Electronic Sound: Reviews (Issue 60)

Reviews originally published in Issue 60 of Electronic Sound magazine, December 2019:

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Scarred For Life
(Castles In Space)

In 2017, square-eyed writers Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence published Scarred For Life, a doorstep-sized paperback detailing the terrifying TV shows, films, comics, and – indeed – ice lollies that had blighted their 1970s childhoods. Count Dracula’s Secret, anyone? Now, musician and fellow telly addict Kev ‘Soulless Party’ Oyston has assembled luminaries from the hauntological world to produce material inspired by their own jumbled memories of the era, for an accompanying album whose proceeds are laudably heading to Cancer Research UK.

So Cult of Wedge contribute ‘The Gamma Children’, clearly the theme to some long-lost, spooky HTV series, almost certainly starring Simon Gipps-Kent; Pulselovers’ wistful ‘Nice View From Up Here’ is an homage to legendary Public Information Film stalwarts Joe and Petunia; and The Twelve Hour Foundation’s ‘Belmont’ is so redolent of some godforsaken daytime BBC Schools and Colleges module that it should, by rights, only be heard through the tinny speaker of a Rediffusion TV in a wooden cabinet. For extra verisimilitude, follow it up with ‘Programmes For Sick Days’ by The Bentley Emerald Learning Resource, which may be the finest-ever musical evocation of staring through a rain-soaked window while applying calamine lotion to chickenpox blisters.

Meanwhile, Vic Mars’ ‘The Time Menders’ is a bombastic, Farfisa-drenched nod to Sapphire and Steel; and The Central Office of Information contribute ‘Puzzled’, which sounds for all the world like the theme to some forgotten, pre-teatime BBC1 quiz show: I defy anyone over the age of forty to hear it without picturing cheering cub scouts, BBC Micro graphics, and Richard Stilgoe in a pastel-shaded sweatshirt.

There’s a poignant contribution too, from early synth enthusiast Carl Matthews, whose 1984 track ‘Be Like A Child’ rounds off the album. Carl’s life was tragically cut short by cancer, but he leaves an impressive body of work, including this wonderfully wistful piece; a delightfully analogue-sounding recording from a man who blazed a trail as a pioneer of the original era of cassette-based DIY electronica.

Elsewhere, Keith Seatman, Polypores, The Home Current and The Heartwood Institute join the fun… and terrific fun it is, too. To be listened to with a slight temperature, and a note from your mum excusing you from games.

Available here:

https://scarredforlife.bandcamp.com/album/scarred-for-life

Interview with Kev Oyston here:

https://hauntedgeneration.co.uk/2019/11/30/scarred-for-life-kev-oyston-and-memories-of-1970s-tv/

THE HOME CURRENT
An Evening With The Home Current
(Castles In Space)


Can there be any more prolific and versatile composer of electronica than Martin Jensen? Danish-born, but now resident in Luxembourg, Jensen has produced four full-length albums and one mini-album in the last six months alone; running the gamut from the spiky 80s electropop of Civilian Leather to the poignant, wartime reflections of The Ardennes. This latest release, however, is a heartfelt homage to the late 1980s and early 1990s dance music that soundtracked his youthful adventures as a club DJ.

Composed from scratch as a seamless, hour-long mix, it acts as a companion piece to November’s Palermo Traxx Vol 2; both records evoking an era of throbbing, minimalist house music; of mysterious white labels and scrawled DJ feedback sheets. Jensen cites short-lived Copenhagen club night The Candy Jungle as a seismic influence on his musical tastes, and his clear love for this halcyon period of inventive dancefloor-fillers pervades every (delightfully old school) beat.

Available here:

https://thehomecurrent-cis.bandcamp.com/

NEIL SCRIVIN
This Has No Longer Been The Future
(Fonolith)


Neil Scrivin has previously made haunted electronica (literally – previous album ‘This House Is Haunted’ was a radiophonic exploration of the 1977 Enfield Poltergeist case) under the nom-de-plumes of Phono Ghosts and The Night Monitor, but this more personal album is released under his own name; perhaps fittingly for what is clearly a heartfelt evocation of his 1980s childhood. Recorded in 2010 but unreleased until now, it continues themes explored on Scrivin’s 2007 album ‘Tomorrow’s World’.

So clattering Boards of Canada beats and woozy synths conjure fuzzy memories of both concrete new towns and summery daytrips to Jodrell Bank, and opening track ‘Back in 1980’ manages to be both wistful and joyous; its chanted mantra of “Disco, Bowie clones, Blitz kids” sitting atop a pulsating Frankie Goes to Hollywood bassline. Although the menacing, head-pounding ‘Roentgens’ – named, as owners of the Chernobyl box set will testify, after units of radiation exposure – hints at a more sinister side to the decade.  

