The Wire


Strange Attractor publishes photographic companion to England's Hidden Reverse

Ruth Bayer documents key players of the English post-punk underground in Skipping To Armageddon: Photographs Of Current 93 & Friends

Strange Attractor Press has published a monograph documenting the English underground titled Skipping To Armageddon: Photographs Of Current 93 & Friends. Featuring a selection of photos by music photographer Ruth Bayer, the collection dates back to 1987 and spans more than three decades up to 2015 and covers Current 93 founder David Tibet, Marc Almond, Little Annie, John Balance, Peter Christopherson, Cyclobe, Shirley Collins, Baby Dee, Steven Stapleton, Tiny Tim, among many others. Strange Attractor sees it as a companion volume to the recently published and updated second edition of David Keenan’s England’s Hidden Reverse, says publisher and Wire contributor Mark Pilkington.

The book includes texts by Bayer and David Tibet, as well as an introduction by novelist Michel Faber. “Like much of the music made by the artists who entrusted her to reflect their mercurial spirits, Bayer’s pictures are magic,” writes Faber.

London based Austrian photographer Bayer’s work has appeared in many music and style magazines over the past two decades, most recently in the 2015 publication The Play Goes On: The Rituals Of The Rainbow Bridge by Jean M Williams and Zachary Cox.

Skipping To Armageddon: Photographs Of Current 93 & Friends will be published in the first week in October, but you can pre-order your copy now via Strange Attractor Press.

Phuture founder Earl ‘Spanky’ Smith has died

DJ Spank-Spank aka Earl Smith is one of the three pioneers responsible for the legendary “Acid Tracks”

Chicago producer Earl Smith aka DJ Spank-Spank has died, annouced Phuture's Facebook page yesterday. The news comes following a stroke earlier this year, but circumstances of his passing are still unconfirmed. “MGMT:::To our acid house family and music family at large we are very sorry to say that our friend and partner DJ Spank-Spank has passed away,” reads the annoucement. “Spank is (was) a legend. We will for certain continue the work he’s started on his final album project and his innovations in music. Please for now: Pray for his family and DJ Pierre his brother. Allow them time to grieve. We will come back with news. Much love.”

Smith was a founder and constant member in the ever-evolving line-up of the Chicago house outfit Phuture. The group came into being after a DJ Ron Hardy set that Smith and fellow Phuture founders DJ Pierre and Herb J saw at Music Box in Chicago. But it was in 1985 when Spank came across an old Roland TB-303 upon which “Acid Tracks” was built, and out of which acid house emerged. Ron Hardy was the first DJ to play the legendary 12 minute wonder on cassette in 1986. The track got its official release the following year via Traxx Records, and it featured pioneering Chicago house producer Marshall Jefferson in its production credits.

Phuture (as Phuture 303) released their debut album Alpha And Omega nearly a decade after that legendary track. “The theme of Alpha And Omega is that acid started with Phuture, so give us our respect,” Earl Smith told Mike Shallcross in The Wire 170. “Magazines and labels go to all these other producers and talk about acid music, but there wouldn’t be all these other producers if it wasn’t for Phuture. I don’t think there would be techno without Phuture starting the acid sound.”

Though he was the lead drum programmer and main vocalist for Phuture, Smith also worked solo, as well as running the 24/7 internet station Global Traxx Radio with Chicago’s Charles ‘DJ Turk’ Tyler. His music has been released on labels such as Djax Up-Beats, Strictly Rhythm, Emotive and Dance Mania, among others. At the time of his death, Smith was still working on new tracks. “The world has no idea how talented he was and how much I depended on him,” DJ Pierre told Thump. “He texted me last night saying he was working on music and how excited he was to have this opportunity to perform again. We were working on our album project and he was so excited about that.”

Read Mike Shallcross’s article on how Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” triggered the rave phenomenon in The Wire 170.

DIY weekenders touch down in West Yorkshire

Total Inertia and Tor festivals set to take place in Leeds and Todmorden

Two DIY events presenting a swathe of underground talent from the UK and beyond are set to touch down in West Yorkshire this autumn. Total Inertia happens between 23–25 September at Wharf Chambers in Leeds, with performances from Richard Dawson, Vibracathedral Orchestra, Alan Wilkinson & Paul Hession, a Guttersnipe and Herb Diamante collab, and much more. It’s the first ever instalment of the fest, and it's put together by Leeds duo Guttersnipe and Shakeeb Abu Hamdan of Family Elan. You can find more info at their website.

