Saturday, 26 October 2019


Attenborough Centre For Creative Arts, Falmer, Brighton, Tues 15th Oct

Canadian artist Tim Hecker started out as a techno producer before, more happily for us, dumping those repeat beats to embrace electronica and sound art.

Sounds aren’t played off against one another, like the lines of musicians making up a band, but more stirred in together. It’s almost impossible to trace the set back to its constituent sounds, let alone figure how they were generated. And besides it doesn’t seem the point.

From yonder internet, it seems Hecker likes to work from traditional instruments, however much he then treats and manipulates the sounds. His most recent album, ’Anoyo’, was based on traditional a Japanese orchestra, who he’s sometimes played with live. Tonight, despite that featuring in the publicity, he’s playing solo and there seems little of that. A reliable source of gossip also states that he has a penchant for organ sounds, which seems more similar to this set.

It sounds churchy, if you could imagine that term somehow divorced from any sense of ostentation or doctrine. The music doesn’t develop or or advance so much as amass. It seems in a continual state of ascending, sometimes literally as it builds and swells until it becomes a liturgical version of a launch sequence. But that feeling seems ever-present.

It’s hard to describe without making it sound awfully New Agey. The distinction is that this music can sound simultaneously serene and ecstatic. While New Age pap might be calming but it’s just calming, the sonic equivalent of a pack of frozen peas held to a throbbing head.

Another appealing element was the way he played in almost total darkness, many audience members absorbing it sprawled on the floor rather that fixing their eyes on the stage. I’m not opposed to accompanying visuals, providing they’re neither there just to fill what’s perceived as a gap, nor give too literal an interpretation - which boxes in your responses. But the dark seems to create a deliberate space, born of the willingness to trust your audience to get there by themselves without pointers.

Hecker himself has said “It’s always been my way to not connect the dots for people, because I feel I don’t like prescriptive art; I don’t like fully triangulated meaning systems; I don’t like, you know, pure calligraph of intent. I like things that make you confused and bewildered or could splay off into 15 different meanings depending on who the person is and what their background is.”

My only possible criticism would be that the set was perhaps a little over-long. The mood it induces may be sublime, but it is at the end of the day still one mood.

This clip, from Arizona, features those traditional Japanese players so isn’t much like the gig I saw. Still worth a listen…

The Cowley Club, Brighton, Sat 20th Oct

When the band dedicate a song to “anyone who ever lived in a squat”, two things become obvious. First, that the song’s going to be ’Dirty Squatters’. Second, they’ve effectively dedicated it to the whole audience.

Zounds were formed in punk’s year zero, 1977, with Steve Lake as vocalist, chief songwriter and only constant member. They were so connected to the Anarcho-punk scene their first EP came out on Crass records. And of course here they are playing in Brighton’s premiere Anarchist Theme Pub.

But in many way’s that’s misleading. Most Anarcho music is unlistenable now, and frankly was pretty unlistenable then. You can only hear so many Mockney rants about overthrowing the system when half of the audience didn’t even look toilet trained.

Blyth Power’s Joseph Porter, who played in the band during their founding days, later said the shrewdest thing ever uttered of Steve Lake’s songs: “Zounds’ ultimate failure to win over the anarchist punks was partially as a result of Steve’s lyrics, which refused to pander to cliché, and consisted of strange narrative tales of normal people being confounded by their environment. You can’t sell normal people to anarcho-punks. They assume they’re all nazis.”

On that first EP, they were rather production-lined into Anarcho style. But rather than Crass’s mini-me, Zounds soon became effectively punk’s version of the Smiths. Lake himself later commented: “We were complete outsiders. I don't mean in the sense of some Hollywood Rock 'n' Roll leather jacket version of outsider. More in the sense that we had become social cripples, barely able to function and interact with anyone outside of our particular bohemian cesspit.”

They were outsiders who made music about outsiders, for themselves and for other outsiders. They were even outsiders in the Anarcho scene which they inhabited. So ’Dirty Squatters’ was written from the perspective of a bewildered neighbour, peering at them through his net curtains. While the band’s anti-anthem remains ’Did He Jump’, with its chorus “All the world cannot be wrong/ It must be me, I don’t belong.”

Notably, no-one in the band is remotely adhering to any hackneyed kind of punk look. And, in his inter-song chat, Lake is more sardonic than righteous. The one time he starts to go into a state-of-the-nation rant he breaks off, deciding he’d rather eat a crisp.

Also their music (yeah, let’s get to that) was more openly Sixties influenced and… well, musical than those of their peers who thought guitar tuning was somehow counter-revolutionary. For their second ever gig, they supported Daevid Allen. Which meant their music, often incendiary but more agitated than angry, expressed their themes as effectively as their words. Live, the songs do tend to blur together in sound and lose some of their individual character. But you can’t have everything.

’Demystification, from Athens…

Concorde 2, Brighton, Fri 25th Oct

Faulkner famously said that the only thing worth writing about was the human heart in conflict with itself. Tricky later added to the mix one human heart in conflict with another, then effectively blurred the distinction between the two. In his two-decade career, much of his output has consisted of trade-off vocals between himself and a female singer, where you’re never really sure whether they’re on the same side or not.

Somewhat oddly, though very much like his last Brighton appearance, he effectively plays the role of the foil at his own gig. It’s the female singer who effectively dominates. (In the characteristic low lighting, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s the same person as last time.) Unlike the last album, ’Ununiform’, from which the set seems to mostly draw. Typically tracks would start with her singing over melodic if quite tense beats, then segue into him ranting madness mantras. The music under which was so stripped down it was like boiling stew down into sludge.

At one point the band followed him off, leaving a bare stage for a full five minutes. And after their return he appeared not for the next two numbers. (So much weight falling on the co-singer did remind me of those temp jobs where you’d just do the work no-one else wanted to.) And when onstage he was a literally erratic performer, gesticulating so wildly a roadie would patiently reassemble the stage after each number.

It felt something like the latter-day Fall gigs, where you were never really sure whether things were going to plan or not. Giving things an edge which could spark off against the edginess of the music. But at other times just feeling… well, sort of off.

And it’s hard to decide how to feel about that. Music has become too professionalised, too much a branch of showbiz, when it should teeter between genius and chaos. Naturally, you want more of the first one. But sometimes you’re stuck with taking the odd with the smooth.

(This was a two-gig tour, the second not happening till tonight, so none of the normally obligatory YouTube footage.)

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