Andy Bell – Judgement (from Variance III – The ‘Torsten In Queereteria’ Remixes)

andybell_varianceiii

Erasure’s Andy Bell releases Variance III – The ‘Torsten In Queereteria’ Remixes as a limited edition CD through Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red on December 6th.

The counterpart to the music from this year’s sensational third part in Barney Ashton-Bullock and Christopher Frost’s visceral musical about the semi-immortal polysexual Torsten, Variance III includes brilliant, shimmering remixes of tracks from Torsten In Queereteria by Bronski Beat and Matt Pop. Tangerine Dream’s Jerome Froese delivers a thunderous, dark-edged version of ‘Lowland Lowriders’, one of the most poignant moments from the show and Andy Bell’s accompanying soundtrack album, while Shelter reprise their work with Andy Bell on their joint iPop album from 2014 with a stunning mix of the ordinarily wistful ‘We Hadn’t Slept For Twenty Years’.

The collection also includes a solo version of the standout nod to Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, ‘If We Want To Drink A Little’, originally recorded for the Torsten In Queereteria album by Bell and Hazel O’Connor, various single edits and radio-friendly versions of tracks from the original album.

Variance III also includes two new, unreleased tracks from the third instalment of the Torsten series, ‘Judgement’ and the lurid lounge jazz-funk of ‘Lead Me’. Documentary Evidence is today delighted to share the exclusive first play of the anguished, beautiful ‘Judgement’. The song is accompanied by previously unseen stills from the photo shoots for Torsten In Queereteria, finding Bell effortlessly evoking the essential inner turmoil of a character that he has made his own since he first took it on for a limited run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014.

Watch the extract of ‘Judgement’ below. Order Variance III from Cherry Red.

Related: Andy Bell – Torsten In Queereteria : Redux (interview)

Sincere thanks to Barney Ashton-Bullock.

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria TV (Clash feature, 2019)

The third instalment of Barney Ashton-Bullock’s Torsten series kicks off at Vauxhall’s Above The Stag theatre on April 10 and finds Erasure’s Andy Bell once again taking on the role of the half-Norwegian, half-English polysexual semi-immortal Torsten.

Amid the maelstrom of press interviews that Bell has undertaken to support Queereteria TV, managed to get some time with Andy and Barney during rehearsals to talk in detail about the latest postcard from the hotspots of the 114-year old Torsten’s memory.

My interview went live on the Clash website earlier today and can be found here. A longer version will appear here on Documentary Evidence during the show’s run.

Queereteria TV runs at Above The Stag from April 10 to April 28. Tickets are available at abovethestag.com. A new album, Andy Bell Is Torsten In Queereteria is released by Strike Force Entertainment on April 12.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

Electronic Sound Issue 49

es49

Issue 49 of the wonderful Electronic Sound is now available, with this issue focussing on how the Moog added its distinctive, malleable sound to the music of the 1970s.

For this issue I wrote a feature on Secession, another also-ran band from the early 1980s that should have been bigger than they were, and whose lead singer Peter Thomson’s potential was abruptly silenced when he took his own life in 2001. Secession were purportedly called “better than New Order” by the NME, and their early singles and solitary album are hidden gems in the post-punk / electronic music archives. Their album A Dark Enchantment will receive a timely reissue this year.

Elsewhere in this issue, I reviewed albums by techo-influenced saxophonist Bendik Giske, the Israeli electronic jazz collective Time Grove, a Buchla-led lost album by Ragnar Grippe, and a very clever sound work by Machinefabriek. I also reviewed a massive new boxset of American electronic music getting a lavish boxset treatment by Cherry Red (Third Noise Principle – Formative North American Electronica 1975 – 1984) and wrote a piece introducing the duo Sunda Arc, whose Warp-influenced electronica and jazz crossover album is probably going to be my album of year when its released by Gondwana in June.

The bundle edition of Electronic Sound, with an accompanying 7″ of Mike Vickers’s Moog experiments is now sold out. Head to electronicsound.co.uk for the non-bundle edition.

A short Spotify playlist to accompany my contributions to the latest issue can be found here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound

The Residents – I Am A Resident (Cherry Red album, 2018)

I am not the best writer for this piece.

I know, conservatively, less than half a percent of The Residents’ songs, own a diminutive fraction of their 60-odd album releases and would struggle to identify some of their purportedly best-loved songs in a line-up, much as I – or indeed anyone – would struggle to identify an umasked Resident member in a line-up. Accordingly, given that I Am A Resident is almost entirely constructed from songs from The Residents’ extensive back catalogue, I hereby submit, once again, that I am not the best writer for this piece.

I am also the best writer for this piece for precisely the same reason.

