Mr. Vast’s experimental jazz-pop group Kröter is even weirder than his solo stuff

kroter

Remember Mr. Vast, our favorite fat-suit-wearing, avant-glam-pop Englishman living in Germany? Turns out he’s been keeping busy since we added him to the Weird List way back in 2014 (my, how the time does fly). In addition to releasing his second album, Touch and Go — which is already getting a reissue, on picture disc, next month — he went and formed a whole new weird band on us. They’re called Kröter, which is German for Toad, and he describes them as “tadpoles wiggling in Jazz Pop ponds, then sprouting back legs [as] they begin to jump around in Techno and krautrock.” They released their debut album(s) just last month and they’re gloriously bizarre, stream-of-consciousness jams that pull from all those sources, plus maybe a little Mark E. Smith, Psychic TV and Suicide. Here’s a taste:

Besides Mr. Vast (aka Henry Sargeant), Kröter features Jo Zahn on guitar and bass and Christoph Rothmeier on drums, synths, production and pretty much everything else, along with a rotating group of guest collaborators. Here they are live in Berlin earlier this year:

Kröter’s three albums are called ( kröter ) *a, ( kröter ) *b, and ( kröter ) *c and are all available now via Bandcamp.

In other Mr. Vast news, he also recently created his first theater show, The Peter Pan Syndrome, and made a couple of videos for Touch and Go. We’ll leave you with the more whimsical of the two, for the album’s closing track, a Bowie-esque psychedelic ballad called “Bottlenose”:

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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: Can’t Hold Waffles, “Spare Change Chicken Incident”

Cant-Hold-Waffles

Of all the internet goldmines for weird music — and they are legion — my favorite is probably Bandcamp. Something about its simple format and tagging system seems to make it an especially inviting playground for freaks from around the globe who want to label their music “experimental,” “art sound” or, in the case of Can’t Hold Waffles, “hélicon deep video game polka.”

Can’t Hold Waffles has two EPs on Bandcamp, both released last month. Studies for Piano and Burning Kitchen Appliances is as delightful as its name implies (especially a dancefloor banger called “Healthy as a Pumpkin”) but I have to give Spare Change Chicken Incident the nod as the weirder and more intriguing of the two. The reader who brought it to our attention, Frank Bähr, describes it as “gamelan composed through algorithms and performed by preschool escapees.” I’d say it reminds me more of what fellow Bandcamp prankster Buttress O’Kneel might put together if you said, “Write a bunch of 30-second loops that sound like Four Tet having a nervous breakdown and give them titles like ‘Robotic Weather Processor Device’ and ‘It Was Getting Late and the Dental Hygienists Weren’t There Yet.'”

So who’s behind Can’t Hold Waffles? Hell if we know. Allegedly it’s one of the 5,000 people who live in the fishing village of Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia — which, come to think of it, is probably true, because anyone making up a fake hometown for this project probably would’ve chosen one of Sheet Harbour’s more colorfully named neighboring communities, like (I swear these are real) Sober Island or Mushaboom. Their bio lists Francis Bacon and Wittgenstein as influences and explains, “Our songs explore the relationship between oral hygiene and multimedia experiences.” Does this mean Can’t Hold Waffles’ music sounds better if you listen to it while brushing your teeth? I’ll try that tonight and report back.

Senyawa

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This week’s weird band was suggested to us by a reader called Major A, who describes them as “rhythmic and melodic, modern and primitive, simply rich and beautiful.” And I gotta say, Major A, you nailed it. Indonesian duo Senyawa make some of the most powerful, original music I’ve heard in a very long time — and they do it all with just a voice and a homemade bamboo instrument called a bambuwukir. I’m not even going to attempt to describe what they sound like — just listen and watch for yourself:

Amazing, right? What singer Rully Shabara does with his voice is unlike anything I’ve heard. It reminds me a little of a cross between Tuvan throat singing and Mike Patton at his most unhinged, but even that doesn’t really do it justice. And the sounds Wukir Suryadi gets out of his instrument are equally mind-blowing, as he uses it play microtonal drones, screeching leads and percussive fills, sometimes all at once.

