28 July 2008


It's been a while since I last invested in an original library LP. I don't tend to buy them for the sake of it, especially since the prices started rising a few years ago, and tend to look for ones with a very specific vibe, from a fairly narrow time-frame (specifically late-'60s - early '70s, though anything earlier than 1980 considered!) so couldn't resist a copy of "Electromusic", issued by KPM back in '72, when I spotted it on e-bay recently. Composed by Eric Peters, it ticks all my boxes in terms of the sound-sources (pure electronics) and general stylistic approach (experimental/atmospheric/spooky, though with a few more playful/humorous pieces on side 2). A couple of these tracks appeared on a compilation called "Electronic Toys" a few years back, so I had a rough idea what to expect, but even I wasn't prepared for the extreme depths this record plunges into.

I think this would probably be a strong candidate for addition to Woebot's 'Pre-History of British Electronics' (I say probably because I don't even know if Mr. Peters is/was British!). Certainly worthy of a re-issue I reckon. In fact the catalogue # (KPM 1103) suggests this was released in between Derbyshire's "Electrosonic" and Geesin's "Electrosound" as part of a KPM mini-series of twisted electro-experiments, so surely Glo-Spot should consider licensing it. Perhaps I'll e-mail them about it.

Best of all, I immediately spotted that the track "Industrial Activity" was used in early episodes of The Tomorrow People series (it's that 'drum machine-propelled synth dirge' that I mentioned in my review of Trunk Record's "Tomorrow People OST" - worth the price of admission alone! I suspect that several other cues included here were used as atmospheric backgrounds in the series although I haven't had chance to do any comparison tests yet. I e-mailed Jonny Trunk about it anyway and he wasn't aware of the connection, so perhaps he'll start researching the album himself at some point...

26 July 2008


Doppelganger in the mix for Blogariddims? Believe!

Sigh...I can still remember a time when I'd have to drag him kicking and screaming to check a club night, and even then he'd usually bugger off home early. But nowadays he's more up for it than I am! I think he's even toying with the idea of starting his own club night when he moves to Colchester.

Check the blog post here, but if you want to actually hear the 'cast, best go straight here, innit...

24 July 2008


The nearest Delia ever got to being credited for the Dr.Who theme back in the early days. Would she have got a much-deserved co-writing credit if she'd been a man? I think I would've been pretty cheesed-off if my most famous piece of music aired on the TV for 17 years without ever once mentioning my name! Whatever, great news about those lost tapes. Thanks to 'Tokolosh' for the link.
A very difficult man to track down. I still haven't managed to find a copy of this anywhere. Only released five years ago and yet completely unavailable anywhere, new or secondhand, as far as I can tell. Having watched an old video-taped Daleks episode again recently, I can at least testify to the power of Cary's early-sixties electronic incidentals.

20 July 2008


The Smoking Ban has messed things up. People come to clubs like Tape because they're into their music, but the primary biological need to feed their nicotine habits overrides the less-urgent desire to dance to some nice tunes. So they head for the smoking area outside the club, light-up, then get involved in conversations with other smokers, which can end-up lasting for half an hour or more. The net result being that they spend more time outside smoking and chatting than inside checking the sounds they came to hear. This realization came to me in a flash last night as, once again, I found myself fighting through a crowd of smokers to try and squeeze back into the building, to a near-deserted dancefloor. Just one more reason to give the damn fags up.

To be honest, even when I was inside the club I spent most of the time in conversation, shouting in people's ears, fighting against the PA's volume; the music almost getting in the way of my social life. Maybe it's because I haven't been out as much recently. I bump into people I haven't seen for a while and there's lots of catching-up to do. I'm a sociable person. I had a really good time, just talking to people. The fact that most of Luke Malcher and October's dj sets were completely lost to me is an unfortunate by-product of this situation. Someone jokingly asked me where my notebook was. I truthfully answered that I've never written notes when I'm out clubbing. When writing these so-say 'reviews' I just rely on the aura that still lingers in my mind. An impressionistic afterimage, rather than specifics. I seem to have lost interest in the trainspotting aspect of track I.D.'ing. But maybe I'm not the only one like that. I don't hang around drug-driven scenes. These aren't frenzied crowds, 'on one', united in an ecstasy of pills 'n beats. These people wander in and out of the music. They dance enthusiastically for maybe twenty minutes than wander off for a chat and fag, then come back to the dancefloor an hour later. This may be Underground music, but it sure ain't a Hardcore scene. It's mellow, easy going. Without chemical assistance, Minimal/Tech/House lacks the kind of hooks required to sustain the attention levels for very long. After a while, your mind starts to wander. So you go and do something else for a bit. The music becomes a high-volume ambient backing track to a social occasion. So what? In club culture it's the clubbers themselves who are supposed to be the stars of the show, and last night they provided great entertainment value.

