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Vital Weekly 822

img  Tobias Fischer

Editorial: this issue of Vital Weekly is largely dedicated to a flurry activities happening in The Netherlands this week, all around music from the early 80s, which was called Ultra. Concerts, books and a magazine have been published, and Vital Weekly wants to look at those, from their usual critical point of view. All of these activities deal with a short revival about Ultra, the Dutch version of post-punk, which happened in 1980-1981. In this short period of time a variety of bands came along which were dealing the ethics of punk but without the rock n roll of punk.

ULTRA special

"ULTRA was a curious mix of rock, pop, art & electronics, with influences from jazz and the modern classics, that came to bloom in the misty and anarchic underworld of the Dutch squatters movement. ULTRA's punk-inspired do-it-yourself tendency & investigating spirit were a lasting inspiration for next generations of artists and musicians. The 'modern music glossy' VINYL, that came into existence in the wake of the ULTRA movement, greatly influenced style and design in the Netherlands, until this very day."

That was written by Harold Schellinx, member of The Young Lions, composer of music with Dagmar Krause and these days highly active in the world improvisation. His book on 'Ultra' is the first port of call here.

HAROLD SCHELLINX - ULTRA
(book by Lebowski Publishers)
As someone on the inside, he's our man to tell the story of Ultra. Essentially Ultra was nothing else than a bunch of concerts in a short period of time, late 1980 to early 1981, organized by Schellinx, Wally van Middendorp (of the Minny Pops) and Rob Scholte (of The Young Lions, later to become a famous painter). In these concerts the element of 'new' was important, but also with a connection to pop music. A cassette with recordings from those concerts (more on that later) shows that Ultra could be anything: from atmospheric synth music of Home Comfort and Vincent 2 to the chaos of the guitar-no drummer quartet Tox Modell and the free jazz improvisations of Gulf Pressure Ais. The electronic pop-ness of Mekanik Kommando or the Pere Ubu rock of Minioon. Why these concerts all happened, is in this book, which is also a fine document of that time. Massive unemployment among the young, squatting, nuclear bombs over our heads, which resulted in a strong do-it-yourself attitude. Not just in music and art, but also when it came to controlling your own life. Schellinx uses 400 pages (in Dutch) to describe that, and one can argue that this is a bit long. It is. Schellinx expands on a lot of things, like his grandfather, ex-girlfriends and musical history, from Les Paul to The Beatles, recording techniques and takes lots of words and examples to make his point. Some of that is actually necessary to tell his story, but it could have been a bit more brief. Its a fascinating read however, this very personal account of a young man who played in a fine band, did great solo work, but also was an agitator, organizing the Ultra concerts and was also at the start of Vinyl. This magazine, which was first released in 1981, was the alternative for the leading serious magazine on pop music in The Netherlands, Muziekkrant Oor, and in the first issue we find Fad Gadget, A Certain Ratio, but also Mekanik Kommando. The best coup was the enclosure of a flexidisc, one sided by the same Mekanik Kommando, and which prompted me, a poor 15 year old, to get this first issue straight away. We Dutch like freebies. I was hooked straight away. This magazine became, at least until number 26, my main source of information for anything new. The flexi discs had music from the Dutch 'new' scene, Tox Modell, Soviet Sex, Nasmak (twice), but also Dutch bands which you never heard again, like Signals, TTL, Planung and later on, when the edition grew and it became important to attract more buyers, also Gang Of Four, Allen Ginsburg or The Sound. Number 27 had David Bowie on the cover. I kept my subscription however until, again later, they stopped reviewing cassettes. But style, street art, fashion shoots, Bowie, more Simple Minds, Nick Cave it was all not what I was looking for in a magazine on new music. I could buy Oor also, which I didn't either. Schellinx story ends when he is sacked from the editorial committee of Vinyl, issue 23. Like said, its all a bit long and you could wonder who wants to read all of that if you are only mildly interested in that. For the initiated however it contains interesting news, despite some of the in-crowd gossip. (FdW) Address: http://www.lebowskipublishers.nl

