Highlights of 2022

A few words on the year about to end. Highlight of the year: my book on Peter Hammill was published to good reviews.

Old music: it was a great year for archival box sets – Xenakis’ Electroacoustic Works, :zoviet*france:’s Châsse 3, Albert Ayler’s Revelations, The Beatles’ Revolver. I also loved the reissue of Savage Republic’s Tragic Figures and the ultra-limited handmade packages from Finders Keepers Records – Graeme Miller’s Comet In Moominland, Bruno Spoerri’s Der Würger vom Tower.

New music: Shearwater’s The Great Awakening was comfortably my album of the year. Other fine releases: Beth Orton’s Weather Alive, Richard Dawson’s The Ruby Cord, Will Sheff’s Nothing Special, Breathless’ See Those Colours Fly.

Concerts: this was the year live music took off again. Highlights: Van der Graaf Generator in London and Paris. The Young Gods, Kraftwerk, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, Buttercup Metal Polish and Kollaps in Geneva. Tindersticks in Lille. Einstürzende Neubauten in Lausanne. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in Montreux.

Reading: Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads. Paul Morley’s A Sound Mind. Markus Müller’s monumental FMP: The Living Music. Rob Young’s The Magic Box. Andy Beckett’s When The Lights Went Out. Louise Erdrich’s The Night Watchman.

TV: another great year for drama. For All Mankind, The White Lotus, My Brilliant Friend, We Own This City, Severance, Sherwood, Bad Sisters, A Friend of the Family. I watched folk horror classics Children of the Stones and The Owl Service with my daughter, but I enjoyed them a lot more than she did.

Deaths: I mourn the passing of Hermann Nitsch, Bill Bryden, Norma Waterson, Albin Julius, Mimi Parker and Harrison Birtwistle.

Kollaps, Geneva cave12, 11 December 2022

On a cold Sunday evening in mid-December, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that cave12 was less than full for the visit of Australian post-industrial trio Kollaps. Which was a shame, because they delivered a deliriously powerful set, ensuring that my last concert of 2022 was also one of the best. It was my first time seeing Kollaps, but they’re one of those groups that seem committed to touring on a regular basis, so I very much hope it won’t be the last.

A few months ago on these pages, I noted that the first thing I learned about Swiss industrial rockers The Young Gods was that they named themselves after an early Swans song. So it doesn’t seem entirely out of place to mention here that the Kollaps project was named after the first Einstürzende Neubauten album, even though group leader Wade Black admitted in a 2021 interview that he now regrets using the name. It doesn’t seem that much of a problem to me, though. As with The Young Gods, we’re dealing with a historical narrative here, a continuum of influences and connections which helps us to situate Kollaps within the blasted landscape of post-industrial music.

Those influences and connections were all there at cave12, hiding in plain sight. Certainly, Kollaps’ use of a metal coil as a percussion instrument and a sheet of metal as a prop evoked memories of Neubauten at their most extreme. Moreover, Black’s mesmerizing stage presence, frenzied vocal attack and occasional swigs from a bottle of beer inevitably called to mind William Bennett in his Whitehouse heyday. Black, however, traded Bennett’s absurd stripped-to-the-waist look for a sharp suit and a demeanour charged with don’t-fuck-with-me menace. Prowling the stage as if looking for trouble, his stick-thin figure bathed in red light and dry ice, Black was one of the most incendiary and compelling frontmen I’ve ever seen.

I seem to have got this far in the review without mentioning the actual music. Well, it could scarcely have been any more visceral and thrilling – a set of punishing industrial soundscapes that were as listenable as they were brutal. Bass player Andrea Collaro issued waves of rhythmic invention, and put that metal coil through its paces with jackhammer ferocity. Meanwhile, drummer Giorgio Salmoiraghi used his minimal kit to ruthless effect, proving that you can always do more with less. Both men also seemed to be triggering samples from sets of foot pedals, the resulting beats and drones forming the ferocious heart of the Kollaps sound.

