4/25/2016

Songs That Shaped My Brain



I got tagged to list some music that I like and I got carried away. I needed the distraction. Doing things like this remind me that I do have not entirely obscure influences and I am not actually operating in the dark:

Leftfield + Toni Halliday : Original. Leftfield were a House / Trip-Hop act (but) this and Open Up with Johnny Rotten confirmed their Alt credentials. Electronic / dance music was the music of people from all kinds of scenes. Early raves and clubs didn't have a uniform. They certainly weren't the kind of places you'd find the white trainer brigades and you'd see everyone from older hippie types and Madchester heads to Goths and Grebos and everything in-between. It's a shame that things have become so divided again but that's the way the old boys network want it. Divide and rule.

I'm pretty sure this is how I got into Pil and then the whole Post-Punk thing. Those two singles made me see that dance music wasn't just about clean, laminated safe sounds. Their work, along with people like Underworld and Autechre had that edgy, dark side that is the secret ingredient to a good tune. If something is too positive, or too negative, it's never going to feel nourishing enough. I still have this on vinyl (covered in bleach and Directions Poppy Red) so I'm claiming it as an 'album'.

Cocteau Twins: Otherness e.p. Again, on really heavyweight vinyl so Album. This helped me onto the path of using guitars as sound-source, instead of synths. This is a really dubby ambient re-mix set by the Seefeel bloke. Cocteau's Simon Raymond has to be one of the most underrated musicians of the 80s and 90s. Playing bass with an actual bassy tone at a time when most were opting for macho twang and plodding route notes, he’s also a great pianist and guitarist, and got a lot more out of those old 60s surf 6 string basses than The Cure or Joy Division ever did.

Kate Bush: The Dreaming Because my parents had it and growing up listening to this introduced me to the idea that it's not just your ears that 'listen' to music. Because shivers down the spine and hairs on end. Seeing her live was the single most moving gig I've ever been to. And the spooky-pop vibe. The emphasis on percussion, drone notes and groove. Big influence.

Curve: Cherry I heard this when I was still in school. Dean Garcia's from-the-heart mix of grimy growling bass and dirty beats and Debbie Smith's gritty-funky non-macho guitar woke me up on every level. They also looked effortlessly cool. I had never had any interest at all in making / playing music until I heard about 30 seconds of Clipped on some crappy TV show. I'd always seen guitar music as too macho and dance music too middle-class and this helped me cast off a load of useless snobbery.

Techno Animal: Re-Entry: At a time when I totally did not want to hear anything even vaguely melodic, this confirmed for me idea that beat + noise + drone = more than enough. It also made me realize that it doesn't matter what the instrumentation is, if the end result works, it's doesn't matter whether it's guitars, synths, samples or the god-like sound of Jon Hassell's trumpet.

I've followed Bug Man's work ever since. I've seen / heard him go from strength to strength in the pursuit of the perfect slice of noise and groove. Heavyweight music without the machismo, electronic but massively dirty and organic. I've been pursuing that ever since.

Kind Migas Sound: Aroo: This and their live shows at the time pretty much defined everything that I wanted to do with The Mekano Set: immersive sound, lights aimed at the crowd, a wall of sound and smoke. Pure bliss-out noise with solid beats. Playing the mix not just playing a vintage bloody Fender guitar. K Martin laying out vast yet intimate sonic spaces for Kiki and Roger to explore with an intoxicating cocktail of emotions, uncertainties, fears and longings. Awesome.

Talk Talk: The Colour of Spring but any and all of their albums. The voice. The voice! Is he shouting or is he whispering??? The way that the band was a drummer and a bassist without a guitarist meant so much power and room were devoted to the beats and the melodic bass. The zero-tolerance to industry / journalist bullshit, the no compromise attitude and the fact that they were obviously influenced by all kinds of music made me realize that that tends to be what real musicians are about.

Hawkwind Hall of The Mountain Grill: I was lucky to find this when I was about 10 - it brought down a lot of the barriers of ignorance and fear that I was growing up around. This was rock but also opened my ears to experimentation, drone, groove, electronics, heavy bass end, psychedelics, real punk attitude, singing in working class British accents, ignoring preconceived genres and just mapping out your own space.

Scorn: Evanescence: This came out four years before Massive Attack started exploring darker, minimalistic, Post-Punk inspired Trip-Hop on Mezzanine. Again, a mix of great looped / programmed / sampled beats; heavyweight bassy bass and guitars that totally push the barriers of what a guitar can do. On heavy vinyl too.

The Sisters of Mercy: Floodlands: my Dad had this on cassette and he'd play this, Bryan Ferry and Ian Dury on repeat whilst we drove around the wilds of Wales as kids. Deep, almost crooning, edgy vocal styles... But I forgot all about it until years later me and my friend met a bunch of Indie Techno Goth girls and introduced us to the world of Alternative culture (we were not alone!). The minimalism, the 'spooky pop' vibe, the baritone vocal, melodic bass and massive drum-machine grooves must have made their mark. Spooky Pop music is the best pop music. Weirdly I can't get my head round any of their other stuff - it all sounds too much like drug-fueled Metal.