Meanwhile, West Yorkshire DIY festival Tor Festival returns to the Pennine market town of Todmorden for its second edition, running from 1–3 October. Following 2015’s event, which was organised in collaboration with Was Ist Das?, Tor Press have brought together another weekend of psychedelic, folk and drone sounds, with artists for the weekend including appearances from Belgian guitarist Ignatz, Tom Carter of Charalambides, and East Coast violinist/guitarist Samara Lubelski, plus UK underground mainstays Blood Stereo, Ashtray Navigations, Harappian Night Records and Tor's own Sophie Cooper. DJs for the weekend are Neil Campbell of Vibracathedral Orchestra and Nick Mitchell of Golden Lab Records. The main event takes place on Saturday 1 October at Todmodern’s Unitarian Church, with a Friday warm-up gig and Sunday tape listening and roast dinner session both happening at the Golden Lion pub. You can find more information online here.

Frances Morgan wrote a Primer to Yorkshire Psychedelia in issue 378, featuring movers such as Ashtray Navigations, Vibracathedral Orchestra and many more – subscribers to the magazine can read it via our online archive.

CTM 2017 Radio Lab Winners

Rima Najdi and Julian Bonequi have won CTM’s annual radio competition, as chosen by a panel including The Wire's Anne Hilde-Neset

Rima Najdi and Julian Bonequi are the winners of the CTM 2017 Radio Lab Call. The competition is run by Deutschlandradio Kultur – Hörspiel/Klangkunst and CTM Festival in collaboration with Goethe-Institut, ORF musikprotokoll im steirischen herbst, Ö1 Kunstradio, and the SoCCoS. The open call sought out works that paired radio art with either live performance or installation, plus a focus on next year's festival theme: Fear Anger Love.

Called Happy New Fear, Rima Najdi's winning proposal continues on from her 2014 piece Madame Bomba: The TNT Project, for which the artist performed an intervention featuring herself wearing a fake cartoon TNT bomb around her chest while roaming the streets of her hometown Beirut. It uses audiovisual material sourced from Beirut to tell the story of Madame Bomba and her search to find her lover in the city – a stranger whom everyone is afraid of. It was described by panellist Anne Hilde Neset as “sounding of the politics of fear – which captured the jury’s imagination”.

Mexican artist Julian Bonequi’s winning entry is The Death Of The Anthropocene. Inspired by radio dramas and sci-fi movies, it imagines a series of fictitious encounters between humans and aliens which, according to the description on CTM's website, project less than desirable images of the future. “Julian Bonequi's Death Of The Anthropcene starts from one of the most disturbing moments in radio's history, Orson Welles’s famous radio drama War Of The Worlds, which aired live on Halloween in 1938,” comments panellist Ole Frahm. “Bonequi is less interested in the myth about this broadcast and the panic that it caused (or what the media made out of some reactions), but more in the broadcast text of Welles's adaption [of HG Wells’s original novel] Bonequi's multi-layered, humourous and strange adaption reminds us of the fact that this fantasy is not fiction anymore."

The two winning projects will be premiered at CTM 2017 Festival, and in March they will be broadcast by Deutschlandradio Kultur. As well as that, the works will also be aired by Österreichischer Rundfunk.

The jury consisted of Anne Hilde Neset (Director, NyMusikk), Jan Rohlf (Artistic & Managing Director, CTM Festival), Marcus Gammel (curator, Deutschlandradio Kultur Hörspiel/Klangkunst), Ole Frahm (independent artist, Ligna), and Susanna Niedermayr (co-producer, ORF Zeit-Ton and co-curator ORF musikprotokoll).

CTM 2017 Festival takes place in Berlin from 27 January–5 February 2017

Digital arts festival Mira takes place in November

Barcelona’s MIRA festival focuses on the intersection between electronic music and live visuals

Catalan digital arts festival Mira, which focuses “on the intersection between electronic music and live visuals”, returns in November.

The annual festival has been happening in Barcelona and Berlin since 2011. This year's Barcelona edition takes place at Fàbrica De Creació,, and artists confirmed so far include Plaid, Gesloten Cirkel, Alessandro Cortini, Throwing Snow, Pfadfinderei, Lakker, Pauk & Eyesberg, Elysia Crampton, Jlin, Lee Gamble & Dave Gaskarth, Roly Porter & MFO, Death In Vegas, Tim Hecker, Zomby, and many others. As well as live performances, the festival also offers three days of workshops and presentations based on the potential of the 360 degrees of audio-visual content in the Immersive Dome structure.

Mira runs from 10–12 November. Tickets are on sale now.

Six years in the making – the Borbetomagus documentary A Pollock Of Sound finally premieres

Following ast year's rough cut screenings, Jef Merten unveils the final cut of his docu-film

The Borbetomagus film A Pollock Of Sound will premiere at the Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn in October. Filming on the documentary started back in 2010, but the film was put on hold after the cancellation of the group’s 2013 tour. Director Jef Merten explains, “After the cancellation of the Borbetomagus European tour – which would have allowed me to finish getting the footage I needed – this documentary was put on hold, though not given up in any way.”

