Music and musings 2018

Is it too late to reflect on 2018? I hope not. Surely it’s never too late for reflecting.

Much of 2018 raced by in a bit of a blur for me. Despite the longest, hottest summer on record, I never found time to sleep under the stars – as I did in 2017, when I vowed to do it every summer. And I only attended one festival (most unlike me) and that was in my back garden. Jolly nice it was though.

Sometimes, life’s just too busy. Actually, scratch that. Sometimes my head is just too busy. It has been too busy to round up the year’s music, which is normally something I do at the end of the year. It has been too busy to contribute much to the Campfire Convention such have been the competing pleasures of parenthood, home education, community life and earning a crust.

I managed to DJ for eight hours (a first) on midsummer’s day/night… without falling over. And I opened the new year with an hour-and-a-bit of proper hardcore junglism, which I can proudly and delightedly report went down a storm with my neighbours who danced like proper nutters.

So in an effort to expunge the music of the year from my head and create space for the new, here is a quick run through of some favourites from last year. You can read more extensive lists of albums and mixes at Resident Advisor, Reissues, Mixes etc at The Quietus, and there is a lovely list of Japanese ambient reissues at Vinyl Factory’s website. How niche do you want to get?

My Album of the Year was almost certainly Proc Fiskal’s Insula. The Scottish newcomer of unfeasibly young age (given his talents) gave us a post-dubstep grimy version of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin that grooved in all the right places, while somehow mopping up Japanese influences and managing to evoke all our childhoods – despite the fact he’s only about 20! Proc Fiskal is so fucking talented I’m in awe.

 

Nils Frahm’s lovely All Melody rivaled Proc Fiskal for AOTY. It felt like a career highlight, bringing together strings, voices, bubbly electronics and soaring melodies for an album of organic techno, which felt very now. Many have been seeking this blend for the past few years but few have brought together electronic and acoustic sounds from around the world in quite such a sublime manner. Here’s a mix I made inspired by this kinda stuff.

 

A fair few of Frahm’s label mates at Erased Tapes have been creating similar vibes. I quite enjoyed Masayoshi Fujita’s Book of Life but, as with many of this year’s records, I didn’t get to spend that long with it. It was nice to hear a vibraphone dominating the mix though.

Completing a trilogy of ‘most listened to’ albums is Nat Birchall’s Sounds Almighty. Like King Tubby’s Meets the Rockers Uptown with the afro brass nyabinghi of Cedric Im Brooks without sounding old fashioned in the slightest.

 

One of these days I will write a feature on the best albums of Susumu Yokota. For me, the most talented ambient techno producer not called Richard D. James. Yokota died in 2015 so any opportunity to hear anything previously unheard (and he released billions of albums and singles during his life) is an opportunity to be grabbed.

If you have heard of Yokota, you probably know him for ambient masterpieces like Sakura (and if you have not then you really should), but in 2018 a pile of his 12-inches were re-released as the Acid Mt. Fuji album. It’s probably the best (kinda chilled) techno you will hear this year.

Beyond those four, there is a whole list of albums that I kinda liked but did not really get a chance to listen to in depth. Maarja Nuut introduced me to Estonian electronic folk.  Muunduja was probably the strangest, newest most dark and beautiful record I heard all year.

DJ Healer’s Nothing 2 Loose was lovely.

Oliver Coates played the cello in interesting ways. Check Shelly’s on Zenn La if you want cello-based Kid A, Aphex inspirations.

Objekt’s Cocoon Crush was so highly anticipated by yours truly that I put its release date in the diary. Strangely, after such commitment I only listened to it twice. Seemed fine but didn’t move me like I expected.

I love Will Long and did enjoy Long Trax 2‘s exceedingly loverly deep house grooves.

Japan’s  Videotapemusic got a few enjoyable listens. If you wondered what a Japanese computer boffin might make of Augustus Pablo then have a listen. It’s v.cool actually.

I can heartily recommend  Resina, Duppy Gun, Space Afrika, Skee Mask, Karine Polwart and Neneh Cherry despite failing to listen to any of them more than once. And Autechre released no less than four albums via NTS Radio but really, who has got the time for that?

Oh yes. On a pop tip, Santa bought my kids these two absolute bangers. First up is Let’s Eat Grandma, who you really do want to hear if you like the sound of two teenage goths making St Etienne tunes with cutting edge 21st century pop producers. Surely, you do wanna hear that, right?

 

And if you’ve ever danced round your living room, festival field or grotty basement club to the B-52s, LCD Soundsystem or The Go! Team, you will love Confidence Man’s Confident Music for Confident People.

And you know Prince released an album of lovely piano and voice from beyond the grave, don’t you? No, me neither. Sounds great though. It’s called Piano and a Microphone 1983 and its contents are self-explanatory.

