“Draw close, dear friends. Listen (amazed and inspired) to the previously-untold story of a vibrant, eclectic group of artistic geniuses, bound together as a community of friends and equals in the city of Bristol, England.”
These first words from The Bristol Germ set the tone for the rest of the new music magazine, a celebratory pursuit from Alastair Shuttleworth. Chapter I is full of interviews, illustrations and manifestos that carefully weave individual stories and the historical lineage of Bristol’s underground music scene into a captivating narrative. The photography, local artists, musicians and Alastair himself provide a magnifying glass for the reader to examine every nook and cranny of these bands, what fuels their untamed art and the DIY spirit that binds them together. This magnifying glass has literally been sent all over the world, with Chapter I being stocked in New York, Tokyo, Berlin, London and of course Bristol.
Chapter II is bigger. Much bigger. 50% bigger in fact. It continues with the same elements as the last, but draws your attention to a wider variety of people including classical composer John Bence, photographer Simon Holliday and local DIY radio station Noods. This issue’s title ‘New Grounds Acquired’ couldn’t be more fitting.
Three eclectic acts of jaw-dropping nature have been brought to the Exchange to launch this edition. The magazine is the first thing I see as I walk in, stacked up on a long table, surrounded by merch. We’re early but head straight to the front, where we’re greeted by two huge mesh screens. As the lights dim, LEDs that surround the screens turn a bright green and soft vocal textures introduce ‘Blueshift’, the opening track from Kayla Painter’s latest EP Auriga. White, line-based lights emerge on the screens, flowing into patterns that resemble tree bark, while spaced out and multi-layered handclaps intertwine with soft glitches. Affected vocal motifs slowly drive this piece forward and become a recurring instrument throughout the set, which is mostly comprised of tracks from Auriga. The EP, brought out on tape, is a collection of songs that have been written, produced and released within a very short amount of time. The urge to do this was born out of a frustration with a restrictive publishing deal that has left her debut album still unreleased. The vocal element is a completely new facet of Kayla’s work, but sits comfortably between soft synths, found sounds and micro beat compositions that suggest rhythm rather than provide it.
Throughout the set, the music is ethereal, spacious and slow moving, but the occasional deep bass rumbles and pulsating techno-esque kick drums help to transform the dynamics and overall feel of the music. Each song evolves alongside the hypnotising visual display, which feels three dimensional due to the two transparent screens, one of which sits at the front of the stage and the other behind Kayla. This is all made possible by videographer and motion graphics artist Jason Baker, whose visuals show representations of space, other worlds and science fiction. At one point, a gargantuan space station flows past the screens, like a scene straight out of Star Wars. Machinery noises criss cross with the shape and texture of the superstructure, which is truly epic. Next up, ‘In The Witch Elm’, is Kayla’s latest single which was made in honour of Delia Derbyshire for International Women’s Day. The track is full of sounds created by Delia, an electronic composer famous for her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Kayla’s arrangement is perfectly suited for tonight’s set.
Following a short break in proceedings, MXLX takes to the stage, a seminal avant-garde electronic producer who instantly catapults a barrage of noise onto the crowd. ‘Weapon 2’ from An Actual Weapon is a Death Grips-like assault on the senses, which may or may not have had anything to do with the microphone breaking and crackling between songs. ‘Weapon 5’ opens with a repeating synth line awash with white noise. MXLX aka Matt Loveridge, then uses his effects to dramatically alter the overall EQ and tone of the track in uniquely satisfying ways, underneath harsh delayed vocals. His boisterous demeanour and stage presence go hand in hand with dry wit and humour evidenced by the random piece of paper with the word ‘HENTAI’ hanging off his work desk.
Industrial soundscapes, teeth-clattering noise, heavily effected synths and raucous beats all come together in a meticulously composed manner. However his vocals top it all off with a staggering variety of styles: One minute he’s brain-fisting you with guttural screaming vocals, the next he’s singing softly and purposefully out of tune. These often vulnerable phrases are sometimes steeped in timed delay, which layer up to form a structured passage, just like in ‘Weapon 4’. Notably, ‘Weapon 6’ uses a long drawn out vocal melody with a middle eastern flavour, which flies above a deep drone and an irregular crash of cymbal and white noise. After a few minutes of this, a stronger beat jerks alongside organ-like chords. Every new section seems to get richer, with new noisy textures added each time. It is truly fascinating how the abundance of noise occasionally drifts from pure intensity into lush sonic substances, instead of descending into distasteful mess, which is all tantamount to the genius of MXLX.
After another short break, the room is now heaving with both the rowdy and the subdued. Oliver Wilde jumps on to the stage along with his new band, comprised of drums, bass, guitar, synth, keys and mandolin/violin, with the majority of the band supplied with microphones for backing vocals. Wilde himself starts with a slow guitar melody that jumps straight into ‘Play & Be Saved’, a screeching guitar-based track from sophomore album Red Tide Opal in the Loose End Womb, which is full of pumped up confidence. ‘Yuletide’ follows, a christmas collaboration with EBU. While it’s surprising to hear at this time of year, it’s reassuring undertones are pleasantly recreated with the full band nonetheless. The band play through ‘Fade’, a track from Long Hold Star an Infinite Abduction where the backing vocals and drawn out violin melodies really shine through in a mesmerising style. Wilde then takes a short pause to thank the audience, praise Alastair and his new germinal venture and recount a chilling (and true) ghost story he heard on his travels, which fills the room with nervous laughter.
‘Perrett’s Brook’ (from A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Lightyears) picks up where they left off: A sombre tune that soon elevates into a bold ‘Smothered’ – a stand out track from Post-Frenz Container Buzz. ‘Dreg Queen’ is as haunting as it is captivating, and ‘Afternoon Mesh 847’ (both from And This Is Where The Tragic Happens) drives the set forward with uptempo guitar, while his ever-poetic lyrics continue to pass through the emotional complexity and naked details of past experiences. The romantic nature of Wilde’s poetry is often attributed to the influence of Nick Drake and Elliot Smith, but his truly unique writing style comes from handling a plethora of issues including mental health, gender, addiction, relationships and dealing with a rare heart disease. However, the new band are with him every step of the way, confirmed by ‘Flutter’, a melancholic and hymnal track from A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Lightyears. Although at times they come across as under-rehearsed, or at the very least nervous, their limited stage presence allows Wilde to be the centre of attention. Eventually they all step away from their instruments as Wilde plays solo for one song, allowing us to hear the intricacies of voice and guitar without accompaniment. The band return with ‘Look After Your Machine’, a Mac DeMarco, shimmering, triumphant finisher to end their set.
Oliver Wilde’s music often feels like a labyrinthine collage of emotions, stories and musical influence, echoed by the luxurious album artwork of each release. But slowing down and actively listening in the crowd tonight provides two profound experiences: First, the audience is swept away by the uplifting textures, notions of optimism and confidence which are delivered through composition and pure love of his art form. On the other hand, fragility and vulnerability emanate from Oliver Wilde’s voice with purpose and nuanced expression. The juxtaposition of wonder and pain is Wilde’s home and we love being invited in.