Monday, 31 August 2009

Joy Orbison - Hyph Mngo/Wet Look [Hotflush]

I’ve been attempting to resist writing about Joy Orbison’s upcoming debut release on Hotflush for quite some time, as more or less everyone across the board has been going pretty crazy for ‘Hyph Mngo’ even though it’s not released until the middle of September. Still, it’s pretty hard not to join in with the volumes of praise the track’s been getting. Since Blackdown devoted an entire Pitchfork column to it at the start of July there’s been a torrent of interest, with what seems like every DJ managing to get hold of a copy playing it out at every available opportunity.

Which is fair enough really, as ‘Hyph Mngo’ has felt like an appropriate underground anthem for this summer, with its extremes of hot and cold, humid and dry. Whilst ostensibly a dubstep track – in the sense that it runs at around 140bpm and has been mixed into sets by many a dubstep DJ – it does a great job of skirting round the edges of genre to become simply an amazing piece of music. What really appeals is its simplicity: built round the shortest of vocal refrains but absolutely saturated in a wash of orange and yellow synth, it never really goes anywhere save a glorious mid-track breakdown before the beat hammers back in.

It’s this cyclic nature that makes the track so fiendishly addictive – you know what to expect and when it’s coming, even after only hearing it once, and when the familiar two note refrain emerges from the mix in a darkened room you know exactly what’s about to burst into technicolour life. As a piece of post-garage music in a world where that genre can so often be taken to ever darker, ever heavier levels, it's inspiring to find a deftness of touch and the lightheartedness that lies at the heart of what rave music was always about.

What I didn’t expect to be able to say is that the flipside is possibly even better. Already it seems that Joy Orbison is establishing a sound of sorts, as ‘Wet Look’ is drenched in the same sort of aquatic melodies that make ‘Hyph Mngo’ such a joy, but here they are welded to an intricate, driving beat structure and sampled voice to absolutely devastating effect. The same curiously repetitive nature is ever present here too, until the second drop peaks, falls away into an abyss of turbid water and sinks to nothingness.

Needless to say, this 12” is going to be caned by everyone who gets hold of it when it comes out in a couple of weeks’ time.

Flying Lotus - LA. EP 3x3

At long last, the third in Steven Ellison’s series of remix EPs taken from his pioneering Los Angeles long player has surfaced. Each one has been quite unique – rather than merely gathering together whatever mixes he could and slamming them onto a 12”, Ellison seems to have had a specific vision for each individual release. This has ensured that each EP has been a surprisingly coherent listen, and this third is no exception. In fact, it holds together best, the seven tracks on here forming more of a mini-album of reinterpretations than direct floor-ready remixes.

A little like Isis’ series of Oceanic reinterpretations, which saw collaborators as diverse as Fennesz, Hecker, DJ Speedranch and Justin Broadrick deconstructing their original work, each remix on LA. EP 3x3 takes only the barest of source material and entirely rebuilds from the ground up. The results often bear little resemblance to their forebears, sharing only the permeating atmosphere of disquiet that marks Ellison’s work as Flying Lotus. As if the version on Los Angeles wasn’t spooky enough, Dimlite’s take on ‘Infinitum’ has a staggering gait that ramps up the sense of urban sleaze to breaking point. Appropriately, it pivots about an awkward locked groove that seems to stretch forever as the original’s eerie vocal mantra dissects itself with an array of sampled operating tools. Take’s orientalist remix of ‘Parisian Goldfish’ is almost entirely unrecognizable bar the sudden emergence of the original’s strafing synth refrain, and Rebekah Raff’s ‘Auntie’s Harp’ is a gorgeous starry eyed exploration of Ellison’s tribute to Alice Coltrane. Best by far though is Breakage’s metallic dissolution of album highlight ‘Testament’, trading in his usual dark dubstep stylings for truly ominous choral drone.

Yet for all the consistent quality of his collaborators’ work, it’s FlyLo’s own new material here that proves most intriguing. Taking a radical departure from the usual post-Dilla territory, ‘Endless White’ and ‘Spin Cycles’ detour toward formless, beatless ambience that in a lesser producer’s hands could have also felt pointless. Instead, the barely audible birdsong and tiny snippets of harp that weave their way through thickets of static elicit the same atmosphere as his most upbeat work, yet through an entirely different methodology. Ellison’s new album can’t come quickly enough – it’s due out on Warp at some point early next year. It will be exciting to see how much farther he can stretch the template before it snaps entirely.

