Networks of small-edition, handmade or semi-done-it-myself artists hang in there – or, as recent stirrings suggest (one-off fanzines, cassettes, yarn bombing), are mounting a comeback – as the closest thing we have to the apprehension of creativity as a gift rather than a commodity. The mail art that emerged in the 1960s may be its most historically most well-documented moment. Somewhere out there nowhere is something called the “no-audience underground”, a term if not coined by then closely associated with Rob Hayler, who records as Midwich. Analogue mischief seems the most suitable tag, but experimental electronics ranging from nice to nasty is a more appropriate if necessarily vague characterization. Here, we shall concentrate on a couple of acres in the network´s busy corner of northern England, Leeds to be exact, where a hub including the label Striate Cortex, Radio Free Midwich (a blog which acts as ticker tape of day-to-day developments – radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/) and a number of other actors has recently expanded with the emergence of Sheepscar Light Industrial.
Named after his stomping grounds in Leeds, which colleague Hayler (he´s Midwich) describes as “a little Ballardian hinterland filled with anonymous car dealerships and low slung commercial buildings decorated with inept signage”, Daniel Thomas announced the birth of his imprint in early April, with the intent of producing a limited run of CDRs each month, each in an individual plastic pocket with the most generic label imaginable affixed to the front, available for roughly the cost of a stamp (in a concession to the digital age, all releases will also be available on Bandcamp). Its premiere release saw the light of day in late July, a collaboration between Thomas and Midwich called “Twenty-Three Taels”, a twenty-one minute track of spine-chilling, Hitchcockian trembling string build-up being pawed at by a distorted loop growing increasingly oblong as the piece progresses. This mildly thrilling tension never breaks. A few days ago, its discography swelled to six with three new releases, including “Wormwood” by Hagman, a duo consisting of Thomas and David Thomas (no relation) with access to “a variety of noise making devices, effects pedals and lots of wires”, who smear their twenty minutes with glutinous textures, and some home taping by Midwich called “Eaves”, a field recording of the neighbourhood kids and insects into which slips cushioned, rhythmic gamelan cling-clang.
Meanwhile, Striate Cortex celebrated its fiftieth release-iversary and the arrival of Sheepscar Light Industry by filling a job lot of small, square, cardboard boxes label head Andy Robinson had come across with four 3″ zebra-print CDRs, showcasing this herd of switched-on Loiners. Midwich, Daniel Thomas, Ashtray Navigations and Astral Social Club (Neil Campbell, elder of the assembly, having performed since the eighties under a number of pseudonyms, perhaps the most well-known being Vibracathedral Orchestra) each contributed twenty minutes of new music under the rubric “Victorian Electronics” (named not after the era but a local city-centre hotel they often frequent for liquid lunches). As an object created by hand with craft and affection, it has few equals, down to decorating the inside of the box and its lid, which are strapped together by a paper band featuring a black-and-white panorama of the Sheepscar skyline by night.
Astral Social Club´s “Sinister Depilator” is a live cable of electric guitar flailing about the room, as bass notes contentedly recline in a rocking chair deep in the background. “Beneath it All, Desire of Oblivion Runs” by Thomas investigates the life, career and death of a drone, from crisp, chirruping shakedown, through gleaming, muscular pulsation and inevitable metal fatigue and deterioration, before ascending to an afterlife humming in tune with the music of the spheres. “Verdigris” by Midwich is a pastoral, zen interlude, a slowly struck gamelan clearing the air for a flitting firefly note, burning brightly, describing arcs of light in the air; a coloratura oboe discreetly sings her accompaniment, ultimately joined by a hearty, electronic drone. Finally, the duo Ashtray Navigations divide their twenty minutes into two pieces, the first of which bursts in like the soundtrack to a Bollywood biker movie directed by Russ Meyer. The second track maintains a Subcontinental feel, with humid bass, “ethnic” drumming and a sitar and a violin having a good-humoured argument.