Weird Band of the Week: Bow Gamelan Ensemble

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A Javanese instrument made up of bells, chimes, gongs and various other percussive elements, the gamelan is one of the most elegant music-making devices ever created. The Bow Gamelan Ensemble, which existed in England from about 1983 to 1991, is considerably less elegant and doesn’t feature much you’d confuse with an actual gamelan. But the basic concept — using lots of different percussion to produce an elaborate tapestry of sound — is the same. Just with a lot more pyrotechnics.

Formed by percussionist Paul Burwell, performance artist Anne Bean (previously of tongue-in-cheek glam-rockers Moody and the Menstruators) and sculptor Richard Wilson (later famous for insane large-scale artworks like this one), Bow Gamelan specialized in creating site-specific, large-scale industrial art installations, often over water, upon which they would then perform semi-improvised musique concrète works featuring scrap metal, motors, air compressors and various other industrial noise-making devices. Their shows typically climaxed in explosions, fireworks and bursts of flame.

Bow Gamelan certainly weren’t the first or last group to use power tools and found objects as instruments, but they were among the most ambitious. Here, for example, is a 16-minute documentary about their 1987 work, Offshore Rig, which occupied a one-acre island on the Thames for several weeks as the Bow members and a team of helpers outfitted the island and several surrounding pontoons with oil drums, steam whistles, vacuum cleaners, a massive set of wind chimes made from 100 sheets of broken glass, and 3,000 pounds of pyrotechnics.

And here they along another section of the Thames, in Kent, performing a 10-hour piece on a set of concrete barges. As they banged on their bells, pipes, springs and barrels, they and their instruments gradually submerged in the rising tide.

One of the cool things that set Bow Gamelan Ensemble apart from other musique concrète ensembles was their fascination with water and its distortive effects on sound. Even performing indoors, they often found ways to incorporate water into the show, as in this piece called In C & Air that also used the stage floor itself as percussion by raising and slamming down planks of it via an elaborate pulley system.

Strictly speaking, Bow Gamelan — who took the “Bow” part of their name from the East London district where they formed — were more of a performance art project than a band. But they did release some of their “music” on cassette and LP, including this 1984 tape from the cassette magazine Audio Arts and a 1988 album called Great Noises That Fill the Air.

Some accounts of Bow Gamelan Ensemble have them breaking up in 1990, but I found several references to a cassette called Dancing With the Ghosts that appears to be a recording of a 1991 performance in Rome. I’m pretty sure this features a later version of the group that included only Burwell and a second percussionist called Z’ev. The original trio, plus Z’ev and several other performers, also reunited in 2004 for a one-off performance in a place called Margate Harbour, which judging from this video was a classic Bow Gamelan show, pyrotechnics and all.

Sadly, Burwell died in 2007 at the age of 57. But Bean and Wilson haven’t abandoned the project completely; in fact, if anything, they’ve been even more active, creating a very Bow Gamelan-like large-scale performance in Birmingham, England in late 2007 in his memory, and forming a new duo called W0B that’s carried on the Bow Gamelan tradition of exploring sound with unusual, sculptural assemblages like this one. Later this month, on Oct. 26th, they’ll premiere a new performance at the Cooper Gallery in Dundee, Scotland as part of a two-month retrospective of Bow Gamelan’s work. If any of you readers are planning to attend, please give us a report.

P.S. Our thanks to reader Thremnir for suggesting we add Bow Gamelan to the Weird List.

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Weird of the Day: Patricio García, “Monotone Talk”

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Listening to the news lately can be a pretty depressing experience. It’s mostly idiots and assholes, spouting vague platitudes or outright falsehoods, repeating the same nonsense over and over again until an increasingly dim, disengaged public stops questioning their bullshit.

But one person’s bullshit is another person’s raw material for making art. On his new single “Monotone Talk,” Argentinean producer Patricio García synthesizes the voices of Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, Marie Le Pen, King George VI, ISIS leader Abu Mohammad al-Adnani and, for some reason, Emma Stone — among many others — into a techno Tower of Babel. Dancing to it feels like dancing on the grave of history, which we’ll probably have to start digging any day now.

Before he went solo, García was a member of Argentinean post-punk group Los Chicles. He’s also done film and TV soundtrack work in a variety of electronic and symphonic styles. When he sent us “Monotone Talk,” he said he’s “looking for a new pop music.” I’d say he’s found it.

“Monotone Talk” is from a forthcoming LP of García’s work called Listen in Awe. The single comes out Oct. 18 and is available for pre-order now via Bandcamp.

Of course Little Big’s two new music videos are amazing

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I’m just gonna declare it right here: No other band on the planet is making music videos more wildly entertaining and creative than Little Big‘s. The Russian rave band that first caught our eye four years ago with delirious clips like “Every Day I’m Drinking” have, at this point, surpassed their most obvious influence, Die Antwoord. By my count, they’ve released over 20 music videos and they’re all varying degrees of awesome, with their own surrealist sensibility and manic energy.

