Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Frayed writings - A spot of poetry

Well, I'm vain enough these days to share these musings...

What happened?

I was smart
I was voted "most likely to succeed"
What the fuck happened?

We stood at the top of the stairs
And saw more than a house below us
Expanses of people and ornaments
Milling like ants in our heads and eyes
And the magnolias in our secret garden
Became symbols of the decease

Gagging on an ocean of flocked wallpaper 
And ducks never moving past our heads 
Tripped on cotton above the ankles 
We ran arms over the green and infertile lands

I was smart
I was voted "most likely to succeed"
What the fuck happened?

Autumn has come and won't go away
Trees line up for the styx, thank god
Breath will crystallize and stop
Stretched through the quiet night
And the magnolias in our secret garden
Became symbols of the decease

I was smart
I was voted "most likely to succeed"
What the fuck happened?



With laudanum lips I kiss your brow
and pray for your silence.
I escape back into the ether
Which once was buoyant - infectious glow
Now is still, crisp like snow.
Creaking floors mask my desire
a rush of ice to keep the fire.

Have you ever been hit by a bat?
Me neither
But today's sun felt like an atrocious blow
A stream of regret in every golden ray.
Sunglasses at the ready, that's right.
Now run
Keep running
What happened matters no more

Concrete feels like sand underfoot
I could drop and kiss it
like a Pope on arrival
But who'd want this Pope?
I could preach as many sermons
Hold court over lives like ants
I would much to say, and much to deliver
A TRUTH, much needed
How to live all and any life

With saccharine teeth and inject my blood
And rush to rejoin the stampede
Familiar odours greet me like rancid old friends
I'm grateful for their stench
I'd like to hug every sewer and lick every piece
of unfinished food
I'd like to say "guess what? I'm still here!"
To that passing tramp or furrowed-brow suit man
To clasp his/her face and make it real
To laugh and cry that I lied

A racing rhino is kicking my eyes
And laughing all the way - the cunt!
But I am here in the daylight
Drying last night away
Soon there will be punishment
Regret and consequence like fucking stones
from a million Romans' hands
But until that delicious crucifixion
All I can do is walk
And savour the pain.


The Follower

How can you not see him? He's right over there!
He stands. Stares. Follows.
Follows more. And more.
More. More. Ever right fucking there.
Or is it a "she"? Doesn't matter, because it's always there.
Loping, smiling - evil rictus promising nothing
“There is nothing”. To see? To feel? Or at all?
As fog descends like granite.
I make dionysian promises
To kick him like the beast I once knew;
reverse the punishment - is this revenge?
No worries, a hand touches mine and I go blind
My eyes don't hurt,
instead they fly
Feet like Mercury, Tadzio lips and eyes
Feel that, black follower, I can still enrapture myself!

But time is a splintered demon
Not willing to wait, it cajoles and brings Helios to my door.

And his dark hair falls in my face
His breath mine own, dank and heavy, pervasive.
A scream unheard rolls through my cramped room
I dive back into the cotton fields
Where he lopes beside -inside- me
Always his tongue lolling, his fuckfaced grin
His evil eyes
And whispers become a tornado
A chorus from “O Fortuna” - invading, submerging. Nelson’s furious fleet.
“Go, go - you have no place here!
And because you believe in nothing, not even Hades will open its door.
You’re fucked and screwed! Doomed and delighted. Enjoy”

So walking is all I can do.
A voice sings “Tecumseh Valley” in my room.
The black follower is at the foot of my bed. In the hall and beyond the walls.
Fare thee well, every one of you.
I might see you again.



- (c) Joseph Burnett, September 2012

Monday, 3 September 2012

"Toast" - Camera Expressions

"Toast" - Camera Expressions

Instagram has an interesting effect called "Toaster". This is a minimalist Frayed indulgence expression using that effect to distort reality.  All photos taken in public spaces: clubs, pubs, an office, etc.

