Savage Pencil Slam City Skates advertising

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Several items from my collection of Savage Pencil / SavX aka Edwin Pouncey‘s advertising for the Slam City Skates shop. (Above) A rare Slam City Skates bag from 1990, the reverse had a similar image but advertised the Rough Trade record shops, one of which had a space in the basement below SCS’s Covent Garden branch.
(Below) Several adverts by Savage Pencil for the Slam City Skates shop from 1986, 1984 and 1987. The 1976 – 1986 flyer is a Battle Of The Eyes production by SavX and Chris Long.
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‘Future Shock 2′ mix for Solid Steel

A new mix I did back in January has finally come to the top of the pile for Solid Steel. ‘Future Shock 2′ is the follow up to last summer’s first outing of retro electronica and future beats. This was completed just as Edgar Froese passed away at the end of January and I went back to it to include a track and interview snippets in tribute to him. Sadly it’s been waiting in the queue for a spot on the show for two months so the moment has gone plus we’ve lost other greats or equal importance since but that’s what comes with popularity and the show has been going from strength to strength over the last couple of years.

The first 10 minutes of this took an age to get right but it’s one of the most satisfying slow build intros I think I’ve ever sequenced, the pacing and layers unfold in a way that’s hard to engineer often. From then it’s a measured climb into harder and heavier waters until we hit Mark Moore & William Orbit‘s remix of ‘The Future’ by Prince. In fact there are many builds and breakdowns in this mix but of the slow burn variety rather than the euphoric kind, I’d imagine it’d be pretty good to drive to at night.

Ninja Cuts: ‘Funkjazztical Tricknology’ 20 years old

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Apparently this was released 20 years ago this week – how time flies. Above is my computer file for the Black print that went to the printer before the silver was applied. Below is what it came back looking like if you can imagine the grey as being silver. It didn’t come back with exactly the look I was hoping for in terms of a silver-toned image but back then I was learning the print side of things as I went along.

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Below is an alternate version of the turntables featured on the cover in colour at last. These were my decks and mixer and the photos weren’t actually Polaroids, just normal photos made to look like it by adding a white border. To the left you can see the back of the Jungle Brothers‘ first album with NWA‘s second just peeking out and on the left deck is a Steroid Maximus LP – already subliminally flaunting my love of Foetus‘ music back in 1995.

On the wall are a collection of flyers from the day, the Brain, Passion, Talkin’ Loud and the edge of an Archaos poster on the right. This was only my second ever sleeve design for Ninja, not a design classic by any means but an album that many people hold dear it seems. You can still buy it in digital form online from the Ninja shop too.

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Flexibition #13: Modern Drummer – Studio Drum Sounds

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The 10th anniversary issue of Modern Drummer magazine, dated January 1986, came with a free flexi disc containing lots of studio recorded drum beats all mic.ed up differently. An announcer (Andy or Jimmy?) talks you through numbered patterns with various sounds achieved by either mic placement or effects, presumably gone into in detail inside the mag.
Being that this is the mid 80’s the gated reverb technique is in full effect on some of these breaks and it’s sad to say that most of them lack that all important funk that such a disc ten years earlier might have contained. As there was no audio on the web I’ve encoded this and cleaned it up a bit so you can pretend to be Phil Collins or Duran Duran circa ‘Wild Boys’. There were copies of this on eBay recently and it’s listed on Discogs so can’t be hard to find.

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DJ Cheeba’s ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ rescore

Cheeba_Plan9My man DJ Cheeba recently performed his live rescore to Ed Wood‘s infamously so-bad-it’s-good B movie, ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ at the Watershed in Bristol. He’s just put a mixtape version online for all to hear as well and, even though I’m biased and it features two tracks of mine, it’s excellent.
During the live show he uses two decks, a third QFO turntable and even Coldcut‘s VJamm software to remix live. He’s also looking for shows to perform it at and you can get more info about it here. Book him, he’s one of the most forward-thinking DJs utilising new technology out there today as well as one of the most creative.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (music that inspired the BFI re-score) by Dj Cheeba on Mixcloud

Pond LP video & graphics

Finally got round to checking out Pond‘s new album today, not bad, some nice bits on there including this track which looks like it’s been taking styling tips from Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy. Particularly love some of the album graphics, the cover of which reminds me of Robert Crumb‘s turn for Big Brother & The Holding Company crossed with Celyn Brazier‘s work for Wagon Christ.

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Cavern of Anti-Matter

COAMfrontSometimes you take a punt on a record and it works out even better than you could have hoped. Perusing the racks of Casbah Records in Greenwich a few weeks ago I chanced upon a 7″ with a Julian House-designed sleeve that looked rather fetching. The band was one I hadn’t heard of – Cavern of Anti-Matter – but a quick glance at the credits on the reverse told me that ex-Stereolab leader Tim Gane was involved so I took a gamble and shelled out for the 45.

