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

Stubbleman & Simon Fisher Turner – Purcell Room, 20.11.2019 + new SFT remix

“Was that what you were expecting?” asked a confused lady sat next to me as Simon Fisher Turner and Laura Moody concluded their opening set of electronics and expressive cello playing.

Being well-versed in Fisher Turner’s varied musical output I replied that it was exactly what I was expecting, at least in terms of approach; that said, even I was a little scared out of my wits as loud splinters of noise unexpectedly peppered a suite of sounds encompassing overheard recordings of what could have been people milling about in the bar before the show, the sound of plates being spun around on a tabletop, wonky rhythms created from breathy stutters and all sorts of intriguing, richly textured sonic events.

Alongside this, Laura Moody took a whole-instrument approach to her cello playing, striking the strings with the flat of her bow to create springy, bassy reverberations, tapping the back to develop rhythms, furiously sawing away to develop dissonant, upper-register squeals, or playing the bridge instead of the strings. Occasionally Fisher Turner would play sections of strings, and with that as a cue, Moody would then settle into what one might describe as a more traditional sort of playing, her cello cresting above the recorded strings without ever sounding too mournful or melancholy.

The pieces were taken from Fisher Turner’s forthcoming album with the ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal, with whom he recorded his version of John Cage’s 4’33” for Mute’s STUMM433 boxset. ‘Is this jazz?’ asked the lady next to me, largely unmoved by my explanation of what she’d just observed and my enthusiastic summary of Fisher Turner’s career in everything from pop to soundtracks to sound art.

I could (half) see her point. Fisher Turner and Moody’s set was not jazz, and neither was the artist they were supporting – Pascal Gabriel, in his Stubbleman guise – but they could be forgiven for asking the question. Gabriel’s performance formed part of the EFG London Jazz Festival, and even if you took a most liberal definition of what jazz is, the music he performed – a 55-minute seamless journey through his entire Mountains And Plains album and an extract from a new work inspired by his fastest time cycling Mont Ventoux in Provence – wasn’t jazz. But hey, genres are just labels anyway.

Gabriel faced a challenge with realising the many-layered sounds presented on Mountains And Plains for a live show without resorting to an unadulterated laptop playback non-performance. Instead, he painstakingly crafted a series of electrically-controlled automata housed in old-fashioned travel trunks that could be triggered to perform melodies alongside his and his Rotem Haguel’s playing. Watching a drum kit play itself on a piece like ‘South 61 West 14’ was a strange delight to behold, the kind of stuff of dreams or episodes of Bagpuss. One imagines that Luigi Russolo and his merry band of Futurists would have approved.

Watching the machines, which occupied centre stage with Haguel and Gabriel flanking them, was nothing short of mesmerising, reminiscent of Victorian player-pianos and fairground organs yet positioned within an ultra-modern context. Hearing the machines play the haunting, filigree passages of ‘Piety Wharf’ or ‘Abiquiú’, accompanied by visuals of the environments that Gabriel and his wife Pippa observed on their road trip across America was moving in a plaintive, unexpected way.

Gabriel concluded his performance with a twenty-minute concluding extract from his second Stubbleman release, titled 1:46:43. The suite is named after his best time on Mont Ventoux, and its inputs were the various metrics his bike’s onboard computer recorded throughout the best part of two hours of hard peddling – heart rate, cadence and so on – which Gabriel then turned into electronic sequences.

The extract was given extra poignancy by Gabriel’s explanation that his composition was also informed by the abortive climb of Mont Ventoux by British cyclist Tom Simpson, who died a short distance from the peak during the 1967 Tour de France. The music taken from 1:46:43 could immediately be linked to the stylistic poise of Mountains And Plains while taking on a hypnotic, meditative edge and restless drama that nodded firmly in the direction of Philip Glass and Terry Riley.

Ahead of the show, SFT has remixed ‘Abiquiú’ from Mountains And Plains.

Pascal Gabriel: keys, modular synth, Artiphon, theremin, foot controller

Rotem Haguel: bass, Moog Sub Phatty

Watch the rehearsal video below.

Read my interview with Pascal Gabriel here. Read the review of Mountains And Plains here.

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence

Spirits In The Forest: Depeche Mode’s Complex Fan Culture (Clash feature, 2019)

Anton Corbijn‘s new film about Depeche Mode fans, Spirits In The Forest, is released in cinemas for one night only on Thursday November 21.

Ahead of its release I wrote a feature for Clash anticipating Corbijn’s film through two previous films – D.A. Pennebaker‘s seminal road movie 101 and the never-officially-released Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode, directed by Nick Abrahams and Jeremy Deller – as well as my own personal experiences of being a fan of this enduring Mute group.

Read the Clash feature here. Read my review of Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode here.

(c) 2019 Documentary Evidence for Clash

FITTED – First Fits

FITTED is a spontaneously-established quartet of Graham Lewis and Matthew Simms from the current Wire line-up, Minutemen’s Mike Watt and Bob Lee from Fearless Leader. The group came together during the LA date at The Echo on Wire’s DRILL 2017 festival tour, rehearsed just once and then took to the stage for a blistering performance loosely based on Dome’s ‘Jasz’, which, after several iterations in the studio, emerges on the group’s debut album as the biographical ‘The Legend Of Lydmar Lucia’.

That track acts as a logical centrepoint to a collection of six tracks that operate on a unique pathway between spacey, acid-fried grooves, the upstart urgency of punk and art-rock. ‘The Legend Of Lydmar Lucia’ finds Lewis intoning a diaristic spoken-word recollection of a particularly vivid art happening at Santa Lucia’s Lydmar Gallery, his delivery carrying the kind of oblique, unfathomable wordplay that is highly familiar from his occasional lead vocals with Wire. The unfamiliar aspect of this track is the swirling, turgid, many-layered bed of sound upon which his vocal rests; murky, impenetrable, thrilling and restless, the sonic stew created by the four musician’s is a breathtakingly complex listen, and a perfect foil for Lewis’s intonation.

Something similar happens on the ultimately incendiary and boisterous opening track, ‘Plug In The Jug’, with lead vocals from Mike Watt. ‘Plug In The Jug’ starts out in tentative, atmospheric territory, sound washing in and out but building, building, building toward something initially unclear but finally coalescing into a groove somewhere between The Doors at their most focussed and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley at his Krautrocking, cyclical drumming best.

Elsewhere, ‘The Chunk That Got Chewed’ is a sprawling, beautiful mess of a track with Watt sounding a lot like Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, while closing track ‘The First Fit’ is a mesmerisingly deep piece led by an especially emotional Lewis augmented by wandering, languid jazz rock fluidity buried under treacly reverb.

It’s not clear yet whether FITTED is a one-off project or the start of something that the group will return to whenever schedules allow. What’s immediately clear from the symbiosis of these four talented minds on the six tracks here is that their capacity to produce interesting, engaging, surprising music is probably limitless.

First Fits by FITTED is released November 8 2019 by ORG Music.

Catref: ORGM-2147
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