1980s UK industrial unit Tools You Can Trust anthologised

The Spanish label Burka For Everybody has released a compilation of tracks by the obscure early 1980s Manchester industrial group Tools You Can Trust.

Active between 1982–88, TYCT mixed hard left polemic and Constructivist graphics with a minimal take on electronic body music and copious use of metal percussion. Like their more celebrated contemporaries Test Department, the group, which coalesced around the core duo of Ben Stedman and Rob Ward, interpreted industrial culture as a propaganda tool for combatting the draconian social and economic policies and political violence that marked the Thatcher era, especially with regard to the miners’ strike.

Titled Working And Shopping, the Burka For Everybody compilation includes the four singles the group released on their own Red Energy Dynamo label plus tracks recorded at three sessions for John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 show in 1983 and 1984. Before disbanding TYCT released two further albums as well as a video compilation on Factory’s Ikon imprint.

The release of the Burka For Everybody compilation, which is issued on limited edition vinyl and marks the first time any of the tracks have been available in 30 years, follows news that PC Press are about to publish a book about Test Department titled Total State Machine.

Robert Wyatt guests on a new track by Boris Grebenshikov

Just months after announcing his retirement from music, Robert Wyatt has turned up guesting on a new track by Boris Grebenshikov, the 61 year old veteran of Russia’s rock underground. The track, titled “Stella Maris”, features Wyatt playing cornet and tenor horn alongside Grebenshikov’s group, a string quartet and a choir.

The Wire contacted Wyatt to ask how his involvement in the track came about.

“We met Anton [Adasinsky] of the wonderful mystical/surrealist Russian theatre/dance group Derevo at the Edinburgh festival a few years ago. Alfie [Benge, Wyatt’s partner] had already seen them and wanted me to see them too. More recently Anton wrote me that his friend Boris Grebenshikov had asked to contact us, which he did.

“Last autumn Boris sent us several examples of what he'd been up to recently, and wondered if I’d like to add some trumpet on a new track. I was too distracted to take it on at the time – well, too anxious to give Boris the attention he deserved. Later, Boris sent me the track, done without me. The song he'd written was so perfect for me, I could've wept with remorse at having missed the opportunity: remorse and shame.

“Remembering the revolutionary cry, ‘Don’t mourn, mobilise!’, I decided to at least ask if I could possibly add something with a remix. Boris brought the unmixed recording for Alfie to pick up on his next trip to London. Phil Manzanera gave us some time to record [in his studio], and Jamie Johnson came to my rescue for the engineering. I just wanted to join in somehow, and I did that on cornet and tenor horn. That's it. We have no particular plans for it, it was simply for Boris.”

Initially inspired by The Beatles and Bob Dylan, Grebenshikov, better known as BG, formed his group Aquarium in the early 1970s. During the Soviet era Aquarium were one of the most popular and influential underground groups in Russia, even though they didn’t officially exist, as they weren’t recognised by the state bureaucracy, and had to perform mostly at unofficial clubs and private gatherings. One such gathering, in Leningrad in 1985, was described by Howard Mandel in an Epiphanies column which first appeared in The Wire 169 and is now included in the anthology Epiphanies: Life Changing Encounters With Music. The anthology also includes Robert Wyatt discussing Ray Charles.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, Grebenshikov began performing and recording extensively in the West, with the likes of Dave Stewart and members of The Band among others, and today remains one of the most iconic figures in Russian music.

Of his contribution to “Stella Maris”, Robert Wyatt says: “If I never did anything again, I’m just so happy to have made this connection with a beautiful and brave man.”

“Stella Maris” is available via iTunes and Amazon.

ESP-Disk’ founder Bernard Stollman dies aged 85

The cover of Faith & Power: An ESP-Disk’ Sampler which was given away to subscribers to The Wire with issue 221 July 2002. Artwork by Savage Pencil

The death has been announced of Bernard Stollman, the controversial founder of the legendary New York underground label ESP-Disk’. Stollman had been ill with cancer and pneumonia for some time. He was 85.