So what about Headhunter? Oh, he was on good form as usual. I reckon I managed to stay focused on at least 25% of his set, which was exceptionally good going (it would've been more but, y'know, people kept coming up and talking to me). Rather than a showcase of his own productions, Headhunter had his selectah head on, starting out quite techy-minimal, then moving into deep-dubby, before breaking-out the cd-rs for some dubsteppy exclusive shizzle. All good, but don't ask me for specifics. Right now I'm just surfing the sine waves, cruising at high-altitude, occasionally dipping below the clouds for a quick look around, then floating off again. Bare with me...

18 July 2008


That 'tiny trickle' of Pre-History British Electronic Music that Woebot highlighted a couple of years ago still hasn't been satisfactorily exhumed for the reissue market, though occasionally a few things do come through (see previous post, for instance). Having already made an invaluable contribution with the Delia Derbyshire/Brian Hodgson "Electrosonic" reissue (which I reviewed here) Glo-Spot Records returned this year with a second gem from the vaults of KPM Recorded Music Library - in this case Ron Geesin's "Electrosound", from 1972.

As before, it's a more-or-less faithful reproduction of the original album, but on sexy coloured vinyl, with a new cover design. So now we have a brilliant cartoon (by Geesin's son Fraser) depicting our hero clambering from the guts of a piano clutching an EMS Synthi-A and a microphone, literally under attack from a multitude of instruments, tape spools and household objects as he fights to regain control of the studio (though the photo on the back cover, showing his immaculately neat 'n tidy work area paints a very different picture). This one's a gatefold sleeve too: open it up and you get sleeve notes from Geesin himself, explaining how he became involved with KPM and describing (as far as his memory will allow) how each track was created. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do we need to know how that scratchy metallic rhythm on "Electric Barbed Wire" was realised? (de-tuned banjo played through Synthi's ring-modulator, in case you were wondering) or should we be left to wonder how those ghastly sounds like lost spirits in torment were achieved on "Duet For Choir And Tunnel"? (shouting into a piano, recording only residual resonances, fed through tape delay). On balance, I'd prefer to know the facts and it's interesting to note how many of these electronic pieces started life as acoustic sounds before Geesin worked his dark magic on them.

Listening to the unbridled, playful sonic exploration on this record makes me hungry to investigate more of Geesin's music, having only ever heard barely a handful of other examples of his work before now. He has a discography listed at his website (including Electrosound Vol.2!) but nothing you could ever reasonably expect to come across at an affordable price. So anyone out there with an interest in these matters should grab a copy of this one whilst they can. It's a limited edition, and already getting scarce, but looks like there's still copies on sale at Norman Records. Quick! Hurry now!!

(...and fingers-crossed that Glo-Spot will continue to unearth more Prehistorical Britronica in the near future...).

15 July 2008


Now here's something that's long overdue: a two-volume anthology of recordings by the late, great John Baker, undoubtedly one of the sharpest musical talents under the employment of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in it's 1960s/70s heyday. Whilst the music of his then colleague Delia Derbyshire has gradually risen in status in recent times, Baker has remained until now a fairly marginal figure, perhaps owing to the lack of available products featuring his work. He was one of the 'big three' (along with Derbyshire and David Cain) who appeared on "BBC Radiophonic Music", the classic album first issued in 1971, subsequently re-issued on CD in 2002 and also issued as a 10" vinyl set by Rephlex in 2003. And, like Derbyshire, he was responsible for a piece of music that will be instantly recognisable to anyone of a certain age: the rapidly ascending/descending cascade of notes used to sign-off John Craven's Newsround for over a decade (originally the coda to a longer piece called "New Worlds" as featured on the above-mentioned album). Although there are a few other Baker gems scattered on a handful of other compilations, that's pretty much all there is available to the public until now, so hopefully these collections from the ever-reliable Trunk Records will help to inspire some fresh interest in his work. In fact I reckon this is the most important historical document of forgotten British electronic innovation since Paradigm Disc's sensational Daphne Oram "Oramics" anthology last year.