So, as I move into 2019, I feel more balance in my head. The horror of Brexit looms, although I’m not sure it’s a horror of Brexit so much as a horror at how warped and useless our politicians really are. I’m hoping my former MP Sadiq Khan (AKA the London Mayor Sadiq Khan) will return to Westminster and put all these shysters to shame. And will someone please remove Jacob Rees Mogg from my life? It’s just so unpleasant and so unnecessary.

Anyway, I digress. I kinda find the Brexit process strangely addictive though, don’t you? It’s like watching the US version of House of Cards. You feel completely unclean afterwards but somehow you just want to dip in one more time…

Anyway, I digress. ALL THAT FUCKING SHIT ASIDE, I am feeling very positive about 2019. Sometimes it is very difficult to prioritise the most important things in your life. I have had to strip back everything and minimize all commitments in order to focus on the three people that mean the most to me. Having done that, I feel much lighter, more confident, happier and hopefully able to tune in and write a bit more often.

Happy 2019 people!

x

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Laughton Lodge tomatoes

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My ideal audience is halfway between the chin-stroker and the rave lunatic

“My ideal audience is halfway between the chin-stroker and the rave lunatic,” says Happa here.

Mine too, Happa.

“I’d ideally be able to drop an obscure ambient tune or have a whole half hour section of stuff in a set that isn’t necessarily that easy to dance to, but then be able to switch it up into something a bit sillier and the crowd to still lose their shit. But obviously you can’t always have that whenever you want and it’s a good challenge having to work alongside a crowd and doing the best you can to maybe show them something they haven’t heard before, challenge them a little bit as well, to show them a good time and get them dancing. It’s one of the best feelings when you’ve got one of those crowds you can just do anything with and they’ll be up for it, but it’s also nice when you actually have a bit of a challenge and you have to really think about what you’re going do next to please a crowd. I think for me it’s trying to find the balance.”

As mission statements go, that just about covers it for me. I might print it out and hang it behind me when I next DJ.

Listen up.

 

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Match report: Tribal Earth, August 2017, East Sussex

MikaTribalEarthBubbles

Tribal Earth is a wonderful thing. It might just be a unique thing too.

A friend described it as half-village fete, half-hippy festival. And she might be right. That captures the vibe of a festival that has a capacity of just 500 people.

Its size and its lack of bars mean kids can and do run free. They are never far from their parents or friends. The lack of booze (for sale) also eases the tranquillity factor. This is a festival to relax into. You can bathe in its loveliness without a care in the world.

However, it is a proper hippy festival. You have to be into some or all of the following: folk/world music, kirtan, 5 Rhythms, yoga, didgeridoos, drumming circles, gong baths and other hippy shit. If those things are anathema to you, then it’s probably best you don’t bother. But even still… you might enjoy the vibe. You can buy some herbal tea and a slice of gluten-free, sugar-free cake and relax under the beautiful Sussex sky overlooking the South Downs.

But it’s best to dive in and enjoy the hippy shit. There is bound to be an almost life-changing experience in the next tent. Personally, I was overwhelmed by the dark beauty of ambient overlords Blackmoon 1348, who teamed up with the horns and chants of Tibet’s Tashi Lhunpo Monks to produce a set of brooding menace and finally, extreme beauty.

The monks had their own tent at the festival. During the daytime they could be found making Dhukar prayer wheels and play-do (it would be butter in Tibet) flowers and figurines with playful souls of all ages.

Others were lifted higher by Nikki Slade’s kirtan or transported to an Irish pub session with The Devines’ jigs and reels. The Carrie Tree Band played a spellbindingly delicate set of English folk, Yap gathered his brilliant and passionate poets and Batch Gueye brought the hypnotic African funk.

Those highlights were all preceded by the mysterious Arfur Cardboard’s Tribal Upstarts, whose wonderful narcotic lullabies belied the comedy moniker chosen by the festival’s music curator Storme. And it was brought to a close by the Amazing Tribal Earth Sound Bath, a festival tradition that sees 100 people lying flat out in a tent, while Storme and friends wash them down with a symphony of gongs, didgeridoo and chimes.

With all those musical wonders, it is easy to forget Tribal Earth’s workshops but for many, they are the heart and soul of the festival. From weaving and sprouting, to jew’s harp and (a lot of) African drumming. From chaga mushrooms to tai chi; and from transformational breathwork to family constellations; there is almost every form of meditation, therapy or sheer fun activity on offer.

Add in the opening and closing circles and you have a festival like no other – a lovely community of like-minded souls enjoying a blissful weekend in the countryside.

 

 

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Match Report: Terraforma Festival, June 23-25, 2017

Donato Dozzy’s influence looms large over Terraforma. Festival director Ruggero Pietromarchi acknowledges his meeting with the Roman musician and DJ as a key catalyst for the launch of the experimental and sustainable music festival.

He closes the festival at 1.30am on Sunday with a “surprise” set on the Soundsystem stage in the woods, which he builds from Rhythm and Sound-style dub through to sledgehammer hardcore techno over the course of nearly three hours. He finishes his set and is whisked away by ambulance.