Stollman was a practising lawyer with few links to the music industry when he formed ESP-Disk’ in New York in 1963. He was an ardent supporter of the Esperanto language movement (the label’s name was a contraction of Esperanto Disko), and ESP's first release was an Esperanto spoken word record. Its second was Spiritual Unity by The Albert Ayler Trio, one of the founding documents of the mid-60s free jazz revolution. Subsequently, ESP defined itself as the archetypal underground label, releasing music by some of the most militant musicians of the new jazz, including Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Milford Graves and Frank Lowe, as well as by groups drawn from the scuzziest recesses of the hippie counterculture, such as The Fugs, The Godz, Pearls Before Swine and The Holy Modal Rounders. It also issued further spoken word albums by William S Burroughs and Timothy Leary, as well as licensing the notorious Lie: The Love And Terror Cult featuring studio recordings by Charles Manson.

The label’s uncompromising aesthetic was reflected in its policy that ESP musicians be given total artistic freedom: each of its releases came emblazoned with its now famous motto, "The artists alone decide what you will hear on their ESP-Disk’”. But at the same time as giving unprecedented artistic control to musicians few other labels would sign, ESP became notorious for its laissez-faire business practices, with many of its musicians accusing Stollman of never paying royalties. As Val Wilmer wrote in her 1977 study of free jazz, As Serious As Your Life, “Stollman became simultaneously the most hated and most needed man in the recording industry.”

Stollman financed the label using a family inheritance. Most ESP releases were pressed in small run editions and sold even less. By the time it ceased operations in 1975, the label had released more than 100 albums. Its catalogue was subsequently licensed to a variety of labels, including ZYX in Germany, Calibre in The Netherlands and Abraxas in Italy. In 2005, Stollman, who worked as the Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York until his retirement in the early 90s, relaunched the label in order to reissue its now iconic back catalogue once again, as well as release new music by musicians inspired by the label’s legacy.

The ESP story was told in Jason Weiss’s 2012 book Always In Trouble: An Oral History Of ESP-Disk’, The Most Outrageous Record Label In America. Meanwhile, the label has announced that a memorial service for Stollman will be held in New York in May.

First acts announced for Incubate 2015

Incubate has announced that artists including Cabaret Voltaire, Factory Floor, Sun Araw and Mercury Rev will play at its 11th edition this September. The Tilburg based festival, which this year takes place between 14–20 September, typically programmes a huge lineup over seven days, so this initial announcement of 29 acts will be followed by more names over the next few months.

London label Perc Trax will be celebrating ten years of releases with a special event on 19 September including sets from Perc & Truss and Forward Strategy Group.

Early bird passes are now available online via incubate.org.

Stefan Goldmann publishing book on presets

Stefan Goldmann

Stefan Goldmann has written a book on the history and use of musical presets. Presets – Digital Shortcuts To Sound sees the DJ and composer interviewing musicians, developers, producers and artists including Robert Henke, Cory Arcangel, Mike Daliot of Native Instruments and Junichi Ikeuchi and Tomoko Itoh, developers of the Korg M1 (whose ‘unrealistic’ piano sound became a staple of house music). In the book’s introduction Goldmann celebrates the potential of preset sounds, remarking that “culture hardly ever plays technology by the operation manual for long.”

Presets – Digital Shortcuts To Sound is published by The Bookworm, the occasional publishing operation of cassette label The Tapeworm. It is published on 18 May and can be ordered here.

Test Dept book launch and screening in London

Paul Jamrozy and Toby Burdon of Test Dept perform at Ealing Studios, 1985
Photo: Brett Turnbull

Newly founded publishing house PC Press celebrates the launch of its book about the UK industrial group Test Dept with a film and Q&A event in South London.

The book, titled Total State Machine, features archival photos, artworks, tour diaries and interviews, alongside contributions from colleagues and writers, such as Jonathan Moore, Robin Rimbaud, Stephen Mallinder and more.