Magazine: Play: My long time musical collaborator Ade B (Mutate / Stray Dog City) introduced me to the world of Post-Punk properly at a time when I had become sick to death of guitar music. The guitar is there and it rocks, but it also has an exotic, angular edge and works with the other instruments to create the groove. Barry Adamson's bass is just incredible. No bass player has ever had a better tone to my ears.

Tricky: Maxinquay: The voices. It's all about the voices. Also, as a massively commercial album  at the time it was obvious that Tricky and Martine were freaks like us. I heard this at a time when there didn't seem to be any music that spoke to me or wasn't trying to reduce me while listening to it. It was soothing. The world is fucked, let's fall asleep in a space-ship and watch it on TV. You could totally hear Tom Waits, Indie guitar music, real Hip-Hop and The Specials in their sound and attitude. I loved the fact that Tricky was tough but in a vulnerable way and he seemed totally into embracing his feminine side. Martine's voice is a kind of medicine.

Climate of Hunter by Scott Walker: another one I was lucky to take on board when still a kid. It's massively stripped back and only really goes to the same couple of places over and over again. It's just that voice, a pounding beat, some nicely understated fretless bass, droning synths laying low and a hint of crashing guitar here and there to beak the ice. There's something wonderfully post-apocalyptic about the whole flavour of this album. This, and the first three songs on Nite Flights by The Walker Brothers reveal Walker as someone who was more than able to transcend his times. He's gone on to do some of the most extreme, adventurous music of someone in his or anyone's position. They weren't brothers you know? The emptiness made a big impression on me. I don't have the guts to do anything half as spacious.




1/21/2016

You can make a map, but you can't show people the way : Remembering 2015 with The Mekano Set



Mekan Rising by Lee C




I've just got back from my first trip to London in about four years. Wow. After a while you kind of feel that everyone has probably forgotten all about you. Was amazing to catch up with some old friends and trash a hotel room with Justine and Jewelly. OK maybe not trash it exactly but we certainly did leave a hell of a lot of dust and biscuit crumbs oh boy.

Batteries rebooted if not recharged, where are we, who and why?


What a mess. What an absolute brilliant mess. 2015 was about living - living in a way that I think I haven't in a long time: a lot of hiding away, listening to music, not worrying (or worrying less) about deadlines or trying to prove something illusive; trying to take a deeper look at what it is I'm trying to do, and once again making a more conscious effort to put the sounds that I want to hear onto the sonic canvas. But not just being locked away working on music, in a flood of cables and scraps of paper tattooed with coffee rings.


Jewelly enjoys a Small Berlin Gin + Tonic


Our trip to Germany really drove the feeling home that Britain - England at least - isn't really doing too well. Up and down the country I'm watching so many unique places and nights get shut down or cancelled one by one - to make way for designer homes or coffee shops (seriously - how many damned coffee houses does any one town need????) or the same old tired retro events.

Bands existing in a pre-1980s time-warp peddling bland 60s rock-pop are the norm once again. The kind of bands that belong in tourist-trap bars and wedding parties are being hailed as the saviours of rock and or roll. It's all just a bit fucking tiring.

Germany: its streets aren't littered with shattered glass and bodily fluids and they play more than just the safest most commercial options in the bars. Can you imagine living like that? And I have to say Youg Fathers were incredible live. All you need is those guys baring their souls and the drummer with some huge kick drums. Awesome.


We have Van


The Mekano Set @ Dumbulls

We played a handful of performances this year, each something different. At our best, every gig is an event because every gig is a little - or a lot unique. That has always been a big part of our genetic makeup: we're not predictable, we're not lazy. We once did a great hour long (soundcheck) set of upbeat noisy tunes to an audience comprising of Anarchistwood and Cowley Club heads in Brighton, and then did a fifteen minute, soft slow and gentle version of Don't Eat The Sweets as the main performance, and that was it. Because it felt right.


A night off

Pareidolia came out just at the end of 2014, so there was no new E.P. from us this year. However, in May we performed Water Flowing Up a Hill three times at the legendary Everyman Theatre in Liverpool; a new thirty minute piece specifically written Liverpool Light Night.

This was the first time we had really combined research, politics and adventurous sonics. It was a great opportunity to combine so many elements that bands nowadays can't often get away with: thirty minutes without breaks, thinly veiled polemic, no conventional beats or riffage.

Politics is not enough - it's doomed, it inevitably excludes and alienates someone, but it's there. How can anyone be apolitical in times like these? You are always signifying something, and a lot of the time it's out of your hands, but you can play around with it, and observe the results.

We also played gigs at The Gregson Institute and The Kazimier - another venue that has since closed down.

We finished off the year with a gig at Dumbulls: one of Liverpool's very last remaining underground, independent places.

Looping Kathy Bates backdrop @ Liverpool Dumbulls

It's easy to fall into a routine with gigs. I think sometimes we forget that we're not an Indie Band and while it's fun to go where you don't belong sometimes, it's not good to waste time and energy.

We have always struggled to find a way to present the sounds physically / visually. It's a side of things I'd kind of given up hope of ever sorting out. But it's become clear to me again that like it or not, the visual element is always going to be there: so you may as well play with it.