- (c) Frayed Expressions, 2012

Monday, 6 August 2012

Rainbow ambiguity: the beauty and the beast of 21st century gay culture

As a Republican (in the British sense), I was more than a little indifferent to the recent Jubilee hoo-ha, managing to avoid getting even a whiff of bunting or pork pies whilst the rest of the country seemingly went mad. But, in typically myopic lefty fashion, I was startled to see how many of my gay acquaintances were lacing their Facebook profiles with pro-Jubilee posts. As I say, part of this was a form of liberal arrogance, assuming people would follow my view point just because we share a sexual orientation, and then being shocked when they didn’t. But reading a Guardian article by Peter Tatchell about the Jubilee highlighted the fact that, all due respect to her, the Queen has never been a friend of the LGBT community. In fact, she and her family have overtly snubbed us, in ways she wouldn’t with other communities. In that light, the fawning of gay people over the Jubilee takes on a different light.

Equally, I was staggered to see 5-star reviews of The Iron Lady in gay magazines such as Gay Times, and, again, gushing messages about the film from gay people on Facebook and Twitter. Whatever one thinks about the film’s apolitical intentions, Margaret Thatcher’s government ushered in Section 28, the most homophobic law since decriminalisation in 1967. I know Meryl Streep is a gay icon, and was not flying the flag for Thatcherism, but any positive portrayal of Maggie (and let’s not kid ourselves - The Iron Lady comes as close as possible to being a whitewash) should, I think, give any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person pause for thought. That Section 28 didn’t even crop up in the film was disgraceful (not to mention all the other shameful things she did but which I can’t go into here). The idea that we, as a community, can be so quick to forget our recent history, is for me deeply troubling.

It’s probably not that surprising. For me, coming out was a tortuous and difficult experience. Not vis-a-vis family and friends, who’d always known intuitively, and were overwhelmingly supportive, but personally: I simply couldn’t equate my bi- or homosexuality with the fact that I loved heavy metal and noise music, was tall and gangly rather than slight and effeminate, and had no interest in the mainstream of popular culture. Because that is the norm. Even rugged bears tend to be more into Scissor Sisters than Eyehategod or Throbbing Gristle. By the time I came to deal with my sexuality, the culture I adored, from art-house movies to avant-garde performance art to extreme music, had become my world, and as I ventured out into London’s Old Compton Street, I found few, if any, reflections of that world around me in the neon lights and cheap pop of the gay scene.

Now, of course there are exceptions. Not all LGBT people are indifferent/oblivious to Black Sabbath or Bergman or JG Ballard. Not all LGBT people are obsessed with their hair, the latest Lady Gaga single and Judy Garland, and it’s reductive to think so. But, to use a tiresome cliche, stereotypes contain a bit of reality, and I collided with this reality as I embraced, and slowly became put off by, mainstream gay culture. As someone in thrall to noise, punk, horror films and experimental art, I like and admire culture that goes against the grain, that fights with and assaults convention. And there was a time when being LGBT meant that by definition you were confronting the status quo. We are “queers”, and that term in itself remains both unsettling and empowering: we go against the norm. That led to Ginsberg, Baldwin, Sontag, Burroughs, Wojnarowicz, Mapplethorpe, Montano, Hujar, Stein, Cage, Warhol, Waters, Jarman, and so many others. In most cases, exploring and confronting sexuality was a key factor in their art, and one that defied conservatism and prejudice. Where is that defiance now? I may have come along generations later, but my mindset is still informed by the Stonewall riots. And I am staggered that so many younger gay guys (I cannot realistically speak for the lesbian community, and would not have the presumption to try to do so) seem unaware of, or indifferent to, that seismic event. Where is the rebellion, and self-affirmation, in the constant X Factor/Big Brother love-ins that seem to dominate modern gay culture in the UK, to the point that Alexandra Burke or Cher Lloyd headlining at Heaven is considered a major event?

It’s a sad bi-product of the society we live in, of course. As LGBT people have become more visible and welcome in mainstream society, so we have floated onto the radar of businesses and media moguls smelling an audience and a set of customers. Homosexuality has become commodified, and the upshot is that easy-sell stereotypes have flourished. I am staggered at how many covers of Attitude and Gay Times feature shirtless straight celebrities undressed for the delectation of gay readers. Do we really want to propagate the myth that gay men can’t be trusted not to drivel over straight guys? Inside, the pages are filled with fashion blurbs, pop hysteria and endless advertising. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail or Heat Magazine’s salacious and intrusive celebrity gossip pages are hugely popular with young gay men, fuelling the cliche that, as a grouping, we are shallow, unimaginative and obsessed with appearance (apparently, few of these gay chaps see the irony in adding to the hit count of the Mail, a newspaper seemingly hell-bent on setting back gay rights by a good decade or four). Of course, straight people are equally corralled into easily-targeted consumer groups, and respond with equal amounts of vacuous enthusiasm - my “gay conundrum” is a reflection, I think, of a greater social malaise. But, in general, most straight people have not had to sweat blood and tears to get to this point.