I liked what I heard upon dropping the needle when I returned home, an instrumental mixture of drums, electronics and guitar with a motorik groove and just enough of that melody that the ‘Lab made their own to lift it. Next port of call was the web to find more of course and I’d missed two 12″s and an album, all on different labels, over the past two years. The LP, ‘Blood Drums’, is available to listen to from Grautag Records but the vinyl isn’t available for love nor money anywhere on the web it seems, please let me know if you find one because it’s even better than the single. I can’t even find anywhere to buy it digitally! A mail to the label has resulted in nothing and their online shop just has a (soon) sign. I guess they aren’t that fussed about selling once the physical product has run out.

An initial ultra limited 12″ that predates the album is also long gone but available from iTunes and features three tracks from the LP (inexplicably listed separately) in different versions – also essential. There’s also another 12″ with two side-long improvisations although this seems to be sold out in most places or expensive on the secondary market. I look forward to hearing more.

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Zang Tuum Tumb ‘The Value of Entertainment’ reissue

Value_Blitz_advertMay85In May 1985 Zang Tuum Tumb occupied the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End for two weeks with a showcase of their current roster (minus Frankie and some of Art of Noise) entitled ‘The Value of Entertainment’. In October they released their first label roster compilation which largely mirrored the show’s line up but, thankfully, reinstated Frankie into the mix, cleverly word-playing on the bit of studio kit they’d become associated with due to Trevor Horn‘s production techniques.

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‘Sampled’ was an odd duck but then the label was never going to do the obvious best of so far was it? “So what happens now?” intones a voice early on in Art of Noise’s ‘Closing’, which strategically opened rather than closed the album, posing the question, setting the scene, having the last laugh first. None of the hits from the past two years were included, not in their original form anyway, the closest you got was Propaganda‘s ‘P-Machinery’, a track not even 6 months old, and snippets and snatches from the Art of Noise’s debut LP, ‘Who’s Afraid…’ Instead of celebrating the previous 24 months with ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Dr Mabuse’, ‘Close (To The Edit)’, ‘Moments In Love’, ‘Duel’ or ‘The Power of Love’ we got cover versions by Frankie and Propaganda, interludes by Art of Noise and a host of new artists who were making their debuts on the label with this release. And quite right too.

The one exception was ‘Disneyland’, the previously mooted double A side of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ single which, if included, may have got them that fourth No.1 after all. It was held over to help sell this compilation (“a bait, comrades” as Paul Morley‘s sleeve notes confirmed) and is still one of the highlights of the set. ‘Don’t be bland in Disneyland, it’s very good in Hollywood’ being the standout line in a short burst of energy that would have bolstered the sagging third side of their debut LP no end.

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ZTT did the unexpected, which is what we expected and wanted them to do and why we love them so much for it. They also knew what we didn’t, that there were tensions in the camps of their main three artists and that the wheels were coming off the wagon. Indeed three members of Art of Noise had already flown the coop and were about to release their debut single for China records, having pulled out of the Ambassadors Theatre shows at the 11th hour. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The compilation acted as a crossover from the first round of signings to the second, introducing Andrew Poppy, Anne Pigalle and Instinct to Zang and cleverly bought the label some more time in the spotlight whilst everyone else was trying to catch up (again). Instinct were the most conventional of the new artists but one that I felt never matched up to the excitement or daring of Frankie or Propaganda, a good support band maybe but never a headline act. Until recently their contribution, ‘Swamp Out’, was their only release on the label outside of their short performance on the rare ‘The Value of Entertainment’ video or even rarer Japanese laser disc. Without wanting to sound unkind, that was probably for the best as it’s not a great calling card.

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Anne Pigalle, a visually stunning model and singer of the Edith Piaf persuasion who’d been seen in all the right places in London for some time, had the look and just about managed to pull off the voice for her two contributions, of which ‘Intermission’ was probably the best track from her debut LP for ZTT, released around the same time. Her inclusion certainly wrong-footed a few but fitted into the label’s European-leanings like a glove. Unfortunately the pop world was just taking a turn for the commercial in ’85, the post punk, new wave, Futurists and synth brigade were about to be steamrollered by the Stock, Aitken & Waterman juggernaut and the fist pumping stadium rock of U2, Simple Minds and Springsteen. There would be little place for Anne in such a world, despite the fact that she was on one of the most forward thinking labels of the time, but the times they were a-changing.