DOKUMENT+ (CD by Suburban Records)
Because one day, many years ago, I had to do a gift for Roel Meelkop's wedding, I transferred all 26 flexi discs of the Vinyl magazine onto CDRs, I know that, should it be possible with all the rights, they can fit on a three CD set. Its not possible with all the rights. Already in 1982 Vinyl started the Vinyl Records label, which only released a compilation LP and Tecnoville's 'Glow' 12" (which was produced by Schellinx, but its not mentioned in his book). The compilation LP, 'Dokument' was subtitled 'Ten Highlights In The History Of Popular Music 1981-1982', but contained eleven pieces, some of which are from the original flexidiscs (well, obviously re-mastered from the original masters), such as Mekanik Kommando, Eyeless In Gaza, Die Partei, Minioon, Schleimer K and Cabaret Voltaire. For whatever reason not explained then or now with this CD re-issue, other bands gave a new piece, which in Minimal Compact's case is sad, their 'Wandering Song' flexi was great. Back then I thought it was a great pity as flexi discs don't tend to have a long life ahead. Perhaps that's why I also regret there is no three CD set of the complete flexi discs available, as some easily deserved a better sound quality. The music shows a fine mixture of songs and experiment - although perhaps its more fixed on songs here, but Nexda and Virgin Prunes are certainly a tad more abstract. It included some of my then (and now) favorites, such as Eyeless In Gaza, Die Partei, Mekanik Kommando and Schleimer K. '+' in the title means we get an extensive bonus, nine more tracks. With 'the other' Mekanik Kommando track from the flexi, being the only survivor from the flexi days. The eight other bands are all Dutch and all of them were extensively featured in the early issues of Vinyl - my favorite years and in most cases my favorite bands, such as Nasmak, Vice, Bazooka, Das Wesen (together with Mekanik Kommando, the latter three hail from Nijmegen, which makes me Ultra proud of such an extensive presence of my home town), Tox Modell (the only other band to appear twice, and which made me wonder, yet again, why there has never a CD or LP by this much overlooked band - more on them later), Minny Pops, Cargo Cultus (which had members of Minny Pops) and the never heard Valori Plastici, with members of Nasmak and Mecano. Many of these pieces have never made it to CD before, or vinyl for that matter, so its a great Dokument indeed; one that sits along nicely to 'Transmissions: The Netherlands', which I thought I reviewed but apparently didn't (I did supply some liner notes for that, so perhaps I'm confused), a similar compilation on Dutch cold wave from the same period. Excellent overview of lost music. I am a pain in the you-know for wanting all flexi's in glorious CD format, but I know, I should not complain. I'm very glad this made it to CD at least. (FdW) Address: http://www.suburban.nl/

VINYL - YEAR 32/ISSUE 1 (magazine, LP, CD by Lebowski Publishers)
And then a splendid idea. If there is a book on Ultra, a compilation CD, then why not a new issue of Vinyl, some 23 years after its demise? An off issue in a box with goodies, like a redundant photo of Wally van Middendorp by Corbijn, a poster advertising an exhibition on 'punk in culture', a LP by Rats On Rafts, an Ultra CD and of course the magazine. To start with the latter. This no attempt to either bring out the old memories by old co-workers of the magazine, although the key players get their say (some of them moved to higher positions in the media and art world), but there is also attention for old names - 'where are they now' - like the Minny Pops, which you can't miss these days in The Netherlands, Marc Almond, David Sylvian and Clock DVA - say all those I didn't care about that much, but there is also stuff on street art, a small fashion report (and as someone quite rightfully notes in this magazine: is that what you want in a music magazine), new musical developments such as sound art, various independent labels (Cramned Discs, Enfant Terrible), the resurrection of the cassette movement (including one page of reviews, like in the old days called 'Dolby'), the UK Bass scene but also young musicians as Spoelstra, Rats On Rafts, sitting next to memories of yesteryear, about the fine design of Vinyl, life after punk, the reason why 'comeback' doesn't comeback, new media and new music - articles of a more reflective nature. More than it used to be, but perhaps this issue is for all those people who are out of touch since the 80s, because life dictated so (get a job, have kids). I thought it was all an interesting read and both a fine document of what's happening now and then, in what some people would call loosely 'alternative music', but which in Vital Weekly would be more or less considered mainstream. Perhaps they are a magazine, and we remain a fanzine? Let's stick to that assumption.
The magazine has two freebies worth mentioning. I can't say hallelujah enough for the CD. A re-issue of a compilation cassette from recordings made at the Ultra evening from 24-9-1980 to 18-2-1981. Originally released late 1981 as a 90 minute tape, but loosing 10 minutes here on CD. That compilation cassette was easily one of my favorite cassettes ever, and I was afraid that I would know the order of the pieces that well, that a revised/shortened order would be a bit problematic for me, but its not really. All the great, forgotten bands are here, Meat, Necronomicon, Gulf Pressure Ais, Steno, Vincent 2, Mick Ness, The Gap (how excellent were they?), Scratch, but also slightly more well known bands as Mekanik Kommando, Plus Instruments (with a connection with David Linton and Lee Ranaldo), Tox Modell, Suspect and the only foreigner, and no doubt standing a mile out in fame: Z'EV. This goes next to the 'Dokument' and 'Transmission: The Netherlands' CD. The re-issue wish list gets smaller and smaller.

