As things like self-isolation and social distancing became phrases and concepts the majority of the world has quickly become accustomed to, it’s been the art of the hasty pivot that has characterised lockdown: businesses that relied on face-to-face interactions suddenly thrust themselves into the hitherto unknown territory of digital engagement, restaurants suddenly offered take-out where they previously relied on seated diners, wholesale retailers suddenly became direct-to-customer operations; we have moved from the need to see, touch and meet people to drinking espresso and gin over video conference, walking in the middle of the road to bypass another pedestrian walking toward you, and following authoritarian one-way systems around supermarkets. None of this we could have conceived of a few months ago, yet we are now all – mostly – suddenly expert.
The way we consume and enjoy music was almost immediately disrupted by the measures governments put in place. Gigs and festivals were cancelled; release dates got put back; pressing plants shut down; critical calendar entries like Record Store Day were postponed; venues were almost immediately shuttered. These are existential events for artists, bands, labels, designers and the countless individuals and businesses that support the music industry.
In response, all manner of COVID-19 projects quickly sprang up: compilation releases to support frontline essential workers; isolation playlists were hastily assembled, often comprising lots of soothing ambient music; live-streamed solo bedroom gigs delivered your favourite artist into your front room; noodling Soundcloud tracks appeared with high velocity, the product of idle fingers, a need for expression, boredom and the advantage of a broadband connection.
One very special and highly distinctive project to emerge from this is Touch: Isolation, announced last week by Touch. “The pack of COVID-19 cards came down quite quickly, and we wanted to respond to some immediate problems many of our artists were experiencing,” says Jon Wozencroft, who founded the label 38 years ago, later bringing in Mike Harding to work with him.
Available through Bandcamp for a minimum £20 subscription, all of which is divided up among its contributors, Touch: Isolation consists of at least twenty tracks from Touch artists, each one mastered by Denis Blackham – that, in itself, an example of the label’s dependable obsession with quality presentation despite the speed with which the project was conceived and realised. At the time of writing, releases have already come through from Jana Winderen, Chris Watson, Bana Haffar, Mark Van Hoen and Richard Chartier with tracks incoming from Howlround, Claire M Singer, Fennesz, Oren Ambarchi, Philip Jeck, Carl Michael von Hausswolff and others who have issued released material through Touch.
“By the nature of what we do, it’s quite hand-to-mouth,” Wozencroft continues. “For Mike and I, the project is also a declaration of intent in a personal sense because we’ve both been experiencing some highs and lows in recent months.” Those lows are self-evident and are common to most of us, yet uniquely personalised to our own lives; the Touch highs include recent releases like Eleh’s brilliant Living Space, nurturing new artists on the label and Hildur Gudnadottir‘s success at the Oscars. Wozencroft justifiably calls it the “culmination of years of collaboration and shared ambition”. The idea of Touch going on hiatus just because normal life has been paused would thus have been a terrible, terrible notion.
“Between Mike and I it was kind of a Eureka decision to step ahead and do this,” he continues. “In effect, we pressed the switch in the third week of March and in no time we had a strong response from almost everyone we asked.”
A critical signifier of Touch has always been Wozencroft’s photographic accompaniment to the imprint’s releases, which presented a challenge for Touch: Isolation. “I had to think hard about how the Isolation series could be given a visual counterpoint, given the lockdown restriction,” he says. The result is a series of photographs of trees, leaves, pools, each one of something strangely quotidian yet now, thanks to the lockdown, mostly off limits; each one was taken on March 25 on Hampstead Heath’s West Heath and Golder’s Hill areas, just as the lockdown began.
“I’d been going to Hampstead Heath since being a teenager growing up in North London,” Wozencroft continues. “It was always a special trip, and so it was a challenge to make this familiar space reflect a certain unreality; the suspended state of beauty in the full gleam of the recent sunshine. But also its rarity and rawness as an urban environment in the current conditions. I was also remembering the damage of the Great Storm of 1987 – seeing the evidence of regeneration and a landscape transformed, and that sense of faith in the future.
“For me,” he concludes, “it’s about hope and detail, the hidden and its brilliance.”
Wrangler is a trio of Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire, Creep Show), Ben ‘Benge‘ Edwards (The Maths) and Phil Winter (Tunng). Their third album, A Situation, takes the current, destabilised state of the world and sets it to smart electronics, laced with heavy doses of angular funk.
Further. spoke to Mal, Benge and Phil about the genesis of the latest record, how they work together and what J. G. Ballard would make of modern Britain.
The subject matter across the whole of A Situation makes for uncomfortable listening, and yet it sounds incredibly, infectiously funky. Was it a conscious thing to make it danceable instead of utterly bleak?
Mal: I don’t think it is ever ‘overthought’. We make music and rhythms that speak for us, and lyrically I hope don’t we don’t hold any punches. Words should cut through just as the music should, this isn’t a time to look the other way, I hope we can go toe-to-toe with the world we inhabit and nothing hits harder than rhythm, so it’s perfect synergy for us.
