Friday, June 21, 2024

Show Me Where It Hurts: Rickshaw Fifteenth Anniversary vs. Emilor Jayne's pinky!

Emilor's busted digit threatened to derail her appearances with THREE BANDS at the Rickshaw 15th anniversary celebrations, but she's soldiering ahead and will play there with Night Court tomorrow! See here for more (thanks, Mike!).

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Anju Singh interview: Turning A Page of Madness (and Touring Japan with The Nausea's Requiem): LIVE SCORE TONIGHT at the VIFF Centre

EDIT: This will be in two parts: a BEFORE and an AFTER, reflecting a correction and a couple of observations about this evening's screening:


Disclaimer: as of writing this, I have not seen A Page of Madness, the silent Japanese film being live-scored by (local avant-gardist and metal musician) Anju Singh tonight at the VIFF Centre. I looked at a few minutes of it, went "Holy hell, what IS this?" -- because it is a film I had not heard about prior to the announcement of this screening, and because it is as remarkable and formally ambitious, perhaps even more so, than much better known (and much more frequently live-scored) silent films, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (which has bonkers set design but a fairly conventional narrative exposition, which does not seem to be the case for A Page of Madness, which fractures standard cinematic logic to convey mental illness). I decided that a) I needed to see it; that b) I wanted to see it theatrically, with Anju scoring it; and that c) the film would be best appreciated if I knew as little of it as possible. Besides, I don't have to give spoiler alerts for a film I have not seen! 

The good news is: I know Anju (not well) and have seen her perform in a few different contexts, from all-female avant garde improvisation with the Her Jazz Noise Collective and other projects to drumming with the metal band AHNA. I first met Anju -- 20 years ago, in the storied Fake Jazz Wednesdays scene, where she was a co-organizer and frequent performer. There is a very, very interesting article to be written about Anju Singh, I think, doing a deep dive into her background. This is not that article -- it is focused almost entirely on the live score tonight and Anju's recent Japanese tour with her project The Nausea. Who Singh is aside from all that -- perhaps come to the VIFF Centre tonight with the old Christian maxim in mind that we can know a tree by its fruits? 

Anju promotional image for The Nausea, 
photography is Dani Osborne, collage is by Anju Singh

HOWEVER, given that I know the film -- based on a treatment written by Yasunari Kawabata, I gather -- even-less-well than I know Anju, I wanted to give some options to readers, before reading the interview below, or for further reference later: there is an interesting feature article which can be found here, giving some history and speaking with an expert in Japanese cinema about the film, the filmmaker, and its original context of reception. The whole film, with what I presume is its 1971 score -- added when the film, long thought lost, was re-discovered in the filmmaker's garden shed -- can be seen here. And Anju's website and musical history can be found here. (The website of Harlow Macfarlane, who contributes to tonight's project and who is discussed below as well, can be found here). 

Oh, and Anju assures me, "Yes there will be merch." (Please sign and save me an LP!)

End introduction; let's get to it.

Allan: How did you hear of this very odd film? Where did the idea of scoring it come from? How did you connect with the VIFF...?

Anju: I came across the film a couple years ago when I was researching specifically experimental, silent films so that I could practice scoring to film without worrying about copyright issues in case I came up with something I really liked and wanted to release it. I love experimental film and so coming across this was exciting. While I didn’t finish a score for this film when I came across it at first, I did end up using sections of the film, specifically the abstract parts, for my video art work, which I was also developing at the time.

The reason I was interested in scoring a film in the first place was that every time I played a set with The Nausea live, people would approach me and say “hey, you should compose for film!” and I suppose one day I was like, 'Ya maybe I should! So I started teaching myself by practicing scoring to films I found on that were before 1925 or whatever the copyright cut off was at the time. Since then, I’ve been doing composing mentorships with experienced film composers so my skills have grown a lot.

Allan: Does your doing this score or your interest in this film connect to The Nausea's April tour of Japan? I know almost nothing of Japanese silent cinema -- is it something you've explored much of?

Anju: It is actually totally just coincidence that these things aligned but as you know, the Japanese noise and experimental music scene is vibrant and I knew a little bit about Japanese experimental film, but most recently I discovered 1970s experimental Japanese theatre through another project. I just love experimental art and really admire the risks that artists who work in these genres take, so I was really excited all around. But I love experimental art from all over the world, Korea has so much cool video art, and I’m learning about India’s underground extreme metal scene, and the experimental electronic music I’ve been checking out from Mexico is amazing too. Basically, I’m interested in what people are doing in other places because in niche genres like noise or experimental art, you have a limited audience or community in one place. Globally, it’s a huge movement.

Allan: Have you collaborated with Harlow before? (Do you have a favourite recording or project of his? Mine is Funerary's Call's Nightside Emanations). His musical instruments make him a perfect fit, but I don't know what you may have done together...? What precisely are his contributions (they're recorded, and you're improvising around them, or...?). (Did you see any of his past silent film score stuff? I caught his Haxan live score...).

Anju: I have never collaborated with Harlow but we have performed on the same bills for many years, well over a decade! I like all of his projects. I am using his pre-recorded sounds and composing around them, and then I also have some pre-recorded sounds too. Sadly, he works in film and had to work so can’t do this live, but I’m just really happy we got to collaborate because I respect him artistically very much.

Allan: I know (though I have made too much of this in a past feature) that Harlow has an interest in the occult, which connects with his ideas about where music comes from (I am possibly oversimplifying). Is that a topic you've talked about? Do you have an interest in the occult/ spiritualism/ etc?

Anju: I don’t know if I’m a spiritual person, and I often feel like something is wrong with me because I’m not, haha. I mean maybe I’m spiritual? I have no idea. I’m definitely obsessive and go deep into my art forms. I suppose my spirituality is making art and music from a place deep within that is honest and real for me and in defiance of what I’m told is the norm. I read about spirituality, religion, the occult, and mythology a lot and I actually write my own mythologies for my art through lyrics or in screenplays, but I don’t follow something specific. I think I’m far too skeptical and wary of things to follow something closely. You should have heard me in temple when they tried to tell me who god was as a kid! I follow my inner intuition most of all. Oh and maybe if anything, I fall into existentialist camps because I’m constantly agonizing about existence and meaning...

