Saturday, April 18, 2009

Snob's Music

Snob's Music

Empire Of The Sun: "Walking On a Dream" album review

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 09:12 AM PDT

Cocktail Slippers: "In the City" MP3

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 07:14 AM PDT

Mike Farris & the Roseland Rhythm Revue: "Shout! Live" album review

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 05:13 AM PDT

Record Store Day: Toronto in-store listings

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 03:04 AM PDT

Whatever happened to: Tad?

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:57 PM PDT

"UNDERGROUND 2 MAINSTREAM" Your NEW Source For Hip Hop Entertainment!!!

"UNDERGROUND 2 MAINSTREAM" Your NEW Source For Hip Hop Entertainment!!!

Redman Freestyle On Shade 45 Radio

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 03:36 PM PDT

Redman Freestyle LIVE Today on Shade45 -crazy from Radio Planet on Vimeo.

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Snoop Dogg On ESPN Top 10 NBA Plays Of The Year

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 12:25 PM PDT

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Snoop Dogg To Be Immortalized In The Wax Museum

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:58 PM PDT

2009-04-17 - Snoop Dogg waxWorld famous wax museum Madame Tussauds announced this week that their latest celebrity wax figure will be of west coast rap legend Snoop Dogg.

The museum is set to unveil the rapper's wax sculpture at The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas on Monday (April 20), and Snoop is scheduled to be on hand for the ceremony, along with 50 members of his Pomona Steelers football team.

It is said to feature clothing Snoop Dogg himself donated, including a baseball jacket from his Rich & Infamous clothing line.

The life-size likeness of the rapper was handcrafted in Madame Tussauds' London studios at a cost of $300,000.

Snoop joins only two other rappers to be immortalized by the famous museum. The other two are the late Tupac Shakur, and the Notorious B.I.G.

In addition to their Vegas location, Madame Tussauds also has locations in Amsterdam, Berlin, New York City, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Washington, D.C.

L.A. Reid Interview On Charlie Rose

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:52 PM PDT

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

True Hip Hop Stories: Special Ed

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:40 PM PDT

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Soulja Boy Tell Em Ft Gucci Mane & Shawty Lo "Gucci Bandana" Video

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:34 PM PDT

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Step Ya Shoe Game Up! Nike Air Max 90 Cocodile Skin

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:30 PM PDT

The Niker Air Mac 90 is a classic, and one of Nike greatest running shoes. While you can expect plenty of colorways next year with the 20th anniversary approaching, look for some hot ones to release this year as well. Featured here is a special pair which is extremely limited, and was created for friends and family of Nike representatives. They feature a brown faux crocodile skin upper along with a classic white midsole, and red accents. They won't be releasing to the pblic, so just sit back and enjoy the pictures. via Osneaker.

Swizz Beats Ft Drag-On "School Of Hard Knocks" Video

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:02 PM PDT

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Jay-Z Brooklyn Go Hard Rocawear Commercial

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 10:06 PM PDT

This posting includes an audio/video/photo media file: Download Now

Q Tip Says Busta Rhymes Almost Joined A Tribe Called Quest

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 05:16 PM PDT

Step Ya House Game Up! $150 Million House. Bigger Than The White House!!!

Posted: 17 Apr 2009 05:11 PM PDT

Dont Hate On My Crib LOL!!!!

Cyclic Defrost Magazine

Cyclic Defrost Magazine

Link to Cyclic Defrost Magazine

Anonymeye interview by Marcus Whale

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 02:13 PM PDT

Brisbane laptop musician Andrew Tuttle records as Anonymeye. He’s known as something of an Australian equivalent to the much championed ‘laptop folk’ sub-section of experimental music. But where other mainly Western folk traditions have been appropriated or reconstructed into revisions of themselves, Tuttle, as Anonymeye, more often deconstructs, his steel-string acoustic guitar reduced to an often brutal digital decay. At other times, particularly in his beat-focused 2006 debut, Anonymeye Motel, Tuttle calls on his love of pop and the interesting end of ’90s electronic music to prescribe new contexts again for these folk ‘reconfigurations.’

With a second album to be released on Sound&Fury in April 2009, The Disambiguation of Anonymeye, Tuttle is converging and extending these influences, taking the guitar and its proponents in Anonymeye into a wider, darker catchment of manipulations.

Anonymeye’s evolutions, however, have been unified by a curious fascination with the very regular and ordinary existence of ‘middle’ Australia. When I first picked up Anonymeye Motel, I was struck by its commitment to this aesthetic, from the cover art's framed picture of a post-War Australian motel, to the tacky font, liner notes disguised as an instruction worksheet and the tracklisting transformed into a room service menu, with complete descriptions of their ingredients. The CD itself came pouched in its own piece of motel memorabilia: green pool table felt.

The packaging seemed oddly alien for something so distinctly Australian. So often, it seems that Australian musicians are attempting to escape their origins by engaging in an international sound aesthetic. Tuttle occupies a space that is both heavily contemporary and staunchly local – at one moment allowing country-esque open tuning improvisations, and in others ripping at the very fabric of the sound, coming across as a jilted take on the distortion-heavy processing of experimental luminaries Christian Fennesz and Greg Davis.

It is apt, then, that the beginning of the project, in a geographical sense, almost mirrors this duality. Tuttle explains, “I started working on Anonymeye in 2004 as a result of going on tour to Europe with some friends, Brisbane ex-pat noise duo Kunt, and wanting to have some of my own music so I wouldn’t have as many moments of downtime. I'd played in various bands, but never anything solo. It was a fairly spontaneous beginning, and one that I’d only really started to think about after about half a dozen shows.

“The earliest Anonymeye material was quite sample-based, kind of a country ‘glitch-hop’ constructed around copyright-free or at least not too obviously copyrighted sounds and grabs from op shop records and online databases. I had wanted to combine my interest in country music and eccentric Australiana with cut-up electronic beats and my own vocals. Over time, I gradually phased out sampling in favour of a more organic approach, preferring to use the acoustic guitar as the primary sound source, with live sampling and looping of these sounds.”

Certainly, this interest in “eccentric Australiana” is one that becomes probably the most distinctive extension of Andrew Tuttle’s character into the music itself. I’ve always pictured an adolescent Tuttle in the 1990s, taking in the East Coast on a family holiday, packaging these little memories, artifacts of times and places that are more often regarded with distaste – Australia's reputation for being culturally (and otherwise) barren.

“The distinctive natural beauty of Australia is hard to ignore, with the long open stretches of highway and its beach culture. As well as this natural beauty, I’m also inspired by the quirks of Australian culture, the humour, the spirit, and the faded glories of many of our coastal tourist strips.”

“I think there’s a lack of pretension and an endearing camaraderie through the Australian underground creative community, which is probably both positively and negatively influenced by our geographical isolation.

“While my interest in Australia and Australiana is probably less obvious in Anonymeye’s themes than it was around the time of Anonymeye Motel, I think it is hard for the location one lives and travels in not to inspire creatively.”

The material produced after Anonymeye Motel almost entirely eschewed beat-based arrangements, and with it, went some of the focus on a suburban or semi-rural Australian aesthetic. It would probably be unfair to label this as a conscious choice of Tuttle’s, as all three of his releases since the debut have been administered by external parties: Australian labels Sound&Fury, HellosQuare and Curt.

The packaging of the first of these, Phase Two, released on Sound&Fury, run by recently converted rural hermit Adam D. Mills, turned attention away from the human elements of the Australian landscape, taking on the kind of pastoral focus that is, by comparison, quite popular among Australia's experimental musicians. Encased in the regular wax-sealed, handmade envelope of the sound&fury CD-R series is a motion blurred photograph of a nondescript field, which, at a stretch, could be categorised as the movement from the ‘motel’ into the natural environment.