SCB, Scuba - whatever, it's great

Scuba's album of last year, A Mutual Antipathy, has done nothing but improve with age. Its mix of spare dubstep atmospherics with driving Berlin-inspired chill has gone hand-in-hand with the dubstep/techno explosion that's taken place over the last couple of years. His most recent 12", Klinik/Hundreds & Thousands, was his most straightforward and propulsive yet, but a new release coming soon on his label Hotflush sees Paul Rose moving further down the post-garage route away from overt dancefloor action.

It's a relief to see then that he's using his other moniker, SCB, as a means of releasing the kind of minimalist dub techno only hinted at on A Mutual Antipathy. This week has seen his first official mix as SCB appear, courtesy of mnml ssgs, and it's an absolute killer. There's not really any need to try and describe it, just get, play loud and absorb.

Download the mix here.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Zomby - Digital Flora [Brainmath]

As if the man hadn’t spoiled us enough last month with the release of his quite astounding One Foot Ahead Of The Other EP, reclusive re-animator Zomby has put out yet more new material, this time on the Brainmath label. His last release was certainly a career high thus far: veering from the sticky mess of his earlier Hyperdub EP on ‘Helter Skelter’ to ghostly carnival two-step on the title track and ‘Polka Dot’. The sum total of his material thus far is indicative of serious ambition and an unwillingness to be pigeonholed that ensures every new thing he comes out with is, at least, worthy of more than a cursory glance.

Digital Flora proves to be no exception. Composed of the title track and a skeletal refix on the flip (entitled, I believe, ‘Digital Fauna’) it takes as a starting point the more nostalgic and mellow side of his music – think ‘Test Me For A Reason’ – and pushes it further into shadowy, nocturnal realms. It’s something that could soundtrack a film noir set along the banks of the modern day Thames: the slight garage beat is bathed in eddies of purple murk, while tiny flashes of melody sweep past like car headlights across London’s bridges and disappear into the night. In typically contrary fashion, both ‘Flora’ and ‘Fauna’ end abruptly and without a trace, mid-beat, leaving only echoes coursing through the ears.

In the wake of Burial – and the resurrection of two-step influences into dubstep in general – there have been increasing moves toward this kind of phantom garage. It seems to coalesce the longings of a scene now lost into a different beast entirely, aimed squarely away from the motor regions of the brain to light up the areas controlling image and sound recall. It’s not so much copyism as much as it is collective rediscovery: in the last few weeks alone, both of Zomby’s releases, Clubroot’s recent album and Scuba’s new material on Hotflush (amongst others) have continued to mine this surprisingly rich territory – in all cases with unique and refreshing results. Long may the search continue.


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Green Man

This week has been one of recovery and contemplation after all the cider and the genuine free-for-all that is Green Man festival. It's certainly one of the very best of its kind, and only really competing with End Of The Road for most genuinely enjoyable summer festival.

The line up this year was (as usual) staggering - amongst the notables were Grizzly Bear, Dent May, Animal Collective, Gang Gang Dance, Beach House and Blue Roses - but there were a couple of events over the course of the weekend that really encapsulated the entire atmosphere there. Being labelled by the broadsheets as 'the ultimate boutique festival' seems far more of an insult than a compliment to these ears. Still, the number of children there with their families getting to hear some genuinely innovative music is a pretty inspiring thing - especially when it's from Zun Zun Egui and Dirty Three, both of whom were head and shoulders above the rest of the weekend's line up. Dirty Three can continue to stake their claim as one of the greatest live bands I've ever had the pleasure to see, and Warren Ellis is, if anything, getting even wittier as a performer.

One performance really captured the spirit of Green Man more than any other - and it wasn't even an officially booked one. West Country wanderer Men Diamler turned up with the rest of the paying punters but also decided to bring along his guitar and play a couple of impromptu sets near the main stage. And he was fantastic - his album Sea Shanties For The Far Inland is well worth getting hold of. Below is my take, originally written for Muso's Guide.

