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

Connect Until Connected: An Interview With Komputer (2011)

Komputer – Simon Leonard & David Baker. Credit: Angela Hayward

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 will perform 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. Ahead of their return to the stage, we are reposting a 2011 Documentary Evidence interview with David Baker that’s been offline for years, and which was originally published to coincide with the release of their compilation album, Konnecting.

Simon Leonard and David Baker have been associated with Daniel Miller and Mute Records since 1984, releasing their first two albums – My Translucent Hands and Fused – on the label under the name I Start Counting. They would then move in a more dancefloor-oriented direction for their next project, Fortran 5, before, as Komputer, releasing some of the most spine-tinglingly original retro electronica. Selections from the duo’s various Mute releases have been compiled on Konnecting, released as part of Mute’s new An Introduction To series. This interview was conducted by email with Baker, but all answers were received in the third person.

The duo met at Middlesex University when Leonard overheard Baker singing one of his own songs, ‘Playboy Girl’. ‘This led to chats about pop music,’ recalls Baker, ‘and soon the two were DJing at the college disco and doing the pogo occasionally.’ On one occasion, a particular selection, ‘Incendiary Device’ by Johnny Moped, earned Leonard a bottle of Newcastle Brown ale in the mouth and several broken teeth. I’m not personally aware of any similar incidents on their own future tours, but I guess there’s still time.

‘The name I Start Counting came from a book by Audrey Erskine Lindop,’ writes Baker. Lindop’s novel would be turned into the 1969 film of the same name which starred a sixteen year old Jenny Agutter. Agutter’s portrayal of a fourteen year old with sexual fantasies toward her far older stepbrother earned the film a moderate level of controversy. ‘It also relates to the punk habit of introducing songs with “1, 2, 3,4”,’ Baker continues.

Despite their friendship, Baker and Leonard didn’t form I Start Counting until the demise of Leonard’s earlier music project, File Under Pop, who released a solitary single (‘Heathrow’) on the Rough Trade label in 1979. ‘Daniel Miller had his address on the sleeve of The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’ single,’ Baker remembers. ‘File Under Pop contacted Daniel and met up with him in a pub in Hampstead. Simon and he became friends and Daniel recorded some songs with them which never saw the light of day. One was called ‘Connect Until Connected’. Another was ‘Small Hut’.’

The dissolution of File Under Pop led to Leonard and Baker working together and recording demos which they passed to Miller; I Start Counting signed to Mute in 1984, going on to produce a small but significant body of work starting with the subdued joy of ‘Letters To A Friend’ and concluding with 1989’s ‘Million Headed Monster’.

As they began to record demos for what may have become the third I Start Counting album, a growing dancefloor influence led to forming Fortran 5. Fortran was even then a defunct programming language, now more or less as lost as vestigial regional English dialects. Over their first two exceptionally diverse albums, 1991’s Blues and 1993’s Bad Head Park, Fortran 5 found themselves collaborating with all manner of unexpected contributors to produce quirky club-friendly fodder. ‘Rod Slater was one of our collaborators on Bad Head Park,’ Baker tells me when I ask him about Fortran 5’s ‘fun’ dimension. ‘He was originally a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. He’s related to a friend of David’s.’

‘We did some work with Neil Arthur on his solo material, and he did some vocals for us in return,’ explains Baker of Arthur’s contribution to the standout ‘Persian Blues’ from Bad Head Park. ‘Thrash and Colin Faver were introduced to us through Mute. We wanted Derek Nimmo to do vocals on the Derek And The Dominos song ‘Layla’ [on Bad Head Park] as the follow up to Sid (James) singing Syd (Barrett) on our first LP, Blues, and he kindly obliged. Miranda Sex Garden were going to be our stage dancers but when the tour fell through we found out that they could also sing.’

I ask Baker about the leftfield move into electronica’s nether regions with Fortran 5’s third album, 1995’s Avocado Suite. ‘We were given permission to be as experimental as we liked, so we were,’ is Baker’s simple response. When I ask about the dreadful bathroom suite the pair are seen relaxing in, he tells me that it was Leonard’s bathroom in Muswell Hill. ‘It’s now in the London Bathroom Museum,’ he quips.

Reacting against the musical Emperor’s New Clothes that was Britpop and its still blander entrails, Leonard and Baker went back in time to electronic music’s pivotal point, namely a certain ground-breaking band from Düsseldorf for Komputer. ‘We got as close as we could to doing Kraftwerk cover versions on The World Of Tomorrow,’ says Baker, referring to the first of Komputer’s three albums, release by Mute in 1997. I wax lyrical about ‘Looking Down On London’, its almost folksy wistfulness for the city balanced out by the more icy, clinical electronic backdrop. When asked about the origins of that track, the response is typically understated. ‘We both lived on hills in London,’ says Baker. It makes complete sense when you think about it.

The World Of Tomorrow was followed by 2002’s Market Led and 2007’s Synthetik, before the duo mostly disappeared from view, returning with a celebrated live set at Mute’s Short Circuit festival in May 2011. Selections of their extensive tenure with the label were presented together in the August of that year as Konnecting, one of a brief series of artist compilations that saw the newly-independent Mute licensing tracks back from EMI.