Benge: We simply try to make music that we would want to listen to, or dance to, and this is what comes out when we all get together. That’s the great thing about being in a band with three producers – we each have individual styles, but when blended together something unique comes out
Phil: I think people have always needed an escape, when times are tough. A lot of my favourite music has combined a reflection of ongoing problems with a groove that can bring them together.
It seems that the process of making each Wrangler record has started from a fundamentally different place each time. Why is that? Is it to avoid getting too comfortable?
Mal: I’d like to think we grow with every release. It is the ultimate challenge to create your own sound and aesthetic without repeating yourself. I like to think Wrangler are distinct, and recognisable but also keep reinventing ourselves.
Benge: We don’t plan things out very much – we tend to respond to the situation we find ourselves in each time we get together. Sometimes there might be a new piece of gear that we are exploring in the studio, or we might be responding to other circumstances around us. When we were making this album there was a pretty messed up political situation so that fed into the tracks as well.
Phil: It’s pretty unconscious for me. I never have any idea how it will turn out. Equipment and to a degree, whatever I’ve been getting into, will have an effect for sure.
How do the three of you work together?
Mal: It’s easy – we get in a room together (either the studio or just set up to jam) and magic happens! Well, most of the time. In the studio we all chip away at what each of us has done until there’s consensus – which is when it sounds like Wrangler. But importantly, if it sounds like a new version of ourselves, that’s when we know we’ve got it right.
Although we live in different places we have to be together. Often it’s been a while since we’ve actually been together so it’s proper crazy because there’s so many ideas – and bits of new gear – to share.
Benge: We usually work from a starting point of some kind. Maybe Phil plays some loops from his laptop, or I get up some wonky synth-sketch that I have been working on and we go from there. And Mal always has a bunch of vocal ideas hidden away somewhere. One time I remember he came in and sang all these amazing but really dark phrases and I wondered how he had thought of them. Later on I found newspaper he’d been reading lying on the sofa, with all the phrases circled in marker pen.
Phil: I think we’re quite traditional in our approach. We get together, we chat and we play.
I thought I could hear a nod back to the early Warp, slightly disjointed techno sound and also vintage electro on this record, yet it doesn’t sound nostalgic. What kind of reference points were feeding into A Situation?
Mal: I think we are conscious not to ponder the process too much and just let it flow. The beauty of early techno was its simplicity and rawness so we try to think like that. Techno, in the first instance, is music you hear with your muscles.
Benge: I definitely think there are some early 90s sounds coming in to the recent stuff. I’ve been buying lots of those early digital synths that you can get really cheap at the moment, and we used some of them on this record. Maybe we used less of the older analogue gear this time.
Phil: Yeah, there was definitely a lot more black plastic around. And LEDs.
The last track features a poem inspired by The Atrocity Exhibition. What would Ballard make of where we are today? Would he be pleased that he got it so right? Or would he be as horrified as we all find ourselves?
Mal: I think Jim Ballard knew where we were heading, and his later books told cautionary tales of the potential of a collapsing world and the growth of a conflicted and materialistic island mentality. I think his earlier dreams of future worlds would be a little flattened by what we are at present, but I’m sure we all hang our hopes on solutions and resolutions.
A Situation by Wrangler is released February 28 2020 by Bella Union. Wrangler play The White Hotel in Manchester on February 28 and Electrowerkz in London on February 29 (with support from MICROCORPS – Alexander Tucker).
Kansas City’s Piney Gir delivered one of last year’s most memorable albums with You Are Here, the latest record in a body of work that showcases her deft, brilliantly obscure angle on love, life and everything in between. The album was originally titled It’s Been A Shit Year For Everyone, which was both utterly accurate and pretty miserable, so she changed it.
Her latest single from the album, the album highlight ‘Puppy Love’, was released on Valentine’s Day and features Piney accompanied by the distinctive Wille J. Healey. Following the release of the new single, Further. spoke to Piney about Muppets (I’m always happy to talk about the influence of The Muppets, FYI), Dolly Parton and the merits of writing on the move.
My earliest memory is kinda odd, because I was an actual baby; it was in our old apartment before we moved (we moved when I was two) so I must have been younger than two – and the memory is a bit inconsequential! I remember sitting in a high chair eating something (I’m not sure what) and watching Big Bird on TV.
The Muppets have always been a big part of my life and in the early years they educated me on pop culture. I wasn’t allowed much secular music or pop culture as a kid, but I saw Elton John on The Muppet Show singing ‘Crocodile Rock’ with a bunch of crocodiles and I thought Elton was a muppet dressed in feathers and colours with crazy glasses. I figured if he wasn’t a muppet he might have been from another planet… from Sesame Street to The Muppet Show and all the Muppet Movies: Caper, Manhattan, Christmas Carol – they have all been a huge influence on me over the years and I still love them.