A rough cut of the film was screened in Europe last year, and now the finalised version is ready to go on tour. Its premiere showing takes place on 14 October at Brooklyn’s Spectacle Theater with Borbetomagus’s Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich and director Merten attending. Follow-up dates have been confirmed at Seattle Grand Illusion Cinema on 12 November and London Close-up Filmcentre (20 November).

Legendary Japanese singer Phew makes her London debut

Phew to perform at Iklectik in October

Four decades after seeing The Sex Pistols inspired her to form her own punk group Aunt Sally in 1977, the legendary Japanese singer Phew is set to make her London debut. “I realised [punk] was not something you were supposed to watch, it was something you were supposed to do,” she told Biba Kopf in 2003 (The Wire 234).

Aunt Sally split up in 1979, since when Phew has followed her own ways. On her most recent solo album A New World, however, featuring herself on analogue electronics and vocals, she acknowledged her hardcore punk roots through her cover version of Johnny Thunders’ “Chinese Rocks”.

Phew made her first solo album Phew in Germany with Holger Czukay, Conny Plank and Jaki Liebezeit. In the 1990s she returned to Germany to record the album Our Likeness (Mute) with Chrislo Haas, Einstürzende Neubauten’s Alexander Hacke and Thomas Stern. And the German connection continued in the 2000s when Dieter Moebius collaborated with Phew and Erika Kobayashi on Project Undark’s post-Fukushima nuclear disaster album Radium Girls 2011. In between times and closer to home she has released numerous solo albums, as well as recording and performing with her early 2000s update of a punk group called Most (2000–10), the sampler/electronics duo Big Picture, and also collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Otomo Yoshihide and ex-Boredoms guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto, among others.

Now performing solo on analogue electronics, Phew plays at London Iklectik on 8 October. The programme also includes Olivia Louvel. Tickets are available here.

Don Buchla has died

Electronic instrument designer and Buchla Series inventor dies aged 79

Synthesizer pioneer Don Buchla died on 14 September, announced music historian Mark Vail via Facebook. Buchla, also an instrument designer, is best known for his Buchla Series.

Born in South Gate, California, in 1937, Buchla graduated with a physics degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960. By 1963 he had constructed his first voltage-controlled synthesizer. This original Buchla Music Box, or Series 100 as it was also known, was commissioned by electronic music artists and San Francisco Tape Music Centre members Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnick, and consisted of several modules which could be patched together to create different patterns. In the 1970s he developed the Buchla 200 series Electric Music Box and the first digitally controlled analogue synth called the Buchla Series 500. 1972 saw the invention of a portable all-in-one synthesizer called The Music Easel and the first MIDI Buchla as released in the late 1980s. In the 1990s Buchla moved beyond sound generation to MIDI controllers and updated analogue synthesizers.

Susanne Ciani is one of many contemporary electronic musicians and composers to have worked with Buchla’s devices. She recently recalled her work with him in The Wire 391 Invisible Jukebox. “We have a long history. I worked for Don after graduate school. My dream was the Buchla. I devoted my life to the Buchla. That was my world for ten years. And it was hard.

“Eventually I had to stop,” she continues, recalling her tempestuous relationship with the synth. “Because I had... I guess you can call it a nervous breakdown. When the machine broke I was so bereft that it was killing me. The machine I loved wouldn’t work. It was traumatic. I’d send it back to Don, he’d fix it, he’d send it back and it’d be damaged in transit. Then we tried to hire someone in New York to fix it and they couldn’t. I had the head of an engineering society ready to be trained on the thing but Don’s schematics were so personal that, frankly, no one could understand them. The documentation wasn’t recognisable.

“When I lived in New York, Don sent me a Music Easel. He said, ‘Why don’t you buy this?’ But when I received it I thought it was ridiculous. I was playing this big modular thing and here he sent me this tiny thing and I just didn’t want it. I wanted to send it back but I couldn’t. I actually told him, ‘You lied to me. I didn’t know what this was.’ And we ended up having a legal thing. Yikes. Yeah. So, I was never a Music Easel person. But I see it now in the prism of modern electronic life and, you know, Alessandro Cortini does beautiful things on it. Kaitlyn [Aurelia Smith] does beautiful things on it. But it’s not for me. It’s not my DNA. I’m modular.”

Buchla is survived by his wife Anne-Marie Bonnel, his musician son Ezra Buchla, and his two daughters Erin Buchla and Jeannine Serbanich.

“It isn’t easy being Iggy Pop in a small town in the west of Scotland”

Wire contributor David Keenan announces debut novel This Is Memorial Device to be published in 2017

Veteran Wire contributor David Keenan is set to publish his debut novel next year, his second book, following his celebrated account of the UK industrial underground England's Hidden Reverse. Entitled This Is Memorial Device, the novel promises “a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock.”