Even writing the above, however, fills me with anxiety. I do not want to seem a snob, condescending, or humourless. I certainly don’t want to generalise. The fact is that these new trends are an unfortunate side-effect of something much more positive: acceptance. In the UK, and most of the West, being gay is no longer deemed something worthy of contempt or condemnation. We live in a post-Queer As Folk world, where LGBT people are visible and, mostly, welcomed. And, to put aside my snide aside earlier, we now have pop artists such as The Scissor Sisters and Patrick Wolf that have followed in the tradition of Marc Almond and Boy George by visibly, even brazenly, putting their “alternative” sexualities at the forefront of who they are. And where their forebears were met with resistance, even anger, these artists are now feted around the world. That is surely something worth celebrating, and as I gaze at younger LGBT people walking openly through the streets of London, I feel my heart soar. They may be very different to me, but they are free, unmolested by prejudice and self-doubt, there for the world to see. It’s beautiful (although I could point out that, with Queer As Folk now long gone, we seem to be quietly reverting to the John Inman version of gay-ness, at least on TV and in pop music: camp, but fundamentally sexless and therefore inoffensive. And, as Luke Turner recently explored on this website, let’s not even mention bisexuality, one of the ultimate taboos for both gay and straight people).

In such circumstances, it’s too easy to become complacent. In 78 countries it’s currently illegal to be gay or lesbian. In several, it’s enough to be sent to the gallows. In the build-up to Euro 2012, a lot was made of fears of racism, but very little about the fact that one of the co-hosts -Ukraine- plans to bring in their very own equivalent of Section 28, or the fact that across Eastern Europe and beyond, gay pride marches are the targets of violence and intimidation. In the US, one loses count of the number of nasty homophobic comments and even proposed laws that crop up across nearly every state. Meanwhile, the proposals in this country to allow LGBT people to marry in civil ceremonies has met with an almighty backlash, with some frankly hateful things being said, notably by Conservative politicians. Finally, HIV infection rates are on the up among young gay men, as ignorance replaces awareness. Being LGBT is getting better, but it’s still far from easy, and charities such as Stonewall need the support of the LGBT community more than ever. What’s worrying is how few LGBT people, especially of the generations below my own, seem willing to address these issues, and continue a fight that started decades ago but still needs fighting. Apathy and materialism are proving to be the LGBT community’s biggest self-destructive enemies.

To get back to my lament over the Jubilee and The Iron Lady, what seems apparent is that the fundamental selfishness that underlines conservatism has now infected the gay community, and suddenly solidarity is hard to come by. Like all people, us gays and lesbians want the latest phones, music and fun times. Greater acceptance has given us room to embrace ourselves, which is amazing, but also to embrace consumerism, and therefore distance ourselves not only from our not-too-distant past, but also from the reality faced by millions of less fortunate LGBT people around the world. So, we forget the risk that Allen Ginsberg took in publishing Howl and the tremendous bravery of the Stonewall rioters and Peter Wildeblood, but we also ignore the terrible things that happen to gay people in Iran or Uganda. We sit in G-A-Y and sip our vodka-tonics, whooping when the latest Nicki Minaj song comes on, and ignore that politicians working in our name are trying to forbid us the same rights as straight people.

In this context, the recently scaled-back, float-less, London Pride presents an opportunity: to reconnect with the values and objectives that animated the very first marches of its kind, as the individuals in the procession are brought closer to those watching and cheering. As I walked (in agonising stilettos and a luscious wig!) along the route last Saturday, I was struck by the number of political messages exhibited by my fellow marchers, as I’m sure everyone standing on the pavement must have been. Most expressed either revulsion for current Tory policies or support for gay people living in countries where the kind of freedoms we take for granted are forbidden. It reminded me that solidarity and awareness are still fundamental values of the LGBT community, and can still be driving factors for us. Obviously, the chance to preen and party eventually won out over the strong messages, as Soho was transformed into a gay version of Oldham city centre on a Friday night, but the fact that political stances and mobilisation are still a reality is cause for cautious optimism.

