London remains an alluring proposition for young musicians, a fact that has had a ripple effect in other parts of the UK. In the south, there are no major cities within a hundred-mile radius, and the musicians who haven’t departed for the capital city are mostly congregated in Brighton. But things are different up north: cities are bunched closer together, and the cost of living is significantly cheaper—a truth which extends across the border to Scotland. That affordability, coupled with the fact that London’s cut-throat creative environs are far away, means the local scenes in the north have thrived and expanded at their own pace for years. f
In 2019, this robust network of DIY subcultures reaches even farther. Venues like Manchester’s Partisan, Leeds’ Chunk, Sheffield’s Hatch and the Glasgow Autonomous Space (GAS) regularly host mixed bills which feature acts from the home city and further afield. Attend a show at any of these spaces, and a certain shared ethos among both performers and punters begins to emerge: a credo grounded in tolerance and shared experiences, spiked with a shared knack for uncanny experiments. The musical definition of “‘DIY” typically implies rock, and there’s no shortage of bands if you know where to look—what’s notable about the current northern U.K. crop, though, is the prominent role electronics play in their practice. Here are some of the best releases from the region’s plugged-in underground, all of which combine wild electronics with a host of other sounds.
Soft Issues have a claim to being the region’s premier power electronics outfit. Their eponymous debut begins with “Crawl Backwards,” a track in which the furious screeches of vocalist Chris Robinson are gradually engulfed by nails-on-a-chalkboard digital distortion. The tone set, Soft Issues subsequently slam through ten more pieces of agonized industrialism. “Bleak Magic” is similarly unsettling, entrapping the group’s hard techno leanings (explored later in the tape on “Hart Let Update”) between harsh walls of noise perforated by Robinson’s fearsome vocals. Soft Issues arrives via Opal Tapes, the prolific Tyneside imprint which, as an aside, has a strong claim to being one of the U.K.’s best tape labels right now.
It’s not just live acts who are flying the DIY flag up north. Club nights including Kiss Me Again (Manchester), Season (Leeds) and Cartier 4 Everyone (Liverpool) are hosting wild parties that have inclusivity at the core. Ever present on the scene is Mancunian DJ/producer Anz. Her Invitation 2 Dance EP, released on 2 B REAL back in April, contains four future-forward DJ tools which draw upon garage-house, machine-funk and Fade To Mind-esque hybrid traxx. Galvanized by a vibrant handclap beat and insistent club-caller vocals, “Helps Your Two Hips Move,” the EP’s biggest standout, delivers some of the snappiest electro grooves of recent memory.
Who Knows? Maybe They Speak For You
Algernon Cornelius’s Who Knows? Maybe They Speak For You is a painterly mixtape from the Manchester-based MC/producer. Billed as his last instrumental album, Who Knows?… is largely comprised of dense and detailed MPC vignettes. Consider “Christmas Missed Us” shorthand for Cornelius’ crossover-culture approach; it flips an iconic Biggie lyric into a trunk-rattling boom-bap beat, while also wittily incorporating a sample from the beloved British sitcom Peep Show. Who Knows?… is one of those beat tapes which builds on the legacy of J Dilla and Madlib, updating their production style with psychedelic flourishes and unexpected genre asides—see the punkish “Snake In The Grass” on the latter count.
Damn Teeth’s second LP Real Men, is a set of screeching no-wave disco malfunctions. The Glasgow group’s frenzied grooves seem ready to fall apart at any moment, yet somehow they never do—they just keep piling breathless vocals and combustible synths higher and higher. On opener “You’ll Only Make It Worse,” vocalist Paul McArthur sounds like he’s trying to run away from the track’s army of synths—and if his screaming in the song’s apocalyptic climax is anything to go by, it sounds like they caught up.
Formerly the principal member of slacker-rock project Exit Earth, Sheffield’s Symrun has recently pivoted to making music digitally. His debut mixtape Care Work is full of short, fractured tracks that pit sing-song flows against degraded MIDI loops. The Sadboys/Drain Gang crooners Ecco2K, Bladee and Thaiboy Digital are clear influences, but eccentric touches like the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sample on “DYKWYFF” and “Betablockers’”s balance of joyous earworm melodies with bars about self-medication reflect an inventiveness that’s all Symrun’s own.
Shleekit Doss, the latest EP from rising star Proc Fiskal, is an impressive set of hybridized club tackle from the Edinburgh-based artist (real name Joe Powers). Taking its name from the club night that Powers ran in his home city, Shleekit Doss blends Edinburgh’s own electronic history with sounds from further afield. “Smiths Deli” demonstrates the ways Proc Fiskal is able to weave a new sound from old parts; Eskibeat tones and an IDM sensibility are instantly familiar, but Powers’ is playful in his arrangement, the track’s grime core softened up and made more limber by crisp beat programming and warm washes of keys in the higher registers.
The Kingdom of Scotland
An idiosyncratic multimedia artist, Glaswegian Romeo Taylor has released albums ranging from hypnagogic drone to cheeky bedroom pop. “The Kingdom Of Scotland,” a single which came out in June on the Isle Of Eigg-based Lost Map Records, is surely his finest work to date. This raucous happy hardcore banger might celebrate Taylor’s love of his country, but the track’s appeal has extended far beyond Hadrian’s Wall; “The Kingdom Of Scotland” was a staple at raves this past summer. Crank it loud.
Capitalist Art Is Cartoons Fucking
In a scene full of unusual talents, there are perhaps none more idiosyncratic than Theo Gowans. His gigs as Territorial Gobbing certainly qualify as unique experiences; often found in outlandish costume, Gowans creates barely-controlled chaos using dollar-bin cassettes, vibrators, contact microphones placed inside his own mouth and anything/everything else. Capitalist Art Is Cartoons Fucking, Gowans’s recent full-length for Opal Tapes, is a noise-concrète record which, however disturbing, captivates and amuses on quirky tracks like garbled closer “Feeding The Hand That Feed You Hands Hands.”