It is both opposite and parallel to the musical progression over the same time. Phase Two, and the split releases with ex-pat British electronic musician, Part Timer (HellosQuare) and Nottingham guitarist Cam Deas (Curt), saw more rhythmically piloted electronic processing give way to heavily eroded drones and free time, delay-based processing. This freedom was itself manifested by a shift in attitudes that Tuttle experienced.

“I have as much love for pop music and beat based music as I do for experimental and folk music, but since the release of Anonymeye Motel I’ve found myself not wanting to be boxed in by a defined, rigid structure when composing and performing. When I first started Anonymeye, sound sources aside, there was structurally very little different from other music I had made up to that point.”

“Since then, I’ve appreciated the difficulties and rewards of creating music, at least for Anonymeye, that has a slow but definite design.

“The tracks I recorded for the Sound&Fury, Curt and hellosQuare releases are three of my favourite longer form improvisations for acoustic guitar and signal processing, albeit edited down somewhat. These are similar to my live performances, in that the relationship between the guitar and the computer is total, with both elements equally important to the end sound.

“I’ve found that the Anonymeye studio albums have incorporated less of this one-take improvisatory relationship. Additionally, as I’ve performed and improvised more, I have felt much more comfortable with my processing abilities. It is a never ending journey full of change, comfort, inadequacy and inspiration, but it is proving worthwhile thus far.”

His interaction with the process of making music seems to have as much to do with informing how he makes music as the actual, musical result of those processes.

“The particular processes I utilise to create music, both technological and intellectual, definitely influence the end result. Of course, this isn’t entirely the case, and I wouldn't persist with these approaches if I wasn’t happy with the end result; or at least confident of future paths I could explore.”

One important aspect of this process is the primary instrument used for input, Tuttle’s hefty steel string acoustic, which he says helped his musical tours around Europe on a holiday visa appear more legal in the eyes of Dutch customs workers. It has also been as readily identified as anything else, over the past three years, as the primary tool of Anonymeye.

“Though it’s an instrument I still hold with some trepidation, mostly because of overly earnest semi-professional singer-songwriters, their busking counterparts, and MTV Unplugged style performances, the acoustic guitar has largely defined and influenced the music I have made as Anonymeye since around 2006.”

Tuttle offers this with lightness, almost suggesting that the decision to use the instrument was more natural than by any artificial choice. “I was performing with an electric guitar, however, it was used only sparingly in live performance and on recordings, almost as an afterthought. Since then, most of my live performances and recordings as Anonymeye have been heavily reliant on the sounds created from this instrument.

“I use the acoustic guitar in two ways, one as a solo instrument to create structured compositions, and secondly as a sound source to be looped and manipulated through digital processing. The guitar I own has a wonderful tone, which is magnified when using complementary open tuning patterns.”

It’s these open tunings that seem to give most Anonymeye recordings this sense of earthiness, which, in the past, has worked as a strong grounding for other elements.

A notable counterpoint to the acoustic guitar, and this “earthiness” in much of Tuttle’s music, particularly on the forthcoming album, The Disambiguation of Anonymeye is the use of square tones, saw tones and sine tones. The resolution of these two rather disparate elements is a fascinating process to watch unfold. The opening two pieces in the new album explore a more mechanical, confronting sound than has previously been seen from Anonymeye. Short, quickly decaying synth based pieces that immediately, shockingly give way to a third track, beginning with the measured, improvisatory guitar that has previously marked Anonymeye’s style. This piece, and indeed, the rest of the album, sees a remarkable tension between these forces, which had been built up over the releases that separate Anonymeye Hotel and The Disambiguation of Anonymeye.

"I'm not sure that I have been able to completely manage a middle point between the guitar and synthesiser and processor yet, but the surprises the constant challenge continually brings I find incredibly rewarding, albeit occasionally frustrating.”

“I have primarily used processed sounds and synthesised sounds as a bedding to the piece I’m working on, as these sounds provide a certain aural density that the acoustic guitar lacks. I’ve found though that I approach both sound sources in a fairly similar manner live, in that as a piece builds all the sounds contained continue to subtly influence each other, and as an extension my thoughts on where to progress from there.”

The Disambiguation of Anonymeye was produced in a number of locations, as per Tuttle’s tendency toward movement (having moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and back to Brisbane, as well as touring Europe twice in two years). One particularly notable home during this period of recording and editing was afforded by an invitation to record at the Centre for Electronic Music in Rotterdam for four days, sparking a number of joking comparisons to Rutger Zuydervelt, the enormously prolific sound designer behind Machinefabriek. While Tuttle did not end up releasing the full profits of this session as an album on its own, the contribution its facilities, housed within the WORM artist-run initiative, made to the shape of the album in its final form is undeniable.

“Before coming to WORM, I had endlessly internally debated how I would approach the session, but when I got there, I reasoned to myself that I would be able to find inspiration from what surrounded me. I had access to a mind boggling array of vintage modular and analogue synthesisers and other equipment. It had the potential to either fail or result in far too many hours of pointless jams, but I managed to recreate an approach of improvisation in a multi-track studio environment. I found myself tweaking with a synthesiser until I found a sound I liked, running to the other side of the room to tweak another synthesiser, run to my guitar, run back to another synthesiser, and so forth, all with the convenience of editing capabilities later on.”

I first caught Anonymeye live quite late in the piece, at the launch of the first Pow Wow release on Sydney label Feral Media, in 2006. At the time, Tuttle was assisted by Jon Tjhia on keys and Alex Nosek on guitar, the two members of Melbourne group ii. It was a curious context to first experience him in action, but ultimately set me on the path of finding the Anonymeye that has its roots in improvisation and in this case, collaboration.

“I enjoy performing live as I get to play in front of a mix of friends and strangers, enjoy other sights and sounds and occasionally travel. The combinations of brief sound checks, bad sound, free drinks and time pressures leave me more prone to error than I would be in the home studio,” he says, with welcome frankness.

“I work fairly similarly at home and playing live, it is just the output volume that ultimately differs.”

The live realm has always been a difficult place for experimental musicians, particularly in this era of offline processing and computer dependent forms of production. Each copes or adapts differently to this environment, and Tuttle’s own approach seems to follow, philosophically, the stylistic basis for the post-Anonymeye Hotel releases.

“Particularly when performing live, although it is wholly improvised, it does follow a kind of internal flowchart structure, in that I know I start at point A and finish within sight of point B, but everything else in between is not so easily defined.”

“Although I love the possibilities of the studio environment, I don’t particularly have the patience to complete flawless opuses and tweak every single sound for eternity.” It seems that this is where the music ultimately springs from, where the “process”, so to speak, finds its genesis. “For better or for worse, I think the risks of imperfection are outweighed by the inspiration I find from taking a risk.”

Anonymye’s The Disambiguation of Anonymeye is available from Sound&Fury.

Kintted Abyss interview by Eliza Sarlos

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 02:12 PM PDT

“I think when we first started we wanted to make some real over the top psychedelic guitar duo thing. That was the idea,” says Lucy Phelan – one half of Knitted Abyss.

“It’s changed so much because when we started out, it was a little bit kind of folkie as well, and we had some sort of songs, and we’ve just really switched between songs and jams. Songs. Jams. And now we’ve introduced a virtual drummer,” continues Anna John, the other half – introducing me to their drum machine, aka the honorary third member of Knitted Abyss.

Come this winter, it’ll have been two years since their first show together, at Akemi, in the Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney. In that time, they’ve released two tapes (one on Lucy’s label, Intense Nest, and then last year’s Winter Barn cassette on Shawn Reed's Night People label in the US), played a bunch of shows and steadily developed, through improvisation, a sound unique to their recordings – a sound that Reed describes as “a real hazy, foggy, nocturnal set of sounds for a new mutant world.” It’s a description not entirely aligned with what the two-piece started out with, but they’re happy to roll with it.

