Tag: alex novak

Record Review: Venus Fly Trap ‘Icon’

VENUS FLY TRAP Icon [Glass Modern] Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as…

VENUS FLY TRAP
Icon [Glass Modern]

Much like their beloved Dr Who, it’s been a long, strange, bewildering trip for Northampton’s long-term purveyors of dark wave. Formed in 1986 as a trio from the ashes of their other projects by Novak brothers Alex and John, they rose phoenix-like to be a central part of the local scene of the late-80s [and you can read all about those early days in the latest, fourth, instalment of the Have Guitars…Will Travel book series]. Fifteen or so ex-members later and the last three albums have been the work of core duo Alex Novak and Andy Denton. Indeed Icon completes their trilogy that began with Zenith in 2004 and continued with Nemesis in 2011.

This record is probably the strongest of the trio, taking all the ideas explored so far and crystallising them into short, sharp, energised songs. If you are unfamiliar with the music, then imagine a PiL-like band playing Taffey Lewis’ bar in the original Blade Runner film. A sound rooted in the dark wave/electronica sounds that emerged post post-punk, but one that isn’t confined only to that world. Dystopian sci-fi rock from Northampton means everything from Bauhaus to The Cramps, The Stooges to Sisters of Mercy. The VFT sound is instantly recognisable, but never falls into the trap of being too repetitive. Indeed, after the scene-setting instrumental title track that pulses with film dialogue, each of the remaining eight tracks could be pulled off the album and released as a single. The one track that already has been, ‘Vitesse’ [see below], is pure Blitz kids synth-pop with a memorable hook placed above the motorik underbelly, whilst Novak mixes up his automobile and love interest metaphors to great effect.

The love theme continues on the crunchy ‘Voodoo Voodoo’ and the cinematic ‘Flashback’, both which revel in the VFT interest in the psychedelic. The characters within this pair reveal themselves more and more on each playback, as you catch new parts of the story. The middle of the album is dominated by the slightly epic ‘Deadly Nightshade’, which warms of the dangers in human relationships, where you can find “instant karma in the perfumed garden”. The track is the most sonically pleasing on Icon, as it transforms from beatific to angry and back again continually on its six minute journey.

‘Return of the Sidewinder’ kicks off a trio of culturally-referencing tunes. This song, named after a 1968 TV episode, gives nods to fellow Midlands heavyweights: Bauhaus in the lyrics, and The Specials in the ‘Ghost Town’-esque musical pallete of smokey dub reggae. ‘The Genesis Of The Daleks’, meanwhile, was a 1975 Dr Who series, and the Delia Derbyshire-indebted opening gives way to post-punk guitars and throbbing synth patterns. The song is surely a love letter to those childhoods that were both scarred and enlivened by existential television dramas.

‘Puppet’ seems to take the lead from ’50s pulp fiction from Philip K. Dick, but this time taking the music in another direction into dream pop. It’s a tender lullaby – well it would be if the intonation of Novak [“you’re just my puppet”] wasn’t quite so unsettling. Icon finishes with ‘In The Moonlight’: a Paisley Underground-style acid-folk slow waltz with a Hammond organ dominating the canvas, and some superb background harmonies that drifts us ever farther away from the darkwave idea from whence they came. It’s a fitting ending to a formidable album that, if it is to be their swansong, sees them very much go out on a high.

Phil Istine

Icon is out June 29th via Glass Modern

*Interview with frontman Alex Novak*
NB: You’ve said this is the last studio album.
AN: Probably; more than likely. Never say never. It’s just the length of time it takes to write and mix tracks seems to take longer each time. Does the world need another VFT album? We will see…

There’s quite a bit of diversity going on here; musical references to reggae and dream pop, for example.
We never set out to write in one particular style, just see what comes out of various ideas, see where it takes us. Our inspiration comes from many points of reference.

That’s always been a VFT strength – you always look beyond the “dark wave” tag.
VFT certainly has a dark psyche at the core, but we like to layer it or dress up with different costumes. We tap into many influences.

Keeping one band going for over three decades without a break is remarkable. What’s your secret – sheer, bloody-minded drive?
Its had more twists and turns than a rattlesnake, shedding many skins over the years. Change keeps it fresh. We are the Doctor Who of music – transforming a constant metamorphosis.

‘Icon’ is out via Glass – a label who you have history with, via your old band Religious Overdose.
Full circle – my very first release was on Glass. There’s a symmetry to it all. I like Dave Barker the label boss, and the band’s he has released over the years. It feels like home for us.