Allan: I sort of lost touch with your music around AHNA. Bring me up to date? What bands have you been in since then? Did you ever tour Japan with any of them?

Anju: I plays drums in a death metal band called GRAVE INFESTATION touring Japan in November, I also drum for CEREMONIAL BLOODBATH and TEMPLE OF ABANDONMENT, I play guitar in ENCOFFINATE and bass in DEATHWINDS, and I do synth and vocals in DARK RECOLLECTION, a synth/dark wave project. And then I have an active personal art practice which is a bunch of things under my name ANJU SINGH

Anju Singh by Chelsea Mandziuk

Allan: Who/ what is The Nausea, exactly? That's you on violin? Tell me about Requiem?

Anju: I’m not going to limit myself to instrumentation or members, but to date; it’s me doing experimental violin, doom, and harsh noise on violin. Requiem is my first LP and it has been in the works for like 10 years and I am so glad it’s out because I’m ready to move on to the next phase of material, which may or may not include violin.

I don’t know why I am so drawn to violin, I’ve been playing forever but it’s not even my strongest instrument, though sometimes to experiment openly and freely you need less rigid structures around you.

I’m happy with Requiem and actually listened to it twice today after not listening to it for a bit after submitting the masters for vinyl pressing. I think it’s solid. I am excited to do the next stuff. I am feeling more confident in performing with an emphasis on my love of harsh noise, extreme volumes, and challenging sound environments. The next material will push ahead in that direction. But at the same time, I’m also naturally a person who likes some things to be musical sometimes so that will always show up. 

Allan: What I saw of A Page of Madness -- I only looked at the first few minutes, because I'm saving myself for your score -- it seemed to have a unique, idiosyncratic film language -- there was a lot of looking. Is is particularly difficult to follow the story? How much preparation do you recommend? I worry I may be distracted from your score by just trying to figure out what's going on! Any preparatory notes are welcome -- what is the film about, to you?

Interesting questions.. but I do think the filmmakers intended to allow us to feel and experience the film rather than try to control how it is represented or how the storyline shows up. There is a very clear storyline that I can follow, but on first watch, it was the expression of the inner mind and emotions that I found most intriguing. I’d say don’t prepare just watch it, but also there no title cards the way that most silent films have so maybe we do need context. I’m not sure, I’m going to ask people before the screening if they want me to tell them a synopsis or not. I can see both sides.

To me, the film is actually about the shared experiences of mental illness and mental health struggles. While we put some people into cells in institutions, everyone struggles with mental health battles probably at some point in their lives. I mean I could be wrong, but I’d like to meet someone who is in perfect mental health “shape” all the time. I think the film for me describes shared experiences and empathy with those in the asylum. I feel it’s showing how similar, not different we are. I also think the film is about the weight of guilt and responsibility when you’ve made “a mistake”. Guilt and shame are both very interesting concepts to me because they seem so unproductive yet are so valued.

Allan: I gather the director of A Page of Madness was a non-female kabuki actor -- the VIFF guide describes him as a "female impersonator." but again, in terms of things I don't know much about, Gender and Japanese Kabuki is way up there. The Japanese term is apparently onnagata. Are Japanese concepts of gender of interest or relevant here?

Anju: I don’t have much to say about this because I honestly don’t know, sorry! I think asking an expert is better.

Allan: Anything else people should know about upcoming performances, music, the film, etc?

Anju: I will be sharing a composition I wrote for a video at CINEWORKS on August 19th. [This involves cut-up scenes from a popular science fiction series, the name of which is omitted for purposes of avoiding copyright hassles!]

Allan: Anything to report about the April tour of Japan? Did you visit any particular temples? Take in a public bath? See Keiji Haino in his native setting? Are there any must-dos on the itinerary for the upcoming tour?

Anju: We went to a lot of temples, saw some of the best noise in my life, and really enjoyed the train system. I just want to most of all soak in the culture so we didn’t stay in touristy areas and that was perfect, even if we couldn’t read any menus and I often was confused about what I ordered.

2. AFTER: 

I have corrected a misunderstanding in the above: Anju's tour of Japan was in April -- it is not forthcoming. Oops. I presume no one in Japan has been led on by this (my reach does not extend so far). When you write in a rush, you make mistakes. 

Anyhoo: Anju's score was remarkable, as was the film, but I had some difficulty following the various passages in and out of reality offered by the film, and was relieved to bond in that difficulty with programmer Tom Charity, who was on hand to conduct the Q&A. Anju was charmingly unpretentious, funny, and direct -- which can be rare qualities at relatively highbrow arts events, which (I felt) the very-decent-sized audience truly appreciated. But it's not an easy film to make sense of the first time through: for instance, there is a scene where the protagonist murders a doctor, which, we gather, was a fantasy, but the film deliberately makes the line between fantasy and reality quite thin, to impart the experience of mental illness, so you can't be blamed if you find yourself confused when said doctor re-appears. There are scenes, especially early on, where it is easier to follow the shifts between reality and delusion, but as the delusions accumulate, I think it would take someone far more perceptive than I am to keep track of it all. Even Anju -- forthright and funny -- copped to still being puzzled by a few things in the film.  

Anyhow, it's not an easy movie to fully take in... especially if, aided by a somewhat trance-inducing score and exhausted by the effort of concentration, you fall asleep a couple of times.  

Sorry, folks. Rest assured that I only snored twice, and they were small snorts, which woke me up (Shaun of the Cinematheque was sitting immediately behind me and reassured me when I asked afterwards that he could not tell where the snort -- he only heard one of them -- came from: "That was you!").