The Dark Crystal was frightening at the time and really triggered some deep fears of the dark side when I watched it. I should re-watch it and see if it still has that effect on me! We didn’t have fancy cable growing up so I didn’t see Fraggle Rock until recently, and it’s great! I guess anything from the Jim Henson Studio makes me happy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Hmmm… I don’t feel like people give me advice very often; I wonder why that is? I’m very open to receiving advice if anyone has any for me.
I think Dolly Parton put it well when she said, “You’ll never do a lot unless you’re brave enough to try.” I guess she was certainly a brave woman who I really admire and her courage gives me courage… she also said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Which is great advice for anyone.
She’s a bit of a legend, Dolly! I once sang, not with her, but at her, on the One Show on BBC TV… Me and Mike Monaghan (my drummer, but he also drums with lots of people, Gaz Coombes, Willie J. Healey, Young Knives, St. Etienne…), we were invited to be part of a ‘human juke box’ and Dolly Parton was a guest on the show. When she arrived we sang her own songs at her. There was about 20 of us, including a really bossy Dolly Parton look-a-like. It was crazy to be about three feet away from Dolly though, breathing the same air and singing her songs to her – pretty surreal!
I have a signed, autographed photo of her in my studio. She inspires me every day.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
Oddly, I write a lot when I’m on the move.
Something about the rhythm of walking, or the boredom of sitting on the tube or a train or a plane makes my brain go all prolific. It’s mundane tasks where my brain and creativity can function separately from my body that somehow make room for my muse to shine. If I feel a bit creatively blocked I’ll go for a walk or take a train journey by myself and I’ll get inspired.
I guess that’s in regards to songwriting. When it comes to recording that’s best suited for the studio, and I like to change that side of the process up quite a bit, so it’s never the same twice. That keeps recording fresh and playful and fun.
Puppy Love by Piney Gir was released February 14 2020.
Further. favourites Novelty Island release their new single ‘Windows’ on February 20 2020. The follow-up to the spacey, singalong electronic pop of ‘Saturn Alarms’, ‘Windows’ is a sedate and tender song full of chill-out reference points that eddy and spin from its gauzy core – languid beats, icicle-sharp melodies and delicate harmonies.
As he prepares the band’s debut EP Welcome To Novelty Island, we spoke to Novelty Island mastermind Tom McConnell about what makes him tick.
What’s your earliest memory?
Hearing ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by The Beatles in a car.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
It’s not really advice from a specific person, and it sounds very obvious, but I’ve realised how important it is to finish ideas. We take it for granted that our favourite artists not only had these great ideas, but that they saw them through and actually finished so many of them.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
I work from Abbey Road Institute which is a pretty inspiring place.
‘Windows’ by Novelty Island is released February 20 2020.
Kemper Norton is a Cornish electronic music adventurer who often uses the local history of his home county as the basis for complex, evocative albums that defy easy classification.
His latest work, Oxland Cylinder, is the counterpart to last year’s Brunton Calciner. The titles of these two albums might sound like some sort of abstract concatenation of random words but they are in fact the names of facilities developed for the extraction of arsenic, a lucrative byproduct of the tin mining that Cornwall was once famed for.
Further. spoke to Kemper Norton to find out more about his enduring interest in developing music inspired by the mythology and stories of his local surroundings.
Your albums Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder are concerned with the arsenic manufacturing process that has left abandoned facilities across the Cornish and Devonshire hills. What was it that made you want to use these as the basis for an album?
They’re one of the classic picture postcard icons of Cornwall and have led to areas of the coast being designated a World Heritage site, but I wanted there to be a wider awareness of their original purpose and role in the industrial revolution, and in the West Country and the global economy.
The creation of arsenic as a byproduct of the mining process also tapped into many themes of toxicity, domestic life and physical transformation that I’m interested in at the moment. They’re also buildings that I’ve seen every day growing up and I wanted to explore them more deeply before the landscape changes further into the view from a millionaire’s second home, and it becomes less accessible.
History – Cornish history especially – has a big presence in your work. The new album includes an old tin miners’ song interpolated into the piece ‘Halan’ that threads through Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder, while 2017’s Hungan used a mythical pirate active along the coast as its foundations.
How do you go about researching and unearthing things like that? What is it about the history of this county that inspires you so much? Or is history in general something that inspires you?
I have never been interested in personal songwriting based on my own experiences in a literal way. There are loads of artists doing that and I don’t think we need another bloke telling his stories or desires, but I do feel there are neglected areas and people in history that still have interesting stories, at least to me! History, particularly social history and folklore – both old and modern – have always been a big influence, and I’m sure they will continue to be. As I grew up mainly in Cornwall, that’s bound to be a major element.
I don’t think there’s necessarily anything unique or magical about Cornwall any more than other counties or countries though – that’s part of its image that tourists go for and which residents exploit. The history of Coventry, Croatia or car parks will all have resonance and amazing hidden stories.
You have, on occasion, described your music as being ‘rural electronics’. What does that mean, in practice? Is it a style that comes from what you’re inspired by, or do you think it’s more a set of rules governing how you approach making your music?
