About 429harrowroad

Music journalist for Electronic Sound and occasional press release writer for VeryRecords. Father, husband, vegan.

SavFrost – Cuckoo Head Cool Dog

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost is a unique collaboration between long-standing friends Barbara Frost and Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey), issued by The Tapeworm’s Bookworm offshoot in two editions – ‘Germolene Pink’ and ‘Papal Purple’ – and described by The Tapeworm’s Philip Marshall as nothing less than a “bodice-ripping page-turner”.

Neither Frost or Pouncey will be unfamiliar to Mute collectors, Frost through her association with partner Frank Tovey / Fad Gadget as songwriter, singer, photographer, tour manager and occasional book-keeper, and SavX through his distinctive sleeve illustrations for Sonic Youth, Big Black and many other Blast First releases.

The volume consists of twenty visceral and engaging short pieces by Frost, each one written in a single draft in direct response to an image supplied in an email from Savage Pencil the night before. The image would remain unopened until Frost was ready to start writing the following day, beginning the process of developing either a short story, poem, collection of haikus or some other written reaction to Pouncey’s distinctive (and generally unfathomable, often disturbing) illustrations by accumulating ‘word banks’, clusters of words that occurred to her as she looked at what had been supplied. Those word banks, and Pouncey’s drawings, are all included in the book, and it’s illuminating to see precisely Frost’s responses as they were developing, the word banks being necessarily individualistic, spontaneous gestures that often appear only tangentially linked to the drawing and the written piece that would then be formed.

The results are predictably unpredictable, and frequently dark. One piece (Reap What You Sow) appears to document the quotidian ministrations of a garden-obsessed pensioner, only to unfold into something much more sinister; New Neighbour begins by detailing the interactions between a resident of a maisonette and her new upstairs neighbour, all of which begin with somewhat overbearing pleasantries before opening out into a jaw-dropping tale of extreme and nauseating criminality.

Other stories concern themselves with sleepless nights, fumbled romance and macabre goings on in dolls houses orchestrated by a disturbed young girl, and the inner turmoil of the Beast from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle Et La Bête (definitely Cocteau; not Disney). The poetic gestures throughout the book are similarly oblique, ranging from naturalistic moments to outpourings of adoration to more harrowing concerns, each one deployed with an unvarnished economy of language and a raw emotional directness.

Cuckoo Head Cool Dog by SavFrost was issued by The Bookworm on September 27 2019 in a limited edition of 250 copies (125 pink, 125 purple). Copies can be purchased from The Tapeworm’s Bandcamp page.

Thanks to Barbara, Philip, Fortitude, Sagar and Café Below.

Related:

Interview with Philip Marshall from The Tapeworm about the label’s formation, ethos and ongoing exploration of the cassette format over at my other blog, Further.

(c) 2020 Documentary Evidence

MixBus With Kevin Paul

On January 10 2020, producer Kevin Paul begins a series of podcast interviews with fellow studio stalwarts including fellow former Konk resident Dave Eringa and other names familiar to Mute collectors such as Dave Bascombe, Flood, Danny Briottet, Pascal Gabriel and Gareth Jones.

“It came out of listening to podcasts about the recording studio and music production,” explains Kevin. “I could hardly find anyone talking about people from the UK. I thought, ‘I know a few people, so I’ll call them and ask if they want to speak to me and if I get 5/6 then I’ll start a series.’ Incredibly, everyone said ‘Yes’ and I thought ‘Oh my god, I’d better get going!”

Key to the format of the podcast is a relaxed, accessible tone distinct from similar podcasts which go heavy on technical detail. “It’s just me and my guest talking informally about their career and their approach to music,” continues Kevin. “It’s designed to let the guest just talk openly about whatever they want, really. There’s plenty of people who do super technical podcasts already and they do that very well. I’m hoping anyone interested in how records are made can enjoy my podcasts.”

Kevin is himself no stranger to Mute, having worked on countless records for the label between 1992 and 2012. His association with the label began with work on the Pro-gross Three remix of Nitzer Ebb’s ‘Ascend’ and Phil Kelsey’s expansive remix of ‘Take A Chance On Me’ from Erasure’s chart-topping ABBA-Esque EP. “I ended up at Mute through my time at Konk studios,” he recalls. “‘Ascend’ was actually the first record I’m credited on so carries a special place in my career. Mute was such a creative place to be that there are too many highlights to list: I worked with pretty much every artist on Mute and its subsidiaries at one point, including The KLF, Appliance, and Paul Smith’s Blast First. I mixed Goldfrapp’s first album, Lovely Head. I met and worked with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and David Bowie, who spent time at Worldwide Studios recording some of his Hours… album, and I worked on the 5.1 remixes of the Depeche Mode back catalogue. That’s just a few of the things I’m really proud of.”