I ask Baker what’s next for the duo following the release of Konnecting. ‘We have a live set ready to go,’ Baker tells me. ‘If someone will give us a gig,’ he adds. The prospect of a career-spanning series of concerts similar to their set at Short Circuit is an exciting prospect to say the least, so if there are any promoters reading this please, please, please make this happen.

Tickets for TEC006 can be purchased here.

Originally published 2011; edited 2019.

Interview: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Laibach – Party Songs

The title of Laibach’s new EP reads like their own take on Silicon TeensMusic For Parties, but the party in question here is not some convivial get-together but the Workers’ Party of Korea, the ruling administrative organisation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). I am in no position to say whether this party is as fun as the one that the revellers depicted on the sleeve of Music For Parties are at.

The EP collects together material prepared for the group’s mould-breaking show in the DPRK in 2015, and offers some insight into the control over their performances provided by their hosts. Three versions of the mournful, heart-wrenching aria ‘Honourable, Dead Or Alive, When Following The Revolutionary Road’ are included here, a piece originally intended for their concert at the Ponghwa Theatre in Pyongyang but axed when the hosts deemed it too confusing. If that by itself seems confusing, consider that the 1972 piece is taken from one of the five revolutionary operas approved by Kim Jong-il, and their sensitivity to Laibach’s tender interpretation is perhaps more understandable.

There is a haunting melancholia to the two studio versions on the EP, the band offering a largesse and stirring quality that is strangely moving, even when a surprising cluster of pulse-quickening jagged analogue synth squeals are ushered into view at the conclusion of the Arduous March version. (A third version arranged by pupils of the Kum Song Music School is more restrained, more operatic, and presumably deemed less confusing by the ever-watchful hosts – though its slightly murky recording suggests it may have been recorded covertly.)

Elsewhere, the EP includes a sweeping, epic English version of the evocative ‘We Will Go To Mount Paektu’, commissioned by the hosts for the Pyongyang performance but ultimately binned upon fears that it would not just cause confusion but also “anger and mayhem”. Consider that. “Anger and mayhem.” The song is poised on huge, reverberating rhythms and gentle electronic melodies and it’s hard to see why the hosts were especially concerned, but this DPRK pop song is an ode to the Mount Paektu Bloodline that begat the Kim dynasty, so ours is not to reason why.

Catref: mute605
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Swans – Leaving Meaning

How to interpret the title of the new Swans album? Is Michael Gira – the only consistent member of the group he founded with unassailable, blistering New York No Wave urgency in 1982 – asking what the meaning of the word ‘leaving is’, in the manner of a child unwitting asking aimless questions that take on a metaphysical hue? Or is he concerned with the idea of somehow leaving a legacy? One can spend too long trying, pointlessly, trying to decode such things, but if Gira is any way concerned that Swans won’t somehow leave an enduring impression after all this time, the bold grandeur of this LP should ensure that he needn’t worry again.

We throw away adjectives in this reviewing game with careless abandon, but Leaving Meaning is unquestionably stunning and justifies the following gushing praise, and more. It is redemptive; searching; uncertain yet confident; ruminates on mortality yet is unquestionably alive; both humbled and humbling; vast yet sparse; personal yet universal; occluded throughout yet as clear as crystal; quiet yet impossibly, irrepressibly, almost violently loud. It is everything that Swans have ever proposed to be and everything Gira has ever striven toward; faithful yet original. And so on.

Perhaps the only predictable thing about Swans is Gira’s insistence on changing the band’s line-up whenever he feels like it. Leaving Meaning is the first record he’s made after dissolving the group that was Swans from 2010 to 2017 – a comparative period of stability for the band. The new line up features old friends from former iterations of Swans, as well as members of Angels Of Light, the group Gira formed when he put Swans on ice between 1999 and 2010. Gira suggests that Swans will now just consist of a “revolving cast of musicians, selected for both their musical and personal character, chosen according to what I intuit best suits the atmosphere in which I’d like to see the songs I’ve written presented.” The cast this time includes Nick Cave’s keyboard player Larry Mullins, Mick Harvey bassist Yoyo Röhm, Mute labelmate Ben Frost on synths and guitars, Swans / Angels Of Light confidante and guitarist Kristof Hahn, all three members of New Zealand’s The Necks, both members of A Hawk And A Hacksaw, Baby Dee, Anna and Maria von Hausswolff and a supporting cast that would frankly make this sentence even more obscenely long than it already is. (An accompany press photo suggests a team of 32 contributors, with Mute founder Daniel Miller occupying the lower left corner.)

The musicians and vocalists assembled for Leaving Meaning are predominantly European, with many of them living in Berlin. Consequently it’s hard not to liken this record to those pivotal albums that emerged in the early 1980s as Nick Cave and a bunch of other Aussie waifs and strays found themselves in the Kreuzberg district, fusing together punk, noise and musicianship in a way that was entirely visionary.

