The second installment from our scribe in Bristol in our continuing series of local scene reports...
There’s something beautifully predictable about May and June in the West Country. Given that we’re prone to rainy seasons that last more or less all year (barring, perhaps, a blissfully short period in around August), it’s unsurprising that as these words are written the Bristol weather is once again threatening to ruin any short-lived hopes of summer. Still, it’s been a heartily impressive month for music in the city, and the next few weeks appear to be heralding a fair few more treats. Plus, when we’ve been treated to a wonderfully warm and humid record from local producer-made-good Guido, squinting hard enough might just give the impression that cider season is in full swing. In this edition we chat to him about the making of his excellent debut album Anidea, alongside as the usual round up of gigs and releases.
Released, and being released
Thought Forms – Fire Burn Me Clean
Noisy-as-hell local metallic shoegazers Thought Forms – one of Geoff Barrow’s Invada Records stable – have just made a huge, twenty minute improvised set available for free download here. It was recorded live at the Croft in April, and sees them at their most crushingly heavy, shifting from an opening exploratory drone to towering riffage, before easing away to reveal an unexpectedly pretty outro. Interesting, if bracing, stuff, and works well as a companion alongside their rather good self-titled album from last year.
Baobinga – Riddim Team EP [Steak House]
The Monkey Steak stable is responsible for pushing an entire subset of global bass mutations in the city. The third release on their Steak House label is from local producer and blogger Baobinga, and barely relents throughout its four-track runtime. ‘Wine Up’ and ‘Raggipahop’ take sped-up digital dancehall beats as a starting point and run amok, while ‘Criss Like HD’ adds hyperchromatic synths to the equation, strafing MC Spyda’s vocal contributions with ascending blasts of colour to exhausting, but fun, effect.
Peverelist – Better Ways Of Living EP [Punch Drunk]
Punch Drunk Records boss Peverelist released one of last year’s finest albums in Jarvik Mindstate, a hypnotic tryst through tightly interlocked webs of drum, bass and melody. Ostensibly dubstep, his music remains deeply in debt to its jungle roots, stretching out into longform experiments in perpetual motion: witness the deft interplay between bass and percussion on the title track of his upcoming 12”. Both ‘Better Ways Of Living’ and ‘Fighting Without Fighting’ are among the best things he’s committed to tape, picking up where his album’s more experimental cuts left off and heading further into inner space.
Guido: Other worlds and Anidea
In a relatively quiet May for local releases from local musicians, Guido’s shimmering Anidea has stood astride the city like a technicolour behemoth. So much of the electronic music currently finding its way out of Bristol remains in thrall to the typically cited continuum that started with the dub and reggae community, was refracted through The Pop Group, Smith & Mighty and Massive Attack and eventually discovered new outlets in jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and dubstep. Perhaps as a sign of the times – it’s certainly tied to the expanses available to the internet generation – Guy Middleton’s music seems to map an alternative space entirely. It retains an intrinsic ‘Bristol-ness’, but reaches outward to reel in fragments of a worldwide musical community that’s never seemed smaller.
Anidea is a tightly packed, hallucinogenic listen, possessing an unearthly sense of hyper-reality that’s only heightened by its construction. As I mentioned in my review for this very site, Middleton builds his tracks like a child might construct a fort out of Lego. Each space that momentarily opens up is swiftly filled in with another layer of sound, resulting in a playful naivety that at times borders on manic.
“I guess it’s just me expressing my personality,” Middleton explains when I ask about the album’s strongly defined mood. “The front cover of the album is the kind of place that represents the whole sound visually. Really colourful, neon colours. I’ve described it as an ‘otherworldly refuge’. Not an escape exactly, but some place where my imagination goes… When I look at that picture, I feel a lot.”
As a trained pianist, there’s a thread of careful composition that runs throughout Middleton’s music. It’s there in his immediately arresting early single ‘Orchestral Lab’, which has managed to pull off the coup of improving with age, and ‘Shades Of Blue’, Anidea’s most understated and most affecting moment. These tracks are obviously not merely produced for dancefloor functionality. Is there any specific way they come together? Does melody come first, or is it a more intuitive process? “Both, really. I’ll either start off with a melody and build up, keep adding, or I’ll just go with it. Even if I don’t necessarily like the idea initially, maybe another idea will come and it’ll develop.”
Are a lot of the original ideas fleshed out on the piano? “Yeah, I spend a lot of time working on chords. Even if I only work out three chords in a row, I’ll just put them down, then I’ll do a drum thing and look for another synth that works with it, and I’ll just close my eyes and try to picture something. It’s hard to explain.” He pauses. “I suppose it’s more about a feeling. [The track] ‘Woke Up Early’ - I remember how I felt when I made that. I had a hangover, and I woke up at the crack of dawn, had some tea, opened the curtains, my family were getting up. I cranked up the music real loud and started making the tune, and I was in a different space. I was dancing around the house! It’s just about getting into the mode, I guess.”
