I had soooooooo much fun in Belgium. It should be illegal to have this much fun.
Actually, it probably is.
First, tho, I must thank the fine folks from Kraak, Recyclart and FARO for their warmth and hospitality: Tommy, Steve, Niels, Dave, Nina, Kurt and some others whose names I didn't catch (sorry!): you are lovely, lovely people, all of you. Thanks for making our stay so special.
The area of Brussels that we hung out in was kinda like Stokes Croft in Bristol (but not quite) in that there was very obviously a thriving arts-based community; the area was ungentrified and, well, just full of stuff...
It was almost too much to take in...
Steve kindly met us at the station and took us into town; telling us a great anecdote about how one of the Kraak guys had gone out to collect Henry Flynt from the airport, but had picked up a random stranger by accident. He had seen a dude with a guitar-case, asked "Are you Henry?" and the guy had said "Yes", so he bundled him into his car and drove him into town, leaving a bemused Mr. Flynt back in the lobby. Seems the dude was an American Blues musician who was coincidentally also called Henry lol.
Steve also told us a wonderful story involving Kenji Haino and a pair of black underpants which I'd better not repeat here. Of course, being Kenji Haino, they would have to be black underpants lol...
Cloudboy and I spent the evening checking out the area, crate-diggin' and sniffin' around old book-stores...trotting round what looked like the North African quarter, just digging being in my skin. That limbo time of indeterminate twilight - where a city falls into a trance-state somewhere between light and dark - that's my favourite time to be alive.
I ate the best portion of chips I've ever had in my life.
I'd had some vague plan to catch a Congolese/African band/club-nite; but the travelling and traipsing round had taken its toll and we crashed out early...
In the morning: more crate-diggin' and traipsing. Checked out a massive shop full of second-hand records and bande dessinée dating back to the mid-70s; old Druillet reprints (most of which I already have in original back-ishes of Metal Hurlant); Jacques Tardi, Moebius, Jodorowsky, blahblahblah. Bande dessinée is a big fuck-off to all the people that think graphic novels started with "Watchmen" and "Dark Knight Returns"...they've been doing this shit on the continent for decades. I remember going to a newstand in Paris in '80 and it being literally plastered w/ adult 'comics' of every shape and hue.
More chips and tea. Afterwards, we headed back to FARO and dumped off our gear. I'm annoyed at myself for missing Valerio Cosi, but after lunch things started getting a bit hectic as the adrenaline kicked in and a billion different things demanded our attention...I also wanted to see Köhn and, luckily, I managed to catch the end-ish part of his set, walking in on a creamy wall of gtr-driven droneslide - casading loops of soupy-sounding noise; a waterfall of mushroom n squash-flavoured soup; a shoegazer's wetdream...then he started manipulating his banks of synths (I saw the Sequential Circuits logo in there somewhere, in amongst the pads and FX-pedals and a laptop...) to create a slow-pumpin' chug of sequenced synthpads that sounded like mid-period Klaus Shultze, or Ashra circa "New Age of The Earth" becalmed on a boating-lake watching model tug-boats go past in the rain.
Then he started tweaking his knobs n keys n making some gloriously farty-sounding noises. Well, there's no point in owning synths n vintage kit if you can't make 'em go squuuurrrrrk, is there...?
Lovely whooooshy, (T-)dreamy stuff; wish I'd seen the whole set.
Sitting around waiting to sound-check I got the chance to hang out and chat at length w/ ex-Henry Cow geezer Geoff Leigh (who I mentioned on this blog a few days ago). Geoff's led a fascinating life; and he's a complete gentleman and a dude; very warm, generous and funny. He let loose with some fantastic anecdotes about squatting in Rotterdam (in fact, generally talking about how am/zing Holland was in the 70's n 80's), how he augments his saxes n flutes w/ loopers, Koas-pads, etc, and some scandalous wild-man of Improv tales about Phil Minton and other assorted characters...
Then Free-Jazz legend Burton Greene wandered in, complaining that his trusty Roland D-50 of 20 years vintage had packed up on him, so Cloudboy and I made some vague attempts to help him fix it, and Mic loaned him his mini-screwdriver to check the internal power-unit. We encouraged him to clean off some gunk n swarf that had accrued inside it only for him to yelp "Goddamn!!" as he got an electric shock. The fucking thing was still plugged into the mains!
