itself due to Steve Lamacq and other media trendsetters peddling views of two-chord punk as a saviour movement. It's no wonder many buy into the anti-‘prog’ vibes so as to avoid its overly theatrical and un-cool connotations; even Peter Hammill of 1960s and 70s prog band Van Der Graaf Generator's agreed in a previous interview with "the fundamental principle that music had got overblown with the idea that you can only be a band if you’ve got six keyboards." However, since that 1970s heyday, its genres and sub-genres have diverged and overflowed into various streams and there are those who may share the appreciation for modernist interpretations of progressive music without realising it.

In this respect, Lynham’s clarification of ‘prog’ vs ‘progressive’ in alt rock thinking becomes more salient. “I've seen both Yes and Dream Theater and [the theatrical stage show] is more-or-less what they're about, but there's also bands like Tool and Porcupine Tree that come at the genre from a completely different angle. I like to make the distinction of 'progressive' rather than 'prog' in that sense, as it's easier to get non-'prog' fans to give it a chance. You see a bit of talk these days about 'post-progressive' and that's basically what I mean; all those weird bands that don't fit in anywhere else.”

Aside from writing about bands in the eye of the wider public, Lynham also champions lesser known musicians through Superstar Destroyer Records. Up to now that has manifested in EPs and singles for Ninetails, Dune (now named Peak District), Metamusic, Nowhere Again (Lynham’s band whose name was influenced by the aforementioned Secret Machines) and Black Market Serotonin, who will perform at the Now Then Superstar Destroyer show at Antwerp Mansion this week. Those records meander through many a rock sub-genre, taking in the math, alt and post-rock inventiveness. Indeed, when Lynham says he has assembled the SSD roster through “kidnapping, extortion and blackmail,” perhaps he means he has entrapped the musicians’ minds in his ‘progressive’ genres net, before conversely allowing them the free-thinking, shackle-less melodic mindset that he shares. Sort of like Captain Beefheart’s isolated cabin lock-in to free the minds of the Magic Band from societal structure during the writing and recording of Trout Mask Replica.

Whatever it means, he’s letting Black Market Serotonin loose – without demanding a huge ransom – to support Manchester favourites Cyril Snear and Liverpool’s Always The Quiet Ones on Antwerp Mansion’s stage this Thursday. There’ll be no Beefheart-esque lock-in but there will be progressive music aplenty through what Lynham describes as “a line-up so hardcore it'll rip out your eyes and piss on your brain.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Poster & flyer design: Hattie Lockwood
Logo: Courtesy of Superstar Destroyer

Friday, 17 February 2012

Interview: The Tourists meet ComedySportz

Comedy is an untameable beast. Who knows when it’ll strike? It is a meta-morphing, metaphorical animal whose teeth may be sharp and succinct, blunt and brutal, polished and clean or all of the above.

It is a chat about these various forms of comedy (without so much nonsensical metaphor) that recently brought The Tourists and ComedySportz together over an audio recording device for Now Then Manchester. With a combined personnel in double figures an all-inclusive scene would be a little too crowded, so it fell to The Tourists’ Kate McCabe and ComedySportz’s Sean Mason to represent their respective groups.

Without being too divisive, there are key distinctions between their chosen disciplines. On the face of it, Kate should favour sketch and Sean should favour improv, but both can see the benefits of the other’s field.

So, sketch or improv?

“That’s so difficult!” agonises Kate. “Every time I think about eliminating something from my schedule, I think: I would really miss that. The easy answer is that there are aspects of both that are rewarding. Improv is infinitely useful just as an exercise in itself but also in sketch writing, so improv might actually edge out sketch, but sketch benefits from good improv, so there you go.”

“I love improv,” adds Sean, “but one thing I love and hate equally about improv is that once you’ve done something you don’t necessarily ever see or hear of that thing again.”

Kate agrees: “That is definitely the advantage of sketch. We did a really short run in Edinburgh this past year and it really was fun for the two and a half weeks to be able to celebrate the material we created time and time again and with improv the magic is in the moment and then it’s gone.”