When asked about his influences he’s more hesitant, perhaps wary of being aligned too closely with any defined sound. “It’s hard to say what I listen to, if it’s influenced me and if it’s gone directly into my productions because I try and consciously avoid copying anything, I want to come up with original stuff. But in terms of music I listen to, enjoy and appreciate that might have a subconscious impact on me, I listen to a lot of jazz. I’ve listened to the Esbjorn Svensson Trio for a long time.” He’s similarly cautious when discussing his relationship to the other two ‘purple’ Bristolians, Joker and Guido. “We’re all individual artists, and I think the whole purple thing came about because that’s how people first heard of me - through being associated with Joker. [I suppose] because he’s been the first out of us three to really get strong recognition, he’s been very prolific with his remixes and releases.”
And Bristol itself, has the city’s tight-knit musical community had an effect on his music? “It’s had as much an effect as the people around me growing up, and the influences I’ve been subjected to. The situation with Tom [Ford, who runs the Punch Drunk label] was just perfect for me. Just having someone down the road, working in the shop [Rooted Records] and who would put my music out, it was a great thing.” How did that connection start? “I sold my mix CD in there, and he told me that he liked some of my tunes, so to keep him in the loop. So he’s been the guy I’ve been giving tunes to, and eventually he asked if I’d like to put out ‘Orchestral Lab’.”
And was he surprised by the response to his music? It’s not as immediate as, say, someone like Joker, but club crowds seem to love it. “On the dancefloor people respond to the rhythm and the bass, that’s fundamental. My tunes have those elements so it works, but I don’t really think about making dance music.” He pauses for a moment. “At the start I couldn’t imagine anyone dancing to my music, I imagined it to be listening music. But it works. I was surprised when it worked!”
Happened, and happening
It’s been a decent month for events in the city, with the arrival of not one but two collaborative ventures in the Whale Watching and Kept Impulses tours. Even better, both proved to be incredibly well-realised visions. Cheekily ironic volcano interruptions aside, the Bedroom Community’s Whale Watching Tour performance at the Arnolfini was a lesson in how to combine several entirely different sounds into one set without diminishing the power of any. While his solo performances tend to be feral, sadistic beasts, Ben Frost’s glacial blasts of static were softened slightly by the addition of strings and brass, bringing the material from his By The Throat album to stunning life.
The Kept Impulses Tour, at St. George’s Concert Hall just off Park Street – a lovely venue, all-seated and with acoustics to die for – was certainly a more understated affair. Nancy Elizabeth and James Blackshaw both turned in impressive performances, but it was when both joined forces with pianist Hauschka for several fully collaborative pieces that the set-up made sense. At one point, a carrier bag full of ping pong balls was thrown unceremoniously into the guts of his piano, creating waves of rippling feedback to mirror Blackshaw’s fretwork and cleverly completing the circle.
Mid-May saw the Stokes Croft Festival coincide with the hottest day of the year thus far. For those unfamiliar with the area: once giving off the appearance of little more than a dilapidated through area between the town centre and Gloucester Road’s hippier charms, the last few years have seen a real regeneration within the area. Spearheaded by the Peoples’ Republic of Stokes Croft and given a further leg-up by Coexist within Hamilton House, it’s currently managing to build towards a real sense of vibrancy while avoiding (at least for now) the typical trappings of gentrification. The festival saw a huge number of the area’s venues open their doors for live music, art, and a general sense of chaos - particular props for the moment we stumbled into Emporium to escape the sun, only to run into local musician/artist Badgertrap. Tightly summed up as ‘Mark E. Smith in a badger suit’, his regular shows around the area are well worth tracking down, even if it’s just for the sight and sound of righteous fury from an angry mammal with a megaphone. Come for the view, stay for the tunes, essentially.
This coming month or so looks set to hit similar heights. Particularly recommended are the jazz/kraut/noise stylings of Quack Quack, whose debut album Slow As An Eyeball is a compelling tread through indefinable regions. They’re performing at the Cube Cinema on 26th June, along with Nitkowski and The Wailingest Cats. A few days later, on the 4th July, Stefan Basho-Junghans performs at the same venue - another one well worth seeing.
In dancier territories, Crazylegs continue their takeover of Bristol’s bass regions. On 11th June, they brought Hyperdub head Kode9 back to Bristol for a three-hour set, which proved to be one of the best of the year so far. Starting with the sort of acidic house variations he’s been playing recently – including his own ‘Black Sun’ and Deadboy’s effervescent anthem ‘If U Want Me’ - his set gradually traveled back in time through earlier grime and dubstep, and finally to an hour of classic jungle. His DJing always operates at an exhilarating pace, and a 4am airing of glorious new Burial track ‘Lambeth’ was the payoff, collapsing in on itself to silence.
They’re throwing two more parties in the next month - the first, featuring funky innovator Roska, juke-tinged stylings from Girl Unit and SRC’s technicolour grime, is happening on 19th June at Crash Mansion, and there’s a bigger blowout at Motion Skatepark on 10th July. That one’s gathered a coup of a line-up: Karizma, Seiji, Deadboy, Guido and one of funky’s best, Lil Silva. There’ll also be UFO featuring Sonic Router’s editor MLR on 25th June, the monthly Dubloaded session (as yet unannounced) on Wednesday 14th July, and a shedload of other events, as ever.