Available here:

https://neilscrivin.bandcamp.com/album/this-has-no-longer-been-the-future

PAUL K
Reconstructed Memories
(Paul K)


Paul Kirkpatrick‘s fourth studio album is a touching examination of the nature of memory, whose utilitarian titles (‘Memory One’, ‘Memory Two’, ‘Reconstruction One’, ‘Memory Three’) belie beautifully nuanced ambient explorations of childhood remembrance, regression therapy, fake memories, and dementia. Cellist Rachael Dawson also recites moving verses of poetry by Mary Oliver, Derek Walcott and Sandeep Kishore; in particular, her recitation of Oliver’s ‘In Blackwater Woods’, accompanied by Kirkpatrick’s immaculately arranged electronica, is both haunting and heartbreaking. 

Available here:

https://open.spotify.com/album/3y2SeDQvNipYlYVyvMt838?si=7XcGRCVFSsG95MsORwzOVg

REPEATED VIEWING
Nature’s Revenge
(Spun Out Of Control)


The opening sounds of birdsong, subsumed by an ominous, orchestral swell, create the perfect tone for this meditation on a “woodland walk gone sour”. Since 2009, Glasgow’s Alan Sinclair has produced “synth terror” (his words) inspired by 1980s horror flicks, but Nature’s Revenge is brooding rather than horrifying; with ‘Magic Is All Around You’ even evoking images of playful tree spirits… until ‘Fell Runners Embrace The Void’ arrives to darken the mood somewhat. A hugely enjoyable and typically cinematic collection, with a glorious fantasy art cover.  

Available here:

https://spunoutofcontrol.bandcamp.com/album/natures-revenge


Electronic Sound – “the house magazine for plugged in people everywhere” – is published monthly, and available here:

https://electronicsound.co.uk/

The Haunted Generation in the Fortean Times – Issue 387

As well as this weekly blog, the Haunted Generation is also a bi-monthly column in the Fortean Times magazine, rounding up new releases and forthcoming events. This was the most recent feature, from issue 387, dated Christmas 2019.

THE HAUNTED GENERATION

Bob Fischer rounds up the latest news from the parallel worlds of popular hauntology


“I suffered from night terrors,” explains Richard Littler, “and I’d leave the light on so that I could see the happy cover of my Disney annual as I tried to sleep. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from countless horror films, juxtaposing something creepy with something innocently childlike tends to somehow make matters worse…”

We’re discussing the inspirations behind the new Scarfolk Annual. Since 2013, Littler has been the self-appointed “Mayor of Scarfolk“, the grim, North-Western town that has provided the setting for a cavalcade of spoof information posters, book covers and magazine advertisements; one of which (“If you suspect your child has RABIES don’t hesitate SHOOT”) was even mistakenly included in the Civil Service Quarterly as part of a 100-year celebration of bona fide Goverment posters (see FT 377:8). This new publication sees him turning his genius for pastiching the clunky, washed-out design and authoritarian tones of 1970s information culture into a magnificently dark homage to the hardbacked World Distributors annuals of his childhood.

“Another oft-thumbed annual was Ghost Special No. 2,” he continues. “Which is where, as a six-year-old, I first encountered Borley Rectory. A factual feature alongside Shiver & Shake and Monster Fun-style cartoons. There weren’t any ghostly photos – just pictures of rubble and remains – but it still unsettled me…”

This 1970s predilection for providing primary school-age children with laughably inappropriate reading material is sent up with unerring accuracy in the Scarfolk Annual. The gung-ho Commando-style comic strip ‘Waugh in War’ sees unhinged army officer Ben “War” Waugh determined to execute his own soldiers; elsewhere there are illustrated guides to identifying “Council Surveillance Agents”, and advice on “How to Survive a Nuclear Thing”, reassuringly explaining that “national security terminology typically employed to describe the stages of a nuclear threat will be replaced by pleasant, friendly words. If you hear ‘Flopsy Bunny’ you should expect catastrophic, irreversible annihilation.”

“The 21st century is getting closer to Scarfolk – or any number of dystopias – than it has been for a while,” laments Richard. “If real-world events start echoing motifs from dystopias, many of which are cautionary tales, it’s time to make sure that totalitarian and socially-extreme ideas don’t start to become normalised.”

And on a lighter note, the scariest member of the troupe of Play School toys, as parodied in the grisly ‘Scar School’?

“Hamble,” he replies, instantly. “She’s a cursed toy. She’s supposed to be a baby, but she looks about 80 years old. She’s like a witch, or the dwarf in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.”

The Scarfolk Annual (“Does NOT contain the original toxic inks”) is out now, published by William Collins.

It’s been a bumper few weeks for fans of Littler’s unique brand of dystopian satire, as October also saw the release of the pilot episode of his animated series Dick & Stewart. A disturbing twelve minutes of lovingly-crafted paranoia, it uses to great effect the gentle pace and limited colour palettes of such teatime favourites as Mr Benn and Mary, Mungo and Midge to lampoon the rise of 21st century surveillance culture. Narrated – in gentle homage to 1970s voiceover king Ray Brooks – by The Mighty Boosh‘s Julian Barrett, it follows the adventures of innocent schoolboy Dick and the sentient eyeball Stewart; all that remains of Dick’s former best friend after a mysterious playground accident. Together, they are ensnared by a sinister “man” who encourages them to play “a special game of I-Spy… all you have to do is watch and listen to everything your Mummy and Daddy do and say, and write it all down for me.”