Kate has been with The Tourists in its various incarnations for roughly four years and is a valued member of the group – not least for the differentiation she brings as the only American: “I’m often left to play policeladies and idiots!”

But in general she doesn’t think there is a lot to distinguish British and American humour: “It’s mostly about what the influences are because I do think the question of British versus American humour is over-analysed – I think we laugh at quite a lot of the same stuff but that our influences are much more varied. The British are inspired more by groups like Monty Python whereas in America it’s all about Saturday Night Live.”

While sketch shows from The Fast Show to Big Train are commonplace on the television and as such are a familiar set-up to most audiences, the diversity of group improv is less frequently displayed so its variations often need an introduction. Even within the ComedySportz template there are broadly two types of show. Sean initially distinguishes these as “our family-friendly show [where] ‘family-friendly’ just means we don’t swear” and “our non-family-friendly show which is all about swearing and jokes,” but both require elaboration.

He continues, “the short form is sketches, essentially, that we are just making up that go on for two or three minutes, whereas long form can be circular, it can be one character for the entire hour-long show.”

The shorter format is more games oriented, games which ComedySportz aim to differentiate from those of other improv specialists. “When we do short form it’s kind of more game based,” Sean explains. “Whose Line is it Anyway? is our [point of] recognition. For everyone who doesn’t quite understand what improv is or what it can be, you say Whose Line... and everyone goes ‘oh right, yes’.”

“But that’s the problem I have with TV improv at the moment; people going ‘oh, well it’s not Whose Line... or it’s trying to be Whose Line..., so why don’t they just call it Whose Line...’ and there’s lots of reasons why we can’t do that. But we try to be different; every improv troupe will play a variation on similar games.”

Sean admits to a constant inner turmoil with the throwaway nature of improv but with a longer format during some shows they can at least develop ideas a little more, even if it still won’t be repeated in the same way again. “All the time we think argh we really wish we could do that again. And it is mostly in the long form one when [an idea] breathes a little bit more.”

Improv is something with which live comedy sketch groups undeniably benefit from being comfortable and which Kate believes the third main act on the Now Then Sunday Soirée bill, Him & Me, have mastered: “their bantering with the audience is at a really high level for somebody who normally does sketch.”
It’s a skill The Tourists strive for as well. Rohan (Shenoy, of The Tourists), who joins the conversation late, adds that an increase in ad lib fill ins is “something we’re looking to do a lot more of ourselves. A lot of us are from a lot more of a theatre-y background.”

Their sketches are a diverse smorgasbord of the satirical to the surreal, as Kate describes: “we all write very differently. I write sketches that are very parody and satire based. And then there’s members of the group like Tony who writes very surreal sketches; Maggie writes very situational based comedy and then Rohan is kind of the odd ball out – what he writes is a mixture of them all.”

Edinburgh review website Three Weeks concurs that they "take on a wide range of characters from the hapless robot File-Tron to the menacing Maria, the nun," so if nothing else their show promises to be quite a mix.

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Courtesy of the groups depicted
Poster design: Hattie Lockwood

The Tourists and ComedySportz will both perform at Dulcimer in Chorlton on Sunday 26th February. The show has an early evening start time of 5pm and they’ll be joined by fellow local acts Him & Me (sketch) and Greg O’Toole (stand up).

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Interview: The Electronic Exchange

Since interviewing The Electronic Exchange at the end of 2010 they’ve grown a lot; in numbers, in recognition, in cohesion and in understanding.

They have swelled to a six-piece live band, although still reliant upon a steady broadband connection to share ideas and compose final versions of songs. Tullis Rennis, co-founder of both The Electronic Exchange and the genuinely open-minded netlabel Concrete Moniker, believes that they have maintained a similarly democratic process despite the greater populous, but it does mean that there are more people to meet in person for the first time when last-minute rehearsals finally take place under the same roof.

