Category Archives: Weirdo Noise Music

HEY COLOSSUS: Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo (LP, MIE 018, ?)

Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

I’ve got a lot of records by Hey Colossus, they tweak my musical nodes in several ways: they’re noisy, strange, experimental, riff-heavy, repetitive and melodic. That’s a win-win-win-win-win-win combination as far as I’m concerned. They successfully pull off that trick of seeming like a mysterious, shadowy collective, that must surely exist in some kind of Satanic, drug-battered netherworld, rising above ground purely to record and to play live.

On previous records they’ve pushed things in several ways – going all-out noise, or all-out freeform weirdness, for example. Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo is, though, a majestic pinnacle of their music, nailing the sonic combination described above with clarity, power and invention. Plus, it sounds like a great lost Circle record, which is another ‘win’ to add to that list. Tim Cedar, of outstanding noise-rock behemoths Part Chimp, plays drums on this album, and channels that band’s pummelling energy into graceful slabs of rhythmic hypnotism.

A couple of recollections of seeing Hey Colossus play live:

  1. They played at the Audioscope festival, which I help to run, in 2008. Even having met them at the event, I have no recollection of who they were and what they looked like. Hence the ‘shadowy collective’ referred to above.
  2. They played at the Supersonic festival, which I do not help to run, in 2012. Despite being musically fantastic, they left a slightly sour taste in my mouth as they played some pretty unpleasant, pretty misogynistic films throughout their set.  I found it best to look at something else…

Although there is no release date mentioned on the record (liner notes are very scant, except for track titles and a few credits included on the rear sleeve’s artwork), but I’m pretty sure that it was released in 2013. The artwork is superb, showing a hookah-smoking cuckoo kitted out in Victorian smoking garb; I’ve read that the artwork is ‘by the band’. It’s a fine illustration that’s extended onto a red and yellow printed inner sleeve. A black and white outer sleeve birthing its colourful inner as the record is unsleeved is a joy to behold.

Links: Hey Colossus / MIE

SHIT AND SHINE: Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (12″, Gangsigns GS004, 2013)

Shit And Shine - Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change

Shit And Shine are an extraordinarily enigmatic, shapeshifting band. It’s difficult to tell at any point in their history so far – they’ve been going for five, ten, twenty, fifty years? – who is in the band, where they are from, who decides what they are going to release (and how), and, vitally, what they’re playing at with their music.

I’ve got a lot of their records, and they skid about from all out atonal noise to guitar-heavy drone pounding to electronic experimentalism. Find Out What Happens When People Start Being Polite For A Fucking Change (a great record title – more on this band’s excellent titling skills later) is five tracks of relatively light-sounding rhythmic disco electronica, striated by moments of weirded-out distorted vocals, and saturated in an overall sense of Shit And Shine not being quite right in the collective head. This is in no way a criticism.

I don’t know if this record is supposed to spin at 45 or 33 – it sounds good at either speed. The sleeve is as vague and strange as the music – beyond the title and band name it shows nothing except a super-sinister photograph, although the labels include track titles, label name and catalogue number. The record and its artwork is, for a cataloguer and designer like me, equally frustrating and rewarding.

A few years ago I put the band on as part of a music festival that I run, and even though I met several members (who were all genial and accommodating), they maintained an air of mystery and oddness throughout the day. Musically, they were outstanding – multiple drummers packed onto a small stage, and around 45 minutes of relentless repetition and unbearably tense dynamics. It still remains one of the best live sets I’ve ever witnessed from any band, anywhere.

As mentioned, Shit And Shine have a propensity for brilliant and confrontational record and song titles. To wit:

  • Toilet Door Tits
  • The Biggest Cock In Christendom
  • When Extreme Dogs Go Wrong
  • Creepy Ballerina

…and so on. Who knows what these titles mean, if anything. I imagine that the band themselves don’t even know. Or maybe they do? Maybe it’s all part of a very carefully-constructed plan. Enigmatic, see.