Saturday starts with one of the surprise highlights of the weekend – an impromptu and defiantly unofficial unplugged set from Men Diamler. Over the course of its forty-five minute length the growing crowd is moved from location to location around the grounds, following pied piper Diamler’s quite incredible voice. There’s a touch of peculiarly British eccentricity about his demeanour, dressed for the occasion and accompanied by his battered old nylon-string guitar. He finishes, sat on a camping chair, with a singalong and a Jacques Brel cover in a style that ties his performance firmly to our folk-song-as-storytelling heritage. It’s pretty inspiring that an artist this exciting can just turn up, perform and compel just as much as most of the booked acts.

I covered the event for MG: the full review (plus another take from Sam Cleeve) is here.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Shackleton - Three EPs

In a nicely timed follow up to my post a couple of weeks ago about Shackleton’s incredible live show at The Croft, he’s just announced a new release on Perlon through an interview with Resident Advisor. It’s an album-length project entitled Three EPs, to be released on 14th October on triple vinyl, and if the new material he’s been performing live is anything to go by it’s going to be one of the best releases of the year.

Three EPs
will be the first actual new material from Shack since the final Skull Disco compilation, Soundboy’s Gravestone Gets Desecrated By Vandals – his tracks on the Mordant Music compilation released earlier in the year were quite a lot older. There are snippets of the entire record available for listening at Wordandsound. Whilst the hallmarks of his dusty, percussive early work are still very much present, there are audible hints of more synthetic soundplay, which seems appropriate for a release on the Perlon label. It’ll have to wait for the release for the full effect, but this bodes very well indeed.

And as a way of tiding over the wait until October, one of his most devastating early tracks, ‘Naked’:

Esben & The Witch - 33

I discovered Esben & The Witch by accident, or by some strange combination of good fortune, good timing and a little too much spare time on my hands - I’m still not really sure. After reading an interview with the band on The Quietus it turned out they were playing as support at Sian Alice Group’s album launch a couple of weeks ago. They ended up being utterly captivating musically and a charismatic bunch, the attention to detail in their songs treading a fine line between spider-spun delicacy and outright muscle that suits the Danish fairytale they’ve named themselves after. The full text is on their MySpace, but it’s a distinctly European blend of morality tale, spook story and just a tiny helping of gothic kitsch – the sort of thing parents would have told their kids by candlelight to remind them not to misbehave. Along with their Brothers Grimm meets frosty Scandinavian visual imagery, they seem bound to that peculiarly timeless lineage where truth and folk myth collide.

Despite their use of electronics, the music the band – singer Rachel, guitar & multi-instrumentalist Daniel and guitarist Thomas - produce is curiously timeless and impossible to easily place, filled with a sense of isolation it’s not easy to replicate in a time where communications technology has overtaken every square inch of space. Each song feels like a journey into the attic of some long dead relative’s house, full of tiny ornaments, clutter and fragments of sepia photographs that constitute a lifetime’s worth of memories: eerie and occasionally terrifying, but moving.

Their debut (I think) EP 33 has a prickly, restless energy; opener ‘(Abstract)’ is a darkened invocation, a symphony of wordless voices that fade and part into the clearing of ‘Eumenides’. So called after the Furies of Greek legend, it’s a beautiful, brooding piece, a choir of stargazing guitars that launch heavenward in a blaze of feedback before crashing back to the ground to shatter into a thousand tiny shards. Singer Rachel uses her voice as an instrument as much as a lyrical focal point, at times barely intelligible as it sinks under its own weight or leaves shadows of delay in its wake.

For some reason I can’t put my finger on, ‘About This Peninsula’ reminds me of playing Final Fantasy when I was about thirteen. It doesn’t sound anything like videogame music but its effects-drenched guitars are full of the same foreboding you feel when you know you’re about to turn the corner to face the next boss. A tenuous comparison I know, but it’s there and I get the feeling they might appreciate the comparison.

Given that they’ve only been together only a year or so, the brilliance of 33 and the buzz they’re getting from certain corners of the music world bodes well for the future. They’re playing live a lot in the next couple of months, including a show at End Of The Road, and really should not be missed.

Photography by Lucy Johnston, used with many thanks:

Monday, 17 August 2009

Stirrings in the twisted woods...