Senyawa have been around since 2011 and achieved some international success. In 2012, French filmmaker Vincent Moon made a short documentary about them called Calling the New Gods, and in 2016 they did a split EP with Japanese noise band Melt Banana. But in a Vice Indonesia clip from 2016, they noted that in their hometown of Yogyakarta in central Java, most people still don’t know who they are. “Lots of people in Yogya still haven’t seen us play,” says Shabara. “For some reason, Indonesians who have not seen us perform live tend to assume that our music leans towards traditional music. This is wrong and it makes me so irritated.”

Admittedly, my knowledge of Indonesian music begins and ends with the gamelan and Rich Brian, but I’m pretty sure there’s not much traditional about performances like the one below, taken from something called the Radio Asia Festival in Warsaw, Poland in December of 2017. I get why people sometimes describe their stuff as metal, even though that doesn’t really capture what they do either. I say we dispense with genre terms and just say Senyawa are amazing. Agreed?

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Eartheater

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Photo by Samantha West

Alexandra Drewchin is based in New York City, but she grew up on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania. It feels important to mention this up front in describing the music she makes under the name Eartheater, and not just because horses figure prominently in the project’s iconography, including the striking cover of her latest album, IRISIRI. Even though much of what she does is programmed and electronic, there’s something very equine and pastoral about it. The rhythms canter and gallop; the sounds flex and ripple with muscular grace; her vocals, though sometimes harsh and processed, more often float over the mix like they’re echoing from a great distance, panning and Dopplering as if sung by someone in constant motion.

There’s also an alien quality to Drewchin’s Eartheater work — ironically, it sounds more not-of-this-world than her other project, a psych/noise-rock band she does with drummer Greg Fox that’s actually called Guardian Alien. As Eartheater, she shares with artists like Matmos and Amon Tobin a gift for blurring the lines between organic and electronic. Synthesizers breathe and sigh like animals; acoustic instruments and field recordings contort into jagged, mechanical shapes. A track title from her first album, Metalepsis, is telling: “The Internet Is Handmade.” You might think it’s a piss-take on all the bespoke this and artisanal that infesting the hipster communities of Brooklyn and Queens, where she’s based. But actually, it’s her way of pointing out that technology, which we always think of as somehow removed from humanity, is actually just another expression of it. “I’m all about seeing the nature in the motherboard — honoring the metals that make [our] computers run,” she once told an interviewer.

Here’s her latest video, “Peripheral,” in which she takes a blowtorch to an ice sculpture and performs acupuncture on a massage chair.

Her live performances are already the stuff on New York art nerd legend. At one, described by a Vice writer, she wore angel wings and wielded a chainsaw. At another, she danced in a trenchcoat and performed contortionist backbends illuminated only by a pair of flashlights. “I find the ouroboric-like shape of a deep back bend to be uniquely altering,” she said in another interview. “I prescribe this shape to myself and find it’s really helpful to unlock deep emotions while performing.” (For someone who has just shy of 4,300 Facebook likes as I write this, Eartheater has done a lot of interviews — which I think says more about the ouroboric nature of the New York music press than it does about her.)

Speaking of contortions, here’s another Eartheater video that features lots of them, courtesy of Drewchin and fellow dancer Gina Chiappetta. Contortionism is another good visual metaphor for Eartheater’s music; she twists her vocals and instruments as dramatically as she twists her limbs. There’s something both powerful and vulnerable about it — she looks strong and fierce, but also at certain moments like her neck’s about to break.

We started with horses and that’s where we’ll finish, with the video for “Inclined,” another track off IRISIRI, Eartheater’s third album, which was just released in June on PAN Records. The video itself is, by Drewchin’s standards, pretty straightforward: She rides a horse around a bay at low tide, dressed like a steampunk bride in leather and a white veil, and — well, that’s it, really. (Oh, and all the lyrics are subtitled in Russian — a nod to her father, perhaps, who is Russian.) But the track itself is supremely weird in a way that I love. It’s like someone badly described hip-hop to a fan of The Slits and Philip Glass — “it’s aggro vocals that are kinda chanted over loops and shit” — who then attempted their version of a hip-hop track. “I like to customize my style/You can’t buy this — suck my bile,” is my favorite lyric of 2018 so far.

P.S. Thanks again to our anonymous friend at Interweb Megalink, who introduced us to Buttress O’Kneel and also succeeded where the New York press failed in turning us on to Eartheater. Thanks for helping us customize our style, Mr. and/or Ms. Megalink.

DDAA (Déficit des Années Antérieures)

DDAA

Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.

Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.

Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.

Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.

Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.

Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.

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Buttress O’Kneel

Buttress-OKneel

Doing this blog, I’m constantly amazed at how many talented musicians and producers out there release their stuff anonymously, with virtually no promotion or online presence beyond a Bandcamp account or Facebook page. Such is the case with Buttress O’Kneel, a mysterious Australian creator of what she calls “plunderphonic intellectronica” and “excruciating postcore compop.” According to the folks at the equally mysterious InterWebMegaLink, who introduced us to Ms. O’Kneel and her sample-heavy sonic experiments, she’s been cranking out this stuff since 1998 or so — but virtually no information on her exists online anywhere. No photos, no bio, no interviews. I’m totally taking InterWebMegaLink’s word for it that she is, in fact, a woman from Australia and not some aging ex-raver dude from, say, Bristol or Pittsburgh or some other hub for this sort of musical cut-and-paste geekery.

O’Kneel — or BOK, for short — has produced everything from “audio documentaries” on the history of fossil fuels and racism in Australia to compilations of damaged CDs skipping. But she seems to especially enjoy chopping, distorting, stretching and otherwise mangling popular music in clever, unexpected ways. Here, for example, is her take on Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” called “Tentacles for Troy,” an anagram of the original song title. (“i get deep into anagrams as titles because it feels like a microcosmic reference to what i’m doing to the music – complete memetic rearrangement, from ostensibly recognisable shiz,” she explained in a recent Facebook post.) Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the Madonna sample in the intro.

Many of BOK’s sonic experiments will be familiar to anyone who’s explored the worlds of mashups and plunderphonics. She’s dabbled in time-stretching, for example, taking familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and slowing them down until they’re transformed into ominous, oceanic exercises in abstract minimalism. But what makes BOK stand out, I think, is that she always takes these more familiar techniques one step further. In the case of time-stretching, she decided to see what would happen if she instead compressed a familiar song down to just a few seconds, then stretched it back to its original length. She calls the results “pop smears” and they’re kind of amazing:

More recently, she’s been experimenting with MP3-to-MIDI converters, which she discovered introduce weird atonal harmonics into the vocal melodies and make most of the rest track’s elements sound like an old-timey player piano having a seizure. (“It’s a godawful mess of misplayed piano garbage,” reads the Bandcamp description. “Either that, or it’s brilliant conceptual sound art! You decide!”) The process makes a familiar pop song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” sound vaguely terrifying, but when applied just to an isolated vocal track from Metallica’s James Hetfield, there’s something kind of hilarious about it. It’s like Bartok on meth.

Speaking of Bartok: Even classical music is not safe from BOK’s undying love of warping the familiar beyond recognition. Here’s part of “The Four Four Seasons,” a relatively simple (by BOK’s convoluted standards) exercise in organized chaos that takes four different versions of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and lays them on top of each other:

I’m tempted to just go on inserting Bandcamp links ad infinitum, because nearly everything Buttress O’Kneel does is interesting on some level. There’s “This Sick Beat,” which combines Taylor Swift with recordings of “pathological” heartbeats (a very plunderphonic-y response to Swift’s trademarking of the phrase “This Sick Beat”). There’s her field recording experiments with another mysterious producer named Panthera Leo, a project called The Fruiting Body that was allegedly recorded back around 2001 but was only just released earlier this year. There are albums on her Bandcamp page (so many albums) with intriguingly apt titles like Post-remix Retrostep, Shitcore and Hard Dadapop. It’s all great, and worth diving deep into if you have a day or two to kill and want to imagine a world in which Venetian Snares got on the mashup train back when that was a trendy thing.

But I’ll leave you with just two pieces of music that I think sum up, as much as it’s possible to sum up, the full spectrum of BOK’s brilliance. The first, “Merzbowie,” is exactly what it sounds like: a mashup of David Bowie and influential Japanese noise artist Merzbow, mixed live and then run through AudioMulch, an “interactive modular” software suite that is apparently one of Buttress’ favorite tools. The results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect and sort of mesmerizing, although it’s probably not coincidence that one my cats puked three times while I was playing it.

Contrast that with “Breaking Windows,” an ambient electronic track that uses nothing but default Windows sounds to build something unexpectedly beautiful. The accompanying video is pretty fun, too.

So who is Buttress O’Kneel? I still have no idea, but I hope more people discover her endlessly inventive music.

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