MELT BANANA: 666 (6″, Level Plane LP37, 2002)

Melt Banana - 666Yes, you read correctly – 6″. A six inch single. I had to go and create a new WordPress category for this post, and everything. I think within my collection I’ve got 5″, 6″, 7″, 9″, 10″ and 12″ records. So, a few gaps to fill. The five inch is almost impossible to play on an automatic turntable, as the arm is so close to the centre when beginning a side, it lifts up and retreats straight away. Six inches, however, just about works. I’m not sure if anybody has ever broken the 12″ barrier and created records that pretty much won’t fit on any standard turntable that exists, but if they have, I tip my hat to them. Such pointless exploits are the very reason I enjoy collecting weird and wonderful records.

Melt Banana: what a band. Relentlessly experimental and innovative noise; what’s seemingly random is – I hope – carefully constructed. I think it’d have to be, because it always tends to work, and if it was just some folks messing around and making noise, well, it’d just sound too chaotic, and not in a good way. That’s what a lot of people don’t think through when they throw ‘it’s just noise’-themed insults at music like this. It’s not just noise, it’s music that’s different to other music.

I’m not sure if I have ever seen Melt Banana play live, but my mind seems to be pinging into action and telling me I have. No recollection where, or when, however, which makes me wonder if it’s a false memory that I’ve created purely because I want to see them play live so much. There have been a few bands who have utterly blown me away with invention and entertainment in a live context – Hella, Battles and Boredoms spring to mind – and I feel like Melt Banana would be another such experience.

I first heard them some time ago when I used to tape-record tracks I liked the sound of on John Peel’s show, which would inevitably result in cut-up snippets of his chat accidentally making their way into the recordings. This was just such a case, and I can clearly remember him telling me how what he’d just played was from a Melt Banana album named Scratch Or Stitch. I kept that snippet of chat for reference. I miss John Peel.

THE DEAD MACHINES: Human Brain Wasting Syndrome (LP, Ecstatic Peace! E#100d, 2004)

The Dead Machines - Human Brain Wasting SyndromeLove this sleeve – two thick squares of corrugated cardboard housing the record, with a couple of colour printed inserts forming the front and back imagery. The weirdo, distorted style, and freaked-out geometry of the typography, may remind you of some of Wolf Eyes’ artwork, and there’s a reason for that. The Dead Machines are (or were) Wolf Eyes’ John Olson – who provided the artwork for this and many Wolf Eyes releases – and Tovah O’Rourke of Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice. A right old US-folk-noise-underground love-in, then.

I imagine that this release is some kind of limited edition, based not only on its somewhat hand-assembled artwork but also because it’s out on Ecstatic Peace! Records. Not so much these days, but certainly a few years ago and beforehand, that label were infuriatingly confusing in their release ‘strategy’ – one of those labels that it’s very tricky to comprehend in terms of their entire roster or release list, because of semi-random catalogue numbers and a (perhaps intentional) shadowy nature in terms of self-promotion and marketing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. They are not, after all, Universal Music Group.

Ecstatic Peace! Records (that exclamation mark is annoying; it makes it seem like the sentence is over almost before it’s begun) was started by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth in, I think, the very early 1980s. I have a cassette tape that may be their first release – as I said, it’s hard to tell – a spoken word double-sider featuring Lydia Lunch and Michael Gira. I don’t know if Moore is still involved in the running of the label – y’know, what with being an international mega-indie-hipster and all – but he’s certainly involved in as much as a lot of his own work coming out through it. If he is still involved, congratulations to him – in my (limited) experience, running a record label is a lot harder work than it might seem, if you try to do it properly. Ecstatic Peace! are nudging up on their 25th anniversary, which is pretty significant. I’d love to tell you how many releases that means they’ve put out – but, well, you know, I can’t. I’m not sure that even they could.

SUICIDE: Suicide (LP, Red Star BRON 508, 1977)

Suicide - SuicideThis is one of those albums that’s widely held up as massively inspirational, a classic, but simultaneously one that would very likely be unheard of by all but the most informed ‘man in the street’. Suicide were associated with the New York-based No Wave microscene of the late 1970s, but seemed somehow detached from it, defiantly (and definitely) getting on with things on their own terms. I wasn’t in New York in the late ’70s – I was in a sleepy, refined suburb of Liverpool – but everything I’ve read seems to suggest that Suicide’s live performances were something of a trigger to much of No Wave’s aggressive, confrontational stance. I’ve also read, however, that Suicide took things further than their peers/followers may have wished to, with more in the way of actual violence and up-in-your-face shock tactics being employed.