When we first started doing things live there was some debate about how we would go about it. One or two of us were adamant that they would in no way compromise: they would wear their dullest clothes on stage, they would not stand up whilst playing, they might not even face the audience. While we never tried to talk people out of this approach, it did make me realize that going down that road would probably draw more attention to them - not less.


Artwork by Joey Chainsaw


We look at the last E.P. again now and I think it's fairly clear that our whole thing gets a little clearer, more distinctive and refined with every release. I have no idea what the next one will be like - or even if there will be a next one.

We were all massively pleased with how Matchmaker came out: something that combined three distinctive voices (my 'Gothic Foghorn', Chucky's lost-in-space and Arthur's fragile child-pimp-magus), with a hint of Cocteau Twins going on in the warped-tape reverb.

There is as-yet unreleased material from those sessions. I have been working on some new ideas plus we've been playing around with some different formats in collaboration with ME PRESENTS (including a 'wide-screen' hardback book) . A compilation is hopefully on the cards, plus a new e.p. entitled Imaginary Weather that will hopefully be released on the usual formats, plus on cassette!!! It's all about the titles.

But I don't want to rush things and it's healthy I think to give sounds time to evolve a little between releases.


The Mekano Set Flash Books - Widescreen Version

A demo-page from a Mekano Set book

Frank Sidebottom + Invader Zim + The Mekano Set


I tell you one very important thing to say each time when longing come. You will say it first time and maybe notice nothing. Second time, maybe nothing. Third time, maybe notice something. Say: "I wish result of this my suffering be my own, for being". Forсe such as this have special results - makes chemicals, has special emanations. This saying can maybe take force from animal and give to being. And you can do this for many things for any denial of something that is a kind of slavery. - G.I.Gurdjieff

We also found time to indulge in other creativities between sessions, including our irreverent reviews and social commentary blog The International Cheese Fries Review: internationalcheesefries.blogspot.co.uk

Once again our web provider has failed to deliver - Mr Nathan Barnes a.k.a. https://www.yorhost.net - you'll be getting no more money from us and we advise against anyone using their services for anything online. www.mekanoset.net appears to be dead in the water - but we do have www.mekanoset.com and will be based their from now on.

There's still so much I want to do - there just aren't enough days in an hour.


1/17/2016

IMAGINARY WEATHER

Our website is down - apparently for good. www.mekanoset.com will be taking its place. Just got back from a wonderful trip to London (first time in three years??). Have a look out our instagram for some visual evidence of recent exploits.

Working on new material but trying not to rush.

We're still here. Hope you are too.

Will post a full news update soon.


The Mekano Set

11/09/2015

Thomas Truax @ Drop The Dumbulls



Just about a year ago we were all set to play a gig with lupine troubadour Thomas Truax at Liverpool's louche boho loitering-hole MelloMello. We were understandably very excited about this. A day or two before the gig we discovered that the place had shut down. We were as equally un-excited about that.

We'd been rehearsing in the venue's basement on and off for a few weeks, partly because the place wasn't populated by the usual twitchy amateur DJs, poodle-haired rock kids and beige pantalooned hipster toffs. They had also stopped caring about whether they charged us or not - which should have been a sign that things weren't quite so mellomello behind the scenes.

We turned down the offer of playing a Jazz Night at Kazimier (which is now in the process of being shut-down too) instead, and thankfully a slot was found at the newly established home of the anti-hipster underground arts venue Drop The Dumbulls.


Truax is an anomoly. He's honouring a kind of tradition that barely exists in contemporary culture, with the exception of moments of Tom Waits, The Dresden Dolls, Nick Cave, P.J. Harvey.





He makes me think of antiquated carnival acts: those fairground games where someone in a striped suit and bowler hat guesses what you had for dinner once when you were nine; eerie Eastern-European stop-animation, fairy tales that end in death and destruction.

It's all oddly familiar, even comforting - but the instrumentation (a unique collection of automaton drums and found objects retro-fitted with echo-boxes and digital tape-loopers) gives him an edge of originality. And no, Truax is not Steam-Punk.

He isn't Steam-Punk in exactly the same way Michael Moorcock isn't Steam-Punk: some people just do their thing: some people try too hard to imitate that thing.


Where Amanda Palmer is readily and easily imitated (because nothing that she does is particularly original): the rag doll attire, the Brechtian theatrics, an upright piano sound and an effected 'politely appalled at the world' attitude; anyone trying to copy Truax is doomed to a life of singing into washer-dryer parts, endlessly pursuing the perfect pinstripe suit. Nobody needs to see that.

Truax is crumpled and quirky without coming across as annoying or too geeky. There is a definite nod to Tom Waits in the music - particularly on record.

And you can't fault his dedication to doing things his own way: with an array of unique, fragile home-made instruments that must be a pain in the ass to transport and set-up, he certainly isn't making life easy for himself.

We play Drop The Dumbulls Saturday 12th December, with Liverpool Electro Post-Punk Double Echo.


https://www.facebook.com/DropTheDumbulls


Image c/o http://thehearingaid.blogspot.co.uk/2010_11_01_archive.html

The Mekano Set