Roughly a year after the eponymous debut EP, the pair returned with Second Shift, multi-layered carvings melding Thom Yorke’s mind-warps to Mount Kimbie’s metallic echoes that may appear more direct and with a lighter ambient spirit but is equally glitch-ridden. My First Moth producer Neko Neko was recruited to remix ‘Fit Right’ and ‘Shapeshifter’ for the record and has already successfully entwined those into his live set with his addition of a Burial-esque dusky dimness, matching more elements of the 2010 EP, The Electronic Exchange, than Second Shift.

The Electronic Exchange’s impending tour is with a new track in mind (available to download at no cost). ‘Stay Straight’ features hints of the expanded live personnel with brass and live drums in support of Najia Bagi, whose vocal lead displays an added confidence following her debut solo record, Six Months, released towards the end of 2011.

Now Then Manchester returns to the scene where Najia Bagi, Tullis Rennis and new live drummer Dave Johnson discuss the latest project and tour, the development of the ‘electronic exchange’ composing technique and ‘toolshed dub’.

Now Then: How does this show compare to previous full band performances for The Electronic Exchange at Band on the Wall and Umbro? What can people expect?

Tullis Rennie: It’s a step up from the Umbro show at FutureEverything because we'll be playing a full headline set with the whole 6-piece group on every tune.

NT: For what reasons did you make the change from a duo to include a larger band?

TR: I think both Najia and I have been feeling increasingly strongly over time that the duo format of the group doesn't quite do a 'live' show justice and that both of us are bursting full of musical ideas that need us to include live musicians.

NT: How did you recruit the other musicians? Are they involved with any of your other musical projects?

TR: They're a rum bunch of old friends, ex-band mates and new collaborators. After the Umbro show, Najia worked with some of the string players again for her solo show, so they're becoming more regular collaborators and closer acquaintances. Andrew, our new cellist, is completely new to the project and he's got stuck right in. I can't wait to meet him!

NT: For the debut EP you initially labelled The Electronic Exchange project as “toolshed dub”; has that outlook changed in any way? Would you alter that label now and to what?

TR: Ahaha, yeah I'd forgotten about that. It was one of those things that you write at 2am on a press release to try and keep yourself and the person you're writing to interested. It had some merit, as I was tinkering around in my compositional shed trying to be a beat-maker and the dub thing was apparent on most of those tracks.

I think we've progressed and broadened our scope and sound. 'Fit Right' for example is the first time I’ve strayed into using actual electronic drum sounds.

I'm going to steer clear of any new tags, for fear of getting myself into more hot water. Although, today I wrote an e-mail to a friend describing Machinedrum's Room(s) (incidentally one of my favourite records of last year) and I described it as “electronic dance music but with heart, soul and bits that make you cry.” I'd love to achieve that one day. I think we're on the right track...

NT: Dave, as someone new to the ‘electronic exchange’ process, how did you fit into it?

Dave Johnson: The practicalities are that I receive a version of an Electronic Exchange song online, which I listen to, a lot. I then think about possible percussion parts that could go with it as part of a live show. I try these parts out alone or with Najia and then describe them as best I can online. This is read by all the other musicians involved. They are then free to leave any comments or suggestions. It’s similar for every member, so I can find myself commenting on ideas for cello parts or vocals or even about the structure of the song. It’s very refreshing to just throw as many ideas around as you want; it’s all been very open. I’ve basically completely indulged myself in talking about my own parts and receiving feedback about it. It’s lovely. I feel very validated.

NT: What did you know about the production techniques before joining the band?

DJ: I knew how the process would work because I’d been involved with the last performance at FutureEverything but before that I really couldn’t see how productive it would be until I started doing it. I am really used to just sitting in a practice room for hours on end and trying out any ideas and I like working that way because it’s immediate, so trying to collaborate online with a group classical musicians sounded very daunting. But I got a lot out of working a different way and I was genuinely surprised with how strongly it all came together and how well everyone gelled musically.

NT: Would you do the same again in the future?