When I started I just thought it was an honest way of pointing out that my upbringing is generally rural and I wasn’t that influenced by many urban styles of music, although that’s definitely changed.
The synth sounds, samples and field recordings were explicitly meant to sound rural in the North Cornwall sense – blasted by the Atlantic, rough, salty and hopefully unique. I was aware of artists like Aphex Twin and it was great that a Redruth boy could make it so far, so that in itself was inspiring, but I hope I’ve manage to avoid using tropes and conventions used by other artists too much. That’s pretty much the only rule!
Although it would be tempting to associate you with the hauntological genre, your music doesn’t seem intent on creating this wistful sense of nostalgia but instead seems to mourn that which is at the point of being lost from memories completely. Is that a conscious part of what you do?
Definitely. I can’t be nostalgic for Britain in the 1970s, Doctor Who or the Radiophonic Workshop because they’re not my memories or influences – I only moved to the UK in 1982 as a child. I also think that type of nostalgia for those specific cultural touchstones and era seems both oversaturated and close to cosy UKIP nationalism to me.
The idea of any kind of golden age is bollocks, particularly a recent British one. I’m also not interested in easy references to shared cultural memories of television or whatever. In terms of focusing on specific histories or stories being on the verge of lost , that’s definitely a theme in my work but it’s not necessarily limited to a specific era or mood.
If we take Brunton Calciner and Oxland Cylinder as representative of your interest in taking historical inputs as a starting point, how did you go about actually converting those inputs into music?
I’m not that technical. I use a combination of samples, field recordings and sounds as a mood board for a specific album, and then they undergo a range of processes including granular synthesis and effects processing. Some come out the other end intact, whereas other sounds are absolutely unrecognisable, and others become base sounds for new instruments and melodies. Then they attempt to become songs!
Recently I’ve become interested in using as few sound sources as possible. Most of Brunton Calciner is based on two samples which are layered and continually reprocessed, which ties in with the themes of the album.
The two most recent albums exhibit a strong sense of narrative, meaning its presentation felt more like a radio play than an experimental electronic album. Was that deliberate? Do you see your music as being a form of story telling?
I like stories and narrative in music, and no matter how much I try to avoid it I can’t help creating or following a narrative in an album. It’s rather old-fashioned but I do see each album as a story, with a beginning, middle and end during construction, however ambiguous. At the same time, I don’t think it matters if listeners deconstruct or ignore that.
Do you think could be inspired in the same way by, say, the history of somewhere like London? Or is it under-appreciated histories that appeal to you the most?
Everywhere is interesting if you look at it closely. Even Surrey.
Oxland Cylinder by Kemper Norton is released February 24 2020.
Charlotte Spiral is a duo of Amy Spencer and Avi Barath, two former Goldsmiths students now writing complicated songs laced with lyrics loaded with emotional uncertainty; those words are only matched in their complexity by the many-layered musical architecture that supports Spencer’s distinctive voice.
“I kind of like it that people think my name’s Charlotte,” laughs Amy. “The name Charlotte Spiral came from a pose in figure skating. We started putting the music on top of old figure skating videos and then Avi and I decided that our band name should have something to with it because it’s so elegant. We wanted that to be reflected in the music.”
Upon the release of their debut EP, the gorgeous, mesmerising and haunting Ideal Life, Charlotte Spiral spoke to Further. about fake medicine and ‘A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’ – very probably the one and only time that song’s going to get a mention here, and highly unlikely to feature on their debut album, I imagine.
What’s your earliest memory?
Amy: When my brother and I were kids my grandparents would look after my brother and I, mostly after school and also in the summer when our parents were at work.
I have a strong memory of them sitting together on a bench under the apple tree in the garden. My granddad loved music and he could sing beautifully – he could play the harmonica and even the spoons! My grandma would sing that song ‘I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts’. I’m sure she sang many other songs too but for some reason that one sticks!
Avi: There is a place in Rhodes that is meant to be very beautiful called Butterfly Valley. Sadly, my earliest memory is of being very sick there. My dad tricked me and gave me a Mentos sweet, which he told me was medicine. I think it actually worked…
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Amy: Stop worrying!
Avi: Trust your instincts.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
Amy: I often get ideas for lyrics when I’m travelling or walking somewhere. It’s usually just a line or two that I will finish once I have a chord progression and melody.
Avi: It changes all the time to be honest, but recently it’s been wherever there is a piano.
Ideal Life by Charlotte Spiral is released February 7 2020.
Sad Man is the alias of Bournville-based Andrew Spackman. The last few years have seen Spackman deliver an incredibly prolific series of electronic albums that straddle the gulf between odd rhythmic gestures and jazz, the result being a suggestion that those two worlds aren’t necessarily so dissimilar or incompatible as they might first appear.
