Five wretched years of Blackest Ever Black: ICA, London, 26.09.15


Blackest Ever Black will mark its fifth anniversary this year with a two-part event at the ICA in London, on Saturday 26 September, and a two-part event at Berghain, Berlin, on Friday 30 October. We’re now ready to announce some details of the ICA two-parter; details for Berghain will follow later in the week.

A 2015 ICA Associate, Blackest has been given free rein over the venue’s main theatre space, and will present both a daytime and evening programme of performances on September 26. Tickets for these day and evening sessions can be bought separately, or together at a discounted price.

The evening session features live performances from Jac Berrocal, David Fenech & Vincent Epplay, Officer! and Af Ursin, with DJ support from Raime; the daytime session features live performances from Ashtray Navigations, Stefan Jaworzyn, Dalhous, F ingers and AD Jacques, plus a screening of Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s 1979 film Anti-Clock. Full details are as follows.



September 26, 8pm. Tickets £7-£8 (day+evening tickets also available at £12-£14).

The evening session features the debut UK performance from the trio of Jac Berrocal, David Fenech & Vincent Epplay, who whose album, Antigravity, Blackest Ever Black released earlier this year to considerable acclaim. “Trumpeter” is hardly an adequate epithet for avant-garde legend Berrocal, a 1946-born musician, poet and sometime film actor who came of age in the ‘70s Paris improv scene. Inspired by bebop, chanson, free jazz, beat poetry, early rock ‘n roll and myriad Eastern influences, and with an anything-goes approach to instrumentation and technique that would later align him with post-punk sensibilities, Berrocal blazed an eccentric and unstoppable trail across the underground throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. His uproarious performances routinely wound up jazz and rock audiences alike, but earned the admiration of plenty of others: Steven Stapleton invited him to perform on two Nurse With Wound albums, and other notable collaborators include Sunny Murray, Lizzy Mercier-Descloux, Lol Coxhill, James Chance, Pascal Comelade and Jaki Liebezeit. Now Berrocal has found the perfect foil in David Fenech and Vincent Epplay, two fearlessly inventive composer/improvers who create challenging, acutely modernist yet historically aware settings – wrought out of synthesis, guitars, computer processing, field recordings and unorthodox percussions – for Berrocal’s unmistakeable voice and breathtakingly lyrical horn sound to flourish. Antigravity is the trio’s first album together: a lugubrious mise-en-scène in which ice-cold outlaw jazz meets musique concrète, DIY whimsy and dubwise studio science. Do not miss the opportunity to catch one of the most uniquely brilliant musicians in his element.

Another cult hero of the ‘70s and ‘80s DIY/art-rock underground, Mick Hobbs, will perform at the helm of Officer! for the first time in “decades” (we estimate 25 years), with a group assembled from collaborators past and present, including Flaming Tunes’ Mary Currie (you can vouchsafe you’ll hear one or two Flaming Tunes songs in their set). Londoner Hobbs’ musical roots are in the fecund RIO scene of the late ’70s and early 1980s, initially as guitarist in The Work, and related groupings The Lowest Note, The Lo Yo Yo, and The Momes; over the course of the decade he became closely associated with This Heat and their Cold Storage studio in Brixton, working with the likes of Flaming Tunes, Family Fodder, Catherine Jauniaux and Zeena Parkins. The Officer! project formally surfaced in 1982 with a cassette, Eight New Songs By Mick Hobbs, which marked the arrival of a singular writer and improvisor, with a gift for plangent melody, ingenious arrangement and lyrics at once caustic and courtly, playful and profound. The Cold Storage-recorded Ossification LP arrived a year later, and Megaphone Records, responsible for its recent reissue, describe it as “one of the most unusual, pleasurable and character-filled ‘pop’ records anyone has heard…a timeless anomaly in the history of recorded music.” In 2014, Blackest Ever Black released Officer!’s “lost” album, Dead Unique, recorded in 1995 but inexplicably shelved for 19 years. It’s a bona fide classic of English song-based experimentation, one that addresses the biggest themes: love, loss, commitment, independence, the mutability and inconstancy of all things. “You lose, you learn, you advance…but you always go back.” What a true honour it is to welcome Officer! back to the stage.