Nitzer Ebb – Ascend (cdmute145, 1992) featuring Kevin Paul’s first credit (track 2).

Kevin’s series arrives at a time where the ease with which artists can make music without relying on expensive studio time potentially puts the traditional roles of producer, mixer and engineer under threat. Nevertheless, he still sees the value that a good quality studio team can provide. “Studio people are there to help artists make the best music they can make, in whatever form that takes,” he says. “In order to achieve that, we must do whatever that entails.”

The KP MixBus podcasts will be available from January 10 2020 on your favourite podcast app on iOS and Android, and from www.kpmixbus.com. The first in the series finds Kevin chatting with Catherine Marks (St. Vincent, Local Natives, Wolf Alice, White Lies, PJ Harvey, Frank Turner and many others).

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Richie Hawtin – Techno Trance

hawin_technotrancefront

Once a week, a record stall would pitch up in Square 3 of the University of Essex in Colchester, just outside the entrance to the main campus bar. For my first year of studies, that stall would prove to become an expensive thing to pass on my way to dull accounting classes – as I have told many people over the years, I initially became a vegetarian just to save money so that I could continue to buy records with the same fervency as I had before I left for university; ethics came much later. Between that stall, Time Records (a bus ride away in the town centre) and Mute Bank, I’m surprised I ever had any money left to buy food, let alone the bottles of Smirnoff Moscow Mule that I developed a taste for early on at university.

I no longer have a lot of the things that I bought from that stall, but this cassette is one of the purchases I kept. A DJ mix by Richie Hawtin, this arrived in my tape deck at a time where dance music – and techno in particular – seemed to be taking over my life. I’d buy 12-inch singles just for the remixes and recorded Pete Tong’s Essential Mix each week irrespective of which DJ was supplying the mix. Colchester had one nightclub, The Hippodrome, where you’d take your life into your own hands if you ever visited thanks to over-eager bouncers and the toxic combination of students and local military personnel, and so my flatmates rarely visited there. The Arts Centre would occasionally book dance acts, and I recall going to see Empirion, J Saul Kane and Loop Guru there. The university’s own music venue struggled to attract many acts of any particular note while I was there, in spite of some of the mature students talking with misty eyes about the time that Nirvana played there, and the weekend club nights were generally best avoided; Mr C did a DJ set there once, and I recall shaking his hands while he was handing out flyers for The End, but that was the only ‘name’ DJ to drag themselves out to the furthest reaches of Essex.

This tape contains scant information, and was presumably recorded direct from the mixer. It captures a Richie Hawtin set prior to his efforts to push the tradition DJ set envelope by using loops, effects, drum machines and other kit to create new dimensions in techno, dating this to sometime in the mid-90s given I’d have bought it in either late 1995 or some time in 1996. Aside from the obligatory dropping of his own ever-versatile ‘Spastik’ as Plastikman, his remix of Slam’s ‘Positive Education’ and a snatch of ‘Rollin’ & Scratchin’’ by Daft Punk, I’ve spent so long away from the company of techno that I can’t readily identify much else. Tracks featuring 303s abound, very possibly including many of the many Hawtin remixes I religiously collected, but I certainly wouldn’t want to attempt to compile a setlist. Its pace is relentless, rarely dropping the beat at all across the 90 minute set – that duration simply being the length of the cassette, and presumably just a segment of Hawtin’s full mix. If indeed it’s even Richie Hawtin – the cassette body credits this to Richie Hortin.

“90 minutes of the best in techno trance available today.”
– Hyperactive presents – Live in the mix – Richie Hortin

hawtin_technotrance1

Hawtin’s mixes have evolved massively since the likes of this. Compared to his Close Combined album from earlier this year, the approach to mixing here is positively naïve. “In Detroit, electronic music was futuristic music.” intones Hawtin’s robotic, processed voice on the opening track on Close Combined. “It was alien music. As much as the music was like that, the mentality of the DJs was also like that in Detroit. If you were playing futuristic music, you had to perform futuristically, and find new ways of performing, new technologies, old technologies, wrong technologies.” When this set was recorded, Hawtin had yet to figure out how he could use those technologies to enhance his performance. Instead, his approach is on deploying a dizzying number of tracks where he moves on after the main hook – generally an acid pattern – has played out.