This is a long album, filled with several songs that effortlessly break the ten-minute mark without ever losing interest. Some of these songs are genuinely, forcibly arresting – the rest are simply brilliant. ‘The Hanging Man’ issues forth on a low-slung, unflinching groove laced with menace and vivid, uncomfortable imagery, while ‘Amnesia’ carries a strange tranquility delivered with an uncompromising, unfiltered verbal panache reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed at their most visceral. The title track is tranquil yet disturbing, reflecting on slipping away, its sparse, languid tonalities and gauzy fuzz akin to listening to The Doors’ ‘This Is The End’ while under the influence of heavy antidepressants. ‘The Nub’ – led by and written specifically for Baby Dee – is bewitching, theatrical and ominous as fuck, the line ‘I’m leaving by distortion’ presaging a coda of intense, heavy drone and rattling guitar and violin dissonance that the moody, haunting serenity of the the first eight or so minutes could never have anticipated.

The evocative ‘Sunfucker’ is a sort of ravaged punk blues centrepiece, like ‘Louie Louie’ recast as a pentagram for summoning all the devils of this world (and others) to cause utter, irreversible havoc. Honed yet frazzled, Gira’s voice here contains a control and even-handed resoluteness, even when the words seem turn to gibberish in his mouth.

Catref: stumm446
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Alessandro Cortini (Clash feature, 2019)

“I was moving around Berlin a lot when I was listening to works in progress for this album. I realised that I was maxing out on the volume, and after briefly thinking about the damage that I might be causing to my ears, I also realised that I’ve never really found myself making stuff that loud before. I remember doing that as a kid – I’d push the cheap, crappy headphones against my ears to get more bass while I was listening to the version of Duran Duran’s ‘Save A Prayer’ from ‘Arena’ which I used to play over and over.”

Alessandro Cortini (Clash interview with Mat Smith, September 2019)

VOLUME MASSIMO, the new album from Alessandro Cortini and his first for Mute, is released tomorrow.

Ahead of its release, I spoke to Alessandro for Clash about his love of vintage synths, pressing headphones against your ears to get more bass and the enduring influence of guitarist Steve Vai.

Read the interview at the Clash website here.

(c) 2019 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Clash

GUO – GUO4

Daniel Blumberg could well be seen as the most sonically challenging addition to Mute’s present-day roster. His prolific release schedule highlights both a limitless improvisatory imagination and also a huge amount of trust and freedom by the label that he joined last year with his Minus opus.

In parallel to his work under his own name as de facto band leader, his output as GUO with tenor saxophonist Seymour Wright represents an ever-adaptable framework that allows the pair space to collaborate with other like-minded musicians. After previous releases with friend and muse Brady Corbet, GUO4 pitches the Blumberg/Wright duo together with drummer Crystabel Riley, accompanied by a text from Fran Edgerley. The impetus for the session was a new short film by Peter Strickland concerning itself with an altercation between two men in a locker room.

Violence, then, is to be expected from this atypical soundtrack, which is, for the most part, led by Riley’s evocative, sheet metal-esque percussion. Taken as a sympathetic and wonderfully noisy response, Wright’s atonal squalls of upper-register bleating and Blumberg’s signature guitar un-playing – ranging from low distortion rumbles to metallic splinters to an undercurrent of angry note clusters – make the single 22-minute piece both expressive and beautifully uncomfortable.

To paraphrase what another of Mute’s noisier pairings might have dubbed it, this is easy listening for the hard of hearing. Whether it acts as a portent of what we can expect from Daniel Blumberg’s next LP under his own name remains to be heard.

Catref: stumm444
Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Electronic Sound 53 – including my Mute STUMM433 feature

ES53_Bundle-Square.jpg

The latest issue of Electronic Sound is now available in the usual high street retailers and as a bundle with an exclusive 7″ from their website. This issue has a primary focus on Berlin, featuring conversations with Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten, Mick Harvey, Simon Bonney and others who recall the vibrant creative melting pot that the divided city represented in the late 70s and early 80s. The accompany 7″ features Berlin legends Malaria! while Gudrun Gut from band offers her take on sometime Berlin resident David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ on the B-side.

My major contribution to issue 53 was a feature on John Cage’s seminal composition 4’33” and the incoming Mute STUMM433 project. For this feature I interviewed K Á R Y Y N, Daniel Miller, Simon Fisher Turner, Irmin Schmidt, Laibach, Pink Grease and Maps, each of whom explained how they approached their performance of Cage’s distinctive piece – where they recorded it, and what instrument they didn’t play. Each of the 58 versions on STUMM433 is wildly different from the next, each one includes its own individual story and accompanying visual, and only one of the inclusions is actually silent – just as Cage would have wanted.

This feature involved me diving back into Cage’s Silence book – something I’d first tackled in my late teens when I found a copy in my local library and studying the score. One took much longer than the other. It also awoke in me an interest in Zen after reading about Cage’s following of these ascetic Buddhist principles.

Elsewhere in this issue I reviewed Colours. Reflect. Time. Loss. by Maps; the score to Marnie by Bernard Herrmann; David Tibbet and Andrew Lisle’s debut Nodding God album; the latest Blow collaboration on Front & Follow by Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer; and a fantastic new Buchla-based concept album by Simon James.

(c) Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence for Electronic Sound