I Am A Resident is both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. Its songs are constructed from cover versions of Residents songs, performed by a bunch of underground artists whose names read like they belong on Nurse With Wound’s infamous list, signifying just how prevalent the still semi-mythical San Francisco unit are as influences on what we might define as musical outsiderism. The tracks were then dissected, rebuilt, layered, and augmented with new sounds by The Residents themselves, thus creating something new out of other people making new stuff out of old stuff that you might or might not know. A Residents ‘best of’, both by The Residents, and not by The Residents. New, old, and new-old.

Got it? Good.

If you’re remotely interested in art history, think of this as sitting somewhere on the Warhol-Rauschenberg axis – Warholian because it involves enlisting the support of other people to make the art for you in your name, Rauschenbergian because it’s a collage of repurposed material that Bob would’ve approved of.

Bookended by two faux radio idents presented by DJ Denver Dolittle that sound like they belong on Welcome To Night Vale, the five long tracks here don’t feel like anything other than complete pieces, even though they are stitched together with a turntablist’s frenetic, magpie-like zeal. It’s messy, for sure, but done in a way that implies lots of painstaking studio polish. Like The Residents’ own material, what you get here are lots of musical ideas reflecting back their own relatively borderless and unconstrained approach to sound – wonky, crunchy electronica colliding with scratchy rock colliding with freaky jazz colliding with vaudevillian humour colliding with over-amped rawk colliding with a quintessentially Bay Area take on musique concrète. I’ve now listened to it countless times, and the material is no less familiar ten plays in than the first time I played it, and lots of new details seem to emerge with each and every play.

A special edition two-CD version came with 24 tracks of what is presumably the source material for the collage pieces. At some point when I have more time I’ll listen to each of those tracks alongside the original versions to compare them, but in my head – at least – they’re a mixture of faithful renditions and highly original takes on what would, in other circumstances, be considered uncoverable songs – not because they’re sacred, per se, but because they’re not necessarily the easiest of songs to cover. There’s a reason why The Residents aren’t natural Karaoke artists, although, on the recorded evidence, lots of these guys would pitch up at that weird Karaoke bar night after night.

“In true Residents form, we don’t always follow the rules,” says Dolittle on the concluding radio segment, which is stating the obvious, of course. “Just as it’s always been – the eye is on you,” he concludes. The inference is thus: I am a Resident, she/he is a Resident, you are a Resident and, heck, we can all be Residents, if we so wish… or, in the case of this wonderfully odd LP, if your cover version happened to be among those picked for the source material for this album.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Laibach – Nova Akropola (Cherry Red album, 1985)


Recorded in London in 1985 with, among others, Mute regular Richard ‘Rico’ Conning, the 2002 reissue of Nova Akropola is an excellently-presented special edition gatefold digipak from Cherry Red Records, and captures Laibach just prior to their Mute releases.

The album begins with ‘Vier Personen’ (‘Four People’), a veritable shot to the head comprising barked, parade ground orders and militaristic drumming, over which an electro-industrial drum machine pattern is repeated, slowly developing as additional banged pipes and other sonic detritus is introduced. A grim and slightly sinister track, this opener adequately sets the tone for the remainder of the album.

‘Nova Akropola’ (‘The New Acropolis’) takes the dark tone of the opener, but deploys strings (keyboards, judging by the repeat points) as the main carrier of its emotion. Horn refrains and a slow, reverberating drum pattern create a filmic atmosphere, with the trademark ‘devil voice’ vocals making their first appearance; the track feels mournful, funereal, conveying plenty of rage and sadness in its minimal sonic palette. Pounding Nitzer Ebb-style drums introduce ‘Krava Gruda – Plodna Zemlja’ (‘Bloody Ground – Fertile Land’), a percussive electronic and machinery-driven vocal track conjuring up memories of Einstürzende Neubauten‘s earliest experiments with air cylinders and heavy construction equipment. Unlike the previous two pieces ‘Krava Gruda…’ has several different themes, rather than a central, developed refrain.

Beginning with some organ discord, ‘Vojna Poema’ (‘War Poem’) quickly develops into an operatic piano song extremely reminiscent of some of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s compositions. Baritone vocals are mixed with what sounds like a full orchestra towards the end of this 1920s-styled piece of avant-cabaret. If ‘Vojna Poema’ was a departure from the earlier tracks on this album, ‘Ti, Ki Izzivas (outro)’ quickly returns us there – layers of stark percussion stalk through this short piece, fading out into ‘Die Liebe’ (‘The Love’), perhaps the closest to some of Laibach’s later Mute output: faster-paced and more aggressive, with those sinister vocals casting a dark shadow on the repeated phrase of the title. The track also features a wider array of electronic sounds, with one of the central melodies recalling Monty Norman’s James Bond theme, once again reinforcing the ‘extreme soundtrack’ atmosphere of this album.