There have been some unsettled rumblings in the Radiohead camp as of late. After a year of quiet following their massive outdoor tour last summer, the last few weeks have seen a typical music press flurry of speculation over the ‘will-they-won’t-they?’ question of a new EP, following the massive overreaction to the recent announcement that (shock!) they won’t be releasing a new album any time soon. To be fair to them, it was nearly five years between Hail To The Thief’s release and the emergence of In Rainbows. I guess we can forgive them if it takes that long again if it ends up as fantastic as In Rainbows and its sister material turned out to be.

All of this having been said, their stirring - if a little uninspiring - orchestral tribute to the final British World War One veteran, ‘Harry Patch (In Memory Of)’ was made available through W.A.S.T.E a few weeks ago and today another newie has appeared – for free this time - entitled ‘These Are My Twisted Words’.

And it’s pretty great, in classic late Radiohead style, driven by a relentless jazz drum workout above which spiraling guitars descend at slow pace, as if hanging in stasis. As with much of their post-Kid A work, it’s the drumming that really does it for me here – it drones, but at such a heightened pace that it lends the entire song an eerie urgency that serves to ratchet up tension that is never really resolved, as the music suddenly drops out, leaving momentum lurching into the closing silence. It certainly bodes well for future releases – and the potential new EP that may or may not appear in the not too distant future. In characteristic form, who really knows anyway?

Clubroot - Clubroot [Lo Dubs]

Yet another artist that has successfully slipped under the radar of the mainstream, I first heard of Clubroot through his guest mix for Electronic Explorations a couple of months ago. After Rob Booth’s endorsement I’d been meaning to pick up his self-titled album for ages, but its lack of easy availability on CD/vinyl and my general disdain for digital downloads ensured I made the fairly foolish mistake of only getting hold of it last week. Which is a shame, as his music would have been perfect for July, with its mix of hot, heavy atmosphere and spontaneous downpours.

It’s ostensibly a dubstep album, though arguably as distant from the standard definition of that genre as the sound can be pushed. Where most dubstep is skeletal and stripped back to the point of minimalism, Clubroot shrouds everything in dense washes of mid-range ambience, disguising each tiny melodic inflection in a cloud of decaying electronic texture. Like Burial’s first record, the effect is almost dystopian in its evocation of the ghosts of London’s streets. But if Will Bevan’s beats conjure up the phantoms of the recent past - the lost promise and positivity of the embryonic rave scene, the feeling that anything could happen, right now - Clubroot’s spirit inhabits the London of Ballard’s Drowned World, a city reclaimed by nature and suffocated by oppressive humidity. Sound travels five times faster in water than in air; each note leaves a wispy vapour trail in its wake. Female voices drift, impossible to grasp, as though passing through ten thousand feet of warm, tropical water on their journey to the ears.

The aquatic early-Mystikz subs on ‘High Strung’ are probably Clubroot’s closest approximation of its parent genre, awash in wisps of barely-there panpipe melody that brush its surface without touching the depths underneath. Elsewhere, on ‘Dulcet’s coil-and-release spring tension and the submerged choirs of ‘Lucid Dream’ that recall Gang Gang Dance at their most astral, he hints at some entirely new creation, steeped in what Kode9 called ‘memories of the future’. Two tracks in particular encapsulate this more than the rest; ‘Talisman’ is a gorgeous slice of haunted garage, tracked throughout by a simple two note voice refrain over hot, abrasive subs, and ‘Sempiternal’ begins the wind-down to the album’s close with crumbling techy loops and a skittish two-step riddim. Both are absolutely beautiful, addictive tunes, and deserve an audience well beyond any they are ever likely to get.

Clubroot is undoubtedly a dark album, in the manner of so many post-garage urban derived musics, but its depth lends it an eerie sense of hope throughout. It’s a record that has only improved with repeated listens and I’m sure will continue to do so. A future classic? Quite possibly so, though we’re unlikely to see The Sun promoting an ‘Unmask Clubroot’ tabloid campaign any time soon.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Dubloaded: Shackleton & Headhunter

Living in London these days, I’m consistently amazed by the vibe at Bristol’s dubstep nights. The tight-knit community around Rooted Records and the city’s small size and friendly feel lend a great atmosphere to events like Pinch’s monthly Dubloaded sessions. It’s about as far a contrast as possible from London – even FWD>>, which has a loyal crowd of regular attendees but still has some of that distinctly ‘London’ feel to it; the same kind of thing you feel when walking around a crowded street or stand in a tube during rush hour and feel a thousand lives brush past you without touching your own. Arriving straight at the Croft off the coach from Victoria, the difference couldn’t be more palpable.

