Here’s a wonderfully comprehensive mix of free jazz, psychy prog other experimental stuff, complete with a collection of mini essays, from boundary-pushing label and festival curators Extra Normal Records. In addition to very limited and intriguing dubplate and cassette releases, Extra Normal are responsible for the wonderful Contra Pop festival in Ramsgate. Last year’s line-up was belting, and this year’s fest has been scheduled for mid-August. Keep a beady eye on their twitter for more updates, and enjoy this cracking mix in the meantime. Words from extraordinary dude Kyle McCallum below.
‘This mix follows the same conventions as those for the Extra Normal website – namely, I packed a box of records, as if going out DJing, then picked out the following tracks, one after the other, as the mix went on. The mix is accompanied by a visual and textual running commentary of sorts. I hope you have as much fun listening to this selection as I did putting it together. Thanks to Richard of Kit Records for the kind invitation.’
Julia Wolfe – LAD (excerpt) (Cantaloupe, 2009)
LAD is from Julia Wolfe’s album, Dark Full Ride: Music in Multiples, each track of which stems from a layered composition for several of the same instrument. While composing this particular piece, Wolfe discovered the specific drone produced while filling the bagpipes with air, using this as the work’s intro: ‘With each piece I tried to dive into a psychedelic landscape, at once multilayered, fractured, ecstatic, silent, driving, cacophonous and direct’.
Trembling Bells – ’Tween the Womb and the Tomb (Tin Angel, 2015)
This is a psychedelic folk triumph, combining the heaviness of Flower Travellin’ Band with fleet-footed metronomic rhythm guitar stabs reminiscent of Matthew Hyland’s main theme for Kirschner and Panos’ blighted-Hackney-shot ‘western’, Trail of the Spider from 2008. I’ve had a soft spot for Trembling Bells since the Glasgow days when I used to be part of a Tuesday night game of football with Alex. Another one of the football posse, Steve Wade, held an annual Christmas gig at Partickhill Bowling Club, at which Trembling Bells and associates invariably played and which I attended religiously over the years.
Catherine Ribeiro + Alpes – Un Regard Clair (Obscur) (Philips, 1974)
Old art school friend, Cara Tolmie, put me onto this a few years ago. Considered the most unusual voice in French rock music and referred to as ‘The French Nico’ (I don’t know why – perhaps in terms of appearance), Ribeiro has a keen sense of the dramatic (or, operatic) and her free-flowing psychedelic take on prog was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise male-dominated mid 1970s ego-fest.
Robert Stillman – Ruthie in May (Ordinal, 2016)
US-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, Stillman, known for his diverse output – including pseudo OSTs and extraordinary one-man-band performances – is now based in East Kent. I was lucky enough to DJ at an event in 2015 featuring his expansive multi media project, Bog Bodies, hosted by Margate-based sound artist, Dan Scott, and Robert kindly sent me the digital files of this album. A large portion of my record collection is made up of music which is, by definition, unbeautiful, made deliberately so by anti-bourgeois agitators for subversive, and other, reasons. However, it’s a lot more difficult to make a beautiful record than it is to make an unbeautiful one, and Stillman delivers a work of outstanding beauty here. Informed by titans of 20th century jazz history like Ornette Coleman, Stillman’s tenor saxophone and deftly-tuned drums yield a poignant, wordless dedication to his late daughter, Ruth. Rainbow is a painfully personal album, and this song in particular is a solemn joy to behold.
Simon Limbrick – Sweet Steel Alone: Aubade Gardens (Marimbo, 2014)
This short steel pan outing was downloaded from the artist’s Soundcloud page. The quality of the recording (or transfer) isn’t great, with quite a bit seeming to be ‘in the red’, but a rich sonic palette and astute compositional awareness shines through.
The Durian Brothers – Planete Sauvage (Diskant, 2015)
The Cuts Cubs with Clubs comp CD was generously given to me by Durian Brother Florian Meyer (aka Don’t DJ) during last summer’s Contra Pop, the festival Extra Normal runs on the beach in Ramsgate, Kent – the 2016 edition of the event will be happening on 20th-21st August. Last year, Florian DJed on the Friday night but stayed in Ramsgate for the rest of the weekend to soak up the atmosphere, which was great. The Durian Brothers make this amazingly rhythmic music using, primarily, prepared turntables – phenomenal stuff.
