#6: FFT, JC Leisure, Ludwig Berger, & more.
Plus: Gnojki Samba festival mini-review, some convergent consciousness in Prague nightlife, and some other tidbits.
The whole month of June has been a little whirlwind for me: bouncing between meetings and events, micro-festivals and myriad forms of work accepted to stay afloat, July’s empty calendar is looking like a lot to look forward to.
The main event of June was something a long time in the oven: a small festival ran in northern Poland, somewhat near Gdansk. My friend Giacomo, aka musician Ikävä Pii, was asked to programme the music for Saturday at Gnojki Samba, a first-time event ran in an old Soviet-era Polish retreat site by a beautiful inland lake. A planeload of London-based artists dropped in on the Friday evening, and from Saturday afternoon I had the chance to see a lot of close friends from London days, and newer “internet buddies” from their expanding friendship circle, playing live or DJing.
It’s the first time I’ve been (artistically) involved in an event like it, and also the first time I’ve seen a festival go to a lot of effort and expense to bring over artists who aren’t at the very peak of the international music game (read: instagram-famous). With complete honesty, it was far more engaging to see a crew of relatively unknown doers, shifters, and scene busybodies doing their thing, with genuine heart, than to see a great big name doing rote pattern performance. So, major props to Kolektyw Gnojki for doing it good — I’m marking off the dates for next year already.
I’m not trying to suggest festivals should never book big acts, but I will advocate to promoters that, in terms of building connection between audience and act, and also between artists in different locations, there’s more at play than just anticipation, hype and awareness; there’s also intimacy, the joy of a more horizontally constructed lineup, the knowledge that the acts are genuinely as excited to be there as the punters.
Returning to Prague after a wonderful, if short, extension to the Polish stay in the seaside resort town of Sopot, I was plunged into a weekend of events — I played a DJ set at the Fuchs2 nightclub, then worked the entrance door at Ankali for a new queer party, then got roped into a Sunday set at Bike Jesus (all locations are stopping points for music tourists in Prague) — and held a few conversations with friends new and old, with those last words from the previous paragraph as frequent talking points.
It seems more and more that the music scene here in Czechia is hungering for a diversification of experience in nightlife, for a shift away from the instant gratification of untz-untz-untz music all night long. It was thus at Gnojki Samba, with some incredible local acts also moving the attention away from the harder faces of the dancefloor and more towards a holistic music experience. Here’s hoping it sticks: reviews below show some incredible abstractions of the club, for reference, inspiration, thoughts.
There’s been so much music I’ve wanted to write about, but the issues of free time to do the work are ever-present this month. July has some outrageously good albums already announced, so maybe Reach #7 will land sooner than usual. Hope you enjoy #6 in the meantime!
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Bristol Normcore - 15/06/23
FFT are Bristolian, I believe, with past outings on The Trilogy Tapes and Numbers labels. I was talking about FFT at Gnojki Samba with one other DJ, after playing the great ‘Disturb Roqe 4’ piece which I’ve been playing obsessively in techy/ambient/IDM sets since it emerged, and lo! a new FFT album arrives the day I get back home.
It feels somewhat crude to align their music with the term “dance music”, despite some very clear demonstrations of what that term describes. Something so simplified and straightforward as “dance music” cannot be hooked onto FFT in their prime. First time listeners to E7H Ritual might be forgiven for thinking that the music feels hesitant, too unsure of itself. The truth is precisely the opposite: like their ‘Clear’ LP for Numbers, hesitation is mistakenly attributed to their confidence in silence.
I’ve been parroting this phrase for what feels like a month, since I saw it the first time: Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea novels begins with a poem, from which the first sentence is “Only in silence the word”. It’s a deep metaphor which runs throughout the connected novels, as well as her other work, and the thrust of it is fairly simplistic — nothing is clear without space, emptiness, to define it. ‘E7H Ritual’ has plenty of space, which means it has plenty of room for meaning; a rare thing in blunt-force, full-frontal dance music. Some tracks feel like they have approximately 7 hits of a digital snare, as opposed to that number in a single phrase of a typical techno track.
With so much space, the importance of each single utterance is elevated: the elocution of the synths and drums become more important than the clamouring need to say as many words as possible in a short space of time, and FFT speak proper good like when it comes to their instruments, as you’ll hear from the very first track until the end.
I said it’s somewhat sacrilegious to compare them to dance music and then spent a lot of time doing just that, but it’s very hard for me to isolate FFT from the club, because in just about everything they do there is this lingering spectre behind the curtain waiting to be unleashed. The space of their music opens up imagination and anticipation in quite a unique way, leaving possibilities so stretched open that anything can happen… it’s a beautiful subversion of that bear trap waiting for “dance music” producers: the urge (paranoid compulsion?) to fill all gaps until there’s little room for meaning left.