The blueprint for what has become his CLOSE technique – the extreme extension of the DE9 approach documented on NovaMute’s DE9 | Closer To The Edit release from 2001 – is nevertheless audible here in the form of a relentless pursuit of unfaltering energy, with short builds and none of those trashy euphoric peaks that became formulaic in dance music; a focus on the rudiments of body-moving rhythms and the alien chemical structure of Roland’s fabled bassline generator.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

It’s A Wonderful Serious Of Snakes

Every Christmas I sit down to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, normally accompanied by two sleeping cats and usually while my family is off doing something else. I’ve tried to encourage them to watch it with me, but Freya just insists that it’s “boring” and Seren says she’ll happily watch it but makes that teenage face that basically says “I’d rather be doing anything”.

For the first hour or so I find myself offering an alternative soundtrack to Dimitri Tiomkin’s score with the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds track ‘Wonderful Life’ that opens 2002’s Nocturama. You can probably see why. As far as I can tell, Cave’s song takes no inspiration whatsoever from Frank Capra’s classic movie, instead being a rumination on some sort of love affair taking place in secret and its uncertain chorus suggesting that life isn’t necessarily wonderful unless you’ve found a way to locate its meaning. But that doesn’t stop me humming that song to myself on repeat while the film’s George Bailey, like Job in the Old Testament, seems to be continually deviated away from his intended path through life while his brother Harry gets all the breaks.

This year, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, I found myself paying more attention to the script than I have in previous years. In the scene where Harry arrived back in Bedford Falls from college, bringing with him his wife Ruth, I caught a snatch of dialogue that seemed vaguely familiar.

RUTH: Harry’s a genius at research. My father fell in love with him.

– It’s A Wonderful Life by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra & Jo Swerling, 1946

It took me a while to figure out where I’d heard the last two lines before. After a bit of maddening rewinding, replaying and memory bank scouring, I finally twigged the similarity to a pairing from Wire’s ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, whose seemingly nonsensical lyrics I once asked Colin Newman about only to be told with a shrug, “I dunno – ask Graham Lewis.”

He’s a genius in research / I simply fell in love.

– A Serious Of Snakes by Wire from Snakedrill (1986). Lyrics by Graham Lewis.

Surely this was no coincidence?

Taking Colin’s advice from over twenty years ago, I asked Graham if the key to unlocking the secrets held in that song’s lyrics required you to scour through black and white films, and at first that seemed to be the case – he told me that the line about losing a ship at the very end of the song was derived from the Jack Hawkins film The Cruel Sea (1953) – but elsewhere in the song you hear a raft of insults offered by barman Tony ‘Skibb O’D’Oak’ from Lewis’ local boozer, The Royal Oak, in Vauxhall with the lines “you tulip, you pea-brained earwig, you punk, you silver tongued snake”. “It’s a classic Gysin-esque cut-up collage,” offered Lewis, matter-of-factly.

Just as it seemed the song’s meaning – if there indeed was one – was going to elude me further, Graham unexpectedly brought it back round to the time of year with which It’s A Wonderful Life is synonymous. “‘A Serious Of Snakes’ was my stab at a Christmas lyric,” he volunteers, suddenly making the lines “baby returns, baby kills Mary and Joseph” make a whole lot more sense.

Look closely and you can see references to Joseph’s carpentry, the Christmas Eve tradition of midnight mass, various other familiar (though obfuscated) subjects from the New Testament, along with other tangential topics like the creation of Israel. The Snakedrill EP was released in November 1986, right on cue for the clamour to grab the coveted number one chart slot, only to be thwarted that year by a re-release of Jackie Wikson’s ‘Reet Petite’ – which isn’t even remotely festive.

And so there you have it – ‘A Serious Of Snakes’, the unlikeliest of Christmas songs, buried deep within an artsy, obliquely crafted series of seemingly inconsequential non sequiturs and riddle-like lyrics. It really is a wonderful life.

The full lyrics from ‘A Serious Of Snakes’ are available at pinkflag.com

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Moby – Move

‘Move’ was Moby‘s first single for Mute, and I still think that it could be argued as the best dance track – aside from ‘Go’, of course. 1993 was a time when Richard Hall’s focus was entirely on housey, uplifting dance music, without any of the guitars and hip|hop beats that pervaded his subsequent work on albums like Play.