So I make no apologies for lamenting a lot of what has happened to the community I intrinsically, and gratefully, belong to. Conservatism in the gay community is sparking indifference and amnesia, as it is among every other social group in the country as a whole, even as vicious cuts threaten of livelihoods of nearly each and every one of us, bar the proverbial 1%. We need to remember the risks and sacrifices so many LGBT people, both famous and everyday, took to get us to the comfort zone we now reside in. We need to reject the bland stereotypes we are being drawn into. We need to be aware of our history, and our precarious present, and not discard them in favour of trinkets and catchy music. We need to lend our voices to those LGBT people around the world and here in the UK who have none. We need to be militant, proud and unrepentant. Yes, it’s amazing how far we’ve come. Yes, it’s wonderful that we can be seen and heard and accepted by the rest of society here in the UK. But the road first walked by the great cultural and political pioneers of the LGBT community is far from completed. Rolling over and accepting ignorance and disparity for the sake of a smartphone, a pop hit or a quick buck will ultimately undermine everything we’ve achieved so far. Let’s not sacrifice those giants’ legacy, or the hopes of those less fortunate than us

Taken from an article that first appeared in the Quietus: http://thequietus.com/articles/09465-rainbow-ambiguity

Monday, 23 July 2012


Portrait series portraying mundanity captured via technology and "celebrating" despondency and narcissism in equal measure.

















 Value and aetheticism irrelevant. FRAYED

A Frayed Expression. (c) July 2012.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Never Say When - with pictures

This is an updated transcription of a review first published on The Liminal: http://www.theliminal.co.uk/2012/05/never-say-when-broken-flags-30th-anniversary/. I'm reproducing it here, complete with some picures I took, which were too dark to be included in the initial version.

Gary Mundy in Ramleh

30 years ago, a tiny record label run out of Croydon resident Gary Mundy’s bedroom was launched on the world, alongside Mundy’s band Ramleh. Although it would always remain an operation ensconced in the underground of British music, it quietly helped shape the nature of that underground and gradually grew in influence until it reached the near-legendary status it holds today, some fifteen years after it was laid to rest. That label, of course, was Broken Flag, and few have defined the Power Electronics and noise scenes in this country more than it did between 1982 and 1995. Broken Flag launched Ramleh, of course, but also Consumer Electronics, The New Blockaders, Ethnic Acid and Skullflower, and, for all its perennial association with Power Electronics, its roster was remarkably diverse, bringing together artists from around the world and across the various facets of noise and electronic music. Listen to just about any modern noise/electro/industrial artist or band operating today, and you can hear something of Broken Flag’s influence amidst their drones, screes and squalls. And what better way to celebrate this astonishing legacy than by organising a three-day festival in a grungy venue in rain-battered north London?

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way: it had been announced that Prurient would be part of the bill, but he sadly dropped out. The doors also opened an hour late on each day. The Dome, whilst a nice room with decent enough sound, somewhat undermines itself due to unfriendly staff and ridiculously over-zealous bouncers. But those were small niggles over a weekend of simply phenomenal music. Any fears I had that things would get a bit samey (we’re talking about 3 days of noise and industrial music, after all) proved to be completely unfounded, and with so many great, and I mean truly fucking great, acts on display, I very much doubt anyone left feeling short-changed.

I have already hailed the event’s diversity of sound, but for all-out Power Electronics fans, there were several acts that would have amply satisfied their need for crackling tones and shouty vocals. Swedish duo Sewer Election and Treriksröset had the perhaps unenviable task of opening the event, and proceeded to deliver a brittle and short set full of hiss, fuzz and aggressive arm-raising, taking the novel stance of performing in the midst of the audience, hunched over their effects pedals and contact mics. Like Saturday’s second act, Lettera 22, these two were a younger act designed to showcase Broken Flag’s influence on recent generations. Italy’s Lettera 22 also performed in the midst of the audience, producing seething synth- and tape-based harsh noise that shook the hall so much they caused a pair of amps to crash to the floor. Their set was altogether more potent than Sewer Election and Treriksröset’s, with the kind of sonic construction that has characterised recent works by Mike Shiflet and Joe Colley, albeit with a constant undercurrent of noisy drone (and perhaps less subtlety than those greats). It did drag on a bit, but Lettera 22 showed that newer acts are not scared to push the boundaries of what their illustrious forbears pioneered.