“Pretty much from the first jam, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, this is really awesome,’ and that it just worked. We talked about being a trippy guitar duo – we both just wanted to play guitar and have lots of pedals and stuff, and play around with them,” Lucy recalls. “And primarily we've kind of kept with that psychedelic, improvised vibe.”

Anna agrees: “That’s exactly what it was: trippy guitar duo. Trippy guitar.”

The past tense is apt. Their collective music making has found nuanced guitar sounds to develop, explore and expand within the boundaries dictated by two guitars, a tonne of pedals and the dynamic structure that a jam - intensely built - necessitates.

In terms of a creative genealogy, the two have a similar sonic path informing their styles. Both make music with other people (Lucy with experimental goth-pop duo Naked on the Vague, Anna with tropical/psych dance band Holy Balm). Each has a strong DIY aesthetic that flows through genre and form. They’re both active members of a burgeoning outsider musical community. Lucy was a pivotal member of the Chooch-a-Bahn collective and curated nights as Intense Nest, as well as hosting short-lived, long-loved radio show ‘Down the Drain’ on FBI Radio in Sydney. Anna currently hosts a weekly celebration of lo-fi underground with ‘The Modern Dance’ on 2SER FM, also in Sydney, and spent a lot of the last few years circulating experimental and independent records through her online store Cloth Ear Music. On paper, the two seem made for musical collaboration. The reality has pretty much followed suit.

As we’re talking, Anna remembers one show in particular, at Locksmith - a gallery space in the Sydney suburb of Redfern.

“When I looked up, we'd had this intense, heavy, and really quite spontaneous jam. We went on this complete tangent that we’d not really ever done before, and it was just perfect. And when we stopped we were both really really excited, because we, or I, hadn’t gotten over the hump where I could fully, freely improv and with that one we really let go and it was awesome. It was completely synched up.”

“That’s the amazing thing with Knitted Abyss – I feel like we really synch up. We work really well together – it’s just like cosmic alignment,” Lucy agrees. It’s hard to not smile at the perfect cheese and charm of the idea of a musical cosmic alignment.

“I think when we’re playing one of us might start playing something that hints of something that we both like, and then I will respond to that, or Anna will respond to that – ” Lucy starts.

In perfect cosmic alignment, Anna finishes Lucy’s spoken sentences with as much perfection as her musical ones: “And you just know. Because it’s from months, and nights out, or nights in, of just sitting around and listening to records. That all stocks up and I think maybe that's why we started a trippy guitar duo. Because we were listening to so many trippy guitar bands.”

More pronounced than with most other bands, the way that Knitted Abyss’s sound evolved has been an intriguing and involved sonic development. With both of them having other bands, this initially started as an addendum, and for that reason there's been an overriding reluctance to prescribe a sound or a style to what they do. Instead, the two have spent months jamming, and recording each jam. This process has resulted in countless tapes – two of which are now the aforementioned releases, one being slated for future release with revered UK cassette label Bum Tapes – and a review process that builds up a collective creative memory; or, in other words, a cosmic alignment that capitalises on like minds and like record collections. This, of course, has a flow on effect to their other projects.

“With Naked on the Vague, I constantly think I’ve got to keep them different. Last time we played, I brought along my guitar. When we had practice in the afternoon, I was playing my guitar and was thinking, ‘Oh, this is sounding very Knitted Abyss now,’ so I was kind of like – I don’t know if you can box things off like that. I think that – also how I sing as well – I want to make it different. And it is very different,” Lucy says.

“I experience that too with Holy Balm, with the way I play with my keyboard or whatever. But then you sort of think maybe this isn’t me bringing Knitted Abyss, or Holy Balm to Knitted Abyss. Maybe this is actually just the way that I play, so I’ve developed a style. And that’s a feat, right?” The self-awareness Anna suggests is impressive.

“Personally, I think Knitted Abyss has been an amazing musical platform, and – ” Anna says, pausing, ” - Experience. Journey. And like friendship for me, with Lucy, because for most of last year it was the only real band that I was working on and I feel I’ve learnt a lot about playing music and stuff. I don’t know if Lucy feels the same way – but it’s been a really fruitful learning experience. And that might explain, or something, not that it needs to be explained, but that’s why our sound has developed heaps because it’s always being reinvigorated.”

The process of improvisation that so entirely defines the musical interaction these two craft has been core to their sound. It’s this process that enables the Knitted Abyss level of experience for both punter and performer to be a great deal more appealing than any other self-defined “trippy guitar duo” with a modus operandi that could quickly develop into a poor pastiche of outdated psych-culture.

Anna says it’s that lack of structure that creates an intimacy in communication. “You bring to a crowd something that you’ve been working on intimately, but I suppose – and maybe that’s like with any improv-y bands – it’s a lot more personal than a song that's been written and set. And even if you’re working on that in an intimate setting in your home it’s all kind of mapped out and planned out, and it’s to communicate directly with people. Because it’s like lyrics, and things. Whereas [with] a jam it’s more sort of this thing that we’re all going to go on together. So I guess it's still communicating that, or involving people into something you'd usually just do.”

Lucy agrees: “It’s almost a more intimate form of communication when you’re not bound by the structure of the songs because then you’re really feeling vibes. I always pick up on the vibes of the room – both Naked on the Vague and Knitted Abyss – the vibes of the room affect us so much. Sometimes there's just a feeling, where you can feel what people are thinking.”

Anna returns to that show at Locksmith gallery, the one where their improvisations became a full and free communication between the two. Contradicting the affectation Lucy draws from the vibes in a room, Anna brings it back to the conversation between just the two of them.

“I remember looking up halfway through and seeing that there were pretty much just our friends sitting on the window sill and one or two people just standing there. And you could see through the window out to the street front, and I could see people I knew sitting on the bench talking, but that didn’t upset the vibe for me at that point – I was just like, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ And then got back into it.”

The ‘What the fuck’ isn’t built on malice – far from it. Ultimately the process of jam-record-review, jam-record-review has built up a confidence in the way Lucy and Anna make music together. That shared experience translates into the confidence that their music had and continues to have; well worth the stage it’s given. You’d be foolish to ignore it.

“You can only gauge your own success,” Anna says. “If we’re happy with jam XYZ and we're happy enough to put it out – that's got to do it.”

Winter Barn is released through Night People.

Belbury Poly interview by Emmy Hennings

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 02:12 PM PDT

‘The Hidden Door,’ an early track on the new Belbury Poly album, From An Ancient Star, sounds like the opening credits to a long-lost television show from the 1970s: one that promised answers to the cosmic mysteries of UFOs and distant, inhabited galaxies. A queasy melody leads us out into the unexplored blackness of outer space. Arpeggio synthesisers suggest a phalanx of stars streaming past on either side, like a point-of-view shot constructed to make the viewer feel as if they are plunging headlong through the television screen into another universe.

Television itself can be the hidden door into other worlds: this premise lies at the centre of British musician Jim Jupp’s work, and of Ghost Box, the record label he co-founded in 2004. Each artist on Ghost Box – two of them, Belbury Poly and Eric Zann, are Jupp’s pseudonyms – creates music that more or less explicitly derives its sounds from a lost world of 1960s and ’70s British television: sci-fi and pulp horror serials; well-meant yet nevertheless threatening public information programs.

“Part of a theme that's ongoing in all the Belbury Poly records, and I think all of the Ghost Box records,” explains Jupp, “is a tradition of British science fiction, where you've got on the one hand the setting of a very traditional background, with very ancient things, but you've got this weird, cosmic stuff happening [at the same time]. A lot of old British sci-fi books –

John Wyndham, for instance – have these really mundane, quaint little village settings, but all of a sudden something really freaky and cosmic appears in the middle of it.”