DJ: I would definitely say yes to anything Najia and Tullis asked of me. They are sexy, bass hungry animals. Every tune I receive of them is a sonic beast with a wide mouth ready to be stuffed full of beats. I really love working on this music and it’s been an opportunity to work with musicians that I would never cross paths with otherwise. I would love to do it again. Please.

NT: Was it difficult to fuse more ideas together through the impersonal realm of the internet or was there some leadership from Najia & Tullis? Is the overall process still democratic, even now that there are more voters?

DJ: There is a certain level of leadership from Najia and Tullis and I’m impressed with how efficient they have made the process. They might take the lead by introducing a new song and beginning a conversation thread but they have never ruled out anyone else’s ideas. The fact that you read someone’s ideas means you really give them some thought before you respond to them. In a practice room setting it’s very easy to dismiss someone’s idea because you have a different one or because you’re in a bad mood.

Also, because everyone is from fairly different musical backgrounds, there seems to be a genuine interest in hearing suggestions from a totally different perspective. I would say that it’s sometimes hard to imagine how all the ideas are going to work and that you don’t really know until you all try them out in a room together. We’ll have three rehearsals to do that. Easy.

TR: I think it’s democratic, although we do have to show leadership in some aspect, to get the ball rolling, chivvy people into responding...

NT: Have you encountered anyone else who works solely through long-distance means in composing songs?

TR: I think people are doing it all the time, for example remixes are basically only done this way, as most of those DJs and Producers are in different continents or constantly hopping around the country and globe. However, I think nearly all of those processes happen out of necessity. The way we work is to use the process as a creative tool – it’s the element of surprise and the liberation of ideas - working collaboratively in a duo or group but with ideas sprouting solo in the first instance.

Najia Bagi: Since telling more people about how we work I have found that often people say that they email each other with musical ideas. I suppose it’s different with this project because the entire process is via the web. I think people gravitate towards working with each other in person if they can.

NT: You’re supported on the tour by different artists from hip hop to trip hop to electronica; how did you select these supports & how do they complement your own style?

NB: Well, we did some research into what was happening in the cities we are going to be performing in (as in we asked people we trusted what they thought was good). Dave found the Manchester support (Dayse & Aver) actually! He had seen them somewhere else and was really impressed. Tullis knew of Hive Collective in Liverpool and Neko Neko (Leeds support) is a friend of The Electronic Exchange, having supported us before and done remixes of our tracks. They’re all brilliant and we feel lucky to be working with all of them.

Patterns in the Ivy were new to us, but Hive recommended them highly and with the obvious link of electronics and vocals, we thought it would be fun to explore a different angle of what could be achieved with the same or similar instruments. I think it makes sense that all the supports are different to one another, as there are so many different influences on our music (as with all bands I suppose). In my mind, I imagine that each support will create a slightly different atmosphere for each show and that’s exciting!

NT: How would you define The Electronic Exchange’s sound compared with those of the supports for the tour? Do you feel that The Electronic Exchange has a different feel now with more input and how is the final sound similar / different?

TR: I think ours is a bit more of a mongrel – we're not solely hip hop or electronica-beats or soundscapes. I think the band is certainly going to have a different feel after this tour; who knows what we'll do next, but I think it might be a turning point.

Words & edits: Ian Pennington
TEE EP cover: Courtesy of The Electronic Exchange
Najia Bagi EP cover: Adam Dolan
Najia Bagi live photography: Ged Camera
Dayse & Aver live photography #1: Gary Brown GB Multimedia
Dayse & Aver live photography #2: Ged Camera

The Electronic Exchange's Stay Straight tour stops at Kraak Gallery on Friday 10th February, where they'll be supported by hip hop duo Dayse & Aver. The gig is sandwiched between shows in Leeds and Liverpool.

Baptists & Bootleggers presents ...Of The Wolves

Times haven’t been easy for the recorded music industry since the turn of the century. The millennium bug hit hard and there’s no popular solution in sight. Punters are being shown a series of unhealthily prohibitive legislation all with designs on disabling online freedoms.