But even though I struggled to stay awake and make sense of the narrative, I very much enjoyed the evening, as did the audience (and I did buy a copy of The Nausea's Requiem, which I am looking forward to spinning). It's nice to have such a successful event before the break in VIFF programming: for those who do not know, the VIFF Centre will be closing for awhile for renovations, including improved projection and sound. The seats are being re-upholstered, as well; there is one you can sit on in the lobby if you want to test them out -- but do not worry, the seats are not being replaced, as I initially said; they simply have a different kind of seat in the lobby, for upholstery-testing purposes, which will NOT be used to replace the seats in the theatre (because that's not going to confuse anyone!). If you want to try the new upholstery out, I would hurry, there aren't many shows left before they close for renovations. More about the refurbishments here

Meantime, I think that Anju's next performances will probably have a few slightly out-of-place onlookers as a result of her smashing success tonight; that will be interesting to see. There was a very civilized Japanese woman whom I helped with the reading of some black metal fonts. Ceremonial Bloodbath will apparently be playing the Cobalt on June 29th (this is not entirely online yet that I can see, but Anju had handbills). Following that, The Nausea will be playing a metal show at Green Auto, which doesn't entirely make sense -- The Nausea is NOT a metal project, and Green Auto is a bit of an odd space for them, methinks (The Nausea would better fit a room with seats, where you can close your eyes and lose yourself in the music). But I think I might check that out, too...

I would tell you what the other bands on the bill are, but fucked if I can read'em. (Actually I gather the top-billed band at the Cobalt show is Phrenelith, from Copenhagen, Bandcamp here, and the other band is Noroth, also called Norothovcascadia; I am not even going to try with the Green Auto gig.  

There were other people who one usually does not see at metal and noise events checking out Anju's merch, which seemed to sell quite well. A European woman was asking at the table about the merch before the movie, if the bandname was a reference to Sartre's La Nausee (Anju confirmed later that it was). But the prize for interesting customers goes to these two, whom you might recognize: 

That's Joyce and Jacqueline Robbins, who by way of introducing themselves will let you know that they act presently in A Series of Unfortunate Events, on Netflix -- the Lemony Snicket adaptations. I wonder if this is because they figure that people these days are most likely to know of them through a current popular series, or if it is because they have learned from experience that if they tell film geeks that they worked with Robert Altman in the 1970s, they'll be deluged with questions?

I suspect the former; these were two very chatty, articulate, intimidatingly intelligent twins, who took turns finishing each other's sentences, even: certainly the most intense twins I've been around (the Soskas have nothing on them). So I doubt they'd be shy talking about Altman or anything else in their filmography. Maybe they'll make it out to a Ceremonial Bloodbath show, too?

You could ask them about Altman. (They have their own Wikipedia page, which probably doesn't cover half of what they've done -- they recounted some of their career as we milled about by the merch table -- but I cannot do it justice.)

Oh, and they're also in The Reflecting Skin. I guess I have to watch that again, because I don't remember them in it at all! From 1990: all told, that was a pretty interesting night at the movies! 

See you at Ceremonial Bloodbath, maybe? 


Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Damned and the Avengers: True Confessons, plus RIP Grant Shankaruk

There are bands that I "do wrong," you know? Where my opinions are not the popular ones. Wrong (see previous post) is not my favourite Nomeansno album by a long shot. The first few Ramones albums, the ones that are kept in print and are considered essential, do very little for me -- the lyrics are kinda dumb, the song structures simple, and there's way too much that is musically same-same; give me Howling at the Moon and Animal Boy any day. And as for the Damned...

Look, don't hate me, but I have never entirely gotten some really classic punk bands, y'know? I kind of alluded to this previously when I was bitching a few weeks ago about watching Danny of the Spores cover Stiff Little Fingers or the Stranglers; I prefer the Spores to either of those bands!!! (And to the Damned, too, Danny; sorry! I know you love the Damned -- nice to see ya last night -- and I know that it is wrong of me to think/ say/ feel this, but YOUR LYRICS ARE WITTIER THAN ANY OF THE ONES THE DAMNED EVER WROTE. I don't think the Damned have ever made me want to sit down with a lyric sheet, y'know? I like witty wordplay with a window on the world, and will take "House of Frankenstein" over "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" any day, even if the former wouldn't exist without the latter). In no way am I saying the Spores are more important than these bands, but importance is relative where a band sits in musical history: like, the Sex Pistols are more important than the Fall, but I'd rather listen to the Fall, y'see? And then you add personal tastes to the mix and I'd generally prefer the New Model Army to either of those bands (because of the lyrics). 

The green mist as the Damned's set begins, photo by me

And though some people do not get this, personal tastes are allowed to be personal (It's why I'm still Facebook friends with Ferdy Belland despite his not thinking much of the Clash, and his insisting I listen to Rush and Budgie. I mean, no thanks, Ferdy, but on the other hand, who wants to live in an echo chamber?).

And as important as they are, I very seldom listen to the Damned. Truth is, there's only one Damned record that I love, and that's Damned Damned Damned. There are also a couple of individual songs I dig, especially "Wait for the Blackout" or "Love Song," but they're on albums that are a bit less "even." I have owned AND SOLD in my day vinyl of Music for Pleasure, Machine Gun Etiquette, The Black Album, and Strawberries -- and unless I still have a CD of Machine Gun Etiquette tucked away somewhere -- I don't even know for sure! -- the Damned in my collection is now (I believe) solely represented by Damned Damned Damned and Phantasmagoria, both of which I have on CD only, having picked them up cheap. 

Oh, and I have a sampler that Danny made me of his favourite Damned songs. That's it! 

