Tag Archives: Skullflower

“Dark Ritual Ambient” Blends Haunting Music With Spiritual Energy

Dark Ritual Ambient

Illustrations by Sophy Hollington

The notion of pairing music with ritual practices dates back centuries. In traditional societies, singing and music-making was often a communal affair, and it served a number of purposes—like communicating traditions, or strengthening community bonds. In other cases, music is used to achieve more mystical ends: Native American and ancient Greek societies believe that music can have healing properties, and Buddhist and Hindu cultures use chants and mantras to aid meditation.

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Northern Noise: Looking for the Perfect Drone with Northern England’s DIY Transcendentalists

Northern Noise
photo by Florian Fusco (desmarados)

The hills are alive with the sound of droning; the burgeoning noise scene of Northern England consists of a group of musicians who are joined spiritually as much as geographically. All of them share a drone-based, ecstatic, and ferociously DIY approach to making and distributing experimental music; and all of them live in England’s North Country, an area that runs from the border of Scotland to the Peak District at the southernmost end of the Pennines.

With roots stemming from England’s post-Industrial underground, the past 15 years have seen the north explode into a beautiful expanse of grassroots transcendentalism, from the tantric droners of West Yorkshire to the more recently thriving Manchester improvisational scene, spearheaded by players like Andrew Cheetham and David Birchall as well as the Golden Lab record label.

It all started with a handwritten advertisement, placed in the window of Leeds’ Jumbo Records by Julian Bradley, who had been wreaking sonic havoc in the Midlands as a member of The Negative Kite. “I only ever browsed these things occasionally, and mainly for comedy value,” says Yorkshire-based underground impresario Neil Campbell. “But his mysterious little hand-written note mentioned both The Dead C and ‘amplifier torture.’” The Scottish-born Campbell had made the move to Leeds from Nottingham, where he had been affronting pub audiences with the anarchic freak group The A Band, who also counted UK experimental mainstay Richard Youngs among their ranks. Along with Mick Flower, who they knew for his work with the delightfully-named Headless Piss, Campbell and Bradley would go on to form Vibracathedral Orchestra, a utopian free drone outfit whose focused, ecstatic jams are essentially a safe way to a drugless high. Other players from the Leeds scene soon joined their ranks, including violinist Bridget Hayden, and they began releasing music in limited-edition runs in the late ‘90s.

Around that same time, Phil Todd was was considering a move northwards. Excited by the possibility of releasing his own music to an audience of like-minded souls Todd, under the name Ashtray Navigations, had been combining ‘60s psychedelia with the harsh assault of power electronics. He was also releasing the music of fellow amp-botherers on his cassette label Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers from his home in Stoke-On-Trent. “I wanted to get a bunch of people together whose work I liked and who I thought shared some sort of aesthetic.” He made the move to Leeds in the mid ‘90’s, and immediately fell in with the Vibracathedral set. They shared a desire to play ‘non-po-faced and non-academic exploratory experimental music, with a wild spirit and an element of fun.’ Todd played on a couple of early Vibracathedral sets, and the Vibracathedral players occasionally crop up in Ashtray Navigations works, perhaps most notably, Neil Campbell’s droning violin on the live album New Fashions In Toilet Training.

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