Click here: Classic Cafes Britannia Moribundia
From The Sunday Times
March 25, 2007
The art of noise refined
Today’s electronica has something vital to say, writes Bethan Cole
Take a springtime stroll through the streets of Belbury. This provincial English town, created by CS Lewis in his allegorical novel That Hideous Strength, is also the imaginary home of the electronic eccentrics Belbury Poly. There are Tudor buildings next to modernist municipalities; spots of Arcadian reverie and pleasant public gardens with fountains and statues of nymphs; and, on the outskirts, green fields, unexplained crop circles, haunted woodlands and ancient stone monoliths dedicated to pagan deities. Listen to Belbury Poly’s most recent album, The Owl’s Map, and you’ll find all of this invoked by some of the most delightful electronica to arise in Britain since Aphex Twin, the Black Dog and Global Communication in the early 1990s.
In fact, while the music world seems to be in thrall to the bizarrely raveless new rave and the dubious charms of an unending production line of derivative indie guitar bands, electronica, folktronica, poptronica — whatever you want to call it — has had its most fecund six months since those early1990s golden days. Belbury Poly are just one example. The whole output of their Ghost Box label (fast becoming as collectible as Factory and Warp for its design and music) is mapping new textures and timbres for sampledelic sounds. In addition, the duo Mordant Music are weaving a disquieting tapestry of postindustrial hiss and television nostalgia, while Junior Boys, from Canada, are penning languid love songs underscored by Larry Heard synths. “I doubt I like any music that I would describe as a guitar band,” says Junior Boys vocalist, Jeremy Greenspan.
It’s Ghost Box and Mordant Music, with their “found” sounds, old television themes, soundtracks for public information film, allusions and debt to musique con-crãte , who have really captured the imagination of listeners in search of something new. The critic Simon Reynolds and the blogger Mark Fisher (k-punk) have dubbed the sound“hauntology”.
“Essentially, we’re delvinginto the past for inspiration, with the aim of creating an imaginary world, rather than doing exercises in nostalgia,” says Jim Jupp, who co-founded Ghost Box in 2004 with his friend Julian House, a graphic designer. Indeed, Ghost Box and, in particular, Belbury Poly are not inspired by thehack-neyed futurism that pulsed through earlier electronic music. Their interest lies in lost worlds and an England imagined as Arcadia, in tracks such as Pan’s Garden, which sounds, thrillingly, like morris-dance music made with synths.
“It’s very British-sounding, I would say,” Jupp says. “Though hopefully not in any parochial or jingoistic way.” This is music with a rich background of source material, from the Vernon Elliott-scored theme tunes to Oliver Postgate’s charming early1970s children’s programmes, Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine, to mid-20th-century modernist design. “I love that postwar period of brutalism and the optimistic, if flawed, British take on modernism that gave us the Festival Hall and the Barbican,” Jupp says. “For people of my age, it seems there was a brief, probably mythical period before our birth when a benign government gave us great public buildings, educational institutions and a welfare state. That myth is central to much of the Ghost Box world.”
In contrast, Mordant Music’s unsettling, ruptured fizz and hum has more in common with the ideas explored in Adam Curtis’s television documentary The Trap or the work of the comedian Chris Morris. Their soundworld is full of references to the media, social control, paranoia and surveillance. “Our album Dead Air is very much conceptual,” explains one half of Mordant Music, Admiral Greyscale, aka 29-year-old Gary Mills. “It’s dealing with lost broadcasts, fear culture and the cult of the individual. We had one narrative that saw a TV continuity announcer hijacking transmission control.”
From the scary to the pleasantly bucolic, electronic music is making a big noise right now.
Belbury Poly’s The Owl’s Map is out now on Ghost Box; Mordant Music’s The Tower: Parts VIII-XVIII and Carrion Squared Vol 1 are out next month; Junior Boys’ So This Is Goodbye is out now