Regardless of history and context, I think Suicide hold up as a 100% cool band for several reasons:

  • The name. Single-word band names are often a good thing, but once somebody’s taken the word, it’s gone forever, and may have been wasted. Suicide (the band) seem the perfect match for suicide (the word) – nihilistic, direct, unequivocal.
  • The artwork. This record’s front cover is superb. No messing about, just elegantly shattered typography and gory streaks of blood. It could have been a neo-goth faux-artistic statement of a sleeve, but the white background sets it off as such a stark image that it seems as if it’s always existed, and somehow created itself as a direct result of the music within.
  • The band members. As the sleeve says: ALAN – Vocals. MARTIN REV – Instrument. Again, stark and direct. Reclaiming the name ‘Alan’ as something cool and otherworldly. ‘Instrument’: that’s all you need to know. Alan’s band surname was Vega; neither Alan or Martin’s band surnames were their own. According to Wikipedia, their original names were Boruch Alan Bermowitz and Martin Reverby. Those in themselves are pretty cool names.
  • The music. If you haven’t heard it, well, you should listen. I don’t think anything has ever sounded like the music on this album, beforehand or afterwards. What do you know, it’s on Spotify.

For all their coolness, Suicide almost destroyed their own myth for me when I saw them perform a few years ago. The terror and risk I was expecting was pushed aside and replaced with slightly camp onstage prancing, oversized shades on a man who wasn’t as young as he used to be, and – although this wasn’t their fault – being made to perform on a huge stage that completely usurped the whites-of-the-eyes closeness that I think is really necessary to experience this music being played live.

I say they almost destroyed the myth, but they didn’t succeed. This album is strong enough to pretty much deal with any such assaults on its integrity.

GOD IS MY CO-PILOT/GAG: Grow Your Own Country Wide Primary School Band EP (7″, Guided Missile GUIDE 003, 1995)

God Is My Co-Pilot/Gag - Grow Your Own Country Wide Primary School Band EP

If you’re keen-eyed, you may spot the remains of a sticker on the front of this record’s sleeve. I tried my best to remove it, I really did, but it was stuck on with some kind of industrial-strength super-super-glue, and what you see that’s left is a pretty good outcome, I can tell you. If you’re very keen-eyed, you may recognise the sticker as the type put on when a record is put up for sale at a branch of the Record & Tape Exchange in London. Criticisms about their choice of sticker aside – why would they choose a type that a geekoid record collector couldn’t easily remove? – I love those shops. I’m not sure how many of them there are, but I’ve been most often to the main branch in Notting Hill, which has an Aladdin’s Cave-type basement that’s absolutely packed with racks and racks of records for sale. The joyous thing is that they price their records very cheaply, and they always seem to have a surfeit of impossibly obscure indie records amongst the racks. I can’t remember how much this record cost me exactly, but I’d be pretty confident in stating that it won’t have been more than twenty pence. ‘Word of warning,’ as that chap off of The Office would say; if you’re going in there for a ‘quick browse’, be totally prepared to emerge, bleary-eyed, hours later, with armfuls of records by bands that you’ve never heard of.

I’ve mentioned Gag on another post here before, so I won’t bang on about their extraordinary excellence again. God Is My Co-Pilot, though, or Godco (as they’re referred to on this record), I haven’t. I like them; they are crazy, and noisy, and nonsensical, and have wacky distorted guitars and a chaotic type of energy. I’m sure I have a tape somewhere that features John Zorn squonking his saxophone atonally over a selection of their songs – I should dig that out. Godco/Gog Is My Co-Pilot are one of those bands with around twelve thousand separate releases under their collective belt. I like it when bands that are completely unknown to even the more experimental ends of ‘the mainstream’ are, at the same time, extraordinarily prolific and popular in some weird underbelly of music appreciation. Admittedly, I did pick this record up for less than twenty pence after – I presume – somebody else had decided they didn’t want/like it, but more fool them. I’m not going to sell it on.

One final word about the Record & Tape Exchange. This, and other records I’ve bought from there, came with the original (and correct) inserts intact – lyrics and ‘thank-you’s from the bands, and a label release round-up. I like that. I’m not sure why. To me, they form part of the package and the record would be a lesser thing without them.

VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA/THE TELESCOPES: Live at AUDIOSCOPE04 (10″, Fourier Transform TRANSFORM007, 2005)

Aha, good work, random number generator. You’ve selected a record that I have several interests in. Firstly, I created this record. Kind of. Now, I wasn’t involved in the music, you understand, but Fourier Transform is my record label. It used to be a label owned and run by my good pal Simon (yes, another Simon) and I, but he bowed out a little while ago. So now it’s ALL MINE! The feeling of wanting to release a record; working with the artists to get it all together and then seeing it come to fruition in the form of boxes of real, physical items, is pretty unbeatable. The day I received delivery of these records – in a car park outside my workplace, proper classy – was very exciting. Did the cover artwork come out? Was the blue vinyl everything I hoped it would be? On all counts – hell yes. I was very happy.

And two great bands, to boot! Vibracathedral Orchestra are semi-legendary – in fact, maybe even full legendary by now – and The Telescopes, well, they were part of my formative music-listening years. When I bought their Creation Records 12″ singles back in the very early ’90s, and quickly dug back into their earlier work, I would not have conceived of actually releasing their music in the future. It’s funny how things work out. This record came about as a most welcome side effect of the Audioscope festival that I run with my good pal Stuart (yes – another personal connection and yes, another good pal). They both performed at it in 2004 – hence the name of the record, which is two live recordings of their performances. Audioscope is an annual knees-up which we organisers like to think presents some exceptional music to an appreciative crowd. We’ve been running it since the year 2001, and happily passing over all of our profits each year to Shelter. Shelter, unfortunately, always need as much money as can be pushed their way – it’s a shame that we have to continue to support them, in that respect. I wonder if their work – eradicating homeless and bad housing throughout the UK – will one day be complete…

Whilst I realise that my dabblings in the so-called music industry have been entirely on a tiny scale, and amount to nothing much more than dabbling around the edges of label running and gig/festival booking, I like being involved in this stuff. In fact, I think I like it partly because I’m not deeply involved enough to have to take it all very seriously. I can free up my creative urges and childish whims as I choose, without it getting me in trouble with anybody except myself, and I have got to meet interesting people and do cool things without the novelty ever wearing thin through being worn down by relentless everyday drudge. (At least, that’s what I expect working full-time within the music industry might quickly become – can anybody out there confirm? Is it really ‘relentless everyday drudge’?)

BATTLES: Atlas (12″, Warp WAP219, 2007)

I really liked the first couple of Battles EPs, as they were totally weird, chilly alien post-rock music of a kind I had never heard before. As the band signed to Warp and started introducing vocals to their instrumentation, I began to find them slightly less compellingly odd. I didn’t not understand them any more and so there wasn’t as much to hold my attention. However, this changed when I saw the band performing on Later With Jools Holland (of all things) and could see the bizarre way that those squeaky Chipmunks vocals were being manipulated in real time, alongside the already complex and fiercely controlled musicianship that was going on. That re-ignited my sense of wonder in what they were doing. Good for them. Jools Holland is still a tool, though, and I am very, very, very glad that he didn’t feel the need to pitch in with some boogie-woogie piano during their performance, like he often does.

You need to experience Battles live, but you need to do so in the right environment. For example, I saw them at Oxford’s Zodiac (as it was then called), supported by Foals, and they were extraordinarily good, with exactly the right audience (enthusiastic but attentive) and sonics (clear and defined). Some time after that I saw them at the Truck Festival, and they were no good at all from my vantage point. I admit that I was at the back of the crowd, but that meant that the audience wasn’t right (I was surrounded by chatter) and the sonics were terrible (gig in a barn; the aforementioned chatter; muddy and messy sound mix). More so than a lot of other bands, this is a real ‘set and setting’ band – to appropriate a phrase from Timothy Leary.

A Battles track (‘Race:In’ I think?) has been recently used on a set of Audi ads on television and in the cinema. I was reminded of this most recently when I saw it prior to watching Avatar recently. There’s a long-standing argument that goes on amongst indie kids about whether a hip+cool artist like Battles is selling out by having their music featured on advertising. My standpoint on this is that as long as the company/brand being promoted is one that the artist doesn’t have any personal problems with, it’s up to them. More than ever, in today’s world of downloads and the immediate exchange of digital files making it easier than ever to transfer music without commerce being involved, perhaps it’s one of the few ways that a band can actually support themselves with music? My main, over-riding feeling on the subject is who really cares. So a band has their music on an ad. So what. They’re not killing babies or injecting drugs into grandmothers. They’re furnishing themselves with the means to create more music – and in the case of a band you like, can that be a bad thing?