I remember buying The Black Album, in the less-appealing one-LP variant, as one of my first ever punk albums when I was 15 or so. I lived in Maple Ridge (once mis-heard by Penelope of the Avengers as "Pimple Ridge;" I'll get to that later. maybe). When I was 15, I would buy basically ANYTHING punk I could find, because -- in 1983, in Maple Ridge -- there wasn't much; punk rock records that were not on major labels were not IN the one record store in Maple Ridge, and I didn't KNOW where the good stores were in Vancouver (or go there very often). I was able to get Never Mind the Bollocks pretty quickly, and the Cramps' Psychedelic Jungle; but - thanks to my friend Greg - I was searching for the Dead Kennedys, DOA, and the Subhumans (the Vancouver band) for MONTHS before I found them. Two of them were Vancouver bands, but they weren't for sale at Kellys, which was the main shop I knew in the city, back then. I remember coming across In God We Trust Inc. and Triumph of the Ignoroids in a small record shop by Kootenay Loop (there's a story there, but skip it if you don't want a digression: I'd had my copy of the former damaged in the coat-check at the Coliseum so I wouldn't put my Ignoroids there when I went to see the Clash. and I'd seen how rowdy a mosh pit could get, having LOST MY SHOE in the pit at a Dead Kennedys show, so -- carrying my Ignoroids, only just purchased, for ten bucks, when I was on the way to the venue, I refused to leave our terrible seats up in the rafters and come down to the floor, despite Joe's urgings and teasings about those of us watching the band from afar. Heck with you, Joe: if people are moshing, I'm not bringing this record down there, do you know how hard this was to FIND?). 

...but despite being desperate for punk, I didn't much care about The Black Album, It was maybe the fifth punk record I stumbled across, and the first I was ever disappointed by. I knew (from Greg, who had read about punk rock in a BOOK!) that the Damned were one of the most important punk bands out there, and I even adored "Wait for the Blackout," but to my mind, THAT WAS THE ONLY GOOD SONG ON THE RECORD.

Or so I thought then; I haven't owned the album since I was a kid. It surely was one of the very first of my records I sold at Collector's RPM, which was the first "real" record store I found (see here) and the first reliable place I could get punk rock. Maybe it's time for me to reinvestigate it...?

Digression: Rob Frith posted that Grant Shankaruk died the other day. Grant was the friendliest guy at any of the early record stores I went to. He once taped me Iggy Pop's New Values when I couldn't find that album anywhere. When I was a kid, he was the only guy  I enjoyed chatting with at RPM, and then later the only guy I enjoyed chatting with at Track; as an adult, I have come to enjoy interacting with a couple of other employees of those stores (hi Phil, hi Dale) but Grant (and later Ty Scammell at the Flea Market, also RIP) was one of the only people who was actively nice to a know-nothing teenager from the suburbs. He didn't judge my ignorance. And he turned me onto lots of great records, I'm sure, though it was long enough ago that I don't recall which, exactly. I guess Grant hadn't been well -- I haven't seen him at a show since COVID, I don't think. Thanks to being nice to me when I had no clue, Grant. 

Grant Shankaruk by Rob Frith, I'm guessing

Anyhow, back to the Damned. I don't have much to say about last night's show! I spent a ton of it wandering the Commodore. I had previously caught the Avengers at the Rickshaw. (The "Pimple Ridge" story is included there. I reminded Penelope later at the merch table of it; by way of introducing "Desperation," she had -- unable to poll the Commodore audience as efficiently as the Rickshaw one -- used "Blaine" as last night's shitty small town, in place of "Maple Ridge," but no one was at the Commodore from Blaine!). I spent at least fifteen minutes on the merch experience, discovering that the Commodore is now back to allowing cash sales at the merch table, AFTER HAVING TAKEN OUT THEIR ATM; I wanted to buy the friend who got me into the show a t-shirt (thanks, Bob! Looks like I'm writing about it after all), so I had to ask the security staff to let me out so I could run down the street to take money out of one of those shitty stand-alone ATMs at the fucking bong shop on the corner (because, you know, you WANT to do your banking in bong shops, right?). Merch acquired, I shot, then accidentally deleted, some Avengers material last night, but missed my favourite song of theirs ("Uh Oh!") because Bev wanted me to hold her seat while she took photos, materializing just as that song ended. I got no decent photos of the band, so I'm bugging Bev (I will add a photo if she contributes one). 

The Avengers are another one of those historically epochal bands -- they opened for the Pistols at Winterland, along with the Nuns (with Alejandro Escovedo, who is playing Vancouver in July) -- who (don't hate me) I don't entirely go wild for. In fact, I gave my copy of the pink album to Gerry Hannah, a few years ago (he was very happy to receive it). They have six or seven great songs, by me (In order: "Uh-Oh!" "Cheap Tragedies," "We Are the One," "I Believe in Me" -- which they continue to dedicate to Joe Keithley when they play it here -- "The American in Me," "Desperation,"and maybe "Car Crash") and... well, look, they put on a good show, they're nice people, and, like I say, epochal historical importance, especially for a female-fronted band, but it's a bit of a slim catalogue, you know?

The Avengers by bev davies, June 14, 2024, not to be reused without permission

Which might leave some of you wondering: fuck, Al, why did you even go to the show last night? And the answer is very simple: Bob Hanham. He had family stuff, couldn't come, and gave me a ticket, which I insisted on paying for in the form of merch, because, you know, I had THOUGHT about seeing the show, if mostly just because I fucking love "Wait for the Blackout," and it's on their setlist. 

And "Neat Neat Neat." (Those wondering about the setlist, I believe it was the same as Seattle's setlist the other day). 

Boy am I glad I went!

The Damned by Allan MacInnis, not to be reused without permission

Here are my takeaways from the Damned's set. 

1. Goddamn, what a great live band. I still don't care about a lot of their songs and they didn't play very much off their first album -- but I was totally won over by Dave Vanian as frontman and Captain Sensible as prankster guitarist (and yay that Rat Scabies is back in the band -- I remember when I got The Black Album at age 15 or so that I absolutely loved his name -- because scabies were a thing in my elementary school! -- but now I love his drumming, too. He even whipped out something kinda rockabillyish for "Shadow of Love," which I wasn't expecting at all). I don't have any striking observations about Paul or Monty (bass-keyboards), but Vanian was suave, self-possessed, in fine voice, and quite tireless, through a very fullsome set. 

2.  Sometimes it takes a live performance to help you connect with a song. Last night's performance of "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" was spectacular. I don't remember really caring about it much previously! 

3. The band really, really understands how to structure a setlist. Kick off with a bang ("Ignite" and "Wait for the Blackout"), do deep cuts and new stuff for the body, then as you round the clubhouse turn, break out the show-stoppers. That happened with a one-two punch of "Love Song" and "Machine Gun Etiquette," AKA "Second Time Around," which I happened to catch on video. I'm not sure about the wisdom of playing "Curtain Call" before "New Rose," but in fact, duty called there (Bev wanted to leave early, and my wife, not present, tends to appreciate an early bedtime).  