Af Ursin is the alter ego of Finnish autodidact composer/improviser Timo van Luijk. He began his musical activities in the mid-1980s, founding the Noise-Maker’s Fifes collective with Geert Feytons in ’89. During the ’90s he developed his solo work under the name Af Ursin, providing music/sound for dance, theatre and film projects, before establishing his own record label, La Scie Doree, in 2001. This became the main platform for his own music and related projects, including regular collaborations with Christoph Heeman (as In Camera) and Andrew Chalk (as Elodie). His work mainly uses acoustic instruments (strings, wind, percussion) and various sound objects in order to create free-form arrangements through combined structured improvisations; the intuitive and poetic aspect, and the unique timbre of each instrument, forming the core of his musical approach. Af Ursin’s live performances usually consists of applied mechanics from an old sewing machine and motorised percussion combined with a variety of acoustic instruments, objects and tape manipulation. In early 2016, Blackest Ever Black will release new LP and CD editions of Af Ursin’s 2005 masterpiece, Aura Legato: a visionary, profoundly psychedelic synthesis of acid-folk, musique concrète and ceremonial drone currents that has earned telling, if inadequate, comparisons to Third Ear Band, Nurse With Wound and HNAS.

Evening DJ support comes from Raime, the duo of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead whose work has been synonymous with Blackest Ever Black ever since its inception. Raime’s first release, their self-titled EP, was Blackest’s first also, and the duo have since release two further 12″s – If Anywhere was here he would know where we are (2010) and Hennail (2011) – as well as an EP and split 7″ as Moin (their post-hardcore-influenced side-project). In 2013 they released their debut album, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, and Autumn 2015 will see the release of its eagerly anticipated, full-length follow-up.



September 26, 12 midday. Tickets £7-£8 (day+evening tickets also available at £12-£14).

The daytime session is headlined by Ashtray Navigations. Operating out of various basements in Stoke-on-Trent and Leeds since the early ’90s, AshNavs occupy a uniquely important, idiosyncratic and bloody-minded role in the global psychedelic underground, with a sprawling, countless catalogue of LPs, tapes and CD-Rs (both self-released and on labels like Siltbreeze, VHF and Golden Lab) to their name. Centered around Phil Todd, their inspired, improvised, ever-mutating sound is impossible to satisfactorily pin down, but suffice to say it touches on psychedelic rock ’n roll, ecstatic drone, molten electronics…In the words of Todd, “I always imagine myself and Ashtray Navigations going through and shovelling up all types of music. Everything gets thrown on the furnace to some extent.” Ashtray Navigations’ members and collaborators over the years have included the likes of Alex Neilson, Neil Campbell, Stewart Keith and Phil Legard; they currently perform as a two-piece with Todd (described by David Keenan as “a trashcan antidote to LaMonte Young”) joined by Mel Ó Dubhshláine on various instruments/devices. The Wire: “This is music stripped free of song into a perpetual crescendo by someone who loves music so much, he has to destroy it so no one else can have it. Welcome to the psychedelic mess that is Phil Todd and Ashtray Navigations’ universe.”

Writer, musician and misanthrope Stefan Jaworzyn will also perform live. Following a brief stint in Whitehouse, Jaworzyn formed Skullflower with Matthew Bower in ’86 and remained the band’s guitarist for four years, before establishing the Shock label (home to releases from the likes of Lol Coxhill, Coil, The Dead C and Ramleh), which, like the annual Shock Around The Clock film festival, grew out of Shock Xpress – the seminal horror/exploitation zine he edited. Jaworzyn rejoined Whitehouse in 1990-91, and around this time was also invited to participate in a roundtable discussion about serial killers on Channel 4’s After Dark programme: it ended with him vehemently debating the meaning of the word “integrity” with fellow guest Michael Winner. Despite having supposedly renounced the guitar, in ’91 Jaworzyn returned to it with some venom, forming Ascension (later Descension) with Tony Irving; the band’s turbulent brand of free music famously incited an audience riot when they supported Sonic Youth at Kentish Town Forum in ’96. In the second half of the decade Jaworzyn retired Shock and largely withdrew from music, choosing to focus on drinking and cursing (although his The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Companion was published by Titan Books in 2003). After some 17 years off the grid, Jaworzyn recently reappeared with a series of new and archival releases, including Drained Of Connotiation (Blackest Ever Black, 2014) , a document of raw, sociopathic electronic music created in early/mid-’82 using a Korg MS10 or 20 and his beloved Dr Rhythm drum machine.