CHEVAL SOMBRE: I Sleep (7″, Trensmat TR012, 2008)

Another Trensmat release; I’ve previously talked about another of the records from this label – but this one isn’t a lathe-cut record. It’s a regular 7″ single pressed onto rather fetching translucent dull green vinyl. I’d no idea who Cheval Sombre were before coming across this record, and then soon after receiving it I saw a full page review of one of their other records in The Wire. Obviously I’m not as all over the experimental drone/noise music scene as I could be. I’m not sure if I’m happy with that situation or not.

Some aspects of note:

  1. The record’s labels are blank, save for a simple ‘trensmat – every noise has a note’ stamp onto one side. This gives a nice lo-fi feel to things.
  2. An accompanying CD-R joins the record within the sleeve, containing the songs on the record along with one extra piece. However, it’s hard for me to give the name of these songs as the text on the disc has been printed onto one of those plain white CD-Rs and has subsequently seeped out into a strange red-grey blur of bloated text. It looks interesting, but I don’t know what it might be doing to the all-important digital information underneath. I’m afraid to play this CD-R: a fire could break out. Safety first.
  3. I mentioned the back-to-front sleeve opening of the other Trensmat release that I’ve written about here. This record’s sleeve is even more maddening – it’s all wrong; if it’s supposed to open from the right hand side then the text is going in the wrong direction; if it’s supposed to open from the top then the front cover is on the back, and vice versa, or the front cover is printed the wrong way round; if it’s supposed to open from the left hand side with imagery on the front cover, the text on the back is in the wrong direction. (Should I just get over these hangups? Perhaps I should tear the sleeve in half in order to put things around the way I want them).

I have two copies of this record. There was some slight confusion over payment when I ordered this and a couple of other Trensmat releases, meaning that two sets arrived but I’d only paid for one. The very nice man from Trensmat said for me not to worry about it and let me keep both sets. I can’t remember what the other duplicates were, but if anybody wants my spare copy of this, drop me a line…

SPACE ROCKET: Hot Gadulka Suicide (7″, Boing Being BONG12, 2000)

I have no real recollection of how this record found its way onto my shelves. I know I didn’t buy it, so I presume that it was sent to me either as a gift* or as a review copy. If it was the latter – apologies, Boing Being and Space Rocket, as I don’t think I ever did review it. But at least it’s getting a brief mention now, only a short nine years later…

Let’s piece together some evidence about this band and this label based on what’s on the sleeve, what’s on the inserts and what’s on the disc itself:

  1. From the sleeve: Boing Being were a label from Finland, based in the impressively named Korkeakoski which looks, from Google Maps, like quite a small place.
  2. From insert number one: Space Rocket are a free jazz/noise band, and have members with names including Hjalmar Uitto, Man As A Lamb, George Webber, Sonny Cheeba and Timothy Z. Lapland. I suspect some of those names may not be real.
  3. From insert number two (a very nice-looking insert, printed in silver ink on blue stock): No idea. The text on the insert reads ‘Hands up who wants to rock / Pylon / Rocks And Whips / CDR 35FIM $6’. What does this mean?
  4. From insert number three: Boing Being also released comics, such as the one advertised on this insert, Glömp4, which looks to be a selection of Finnish artists.
  5. From the disc itself (which is beautiful salmon pink vinyl): Boing Being have a keen eye for nicely-designed things, such as in this record’s label design which has some elegantly-spaced, minimalist typography.

Boing Being are still an operational label, as their website confirms, and look! They’re now up to a tenth issue of Glömp as well as having around 30 musical releases under their belt as well. It’s always heartening to see independent labels lasting for years and getting better and better. Nice crazed-looking website they’ve got there, too!

*Having now looked at the Boing Being website, and the list of previous releases, my detective skills may have paid off: they released a few things by Warser Gate in the past, a member of whom I used to be in regular contact with. His name was Kev. Maybe Kev sent me this record as a little gift? If so – thanks, Kev!