His latest album, The King Of Beasts, is due to be released on February 10 2020, and finds Spackman proffering a highly accessible, many-layered journey through the musical themes that have coloured his recent output, while placing a greater emphasis on traditional jazz reference points.
Further. spoke to Spackman about his formative musical influences, in the process no doubt distracting him from his work on what is probably another Sad Man album expected to land later this year. “It’s definitely not an exercise in being, or looking, cool!” he warns.
Geoff Love & His Orchestra – Big Western Movie Themes
My parents didn’t seem to have any particular interest in music. They were teenagers before the teenage revolution really got going, and so they still had quite an old-fashioned view of entertainment. My mum, however, was a big fan of musicals and westerns, and we had an old 1960s Radiogram that sat in the living room. It didn’t seem to get used much, but I was particularly fond of how you could stack the 7-inch records in such a way that once one finished the next would drop down on top of the previous record. That probably horrifies the purist vinyl collectors out there.
My parent owned a few records. Mostly they were compilation albums of movie music from the Music For Pleasure series on EMI. I particularly remember listening to this record, Big Western Movie Themes by Geoff Love & His Orchestra. Although the orchestration was probably very heavy-handed, it suited the bombastic scale of these western themes. When I listened I could see the barren landscapes of Spaghetti Westerns, the beating heat of rocky canyons, and sound of cowboy boots on the front step of the O.K. Corral. Beguiling stuff.
Mike Oldfield – Incantations
Up until the age of nine I shared a bedroom with my brother. He was much older than me and his taste in music would today be described as ‘Yacht Rock’, which is now rather cool, but back then, it was not. His stereo played host to a blur of Billy Joel, Christopher Cross, and Hall & Oates. In amongst this smothering smooth-fest sat a collection of Mike Oldfield albums: Incantations, Platinum, QE2…
Even at the age of nine I preferred instrumental music. I liked listening and trying to understand how all the instruments wove together. Also, the idea that Mike Oldfield played all these instruments too fascinated me. I remembered watching him on Blue Peter and he had this extraordinary technique when playing the guitar and very long fingernails. The track that I particularly liked was the live version of a track called ‘Punkadiddle’, which has the most amazing guitar solo on it. I later learned that Mike Oldfield got that sound by playing his guitar through the tape heads of an old tape recorder to give that fantastic fuzz / distortion sound with seemingly endless sustain.
Incantations features the vocals of Maddy Prior on ‘Part 2 – Song of Hiawatha’ and strings arranged by David Bedford. Like many of his albums, it is a cocktail of styles and instrumentation, with no fixed genre reference point. I’m not sure if it completely lasts the rest of time, but putting it context, he pretty much did everything before any one else had even got out of bed.
The Albion Band – Lark Rise To Candleford
When I was about 15 years old my school staged the National Theatre’s adaption of Lark Rise To Candleford. The play featured music by the Albion Band, made up of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, Shirley Collins, Martin Carthy and others. I had a very minor role in it, but it brought me into contact with folk rock music, played on this occasion by an excellent line up of local musicians. A few years later I went on the play for several folk rock bands too.
My love of folk music has continued, despite it seeming incongruous with my electronic music output as Sad Man. I love The Unthanks, This Is The Kit, Kate Rusby and Lau.
The The – Soul Mining
My first introduction to The The came when I was 19 and I had just bought a Triumph Spitfire. It was a beautiful green colour, and despite the constant smell of petrol, the ill-fitting doors and the extortionate insurance cost, I loved that car. It also had a very nice Pioneer stereo with speakers fitted into the doors, which, when you were in the driving seat, weren’t far off ear height.
I would often drive around the country roads with the top down late at night, to and from a pub where I worked in the evenings. On the stereo was The The. First was the Infected album (my first introduction to Neneh Cherry) but then later I discovered Soul Mining with its use of the Roland TR 606, pounding drums and chanting by Zeke Manyika. I think The The are the only band that I’ve ever had a fan thing for. I saw them play at the Albert Hall with Jonny Marr on Guitar. They were perfection.
David Toop – Ocean Of Sound Volume 3 – Booming On Pluto: Electro For Droids
When I moved to Bristol in 1997 my musical tastes had already travelled through rock music, folk rock, progressive rock, shoegaze, funk rock, grunge and indie music. Apart from the odd album from The Art of Noise, Tangerine Dream and some others, very little of what I listened to was electronic.
The Gloucester Road in Bristol had several second-hand record shops, and when I moved there and started making experimental and electronic music I also started buying CDs and records and expanding my repertoire: records by Scanner, Black Dog, Jack Dangers, anything on Warp records, Mu-Ziq , DJ Shadow, Jimi Tenor, Black Dog, Red Snapper, Labradford, Plaid…
I bought Booming On Pluto from the bargain bucket and loved its electro sound. Afrika Bambaataa, To Rococo Rot and A Guy Called Gerald all feature on this album and it’s a real classic. I guess once I’d heard this, the future of music for me was no longer guitars and distortion pedals, although I’m still very partial to a good distortion pedal (ProCo Rat, ZVE Fuzz Factory, Fuzz Face).
The King Of Beasts by Sad Man is released on February 10 2020.
No matter how hard I try, no description ofRugbymulti-instrumentalist Matthew Barton’s latest single ‘Orchid’ is going to get anywhere close to his own: “‘Orchid’ was inspired by Prince minimalism and the Casio organ sound of the Young Marble Giants,” he advises. “I wanted to write something simple and direct. I think of it as like Prince having a baby with a Georgia O’Keeffe painting at a video game arcade. Or something.”
If that sounds brilliantly odd, it’s because it is. Driven by layered, sparse preset rhythms and a shimmering keyboard melody as hypnotic as it is absent, the vast empty spaces of the music act as the perfect setting for Barton’s distinctively impassioned, soulful vocal. There is tender anguish writ large here, spliced together with a vulnerability heralding the arrival of a singular musical talent.
Matthew Barton is working on a cassette release for Knife Punch Records that is due for release in the Spring. In the meantime, Barton talks to Further. about almost drowning and getting stuff done. Listen to ‘Orchid’ below.
What is your earliest memory?
Probably being fished out of a swimming pool by my dad, having fallen in, unable to swim. That wasn’t the last time that happened either. Maybe I can trace my fascination with water back to that moment.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
As a serial procrastinator, “You will never feel like you are ready – so just do it,” is useful and motivating. I’m trying to get better at that this year. Isn’t adulthood all about just pretending you know what you’re doing anyway?
Where are you most productive or inspired?
I find that new places, and new instruments, tend to spark ideas.
I have a lot of random voice memos on my phone recorded in weird places, usually while I’m just walking down streets, probably looking a bit bonkers.
New instruments too – my brother bought me a kalimba for my birthday and I’ve been writing some different stuff on that. You’ve just got to be open to everything around you.
Orchid by Matthew Barton was released January 21 2020.
YOVA are a duo of Jova Radevska and Mark Vernon. Their first single, ‘Moondog’, was released last year and found the pair accompanied by a diverse group of players including Grumbling Fur’s Daniel O’Sullivan and PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis.
On new single ‘Rain’, Jova ratchets up the mesmerising, enthralling innocence of her naturally soulful voice on a song detailing a painful, terminal break-up. The track has been given a a special mix from Erasure’s Vince Clarke that will be available from February 28. Both tracks will then be released as part of a four track digital bundle on March 6 2020.
To celebrate the release of ‘Rain’, Further. asked Jova and Mark our customary 3 Questions, with typically revealing results.
What is your earliest memory?
Jova Radevska: Wrapping my stuffed monkey in a blanket and also screaming my lungs out near a scarecrow in a cornfield with my grandmother.
Mark Vernon: The psychedelic colour of leaves, buildings, blues skies, clouds, stars and moon from the pram
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
JR: Trust yourself and don’t put all your Easter eggs in one basket.
MV: Never take no for an answer. Less is more. Don’t put the cart before the horse. The latter is from The Velvet Underground’s John Cale.
Where are you most productive or inspired?
JR: Mostly in solitude and when I’m sad and angry.
MV: When I’m either within reach of a keyboard or fretboard.
In 2019, The Tapeworm cassette label celebrated ten years of issuing contrarian works of sound art. Starting out as a resolutely tape-only label with no accompanying downloads, The Tapeworm has since expanded to encompass music on other formats through The Wormhole and exquisitely-typeset books through The Bookworm. The label was formed in London by Philip Marshall, Touch co-founder Mike Harding and illustrator / writer / musician Edwin Pouncey (Savage Pencil).
In a rare interview, Further. spoke to Philip about the early years of The Tapeworm, how it feels to be celebrating a decade of operations, the occasion of releasing over 100 cassettes and the label’s ongoing ethos. “The Tapeworm was always structured to be a way of freeing ourselves from having to do any promotions or interviews,” he says. “You bastard! Look what you’ve done to me. I’m sitting here doing a fucking interview. I agreed to it in a moment of weakness. Damn you Smith.”
From a very young age I was obsessed by music, but I was never ever any good at it.
In my early twenties I figured out a way to be around musicians and get into clubs and gigs for free, while at the same time thinking about how I could support these people: I could do flyers. I could design things, like record sleeves. I realised that I could be involved in music through design.
I’d always been a fan of Touch, Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft’s label. By about 2000 I’d gotten to know them through a mutual friend. They had a terrible website, and I was doing a lot of digital design at the time, so I decided that I would say to them, ‘Your website’s shit and I could do you a better website. I don’t want paying for it. I’ll just do it as a favour for the label – just give me a bunch of records for free.’ And that friendship then developed. Mike, Jon and I got on very well, and as that friendship deepened, a working relationship evolved out of it.
Fast forward eight years. I’m living in Paris, and I’m just ending a relationship. I’m a bit sore about that. I’m feeling a bit fed up and looking for something to do. Mike Harding said said, ‘Pull yourself together and get on with something. Let’s do a new project.’
