I can still remember the day the way I thought about the guitar changed completely. It was around this time 11 years ago in a bedroom of my shared student house in Birmingham, UK. This was the first time I heard the record Subsonic 4 – better known as ‘Zulutime’ by Caspar Brotzmann & Page Hamilton.
And I hated it.
I was a huge fan of the band Helmet and in these earlier days of the internet had heard of this one-off side project by the lead singer/guitarist Page Hamilton. I knew he was very much into his jazz guitar and got the impression that this record was an opportunity for him to use some of his jazz skills outside of Helmet. The fact that partnering him on this record was a guy called Caspar Brotzmann, the son of the some famous jazz sax player Peter (of whom I also hadn’t heard), reinforced my expectations of nice modal runs and an altogether more laid-back affair.
How wrong I was. I pressed play, sat back to enjoy this ‘jazz side’ of Page’s playing and was instead confronted with a huge roar of two heavily distorted guitars that paid no attention to melody, rhythm or it would seem; each other. ‘Odd intro’ I thought, expecting something more structured to drop in at any second.
Two minutes later I was still waiting. Two minutes after that things had become arguably more intense, and , christ, there was still seven minutes and fifteen seconds left of this song. So I thought I’d try some of the other tracks. All of them followed this same template of freeform noise.
Disappointed I put the CD back in it’s case. This first exposure to avant-garde improvised guitar would later completely change everything I thought about music, both as a listener and a player.
It was also my way in to the Subsonic series of six albums/guitarist collaborations put out by the Belgian Sub Rosa label in the mid-to-late 90s. The series would feature artists such as Fred Frith, Marc Ribot, Justin Broadrick and Sasha Frere-Jones.
In future posts I will talk about each of these albums and the series as a whole.