And then an email from a project like Baptists & Bootleggers pops into your inbox.

Baptists & Bootleggers is a new Manchester record label that also, in a sense, separates its output from the internet, but instead of harbouring intent on devious commercial gain it has poured all of its heart into a tangible product. The result is a rejection of mp3 norms and a nod towards the concept album. But, more than a mere album, it becomes a concept experience. Music, art, literature and live performance all free of charge for their audience’s enjoyment.

The record is a gloriously packaged one-off; a keeper in a world of throwaways. While opening, you’re filled with increasing wonderment and desire to satisfy your curiosity. But there’d be no point producing such superficial sheen without following it up with substance.

Based around the 1930s film of Dante’s Inferno, a fiery adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s epic verse Divine Comedy, the experience is afforded hinges to guide its creativity. Five musicians interpret the same 8 minute 12 second video clip, making the largely instrumental five-track LP entitled ...Of The Wolves the focal point. Electronic duo Borland set a moody scene; ‘Nightmare’ is almost an onomatopoeic title for a track progressing through phases from unnerving calmness to industrial pounds and filthy scuzz.

Veí contrasts that dive into dystopia with the undercurrents of hope flowing through the cleanly ‘Decaying Bodice’ before Stagger reaches into your inner ear and leaves the recalcitrant disharmony that is ‘& The Flaw’. It descends back into a sci-fi world where klaxons and shudders reign and you’re left to fend for yourself on street level in Blade Runner. Dafydd Jones, aka Crown The Wolf, visits a similar theme, but instead entwines a loftier, galactic tone with nagging running dialogue. The record is rounded off with psychedelic prog rockers Go Lebanon lambasting their initial starkness with suffocating swells of racket, erupting densely, viciously and vigorously.

It’s both surprising and reassuring that five musical artists could provide such a range of ideas originating from the same source and that is perhaps the most rewarded aspect of the project. But the Baptists & Bootleggers experience is the sum of its parts; Paul Hallows, Dan Watson, Edward Williams, Jess Higgins and Matthew Walkerdine all illustrate their readings of quotes from Divine Comedy – an abstract collection impossible to decipher without having read the same passages – and Dan J Luck and Dave Firth imagine prose (morbid, reflective and ethereal) based on the recorded music.

Veí’s debut EP also falls out of the sleeve. To say it’s his debut isn’t to belittle his digital release through Mind On Fire Records last year, Thank You For Talking, but the feeling that this is his first debut proper does serve to back up the idea that a recording as a physical product still holds a certain allure. Veí recently ditched the assembly of gadgets that made up his looping orchestra and one of his first outings with a trimmed live luggage was at the first Now Then Sunday Soirée, at which he wrapped his ambient glitches snugly around the visual serenity of a Limbo computer game walkthrough film. The tracks are recognisable from that show, which has been an obstacle when linking Veí’s previous recordings to past improvised performances.

Taken as a unit, the EP is varied enough while remaining distinctly the work of the same artist. ‘Faceplant’, a standout, evokes Four Tet’s knack for matching samples of acoustic guitar finger picking with processed beats and harmonies. It’s almost his ‘Everything Is All Right’. ‘Internetiquette’ harnesses a gently mechanical steadiness of pistons, shuffling like brush strokes incongruous to a solemn piano lilt, while ‘When We Were Things’ carves a path through fragmented electronica.

As for sleeve notes, they’re printed onto a piece of tightly woven material; no paper cuts trying to prise these words away from a plastic case.


So far, the project has been aided by Umbro’s art funding scheme, but label co-founder Callum Higgins says that they were never expectant of or reliant upon the financial support: “When we first came up with the idea of Baptists & Bootleggers we hadn’t even considered applying for any funding, everything was going to be split costs between ourselves and the artists that wanted to work with us. And even when we thought about funding we never actually thought we'd get it. We were pretty shocked when we did to be honest.”