‘Drzava’ (‘The State’) sounds like a twisted take on the electro genre, wherein Mantronix-esque drum programming is mixed with horn flourishes and orchestral-style loops (sampled, I presume), and also features some vocal samples that appear to be of political speeches. The track is one of the liveliest on this album; certainly not euphoric, the track is just one or two shades lighter on the colour chart than the black of the previous material. The accompanying promotional video with dancer and some-time Wire collaborator Michael Clark is fantastically bleak, perfectly rendered in monochrome colours. ‘Vade Retro’ is positively terrifying, its rhythm recalling some sort of alternative version of the Terminator soundtrack as conceived by Throbbing Gristle. The ‘vocals’ here are otherworldly, alternately wheezing and ghostly and scratchy and insistent; the ‘melody’, on the other hand, appears to be church bells mangled and heavily-processed to near oblivion. Perhaps the most aggressive and extreme track here, ‘Vade Retro’ is an exciting collage of sounds that pushes Laibach into electroacoustic territory.

‘Panorama’ ushers in on kick drums that appear to have been borrowed from New Order’s seminal ‘Blue Monday’. Extensive use of synths and percussive samples make this one of the more accessible tracks on the album – the rhythm is tight and the sounds are less obviously harsh. At around three minutes, the track pares back to some percussion loops and spoken word English reportage, before quickly reassembling itself. The final track (‘Decree’) once again begins with some sampled marching band drums, over which another electro break is layered. With the exception of some fairly random atmospherics and the odd sample, the track seems to be nothing more than a stop-start percussive experiment or remix of a more complete work. Despite its absence of more concrete ideas, the track is strangely captivating, although you do feel that this represents something of a filler, a space that would have been better filled with a track more in keeping with the extreme sonic soundscapes elsewhere on the album.

Originally posted 2003; edited 2017

Notes: this was a pretty important review for me, as it represented one of the first times I’d been sent a free CD just to be able to review it. I was amazed at the time that Cherry Red responded to my email at all, let alone that they would part company with a batch of catalogue stuff just so that I could write about it for a website – my own – that was just launching and which was so niche it was never going to attract any readers. Whenever I take the notion of receiving music in my inbox every day via various PR firms for granted, I think back to how fortunate I was that Cherry Red sent me this and other CDs, even though this one has now been sold out of my collection.

(c) 20017 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

Andy Bell – Torsten The Beautiful Libertine (Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red album, 2016)

  

Erasure‘s Andy Bell has recorded the follow-up album to Torsten The Bareback Saint, written by Barney Ashton-Bullock with music by Christopher Frost. Bell performed the first chapter in the life of the colourful polysexual Torsten at the Edinburgh Festival in 2014 and will perform this next installment during March 2016 at Above The Stag in London’s Vauxhall.

I reviewed Torsten The Beautiful Libertine for This Is Not Retro. My review can be found here. Also on This Is Not Retro is my interview with Andy from last year and a review of the Variance remix collection.

(c) 2016 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

A Conversation With Erasure’s Andy Bell

  
I recently spoke to Erasure‘s Andy Bell about his role in Barney Ashworth’s musical theatre show Torsten – The Bareback Saint. The show ran during the 2014 Edinburgh Festival and was accompanied by an album of the songs from the production, released via Strike Force / Cherry Red.

Upon the release of Variance, a collection of remixes and new versions of songs from the album, and ahead of Bell treading the boards again next year for the follow-up instalment, Torsten – The Beautiful Libertine, I interviewed Andy for This Is Not Retro. The conversation can be found here.

Anyone who knows me remotely well will know that Erasure have always been, and always will be, my favourite band. To get the opportunity to talk to someone whose work you’ve literally grown up with is always a privileged moment, and I am continually grateful for such chances.

I had always intended to write up a review of the performance of Torsten that a friend and I watched in Edinburgh last year, but never did. In its place, these are the rough notes I took at the time, along with a text message to a friend, all of which would have become a review if I’d just bothered to finish it.

Andy Bell – Torsten The Bareback Saint, Edinburgh 13 August 2014

In the introduction to the programme that accompanied Andy Bell’s first Edinburgh Festival show, he described taking on the role of Torsten in this song cycle as a challenge. As he climbed up the stairs to the small stage in full top hat and tails while singing the song ‘Teacher Teacher’ it was pretty obvious to the twenty or so people in the lecture theatre-cum-studio that this came pretty naturally to Bell.

‘It was really good. He came on in hat and tails, at one point was in heels, a vest and a sparkly pair of pants and ended up killing himself in a dressing gown. Very dramatic, quite funny, stirring and emotional. Boy can he sing! Only about twenty of us there.’ – text to a friend immediately after watching Torsten The Bareback Saint on 13 August 2014.

Suicide. Robin Williams.

Sax

Showgirl headgear.

Snarl. Disgust. Rage.

Weston-Super-Mare.

(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence // interview (c) 2015 This Is Not Retro