John Baker was a talented musician imbued with an instinct for popular, accessible arrangements combined with a surgically precise skill with tape editing that enabled him to make some truly dazzling music. Back in the sixties, before the BBC invested in analogue synths, he was taking found sounds from everyday objects, recording them onto tape, then speeding/slowing the tape to change the sound's pitch, then editing a multitude of individually tuned snippets of tape together to form a rythmic and/or melodic pattern, which would then be mixed with other similarly created tape patterns and sometimes live instrumentation, to produce finished compositions which sound more like they'd been arranged using modern digital samplers and sequencers. So for instance, he'd record the sound of a wooden ruler being twanged against a desk and turn it into a bassline, 20 years before the Art Of Noise did it with a Fairlight on their first album. You just wouldn't think it possible to create such naturally flowing musical patterns with the primitive tools at his disposal. Whilst Derbyshire might've had a deeper philosophy when it came to textural detail, Baker could out-edit anyone; the sense of groove and swing he managed to achieve made everyone else sound clunky and metronomic in comparison. But that populist instinct could sometimes make his work seem slight, mere jingle-fodder, despite the mind-boggling feats of engineering that accomplished them. Yet he was very capable of producing fascinating, occasionally chilling, works of ethereal beauty too, and these Trunk CDs skillfully navigate between the two extremes of his muse.

Volume 1 focuses specifically on Baker's work at the Radiophonic Workshop during the period 1963-1974 when he was employed by the BBC and features an impressive 49 tracks of long-lost jingles, theme tunes and incidental music. There are many examples of Baker's familiar chirpy, effervescent style, including "Big Ben News Theme", "Places For People", "Tom Tom", several idents for Radio Sheffield and Radio Nottingham and a beautiful watery rendition of "Barnacle Bill", which in another incarnation became the theme tune to Blue Peter. These pieces show Baker at his most Utopian; optimistic visions of the future that still sound rousing and life-affirming. Admittedly some of the more straight-forward piano-accompaniment pieces like "Look And Read" and the oompah military band style of "Sling Your Hook" do start to grate after a couple of listens, but at least they provide a useful background context - an insight into the sort of middle-of-the-road conservative work that Radiophonic employees had to undertake from time to time.

Occasionally we get to hear Baker personally explaining his methods, such as discussing the creation of the "Reading Your Letters" ident for Woman's Hour. There are several pieces that amply illustrate Baker's love of jazz, particularly on "The Caves Of Steel" and "Building The Bomb", both arranged for live instruments including double bass, cornet and vibraphone, whilst "Vendetta" combines bubbling tape sequences with live drums and solo saxophone. Elsewhere, "The Tape Recorder" brings an Eastern flavour with tape-manipulated Sitar sounds, "Submarine" displays Baker's ability to create eerie, ambient textures in the Delia Derbyshire mould, and "Diary Of A Madman" is a nightmarish assemblage of drones and swooshes. Perhaps the most obvious precursers to today's electronic dance music are "Trial" with it's hypnotic bass sequence and the brilliant theme to "Dial M For Murder" with a rhythm pattern that almost anticipates early Autechre. All told, this is yet further proof of the Workshop's ability to create impossible, otherworldly soundscapes for a mass audience, and the reason why they were probably the most subliminally influential group of electronic artists this country has ever produced. I'd take any of Baker's 40-year-old cues over the nondescript preset midi-mush that the media pipes into our homes today.