What is freakish is not necessarily overt – a nuclear war, or a sudden landing of carnivorous aliens – but a more subtle, unsettling sensation that the ordinary world is lying side-by-side with any number of other, stranger ones. It might only take turning a street corner at the right (or wrong) moment; opening a door that you’d never noticed before; switching on the television in time to catch a sinister glitch in the broadcast: any momentary gap in the border between here and elsewhere might thrust you into a new – or an old – reality. From An Ancient Star explores this very British pop-cultural collision between the modern and the folkloric, with reference to the 1970s: “ancient astronauts and Chariot of the Gods stuff, and programs on telly about UFOs, with Leonard Nimoy doing the voiceover,” as Jupp remembers it.

These programs “seemed to dovetail with the sci-fi disco that was going on in clubs at the time,” he continues. Sci-fi disco is an accurate description of a Belbury Poly track such as ‘The All At Once Club’, where bubbling, rocket ship FX noises and a thin metallic beat meet a jaunty synthesiser tune. It sounds like the kind of music that young groovers living in a Brutalist apartment tower might have swung their hips to circa 1978.

“Two composers who were around at that time in Britain and doing a lot of TV work were a couple of fellas called Denton and Cooke,” says Jupp, “and they did theme tunes for a couple of British TV programs. There was a disco style to them, but it was a clunky, British, not very funky disco, and I was trying to tap into that. A slightly quirky, slightly wrong Britishness, even though there's clearly a disco sound.”

Along with disco, there is a hint of glam to the album, a faint trace of Roxy Music’s strange glitter. Previous Belbury Poly records have focused less on song structures than on creating genteel but eerie musical interludes. More than any other Ghost Box release so far, From An Ancient Star sounds like it could be a pop album.

“It’s partly accident, but I think it’s probably one of the more accessible Ghost Box records,” Jupp agrees. “I didn’t set out to do that and it doesn’t mean it’s a new direction for Belbury Poly or the other Ghost Box artists. It was more of a focused sound for the whole album, and a focused set of references. I'm really happy with the way it came out because it's more coherent for me than the other albums, they kind of jump around a bit… [But] it’s not supposed to be from any particular point in time,” he emphasises. “Like all the Ghost Box stuff, it’s an imaginary past. But given that, it’s from the late-70s of this imaginary past, if that makes sense?”

Unlike the slavish retro-worship and tiresome recycling that characterises so many contemporary musical artists – stuck in a past they can't get out of – the artists on Ghost Box hold firmly to the notion that the past is irrecoverable and, for that reason, all the more interesting. It must be re-imagined, rather than copied. This impulse is, as Jupp describes it, “a nostalgia for nostalgia”". The ghosts that haunt this music are not bed-sheet spooks but the trace, folded into a past that never quite was, of a common future that never came to be. The matrix of Ghost Box influences – television soundtracks and library records, science fiction, British folklore, Penguin Books and public service announcements on the BBC – all share a certain utopian impulse, whether that lies in the belief that “all the ancient places in Britain, like Stonehenge” might be capable of transporting you to another world, or in the civilising, modernist influence of “these very worthy organisations and public bodies that were set up in the post-World War II period to educate people.” That utopias fail is part of what drives people to re-imagine them, even as that effort might be – perhaps inevitably – headed for its own failure. After all, a utopia ultimately exists nowhere.

The freedom to create a new world – Jupp also works as an architect, perhaps not entirely coincidentally – has lead in turn to the other long-running Ghost Box conceit: the imaginary town. Belbury is this town. “Hidden away in border country, the ancient market town of Belbury has much to recommend it,” states Field Guides to British Towns and Villages: Volume 7, a concocted tourist pamphlet reproduced on the Ghost Box website. Although “badly damaged by an opportune air raid” in 1940, Belbury still boasts “a Neolithic stone circle”, “a picturesque 11th century church”, and “some notable modernist architecture, including the Polytechnic College.”

“It’s a setting for a lot that happens in the Ghost Box world - I talk about it with the other artists,” Jupp elaborates. Each Ghost Box release adds a few more details to Belbury’s existence, without ever quite revealing its entirety. “Little films, bits of copy that we write for the records, and even titles: they all spin off these conversations about where Belbury is,” he continues, “and what it is. I like the idea of little models that might map out this territory. It’s not like it’s The Lord Of The Rings, and we’re going to give you a map and a big book. But as we talk about it more, it makes more sense and we can drop more hints. It’s slowly developing into a fleshed-out world. For us at least,” he laughs.

From An Ancient Star evokes spaces that are simultaneously larger and smaller in scope than Belbury itself: a title like ‘Clockwork Horoscope’ perfectly captures the enjambment of miniature and galactic scales on the album. The preceding Belbury Poly records The Willows (2004) and The Owl’s Map (2006) functioned more explicitly as guides to the town, with the design work of Julian House, who records as The Focus Group and is co-founder of the Ghost Box label, playing a crucial role. “You think, ‘There’s more to this than just a weird collage’,” says Jupp of House's designs. “Maybe there are references to something that was on another record. There are a lot of cross-references and that's how we like to develop this world, with little hints and tiny bits of imagery.”

House – who has also designed notable sleeves for Broadcast and Stereolab – uses the austere template of early Penguin paperbacks as his model for each Ghost Box release, though some, including From An Ancient Star, are allowed to go more ‘off the grid’ than others. With its stone circle and purple sky, the sleeve of From An Ancient Star is deliberately lurid, like the cover of a dog-eared and long out-of-print sci-fi novel tucked away on an overlooked shelf at the local Salvation Army store. The redundancy a pop cultural artefact still faintly transmitting ideas from a dead era is part of its curious appeal. The “little hints” that make up a Ghost Box sleeve are akin, in Jupp’s description, “to the kind of thing you might find in a charity shop or a second-hand record shop: you’ve got this weird old record, and it might not have any photos of the artist on the cover, but there are weird bits of writing and maybe a weird image on the cover, and you think ‘What the hell is this? I want to know more about it.’ But all you’ve got to go on is little clues and little bits of copy on the back.”

For Jupp, an avid collector of both outré vinyl records and vintage electronic instruments, the most interesting charity-shop finds were always “library records, certainly, because they were so damn peculiar. Especially in that era just before people started to realise that there was interesting stuff there, and they became incredibly valuable and hard to get hold of. There was something very, very mysterious about them. A lot of old jazz records had very abstract artwork, no pictures of the artists, and some intriguing sleeve notes that might be quite arch about a performance that some guy had once seen… A lot of ’80s stuff, like Factory Records – I think Julian would certainly say that kind of austerity is part of the design.”

Library records, wildly obscure private press jazz, and post-punk albums are all eminently collectable today, as indeed are the Ghost Box releases themselves, with their deliberate appeal to exactly the sort of person who might enjoy trawling sleeve notes or sci-fi serials for a trail of clues that leads to a hidden door. To cultivate such a coterie obsession is also to be convinced, on some level, that if you gather enough evidence together then this world will either reassemble itself, or let you through to another, much more interesting one. In the digital era, however, the clues are becoming easier to put together. The undeniably romantic notion of tunnelling through to another universe via the dusty artefacts of the second-hand shop is vanishing: a musical mystery can be solved with a quick Google search; half-remembered television footage can be viewed again, and almost inevitably disappoints. What does Jupp make of the internet’s ever-expanding archive, given that a complete verisimilitude between memory and document runs entirely counter to the Ghost Box aesthetic?

“It’s necessary and it’s great, but it’s also a bit sad,” he answers, “… because once all that stuff is uploaded, then that’s it, really, there’ll be nothing left to find or cross-reference. There’ll be no more mystery. That’s the ultimate, bleak, sci-fi outcome of it all.”