Starting at 7pm (supposedly), Friday’s evening was the shortest, and it was dominated by stalwarts from Broken Flag’s past. Le Syndicat hail from France, and first appeared on the Morality compilation way back in 1985. Their set, another excessively long one, showed some exciting use of techno-ish beats and heavy bass (they’ve obviously spent some time with ears to the drum ’n’ bass ground, and it is good to highlight the sometimes unexpected lineage between early industrial and d’n’b), but mostly lacked focus and direction. Con-Dom, in contrast, was gruelling and confrontational, with Mike Dando stripped to the waist as he hurled scabrous lyrics at the audience and kicked over any beverages on the stage’s edge, backed by brittle old skool power electronics and gruesome film footage. Very much a per se Power Electronics gig, then, and one that showcased the genre’s uneasy balance of pure menace and over-the-top silliness, something that was also the case with the balaclava-clad Grunt, who were beyond cliche with their ugly shouted vocals and stereotypical blasts of uninspired greasy noise. Meanwhile, young Finn Tommi Keränen, who appeared on Sunday, was more sedate, but failed to distinguish his sound from every “pure Power Electronics” act that preceded him, his scraped tones sounding like a carbon copy of Grey Wolves circa 1992.

Consumer Electronics

Of course, the need to provoke and enrage has been intrinsic to a lot of Power Electronics from the genre’s inception in the form of Whitehouse. Whitehouse’s Phillip Best was a key player in the Broken Flag story, as a member of Male Rape Group and Ramleh and as leader of his own project, Consumer Electronics, who headlined on Saturday and who, like Con-Dom, embodied the spirit of shock noise. This was the mosh-pit moment of the weekend, with Best (very much a noise celebrity) striding around with his shirt open, kicking over beer and spitting water as he screamed typically obscene lyrics (though, to be honest, all I could hear was the word “fuck” – it could have been “I fucking love everyone in the world”, in fairness, though I doubt it) and rubbed his body, tongue protruding. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Sarah Freilich and Gary Mundy produced screaming, overloaded machine noise and Anthony diFranco pummeled his bass guitar, the whole lot building into an ear-bashing wall of angry noise. Sure, the theatrics, which even involved holding up pictures of what appeared to be murder victims, were beyond camp, but like his erstwhile Whitehouse colleague William Bennett, Best somehow manages to balance his silliness with an intense aura of acute menace and fierce intelligence; and the music was simply overpowering. The only thing that prevented the set from being a true reincarnation of the mid-eighties Power Electronics scene at its height was the fact that this audience was full of adoration for the people onstage, rather than being on the brink of a riot.

Anthony diFranco in JFK

As much as I enjoyed Consumer Electronics and even, somewhat against my better judgment, Con-Dom, the most musically interesting acts on show were often those who went beyond noise and industrial and explored different styles. M.T.T., who appeared on Saturday, was a good example, his grimy set featuring delicate interludes and some subtle plucking of what looked like an electric dulcimer, with the ensuing spaces bristling with poised tension and unexpected melodies. In many ways, it reminded me of the recent works by Cindytalk or even BJ Nilsen, who was, coincidentally, in the audience (yes, shameless name-drop there). JFK, a side-project by Ethnic Acid and Ramleh’s Anthony diFranco, featured twin bass and electric guitar, bridging the gap between Broken Flag’s electro-noise origins and the thunderous industrial metal of Godflesh or Ministry. The riffs were heavy and sludgy, the basses rumbled like earthquakes, a drum machine spat out mean beats, and for all of a moment it felt like Laibach and Justin K Broadrick had joined in the fun, albeit drunkenly and with no interest in any concept of song.