It’s this aspect that makes Dubloaded such a pleasure to attend – there is a genuinely chilled out, friendly feel which fits well with the positivity coming from MC Dread during Wedge and Gatekeeper, who open the night with a back-to-back set of typically Bristolian dubstep, all devastating bass pressure and brittle, techy melody. Still, the real reason I’ve made the trip down from London for the evening is the promise of an hour in the company of Shackleton. Since Skull Disco’s end last year, he has almost entirely dropped off the radar, emerging for the odd, rare, live performance. Judging by the wealth of new material premiered tonight, it’s been time productively spent. With his later work for Skull Disco he gradually loosened his ties to the dancefloor - the shamanic drum circle pulse of ‘Death Is Not Final’ aside, his music became increasingly abstract, the only resemblance left to the genre that spawned it the omnipresent rumble of sub-bass and the fleeting memory of halfstep beats.

From the moment he steps onstage this evening, hunched behind his laptop, there is no such intangibility. The sheer physical force that fills the Croft’s tiny space is overwhelming. It helps that the sound system in here is tweaked to perfection – both astonishingly loud and crystal clear. It’s immediately gratifying and utterly danceable – in fact it’s next to impossible not to move, as the repetitive, polyrhythmic percussion seems to tap into some deeper plane of consciousness. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so absorbed in any live music experience – at one point I check myself, and find that I’ve been staring blankly at the wall for the last ten minutes, so absorbed in what’s entering my ears to care about my eyes.

The immediately familiar syncopations of ‘Blood On My Hands’ appear early, swamped in almost painful static wash, and the eerie disembodied voices that pepper his tracks leer out of the mix, out of their recorded contexts. Over the course of his hour’s set there is a lack of traditional build-drop dynamic - rather the set is built vertically, with layer upon layer of tribal patterns and washes of static feedback. Individual components are stacked upon each other then elaborately peeled away to the bare bones, the effect reminiscent less of any concept of ‘dubstep’ than of some mutant, devolved strain of techno, stripped to its very core and innately tied to the ritualistic connotations of ‘the dance’. The last fifteen minutes are devastating, as the curling arabesques of ‘Hamas Rule’ are propelled into molasses-thick wall of noise which parts to allow the urgent radio chatter of ‘Naked’ to breathe for a fraction of a minute before the air is abruptly sucked out once again.

Headhunter plays last. Last year’s Nomad was not a particularly immediate album, its charms gradually sinking in over repeated plays - there is no such subtlety tonight, just an hour of massive, room-wrecking dubs. Whilst many producers hover around its margins without fully integrating techno’s hypnotic pulse, Headhunter has probably come closest to creating a genuine hybrid. There have been accusations that the Bristol-Berlin crossover can strip dubstep of the rude charm that has characterised London-centric dance music throughout its history, but if anything the introduction of loosely formed garage-influenced beats to techno’s mechanistics infuses it with a greater humanity and sense of playfulness. Tonight is ample evidence of that.

I will definitely be making the same trip next month.


Short Circuitry: July 2009

I’ve just finished the first of a monthly column for the always on-it Muso’s Guide. Entitled Short Circuitry, it essentially aims to be a round up of the most intriguing and exciting electronic music that has found its way into my listening over the previous four weeks (or thereabouts, I’m taking a little bit of creative license on that).

This first edition for July brings together the new EP from Mount Kimbie, Sketch On Glass, with Planet Mu’s recent forays into post-garage territory, a little about the house-funky-dubstep crossover and the schizophrenic meltdown of Clark’s latest opus Totem’s Flare.

The entire article's up

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Troubled, Shaken Etc.