4. When I bungled my vid for "Wait for the Blackout," I was happy enough to put my phone away and just bounce around to it for a bit (and "Neat Neat Neat," which I didn't even try to capture. I did, however, get vid of Bob's favourite Damned song, "Eloise." Ford Pier, meanwhile -- in the house last night, having returned from a successful Dead Bob jaunt into the USA -- offers on Facebook that this is his fave ("not that I was asked, but...") (he told me at Red Cat later that he was particularly partial to Strawberries, album-wise). 

5. Finally, what was really a surprise was, I like the Darkadelic stuff a lot ("Beware the Clown," "The Invisible Man"). Bev joked that one of the least favourite things she likes to hear at a storied band's show is "Here's a song off our new album," but... these are great! Sadly, the album appears to be at zero stores, locally. 

Also by me! All the rest of these are... 

I am still not the biggest Damned fan in the world, but there's no denying that that was a great show (thanks, Bob!). And I'm really glad Rat Scabies is back in the band and in such good form. Glad to see so many friends and fellow music fans in the audience! 

And now it's time for the first of the Rickshaw Anniversary shows! Come with Kristy-Lee a happy return from her tour with Dead Bob! See how well Emilor has recovered from her blossom-slipping mishap! See a RARE BLACK WIZARD REUNION! And see Bison again! Yay Bison! 

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Riding the Atomic Wheelchair, plus Nomeansno's Wrong, Neil Young's Arc, and the Ex's Blueprints for a Blackout

Tried some Atomic Wheelchair yesterday. Turns out it is very aptly named. 

This is, I suspect, not a government-of-Canada approved product. It says right there on the front (in the portion you cannot see, above), "Seriously strong edibles. Keep away from kids. No newbies." 

Well shucks, I'm no newbie! 

On the back, it reads: 

This product is not something I sought out, you will understand, but was given by a friend, who himself was quite cogent while "riding the Wheelchair." I would argue that the portion I consumed (see above) is about one-tenth of the product, in keeping with their directions, but I may have misunderstood those. Is the serving the "10th" of the product that they speak of? I thought they meant that the whole THING was 200 mg max, so the tenth would be maybe 20mg. My nibble, by that (very likely WRONG) calculation, contained no more than 20 mg of THC, the equivalent of two maximum-strength government-issue cannabis gummies. I have -- for the odd concert or special occasion, you understand -- consumed two such maximum-strength government-issue gummies before and been FINE. Surely this tiny chunk is not that much?

It was too much. Maybe in fact it was closer to 200mg that I had? In any event, it was very much too much. 

You may be thankful here that I have no visual evidence to share. I did not take any selfies of myself puking into a bucket, whilst sitting on the toilet, diaphragm set to "maximum expulsion, both ends, simultaneously." My camera was in the other room, and Erika wasn't home to document the moment for posterity for me. In fact, when she came in, I was in such a state that she went right back out, because who wants to eat dinner in the presence of someone who is projectile vomiting? 

Sorry, babe! (I've actually had cause to hear her vomit a fair bit myself, not from intoxicants but from illness, and can say that her vomiting is much "prettier" than mine. It sounds almost like singing -- a ululatory, melodic thing, like some sort of liquid woodwind or perhaps the song of gargling butterflies. My barfing is nowhere near as enjoyable to listen to.)

And I hit all those "too much edible" high notes (it's been awhile). Did I shart? Yes, I sharted (just a little). Did I get to the toilet just in time to realize that the dustbin was half-full of things that I didn't want to barf on, like an empty potato chip bag? Yes, I did. Did I dump the contents of that bucket unceremoniously on the bathroom floor and sit down with my head in it to commence round after round of projectile vomiting that lasted the next two hours and probably took me all-the-way-back-to-breakfast? 

Oh yes, friends, yes, I did. The afternoon's Chinese fish and rice. Two cups of chai. One small bag of potato chips. Some yoghurt and Cheerios. Everything, stretching back to the morning guacamole, no longer green, along with toast and eggs and coffee... If I'd had corn last night with dinner, I'm sure there would have been a chunk or two still recognizable, like the license plate that Richard Dreyfus cuts from the belly of the tiger shark in Jaws, where instead of coming up the Gulf Stream, I ate at Chipotle, or something. 

There was no corn. I'm just saying that if I HAD eaten at Chipotle last night... you understand. 

The cat occasionally came in to look at me, then ran away, to linger a few feet down the hall, almost as if he thought he should stay close in case he had to take action. I wonder if he was running through  things he might do if I ended up on the floor? The cat has a very limited range of options for how to help me, basically on a spectrum between "meow loudly for the neighbour to come over" to "perhaps I can bite him on the feet and it will rouse him?" I imagine him visualizing such things as he stared at me going BLAOOUGGHHuh. Did he think, at any point, the feline equivalent of, "Ah well, if he dies, the other one will still feed me"...?

I felt bad to cause the cat concern. 

I had thought I would get a little high and listen to records, you know? Because I barely do that, these days: "just stay home and listen to records." I had elected NOT to go to the punk festival; Erika was going to be late at work; I did not feel like a movie; I had no pressing housework to do; and I had been a good boy transcribing writing ALL DAY (Gustaf interview! Went well! Talked to Lydia, the singer. They're coming back in November to play the Rickshaw. More to come!). 