Storm Bugs – Flood (Storm Bugs’ Bandcamp, 2016)
I’ve been working at South Bank University in Elephant and Castle for a wee while now and, upon my arrival, I was introduced to an unassuming 50-something-year-old character with whom I would be sharing an office. There was no expectation that, as well as workspace, we’d share similar artistic interests. However, I spotted an intriguing LP on his shelf called Hollow Gravity and it turned out be the work of none other than the man himself, Philip Sanderson, one half of Storm Bugs and founder of cult late ’70s/early ’80s DIY post punk label, Snatch Tapes. Philip is on the steering committee of Magnetic South, the festival I put together with a group of students on 14th-15th April this year.
Can – Sing Swan Song (United Artists, 1972)
This track is from the album Ege Bamyasi by a band that needs no introduction. The inimitably eccentric Holger Czukay, who engineered the record, cannot be blamed for the patchy sound quality here; this is down to my own loss of control of the gain controls while putting together the mix.
N.E.W. – Motion (excerpt) (Dancing Wayang, 2014)
The dynamic trio of Steve Noble (drums), John Edwards (bass) and Alex Ward (guitar) exhibit primal energy and musical intelligence in equal measure. I saw them play at Free Range in Canterbury in early 2015, where they swept effortlessly between intricate free-improv interplay and straight-up power jazz via rip-roaring experimental rock. Liner notes from Thurston Moore include a curious appraisal of Alex Ward: ‘The kid kills on guitar, so watch your drinks and keep an eye on the babes who heed his noise for they will surely be radicalised’.
Evan Parker, Derek Bailey and Han Bennink – Fixed Elsewhere (Incus, 1970)
The first edition of the seminal free improvisation record The Topography of the Lungs was given to me last year by a friend in Ramsgate who said, ‘It’s that screechy music that you like – take it’.
Matt Wright – Breakdown (composed 2004, revised 2010)
Matt played a mind-blowing duo with Evan Parker at last year’s Contra Pop and continues to offer support and encouragement to Extra Normal on a regular basis. Apart from his compositional prowess and unique approach to turntablism, Matt has an uncanny ability to electronically process his cohorts’ improvised sounds during live performance without diminishing (enhancing, in fact) their vitality. The score to ‘Breakdown’ is annotated as follows: ‘Never reach the point of release – always as desperate and violent as possible’. Matt describes the piece as ‘a short study in erosion: a four bar riff is obsessively repeated until nothing is left’.
Will Menter – Community (excerpt) (Zyzzle, 1981)
In this record’s sleevenotes, the Bristolian free-jazz stalwart, also known for his kinetic sound sculptures and for being my uncle(!), describes how ‘Community is conceived neither just as a piece of music, nor as a band, but as a special way of making music […] I organised all the written material in short bits for different combinations of instruments, which the musicians are free to play whenever they like’. He asks, ‘How useful is it to develop libertarian forms of social relationship through artistic practice in the context of a society that is fundamentally hierarchical and exploitative? Does it contribute to perceptions of the possibilities for change or is it merely coy escapism?’
Kayaka – Beyond Pimpkin (Adaadat, 2015)
Kayaka (Kaya Kamijo) and John Higgins opened Contra Pop 2015 with a magnificent audio-visual collaboration involving harp, kitchen utensils, vegetables and live video projection. Kaya kindly handed me her new CD Sonic Kitchen, released on Adaadat Records, of which ‘Beyond Pimpkin’ is a part. The album provides an intoxicating mix of musique concrète, acoustic instrumentation and electronics and ‘Beyond Pimpkin’ represents a potent coming-together of wonky synths, subtle filmic keys/strings and what sounds like oil frying.
Xylitol – Wine and Beer (Pierogii-Disc, 2007)
I first became aware of Jim Backhouse (aka Xylitol) when my old school friend Joe Howe did a session (as Germlin) for Backhouse and Magz Hall’s Resonance FM show You Are Hear in 2005. I saw Jim DJ recently at the Beaney in Canterbury as part of one of his and Magz’ events, where he was playing original 1950s pressings of compositions from the Philips Natlab in Eindhoven amongst other electronic music gems. This track, from Error Bursts In Transmission, is a synth-pop belter with hints of Warm-Leatherette-style vocals creeping in towards the end for good measure.
DJ Snake – Bird Machine (Jeffree’s / Mad Decent, 2013)
Last year, Glasgow sound system, Mungo’s Hi Fi unleashed this dancefloor stomper at Adrian Sherwood’s Shanty Town, a subterranean cavern of a club space carved from the white cliffs of Ramsgate. The brash compression employed in the production and mastering of the track combined with the sheer scale of Sherwood’s sound system provided an unforgettable effect. On top of relentless bass pressure, the system’s tweeters were spitting birdsong samples around the cave like demented bees from a disturbed hive.