ALBUM: Naoko Sakata – ‘Dancing Spirits’

Sweden is better known to most for being home to the beating heart of quality pop music than for its long legacy of experimental and improvisational composers. But what a legacy it is! Women have been at the forefront of this extraordinary scene for decades and in recent years have become increasingly visible. It’s possible, for example, to draw a direct line from artists like 1970s drone pioneer Catherine Christer Hennix through to current critical favourites Ellen Arkbro, Maria w Horn and Anna von Hausswolff.

Since moving to Sweden in 2008, Japanese-born Naoko Sakata has established herself as a major talent. First with her eponymous jazz trio and lately as a soloist of fierce intuition. Dancing Spirits is her second album of solo piano improvs, following last year’s impressive Inner Planets, and the first to be released through von Hausswolff’s own label, Pomperipossa Records.

Recorded in a Gothenburg church over two evenings in August 2020, these seven highly expressive improvisations are the sound of an artist pulling threads of composition not out of thin air – there is no such thing in a church – but from some other unknowable source of energy and emotions. Sometimes those threads unravel wildly, yanking something portentous into focus before resolving into musical dust motes that settle on the floor. At other times, the drama is more gently prescribed and the directionless journeying feels in thrall to something distant and tidal.

Sakata believes in the hidden influence of planetary alignment and in creating sacred spaces where peace and chaos are allowed to coexist and to channel ideas and emotions. As with astrology, part of the enjoyment of Sakata’s music comes from the ability to project one’s own imaginations and stories onto each composition. Anna von Hausswolff’s striking photography suggests a strong folkloric element at play. Dancing spirits, often women, have been referenced in popular stories dating as far back as Neolithic times. These spirits go by many names, from the tragic rusalka of central Europe to the dawn goddess Ame-no-Uzume and other dancing kami of Japanese mythology, and their stories are often linked with fertility, of the earth and of the people.

Whatever their rhyme or reason, Sakata does not discriminate in opening herself up to these dynamic energies and others. Her unobstructed playing gives body to whomever or whatever is drawn into the music, at the mic’d place at the mic’d time. Dancing Spirits, then, functions as a non-canonical window into a cosmic choreography of player, piano and what lies beyond the limits of scientific detection. It’s a challenging listen in that it makes a ritual of fearlessness, but admirable, too, for the very same reason.

Follow Naoko Sakata on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

Artwork: Gianluca Grasselli

Alan Pedder
@_neverdoneing

LISTEN: BISHI – ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger’

A sweeping, distinctive soundscape that explores creative rebirth, multi-talented artist BISHI has shared her latest single ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger’. Produced at Visconti Studio by Tony Visconti (David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Sparks), the London-based songwriter blends classical instrumentation with contemporary musical elements to form a wonderfully avant-garde, electro-acoustic new tune.

As the founder of WITCiH, a creative hub for women interested in new technologies, it’s no surprise that BISHI has used a revolutionary technology on this latest offering. She used the technique of midi-mapping her Sitar to Ableton Push, helping to keep the divine twang of the instrument at the heart of the single. Her soaring vocals drift beautifully alongside the plucked strings, as she sings of new beginnings and departing old creative worlds.

Alongside the single, BISHI has shared remixes of the track from Hinako Omori (Ed O’Brien, Kae Tempest, Georgia), Richard Norris (The Grid, Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve) and Ben Corrigan (William Basinski, Jonsi & Alex, Robert Ames, Excuse the Mess). They reflect BISHI’s love and long-standing relationship with LGBTQ club spaces, from her early teens when she was adopted by Leigh Bowery’s band, Minty, and started DJing at clubs like Kashpoint and The Siren Suite.

BISHI will also be hosting a 7-part online experience to celebrate the single, including an intimate conversation tonight (16th October) with Tony Visconti via livestream. She will conduct a series of Instagram Live interviews with each of the remixers and other artists included on the release, so make sure you’re following BISHI on Instagram for more updates.

We’ll also be chatting to BISHI about her new single on our Hoxton Radio show next week, so make sure you tune in on Thursday 22nd October at 7pm!

Listen to ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger’ below.

Follow BISHI on Spotify, Facebook & bandcamp for more updates.

Photo Credit: Frederic Aranda

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

LIVE: Nik Void (supporting Gum Takes Tooth) – Electrowerkz 25.01.19

Surrounded by smoke and bathed in flickering coloured lights, Nik Void gave a masterclass in how to perform electronic music solo at Electrowerkz on Friday night. Supporting duo Gum Takes Tooth at their album launch for Baba Yaga’s Hut; Void’s obscure but intriguing soundscapes infiltrated the heads of her large crowd.

Positioned behind a desk overflowing with wires and synths, Void skillfully tuned and triggered her equipment, creating intense waves of experimental electronic noise. Many will be aware of Void’s history as one half of Factory Floor, and as one third of Carter Tutti Void, alongside Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter (Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey) – but even without an understanding of her previous work, Void’s solo set is a truly remarkable experience.