I thought I had a fine idea for killing a couple of hours, and indeed, it was going well. I had started with a song or two by punk bands - Hung Up's debut and EGO's Grob  -- but decided after a bit of each record that I was going to need something a bit more abstract, challenging, adventuresome, once the gummy kicked in. Both of those records are fun but they're, like, "up and housecleaning" records, not "comfy on the couch with your eyes closed," which is what I was aiming for. So the evening's proper listening party kicked off with side one and two of the Ex's Blueprints for a Blackout, an early masterpiece by everyone's favourite Dutch punk band. I am extremely grateful for Superior Viaduct's reissues of The Ex, and especially this one: 

Friends who do not know this very creative band should know, there are some magnificent albums in the band's catalogue, my favourites of which are not yet available on vinyl (Mudbird Shivers, Dizzy Spells, and Turn; Blueprints is about my fourth-favourite). Their aural journey begins in Crass-like punk and ends up in a rich fusion of influences, from free jazz and improvised music (including a couple of superb albums made with John Zorn/ Eugene Chadbourne/ Fred Frith collaborator Tom Cora) to collaborations with Ethiopia's Getatchew Mekurya. Their purely improvised records are "too improvised" for me, and their early punk isn't something I've ever felt great need of, but the sweet spot, the window of interest, is when they're making what is still very clearly rock music, but rock music for people who are big fans of Beefheart's Mirror Man, say, or Pere Ubu's Dub Housing, or the very best Sonic Youth (Sister, maybe), while sounding nothing especially like those any of those albums. It's rock music for people who dig Ornette, y'know? More-or-less punk lyrics and song structures but with a whole lot of colourful and creative jamming, a whole lot of freedom for musicians to breathe, a whole lot of textural richness to lose yourself in.   

So that went well. It then occurred to me that I could listen to Nomeansno's Wrong. Not only did Nomeansno play shows with the Ex, back when, but that's an album of the moment, with the Alternative Tentacles reissue hitting the stores seemingly in advance of pre-orders being fulfilled, which situation is steaming a few folks, it seems -- Nomeansno Facebook fan groups are brimming over with complaint, with people having believed that they would receive their pre-orders before the originally-slated March release. Unfortunate that it has not been a smooth rollout, but it's not stopping store-goers from buying the album as soon as it appears: apparently Audiopile got ten copies in the other day, and had them all sell out almost instantly (the guy on till remarked that "we figured ten would last us awhile, but apparently not").  It's moot for me, since I already have it in the Southern Records version (which I believe is sourced from their actual tapes, the ones that never got returned, and not just a re-construction from CD); I'm sure A/T have done a fine job with the reissue, and I may even grab it, out of sheer curiosity, but in the meantime, I'm just fine with what I have and in no rush! 

...especially since Wrong has, while probably being the single greatest achievement in Canadian punk history, always been a bit too intense for my liking; it's a magnificent record, there's a reason people get excited about it, and there is a good reason why it is regarded as Nomeansno's masterpiece, and why it won and deserved a Polaris heritage prize... But just because you acknowledge the greatness of something doesn't mean you want to spend too much time consuming it, you know? If we compare it with, say, the output of Captain Beefheart, Wrong accomplishes, in terms of intensity and focus and pummeling sonic assault what Trout Mask Replica does in terms of surreal weirdness and total freedom of spirit. But just because something is an artist's most intense moment, the purest distillation of their greatness, the highest peak they have climbed, that doesn't mean you want to live there or listen to it all the time. Finnegan's Wake might be Joyce's masterpiece but I can't even make it through Ulysses. And I would much prefer, if I'm going to be doing Beefheart, to spin Safe as Milk or Mirror Man or The Spotlight Kid, for example, all of which are delightful without needing to be as in-your-face strange as Trout Mask... or to return to Nomeansno, for someone who started Nomeansno with Mama, whose favourite songs on the next few Nomeansno albums are "Self-Pity" and "Victory" -- artful, mid-tempo, introspective and developed over several minutes -- Wrong just hits too hard, especially the last 2/3rds of side one: By the time they're in the midst of  "Tired of Waiting," pummeling away like, I dunno, King Crimson on crystal meth, I'm starting to understand how my wife feels when I put punk rock on. I mean no criticism, it's indubitably great, and probably fabulous if you're big into DRI or Bad Brains or something like that, but it is and always has been TOO INTENSE FOR ME. 

And yet there it is on side one: "The Tower." 

You cannot deny this song. If there are other songs out there written around a single Tarot card, I am unaware of them, though I'm sure if I scoured the lyrics of Ronnie James Dio, I'd find something; it cannot possibly match this song in intensity, however. This has always been, to my mind, the most potent of the Major Arcana, and while I personally have more association with, say, the Fool or the Moon, this is the card that you have to dread in any given reading, the one that speaks to the moment where the universe slaps you hard in the back of the head and demands you wake up. Wikipedia notes that it is "associated with sudden, disruptive revelation, and potentially destructive change," when the lightning strikes and you're falling...

...the song understands this card, and matches it in force. I mean, Rob has clearly had his share of "Tower moments" in life, and has some of his most potent lyrics ever in this song, up there with "Victory" and "The River" as some of his most powerful wordcraft, bringing in just enough of the Eye of Sauron to make a movie of the song: 

The sword of truth is just another weapon
Let me live for one more second
I see a woman, she's holding flowers
A bouquet of roses that are blood red
From a burning building, a man leaps to his death
I stand above these mansions of the dead
Red tombs, and above us looms

The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
I see red
I see red
I see red
I see...
I see a tower against the sky
Beneath a red unblinking eye

Radio waves curve and cross
I stand below them, lost
Above me is a black obelisk
And the dangers that I risk
Here gather the ghosts of the mind
That tear my heart, and here I find
All the traps that have been set
Everything I would forget, beneath...

The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
I see red
I see red
I see red
I see...
I see a tower against the sky
Beneath a red unblinking eye

Violence is close at hand
You are damned if you do
And if you don't - damned!
A red-eyed tyrant full of hate
Glares from the sky in its captive state
If it should blink or deviate
A thousand worlds would obliterate
I do not move, nor do I speak
Beneath that hard and pitiless peak
Of concrete, steel and antenna wheels

The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
The tower, the tower
I see red
I see red
I see red
I see...
I see a tower against the sky
Beneath a red unblinking eye

Okay, so the bit about worlds obliterating is a bit "youthful," maybe, but it's a punk song, whattaya want? And there's just enough of contemporary architecture, of "concrete, steel and antenna wheels" (whatever those may be) that it connects the lyrics not just with cataclysmic personal revelation, but cultural -- this sense that our entire civilization that is on the precipice, that it's not just the singer flinching from what he has learned about himself, but rather, from his insight into modern life: the horrifying moment when you take in that it's all vulnerable, that it is all going to come down, perhaps in your lifetime, and that there will be nowhere to hide when it does. 