He continues, “Once we'd decided we were going to give the funding a shot we started putting in a lot of work. The only way we'd succeed in proving to people that spending their money on making things to give away for free is a good idea would be to prove that we were serious about it. We put in a lot of hours putting together budgets so we knew exactly how much we needed and didn’t ask for any more. Although it turned out that they liked our idea so much they decided to give us more than twice what we asked for.”

But given the support there is now an added security to the near future with other releases in the pipeline and a more stable platform for affiliated artists, who are already being recognised further afield

But is this a model that others could copy? “Not necessarily,” says Higgins. “It’s something we want to do because we and the artists we work with believe in free art and free music and we feel it's a good way to give back to the people that support your work. But that's not to say we're against the idea of people making a living doing what they love.”

Jonn Dean, aka Veí, shares the sentiment that artistic continuance should take precedence over money: “I've been in bands and making music for the last thirteen years and over that time I've realised just how hard it is to make a sustainable career within the industry as a recording artist, especially without compromising on the music you ideally want to release.”

He continues, “It also really frustrates me whenever I hear more established artists (some of whom might never actually need to earn another 'cent' in their lives) complaining about file-sharing ruining the industry, etc, when I know countless and more talented artists who would love the same amount of exposure and success, but who also have to strike a balance on a daily basis between holding down a day-job whilst finding time to write, perform and promote the music they love.”

With the broad experience behind this first outing for Baptists & Bootleggers, Dean describes an altered perception with the monetary valuation removed. He pinpoints “a sense that people interested in the release genuinely want to own it, which is a feeling a lot more rewarding than me trying to flog an EP to people for a few quid after a show.”

And Higgins hopes that the want to own the Baptists & Bootleggers output will continue from this early groundwork. While the ...Of The Wolves project can hardly be labelled uninventive, he admits that they stayed fairly safe in terms of working with people they know and could trust, but now that the seed has been sown, they intend to guide the growth of many an artist in the future.

“For our first release we decided to work with artists, writers and musicians who we already knew and whose work we were fans of. As this is our establishing release we felt that the people involved were important as it would reflect what people can expect from us in the future.”

“We have quite a few releases lined up, some of which we can't reveal at the moment but they're pretty exciting. But we can tell you about our first mainly literature release coming up, we've been working with online publication Kollektivnye to put out their first print edition in March.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Logos: Courtesy of Baptists & Bootleggers
Photographs: Paul Green

Go Lebanon, Borland and Veí will all perform at the Baptists & Bootleggers launch gig at Islington Mill on Thursday 9th February. Entry will be free, as will your copy of the ...Of The Wolves package.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Section 25 & As Able As Kane (AAAK) @ Gulliver's, Saturday 28th January 2012

When two fast flowing rivers meet, an area of turbulence is created as the waters interact and mix. A similar type of confluence is taking place at Gulliver's, only with two separate, distinct crowds getting swept up in the mix. Downstairs a woman is celebrating her 30th birthday with a set of friends whose age appears to be around the 30 year watermark. None of them would be old enough to have seen Section 25 in their first incarnation, unlike the group of more ‘mature’ people upstairs who perhaps, proudly, would like to say they did.

As Able As Kane precede them and set upon the task of removing the mortar from between the brickwork with their slamming beats. Initially lining up as a four-piece, for the third number a female singer emerges from the crowd and is just about able to fit into the small space left alongside the male vocalist. The contribution to the higher end of the frequency mix provides a touch of subtlety to the pounding.

Carefully thought out and organised to match the emotions of the songs, a set of visual images cast the band in shadows. Images of buildings being blown up are overlaid with selected lyrics whilst a few individuals are literally bouncing up and down to the beats, broadly grinning from ear to ear as they let the momentum wrap itself around them.

A name that is often referenced but seldom at the fore front of the Factory Records tale is Section 25, yet when you hear them you understand why the association fits so well. They even have music out on the Haçienda record label. After the ill fortune that the band have suffered it’s surprising that they have survived this long, but it’s a tribute to their love of music and ability to find a way to record music as and when it suits them. Vocalist Bethany Cassidy briefly refers to her “mum and dad,” but the reason she is onstage is that Jennifer (her mother), Larry (her dad) and a founding member of this group, died at far too early an age; not via any self inflicted situation. Yet interest in their warm fusion of steady rhythms, guitars and samples has proved enduring enough to generate a mini tour of Europe.