Volume 2 collects a further 39 recordings made outside the Workshop from 1954-1985. Whilst there are perhaps one too many jazz-lite piano pieces for my taste, this is more than compensated by the generous examples of his work for the Southern Library (recorded under the alias John Matthews to avoid contractual problems with his employers at the BBC). "Electro-Aggression" surfaced on Luke Vibert's "Further Nuggets" compilation a few years back (in stereo, rather than the mono mix used here), but otherwise those original library LPs were so rare as to be virtually impossible to locate, so it's fantastic to finally hear more extracts from the series, especially as they represent some of his most imaginative, experimental tape music.

There are also several examples of Baker's freelance advertising work, providing electronic jingles for products like Brylcreem, Omo washing powder and Girobank, which inevitably bring to mind (and compare favourably with) Raymond Scott's Stateside commercial repertoire from the same period. Then there's "John Baker Dubs", an all-too-brief unfinished piece from the mid-'60s of remarkable prescience- a cluster of echo-dappled organ chords over a surprisingly funky drum track - imagine (if you can!) lounge-keyboardist Klaus Wunderlicht remixed by Basic Channel.

Regrettably, by the late '70s Baker was fighting a losing battle with alcoholism, which had already cost him his job at the BBC. His final library recordings sound like they're drifting into a nebulous fog of dank, distressed atmospheres and almost unbearably tense ripples of cryptic tension. The spring had gone out of his step, the Utopian splendour of his classic work seemingly drowned in a bottle. But still these final pieces retain a strong voyeuristic attraction, spooked-out snapshots of a personality in disintegration - the Radiophonic equivalent of listening to Nick Drake's "Black Eyed Dog". But the last known recording he made, a simple piano piece recorded at home in the 1980s, seems to mirror his very first recording, a 78rpm acetate from 1954 that closes the disc, that suggests Baker had come full-circle, and maybe even found some contentment in his troubled personal life. The penultimate track is an obituary broadcast on Radio 5 at the time of Baker's death in 1997, read with superhuman levels of professional detachment by his brother Richard Anthony Baker, who also contributes a very personal account of John's brilliant, tragic life in the sleeve notes. Together, these two volumes paint an unmissable portrait of an electronic pioneer who's been overlooked for far too long. Get to know.

Volume 1 is released at the end of July, with Volume 2 following a month later. In between, there's a vinyl edition that collects all the highlights. For more info check the Trunk Records website.

13 July 2008


Yeah, it's a bloody racket. But I doubt my gran could tell the difference between this and the latest Wire-endorsed transmissions from the electronic vanguard.

12 July 2008


Friday night on the waterfront in central Bristol. Many years ago this would be a normal scenario for me, going out after work and getting pissed with workmates on a mellow summer's evening. But since the area's been redeveloped I hardly recognise it. It's like stepping into another world. Doppelganger and I have hardly sat down when a fight breaks out nearby. A throng of lager-louts and girls in hot-pants and stilettos gather to watch. I feel middle-aged. Somewhere in the distance I see Dub Boy wandering by holding a plastic carrier bag, presumably depositing Ruffnek Discotek flyers in bars - oh, the glamorous life of the underground club promoter. We drain our glasses and make our way across the foot-bridge to the other side of the waterfront, where it's much quieter and dimly lit. Entering my old haunt The Shakespeare pub, I'm relieved to see that the place has hardly changed in the decade or so since I last patronised it. The clientele is a little older and less belligerent and I instantly feel comfortable again. Another beer and some good conversation in our darkened little corner...I could settle in here for the rest of the evening, especially as I'm constantly aware that this might be one of the last times I spend in the company of the Doppelganger before he splits for a new life in a new town. What little nightlife I currently experience will be much poorer without him.

But then it's time to hop across the road to the The Warehouse, where those nice people from Kingpin are putting on a party with DMX Krew headlining. Thanks to Ed's generosity, we enter without paying door tax. The music's not great at this point, but we find Ed and local Under_score dj Placid in a quiet corner downstairs and sit down for a chat. Ed's gear is already set-up on stage, but he wisely keeps the TB-303 at his side (in it's original plastic carry-case). Then Placid heads for the dj booth and as soon as he steps up to the the decks the vibes improve dramatically. Admittedly the first half of his set is a mixed-bag of nouveaux acid, deep house and dubby disco but for the last half hour he breaks out the proper oldskool shit and suddenly (combined with the lazor-lights and dry ice) it's 1988 all over again, which sets the tone nicely for Ed's live set. We drain a couple of Red Bulls to fortify ourselves for the coming hour's exhertions and join the throng of amiable bohemian clubbers as Ed presses 'play' on his MPC.