Just before that an artist friend of mine in Berlin, D-L Alvarez, had invited me to take part in a group exhibition called Psychometry (The Space Between Seeing And Knowing Is Haunted). D-L asked me to do some sound work, so I did this installation called Three Questions And An Answer. It was a looped piece of tape playing in a corner of the gallery based around the theme of the exhibition. I said to Mike, ‘Why don’t we do a cassette? Why don’t we put it out?’ So we did a cassette on Mike’s label Ash International, and it sold out. I had no name as a musician, people only knew me as a graphic designer, but the thing sold out.
I thought to myself, ‘Oh, that’s a curious thing.’ Mike and I were steeped in tape culture. After all, Touch obviously came out of being a cassette magazine in the early Eighties. We both had a great love of that culture, but even so, we were amazed that people would buy, for no reason at all, a tape by an unknown name. Around the same time, we were getting frustrated by spending a vast amount of time and energy for next to no dividend in putting together releases that would be sent out to press or sent out to stockists, yet which would get no traction at all. Those releases were very much reliant on a good review in The Wire, or someone’s blog, but then for an arbitrary reason could be ignored. So we asked ourselves, ‘How can we make a structure of a business that doesn’t need promotion, that feeds itself.’ Almost like a tapeworm, you might say.
So we came up with this idea of having this thing where we could say to an artist, ‘Well, there’s no money here, but do you have something in your archive, or do you have a piece of work that is not part of your core body of work, but which something that you’ve always wanted to do?’ Choosing tape as the format created certain practicalities and gave a certain physicality to it. It dictated the duration and restricted the programming because you can’t easily shuffle through it. We were also interested in the more philosophical qualities of tape: it’s about memory, it’s about recording a memory, it’s an imprint, and then there’s the whole magnetism of it all.
I remember that we were sitting in a garden in Balham, where Touch are based. Vicki Bennett from People Like Us was there that day, and we just said, ‘Hey, do you want to do a tape?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve got my gran, and her best mate, and they do readings of texts – why don’t we do that? What shall we read?’ And then we gave her a copy of Le Xerox Et L’Infini by Baudrillard and two weeks later she came back with a recording of these two ladies doing this blind reading of this book of French philosophy. It was one of the most standout hilarious things we’d ever heard.
At the same time we’d emailed the turntable artist Philip Jeck and he said, ‘I’ve got these recordings where I’m doing the same live set-up with a bass guitar, which I can’t really play.’ So then we had our first two releases. Savage Pencil – Edwin Pouncey – met with us the day after and we said, ‘Oh you must be involved – we’d love you to do the artwork.’ And he said, ‘What’s it called?’ And we said, ‘We don’t know.’ We came up with some really bad names – terrible, horrendous names. And Edwin said, in a very gruff, very blunt way, ‘Look, it’s called The Tapeworm.’ And there was no arguing with Edwin, so that was the name of the label. He drew the worm and said, ‘There’s your logo.’
For perhaps the first five years, we made a decision to not fess up to who was behind The Tapeworm. We wanted to be like Basic Channel: we liked the idea of being as anonymous as possible. Because if you suddenly go, ‘It’s Philip, who works with this bunch of people, and Mike Harding with his history of Touch, and Edwin Pouncey, Savage Pencil, who’s got this other history,’ it becomes a bit too fucking obvious about where it’s coming from. So we liked the idea of being a slightly weird, connected, underground thing that never revealed itself. In that way, the label became a personality rather than the people behind it. It started off with the intention of being a collective, and then I pushed my way to the front, because I was the person with the energy.
When we started The Tapeworm in 2009, cassettes were still quite an underground thing. Things have changed now. I don’t blame myself for the fact that you can buy Kylie’s Greatest Hits on cassette today – that’s probably a fucking brilliant release, but you don’t need it on cassette, do you? There’s no need for that. It’s kitsch. We always wanted to be a label that was investigating a format and being honest about the format, and its limitations, and its strengths, and its beauty. The initial call-out we gave to artists was all about making people consider the format. Nowadays cassettes have become a kind of thoughtless marketing tool
We’ve never allowed the releases to be released digitally at the same time. We’ve just done this Jay Glass Dubs tape, Two Devotional Songs For Spacemen 3 In The Style Of Love Inc., and I’ve literally had eighteen emails in the last two days from people who bought the tape asking ‘Where’s the download?’ We’ve always made it clear to the artists that they will retain the copyright of the audio, and if they want to release the audio digitally, afterwards, that’s brilliant: that’s their choice, but we’d prefer them not to because this is about an investigation of the format and the sound of the format and what the format means. We’ve always wanted people to be more precious. We wanted to create this idea of an intimate art object that sells for a fiver, and which is only available for a short run. But it’s also affordable and accessible to anyone, as long as you’ve got a tape player. And if you haven’t got a tape player, why the fuck are you buying a tape? It fucking annoys me. The only reason to buy things in a certain format is because you want to interact with the format. Maybe I’m old fashioned in that regard. I think people just expect to offer a download with your tapes these days. Fuck that shit. I can’t be bothered with that.