The book is a fictionalised account of how post-punk rippled out outside beyond the cities into the region, abbetted by what's described as “hallucinatory first-person eye-witness accounts”. "There were plenty of weirdos and eccentrics and one-offs in Airdrie, it was and still is a uniquely eccentric place, if you can penetrate the seemingly grim front," Keenan reminisces in an email. “Plotting and performances and recordings went on in bedrooms in council houses, in the back end of parks and in disused car parks or at whoever had an ‘empty’. Gigs could happen locally in pubs and clubs, but everyone aspired to ‘make it’ to Glasgow, where there were good venues and good club nights. The last bus home from George Square to Airdrie at the weekend was always a riot and filled with musicians and fans and writers and schemers.”

For Keenan, the post-punk era realised what punk had promised and failed to deliver. “Post-punk was much more diffuse and took the energy liberated by punk and pushed it in countless new directions, encouraging much more experimental and personal work and not just in music, really across the board," he says. “Whether it was painting, art actions, sculpting, travelling the world, dropping out, dreaming, indulging in sensory excess, putting up posters, starting club nights, becoming teenage occultists, writing books, publishing zines or just, you know, getting out of Airdrie.

“Post-punk was really like a kind of mass existentialist movement,” he argues, “and its real story took place in secret in small towns across the world and as such This Is Memorial Device is like a microcosm of a time when anything seemed possible, even though sometimes it really seemed impossible, particularly growing up in Lanarkshire.”

Keenan's account might be hallucinatory, but drugs are not a major part of the equation, and the era of the book predates the rise of heroin in inner city Scotland. “Booze was primarily the drug of choice. This is Lanarkshire, and there was some marijuana, but really, though it almost sounds incredible now, the drug was the culture, the records, the gigs, the train into Glasgow, seeing faces walking down the street in Airdrie looking amazing.” The Airdrie scene was, he declares, rock and roll in microcosm. “One of the characters in the book, Paprika Jones, says “We had our own Syd Barrett and Brian Jones and Nico and Pete Perrett and Bruce Russell.” There were all these people, living it, probably living it harder than their role models. After all, it isn’t easy being Iggy Pop in a small town in the west of Scotland.”

Keenan himself was in the thick of it in the early 1980s. “I was a crazed fan and was publishing a fanzine and then just starting to get my first pieces published in music papers and magazines… The hallucinatory aspect is really the fantasy of it, the fictionalising of it, I drew on what was there, just hallucinated it even further.”

The Memorial Device of the title – who may or may not be on the cover of the book – were “a mythic post-punk group that could have gone all the way”. But Keenan admits the book itself is its own Memorial Device of his formative years. “The book deals with the aftermath as well, and tracks what happened to the people involved, some of it is sad, some of it is a little tragic. What do you do with all of that energy and where does it go?"

Keenan began contribuing to The Wire in 1996, and has contributed countless major features and reviews, including cover stories on Derek Bailey, Peter Brötzmann, Mercury Rev, as well as a major underground music scoop in the first ever interview with Jandek. “I think music writing is a great training for writing fiction or for creative writing in general because you are essentially dealing with something nebulous, something abstract, something that is difficult to capture with language so it forces you to be creative, to push language until it almost topples over into a sort of sensory experience, that’s when it’s at its best and it matches the music and doesn’t betray it, when it takes on a property of synaesthesia, almost,” he reflects. “That’s the best music writing and of course writing about music hones your feel for rhythm and you can extended that into feeling the individual rhythms of the character’s voices that you are inhabiting. I mean, I like the best rock writing as much as I like the best rock music. I dig Lester Bangs’ Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung as much as any of my favourite records. And Lester is in This Is Memorial Device too.”

David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device will be published by Faber in February 2017.

I Called Him Morgan to be screened at London Film Festival

Following My Name Is Albert Ayler, Kasper Collin has directed a new film about the death of trumpeter Lee Morgan.

Director Kasper Collin has followed up his acclaimed documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler with a film about the death of trumpeter Lee Morgan. I Called Him Morgan examines the shooting of the former Blue Note prodigy at Slug’s, New York – by his partner, Helen Morgan. “Helen is as much the woman who saved him as the woman who killed him,” comments Collin. “To me this is a tribute to them both and to the incredible music that brought them together.”

Morgan had a jukebox hit with his 1964 hard bop classic “The Sidewinder”, making him one of Blue Note’s star artists. He also featured as sideman on dates with the label’s most advanced players such as Joe Henderson, Jackie McLean and Wayne Shorter. The film will be screened as part of the BFI London Film Festival this month.