DET WIEHL - TRILOGY (CDR, private)
Packed in a nice printed this is the first Det Wiehl I heard in years. After the Ultra movement died down, Tox Modell, two guitarists, a bass player and a signer, playing heavy minimal loop based guitar music and political lyrics, folded and the two guitarists, Andre Bach and Mark Tegefoss started Det Wiehl, returning to their attic and doing experimental pop music again (next to playing for a while with Tecnoville, which was short lived). They released a couple of cassettes in the 80s (a selection of which was released on the CD '82-85') and by the early nineties, Det Wiehl was creating music for dance performances (of which also two CDs were released). Since then I lost contact with them but they still create music for dance performances, and last week I bumped into them and they gave me this CDR which is called Trilogy, but has four pieces from 2000-2001 with music they created for Shusaku Takeuchi, who lives in Amsterdam. It doesn't resemble anything even remotely Tox Modell, perhaps that its perhaps (again) based on loops. I should assume they still use guitars, but in various of these eight tracks it sounds even more remotely like a guitar. In fact it doesn't sound like any thing else either. Its all highly minimal in approach, with a very 'silent' and 'empty' sound, but full of tension, especially when in 'If We Had Ten', a rhythm comes; this is the most 'pop' like piece here. Sometimes with music like this it would be nice to see the visual aspect, but in this case its hardly missed. These pieces stand by themselves very well. Mark and Andre told me they hardly sell their CDs, not now, and not then (which I surely remember), and that's a pity. They are certainly a band to hear. So be kind and get one from them. They are the true Ultra: always on the move to search for something new. They however don't play this week on any of the Ultra evenings. Odd. (FdW) Address: http://www.detwiehl.com