It’s strange to be celebrating ten years of The Tapeworm. It’s funny – we thought, collectively, that it wouldn’t work as an idea at the very beginning. And then, to make that worse, I had the idea that I wanted to release a stupid amount of things constantly, and so I think in the first year we put out something like twenty releases. That’s stupid, but then they all sold out and they all did quite well. We started off being really awkward about insisting on the cassette format, I think. After the first ten or fifteen releases, it seemed a bit silly to be less awkward. The series was working, so I think we just decided to just keep on being awkward.
Despite having a very distinct manifesto at the beginning, but we never had any forward-looking plans. Over the decade, things have shifted a bit. Opportunities would arise where we’d go, ‘Oh, you know, this doesn’t quite fit into this tight remit, but now we’ve got this history and body of work we can go different places with it.’
But that brings us to an interesting juncture, because we now release things on other formats through The Wormhole. We were doing The Tapeworm, and so we had to release everything on tape. Mike Harding had done a recording as Souls On Board for our seventh cassette and that featured Bruce Gilbert and Daniel Menche. Mike’s tape was brilliant. At our first live London gig at Café Oto in November 2009, Mike performed as Souls On Board, and Edwin and Sharon Gal performed as Melatot – Melatot was our eighth tape. We got the recordings back from the gig, and they were brilliant. Mike said, ‘We’ve got to release these.’ And I said, ‘It’s a tape!’ And he said, ‘No.’ At the time we had this principle that we would only ever release artists once. So we had this principle that we’d never return to an artist, like, ‘Okay you’ve done your tape, fuck off and never come back.’
So Café Oto had recorded our debut gig. We had these two brilliant recordings, and Mike said, ‘Well, we need to release this.’ And I said, ‘Tape.’ And he said, ‘No, we can’t do this on tape, I’m going to do a vinyl.’ So he released a vinyl on Ash International. At that time, I’d said, we could do a sub-label, for Tapeworm things that doesn’t fit onto tape, and we could call it The Wormhole. And he said, ‘No, we can’t do that – it’s far too complicated.’
Then a few months later we’d done this tape with Leslie Winer, & That Dead Horse, and Leslie turned to us and said, ‘Would you like to release this record of mine?’ It was her and Christophe Van Huffel under the name Purity Supreme. And I said to Mike, ‘Wormhole!’ And he said, ‘No. We can’t do that, there’s not enough time, I’m going to put it out on Ash.’ So those two records – the Souls On Board / Melatot performance from 2009 and the Purity Supreme 12-inch from 2011 – should have been the first records released on Wormhole, in my opinion. They were literally down the wormhole. In maybe every sense, every Wormhole release shouldn’t exist.
Then we decided to put out books. The Bookworm happened because a very dear friend of ours, Leif Elggren – one of the Kings of Elgaland-Vargaland – sent us a copy of one of the books he’d done, and I was like, ‘Oh we should do a book.’ ‘What shall we call it?’ ‘Let’s call it The Bookworm’. ‘What shall we do?’ And so then another mutual acquaintance of ours, Ken Hollings, formerly of Biting Tongues and a broadcaster on BBCs Three and Four, had written an essay, and so we brought out a book of the first 25 illustrations of The Tapeworm releases and Ken’s essay, Parasitic Infestation.
Again, it was quite a nice object and we really liked what it was, so we thought we’d do some more of those. It’s like, once you’ve done one you can’t just have one, can you? I mean, that’s just crap. You need to do a couple more, so we did a couple more, and they’ve sold as well. The third book was by Stefan Goldmann, Presets – Digital Shortcuts To Sound. It’s an epic book on presets. Right now we have this book out by Savage Pencil and Barbara Frost, which is amazing, a real bodice-ripping page-turner.
Once you’ve done one thing, you can just go, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ So once you’ve done one record, one Wormhole, you’ve got to do more, once you’ve done a hundred tapes you’ve got to do a hundred more. And then you’ve got to move on to other things. At the moment, I’m almost breaking the original idea of The Tapeworm, but it’s almost like we have to contradict ourselves eternally. I’m considering doing a label called Digital Archives Of Tapeworm, or DAT, which is going to be an archive of Tapeworms digitally, just to shut people up more than anything else. Once you’ve done one thing you might as well do them all. I gave myself rules and now I’m going to break them. I don’t like rules.
Having reached 100 releases on The Tapeworm this year, Mike, Edwin and I talked about starting again in exactly the same order, but we didn’t do that because it seemed too much like hard work. In any case, we realised that we couldn’t, because some people had died, and it would have got quite a bit complicated. But conceptually, it was a very interesting idea, and that’s what matters: having the idea was good, doing it didn’t matter so much.
Interview: Mat Smith at Fork, Bloomsbury, November 12 2019.