But he’s also excited by the amount of interesting material that is being put back into circulation. “There are some great reissue labels,” he says enthusiastically. “Every week you can hear old psychedelic bands from the ’60s that never had a career, records that nobody’s ever heard, old library records. There’s loads of great stuff out there being rediscovered.”

A wealth of material to draw upon means that small but interesting shifts are taking place in in Jupp’s musical approach. From An Ancient Star is notable for its bizarre vocal samples, not an element that has intruded far into the Belbury Poly universe before now. 'Timescale' interlaces a calm female voice instructing us to “Feel time. Feel it now. Burst the seconds between your fingers” with a plummy, professorial man lamenting "Time, cruel time". Tabla-like rhythms and synthesised, Oriental flute noises float in the background. The effect is akin to splicing together a metaphysical fitness lesson with an opiated parlour conversation circa 1897. It’s callisthenics meets H.G. Wells.

The instructional tone – though the instructions might be preposterous – inevitably brings to mind the sort of health and safety announcements that many of us absorbed as children, snuck in as they were between cartoons, or sometimes – more sneakily – disguised as cartoons. Stranger Danger. Fit For Life. Get Down Low and Go, Go, Go. “With hindsight we all look back on those fondly,” remarks Jupp, “but there’s also something slightly sinister about them, and I think these days we would resent public education films telling us how to drive and what to eat. Do you know what I mean? There's something a bit sinister and controlling about them.”

It is easy, in this markedly more commercial era, to become nostalgic about these little films, a product of post-WWII democracies that invested equally in social welfare and public television broadcasting. Australian broadcasting might never have reached the Cold War paranoia of Protect And Survive: British Nuclear War Civil Defense, but as any Australian who was spooked as child by the infamous Grim Reaper ads – a response to the AIDS crisis – into genuinely fearing for their life might reflect, it is still passing strange to have the government list for you all the nasty ways in which you might die. The threatening television is “a particular strain of the Ghost Box stuff that Julian is particularly interested in,” Jupp says. “The Focus Group record We Are All Pan's People – I don’t think that anybody's ever really pieced it together, but that’s what's going on there: it’s a popular cultural event that's being broadcast, but something has gone horribly wrong with it, and it's having weird results.”

The question remains, however, just how far these references can travel outside of Britain – or outside of the Anglosphere, more accurately: those countries where a significant measure of British cultural influence has been absorbed. “I wonder about it myself,” says Jupp, “why our music would even make sense to American audiences. I think we’ve sold fairly well over there: people have heard of us and a couple of stores carry our records. So we’ve got an American audience and that’s great, and hopefully it means that we’re more than just a very parochial set of British influences. Maybe there’s something more archetypal that people recognise,” he ponders, “or a stereotype: the British boffin working away at something in the garden shed.”

Right now, Jupp and House are working away together on a new collaborative project, along with John Brooks of The Advisory Circle, whose 2008 album Other Channels has been the most explicit attempt on Ghost Box so far to create a wholly plausible, yet horrible, television broadcast. Their new alias is The Elsewhere Quartet. As Jupp explains, it will be “slightly new territory for Ghost Box but we think it will also really fit in… It’s got a lot of early ’60s electronic sounds and jazz elements, so it will be a bit like Joe Meek, and John Baker’s stuff for the BBC, electronic jazz. A sound palette from a world that could be about 1962.” Don’t expect them to be cracking out the tenor saxophones any time soon, though. “None of us are jazz musicians, so we won’t get in over our depths with that,” Jupp advises. “We’ll put a toe in the waters. But it’s electronic music and we're not pretending it’s anything else.”

2009 will be busy year for Ghost Box, with an album release by either The Elsewhere Quartet or The Advisory Circle, “whichever is finished first.” There's also a forthcoming album by Roj, aka Richard Stevens, a former member of Broadcast, furthering the tangled connections between Ghost Box and the Birmingham outfit that go back to Jim and Julian’s days together at school. Add to this the recent label sampler Ritual and Education, and the ambitious Belbury Youth Club Night, featuring DJ sets by Jupp, House, Jonny Trunk of the estimable reissue label Trunk Records, and prominent blogger/record collector/musician Woebot; screenings of “rare, unsettling and forgotten TV drama and public information”, plus live and improvised electronics courtesy of Broadcast’s Trish Keenan and James Cargill. It’s exactly this kind of total, public event that makes sense for a label engaged in building its own imaginary – yet weirdly familiar – universe.

Having steadily grown in prominence over the past five years thanks to the word-of-mouth recommendations of music bloggers – evidence of the positive role that the internet does play in piecing together clues, and connecting otherwise lone aficionados – Ghost Box has begun to gain attention, even from The Sunday Times. The more Jupp and his cohorts drop hints to strange artefacts of the past, the more the label's fans scramble to uncover them, in a sort of archival arms race. Can Jupp see a time when the Ghost Box and Belbury Poly projects will exhaust their purpose?

“No,” he answers. “At the moment it’s open-ended. There’s a lot of stuff that we haven’t mined yet, that I think we can: other types of music and other time frames.” He remains “pleased and surprised” by the growing audience. One could envisage Jupp as programming director of a slightly paternalistic public access television station, one with good pedagogical intentions but bent on oddities: a kind of Open University for those “ancient astronauts” that roamed across bygone screens. “I guess that we could be accused us of foisting this stuff onto people and saying ‘Aren’t we clever?’” he muses. “But that’s not really what why we're doing it.” Philosophic intentions and fictional town planning aside, the beautifully crafted musical miniatures of From An Ancient Star have a charm that is difficult to resist. But wait. Could this charm be a front for a sinister mind-control plot? Stay tuned…

Belbury Poly’s From An Ancient Star is available from Ghost Box.

V/VM | The Caretaker interview by Shaun Prescott

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 02:13 PM PDT

Despite a baffling work rate which has seen V/VM release more material over twelve years than any listener could reasonably be expected to digest in a lifetime, James Kirby is surprised and faintly miffed by the resurgent interest in his output thanks to The Caretaker. Ironically, it was the release of The Caretaker’s 2008 album Persistent Repetition of Phrases which attracted the most acclaim Kirby has experienced for years, yet it was also one of the few works he has created that was outsourced to a label other than the one he helms himself, V/VM Test.

“The label (US based label Installsound) only pressed 500 and we didn't do any promo whatsoever, so I have no idea why so many people enjoyed that.” Kirby is speaking from his home in Berlin, where he moved to from Stockport – near Manchester – two and a half years ago. “The album was getting in all these lists at the end of the year like Wire magazine. It’s very strange, because Wire hasn't reviewed V/VM in a long time.”

V/VM Test has hosted a vast palette of musical styles, ranging from Belgian New Beat tributes to skewed appropriations of MOR rock (miraculously only once resulting in legal action), but Kirby’s music has always been overshadowed by his notoriety. In a climate where sage intellectualism dominates most experimental electronic music, Kirby is perhaps just too weird. Artistically speaking, Kirby is fearless, often to the detriment of his work being taken seriously. The music can be horribly technicoloured and garish as on V/VM’s 2000 album Sick Love – which siphoned any feeling of ‘love’ from popular love songs - or minimal, multi-faceted and melancholic, as with his The Caretaker and The Stranger projects. To detail every crest and trough of Kirby’s output here would be impossible. But so prolific is he that for listeners and critics who dip their toes into a particularly arcane spot in his oeuvre, they'll often be scared away from another project that might be more palatable to their tastes.