The Total State Machine book launch will accompany a screening of the Test Dept film DS30. Commissioned by AV Festival in 2014, DS30 was originally performed at Dunston Staiths, on the 30th anniversary of the miners' strike. It features footage of the struggling mining communities along the River Tyne, as well as sound recordings from Test Dept's own archive.

The event will also include a Q&A session with Test Dept founding members Graham Cunnington, Angus Farquhar and Paul Jamrozy, plus DJ sets by Shelley Parker and Scanner.

Test Dept's book launch and DS30 screening will take place on 23 April, at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton. You can find more about the book here and details about the launch here.

Bob Suren publishing memoir on Florida punk rock scene

Florida punk rock veteran Bob Suren is about to publish his memoirs. Called Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, the book documents how his 30 year investment in music destroyed his home life. Suren played in groups, founded the Burrito Records label, ran a record shop and distribution channel, as well as writing about and photographing the punk scene. But he quit all these activities after he split up with his partner, realising that he had “put music ahead of my wife”.

Tracing the history of Florida punk rock through anecdotal recall of his obsessions, Suren wrote Crate Digger over a six month stretch between 2012–13.

The book is published on 9 June by Microcosm. More details here, and watch a trailer for the book here.

Hippos In Tanks founder Barron Machat dies in car accident

Barron Machat, cofounder of Los Angeles record label Hippos In Tanks, died in a car accident in Miami, Florida, on 8 April. He was 27 years old. The label’s name, originally the title of the late night radio show he started with Travis Woolsey on the West Coast station KXLU in the late 2000s, references And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, an early novel cowritten by Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs that went unpublished in either writer’s lifetime. Machat had played baseball at Pacific Hills school in California, and at one point he eyed a career in sports. But he came from a family of music industry heavyweights – his grandfather Marty once managed Leonard Cohen – and his new label grew, in part, from the support and connections of his father Steven, a former lawyer at Death Row records. Hippos In Tanks released early records by Laurel Halo, Grimes and Arca, as well as albums by Daniel Lopatin and Joel Ford’s Games project, Hype Williams, Dean Blunt and James Ferraro, whose Far Side Virtual was voted album of the year in 2011 (The Wire 335). In his cover feature about Blunt (The Wire 367), David Keenan described the label as “hypnagogic pop’s Altamont, a label that functioned as a high paying lightning rod for major thinkers like Blunt, James Ferraro and Daniel Lopatin, while giving them access to visions of the kind of dark Babylonian capital and debauch that their music had previously only imagined”.

Screamscape festival at Kunsthalle Fri Art

Photo: Yuko Under

Scream and scream again is the motto of an eight day event in Switzerland at the end of May. Co-organised by the International Institute for Screamscape Studies and The Centre d’Art de Fribourg, Screamscape has opened up a scream bank for participating musicians and artists, including Junko Hiroshige, Keiji Haino, Prurient, Dave Phillips, and more, to ensure the screaming never stops.

The scream bank is a collection of screams uploaded by the public via swissscreamscape.org, as well as recordings made at public events. The eight days of Screamscape take in talks, choirs, concerts, scream-battles, radio shows, installations and performances at Fribourg’s Kunsthalle Fri Art between 30 May–6 June, more info incoming via Fri Art.

Jac Berrocal, David Fenech and Vincent Epplay form new trio

Jac Berrocal

Jac Berrocal has recorded a new album with fellow composers and improvisors David Fenech and Vincent Epplay. Called Antigravity, it will be released by Blackest Ever Black.

Trumpeter, composer and poet Berrocal became a key player in the 1970s Parisian improv and experimental scenes, both as a collaborator and as founder of the group Catalogue. He has worked together with artist and composer Fenech before in a trio with Ghédalia Tazartès on the 2011 LP Superdisque.

Antigravity will be released by Blackest Ever Black on 27 April.

More information here