For the first two numbers, ‘Beating Heart’ and ‘Garage Land’, Beth struggles to be heard as the mic lead cuts in and out in a Norman Collier-like manner. With a new cable in place she’s happy, her uncle Vinny on drums is happy and so is the crowd as the lush melodies flow out. It may be more of a Balearic beat than the Blackpool (or Poulton-le-Fylde) sands but it’s still flowing soundly.

Words & Photographs: Ged Camera

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Nicolas Jaar & Scuba Vs SCB @ Sound Control, Saturday 28th January 2012

“Gotta love student crowds... The educated face of the nation,” tweets Scuba sarcastically during a performance in his SCB guise down in the Sound Control basement.

A brash, acerbic, unnecessary and incendiary statement, yes, but it’s hard not to agree with him on some level, university attendees or otherwise, even if not for the same reasons.

In following up with another tweet (“So bored with the music upstairs at Sound Control I’ve been forced to switch on data roaming”), he unwittingly puts himself in the same musically unappreciative boat as the audience in his crosshairs.

The issue is this: it’s as if the venue has been turned on its head as punters pile upstairs en masse for Nicolas Jaar, seemingly expectant of an uptempo rave to the tune of techno. Many are unsuspecting of the subtlety in Jaar’s set; his soundwaves flowing through the room with a sobriety not shared by those busy flexing their vocal chords.

Jaar and his Clown & Sunset cohorts replicate more Mulatu Astatke’s jazz than the 90s techno and house peddled by SCB. Acid Pauli trots in with Balearic clips and clops at a mellow canter before Soul Keita adds an engaging fusion of highs and lows with bursts of jazz samples amidst echoing clacks akin to Baths, both facing sparse to average crowd sizes.

But by the time Jaar steps up for a live laptop set (a disappointment to those expecting the advertised ‘live’ show to mean his instrumental arrangements), the full effect of overselling tickets can be felt by those prohibited from accessing the packed main room.

Where SCB is right is with those who do manage to squeeze upstairs; many not only chatter over his ambient glistens and downtempo minimalism, but also complain that they’re not enjoying it and didn’t even enjoy his latest record, Space Is Only Noise. Jaar continues regardless, filtering in elements of his Darkside project with slow-burners such as ‘Don’t Break My Love’ alongside vocal samples by Scout LaRue and live, effects-heavy mixes of his own words – exhaling into the microphone to coin a Leonard Cohen lyric, “I can feel you when you breathe.”

When he does raise the tempo, such as with ‘Space Is Only Noise If You Can See’ dropped in towards the end of an hour-long set, it is incongruous to the soundscape as a whole. Using his own choice of rolling visuals for imagery, it is like barging through the bucolic as a bulldozer would through an open field. Many snap into movement with the onset of pulsating basslines, but in truth he has more in common with the progressive guitar chugs of Malian blues ensemble Tinariwen, whom he often references through his music both directly and by influence.

After the scrum upstairs, SCB’s room is busier for the early hours. Judging on its merits, the Hotflush label founder produces a diverse set ranging from 90s techno such as Moby’s ‘Go’ to acid and cosmic house both old and new, as with Boddika & Joy O’s newbie ‘Swims’.

But SCB himself should be content with second billing, particularly given Jaar’s hype explosion with the end-of-year lists, without which this show might’ve made for a good split between a chilled out attic and techno in the basement. Contrary to Scuba’s dismissive tone, the split isn’t between boring and exciting; that would be to neglect the challenging intricacies of Jaar’s work. And in any case Scuba in SCB form settles for mimicry by spinning others’ songs via CDJs, while Jaar performs his own compositions. Which is the more boring of those two options?

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Camille Uliana