Letter to The Wire, July 2008

In his article on Max Eastley (The Wire 291), Clive Bell speculates that Eastley’s piece “Hail Bop” is so named because of its “harmless licks of jazz trumpet”. He seems unaware that the title of the track is a pun on the Hale-Bopp comet, which would account for its inclusion on an album entitled The Time of the Ancient Astronaut.

Letter to The Wire, December 2007

As I was lucky enough to be a member of the road crew on the final Swans tour in 1997, I can vouch for the accuracy of Michael Gira’s description of the “stinky old Heavy Metal tour bus” that carted us around Europe (Invisible Jukebox, The Wire 286). Gira is also spot on regarding the lugubrious humour of Pan Sonic (or Panasonic, as they were then known). During a lengthy debate on the merits of ten-pin bowling, Mika Vainio responded to a criticism that the scoring system was unnecessarily complex with the doleful comment “It does not matter what is the score”.

Letter to The Wire, September 2007

Many thanks for David Keenan’s commendably demystifying article on Whitehouse (The Wire 282). Keenan correctly identifies the two main developments in Whitehouse’s work since Cruise: a new focus on the lyrics, and an attention to African culture and society. More could have been said, however, on both these threads. The lyrical focus arises from William Bennett’s interest in neuro-linguistic programming, a set of techniques that seek to influence behaviour through patterns of language. The synthesis of everyday conversational tics and unsettling philosophical inquiry in Bennett’s recent lyrics is a clear outgrowth of this interest.

References to Africa include the 2003 song “Cut Hands Has The Solution”, which alludes to a deranged Sierra Leone commando squad; 2006’s “Nzambi Ia Lufua” (“god of death” in the Kikongo language); and the pan-African coloured lettering on the cover of 2006’s Asceticists. With these glancing allusions, Whitehouse summon up a world of unimaginable cruelty; and with their skilful manipulation and interrogation of language, they refract it onto ourselves.

Letter to The Wire, July 2007

A pity that David Stubbs’ review of the Donaufestival (On Location, Wire 280) only covered the first half of the event, as some of the festival’s most essential moments took place over the second weekend. Most notably, there were two deeply emotive appearances by the renascent Throbbing Gristle. The first, a set of bruising, uncanny atmospheres in song, was unfortunately preceded by the distinctly underwhelming Alan Vega. Vega resembled a confused pensioner as he wandered around the stage, cantankerously bawling drivel in the audience’s direction.

The next night, the Boredoms gave a riveting percussion-driven performance, before Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker shook the walls with their juddering noise, hypnotically lit by a green laser beam. TG returned to perform their live soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun, a slow and infinitely sad dream piece saturated with hypnotic imagery. TG’s soundtrack, featuring a dark and mournful choir, was a suitably plangent and sweeping accompaniment. Lastly, KTL‘s deep and pulverising drones rounded off the festival, sending us queasily into the Austrian night.

Letter to The Wire, March 2007

Many thanks for the interesting feature on Seismic Performances (The Wire 276). The stipulation that the writers had to have actually been at the concerts they described was undoubtedly the right way to proceed, although it meant that some of the selections were rather less seismic than the title suggested.

My own choice would have to be the 2005 Royal Festival Hall reunion concert by Van Der Graaf Generator. Onstage for the first time in almost 30 years (except for a couple of ad hoc appearances), these four unassuming middle aged men tore ferociously into their repertoire, banishing accusations of nostalgia with sustained sax- and organ-fuelled intensity. Coming the day after Blair’s re-election, the line “Every bloody emperor with his sickly rictus grin talks his way out of nearly anything but the lie within” was chilling in its timeliness.

Letter to The Wire, August 2006

Keith Moliné, in his article on Current 93, makes the sweeping statement that “within a year [of Swastikas for Noddy], a whole host of copyists had sprung up, strumming on acoustic guitars and intoning doomily about runes”. This is presumably a dismissal of Death In June, since it is, in fact, hard to think of any other post-Industrial outfits who were adopting similar strategies at that time. Moliné’s grasp of history is dubious, since DIJ were active well before the release of Swastikas for Noddy. Even David Keenan, no admirer of DIJ, had the good grace to acknowledge in England’s Hidden Reverse that Douglas P was the first member of Tibet’s circle who could actually play an instrument and that he wrote most, if not all, of the music for C93’s most enduring album. Moliné’s article is deficient in failing to recognise the crucial role of Pearce in C93’s move towards a folk-based idiom.

Letter to The Wire, October 2006

Thanks very much for the AMM Primer. A shame, however, that in an otherwise comprehensive survey, Philip Clark couldn’t find room for Evan Parker’s collaborations with Prévost (Most Materiall) and Rowe (Dark Rags), both of which are essential.

Clark signs off his article with the line “with AMM a duo again, the game is still afoot”, but sadly that was not the message I took home from their concert at the 2005 LMC Festival. Prévost didn’t have his full drum kit with him, and spent most of the evening morosely bowing a couple of cymbals. The trite inclusion of what sounded like sampled radio sounds seemed to be an acknowledgement of Rowe’s regrettable absence. Guest David Jackman brought little to proceedings, and for the first time at an AMM concert, I was bored. Perhaps, after 40 years, it is finally time to put the beast to sleep.

Returning to the subject of Parker, Brian Morton refers, in his review of Parker’s Topography of the Lungs, to the “much discussed falling out” between Parker and Derek Bailey. Strange, since although I have seen many references to this feud, I have never, in The Wire or anywhere else, read an account of exactly how, when and why the two men fell out. Far from being much discussed, this subject appears to be the elephant in the room of UK free improv.

Letter to The Wire, December 2006

Al Cisneros of Om is reported as wondering “I don’t know what these God people are going to do” at a Current 93 concert (Invisible Jukebox, The Wire 273). Could it be that he actually said “these Goth people”? If so, this is a mistranscription to rank with the legendary “to quote Cher” for “to, quote, share” in the Michael Gira interview a few years ago.