Imagine the entire mid-late '80s electro/funk/acid diaspora sped-up to 135bpm and compressed into an hour of relentless beats, bass and hooks, liberally peppered with classic samples and musical quotes that bring flashbacks of Kraftwerk, Simon Harris, Micheal Jackson, Steve 'Silk' Hurley, Pet Shop Boys, Prince and Model 500. Occasionally Ed hypes the crowd on the mic, pitching his voice down to a guttural Phuturistic growl or up to a helium diva squeak, or else politely asking if someone could bring him a glass of water (about 5 people do so in less than a minute). He rinses the 303 - it's beautifully clean, undistorted signature squiggles sending ripples of pleasure through the crowd. Later he gets on a ravey tip with bustling breaks and big bombastic stabs that make me flash on Bizarre Inc., T-99 and early Prodigy, just edging into the '90s. I detect little or no sonic innovation, just sheer exuberant celebration. Lost in music, feel so alive. Dancing With Tears In My Eyes. It's fucking great.

Ed kinda blows it at the end. He decides to sing us a song, in this case 'The Glass Room', one of his old classics. But it's heavily reworked and Ed's gruff, un-vocoder'd voice fails to touch me. Where before he sounded like a clinically depressed Roger Troutman, tonight he just sounds like a karaoke Trent Reznor. But that doesn't stop the crowd baying for an encore, and Ed sees us all right with a tasty cover of "Autobahn" (replete with blippity-blip Casio loops) even though he forgets the lyrics at one point. It was truly a pleasure to witness. Come back soon, mate - you made an old raver very happy.

04 July 2008




Q&A with Ed DMX

Gutter: Good to see you're bringing the live show to Bristol. Will you be taking requests? How about '20 Minute Affair' for an encore..?

Ed: Nah, I don't do that kind of stuff anymore. It'll be more electro/techno/acid kinda stuff to dance to. I'm too old to attempt to be a pop singer!

G: I figured that would be the case. One can but dream. But did you ever perform those old songs live in a 'pop' format?

E: Yeah about 4 or 5 times, with a guitarist, live synth etc. The thing is it was quite expensive and you had to be sure it was the right kind of place booking you - you don't want to try and sing a song to a crowd who want to hear banging acid techno.....

G: Yes I guess there's a big difference between performing live in a 'club' environment as opposed to a 'gig' one. So you don't subscribe to the Richard D. James approach of deliberately pissing off your audience then? Or perhaps I should say 'trashing everyone's preconceptions', lol!I guess he can afford to make those suicidal career moves.

E: No my fees are a few orders of magnitude below his so I need to get bookings at least 20 weeks out of the year! Anyway, I think it's a good quality to respect the audience enough to try and make them happy, I mean I won't change what I do to try and second guess the audience, but I try and do something I think is good in the belief that some of them will think it's good as well.

G: What sort of set-up are you bringing along next week anyway? Are you bringing all hardware or what? Its so rare these days to see some decent kit on stage, rather than a bloke with a laptop and maybe a little midi controller. Though I guess transporting a load of synths must be a headache. I always enjoyed the 'spectacle' of groups like Orbital when they were surrounded by all those a-frames full of gear.

E: Yeah unfortunately it's just me so I can't carry loads of gear. There is no budget to even bring a friend to most of my gigs to help carry....and the gear is getting so old and valuable now that it's risky to take it out! So I do it with an MPC and a TB-303 and that's it. Works though and it's more fun than a computer.

G: That sounds good enough for me, Ed - see you down the front!

03 July 2008

Crikey, my man Paul 'Grievous Angel' Meme gets the Pitchfork treatment from Blackdown.

02 July 2008

K-Punk on the dubstep-techno interface over at Fact.

Nice to see some love for the 2562 album at last (my review should be appearing in issue #3 of Woofah quite soon).

In other news, I've been thoroughly enjoying 'Saucy' Jack's latest show on Robotronic Radio.