Andrew Poppy, the third newcomer to the roster was a genuine head-turner, a British avant grade composer with previous form as a member of The Lost Jockey, forward thinking and influenced by industrial music as much by his contemporaries. His pieces (or extracts from) were and are things of beauty that were both out of place with the company on the LP but fitted perfectly into the ZTT ethos. He also had an ace up his sleeve; he didn’t need Trevor Horn to produce him, something that every other act up until then had a connection with and one that was rapidly becoming an albatross around both his and the label’s neck. Not a man exactly known for his fast work rate, it was unrealistic to expect Horn to produce every band on the label and Poppy was the first to completely break the mould.

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This new version of ‘Sampled’ has never sounded so good with an excellent transfer from a new master source instantly noticeable. The album was originally released on a single piece of vinyl and cassette, never on CD and it’s great to hear such a clean, crisp version. It’s been bumped up to 75 minutes with two more ‘sides’, the first of different mixes of earlier tracks subtitled ‘Director’s Cuts’. Art of Noise’s ‘Closing’ gets a 21 second extension but it’s so full of jump cuts the difference is hard to tell. There’s a new mix of Instinct’s ‘Swamp Out’ that was found in the vaults although I didn’t notice until I read the sleeve notes. A new version that did stand out was Frankie’s take on ‘Born To Run’ which sounds like an early attempt to get a live sound of the studio recording. Unfortunately it’s an inferior mix to the original release, drenched in reverb with Mark O’Toole‘s intricate bass lines half buried in the mix. The fourth ‘side’ has edits from ‘The Value of Entertainment’ shows themselves and provides the only genuinely exciting new unreleased recording in a live version of Andrew Poppy’s ‘The Amusement’.

Hearing how close the players come to nailing the recorded version’s sound and arrangement is something to behold and this is only a six minute extract from the original 45 minute performance. 30 years later it sounds extraordinary that such a piece was presented at what was, at the time, a pop label showcase, let’s hope the full performance surfaces one day too. The other extras are sadly unremarkable in that they sound like literal room recordings of playbacks of the Art of Noise ‘performance’ complete with faulty mic introduction for the last track. I consider myself a hardcore ZTT fan but this is scraping the barrel by most people’s standards – for diehards only.

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In a calculated move to avoid the obvious and tame the critics who were, predictably, beginning a backlash after Frankie’s winning streak the previous year, ‘The Value of Entertainment’ live show struck out boldly and promised something new. The paired down Art of Noise performance, little more than a playback with dancers, despite Morley’s self-deprecating asides, ended up falling short of expectations. Original compere John Sessions quit after one show to be replaced by a new MC, now disgraced comedian Chris Langham who failed to ignite the crowds at the time and you can see some awkward exchanges backstage in the second half of the DVD that comes with this reissue package.

Of the performances in Time Capsule One – a version of the original VHS release in all it’s grainy 80’s glory – only Propaganda ignite any interest, looking and sounding like a pop band in charge of their material. Pigalle is a rabbit in the headlights and Instinct are breathtakingly ordinary, any art house pretence hinted at in the recordings dashed by a spectre of a tight Brit funk band with average material. Mercifully, Morley vox pops are scattered throughout their performance and a visibly nervous Paul wonders whether he’ll be lynched or booed off once he takes the stage. The second half of the DVD – Time Capsule Two – has further excerpts of songs and backstage banter excised from the original film, taken from the Japanese laser disc from 1986, ending with an excellent photo gallery from the original nights set to part of Andrew Poppy’s score.

Poppy is sadly absent from the whole film, his only appearance in the photo gallery and as backing music for the menu, a real shame, and a missing ingredient that would have added to the *ahem* value of the package. Knowing how thoroughly Ian Peel goes about compiling these reissues I suspect the footage either no longer exists (if it ever did) or wasn’t high quality enough to include. Philip Marshall‘s minimalist design pays homage to the original release with a new take on the Kenneth Martin cover image and the inclusion of unseen photos from the shows by Andrew Catlin. As it stands, in terms of value and entertainment this set definitely fulfills the former admirably, taking care above and beyond the usual call for an oddity such as this but falls a little short on the latter. As a ‘Time Capsule’ it’s perfect, a delight to see mid-80s Soho on film in all its scaffolded, dingy hustle & bustle in contrast with ZTT’s avant pop, its pristine, slick exterior radiating ideas and bucking trends they couldn’t hope to replicate in the everyday gig or performance setting.

At one point in a backstage tour of the theatre Morley chances upon Instinct sound checking and apologies that, “it’s come to this”, a sentiment echoed by his on stage dialogue concerning the Art of Noise’s non-appearance. ‘A Radiant Obstacle in the Path of the Obvious’ was an early ZTT mission statement and you get a sense that he knows that that mission is starting to fail. The label’s acts worked best in the controlled isolation of the recording studio or video edit where the fantasy could be molded, re-mixed and perfected. Once the live element was introduced the illusions created were torn away and, no matter which context you set them in, the theatre or the concert hall, the fallible human side shattered the utopian vision.