In just the last three weeks, they’ve released two of their best clips yet. The first one, “AK-47,” bites animation from Walt Disney and Rick and Morty to lampoon gun-nut culture more brazenly than any American artist has had the balls to do. They also shamelessly embedded their tour dates (which, alas, appear to be limited to just Russia) in the video — a marketing stunt so obvious I’m surprised I haven’t seen it before, although it does mean the video will be outdated in just a couple months. Then again, the implication that a video this elaborate was done more for the sake of marketing than to make a Piece of Art That Will Stand the Test of Time is a pretty impressive flex.

They dropped that insanity on Sept. 21. Then, just two weeks later, they returned with a video for a new track called “Skibidi,” off the just-released second half of their two-part album Antipositive. It introduces a new dance called, well, the Skibidi, which in its simplified form can be done while walking down the street, purchasing vodka, and possibly even having sex. It’s also a great way for street gangs to resolve their differences, just like in West Side Story and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

As part of the release of “Skibidi,” Little Big have issued a #skibidichallenge, encouraging fans to upload their own versions of the Skibidi dance to YouTube and Instagram. It’s only been six days, so the Skibidi hasn’t achieved Harlem Shake-like ubiquity just yet. But there already appear to be hundreds of entries, of which this one so far is our favorite. Russian Home Depot looks way more fun than American Home Depot.

And although WordPress apparently won’t let me embed Instagram videos, I’d be remiss if I didn’t direct your attention to this one, because nothing is so funny that an inflatable dinosaur costume can’t make it funnier.

If any TWBITW readers wanna send us their #skibidichallenge dance videos, please do! If we get enough good ones, we’ll include them in a future post.

Weird Live Review: Captured! By Robots

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We humans, for the most part, kind of suck at playing live music. We only have four limbs and can only play so fast. We’re easily distracted and fuck up our parts all the time. Our fingers bleed and our tendons get strained. It’s a miracle every concert isn’t a complete disaster, really.

So why not replace those feeble humans with ass-kicking robots? That’s the idea behind Captured! By Robots, a three-piece grindcore band that is only one-third human. And on a recent night here in Los Angeles, at a venue called Resident, those robots and their human slave, Jbot, proved that it’s a pretty awesome idea.

Captured! By Robots is one of those bands where the show starts before a single note of music is played. The band’s drummer, DRMBOT0110, and guitarist/bassist, GTRBOT666, get wheeled into position early, followed by a series of banners expressing C!BR’s collective attitude towards its pathetic human fan base. You pretty much know exactly where you stand at a Captured! By Robots show, and it’s low on the food chain.

Captured-by-Robots-live1Then the show starts and it’s mayhem. GTRBOT and DRMBOT don’t move around too much — though they do headbang with animatronic gusto — but they churn out a wall of blast beats and riffs denser than anything 20 human musicians could generate. Jbot, clad in rags and chains like some sort of post-apocalyptic death camp escapee, screams, growls and shambles between the stage and the audience, belting out songs with titles like “What Is Wrong” and “No Help Coming.” “Ladies and gentlemen, I was built for one thing,” Jbot declared before the latter tune. “And that’s to suffer alone in a cave.”

C!BR’s vision of the future sounds pretty bleak, but there was one ray of hope — in a drum-off between DRMBOT and a human volunteer from the audience, the human won. I’m not sure if that’s how it goes down every night, but at the L.A. show, at least, as GTRBOT mechanically intoned, “The human has won!”, it made for an almost uplifting moment.

As GTRBOT’s final power chords reverberated through the small venue, Jbot gasped, “Thank you very much, we’re all gonna die, I’ve got merch in the back.” Then he went to work his own merch table and accept thanks, admiration and hard currency from a line of frail human fans. Maybe for his next tour, he’ll have a MRCHBOT, but this time around, it was impressive to see Jbot working so hard to be a one-man operation — albeit one in which he’s cleverly replaced all the instrumental heavy lifting with machines. Or have they replaced him?

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Bow down to GTRBOT666, human scum

I’ve been remiss in not posting this review sooner, but Captured! By Robots do still have some tour dates remaining — see below for a full list. If you live in any of the towns they have yet to invade, I highly recommend seeking them out. They put on a hell of a show. And if you pay your respects now, maybe they’ll go easy on you when they inevitably take over and start grinding our soft, mushy bodies into paste.

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Vladimir Cauchemar teamed up with rapper 6ix9ine and now he’s blowing up

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When we first wrote about mysterious French “medieval house” producer Vladimir Cauchemar, we made a few wisecracks about the intrinsic uncoolness of his preferred lead instrument, the recorder. I doubt Vladimir reads this blog, but if he does, he apparently took that as a challenge, because his latest release, “Aulos Reloaded,” basically does for the recorder what Dr. Dre did for the talkbox. A rework of Cauchemar’s instrumental track “Aulos,” it features rainbow-haired American rapper 6ix9ine and a video that shows 6ix and Vlad, in his trademark skull mask (now complete with silver grill), rolling through the streets of Paris with a motorbike gang. In other words, Vladimir Cauchemar is now straight ballin’, as I believe the kids still like to say.