As for Black, he sang, howled and bellowed his way through the songs as if summoning up forces that one might prefer to remain dormant. If the lyrics were mostly inaudible, they nevertheless evoked a kind of raw abjection, a doomed self-awareness played out in Black’s agonized movements and haunted, troubling visions. After a short set – 45 minutes, no encore – Kollaps were gone. It was the kind of concert that leaves you drained, confused and uplifted in just about equal measure.

Marissa Nadler, Geneva L’Usine, 21 November 2022

This was a concert that brought back all kinds of memories for me, as well as being hugely enjoyable in its own right.  Back in 2005, when I was still living in the UK, I reviewed Marissa Nadler’s first two albums, Ballads of Living and Dying and The Saga of Mayflower May, for The Sound Projector magazine.  Nadler hadn’t had a whole lot of press at the time, at least not in the UK, so I felt (with some justification) that I was blazing a trail for her somewhat.  A couple of years later, I reviewed her third album Songs III – Bird on the Water, also for The Sound Projector.  As those reviews bear witness I was very taken by this music, an impression Nadler’s subsequent albums have done nothing to dispel.

A year or so later Marissa Nadler played her first concert in Vienna, at an acoustic club which occupied the back room of a place called the Gasthaus Vorstadt in the 16th district.  It wasn’t a part of Vienna I knew well, and I’d never previously been to the venue.  Indeed I never went back there, and the place was to close down for good a few years later.  Google Street View tells me that the building (at Herbststraβe 37) is now empty, which seems a shame.  Anyway, my (rather short) review of the evening is here.  I was able to catch a brief word with Marissa after the concert, and mentioned that I’d written reviews of all her albums.  She replied that her mother kept a scrapbook of all her press coverage, so I hope my reviews made it into that scrapbook.

Looking online now for information about that evening, I find that Nadler had played at L’Usine in Geneva just a couple of days earlier.  And what do you know, a couple of weeks ago she was back there, giving me my first opportunity to see her live since 2008.  It was also my first visit to L’Usine, despite having lived in Geneva for six years now.  An impressively grungey and squat-like hangout, it reminded me very much of the Arena in Vienna (the small hall, specifically).

Whereas Nadler’s 2008 concert in Vienna had been a strictly solo affair, this time she came with two extra musicians – guitarist and keyboardist “Milky” Burgess and bassist Monika Khot, plus a drum machine that was occasionally pressed into service for the more uptempo numbers.  Despite these additions, it was good to hear that Nadler hasn’t gone rockabilly or anything in the intervening years.  Her sound is still defined by her gorgeous, ethereal voice and diamond-hard fingerpicked guitar, carrying songs steeped in myths, dreams and unexpressed longing.  Accentuated by the rich sound of her 12-string electric guitar, and aided by strong backing from Burgess and Khot, Nadler’s music cleaves to a heady, psychedelic vision of folk, drawing on uncanny pastoral imagery and bright, fluttering melodies.

Highlights of the evening included the title track from Nadler’s new album, The Path of the Clouds, which she introduced, without further explanation, as being “about D.B. Cooper.”  Cue blank looks from the majority of the audience.  Cooper, it turns out, was a mysterious individual who in 1971 hijacked a plane in the northwestern United States and parachuted into the night, never to be seen again.  Now this guy may be some kind of mythical figure in the US, but I personally had never heard of him and neither, I would suggest, have most Europeans.  Not that it matters much, since the song itself was a beautiful, airborne drift of a thing.

There was, moreover, something endearingly ramshackle about Nadler’s performance.  Whether asking the lighting man to turn the lights down, the soundman to turn the click track up in her in-ear monitors, or discussing some kind of unwanted bass frequency with Burgess, this was not a slick, polished performance, and was all the better for it.  Introducing the song “Well, Sometimes You Just Can’t Stay”, Burgess promised that it would be a showcase for “Marissa’s hot riffs”, and indeed the outro to the song featured a fine, splintering solo from Nadler.  Returning to the stage alone, Nadler encored with the spectral “Fifty Five Falls” from her début album, a song so haunting and witchy it threatened to make the walls of L’Usine crumble around us and send us sliding into the depths of Lake Geneva.