Will you continue the band as a live concern in future years?
We will see what reaction this album gets, and take it from there…

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Record Review: Alex Novak: META 1977-2017

Alex Novak META 1977-2017 (VUZ Records) To celebrate a 40-year career in art and music and tied in with his recent gallery exhibition, VUZ Records release a strictly limited edition…

Alex Novak
META 1977-2017 (VUZ Records)

To celebrate a 40-year career in art and music and tied in with his recent gallery exhibition, VUZ Records release a strictly limited edition commemorative compilation cassette/download to showcase the work of Northampton artist and musician Alex Novak. To sustain a 40 year career in any field is difficult and even more so in the alternative arts. Alex’s secret of longevity is to be something of a musical chameleon. Constantly evolving and shape-shifting he is one of those rare, eclectic musicians (like Killing Joke or PiL) who produce markedly different work yet it has a certain ingredient that makes it easily identifiable.

Assembled by the guys at VUZ Records this compilation features a host of rare, remixed and unreleased tracks that make the collection a veritable treasure trove. Thus this offering has that ‘mix tape’ feel, like the kind of tape a friend would dub for you back in the day. Kicking things off we have two tracks from one of Northampton’s first punk bands, Isaws. On a subconscious level the original punks knew their tenure was going to burn brightly but briefly so there was a real urgency to make their mark with haste. ‘No Admittance’ and the rarity ‘Nightlife’ are typically fast, furious and powered by a youthful enthusiasm. Imagine The Ramones meeting The Clash.

With Religious Overdose Alex moved onto post-punk, perhaps the most, for awhile, unshackled of musical genres. Post-punk was often angular and brittle mirroring the fragile state of society, and Religious Overdose captured something of that zeitgeist. Like much of their work ‘Control Addicts’ has a hypnotic feel, reeling in the listener before landing a surprise punch. In that respect the band foreshadowed electronic trance (albeit played organically) and like much of the music contained in this collection Alex and his cohorts seem to be ahead of the musical curve uncannily anticipating the direction of alternative music.

Alex’s tenure with UK dark wave pioneers Attrition proved very fruitful and it could be argued that they’re the missing link between Killing Joke and Godflesh. Here ‘Feel The Backlash’ shows the band influenced by their surroundings: it’s cold and monolithic like brutalist architecture, crushing the listener beneath its enormity. Both Spore and The Den took the raw energy of punk and fused it with electronica, two musical genres that at one time were diametrically opposed. It took a mad scientist to fuse them and the effect was literally electric. The Den in particular are like PiL filtered through The Covenant, The Sword…-era Cabaret Voltaire, offering a disturbing glimpse of a dystopian Orwellian future.

In an age when popular culture was accelerated The Tempest perfectly captured that shift from post-punk to gothic and like all the bands on this compilation they stand apart in their originality yet are still connected by thin gossamer threads: the hypnosis that was pioneered with Religious Overdose is evident here in ‘Low Ebb’ and was later transferred to Alex’s Nova State Conspiracy. The two tracks here from the Conspiracy, ‘Definitive Item’ and ‘Life in the Basement’, feature electronics with surgical precision overlaid with organic vocals and the effect is quite disarming. Like all good art it is the tension of opposites that makes it so intriguing.

Like PIL before them Venus Fly Trap had a constantly revolving line-up, more through necessity than design, but unlike PiL the VFT was a democracy and this flux resulted in an ever-changing sound as evidenced by the three tracks presented here. From the bruising rock of ‘Moscow Menagerie’ (again with that hypnotic riff) to the electronic enthusiasm of ‘Achilles Heel’ what did remain constant was the cinematic nature of the music: the combination of music and lyrics combine to imprint a powerful image on your mind. Each track plays out like a ’60s French film noir or Tarantino flick in your imagination. Of course if I assembled this tape I’d have included ‘Pulp Sister’ but maybe you’d pick ‘Morphine’ and that’s the whole point – and fun – of mix tapes.

With a new Venus Fly Trap album tentatively scheduled for a Spring 2018 release there is still more to come from Alex Novak, but ‘META 1977-2017’ is the perfect way to celebrate the closure of one volume just as another begins.

Sargent

META 1977-2017 is available here.

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An interview with: Alex Novak

Alex Novak has been entertaining Northampton and beyond with his esoteric sounds for forty years now, and to celebrate this milestone Northampton gallery Sanctuary are hosting an exhibition of his…

Alex Novak has been entertaining Northampton and beyond with his esoteric sounds for forty years now, and to celebrate this milestone Northampton gallery Sanctuary are hosting an exhibition of his artwork, entitled “Meta Art/Music/Work 1977-2017”. New Boots speaks to the Spiral Archive proprietor at length about the musical journey from then to now.

What was your musical upbringing? What influenced you as you got to 16 and joined Isaws?
Pre-punk I listened to a wide selection of music from The Beatles, Roxy Music, Bowie, T.Rex, Black Sabbath, soul music. Then bang! – the punk explosion happened in 1976, so got to hear The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers. This also pulled in bands like New York Dolls, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Stooges. I guess what is referred to now as proto-punk. I followed the advice of the Sniffin’ Glue fanzine – “here’s one chord, here’s another, go form a band”. It was year zero: we had no previous musical experience, just picked it up as we went along. Isaws first gig was at Weston Favell Upper School talent contest as Hawker Harrier & the Jump Jets – for the next gig we changed it to The Isaws.