Several artists resolutely anchored in noise also displayed a fearlessness in taking things into new zones, not least of all Gary Mundy’s solo project Kleistwahr. Using basic loops and his inimitable voice (I swear there are few in noise who can hold a candle to him in terms of how he uses vocals), Mundy unleashed a veritable storm of sonic nails, an avalanche of brittle, savage electronic mess that seethed and surged rhythmically with the inhalations and expirations of the breath from his lungs. Somewhere inside the morass, Mundy expelled angry, anguished lyrics that seeped into focus only to disappear as quickly as they appeared. It was a short, fierce set that opened the Saturday in full force, eradicating the hangover that clung to my brain more effectively than a hundred aspirin pills. On Sunday, Putrefier used a mighty-looking modular synthesizer to craft intricate noisescapes in the manner of Keith Fullerton Whitman, as individual sub-melodies were seized upon, enhanced, exploded and then discarded with effortless, near-scientific, skill. The resemblance to KFW is interesting: was this a case of a veteran taking on new ideas, or a sign that Putrefier’s influence has, like Broken Flag itself, transcended the ages? Sigillum S, meanwhile, delivered a remarkably elaborate set, melding synth patterns over a persistent, throbbing bass drone in front of unnerving video footage. With a density of sound almost akin to progressive rock and enthusiastically menacing vocals, Sigillum S were almost “cinematic”, as if they were soundtracking the grim imagery behind them rather than just using it as a tool, again joining the dots with modern “horror” acts like Raime or Failing Lights. They also highlighted modern noise’s intrinsic link to the late-seventies and early-eighties industrial scene, as incarnated by Throbbing Gristle and SPK. Equally close to those highly conceptual roots was Italian legend Giancarlo Toniutti, who took the novel approach of performing next to the PA. His sound was dominated by metallic rumbles, elastic vocal snippets and claustrophobically compressed drone. Above all, like Sigillum S, a relentless deep drone guided his sound, and Toniutti built his screes and squalls around this immobile metronome, until the resulting chaos came close to the implacable, all-consuming and monolithic beauty of Harsh Wall Noise. What a way to connect the past and the present states of noise. 

Club Moral

Belgian duo Club Moral equally mastered the old and new in their brutal take on what could literally be described as musique concrete. They also were one of only a quartet of acts to feature a woman, and noise’s domination by straight, white, men is something that both intrigues and confuses me, and not just because I was almost certainly the only gay person in the audience for the duration of the festival. But that’s a consideration for another day, so back to Club Moral! From a live stand-point, they were extraordinary: Danny Devos jumped into the audience, rolled around on the floor and dunked his head into a contact-miked bucket of water whilst Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven chucked out 80s-style electro bleeps and zaps and churned out moody, static noise. Once again throwing back to the golden era of Throbbing Gristle, this performance owed as much to performance art as it did to noise or Power Electronics.

Taking a completely different approach were Esplendor Geometrico, a Spanish duo who made an only very brief appearance on Broken Flag back in the day, and one that Gary Mundy highlighted as being very different to the rest of what the label was putting out at the time. This was their first ever live performance in the UK, so their set was predictably long, and, actually, very different from everything else on show. Of course, there was the requisite harsh noise, complete with grinding bass tones and hissing static, but every track was dominated by insistent, driving beats, evidence that noise can quite comfortably process techno and house without losing its darkened soul. Coming on like Pete Swanson’s excellent Man With Potential album, only with more angst and aggression, Esplendor Geometrico’s set felt like club music beamed in from the dystopian future of Blade Runner. Vortex Campaign, meanwhile, combined pulsating, beat-driven noise with fuzzed-out riffs on electric guitar. Dodging around the crackles and hiss generated from a laptop, the guitarist toyed with staples of the blues and garage rock, giving the entire performance the sort of rootsy edge of Wolf Eyes offshoot Stare Case, emphasising Industrial music’s natural, but often overlooked, roots in rock tradition.