I can’t say I was a big fan of 6ix9ine before this release — he’s part of a wave of young rappers whose face tatts are more interesting than their music — but I have to give him props for aligning himself with a masked French producer of self-described “medieval house music” who previous biggest claim to fame was a ridiculously awesome video starring a middle-aged guy in a rust-colored turtleneck who is, allegedly, Cauchemar’s recorder teacher. And it seems to be working out great for both of them — in the week since its release, “Aulos Reloaded” has already racked up 8 million views. If it starts getting played on American hip-hop radio in between Drake and Travis Scott, I might start taking recorder lessons myself. Apparently it’s what the cool kids do now.

Charamel

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Recently, music biz veteran Eric Alper posted a tweet that read simply, “When you’re overqualified for the job,” and included a video featuring some person in a big red Japanese anime costume playing drums at what seems to be, judging from the music, some sort of children’s concert. (It’s hard to tell because the camera never leaves the drummer, but the music sounds like something you’d hear on the Japanese version of Barney & Friends.) Then, about 45 seconds into it, things take an unexpected turn. See for yourself:

Needless to say, we had to know more. Some commenters on Alper’s Twitter post (which has been retweeted over 70,000 times, as any Japanese anime character playing drums like Dave Lombardo rightly should be) said the character was part of a band called Charamel. Futher digging, with the help of Google translator and KnowYourMeme.com revealed that the character itself is called Nyango Star, and it’s been making the rounds for about three years, releasing drum cover videos like this insane pass at Japanese kawaii metal darlings Babymetal’s “Akatsuki.”

Nyango Star even has his/her/its own website, which includes an origin story that explains the character is a hybrid cat/apple — the reincarnated spirit of a dead cat buried in an apple orchard who was told by the spirit of an apple tree that only by going to Hollywood and becoming famous could it return to its original cat form. So it decided to become a famous drummer. See? It all makes perfect sense.

Somewhere along the way, Nyango Star teamed up with three other costumed characters to form the rock group Charamel. I could find almost no information about Charamel in English beyond their character names — besides Nyango, there’s Funassyi (the lead singer, who I think is supposed to be a canary, or a pear, or maybe a canary/pear hybrid), Akkuma (the guitar-playing bear) and Kapal (the bass-playing turtle). [Update: Our readers inform me that Kapal is definitely not a turtle but a “water goblin,” and Funassyi is a “pear fairy.” They’re also all examples of Japanese “yuru-chara” mascots, which are like American sports mascots except they tend to be cuter and more surreal and can represent anything from cities to corporations to public transit systems.] I think they formed sometime in early 2017 and debuted with this music video, which is probably my favorite thing to come out of Japan since the aforementioned Babymetal. (Give it about 23 seconds; much like Nyango Star’s drumming at the children’s show, it takes an extremely abrupt turn for the awesome.)

I’m sure we’ll learn more about Charamel very soon, as nothing from Japan this amazing stays under the radar for long. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this video of Charamel in concert — the sound quality sucks, but it’s worth watching just to see a glowstick-waving Japanese crowd go apeshit for this stuff. Also, Funassyi’s got some sick moves.

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Radioactive Chicken Heads get in the Halloween spirit with “Cluck at the Moon”

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Our favorite carrot-fronted, chicken-themed punk band, Radioactive Chicken Heads, are getting into the Halloween spirit early (or right on time, judging from how many aisles of candy and rubber skeletons took over my neighborhood drugstore this week). Their recently released video for “Cluck at the Moon” pays homage to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Ozzy Osbourne, and your favorite zero-budget B-movie splatter flick as it tells the tragic, horrifying tale of an innocent young carrot transformed by the light of the full moon into a bloodthirsty, teenaged werechicken. Watch.

“Cluck at the Moon” is from the Chicken Heads’ 2017 album Tales From the Coop, a mostly horror-themed collection of ska-tinged, spook-punk romps with titles like “Wiccan Chicken,” “Frankenchicken” and my personal favorite, “Poultrygeist.” (That’s one of those jokes that’s still great even when you see it coming from a mile away, right?) They even do a cover of “Somebody’s Watching Me” — remember that ’80s chestnut, by the instantly forgotten one-hit wonder Rockwell? It featured guest vocals by Michael and Jermaine Jackson, which makes no sense until you find out that Rockwell was the son of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. Usually nepotism produces zero-hit wonders, but occasionally it pans out.

Anyway, we’re sure RCH’s fans will “gobble” this one up. Ha! No wait, that’s a turkey pun. We’ve never had much cluck with poultry puns. Or have we?!