What a song (believe I saw them do it twice, live, too -- including a night in Waterloo, Ontario where Rob was losing his voice a bit, so that it broke raw in a couple of the louder moments, which made it even more forceful). What a motherfucking song.  

But side one of Wrong ended -- confirming for me, after "The Tower," that it is still just a bit too intense for me, but I *think* I let it play through? And not being sick YET, though noticing I was indeed a bit more gooned than I wanted, I was still into listening to something, and it struck me that I have not listened to Neil Young's Arc, that extremely ambitious bit of sonic sculpture packaged with Weld, since the 1990s. Arc shows Neil very much under the influence of Sonic Youth (with whom he'd been touring) at their most ambitious. It's noisy as hell. It's not to be entered lightly. I am sure my wife would have hated it, had she been home.

It was perfect. 

Arc stands in a similar relation to the rest of Neil Young's catalogue as Metal Machine Music does to Lou Reed's, but it is much, much more forgiving and "musical" than Metal Machine Music.  It even contains fragments of "Like a Hurricane" and other recognizable song-bits, but edited into an abstract sculpture that puts me in mind, for example, of the Mahavishnu Orchestra at their most hard-driving (Between Eternity and Nothingness, say), or again, straight up free jazz. You could easily follow this album up, if you wanted to plunge further down a similar rabbithole, with Coltrane's Om -- it's that free, that ambitious, and it was absolutely the perfect next step in my musical journey last night. I remember listening to it once in the early 1990s and going "uh, okay, it's interesting, but I don't feel like this right now," then not having played it since, even briefly. I was simply never in the right space for it, never tempted; but last night, the student was ready, and the teacher came.

All over my face! (What, do I think I'm Mark Prindle or something? Pardon me). 

Ahem. So if you like the sonically adventurous aspects of Neil Young, if the idea of an extended tapestry of noise based around extrapolations from songs like "Like a Hurricane," you'll find Arc really, really enjoyable; if, like me, you haven't spun it for 30 years, it may be worth giving another shot.

Sadly, by the end of it, about an hour-and-half past my nibble, I was starting to get queasy. The idea of getting high and listening to music had actually been a pretty good one, and I'm glad I got as much great music in as I did (a bit of Don Cherry's "Brown Rice," too, after Arc)... but in the end, I got... how did Nomeansno put it? Just a little too...

No, no, a lot too. Sitting on the toilet, afraid to get up from it, and trying to lubricate my throat with water scooped in handfuls from the bathtub, which themselves triggered further vomiting... wanting a glass of water, but being unable to get to the kitchen... wanting to just get in the tub and let it all flow out of me, either end, so I could just hose it all down the drain, like that Jagermeister night which must not be recalled... the body can be a horrible thing! One of my top five worst-experiences-with-an-intoxicant EVER. (The friend who gave it to me is feeling very guilty about not emphasizing to take it in very small doses: "Don't divide it in 10, divide it in 100!" 

My wife and I had had plans to watch some Downton Abbey last night, but when she finally did get home from her dinner out, I was in bed. She ended up sweeping up the garbage I'd left strewn on the bathroom floor and entertaining herself for the evening, despite having had a long, hard day herself; she'd been counting on solace and companionship and got garbage on the floor, a sleeping husband, and a pukey smell in the bathroom. I feel bad for her. 

But I feel worse for myself!

Beware the Atomic Wheelchair!  

Friday, June 07, 2024

Have a Good Laugh Night One, with EGO, Phane, Krash, Bootlicker and B.A.L.M. Squad, plus a DULF side-note (but no Dead Cells, we missed'em)

All photos by Allan MacInnis

So it turns out that proceeds to the Have a Good Laugh Festival go to DULF, the Drug User's Liberation Front, devoted to working towards safe supply and keeping people from dying of toxic dope; if that's a cause you want to support, that's another good reason to go to these shows (besides seeing enthusiastic punk bands from all over the world converge on the Waldorf). 

I don't know what the answer to the toxic drug crisis is, but I suspect I'm more in the DULF camp (or at least the Bonnie Henry one) than I am in David Eby's or Ken Sim's, and I admire DULF's real-world (if illegal) approach, back when they were buying dope on the black market and selling it at cost, letting people know exactly what was in it: because thinking that addicts are going to bring their dope to be tested than WAIT TO USE IT UNTIL THE LAB RESULTS ARE IN fundamentally misunderstands the nature of addiction. I might be wrong, here, who knows, but it sure looks like DULF was given an unworkable, doomed-to-fail mandate by clueless bureaucrats, and tried to find a way to make it work, in the name of saving lives, for which efforts they were raided and tarnished in the press (and no doubt deprived of further funding). In a city where most people just seem to want to step over the possibly dead and go on about their business, I don't think I mind a bit of my money going to DULF, actually. 

As for other, less controversial causes, Noelle Chaos, at the door -- the person responsible for getting me hooked on taking black-and-white photographs, in fact -- was letting people know about an upcoming two-day benefit for her diabetic cat Trooper, who is doing okay, but whose bills are a bit much! Lots of fun bands playing both nights, some of whom, like Kidz Help Fone, I saw at the previous Trooperfest at the Black Lab, a venue presently and perhaps permanently defunct due to some sort of bureaucratic zoning conflict; Die Job, who I caught at the Red Gate, are also very energetic and entertaining. And is Clay who I think it is? If you like Trooper and agree with him that All Cats Are Beautiful -- that's what ACAB stands for, right? -- you should go to Trooperfest 2! 

Sadly, after paying at the door, my buddy Adam and I missed Dead Cells; we needed dinner, and figured we could duck out for a bit, but contrary to our expectations, things actually started on time tonight (and changeovers were really efficient). Sorry, Dead Cells! I liked what I heard on your page. BTW, the food upstairs was decent; Adam and I were a bit surprised to be the only ones eating there. We made it down to hear the last half of Dead Cells' last song...