BENE GESSERIT - A HIGH, HAPPY, PERVERSE AND CYNICAL CRY OF JOY
(CD by EE Tapes)
HUMAN FLESH - SECOND HAND EMOTIONS AND HALF FORGOTTEN FEELINGS (LP by Onderstroom Records)
In its day one of the leading Belgium's cassette labels was Insane Music. They released a whole bunch of compilations, 'Insane Music For Insane People', but also thematic compilations, such 'Noisy But Chic' or 'Sexy But Chic', the latter dedicated to Samantha Fox (everybody ideal beautiful woman, then?). If that wasn't enough label owner Alain Neffe played in a bunch of bands, starting with the 70s cosmic music of I Scream, to the 80s incarnations of Pseudo Code, Human Flesh, Cortex, Bene Gesserit, Subject and later of Chopstick Sisters. Each of these bands had a specific concept. Cortex was all about atmospheric electronic music with French poetry (recently re-issued on a 2CD set by Plinkity Plonk), Pseudo Code's own unique take on industrial music (with Sub Rosa founder Guy Marc Hinant), Human Flesh being an open ended music-by-mail collaboration or the pure pop of Subject. Bene Gesserit is Ghola B (= Alain Neffe) and Benedict G (= Nadine Bal, his wife) and perhaps the most difficult to place Insane Music band, but along Human Flesh and Pseudo Code the best known one. In the last three years many of the older music has been re-issued, mainly by EE Tapes, Onderstroom Records and Plinkity Plonk. Bene Gesserit now joins with a reissue of their 1985 LP on Insane Music, with as a bonus their 1982 7" and their side of a split 7" with Lelu/lu's from 1986. Like said, I always found Bene Gesserit the most difficult to place. Was it pop music? Not really. Electronic for sure, but then all Insane bands were electronic. Neffe's playing in Bene Gesserit is surely pop like, but always has that added twist of weirdness, almost in a dada-like manner. Bal's vocals add to the dada-like aspect of the music, or perhaps vaudeville, surreal… maybe like an Ensor painting? I didn't hear this LP in many years, and I am quite surprised it sounds more fragmented than I remberered. Maybe I am more open to this kind of music now? Very nice stuff indeed.
The Human Flesh LP was already released some time ago, but only recently found its way to my desk and since we are dealing with a special 80s issue, I care to review it anyway. Left from Bene Gesserit and further away Subject, but right of Pseudo Code and Cortex we find Human Flesh. A group with Neffe as the main man, sometimes recording with friends such as Daniel Malempre or Nadine Bal in his home studio, but also with band members around the world sending in their own sound material to be incorporated later on, such as Deborah Jaffe, Masaki Eguti or Cor Gout. There is a pop-like character in some of these pieces, but throughout Human Flesh is more experimental in approach and lacks the overtly joyous tone of Bene Gesserit. There is more sense of drama in the music of Human Flesh, a touch of seriousness perhaps, even when it comes down to a waltz in 'Swimming And Dying Around The Sinking Titanic', Neffe's own rendition, perhaps, of Bryars 'Sinking Of The Titanic'. The manipulation of tapes, the use of reversed sounds, it all is genuine Human Flesh material. These tracks, previously unreleased, are all from the 80s and are by no means left-overs and each of the nine pieces is great.  A fine sense of experiment and yet still listenable. (FdW)
Address: http://www.eetapes.be
Address: http://www.onderstroomrecords.net/

TRANQUIL EYES - WALKS (LP by Onderstroom Records)
When youth centers in The Netherlands went back to programming more regular rock/punk concerts, the experiment of Ultra moved back to attic studios. Whereas the Ultra cassette is a fine example of how these things sounded in concert and is a landmark of the experimental post punk in The Netherlands, 'Colonial Vipers' set the tone for the attic/bedroom experimentalists two years later. Trumpett Tapes released and around the same Stichting Stopcontact had also started. Taking Plurex' "17 to 7 on 33" as an example, they released 'Contactdisc 1': a LP where bands could buy several minutes on and get a number of LPs in return. Ultimately Stichting Stopcontact would release five volumes and on number three we find for the first time Tranquil Eyes, a duo of Lex Grauwen and Paul Oosterbaan. Their song stood easily out from the many other, sometimes half baked experiments. Here was a duo playing intelligent, modern electronic pop music. They released a few tracks on compilations and only one cassette, 'Walks'. Probably, had internet not existed, this would have been all forgotten about, but it turned up on a blog, and like these things go, 'Walks' is now released as a LP. It happened to Das Ding, Sluik, SM Nurse, Ende Shneafliet: all intelligent Dutch electronic music from that period (and there is more, so aspiring labels should dig deeper). I remember the cassette suffering from the fact that it was a cassette, but this remastered version sounds great. Tranquil Eyes uses a lot of synthesizers and sequencers, but also guitars. The voice is thin, but hey, this is the 80s. It shares that great pop sensitivity that will never see the pop charts. Not as dark as A Blaze Colour (now there is a great re-issue waiting - if ever that could happen), or as naked as Suicide, Tranquil Eyes have a great full on sound, with an excellent production. Its what they called grown up music, and perhaps exactly the reason why it was never a chart hit. This kind of music hardly appeals to the young kids. A fine and most welcome re-issue. Address: http://www.onderstroomrecords.net/

 