‘Move (You Make Me Feel So Good)’ was designated as the single mix, and is everything you’d want from a Moby dance track – solid beats (with a bit of a hardcore break feel), atmospheric / euphoric strings, melodic piano and soulful vocals. ‘All That I Need Is To Be Loved’ was re-recorded as a thrash metal dirge for ‘Hymn’ and his debut Mute album Everything Is Wrong, but on the 12″ we get the seminal original, while the CD includes an edited mix. It’s an aggressive but trancey acid cut, with a central synth hook and heavy 4/4 beats, an impassioned Moby largely shouting the lyrics.

‘Unloved Symphony’ is proper ‘ardcore – frantic beats, headcleaner noises etc, but Moby tempers this aggression with piano motifs and some queasily moving string sounds. ‘The Rain Falls And The Sky Shudders’ points to his soundtrack work – beautiful piano heard in the middle distance, while the sound of a torrential downpour provides the foreground. Various noises filter through, and overall this is a seminal treat tucked away on this single. Over on the 12″, ‘Morning Dove’ is a repetitive percussive tribal house cut with a riff like a Moroccan snake charmer, and apparently named after a particularly potent ecstacy tablet.

The second 12″ includes four remixes – three by Moby himself including a full-length version of the single mix and one by Mark ‘MK’ Kinchin. MK’s mix is pure ’90s house, his layering of the scant vocals and new sax riffs over a steady house beat echoing his work with Nightcrawlers. Moby’s two mixes on the B-side are aggressive and fast (Sub) and deep and relaxed (Xtra), the lattering featuring what sounds like a double bass. A further mix by Moby, his Disco Threat mix, is exclusively available on the cassette and two-track CD single.

First published 2006; edited 2019.

Catref: mute158
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2006 – 19 Documentary Evidence

Can – Silent Night

can_silentnightgermany

Can released this twee synthpop version of ‘Silent Night’ as a single in the UK, France and Germany in December 1976.

Whenever Can turned their hand to more ostensibly pop structures, they proved themselves highly capable of pulling it off, and ‘Silent Night’ carries those sensibilities with it. Michael Karoli‘s droning guitar, interlaced with Irmin Schmidt‘s dense synth chords and bells, provides the carol’s instantly recognisable melody, even if it’s played at half the speed of the jaunty rhythm with its typically clever drumming from Jaki Liebezeit (possibly with an early drum machine alongside him) and funky bassline from Holger Czukay. Okay so perhaps it’s a little bit novelty at times, but in its own way it’s pretty cute. It’s also the closest I think Can ever got to the early, pre-Autobahn Kraftwerk sound.

Johnny Mathis secured the UK number one slot in 1976, the year I was born, with ‘When A Star Is Born’ as my parents often remind me; in an alternative universe, Can would take this song to the top of the charts and bring forward the development of synthpop by a couple of years.

The original 7″ single was backed with ‘Cascade Waltz’ from the Flow Motion album. The track ‘Silent Night’ would later appear on the B-side of a single of ‘Spoon’ in 1980, as well as on a couple of Can compilations. Mute issued the track as a free festive download a few years ago.

Originally posted 2012; edited and re-posted 2019 (cos it’s Christmas, innit).

Catref: vs166
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2012 – 2019 Documentary Evidence

Komputer: Live At TEC006, 30.11.2019

David Baker. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Simon Leonard. Photo (c) 2019 Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

In the history of Mute Records, David Baker and Simon Leonard are legends. From their early releases as alternative synthpop unit I Start Counting, through the weird sampleadelic techno hinterlands of Fortran 5 and onward through the retrofuturist electronics of Komputer, Baker and Leonard have been a consistent presence on the label’s roster since 1984.

The duo performed a rare live date on Saturday 30 November at Electrowerkz in London as part of TEC006, curated by our friends at The Electricity Club and Cold War Night Life. Their set covered some choice, classic moments from across their entire back catalogue.

Setlist

Komputer Intro
Looking Down On London
Letters To A Friend
Heart On The Line
Time To Dream
Lose Him
Million Headed Monster
We Are Komputer
Still Smiling
Valentina
Bill Gates

Photos and setlist courtesy of Andy Sturmey / Bright Lights Pix

Related:

AK-47 – Stop! Dance! (review)

Komputer – 2011 Interview

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence