Tag: post-punk

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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It’s A Shoe In: Northants gig guide Mar 28th – Apr 3rd 2018

BARBARA BLACK + OVERSEER + RUSTY G’S The King Billy, Northampton Wednesday March 28th Classic and country rock flavours from Madrid’s BB, “post-grunge” from Coventry, and alt-rock from Milton Keynes….

BARBARA BLACK + OVERSEER + RUSTY G’S
The King Billy, Northampton
Wednesday March 28th
Classic and country rock flavours from Madrid’s BB, “post-grunge” from Coventry, and alt-rock from Milton Keynes. Music from 8.30pm, free entry

STEREO SKULL + BACKROADS + REAPERX + DEAD HANDS
Friday March 30th
The Black Prince, Northampton
Stereo Skull bring from Wellingborough some funky and trance-like grooves to their cyber/death/prog metal. Backroads are a lyrically charged melodic metalcore band from Bristol. ReaperX are Corby thrash metallers , whilst Dead Hands [from Birmingham] mix mathcore and high energy riffs. Doors 7pm, £5 entry

SKIRT + LUNA ROSA + DRINSIPA
Friday March 30th
The Everard Arms, Corby
EP launch show for local indie punks who New Boots interviewed last week . A double dose of quality ShoeCounty rabble rousers in support too, of course. Doors 8pm, free entry

BUSHPIGS + THE KEEPERS
Friday March 30th
The Garibaldi Hotel, Northampton
Trio Bushpigs play a set of their original punk-meets-psych songs, whilst The Keepers continue to entertain with their excellent poppy new single ‘There’s No Going Back’. DJ Alex Novak too. Doors 8pm, free entry

THE TOUCH
Friday March 30th
The Shire Horse, Kettering
The pop-rockers, causing a bit of a storm round Ketrin, do the business on home turf. This one goes up to 11. Doors 8pm, free entry

THE WAX LYRICAL SOUND + LITTLE BITBOY
Friday March 30th
Bar So, Northampton
Energetic rap-rock from Northampton’s party starters, plus support from the 8-Bit chiptune dance master. Doors 8.30pm, free entry

YARDS BAR EASTER WEEKEND FESTIVAL
Saturday March 31st and Sunday April 1st
The Yards Bar and Kitchen, Kettering
The Free Collective take over Yards for a weekend of free entertainment! Bear witness to: Alex Gardiner, Yellow Blues, Skyflood, Birds Eye View, Earbones, Toucan, The Modern Age, King Purple, and Skirt on the Saturday, and  Kieran Smith, Erin Cobain, Wishing Wolf, Last Chance, The Young & Reckless, The Touch, and Home Wrecked on the Sunday. Bands 1pm-9pm both days, DJs afterwards.

AOIFE FOLEY
Saturday March 31st
The Lab, Northampton
‘This Is What Makes Us Girls Pt 2’ showcases art from locals, and the musical entertainment comes from singer-songwriter Foley, with Joshua Judd aiding and abetting on guitar. Doors from 7pm, your donation on the door goes to charity.

THE SULKS + SARPA SALPA + ODDITY ISLAND
Saturday March 31st
The White Hart, Corby
Strokes/Foals-esque Swindon quartet whose songs are so good producer Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Ian Brown, The Libertines) produced the bands’ debut EP ‘Silence Is Only The Start’. Sarpa Salpa & Oddity Island in tow suggest this will be a BANGER. Doors 8pm, £3 tickets 

WALKWAY
Saturday March 31st
The King Billy, Northampton
Well-travelled and popular classic rock combo from East Anglia, playing songs from their 2017 third album WWIII. Doors 9pm, free entry

INTERROBANG? + EASTFIELD + WRECKAGE
Saturday March 31st
The Horseshoe Inn, Wellingborough
Headliners – angry motorik loop-driven post-punk from Leeds/Brighton who are touring their new album – feature ex-Chumbawamba member Dunstan. With support from fare-dodging types. Doors 8pm, £5 on entrance

JONNY & THE MENTAL BREAKDOWNS + CRASH INDUCTION + THE MILK SNATCHERS + WAH WAH CLUB
Saturday March 31st
The Red Lion, Raunds
Enjoy a punk bank holiday with a quartet of bands from MK and Wellingborough. Doors 7.30pm, free entry

FRACTURE + FUELED HATE + WAH WAH CLUB + THE CRIMSON BRIGADE + DESTINOVA
Sunday April 1st
The King Billy, Northampton
Easter Sunday alldayer of metal and hard rock [with an acoustic opening section], with acts from the county and beyond. Doors 2pm, free Entry

JONO & THE UKE DEALERS
Monday April 2nd
The Horseshoe, Wellingborough
Finally another Welly show to complete the week from Norfamtun’s favourite uke-wielding quartet. Doors 7pm, free entry

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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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Religious Overdose ‘Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982)’

RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) (Glass Redux) This retrospective compilation is very early post-punk, the Northampton band having formed in 1979, the year in which the very notion of post-punk…

RELIGIOUS OVERDOSE
Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) (Glass Redux)

This retrospective compilation is very early post-punk, the Northampton band having formed in 1979, the year in which the very notion of post-punk (or “new musick” as it was first coined) was first being talked about, and its ideas being explored. Guitarist Richard Formby would move onto work on In Embrace, Spectrum, The Jazz Butcher and more, before becoming a studio producer. Vocalist Alex Novak would move onto The Tempest, Attrition and his long-term project Venus Fly Trap. But there and then they were experimenters in noise and emotion, taking on board the contemporaneous sounds of PIL, Joy Division, fellow midlanders Bauhaus et. al – alongside the psychedelic kraut bands (primarily Can and Neu one can presume).

The heady mix saw strange, often bleak, gothic lo-fi abstraction poured forth from the studio. Over three singles and a compilation track they briefly burned strong before the individuals moved onto other, equally-interesting projects. John Peel supported the trailblazing Relgious Overdose debut 45: the drum machine-heavy, hypnotic dirge of ‘25 Minutes’, which came backed with the industrial fuzz of ‘Control Addicts’. The second single ‘I Said Go’ bought the kraut influence to the fore in the unsettling 5/4 rhythms and complex vocal arrangements. It could have been a hit, in a certain light. ‘Alien To You’ continued the serious ambience of the earlier single, with some avant-garde, Vini Reilly-esque spiky guitar lines alongside Novak’s vocal in-and-out flights of fancy. Also from 1981 came the synth-led new wave of ‘Blow The Back Off It’, which appeared on a Glass Records compilation – and was good enough/should have been a single itself. ‘The Girl With The Disappearing Head (I’ve Got To Adjust To It)’ was the final A-side from 1982, the band now confident enough to be putting out 7-minute songs of jittery punk-funk that holds it’s head up well against their competition of the time. New drummer Pete Brownjohn does some striking patterns throughout.

It’s their final B-side, ‘In This Century’, which cements their legacy though. After almost two minutes of abstract noise (drum machine, triangle, violin, real world sounds) the songs kicks in with their most affecting song; a hypnotic, funereal off-beat jangle that would not have sounded out of place on Closer. There are four bonus tracks to round up this release, of which the ten minute demo version of ‘In This Century’ is the most exciting revelation. ‘Hazaal’ and ‘Talk Talk’ are unreleased recordings that stand up in comparison to the released songs, and only suffer a little for the demo quality of the recordings.

It all builds up to an impressive work of a band who freely admit they were making it all up as they went along. Bold, experimental sounds from a Northants past that can be treasured by all in this excellent compilation. Make sure you pore over the visuals in the CD case too – they create another world of their own.

Phil Istine

Glass Hymnbook (1980-1982) is out now

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