On Thursday, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen played host to the launch party for Sian Alice Group’s new album, Troubled, Shaken Etc., released on The Social Registry. After missing them at Field Day I was determined to get to this one, despite it being probably the wettest night of the summer so far - appropriate given the musical programme for the evening, which also included Brighton band Esben & The Witch; both bands excel at creating a surprising density of atmosphere given the stark nature of their songcraft. I covered the event for Muso’s Guidethe full review is here.

The reliability of bad weather during the summertime is strangely comforting – you know what you’re in for every year like clockwork, and I'm not really down with the whole scorching hot thing so I find watching the rain gradually filling the gutters pretty relaxing as long as I’m sat under a bus shelter or something similar. Troubled, Shaken Etc. explores these same emotionally ambiguous territories; the glassy droplets that usher in ‘Close To The Ground’ and the cyclical Glass-esque piano figures that litter its length raise feelings akin to lying in bed on a cold night as a storm pounds overhead. Sian Ahern’s voice is the keystone here, acting both as human focal point and as an instrument in its own right, due to her curious ability to be at times both intimate and coolly implacable.

Whilst last year’s 59.59 was an album of contrasts – moments of straightforward and often nakedly pretty songwriting like ‘Way Down To Heaven’ were sat alongside extended interludes of instrumental experimentation – Troubled, Shaken Etc. differs in that it integrates these two sides of the band’s personality into more drawn out songs. The fact that this approach works so successfully is testament to the integrity of ‘the album’ as an entire statement of intent, even now when it’s so easy to whack an mp3 player on shuffle, or buy only the songs you’re immediately interested in. In that sense it ranks alongside Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as the most coherent listen of the year so far – I’ve not once felt the urge to skip forward past tracks I’m less familiar with or not immediately touched by, and the sit-down-and-absorb approach lends the subtler moments gravitas when juxtaposed with the motorik attack of ‘Longstrakt’ or the tribal thump of ‘Close To The Ground’.

One thing that most of the bands on The Social Registry I’ve heard share is an almost pathological disdain for any conventional notion of ‘genre’. Gang Gang Dance essentially created their own with God’s Money, an assimilation of the detritus of pop culture which they honed further still on last year’s Saint Dymphna. Troubled, Shaken Etc. follows in the same uncategorisable vein, fusing elements of a host of influences both musical and not to a rock songwriting framework. As I mentioned in the review above, this magpie approach – minimal techno synth loop on ‘Vanishing’, album highlight ‘First Song – Angelina’s spidery piano work - brings them closer to any definition of 'post-rock' than any other artist I could care to name, and pretty much puts paid to the idea that anything under that genre tag has to conform to the moribund slow-build-big-crescendo stereotype. Either way, it’s a hugely rewarding listen and one which, given that I’ve only had it a few days, looks like it will continue to reveal its riches over a far longer period of time.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Days, In Fields

It seems like hardly any time since the first Field Day passed with less of a whimper and more a death rattle, plagued with volume and technical problems and chronic shortage of the necessary facilities for ten thousand-odd people on a baking summers’ day. From my perspective the main failing that first year was the problem with the bars – the weather was gorgeous and all that was needed to make a slightly off day seem much better was cider, something which never materialised thanks to two hour long queues.

Four Tet’s set on the absolutely tiny Homefires stage at the end of the day was, nevertheless, an experience worth waiting for. The best part of a year before the release of his techno-influenced Ringer EP,
Kieran Hebden managed to craft a hypnotic hour, drawing in his own previously released tracks and some unreleased new ones (one of which, an all-encompassing oceanic symphony of fuzz underpinned by a 4/4 kick, has never emerged, at least not the version he was performing that summer – I can always hope it will yet see the light), and taking liberal mixing influence from his own moonlighting as a DJ at James Holden’s Border Community nights. It was a magical end to an otherwise disappointing day and was ultimately the clinching factor in the decision to return last year.

So fast forward a year, redesign the site, fit in a whole lot more people and sell the event out – and suffer from monsoon rains throughout. Across the course of the day the majority of people were heading for the tents in droves leaving fairly meagre crowds for the main stage acts. In the case of Of Montreal they were right to have not bothered – despite Kevin Barnes and company’s best efforts volume restrictions and a high crosswind took all the nuances and high camp out of a set premiering pieces from Skeletal Lamping and the best of Hissing Fauna... Over the course of the next few hours, Modeselektor walked offstage in the Bugged Out tent due to almost total lack of bass and The Field was moved to a painfully short half-hour set on the main stage, which finished only as soon as it had really begun. Once again though, the day was rescued – this time by a staggering turn from Les Savy Fav with Tim Harrington on typically acrobatic, confrontational form, and half an hour of glorious pulsing minimalism from Richie Hawtin before being forcibly dragged away by friends.