Dalhous is the brainchild of Edinburgh’s Marc Dall, joined for live performances by regular studio collaborator Alex Ander. Their most recent release, a limited cassette of selected 2009-13 demos notwithstanding, is 2014’s Will To Be Well: a double-LP of highly lyrical, sublimely melancholic electronic music inspired, like Dalhous’s An Ambassador For Laing (2013) and Will To Be Well EP (2014) before it, by the life and arcana of R.D. Laing, but also alluding to more universal and enduring mysteries: the relationships between body and mind, illness and wellness, the physical and the metaphysical. Dalhous perform at the ICA ahead of the release of their third LP, The Composite Moods Collection, by some distance their most complex, ambitious and personal offering to date.

F ingers is a Melbourne-hailing group which includes Tarcar’s Carla dal Forno and Tarquin Manek in its ranks. Their brand of sleep-deprived, synth-daubed death-folk – like some suburban dream-meeting of Nico and Dome – is powerfully documented on new album Hide Before Dinner, due out on Blackest Ever Black in August/September 2015. Dal Forno and Manek have quickly become key members of the Blackest Ever Black family, with a number of solo and collaborative projects in the label’s pipeline.

London-based Northerner A.D. Jacques spent fifteen years selling avant-garde LPs and recording his own music in secret before spending another ten years as a recluse. He made his live solo debut at the 2012 BEB showcase whilst disguised as a DJ, and his first release for the label is due in 2016.

The daytime session opens with a screening of Jane Arden & Jack Bond’s Anti-Clock (1979, 105min). Actress, playwright and filmmaker Arden (1927-82) was the author of Vagina Rex and the Gas Oven (1969), the first play to emerge from the Women’s Liberation Movement, and founder of Holocaust women’s theatre company. Her collaborations with Jack Bond – who would later earn much praise for his run of terrific South Bank Show documentaries (on the likes of Patricia Highsmith and Werner Herzog) in the ’80s, and his pop films for the Pet Shop Boys and Adam Ant – include Separation (1968) and Anti-Clock (1972). Anti-Clock, Arden and Bond’s last work together, is often described as an “avant-garde sci-fi”, but that phrase, though not exactly inaccurate, scarcely does justice to its unforgettable imagery, the bleak poetry of its script (much of it derived from Arden’s radical social and psychological manifesto You Don’t Know What You Want, Do You?), and the deep sense of existential unease which the whole picture conveys. The film opened the  was never picked up for British distribution: its only other public British screening was at the NFT in 1983, as a tribute to Arden, who had committed suicide at the end of the previous year. However, it had a modest theatrical release in the US, where it received notable critical acclaim – Newsweek applauded “a complex and fascinating experimental exploration of time and identity…a film of authentic, startling originality”, and Warhol and Chabrol both gave their seals of approval. Following Arden’s death, a grieving Bond suppressed further distribution/release of the film, until a 2005 restoration and DVD/theatrical release from the BFI. In 2016 Blackest Ever black will issue a vinyl edition of the Anti-Clock soundtrack, including dialogue cues: this soundtrack has never been available before on any format, and features two extraordinarily haunting, synthetic folk/pop songs sung by Jane Arden herself.

One or two more artists yet TBA for the daytime session, schedule allowing.

Buy your day tickets here and evening here (and remember to take advantage of the discounted multibuy if you wish to attend both day and evening concerts.


Synth Cliché

When I agreed to record a short mix of my “synth heroes” for the show of the same(ish) name on NTS Radio, I did so believing that I would deliver an original and purposeful selection which showed synths being used in unorthodox ways, or to evoke/signify unexpected things. When it came down to it, I panicked and turned out an hour of sci-fi techno and dark ambient clichés instead. Oh well. The mix and my brief track-notes can be found here. -KS