Shit, man, we nearly electrocuted Burton Greene! How uncool is that lol.
Geoff Leigh played a lovely set; jammed w/ himself on flute as loooooooong loops of flute built up and overlapped w/ each other. Flutertronics, innit. Then he switched to Tibetan bowls and gongs, before dropping a loop of hand-drums and singing freeform over the top of this musical soup. Kinda Fourth/Fifth World type thing. Next up, he introduced an array of bird-calls and duck-whistles to build a blurry-soundin' aviary of faux-birdsong, his mics picking up ambient audience leakage, so that random laughs and crowd-phrases mixed in with the music, with someone saying "that's some crazy shit..." floating past in the mix every minute or so...afterwards, he said: "I'm glad there were some technical hitches at the start; it gave me a chance to clown around a bit..."
Then Alan Silva walked into the kitchen!
("Hey! Who you lookin' at, motherfucker?")
Closely followed by the Funeral Folk posse (yaaaay!) hunting for goat cadavers.
Then - unsurprisingly - things start getting a bit strange.
Our soundcheck was a bit of a visual smear; like someone had rubbed a greasy thumb across The Reality Film.
I'm sitting backstage, picking at olives, listening to Vomir (a French Harsh Noise band) play. It sounds like the end of the world; someone suggests it sounds like an enormous contact-mic'd wardrobe being dragged across raw concrete and played through a 10-story Marshall stack. The girls behind the kitchen counter laugh at the preposterousness of it all. Burton Greene pulls a face.
Vomir have released stuff on At War With False Noise. There's an interview here, on Brad's site. I liked the idea that - like Metal fans fixating on the idea of True Black Metal, etc - there was a auto-critical distinction between True Noise and False Noise lol.
Ken Butler blows in at some point; he's a really nice guy; really friendly and interested in what we're doing - says hello and chats every time I bump into him during the fest. We briefly watched him set up and were pleased to note that his musical equipement included a spade lol. Top bloke.
More olives and grapes and small talk; checking equipment needlessly; waiting to play. Ken's talking to Geoff about Fred Frith, who they both know. Later, Ken's talking to Burton and Alan about Fluxus and the 60s NY Free Jazz scene and ESP-Disks and stuff; and this isn't dry Wire-speak article-talk, but real people talking about shit that's still alive n breathing in their head, that's still valid and influencial and filtering back down to us thru them...Burton gets animated, bitches about the Mafioso who ran the music biz in the 60s, about never getting paid, getting ripped-off and stuff, but here he is, still doing his shit, still getting electrocuted lol...
We listen to Ken Butler from the kitchen while he plays some treach Funk/Jazz shit using randomly sampled objects. People whoooop and holler in the audience. It's sounds like he's playing a bass-line on an elastic-band or a ruler. He does this funny, clunky drumming routine. When he comes off stage, he grins and says "Did you hear those drums?" I nod, yeah. "Well, I mic'd up my skull and was..." *mimes rapping on his head with knuckles* I think he said he played the bass-line on his tongue or something lol.
I get changed into my stage-gear. I can't get to the toilet, so go outside on the patio to change. I take off my trousers only to realise that Henry Flynt is sat opposite me, eating his dinner at a bench (Geoff is sat with him).
He puts down his knife and fork to look at me and I realise that I have just dropped my trousers to Henry Flynt.
He laughs and says: "I'm guessing that you are changing into some sort of costume. But I really like the idea that you might be a random stranger who just came in off the street because he decided to change his clothes."
"Geezer," says Geoff.
We hit the stage. 30 seconds into our performance and my garb functions as antipated; like a child's dream-catcher, my clothes call down and trap the mist-soul of Henry Unth, an Apparitionist scam-artist from an imaginary 1930/70/80's parallel mythuniverse. Unth, I decide, is the 9th member of Ice Bird Spiral whose vague spectral presence has been making itself known to me over recent weeks. Finally, he has emerged from my back-brain and made himself known to me. After this sudden revelation, things go pretty smoothly and he rides my body like a loa for the rest of the set; evaporating like vapour the second we finish. It's like some crazy trance-seance-shit.
I smoke the best cigarette I've ever smoked. Cloudboy talks to El-G.