Sun Ark Records - 21/05/23
From spacious and anticipatory to the absolutely endless, as borderless as space, and a spoken promise of nothing at all. JC Leisure was completely new to me until Luigi (he of Babau, reviewed last month) shared this on socials, and I knew that this release would fit perfectly alongside the review of FFT.
FFT deal with space, but also on the notion of recurrence, the “riff” or motif that flows from one track to the next (once again tipping their Disturb Roqe release as example). Here, JC Leisure does the same: ten tracks, none of which surpass 4 minutes in length, and all of which offering different perspectives of the same sound “objects”.
In fact, ‘A Courtyard!’ contains a lot of what that hard-to-find-online LP from Babau brought to the table that I loved so much: bizarre, off-world colonies of sound artefacts glimmer in a second, and again, and again, then fall silent, re-emerging in the next piece. A dispossessed country/blues/surf rock guitar string chimes, then disappears, surrounded on all sides by a reiterated, breathy and mutilated, ‘Hey!’, somehow simultaneously encouraging and relaxing, and kind of disturbing.
If FFT aren’t afraid of silence, then JC Leisure swims backstroke in it — suitably for the name, perhaps. Leisure time certainly fits to this music like a glove. Whack it on when you have exactly nothing to do but chill, and you’ll feel what I mean. The circumspective reiterations of the central modes of the album are like acetone to the paint of busy-ness: let ‘A Courtyard!’ wash you clean.
Forms of Minutiae - 16/06/23
This review I’m going to try to keep concise, since I’ve already covered one FoM release in Reach quite recently, and because I’ve got lots to say about it which doesn’t particularly suit saying. In other words, it’s best to just listen. However, some introduction of the performers of this piece is necessary — it’s nice to include some music by non-human entities. Apologies to Ludwig, but this release is just circumstantially associated with humanity: the field recordist captured, via hydrophone and recording equipment, music made by pondwater plants.
Somehow, it’s my favourite techno release of many years. Again, the voice of sacrilege, comparing everything to dance music when there’s nothing to do with it. But just listen to the 10-minute compositions here! The rhythms, the enunciation of the clicks and thumps in cascading synchronicity, the endless play and generative textures and the actual, literal, pulse of life flowing through it. Utricularia Vulgaris does more to ensure it sounds different and engaging than the vast majority of dance musicians do, and all within a byproduct of the passive act of breathing.
I opened the dancefloor of Fuchs2 by playfully repitching ‘Marais Des Pontins I’, and so I can say it’s system-ready music, not just an interesting listen in the way many field recordings are, and that opens up the door to why I raised this release as the bookend to the newsletter. This release closes the loop of the topics raised within the writings above: matters of space and silence, of chance-led musics and the perfection in the strange and bewildering sound experiences.
The vinyl edition of this comes with 12 locked grooves, short loops of ever-repeating pops and whirrs, some of which are broadly analogous to the typical techno time signature and speed. The full extent of Berger’s work in boosting the sound is a mystery to me, unknowledgeable as I am about this kind of art, but the sound results on these locked grooves are truly adjacent to club music — imagine young Jef Mills on turntables, beatmatching 4 decks of plantlife bangers at a churning Underground Resistance rave.
Finding such material floating in a pond — and dedicating the time and effort to presenting it as art — is great work from Ludwig Berger, but it’s the cutting itself of the limited-run vinyl that I love the most; taking great time (and expense) in producing the locked grooves goes above and beyond, and it’s one of the most engaging, playful and inventive vinyl releases in years as a result.
Sorry, not this week: Mum’s on the plane to see me, life got crazy busy this month, and I’ve another festival to prepare for. As mentioned, July is looking empty, so I’m hoping to try and recover some of my much-promised pace and consistency then, although longtime readers will likely read and laugh at me repeating myself time and time again.
The other festival I mentioned is called Transforma, which happens in the Czech town of Tábor. I’ve been meaning to go since I moved out to Prague, since the event is kind of a party-away-from-home for a lot of Prague-based musicians. I’m there with my collective Noise Kitchen, who, with the good people from AVA from Brno, will be running the garden ambient stage on Saturday with Adela Mede as guest, a Slovak/Hungrian ambient artist who released a great album very early in the year.
There’s a lot of great talent at Transforma this year and I’m excited to see it for the first time, and luckily as a performer too. July’s Reach may contain something of a wrap-up review. You can find our full stage lineup here, and from that link spy the full lineup for all days.
Followers of the blog may be happy to know that the little plant cutting, which carried the somewhat depressed intro of last month’s newsletter, has now grown many spidery roots.