One of Kirby’s most ambitious projects was the V/VM 365 project, which saw him release one track for each day of 2006, released daily as a free download on the V/VM website and accompanied by a short description of his day, often resulting in some hilariously candid tales of touring, recording and excessive drinking. Kirby ended up recording 602 tracks over that period despite a year-long flu, a move from England to Berlin, a world tour and a dislocated knee thanks to one of his famously demented V/VM live shows. “I was rolling around this venue and ended up rolling down a flight of stairs and dislocating my knee, which was quite painful,” Kirby recalls. “I had to bang the knee back into place and carry on with the show. I had a friend playing with me and he sliced his hand open at the same show. It was a real mess. A great, great show.”

“The shows were anti ‘we’re-gonna-stand-behind-this-laptop-and-be-really-intricate,’” he says of the V/VM live shows. “It gets so boring. I remember being at the Sonar festival in Barcelona and that year [1999] was when playing a laptop was really going off. But the V/VM show involved miming songs and jumping around, and it made an impact. Up to that point it was just guys in front of laptops staring at the screen.”

Sifting through various free downloads and physical V/VM releases, it’s understandable why Kirby has always been on the periphery of critical acceptance. There’s a belligerence towards expectations, a defiance of how ‘real’ music should be packaged and consumed, and again, an inscrutable freakishness that is difficult to critically navigate. Kirby has always worked in earnest, producing works at such a rate that an observer barely has a chance to deconstruct one and discover its real purpose before another release arrives to contradict it.

But since January this year, V/VM Test is over. Much of its output will stay available on the internet, where it has been amassing over the course of a decade. “I don’t think there’s much need for record labels these days,” Kirby says of the closure. “They’ve served their purpose. We're in a different time now, you can create things without it being labelled. As a vehicle it reached its end destination and it's time to try something else.” Kirby will continue to release material independently, though the success of last year’s Caretaker album Persistent Repetition of Phrases was more successful, he believes, because it wasn’t released on V/VM Test. “I think people just misunderstood a lot of things [related to V/VM Test]. They get a general idea from one thing that’s done. A lot of the stuff that I released just disappeared, it just got missed. Whereas other things got a lot of attention and some things got heaps.”

“It’s huge. Even for me it's crazy. I was looking at [the V/VM output] the other day and I thought ‘what can I do with this’. It’s too big. It’'s gotten really confusing for people. To re-focus people on some new things it's necessary to put that whole thing in the background as some kind of archive. And just work on some new things and see what happens from there.”

The Caretaker is currently Kirby’s most popular project, partially thanks to recent discourse triggered by critics Mark Fisher (aka K-Punk) and Simon Reynolds, who count The Caretaker among a handful of key artists and labels who fit into the concept of Hauntology as it relates to music. The word, originally coined by Jacques Derrida to describe the spectral persistence of revolutionary ideals in the wake of the ‘end of history’ (post 1989, post Cold War), applies to music that borrows from the past; styles that - like The Caretaker's comatose and reverb-drenched ballroom appropriations - project a sense of being haunted by past ideals. In a musical climate where real revolutions in style and performance seem impossible, the concept follows that artists of The Caretaker's ilk align themselves aesthetically with sonic worlds long considered past their used by date, styles that embody a particular era and were quickly usurped or forgotten. There’s also a sense of unfinished business: of finding the real potential in these largely forgotten ideas and breathing new life into them.

The Caretaker was birthed by Kirby's fascination with the ballroom scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. During the scene, Jack Nicholson’s character – in an anger-fuelled malaise - enters an empty ballroom which suddenly becomes populated by ghostly dancers revelling to the sound of 1920s-1930s ballroom music. While Kirby traces his fascination with the style further back than his first experience with The Shining, that scene was integral to The Caretaker mode of operation, which sees him plundering old ballroom 78s, drenching them in reverb, slowing them down, looping vital melodic motifs and bringing the crackle and decay of the vinyl to the forefront of the mix.

“If you listen to the source material without it being affected it has these really strange moods.” Kirby says. “[This music] was popular between the two world wars, and there’s a lot of loss in these songs. A lot of people went to war and never came back and so a lot of the songs and lyrics are very dark from this time, and it comes through in the music. As soon as you start messing around with it you get these feelings just from the tracks themselves [before manipulation].”

“It was a strange time in Europe back then, so a lot of the music I’ve used is European. Of course there’s a lot of American stuff from the same time but it doesn’t seem to have this ghostly theme. If you listen to a lot of the lyrics there’s a lot about ghosts - they talk a lot about loss and ghosts, it’s a constant theme in this music.”

Kirby cites Albert Allick Bowlly, a South African born British jazz singer of the era as one of his favourite artists in the canon. Al Bowlly sang the song ‘Midnight The Stars In You’, which scored the final scene in The Shining. “He’s great,” Kirby enthuses, “[His stuff is] easy to find and cheap. He was the best singer of that whole era but he died in the Blitz in London, a bomb landed on his doorstep. They reckon he would have been bigger than Bing Crosby because he had the best voice.”

“He had a very haunting voice.” He continues. “He’s the guy that sang in the last scene in The Shining, the one that finishes the film. That was a very difficult record to find for a long time because Kubrick bought the rights to that song and it disappeared. I managed to find it on a 78 and I was very lucky. It was very cheap too, a two pounds purchase in mint condition.”

Kirby released three albums of disorientating, melancholic ballroom mutations concerned with memory before changing tact with 2006’s Theoretically Pure Anterograde Amnesia. This 6CD set - still available for free download but also packaged in a limited boxset - uses the mental illness of Anterograde Amnesia as its theme: a form of amnesia where the sufferer retains all memories previous to procuring the ailment, but nothing thereafter.

Sonically, …Anterograde Amnesia consists of hardly audible, oblique smudges of sound and ambience, infrequently blossoming into discernible melody. The purpose of the album is to emulate the disorientation of memory loss. Describing the mechanics of the project, Kirby says the release is “confusing because the tracks aren’t numbered, but are all of a similar [short] length.” Due to the length and rarity of sonic ‘events’, the listener is unable to make sense of the ebb and flow of sound; repeated listens will not offer coherence. Instead, the album is a gigantic swath of nigh silent darkness punctured by irregular ‘events’, moments - or memories - floating in an otherwise murky and disconnected fug of barely present consciousness.

This release – according to Kirby – was a highlight in The Caretaker’s output, a work that rung up 50,000 (free) downloads and put V/VM back on the critical radar. Since then he’s released outtakes from that project and a vinyl release entitled Deleted Scenes / Forgotten Dreams. But it was his 2008 release Persistent Repetition of Phrases that has attracted the most interest. As much as a Caretaker release can be regarded as ‘accessible’, this latest release would be it. Opening with the bruised and shrouded strains of ‘Lacunar Amnesia’, the album keeps Kirby’s source material just within audible reach so that the mournful, looped melodic refrains lodge themselves in the listener's consciousness. Like …Anterograde Amnesia, this latest album is conceptually cemented in mental illness. ‘Lacunar Amnesia’ references the complete loss of recollection of one particular moment – or scene – in one’s life, while the track title ‘Past Life Regression’ describes a technique used by hypnotists to conjure in their subjects memories of a past life.

Rather than take a complete track and manipulate it in real time, Kirby says Persistent Repetition of Phrases is built around small melodic moments taken from complete ballroom compositions. “On the last album there’s lots of really short samples [that run for] five or six seconds. Then I take it somewhere else, completely slow it down or make it a lot longer.” Kirby took a similar tact with his ‘Death of Rave’ project. Made available for free through the V/VM Test microsite Vukzid, Kirby manipulated old rave tracks until they resembled a distant emanation from some warehouse many highways and overpasses away, referencing the golden age of UK rave culture that still resonates globally but is buried inaccessible in the past.

While Persistent Repetition of Phrases is Kirby’s most famous work of 2008, he also released an album under the name The Stranger, a monochrome-hued exploration of drowsy electronic textures and stilted, militant beats unyielding to movement or grace. Entitled Bleaklow, and released on V/VM, it’s inspired by an area near his native Stockport. “It’s [based on] these dark hills that surround Manchester.” He says of the location, “I just tried to capture that atmosphere somehow, that damp drizzle. It always rains there, even on sunny days its grey.”

“The name itself [Bleaklow], I don't know where it comes from, but it’s very bleak up there. The peak district outside of Manchester is about a 30 minute drive out of town. It’s one of the only areas I miss being over here in Berlin, because I don't miss much about being in England. That area is really nice, it's quite inspiring.

“For me Bleaklow is a lot stronger than The Caretaker one. It suffers from being on V/VM rather than another label. If it was another label maybe they'd be more reviews. It’s very similar to Caretaker in places but just a little darker.”

It is darker. Unlike The Caretaker, which bears an inherent lightness of touch thanks to the warm, welcoming glow of melancholy - of misplaced nostalgia with no plausible reference point - Bleaklow is unrepentantly captivating; furtive and enervating. This music demands everything of your senses and staunchly refuses to be disposed of into the periphery. ‘Something To Do With Death’ starts the album with an apparitional drone that quickly morphs into a burrowing, cyclical melody, before harsh static and noise presses against the speaker, rising to a monolithic peak. Inside this morass you could identify any number of probably-not-there-sounds. It’s like navigating a dark hall of cobwebs, or trying to find steady ground in darkness thickened with fog.

Fittingly, Bleaklow is essentially the last release for V/VM Test, which shut up shop on the 31st of December, 2008. Forthcoming is a massive 7CD retrospective of the label, which is still in the planning stages. The closure isn't a death knell for any of Kirby's current projects however, which will continue being released through other avenues, both independently and through other labels. A new Caretaker album is slated for late 2009/early 2010, but his current project – which will be released under the name Leyland James Kirby, will see the light of day in 2009.

“It's about life, that track,” Kirby says of the first work to be released under the name, which isn't publicly available yet but can be found online under the name 'When We Parted My Heart Wanted To Die'. Like selections from Bleaklow, the track is accompanied by obscured video footage in its online incarnation, and the project is more introspective than most detractors would believe is possible of Kirby. “It’s personal. Sometimes it's good to get personal, get some more feeling into things." He says in an offhand fashion. “The people who have seen it had an emotional response to it. The video is an endless walk through Berlin streets, and [the viewer] sees these ghost like figures sometimes that appear and disappear out of view.”

While it’s the end of an era for Kirby, he appears well equipped with ideas to usher in a new one. V/VM Test, afterall, seems to have achieved its purpose. The method of appropriation that V/VM has always ideologically rooted for, the manipulation of existing cultural texts in order to rebirth them in a different light, is not only artistically acceptable now but immensely popular for a new generation native to post-modernist sample wrangling and accessible (and cheap) tools to do so. Even the act of giving music away seems fairly commonplace nowadays.

Kirby is treading a different philosophical path now, and while stylistically it may veer through key elements of popular V/VM tropes, even forthcoming works – not yet put to tape – focus on the loss of an optimistic future, the loss of a time when speculating over the future offered any semblance of excitement or hope.

“I’ve actually been working on an EP,” Kirby says in closing. “You’re going to love the title.” He ruffles briefly through a notebook on the other end of the line before announcing: “Sadly the future is no longer what it was.”

The Stranger’s Bleaklow, as well as the V/VM archives, can be found at

Cassettes feature by Richard MacFarlane

Posted: 18 Apr 2009 02:12 PM PDT

Even if I did grow up around tapes and LPs, I only made it to about 11-years-old before CDs took over completely. Those first tapes that I had at that tender age - I’m not afraid to admit - were mostly Queen and The Beatles. So rather than tripping down some mis-exploration of cassette history, it makes more sense to explore here a few uses of cassettes as a medium today. It’s not, of course, just needless revivalism that makes tapes relevant in the blog age: many musicians are exploring these fuzzy plastic artifacts in new and wide-eyed ways. It feels particularly relevant to me, having missed the time when a Talking Heads tape might circulate the whole block before making its way out of your boom box speakers.

There are many new cassettes by DIY artists who work to re-imagine this sort of missed memory. New Jersey’s Matthew Mondanile plays as Ducktails, a pop project which is mostly all cassette-released and drenched in a warm, analogue drone. There is an amazingly realized aesthetic running through this stuff with all its plastic nostalgia reminiscent of Ninja Turtles pizza, fake palm trees and sugary cereal. There's a lo-fi tape fuzz and reassuring quality here that also permeates his other projects, Predator Vision, Real Estate and Dreams In Vision Field.

These home recordings have some of the comfiest feelings you’ll find, reminiscent of Ariel Pink but with an explorative nudge that is hard to pin down. That odd and slightly skewed element of the homely is something that interests Matthew, describing his own music in an interview as having a “real fake sort of nostalgia”. His songs have a weird plasticy sort of nostalgia, like something you’d get from watching The Wonder Years; half-real memories creeping through.

“It’s like trying to imagine that [past] through the music, but not actually being there, so it’s like making an imaginary place.” Mondanile says, “That’s kind of what I’m trying to do because I really like the idea of feel good music. But at the same time it’s not really real - it’s synthetic or fake - a fake recreation of something. That’s kind of convoluted but I’m glad that you understand [about the] fake nostalgia, because that’s exactly where I’m coming from. And I don’t try to do that so consciously, I try to have a more unconscious action to what I’m doing, like not really focusing on it that much, a pretty easy going kind of thing.”

The innocent melodies and sense of comfort that comes through Ducktails’ tunes is certainly amplified by the medium of cassette. He’s released plenty of them now, all of which are available through his own label Future Sound which has a visual aesthetic that crosses over with his music, filled as it is with Echo The Dolphin aquas, blues and washy imagery. Buried between tape fuzz, creaks of his parent’s basement and outdoor sounds (he records outside sometimes too), are pop songs unfolding from drone pieces, the latter of which is very much his background.

“I only record on cassette. Ducktails started with a cassette because I was listening to a lot of music on cassette. I was living in Berlin and I became friends with James Ferraro from Skaters. I would hang out with them and they were constantly working on cassettes and putting them out almost daily. It seemed like they were doing it so fast. I was really into the production aspect of it, and they were telling me not to wait for anyone else to put out your music, and that it’s better just to do it yourself. So as soon as I got back to America I literally just recorded all this stuff in a day and that’s how the first Ducktails release came about. I put it out the next day after dubbing it to some cassettes.

“It was so simple because I didn’t have to deal with a computer or anything,”" He continues, “All I had to do was use cassette dubbers. It was a real awakening for me because I like the idea of everything being as raw sounding as possible with nothing covering up the sound. The only thing covering [the sound] might be the quality of the recording. The cassette is a really easy way to help me get my music out there and it’s also more of an object than a CD - I don’t think people necessarily always listen to cassettes but I do think that people will always want them.”

Tapes are infinitely richer objects of cultural capital nowadays but it’s pretty perverse to see a Wavves tape going for $77USD (and rising!) on eBay, or any obscure noise cassette featuring Thurston Moore or Kevin Shields going for a huge amount. It’s certainly not just the music that those bidders will be in pursuit of (though that fifteen minutes of trebly free-noise courtesy of Shields may be worth checking out) it’s more the combined rarity, obscurity and general awesomeness of their physicality. It’s a media that suits the margins of musical culture with its anti-industry baggage and guerilla ways of distributing culture, though it's also at odds with that sort of crazed eBay completism, which seems to displace the original – and more important – goal of sustaining oblique and alternative ideas.

This mystique can increase the general appeal of sounds, especially those found in the usually fifteen-minute improv efforts of many musicians. Cleveland three-piece Emeralds, one of the biggest drone bands in the US right now (building up a huge reputation with last year’s Solar Bridge LP and their gigantic underdog performance at No Fun fest in New York) have amassed a massive tapeography as well as dozens of solo releases. Talking to guitarist Mark McGuire (who I’d chatted to on the phone for an interview a few weeks prior) after the show, I remember it felt almost odd when he handed me one of his solo cassettes: it felt really nice, a very human, very real, and very physical gesture. That might sound a little overwrought but it was a rare gesture, which is part of why getting an actual mixtape in the mail tends to feel more substantial.

Gathering from the material on that solo tape, listening to Emeralds’ other releases, talking to Emeralds fans and speaking to the members of the group, it becomes clear that the main way people hear this stuff is through a computer. What I hadn’t thought about with this already much altered context, is that often the mp3s will be copies of copies of copies and thus will have lost a lot of quality. Mark gets slightly peeved about that factor, though does enjoy that altered context and its possibilities.

“Especially with the way a lot of our stuff sounds, even through different tape decks it can kind of vary the experience of listening to the music a lot. It’s pretty cool. The only time I really mind is if someone hasn’t heard the original recording and they hear this rip that’s not as good quality, then maybe they’ll think we really suck or something like that.” He laughs. “But yeah, I love the ambience of tape hiss and having our stuff on a format that is gonna have that [quality] no matter what, unless we get them professionally dubbed or mastered or whatever. It’s a lot of fun to work with. When you can set aside something purely as a tape, I think they can be more powerful than even a full length LP because of the way it’s given out and the way it’s conceived by the artist, and how tapes are normally more a brief glimpse at a time and place of an artist.”

I believed that cassettes were more easily damaged than CDRs or actual albums, but I’m mostly basing that on the hugely sunburned Broken Social Scene tape that I had dubbed via my computer and was forced to listen to in my car over and over, or the old Roxy Music Best Of that belonged to my Mum that made Bryan Ferry sound like a mutant from another planet, or as if his voice was immersed in a pond. Perhaps cassettes are more durable and heavy duty in their old world clunkiness though, or at least age better than CDs which, if scratched, become massively annoying rather than becoming filled with weird sonic tics. It’s a process of decay that definitely lends itself to the grandeur of Emeralds.

“I feel like they’re really durable. When CD-Rs came out I would burn lots of stuff to CD but when you get one small scratch on it, it’s history - you can’t even listen to it. But with cassettes, if the tape messes up for a split second and something fades out and comes back in, it’s still how the tape sounds itself, it sounds a lot cooler.”

French philosopher Jacques Derrida, as understood by theorist Richard Rorty, is useful in discerning the accidental from the deliberate in terms of musicians’ use of the cassette medium. How aware are these musicians of the malleability of those bits of plastic? Quite a bit, it seems: Emeralds are certainly masters at it. If, as Rorty says, the term “‘deconstruction’ refers in the first instance to the way in which the ‘accidental’ features of a text can be seen as betraying, subverting, its purportedly ‘essential’ message”, recording to tape fits here in many ways. Those accidental features of a tape – fuzz, blending, scratching, portability, sharing, mass duplication, sun damage – give this music a quality not always intentionally constructed by the creator, though the very act of recording on to a tape suggests an inherent knowledge of these features. Is a tape more personal if it has travelled with you across the desert, if you leave it out in the sun and it still plays? What if it has accidentally captured the taste of the dust and the feeling of dry heat on the arm that you lean out the window when driving? Of course it does, and luckily, many artists are capturing that feeling right onto cassettes.

That dusty mysteriousness is probably even better discovered in the works of James Ferraro of US improv/drone band Skaters, whose cassette catalogue is staggering in size. What’s more amazing still about his stuff is the fact that all his new age soundscapes and purple, semi-opaque textures are all crafted from scratch. The only samples Ferraro uses are the odd Beavis and Butthead ones swiped from TV; all others come naturally and they frequently blow the mind with their unknown and mythical origins. Check Last American Hero/Adrenaline’s End, which sounds almost like Ferraro has found an unmarked tape at the bottom of a thrift store bin and looped it for 15 minutes, building a blissed and imaginary piece of harsh drone that genuinely changes the feel of a room. It’s littered with mutant chunks of American culture. They’re the sort of sounds that strive for a weird and distinct kind of transcendence that feel innately distant enough already, without the tape being warped and worn.

Apologies for the pop culture theorem, but another studier of Derrida, J Hillis Miller, provides some colour to the idea of tapes as a deconstructed medium/media: “Deconstruction is not a dismantling of the structure of a text,” He says, “but a demonstration that it has already dismantled itself. Its apparently solid ground is not rock but thin air.”

If deconstructionism is a declaration that meaning is finally indeterminate and the “logo” is indefinable, then the culture of releasing craploads of tapes ala Ferraro fits into the ambiguity of meaning and identity in a significant way. The ambiguity of a back catalogue of tapes which are by nature transitory defines the lack of a permanent structure of meaning and definite identity combated by Derrida and other deconstructionists. They are subversive, for sure, and definitely anti-music industry, at least by major label standards.

I’m possibility (okay, definitely) guilty of this, but if the cassette is today a medium that is the antithesis of the computer, it’s interesting that the easiest way to hear and find out about the most tape-fuzzy of musicians is still through MySpace and blogs. Almost all the “cassettes” I’ve heard/possess are coming out of my shiny white MacBook. It’s problematic, like Emeralds said earlier in this piece, but in terms of recording I was under the impression that these days it was much easier to lay down tunes to a computer and share them via the internet. Anyone can download a pirated version of Ableton, Reason or Logic, as was demonstrated when Portland electronic musician YACHT recently copped shit for admitting his copies of said programs were “stolen” from the internet.

Computers do not suit a lot of musical visions, but at the same time you can virtually replicate, to an extent, any analogue sounds with programs like those. Ducktails’ Matthew Mondanile records straight to tape out of both ease and aesthetics but it’s probably fair to lay some criticism down to the use of lo-fi and the cassette as something of an excuse for lazy vision or a lack of musicality.

Not that this is always a bad thing, but there is a common attitude that this trend of ‘no-wave/no-fi’ artists are, despite their scruffy textures and cool aesthetics, more one-dimensional than genuinely experimental, that the cassette is more a tool of grey noise than a useful musical character or instrument. Analogue vibes are nice, it’s true, and it seems like a lot of these are coming out of Los Angeles right now, particularly from the label Not Not Fun, who has recently put out particularly hot sauce from Abe Vigoda (owning tropical-punk hit Skeleton on tape? Yes please!), mutated 70s funk from Vibes, dark and mysterious tape drone by Robedoor and also Brisbane’s own Blank Realm.

In terms of computers though, the parallels between blogs and cassette tapes are interesting in that they’re both ways of sharing, and both offer varying degrees of instant gratification. Both also sit in the margins of culture; the guru-like status of a music blogger now surpasses that of the perpetually unimpressed record store dude and likewise the reach and influence of their opinion has a wider forum to resonate (ie everywhere).

I guess that’s how the tape is important: in re-instilling the need for the ‘object’ in music (as if it ever went away). There’s some backlash against the significance of this: some people argue that the cassette is truly dead and currently used purely for the sake of ‘cool’. But I guess that makes it even more important as an artifact that is ‘dead’ to the commercial music industry.

Overall, it’s an essential and generally nice way for noise/drone musicians who work on an improvised basis to document small and monumental steps they’re making each time they jam. I’m infinitely glad to be able to hear those short bursts of improvised inspiration, whether it’s secondhand via MacBook, burnt by sun in the car, or even brand new through the stereo.

Ducktails’ cassettes are available through Future Sound. Emeralds new album ‘What Happened’ is available through No Fun Records.