We did, however, catch Phane! 

Photo cluster #1: Phane

Phane ripped through a fast, violent set of crusty "charged hardcore" with some of the tastier lead guitar licks of the night; their attitude and attire - lots of studs, patches, and leather to compliment spiky hair - made me feel a) under-dressed and b) like I was a GBH show, which I am sure is a comparison they'd be pleased by. 

EGO bassist displaying a signed record! (But I can't read her signature!)

By contrast, Bootlicker's singer channeled vintage Keith Morris, their guitarist Athena had really appealing charisma, and -- what the hell, that's Joshy Atomic -- Chain Whip's Josh Nickel -- in the back corner on guitar??? He plays in Bootlicker? (He also confirmed what Adam and I feared, that a certain record shop he was associated with is no more). Bootlicker had the best mosh pit (which I observed from without) and the most dynamic stage presence; a punk band to watch. I caught video of their song "Constraints," apparently off a 7" they released in Japan. "Josh always brings it," Chris Walter commented on Facebook, when I posted a couple of photos. He does, but I was unable to get his picture. 

Photo Cluster #2: Bootlicker

(Trust me, Josh is back there somewhere)

Next up was Krash, from Saskatoon, filling in for an absent Crucified Class. They kept up the ferocious pace and, like I told the bassist after their set, had the hookiest basslines of the night, especially in their last song (the title eluded me). I like a good hooky bassline (and he high-fived me for the compliment). They weren't as physically dynamic as the two previous bands but they had a sort of glowering power to to their stage presentation. If Phane had reminded me of GBH, Krash reminded me a bit of the Exploited (especially the really dark, somewhat chugging stuff on Let's Start a War, say). 

Photo Cluster #3: Krash

The next band, B.A.L.M. Squad, from Ontario, had the thinnest crowd, for reasons unclear; they had plenty of attitude and chops but you could see a lot more space on the Waldorf dance floor during their set.  The singer had quipped to me that the "headliner" that night, EGO, from Berlin, "make everything they do sound so fucking evil" (I concur) before his band played, and once they tore into it, sang like he actually had something to say (even if I couldn't make much of it out). I shot video of "No Pride in Genocide," because I like the title, but which genocide was he referring to, exactly? (Or was he targeting white pride types, questioning the accomplishments of the white race in general? Not sure. Speaking of genocide, both Dead Cells and Ego performed with a Palestinian flag behind the drum riser, but that got taken down for the middle bands). B.A.L.M. Squad  also took a potshot at the trucker's convoy for their final song, from the perspective of people living in Ontario at the time, but again, what were the words, exactly? I looked at their bandcamp for lyrics, but alas... nada. They were the band who seemed to have the most invested in language, the band whose lyric sheet I'd be most curious to read, but I had shot my financial wad getting in the door and buying an EGO record, so even if they'd had an album visible at the merch area (with, say, a lyric sheet?), I wouldn't have coughed up. 

Good band, though! 

Photo Cluster #4: B.A.L.M. Squad

In fact, it turned out that Ego (or is it EGO? I'm gonna go with caps) had really reasonably-priced merch -- $20 Canadian for an LP???! I guess I can't say no to that! They also had the most compelling stage presence, menacing and tension-filled. Also, from what I could discern, they had the most interesting backstory of any band present, having come together from many different places. I had mostly been keen to see them because, as I told their guitarist at the merch table, I have written occasionally for a German punk zine, but I have never seen a German punk band, whereupon I discovered that their singer is from Serbia, their bassist from Portugal, their drummer from Spain, and the guitarist from Chile. So maybe now I've still never seen a German punk band! Anyhow, they told me how they had filmed their video for "Moji Prijatelji (My Friends)" in an abandoned hospital in Berlin; the vocals are in Serbian but there are English translations in both their videos and on their lyric sheet.

I shot one live clip of their second song,"Dekadent", and a bit of their third, "Paranoia;" then my battery died, about half a minute before that song ended... 

Photo Cluster #5: EGO

They were one of the bands travelling from furthest away to perform. The other is Axe Helvete, who play on Saturday (will I go to that? Hmm); like EGO, they were hitting North America for the first time, in Axe Helvete's case, touring up from San Diego, where they'd flown direct from Japan. I chatted briefly with their roadie Teppe (or was that Teppei?), who was pleased I spoke some Japanese (very rustily, at this point: it's been over 22 years since I lived there, and his English was better than my Nihongo. Hilariously, I couldn't think of the Japanese word for "welcome," as in, "Welcome to Vancouver," despite that word being among the most shouted-at-you words in the language, even in Vancouver restaurants: "irrashaimase"). He was excited to be there and struck a cool pose with my buddy Adam. 

Good vibe to the night, in any case. Have a Good Laugh continues through the weekend; you can preview the bands on the website linked at the top of the page. Friday seems to be a bit more street-punky, with Toy Tiger and Prowlers and Ultra Razzia and Reckless Upstarts and... I haven't checked them all out but the Have a Good Laugh website makes it real easy to check out each band. So Oi! fans might want to go Friday... Saturday seems to shift back more into a crusty realm...

In fact, the singer for Toy Tiger could be seen throwing his fist in the air right up front, even leaping onstage to sing along with Krash -- he clearly knew the words! I love it when bands come out to cheer other bands on; Toy Tiger wasn't even playing last night... I'm told they're great... 

Fact is, I am definitely skipping their day, Friday, and I haven't gotten so far as to consider Saturday -- we'll see if my ears have stopped ringing by then. Meantime, do as I say, and not as I do, if you like REAL punk music: go to Have a Good Laugh, at the Waldorf on Friday, and on Saturday at the Cambie AND the Waldorf, and maybe one other location for a late night festival capper, the nature of which remains presently undisclosed... 

To preview bands or check the lineup for Friday and Saturday, go here! Festival passes were sold out but we paid $30 each at the door, which is wicked cheap for such a stacked lineup (and like I say, will go to a good cause...!).