Skullflower's Samantha Davies

Such a diverse line-up was testament to both the good taste of the organisers (again, massive thanks to the great people at Second Layer records and Harbinger Sound) and the genre-pushing nature of Broken Flag. But few bands could ever hope to encapsulate the spirit of the label in the way that Skullflower and Ramleh do. After all, they are probably the two bands that first spring to mind when one evokes Broken Flag. Skullflower were the penultimate act on the Friday, and with their dense clusters of extended guitar noise over monolithic rhythm section pounding, they elevated proceedings into new areas of sonic bliss. Matt Bower, the mainstay of Skullflower, has long abstracted himself from the gristle and grind of basic noise, focusing instead on hypnotic repetition and transcendent drone. His guitar playing, allied to that of his partner Samantha Davies, owes as much to LaMonte Young and Tony Conrad’s minimalist drone as it does to anything linked to noise or even rock, and, to cop a phrase of his, being caught up in the sound of Skullflower live is like sitting under a waterfall. With so much of the weekend’s music focusing on machines and electronics, it was a beautiful escape to be absorbed by the primeval post-rock of Skullflower. On Saturday, Davies and Bower teamed up with Gordon Sharpe, aka Cindytalk, as Black Sunroof!, although what resulted felt more like Sharpe fronting Bower and Davies’ Voltigeurs than anything tied to the original Sunroof! Of course, Sharpe’s presence was a stunning glitch in the uber-macho ambiance of the weekend, the exquisite, ambiguous transgender singer contorting and swaying as he belted out mournful, arresting singing over a blanket of ear-shattering violin and guitar drone provided by Davies and Bower. Black Sunroof! brought a touch of the sensual, the elegiac and -dare I say it?- the queer to proceedings, and were one of the most unexpected acts on display all weekend.

Black Sunroof!
Ramleh, as befits the band that, essentially, made it all, played two sets: one “Power Electronics” version (although I prefer to think of it as “noise drone”) and one full rock band. The former concluded the Friday night, and showcased the intense sound Gary Mundy and Anthony diFranco perfected on their superlative Valediction album: intense, all-encompassing machine noise that enveloped the audience, creating a drifting platform for Mundy to howl, moan and growl into the microphone, his distorted voice (and I’ll say it again – man, what a voice!) lifting what would be intensely beautiful, but near-static, noise into blissful heavens of transformative drone. diFranco did hit the bass at one point, but it only served to add an extra layer to the impregnable wall of sound. On Sunday, they were joined by drummer Martyn Watts and Phillip Best on vocals, although the latter surrendered much of the singing to Mundy, and quite rightly so. Best’s presence seemed to serve as a bit of nostalgia (he was a driving force behind Ramleh from the mid-eighties until the late nineties, and crucial to great albums such as Be Careful What You Wish For), but with Mundy unleashing earthy, ragged guitar solos over diFranco’s hallucinatory bass (I’ve previously compared him to Jack Casady and Billy Talbot), the set felt like a flight of fancy over and away from pure noise and into the sort of realms most notably explored by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Butthole Surfers, Black Sabbath or the Stooges. Of course, as on the Friday, this was loud, mean and noisy, but it was just as potently psychedelic, and truly dominated by Mundy and diFranco’s intense conception of “song”. In a recent interview I did with diFranco and Mundy, they talked at length about how they like to take a melody (normally such an unused word at a noise event!), build it up and then destroy it, only to build it back up… and destroy it all over again. That was evident on their Power Electronics set, but even more so in the heart of their rock maelstrom on Sunday.

The New Blockaders

And so, after Ramleh’s ecstatic second set, it was left to everyone’s favourite crass noise band, The New Blockaders, to conclude what had been an exhilarating weekend that took noise back in time before projecting it into the future. Fittingly, it was a conclusion of pure noise, a tidal wave of nasty, enervated saturation delivered by three weirdos in balaclavas. With the way they bang tin drums and other weird objects, The New Blockaders go beyond pure noise and into something approaching, but resolutely sneering at, the avant garde. The best moment was when one of them suddenly materialised in the audience, banging his slab of metal as he marched through the mass of people. Ultimately, with their ferocity and nihilism, the New Blockaders brought matters full circle, back to the roots of Broken Flag’s underground spirit, but without ever dispelling the magic that had gone before, as Ramleh, Kleistwahr, Skullflower, JFK, Club Moral, Esplendor Geometrico and all those others had transcended noise in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible and remained lodged in my mind even as The New Blockaders went about their madcap theatrics. What a weekend. What a fantastic thirty years. What a label. Thank you Broken Flag!