Rumours circulate the next day that he had been complaining about a bad back, that he had been walking like a robot…one hopes he recovers quickly. His two three-hour musical trips were a triumph and encapsulated the aesthetic that courses through this wonderful festival.

If Donato Dozzy is the godfather of Terraforma then this year, Laraaji and Suzanne Ciani are its grandparents. Laraaji’s beatific set with autoharp, voice, gong and electronics is a transmission of pure love from a humble and generous being, which is received with rapture. More than one delirious spectator describes his set as “beyond music” – an experience.

Terraforma is so well programmed that the whole festival evolves as one long musical trip with three stages transmitting different vibes but never playing music simultaneously.

Laraaji builds on the mood created by Dozzy on Saturday morning, who administers a three-hour ambient trip, taking the audience through all sorts of imaginary landscapes as they sip their coffee and spark the first spliff of the day.

Rawmance takes up the ambient baton with a few more beats and a slightly more old school feel encapsulated in the Global Communications classics in the climax. With Julia Kent’s rather sombre – bleak, even – cello and then Suzanne Ciani’s buchla ululations extending the mood, Saturday was almost beatless until Mala gave the Italians some distinctly UK flavour with his spaced out dubstep causing delirium.

 Evolving moods

The mood is so different to Friday night’s party, which climaxed with the pummelling techno of Aurora Halal and the mighty Objekt. Does techno, or music generally, get more bleeding edge than Objekt? His twisted beats and towering noise-scapes are awe-inspiringly unique. If techno’s initial brief was to make music for the future, Objekt continues this quest with genuinely jaw-dropping innovation.

After Saturday’s ambience, Sunday was all about celebration. An overnight thunderstorm cleared the air. Tropic Disco Sound System set the tone with some sunshine reggae before Paquita Gordon and Ece Duzgit send the hardcore dancers crazy with Indian beats, big band jazz and a massive array of eclectic bangers from all around the world.

The scene was set nicely for Andrew Weatherall on the main stage from 4pm ’til 7pm. His name meant nothing to many of the hip young Italian techno cognoscenti present. Screamadelica? No. Sabres of Paradise? Nope. A Love from Outer Space? Complete blank. We call him The Guvnor. You’ll like it, I promise. (I hope.) I had no idea what to expect in this slot. Would it be dub reggae? ALFOS beats? Rockabilly?

His set begins with what might be a berimbau, which quickly morphs into…what? Turkish psychefunk? The empty dancefloor begins to fill. A guitar-heavy set takes in sunny dub reggae, post-punk funk, psychedelic country blues, Northern dub poetry, some African funk, some…god, I should know this…Chapterhouse? Paris Angels? Emeralds?

The hip young things are soon dancing like fuckery with grins as wide as Lake Como – amused and amazed by the weird, wonderful and downright funky shit they are being carried away by.

Each track is epic in reach. The Guvnor seems quite entranced as he boogies away to the more epic beats and spacey tinkles. It feels like a distillation of purest Weatherall past, present and future. And he’s clearly enjoying it.

As he waves goodbye, there are hugs and WTFs and more huge smiles.

Later, an Australian guy asks me if I saw Andrew Weatherall earlier. My rabid enthusiasm is met with a more muted response. Ah well, music’s not for everyone.

Andrew Weatherall’s set climaxes with a slowed-down John Coltrane Stereo Blues

Closure

How to follow that? With the almost unlistenable force of power electronics dub techno that is Dreesvn, apparently.

Dreesvn’s more intense moments hit you in the face and the body like a lazer forcefield of sound. But their synth-generated techno also has a delicate side and after the initial punch, it settles down into an entrancing hour of acidic techno.

Then Kiki Hitomi hits the stage with her slamming Japanese take on dubstep, dub reggae and psychedelic techno. Kiki is a force of nature. She is the festival’s most obvious ‘performer’ among a couple of dozen synth boffins and bespectacled DJs. And she gives an incredible performance – chanting, singing and declaiming with righteous force over her psychedelic beats.

She plays at least three “last tunes” – even stopping to ask the promoter if she can play one more. She closes the mainstage on Sunday night before Dozzy returns to the Soundsystem stage to take us into the early hours.

Dozzy’s dramatic closure on the Soundsystem stage satisfies a beautiful narrative arc, which began with the enveloping forest techno of GAS on Friday night. It has been a wonderful trip.

 

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Old global ambient techno folk grooves from me

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Some new ambient bits

[Well, new to me]

Loving this from the Tangerine Dream front man

 

And I don’t know how I missed Global Communication’s remix album back in the day. I’ve always been quite nerdy about seeking out their stuff. But this is the most perfect Ibiza chillout-style record you ever wanted to hear. And that description does its beauty an injustice. [This clip isn’t really the whole album but check it out: Global Communication – Remotion: the Global Communication remix album]

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