Inside, I talk to Alan Silva for what seems like ages; he's holding forth on music and politics and philosophy and life. He says "motherfucker" at least once every sentence. At one point he says "motherfucker" three times in 5 seconds.
I look at him and think: "Fuck, this guy's played with Sun Ra." Fucking Sun Ra, man...
Sometimes, it's just, y'know...
He says: "You cats, you're like a motherfucking musical cancer or something. I listened to you play...and I'm in the john..." *mimes agonised expression while trying to pee* "...and I'm thinking you cats, you all play so motherfucking loud." He cackles like a crazy alley-cat and shows his teeth, "...but I'm glad you're out there playing, doing what you do. See, there's no boxes. I don't believe in boxes...it's like, classical and jazz and noise and ambiuuuunt..." He say 'ambient' like it's some medical condition or a species of nematode. "It's like they're just these boxes that someone made up, but I come here to play and I don't see no boxes no more. I just see music." Taps his head. "I just hear music. That's all there is left: the music. I don't believe in boxes."
That's when it hits me: what I've been hearing all day is folklore - stories and tales and info being passed back and forth: Geoff telling Ken Butler about the time he saw Hendrix; critiquing Noel Redding's bass-playing - "He liked a drop of whisky, did Noel Redding; would drink it like water..." *mimes a bass-riff* "That's why Hendrix liked playing with him, he could stretch out over that...dummm-dumm-dumma-dum-dumm whisky-bass thing..."
I catch a bit of El-G's set.
I run around a bit, gabbling. I talk to Geoff for 40 minutes outside: more folklore, more stories about when he lived in Bristol in the late 70s - same time as me! - how he and his mates nearly got the Bristol Music Co-Op banded from their own venue; mental stuff; crazy times. He tells me about one of his pre-Henry Cow bands - Crazy Mabel.
Fabulous, fabulous folklore.
We catch Alan and Burton play. It's inspirational.
Burton comes alive at the keys; he plays this thing on the piano - huge swathes of space between chords. It's like creepy 12-tone shit; not Jazz, but something colder than Berg; there's nothing mellow about this, every note, every finger exactly where it should be. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Alan joins in on an old digital synth/sampler, tracking Burton's path, following him like a mishapen, slinky shadow, neither of them looking at each other. It's like telpathy or something, almost uncanny.
Alan switches to an enormous double-bass, twitches and twists his wiry frame around his instrument, pawing and plucking at it; it's almost funky; it's almost...I dunno...
There's a weird silence hanging over the hall; I'm almost scared to breath in case I disturb something, make it go wrong somehow. They stand up and rap to the audience; talk politics, give the crowd a pep-talk. They play some more and then leave. It was remarkable.
I talk to Burton backstage, ask him where it came from, that piano playing of his. He tells me he "digs the Romantics, the classical Romantics - Beethoven, Bach...it doesn't get any better than that shit..." then shrugs like it's no big deal. He talks about his mother playing that shit when he was a kid in the 30s and 40s on a wind-up gramophone, how it sounded to him, how it felt...how it still feels.
More folklore, more stories.
Cloudboy and I go record shopping at 12:30 at night. They're selling near-mint Stockhausen albums for 40E - stuff I've seen for £100+ in London, but scratched to shit - but I rein myself in and buy some cassettes on Dreamtime Tape Sounds instead. Lieven isn't manning the stall. "Dude's gone awol," someone says, helpfully.
I hook up with Edgar Wappenhalter, Hellvete, Bart Sloow and assorted Funeral Folkers at Recyclart to catch Ame Son. They play some songs they wrote in the late 60s with Daevid Allen. They are brilliant, so we get drunk and sing along to them and dance.
I bump into John from Crammed Records, who lives in Bristol sometimes. He DJs at The Cube, helps with Venn Fest. He tells me Chiz is getting Group Inerane to play Bristol as part of a Sublime Frequencies tour.
We drink more. The bar shuts. About 30 of us wind our way thru the streets following a girl called Annie who will somehow randomly/magically lead us to another bar to drink in. There are Australians and Americans, Brits and Belgians. A weird mixture of bands, artists and organisers with Annie acting as the pied piper. We are shouting and singing and talking like crazy men. We find a bar and stay there.
Hellvete talks about Vibracathedral Orchestra; Bart about Werner Hertzog. Everything is so cool. I love these guys. We drink until we fall off our stools.
I had the best time ever.