“I loved the cartoons you mention,” says Richard. “I also liked The Magic Ball and anything by Smallfilms… Ivor the EngineBagpuss etc. The slower pace gave many of the animations a dreamlike quality, which I responded to. Compounded for me because I was always off sick with colds, flu or fevers, which cast a surreal and sometimes dark shadow over the programmes. I still remember that, during one fever, the weird, unblinking eyes of the background characters in Mr Benn unsettled me…”

A woozy, analogue synth soundtrack is provided by Chris Sharp, in his guise as Concretism, further consolidating the atmosphere of 1970s unsettlement, although – again – Littler is adamant that his creations are very much concerned with contemporary, 21st century issues, particularly those of control and surveillance. “We’re frequently at risk of signing away our privacy,” he says. “I don’t think law has caught up with technological advancements yet, so there’s a constant tug-of-war between what is legal and what isn’t or shouldn’t be. Reality TV and phone cams have also normalised the idea of constantly being filmed and broadcast.”

And indeed, as the cartoon Dick is confined to bed, a camera emerges from his mouth, microphones from his ears, and a transmission aerial sprouts from the top of his head. The pilot episode can be found on the newly-founded Dick & Stewart Youtube channel.

Meanwhile, those seeking a more rural brand of wrongness will be delighted to hear of further developments on the Black Meadow. This bleak, secluded area of the North York Moors, in the shadow of the iconic RAF Fylingdales early warning station, has long since provided the inspiration for a multi-media exploration of dark folklore and Cold War disquiet, helmed by writer Chris Lambert and musician Kev Oyston. “For centuries the Meadow has been a hotbed of strange phenomena, mysterious creatures and bizarre happenings,” claims Chris. “The most famous of these, as everybody knows, is the village that appears when the mist is high…”

A visit to the Black Meadow website at blackmeadowtales.blogspot.com will confirm that both Lambert and Oyston are masters at blurring the lines between genuine folk tales (both ancient and modern) and outright invention. Did folklore investigator Professor Roger Mullins, of York University, really vanish on the moor in 1972, and become the subject of a lost Radio 4 documentary? Make your own judgements: Lambert coyly describes himself as “a teacher, a writer and a liar”. His new book, The Black Meadow Archive, will be available in early January, and is a beautiful collection of surreal and grisly folk talks; where ‘the Blackberry Ghost’ meets ‘the Ticking Policeman’. And a new collection of similarly-titled music by Oyston – recording as The Soulless Party – will be released at the same time.

Oyston has also been busy compiling an LP of original music inspired by Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence’s Scarred For Life book. The book, published in 2017, is an exhaustive compendium of the 1970s TV programmes that traumatised their respective childhoods, and the album invites veterans of the haunted movement to contribute music inspired by their own memories of the era; either alternate themes for existing programmes, or invented title music for fictional shows. The results are tremendous fun: The Heartwood Institute‘s ‘Women Against The Wire’ sounds like the opening to some hard-hitting BBC2 investigation into the Greenham Common peace camps; The Home Current‘s ‘Summer In Marstrand’ is pure half-term Scandinavian animation (think Moomins, but intent on evil); and Keith Seatman‘s ‘Words from the Wireless’ recreates the terror once instilled in him by the (literally) dream-like 1972 series Escape Into Night.

The album concludes on a poignant note: ‘Be Like A Child’ by Carl Matthews is a genuine piece of beautifully melancholy 1984 electronica from an artist whose life was cut tragically short by cancer; and all proceeds from the album are going to Cancer Research UK. It’s available now, on the Castles In Space label.

Elsewhere, it’s always a delight to welcome new material from Jon Brooks; often to be found recording for Ghost Box Records in his guise as The Advisory Circle, but new album Emotional Freedom Techniques is freshly available to download on his own Cafe Kaput label. A beautifully soothing and meditative collection of ambient electronica, it both evokes and creates a perfect sense of stillness and stasis. It’s available from cafekaput.bandcamp.com. I can also recommend Hattie Cooke‘s album The Sleepers, an evocative synth-heavy concept album detailing the consequences of a mysterious, worldwide sleeping sickness; and the self-titled debut album by The Central Office of Information, a beautifully-packed collection of entrancing melodic radiophonica and ambient disquiet, all produced by Kent-based artist Alex Cargill.  

And what better way to round off the year than with a brace of releases from… well, A Year In The Country? Stephen Prince’s ongoing quest to explore the shimmering connections between folk music, electronica and a sense of lost pastoralism has borne fruit in the shape of a new book, Straying from the Pathways, a typically comprehensive collection of essays on some of the movement’s more esoteric influences, from Detectorists to Edge of Darkness. And a charming new album, The Quietened Journey, invites contributors including The Heartwood Institute and Howlround to create music inspired by memories of abandoned railway lines, stations and roads. Anyone looking for a dose of bucolic calm amidst the frenzy of the festive season would be well advised to use it as the soundtrack for an icy ramble amongst their favourite overgrown sidings.