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‘Sampled’ saw the beginning of a new phase for the label but it was the end of their first two glorious years where they were at their most experimental and daring. ‘The Value of Entertainment’ was largely savaged in reviews although many conceded that it WAS something different at least. Instinct failed to release another record, Pigalle tanked and Propaganda split into a different version of the group soon after, signing to Virgin with only Claudia staying at the label. Frankie, as we know, returned a year later with the lacklustre ‘Liverpool’ before imploding themselves. Only Andrew Poppy really made a mark from the compilation, going on to release two albums and singles of exciting, forward-thinking material before he too was cast adrift, the third promised LP emerging years later as part of a box set. The label would have one last shining moment in Grace Jones‘Slave To The Rhythm’  before the changing pop landscape rendered their first incarnation yesterday’s news and they began their second phase, cannily reborn and re-aligned to the emerging dance music scene at the end of the decade.

‘The Value of Entertainment’ is out now from ZTT/Union Square Music – CD+DVD+16 page booklet in card digipak that lines up with all the previous reissues beautifully. The Art of Noise ‘at the end of the century’ 2xCD+DVD is also out, review coming soon…

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Retro Synth Ads highlights

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Trawling through the Retro Synth Ads site, looking for info on the Arp Omni flexi disc I posted in the Flexibition, I found all manner of great adverts from the 70’s, a time when designers played with the format a bit more. Here are my pick of the ones I came across although there’s over 5 years worth of posts to go through so I probably missed some. The Arp poster above is my favourite, would love one of those framed, there’s also some beautiful typefaces on display too.

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Flexibition #12: Arp Omni

Flex12_Arp-OmniWe continue the technology theme this month with another classic synth, the Arp Omni. Billed as ‘The first symphonic electronic keyboard’ this was the best-selling keyboard that Arp Instruments ever made, debuting in 1976 (information varies, depending what you read) with the Omni 1 which was followed two years later by the Omni 2. Check out Tom Piggot demonstrating all the versatile sounds it can make and suddenly breaking into the melody of Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ to illustrate the brass setting.

This dates from 1976 (November 4th ’76 to be exact – Eva-Tone cat. no.s start with the date) and was probably given away with either the keyboard itself or Contemporary Keyboard magazine in early ’77. The excellent Retro Synth Ads blog has an amazing array of printed material for all manner of Arp models as well as many other makes and the ads here are taken from that blog. Below is the double page spread that I believe had the above flexi stapled into it from the Jan ’77 issue of Contemporary Keyboard plus a follow up ad from a month later with a photo of the disc.

arp_omni_jan77_pg2829_ck arp_omni_feb77_pg29_ckPrepare to spend hours of your life picking through the minutiae of synth memorabilia on Retro Synth Ads (there’s even an Arp belt buckle in there), there are also plenty of sound files to listen to as well. Next week… Drums!

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Larry Carlson collages and films


Above: ‘Ascension’ by Larry Carlson, do not watch if out of your mind.
Few artists manage to capture the enhanced state of the psychedelic trip in the way that Larry Carlson can in the final three images below. That deepened perspective where the inherent detail in every object before you is magnified a thousandfold until your sense of space is distorted and images become present in everyday surroundings.

Whilst some of his images play into the clichés of the genre, there are enough interesting things happening in his work for me to keep an eye on it for the flashes of brilliance he does throw up. The mix of the surreal, the cosmic and his ability to occasionally nail a two dimensional representation of a lysergic experience puts him in similar standing to visionaries like Ernst Fuchs, Robert Venosa or Mati Klarwein. His work is more playful than theirs, I realise, containing ad hoc elements more akin to Terry Gilliam‘s collages than the seriousness of the greats but I feel he can sometimes capture the absurdness of scale or dimensional distortion that occurs on such trips.

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Paola Delfin paintings

Paolo_Delfin_LondonWhilst out visiting friends in East London yesterday I chanced upon this excellent piece of art next to the old pie & mash shop in All Saints. An appeal for the name of the artist turned up the name Paola Delfin from Mexico, her work is mainly based on the female form, check out more of her fantastic art at the link above.

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RIP Gong’s Daevid Allen

News update from the Allen family in Australia: Daevid Allen has passed on. He left today, this Friday the Thirteenth, at 1:05pm.”

The RIP list for 2015 is already stacking up (Terry Pratchett passed away yesterday) and it’s only March. Sad to see so many innovators leaving this mortal coil, breaking out the Camembert and making a pot of tea in his memory. RIP Daevid.

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