Northampton School of Art was the precursor to the University of Northampton today. Can you recall your time there for us.
Well art school was cool – made even cooler by The Jam song! It was a laboratory for lots of different ideas and a place where many bands were formed, including Bauhaus, Isaws, Aliens, Religious Overdose. It was a place where art and music came together.

You came of age musically and found your style with Religious Overdose. As the recent Glass Redux compilation makes obvious it was a special band. How did you guys capture that magic elixir?
Punk set us free in thought/style; to think for yourself. The whole DIY movement was a breeding ground for many ideas – punk was not a uniform. Gordon King from Sheffield joined Isaws (later he would be in World of Twist/Earl Brutus) and exposed us to early Human League, Clock DVA, Vice Versa (pre-ABC). We experimented, but it wasn’t working so we all went our different ways. I ended up joining Religious Overdose. RO was a different animal, we used repetition and improvisation to make songs. Live tracks would develop as we went along. Richard Formby (later of In Embrace/The Jazz Butcher/Sonic Boom) brought in influences from The Fall, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Can – a more experimental approach to music.

Was Northampton a major influence on Bauhaus? Did the pre-existing local scene naturally lead to their formation?
Alan Moore called Northampton “the murder mecca of the midlands” so that set the tone for Bauhaus’s mix of Banshees meets strobelight-Bowie. It was very monochrome, to suit the edgy local scene. They certainly went through many incarnations – from the punk of Cardiac Arrest, new wave of Craze and the power-pop of Jack Plug & the Sockets – before settling on Bauhaus 1919. You get swept along with whats happening, things moved fast.

Was the 1980s a golden age for music in Northampton?
I think every ten years or so there’s a change, a musical upheaval, but it was certainly an interesting time centred around venues like The Black Lion [now the Wig & Pen], where you got to see local bands alongside the likes of The Housemartins, Spacemen 3, The Jazz Butcher…all being aided by the Northampton Musicians Collective and as conduit to the wider world via release on Glass Records [based in London].

Tell us about The Tempest album. You didn’t stick around for long…
After the demise of Religious Overdose Richard Formby went on to university in Leeds, where he still runs a recording studio. So I decided to get together with other local musicians including John Luccibello (Russians) and Mark Refoy (later of Spacemen 3/Spiritualized/Slipstream/Pet Shop Boys fame) to form The Tempest.
Mark and John were also in The Syndromes at the same time, but The Tempest fell apart after the recording of our only album 5 Against The House.

You had a brief sojourn to London and worked with Attrition during the mid 80s. How did that affect you, being exposed to a different scene in a new city?
I had been aware of Attrition for a while. Martin Bowes had also written a Coventry fanzine called Alternative Sounds and Religious Overdose had played a few gigs with them. After the demise of The Tempest I joined Attrition, who were based in London, sharing a studio with The Legendary Pink Dots. I got to see a lot of bands listening to more experimental/electronic music being produced by labels such as Third Mind, In Phase, Projekt, Sweatbox, United Dairies, Wax Trax etc.
There was a lot of activity, not just with the band, but socially: taking in gigs, clubs, exhibitions, meetings with shops/labels. In hindsight a productive period, and an exposure to the European scene which then paved the way for Venus Fly Trap.

You formed Venus Fly Trap on your return in 1986, alongside your brother John. What was the plan at this time? The line-up may have changed, but has the vision changed much over the years?
I tried out with a band in Norwich, which didn’t work out as we had different ideas, so I decided to do my own band. So John (Isaws/Wheres Lisse) and Tony Booker were both available, so we got it going pretty quickly. We just got out and played gigs: not just in Northampton but Oxford, London (a lot), Rugby, Norwich, Leicester…we got picked up via a contact I had made via Attrition. A new label based in Paris called Tuesday Records released our material initially [they had already put out material by McCarthy]. So we got to play in France and put out our first single ‘Morphine’ within six months of gigging. The European connection has been important ever since. Changes in line-up has been part and parcel of VFT – new members bring a different view point and fresh ideas. We’re always open to new ideas – not into following trends/fashion. We produce music we like…anything’s possible!

20 years of a band is a great run. What’s next for VFT?
We have been working on a new album Icon, which will be released via Glass Redux. It’s full circle in one respect as this was my first label for Religious Overdose. The planned release is Spring 2018, alongside doing dates in the UK and in Europe.

What’s your take on the Northampton music scene in 2017?
There’s plenty of interesting bands in Northampton if you look for them. I always like to catch a band if I’m not working. I’m always discovering new music, whether its local or touring. Long may it continue.

Meta Art/Music/Work 1977-2017 runs from Monday November 27th to Sunday December 10th at Sanctuary [2 Clare St, Northampton]. Open from 11-4 by appointment [sanctmark@hotmail.com]. There is a meet and greet launch night on Saturday December 2nd from 6pm to 9pm, with an after party across the road at The Lab from 9pm.

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