The transitions between tracks are seamless, despite Void being open to “the creation of space for ‘mistakes’” in her music. The mood and tone are constantly in flux; sometimes droney and desolate, other times euphoric and uplifting. Despite her laid-back performance style, it’s easy to see that Void is a woman who is entirely immersed and in control of the jungle of wires that surround her. She moves with ease between synthesizers, making her technical set-up look like it requires minimal effort to manipulate.

There is something transformative about her sound; she communicates complex emotions in unconventional ways with only a few voice samples. She blends elements of techno, ambient, avant-garde and noise into a truly stunning performance, which is made all the more intense by the venue it’s set in. Track names and timings become unnecessary, as Void’s electronic craft-work eludes any kind of labeling or conventional measures/restraint.

At the end of her set, Void graciously bowed her head to the appreciative applause directed her way. Whether you’re a loyal follower or a new addition to the fan club, Nik Void’s live set is definitely going to appeal to anyone interested in diverse, original electronic music.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut

ALBUM: Gazelle Twin – ‘Pastoral’

A unique artist with razor sharp vision and uncompromising creativity; Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Bernholz) combines glitchy beats, menacing samples and an uncanny new costume on her forthcoming album, Pastoral. Set to be released via her own label Anti-Ghost Moon Ray on 21st September, the record marks another transformation for the performer; this time she’s exhuming England’s “rotten past” and questioning its uncertain future.

Bernholz has been honing her own unique vision since the release of her debut album, The Entire City, in 2001. She released her sophomore record Unflesh in 2014 to critical acclaim, and between Motherhood and curating another two atmospheric records (2016’s Out Of Body & 2017’s audio/visual project Kingdom Come), she’s now released Pastoral – and it’s been worth the wait.

“What species is this? What century is this?” she questions on opener ‘Folly’, in a vocal pitch so high it practically curdles the blood. It sets the precedent for the rest of the album – electronic soundscapes that form a permanent sense of unease. Nervous, persistent percussion and repeated lyrics on ‘Better In My Day’ act as an apt parody of the clichéd phrase the track is named after. Bernholz’s warped vocals drip with apathy on ‘Little Lambs’, alongside twitchy synth samples and pulverizing drums. It seamlessly transitions in to ‘Old Thorn’, which recycles the same synth sequences, but which ring out with a different kind of intensity.

Gazelle Twin’s dystopian carousel of sound continues on following track ‘Dieu Et Mon Droit’, which translates as “God and my right”. The phrase is a motto associated with the British Monarchy, and Bernholz’s lyric “Dripping down like shit in to the sewer” feels like a repulsive but brilliant analogy to the Monarch’s inheritance to divine rights. It’s followed by ‘Throne’ – a brief but intriguing interlude of echos and slowly spoken words about power and the wounds it inflicts. When these tracks are performed live, one can imagine Bernholz’s jester-like, red and white costume acting as a powerful vitriolic visual aid here.

Midway through the record we arrive at ‘Mongrel’, with its lyrics – “what species is this? What century is this?” – shadowing opening track ‘Folly’. Her motif provides an insight in to the exhaustion her exploration of these themes can bring. The line “I’m too tired to protest but I’m too worried I’ll regret this. I’m not ready to accept this” feels particularly poignant in the current Brexit-obsessed political climate. The remarkable ‘Glory’ follows, with its slow-building, beguiling vocals and steady, deep drums that spread out across ominous synths.

The daintily named ‘Tea Rooms’ describes the unease of “living in a pastoral picture”, highlighting the uncomfortable reality lurking behind England’s quaint postcard image. The atmospheric ‘Jerusalem’ follows, before the marching beats and seething spoken-word lyrics of ‘Dance Of The Peddlers’ kicks in. It’s less of a dance, more a defiant attack on the Peddlers she speaks of. It transitions seamlessly in to the heart-palpitating ‘Hobby Horse’, which acts like a warning to said Peddlers to “get on your hobby horse and get out of here”. With her humble recorder, bared teeth and samples of football hooligan chants; Bernholz has created a claustrophobic, charged gallop of anarchy.

The false joviality of the synth sequences on ‘Sunny Stories’ are undermined by Bernholz’s powerful vocal display and an ominous under layer of sinister noise that rings out at even interludes. It’s a haunting penultimate track, and is followed by ‘Over The Hills’ which closes the record with an intriguing forty seconds of voice samples and a hymn-like soundscape. Gazelle Twin delivers her Pastoral vision through grinning but gritted teeth. Her altruistic style is one that can’t be mimicked – even though she herself is a master at adopting the traits of others, and transforming in to a new species of performer who offers brutality and intrigue in equal measure.

Pastoral is released on 21 September 2018 via Anti-Ghost Moon Ray. Pre-order here.
Follow Gazelle Twin on Facebook for more updates.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut