Monthly Archives: June 2011

Justin Broadrick & Andy Hawkins:Azonic – Subsonic 3: Skinner’s Black Laboratories

It would be easy to write a biography of Justin Broadrick here. That’s not really my aim, so perhaps the best thing I can do is send you here to check out the insanely long list of records he’s put out since the early eighties and let you dig around the internet to your heart’s content in search of more info.

What this is about is Subsonic 3: Skinner’s Black Laboratories. [Note: I covered how I came across this record in the last entry.]

This album brings together Broadrick and Andy Hawkins from Blind Idiot God‘s ‘Azonic‘ project.  As on the majority of Subsonic albums the two don’t collaborate. In this case however, this probably for the best. Both guitarists have very different styles and Broadrick’s sparser playing on this record might not blend well with Hawkins’ huge washes of sound. This incidental segregation of the two artists also makes this record one of the most diverse and exciting of the series.

Skinner’s Black Laboratories was recorded in 1995 at the mid-point of the career of Godflesh, Broadrick’s uncompromisingly heavy and bleak project that may still be what he’s best known for. Since then he’s done an awful lot more (go back up to the top and look at that discography) including Jesu, the band where he’d finally master blending his pop influences with the crushing riffs that he’s so adept at churning out.

But it’s the essence of Final, yet another Broadrick project (and possibly his longest running) that is most evident on this CD. This is by no means as uncompromising and drone-based, but the spirit is very similar – lengthy solo tracks where the only accompaniment is the loops he creates himself. The track titles are a dead giveaway too; Guitar One, Two, Three and, most tellingly, Four/Infinite. The lack of more creative song titles totally fits the minimal Final aesthetic.

The music on display here is really varied. ‘One’ fades in incredibly slowly until that famous Broadrick guitar tone comes to the fore. It’s perhaps less distorted and aggressive than usual, but you can still tell that the inorganic, curiously boxy, sound is him. He builds up more and more rhythm but never loses the space in the music.

‘Two’ is simply one of the prettiest songs I’ve ever heard, the naked guitar chimes and it builds into one of the most hopeful pieces Broadrick has ever put out.  Years ago I played this to a friend whose room I was crashing in for the night. We lay in our beds, somewhat wasted, talking nonsense. Five minutes into the song he broke the long gap in conversation that had developed without either of us noticing with a simple ‘this is beautiful’, and it is.

‘Three’ fares less well. It’s a scratchy, broken affair that brings to mind the old dial-up tone that nobody in the developed world hears any more. Proceedings are saved by the lovely final track that brings back the bell-like tones from ‘Two’. The song feels a lot more shy. There’s real discipline on show here. The use of space and cathedral-style reverb is perfect. Many lesser musicians (myself included) would have just let the song turn into an over-the-top mess.

It leads wonderfully into ‘River Blindness’ – not only the first song on the record to be dignified with a real title – but also the first track from Andy Hawkins the guitarist with odd noise rock/dub band Blind Idiot God. There are definite hints of that band in his playing here, but the rhythm section has been dispensed with and replaced by more and more guitar. Hawkins only released one other recording as Azonic and although they were put to tape a year apart, the sound is near enough identical.

Hawkins has a HUGE sound. It’s smothered in stereo effects run into at least two amps. The most remarkable thing is the lack of attack, it’s almost as if the chords blend between each other, he must be using some sort of sustainer pickup as I can’t for the life of me replicate it.

On ‘River Blindness’ his guitar screams, roars, throbs, shreds (if only for a moment) and sometimes it just rumbles. Fans of rhythm needn’t cry though as tablas emerge from within the dirge too.

His other track ‘Nine Tails’ follows a similar vein. The guitar’s whammy bar gets a proper shoeing here, the already detuned strings rattle against the fretboard before being yanked back up to pitch time and time again.

Hawkins really throws down the heaviness gauntlet on these tracks. Enough to claim the ‘Heaviest of the Entire Subsonic Series’ title?


This is a stunning record, one which fans of experimental guitar should definitely seek out. There’s so much depth and range. Of course, you can listen to all of the songs on YouTube, but it really benefits from a full, uninterrupted, listen.

Thanks for reading.


Still Alive

I can’t believe it’s been five days since the debut show and I’m not actually writing about it until now. I suppose I’ve been pretty busy but that’s no excuse. Must try harder.

I am still here, I wasn’t bottled in the face, torn limb-from-bloody-limb or taken out the back by the live music mafia and shot in the back of the head.

The turnout was incredibly flattering and the crowd response even more so. I was pretty nervous when I got up there and didn’t really make eye contact with the crowd until I’d finished the first piece. When I looked up and saw everyone clapping and smiling (and still there) it was a pretty great feeling.

I’ve had the opportunity to listen back to a great quality recording of the show (thanks Steve) and I can’t help thinking I wasn’t perhaps as ambitious as I may have been.

Naturally, I blame this fully on my gear – although I should say that I think the limitations made me work harder and quite possibly led to better tracks.

My super fancy looper pedal is still with the manufacturer being ‘repaired’ so I had to improvise (ha). My friend Leon came to the rescue by lending me a Headrush pedal which I was able to use in conjunction with my Hardwire DL-8 delay with its basic looper. So instead of one fancy looper, I had two more basic ones. This however, saved the day. Big props to Leon whose project DrumCunt you should check out.

In all I played four pieces, the middle two of these though were segued meaning everyone thought it was one track. Oddly, it was everyone’s favourite. Probably because it wasn’t all ear-bleeding noise and had a bit more space. It was my least favourite, but y’know…give ’em what they want. Most of it is captured in the film below.

Hellp Records records and I have discussed putting out some of the other tracks as some sort of limited release, so watch this space….

Do feel free to comment on the video, slag it off, take the piss out of my hood etc…

Until next time…

Scared of perfoming live? How’s about going on TV instead then?

The fears and concerns I talked about in the last entry were put in a very odd context yesterday when I suddenly found myself agreeing to a studio interview for ITV News.

In real life I work in Fundraising & Comms for a charity that is probably best described as ‘niche’. Some have been known to use the term ’boutique’ but I am a heterosexual; so I prefer ‘niche’.

Occasionally the media pick up on a story that involves someone we work with. As I’m the de facto media contact for the organisation this usually leads to me answering calls from journalists or tv/radio production staff then chasing about to see if I can provide them with any info. More often than not they manage to find someone sexier who is able to recount much more visceral stories of horror and gore.

Yesterday though; was our turn. Or to be more precise – my turn. Usually this is CEO territory. But as our CEO was indisposed all eyes turned to me. Ten minutes earlier I’d been procrastinating at my desk thinking about my upcoming solo performance in front of what will probably amount to a couple of dozen people. Now I was dashing about the office trying to gather as much relevant info as I could before appearing on a major news programme.

After a quick journey home to South London (with a 20 minute turn-around to shower, iron a shirt, and put a whistle on) I was heading to the TV studio for my ‘satellite link-up’.

Representing an organisation is really tough. People assume you know everything inside-out and therefore throw some questions at you that can be pretty challenging to answer. If I was to fuck-up  not only would I look like a twat, but the organisation would look really noddy too.

I was warned in advance what I’d be asked about, but even though I was prepping hard until the very second they stuck the mic on me I still struggled. I um’d and ah’d like a spherical Hugh Grant and stumbled on a few answers, but all feedback so far has been positive (isn’t online catch-up useful). The lovely tech guy at the studio said I did it like a pro and was surprised it was my first time – I bet he says that to everyone. Watching it back I also discovered that I don’t actually have a neck, but I’m hoping that won’t lead to donors leaving in their droves.

All of this makes Saturday’s forthcoming show seem like a doddle. Hundreds of thousands of people watched me speak on TV and I haven’t been lynched in the street yet.

Making some noise in front of a small crowd of rockers? Piece of piss mate….

The terrible realisation that I now have to do this in front of people…

When I started Kowa Axis a couple of months ago the intention to play live was there from the start. The improvised and malleable nature of the music let my imagination run wild – Kowa Axis is a solo project, but that doesn’t have to mean that every single performance must be solo.

I really hope I can make enough of a success of this for other people to want to  collaborate with me, and I’m (very) slowly working on a piece of music for massed guitars, but in terms of practicality solo performances are likely to make up the initial bulk of the Kowa Axis live experience.

'One-man noise machine' - I quite like that. Might nick it.

So why am I so terrified that I actually have a gig next week? A couple of days ago I got a message offering me the show and instinctively I jumped at the chance.  Playing music this awkward means my phone battery isn’t being run down by promoters bribing me with coke and hookers if I’ll just deign to play their night. As with so many things in my life I agreed to do it without actually giving it any rational thought.

I must admit I love the attention, why would I be writing this blog if I didn’t? But now I find myself in a completely new situation…what the hell am I actually going to do when I get up there?

I’ve plenty of experience playing live, I’m pretty confident with being the band member who does the talking on stage and I enjoy dealing with the random challenges the performer/audience dynamic brings up. The difference now is that there are no band mates to share the nerves with and no well-rehearsed songs to play.

When I get on stage I’m only going to have one chance to get it right. I will be in sole control of what the audience sees and hears, and with eight days to go, I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m going to do.

When I signed up to be an improviser I never considered I might have to get my shit together and play on demand. I was quite happy just recording stuff when I felt like it and telling anyone I thought may be remotely interested that ‘I’ll be doing some shows in the near future’. I’m staggered by how naive I am at times.

But I suppose this is going to be a good test at least. I’ll get to play in front of a small audience and see if I can viably peddle this racket as entertainment. Half of that audience will probably be my friends who know me well enough to not be expecting me to be sitting down with an acoustic scrunching up my face and crooning passionately in a south-London mockney twang , but the other half will be regular punters up for some rock, probably not expecting to see someone who thinks their wail of feedback should be appreciated.

I’ve been batting some ideas around of whether I should try to incorporate some sort of visual elements, and by elements I mean – ‘gimmicks’. I’ve always had this internal struggle around ‘performance’. Many of the bands I’ve truly loved have been particularly attractive to me because they didn’t dress up and pose. They just got on stage, fucked you up, then left. However, I am just one man playing guitar with no accompaniment – is that going to be interesting enough to watch? For every Nirvana, Helmet, or Dillinger Escape Plan – I also love Bowie’s platforms, Jaz Coleman’s face paint and the Bad Seed’s suits.

I’ve considered using a bit of lighting. My little sister kindly bought me a strobe light a few years back. It often comes out of the cupboard when my wife and I are having a drunken night-in dancing around the living room; but hasn’t yet accompanied anything I’m playing on a stage. I owned a smoke machine for a short period too. This was great (and hilarious) at band practices, but sadly got half-inched before it ever got the chance to set-off a venue’s fire alarm.

I suspect I need to just accept a few things about myself. I’d like to get on stage and give off an air of mystery and intrigue, but the truth is I’m closer to being a fat, noisy clown smashing a huge cake with a mallet than I am a folkloric wisp conjuring forth a black mass with my guitar.

As I wrote that last paragraph it’s suddenly become clear that I’d probably be less stressed if I gave up on trying to make this some sort of visual extravaganza. Last week I saw Alexander Tucker keep a room’s attention at Cafe OTO while he stood-still in front of a table. He wasn’t even doing card tricks. But he’s earned his reputation and his audience; I’m just starting at this. He also has some pretty great songs, but that’s beside the point.

This then leaves me with just the sounds to worry about – and worry about them I will.

Steve, the promoter, wants the night to start heavy and get progressively more gentle as it goes on. Theoretically this means I need to get up there and spend 30 minutes punishing the audience with fat square waves of distortion. But as funny as the idea of completely alienating a room full of people is, going back to what I mentioned about liking attention, I want people to like what I do.  I’m not saying I’m going to go up there and play a full set of quiet improvisations, but I might do well to try to add some dynamics to the set.

I’m not so needy that I’ll write a bunch of pop songs and apply to appear on whatever mobile phone company-sponsored talent show T4 is doing this summer – this is a noise project after all. But maybe I need to play to my audience rather than at them.

I suspect that in reality, I won’t know what’s going to come out of my amp until I’m standing there playing through it.

But maybe that’s precisely as it should be?

Anyway, come and see me play if you like. The show is Saturday the 18th of June at the Unicon in Camden, London. It’s a free show, and I’m on early… go here for more info.

In which I blather on about the point (or not) of my music.

I’ve had some really interesting reactions to the most recent track I put up. These ranged from: “Yeah, that’s pretty intense” through “Sorry, but this is fucking shit” and all the way up to “It sounds like the soundtrack to the film ‘The Money Pit'” (which is incidentally the first ’15’ rated film I ever saw.)

Now, the Money Pit comment was obviously a good mate taking the piss (especially as his current project sounds like the soundtrack to Crocodile Dundee II), but people’s reactions to the music I’m creating are really interesting.

Unaccompanied guitar music is not exactly part of the zeitgeist, as far as I’m aware, it never has been – especially when that unaccompanied guitar is churning out a sound that is doing its best to avoid any form of melody. For an instrument so essential to popular music it’s amazing how the guitar is restricted to either being part of an ensemble or occasionally allowed to be the focal point of a song for sixty seconds while some arsehole wails a Les Paul in front of a remote church.

The guitar is a sexy instrument. It’s the indie kid’s penis extension. Their version of a boy racer’s body kit-clad Ford Focus. The guitar gets people laid left, right and centre. Apparently.

So why is improvised solo guitar so un-sexy? My guess is that most guitar music employs the rhythmic fucking emulated by the drums . It’s really the drummer that is the musical sex-machine in a band (though there are few sex-symbol drummers out there). So why does the guitarist get all the girls?

It may be because guitarists are the ones up-front looking all sensitive, but confident, and sadly the cliché that all drummers are total lunatics does generally prove to be true.

[Note: I’m sitting in a pub writing this, and there is now some idiot in a suit at the piano covering ‘Walking In Memphis’ – he is not getting any female attention. Is it because he’s sitting down, like a drummer?]

All this makes me wonder why I’m doing Kowa Axis and who I’m doing it for. It’s certainly not to get girls, I’m already very happily married to a girl who loves guitarists, but surely at the ripe old age of 33 I should be trying to write popular songs that people will like? If I wrote nice songs on an acoustic I could play pubs; probably get paid £100 for an hours’ set in some god-awful boozer in Wimbledon and go about my merry day.

And the thing is that I probably could do that. If not that, then I could easily learn a set of popular contemporary stuff and cover it in front of people who just want to hear a song they know.

But I don’t do that. I record music that sounds like a plane crash. Music that is getting me nowhere commercially or financially. Part of me thinks that it might be related to my rather unattractive elitist habit of enjoying getting a rise out of people who like pop music. But maybe it’s deeper than that.

I genuinely LOVE the music I record. It is truly the most honest music I have ever played. I find it visceral and emotive. I listen to it quite often,

[Note: the besuited cunt is now covering ‘My Way’]

So is the fact that I love it enough? The listening stats on my Bandcamp page are still in the low double figures at best, and probably most of those are my kind friends. Some (most) days nobody listens at all. This hurts my feelings a bit, but I only have myself to blame.

I know that Kowa Axis is not a career. Maybe if it was I’d be up with the piano man doing a Mumford & Sons number, it could supplement my income. But as tempted as I am to run home and collect my rig I imagine I will get short-shrift.

[Ok, a female customer in the pub has just joined in singing some quite impressive operatic vocals along to ‘My Way’ – respect love; show this besuited fuck how it’s done.]

Anyway. I suppose I haven’t answered the question I set myself about why the hell I’m bothering to record this music that is of such a minute niche interest. Maybe like Albini mentions below. ‘It’s my art’.

Perhaps it doesn’t need any more thought than that.

Comments and discussion welcome.