LISTENING MIRROR - RESTING IN ASPIC (CD by Hibernate Recordings)
A duo of Jeff Stonehouse and Kate Tustain, who started Listening Mirror in 2010, using a variety of field recordings, improvised piano, acoustic guitar, percussion, BC8 synthesizer and vocals. During 2010/2011 they released some limited works on labels as Rural Colours, Heat Death, Audio Gourmet and a postcard on the Hibernate series. The latter now releases a limited CD, which brings those out of print releases together again, along with the full version of 'The Organist' and one new piece. Of course a man/women duo playing with field recordings and instruments, producing drone and ambient music, will easily point towards Celer. If I wouldn't have known what I was playing I could have easily thought this was something by Celer. Perhaps with one difference and that's the somewhat more extensive use of the female voice in here, which chants wordless, like an angelic choir. But in the pieces where this is not the case, its damn close to Celer. Is that a problem? It very much depends what you want. If you think there is not enough Celer, or atmospheric, drone, ambient music in general, then you would probably not mind more music alike that and then certainly Listening Mirror is another fine addition to what you know. On the other hand, if you want something new, a style to expand, a fresher point of view on what you already know, then this might be somewhat of a disappointment. Listening Mirror just don't seem to expand on anything that we already know. Where do I stand? Hard to tell. I was looking outside, seeing a grey clouded sky, with a bit of rain, reading a book and actually quite enjoying this music. Nicely produced atmospherics. What more do I want, right now? Probably nothing. Let's worry about the revolution in music another day. (FdW) Address: http://www.hibernate-recs.co.uk

 

TWINSISTER MOON - THEN FELL THE ASHES (CD by Primary Numbers)
AIDAN BAKER - STILL LIFE (CD by Primary Numbers)
A new small label from the USA, which starts out with the CD version of a LP released in 2010 on Blackest Rainbow (you can read elsewhere what I would think of that, but in the case I am mild, since I didn't hear the LP). Mehdi Ameziane is the man behind Twinsister Moon, who also had releases on Digitalis Recordings, Dull Knife and Students Of Decay. No instruments are mentioned on the cover, but I would think this deals with guitar, effects, and perhaps an assortment of other instruments (organ? flutes? voices?). Throughout the music has this sort of folk-drone character that is not uncommon on labels as Digitalis Recordings of long sustaining sounds, made with just a minimum of equipment, but me thinks always with a loop station easily at hand. Dreamy music that is not just ambient, or just not ambient, but the gentler side of much whatever came out of New Zealand. Soaring, melancholic, drifting, psychedelic even (when the right substances are inhaled no doubt). Relaxing music. I forgot to think if it sounded like anything else.
Aidan Baker is a household name - I am sure of that. The man has many releases under his belt, solo and with Nadja. Here he stripped down his usual working methods of many looping devices and guitars in favor of three instruments: piano, drums and upright bass. It doesn't mean that the electronics are completely gone, but they play a minor role here. For this album we need to look down under too, and especially at Australia's Hello Square label. What Baker does here sounds like Spartak, 3ofmillions and Infinite Decimals. Jazz like music, improvised music but utterly laidback and 'easy' sounding. Quiet, pastoral music never hectic free jazz or disturbed free improvisations but always in control over the three primary instruments, with the electronics making small ornaments around the pieces, this is some true gorgeous music. An excellent CD and a great move, I think, for Baker to step outside what he normally does and try something new. Now that's what more people should do. (FdW)
Address: http://www.primary-numbers.com/

 

PAUL KIDNEY EXPERIENCE WITH MANI NEUMEIER (CDR by Ice Age Productions)
Perhaps I am way to young to know much of Manu Neumeier's work, other than that he is the former drummer of Guru Guru, a legendary household name in the world of krautrock. He's been around for so many years (72 now!) and has also played with Acid Mothers Temple and Hijokaidan. From Japan he went southwards to Australia and there he recorded with Paul Kidney Experience, an extensive group of krautrockers (and with no member being called Paul Kidney). Lots of guitars, voices, theremin, piano, violin, and Neumeier's drums and percussion firmly in the middle. Fuzzy music in such pieces as 'Ocular Orbit' and 'Phospheniac', with great speed and energy played, but its the more jazzy feel of 'The Canal Of Schlemm' that is more for me. The guitars are soaring and sawing and Neumeier's role is supporting in a spacious way. Its quite a nice piece, but obviously its krautrock so it never seems to end. The final piece is "Chromatic Aberration" which I thought was very funny: it has probably all twelve musicians just using their voice and no other instruments. I can imagine this to be a great ending for a concert. The music marches on, on and on, and that's what krautrock does. Not entirely my cup of tea, but surely something I played with some interest. (FdW) Address: http://iceageproductions.bandcamp.com/

 

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