And so to 2009, in an incredibly unusual British summertime twist the rain is forecast to come down in droves, and Sian Alice Group are opening proceedings on the Adventures In The Beetroot Field stage. First encountered at ATP in May, their debut album 59.59 has been a recent slow burning discovery, one of those records which gradually sinks under the skin and only really begins to reveal its hidden subtleties over numerous listens. Unfortunately, due to mobile phone issues, I manage to do a good job of missing three quarters of their set on the hunt for a missing friend. The launch gig for the new record, Trouble, Shaken Etc, which looks set to be even better than the first, is happening on Thursday at Hoxton Square Bar & Grill - attendance is thoroughly recommended.

After Final Fantasy’s spellbinding performance at the Union Chapel in May it is unreasonable and unnecessary to expect today’s to reach the same sort of heights; on such a large stage it is almost inevitable to lost much of the complexity inherent in Owen Pallett’s carefully layered symphonies. Yet surprisingly the main stage sound holds up well from a vantage point near the front and Pallett is on charmingly self-depreciating form, apologising for playing a set weighted so heavily with new material. Still, when the songs are this good it barely matters – many pivoting around stammering polyrhythms and Phillip Glass/Steve Reich inspired spiraling minimalism to add a hypnotic undercurrent bubbling underneath deft pop songwriting. He finishes with ‘The CN Tower Belongs To The Dead’, poignant and sweetly melancholy in the light drizzle, and everything is right for three minutes.

Suffice to say the forecast is right, the heavens open repeatedly over the course of the afternoon and low volume in the Bugged Out tent ensures Fake Blood sounds a little strained over the voices of a thousand extremely talkative hipsters sheltering from the rain. By way of contrast, Christian Fennesz’s softly building choral drones should not work in these conditions (six o’clock on the main stage with intermittent heavy showers) but are utterly captivating, at least from reasonably close by where it remains loud enough to be immersive. Whilst not the most visually engaging performer, it matters little – although the disrespect from the sound techs, busy setting up the equipment for Santigold around him, is frustrating – layers of hiss ebb and flow to almost deafening crescendos, occasionally broken by starkly affecting strummed guitar, itself looped and broken into fractal shards, a measured disintegration to usher in the next build. Yet listen closer and buried deep within this outer shell of feedback are hulking slabs of tectonic melody, grinding against one another to generate seismic eddy currents which ripple forth and tear great holes in its surface. Half an hour disappears in an instant.

After only managing to watch two acts the rain arrives, in full force this time, managing to cause a significant amount of hell for the technicians attempting to get the main stage working properly. Much to my disappointment, due to the damp and a swine flu recovery in our midst the tough choice is made to miss Mogwai and head home for warmth, tea and bed. Yet despite the same sort of problems as ever – sound restrictions, overcrowding in tents and a sea of ‘fans’ who seem to think that whatever they’ve got to say is far more important than listening to the acts they paid to come and see – I leave feeling oddly hopeful for next year. If global warming hasn’t entirely put paid to the concept of a dry weekend by then it may just manage to achieve all it promises to.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Shortstuff - Crazylegs Mix 003

Fact Magazine are hosting the latest of Bristol night Crazylegs' mixtapes - this one is mixed by all-round bass maestro Shortstuff. As well as being an integral part of the recent wave of producers doing fantastically new and innovative things with dubstep and garage, he runs the Blunted Robots label along with sometime production partner Brackles. In typically genre disregarding style, he manages to cram in everything from seriously warped two-step (Zomby's 'Mescaline Cola'), funky house hybrids (a couple of tunes from Roska and a new one from Martin Kemp) to classic old skool rave - 2 Bad Mice's awesome 'Hold It Down'.

Check out the mix here (right click & save target as) - there's also an interview with Shortstuff in Fact's the month in bass, to be found here.