Lone Taxidermist and Wrangler at the Servant Jazz Quarters

The Servant Jazz Quarters has been the scene of many a wonky night out for some years now.

It started off as a beastly squat, then became an underground garden centre and eventually coughed into its current life as a progressive speakeasy-style bar and venue for the post-hip, slightly older denizens of Dalston, east London.

Tonight sees pop auteurs Lone Taxidermist and performance noisers Wrangler sprawling a glorious mess of sonics and Dadaism across this collapsing basement.

First up are Lone Taxidermist, fronted by singer Natalie Sharp (pictured), who delivers wry and “slutty” songs about staggering pissed across London and ketamine landscapes viewed through a kaleidoscope of funk, electro and glitch.

A mutating Chocolate Factory of deep bass and occasional Kate Bush vocals, Lone Taxidermist could be described as mash-up of 21st-century CAN and Jefferson Airplane, with an infectious and witty verve which sets them apart.

The deep, moody tunes seem at odds with Taxidermist’s personal affability — they don’t take themselves seriously but it’s clear that their music is everything to them.

Heading up the night are Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder’s new project Wrangler. Mallinder’s vocals are mangled through space by Phil Winter of electro folk pioneers Tunng and the ambient Benge, last seen quite inexplicably supporting the blistering Venetian Snares some years ago.

As one might expect from a coupling of such button-pushers as Winter and Mallinder, the set is provocative, occasionally deliberately artless and oppressively loud — the hallmarks of “true” punk.

While Phil Winter’s live vocal treatments for Lone Taxidermist are carefully held back to accommodate the over-arching tone, they go well and truly bat-shit by the time Wrangler get involved — this may not be everyone’s idea of a winter night in.


First published in the Morning Star

Polar Bear – Xoyo

I, like most reasonable people, abhor the saxophone. Seeing two saxophonists on stage with anything other than a big band (also bad) will make me about turn and shelter myself at the bar. But for Polar Bear, it’s ok.

Coupled with the humanity of Tom Herbert’s double bass and the Magellan of Max/MSP, Leafcutter John, there’s enough ambition and invention to forgive even a pair of these honking brass crimes, played stunningly by Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart.

Band leader Seb Rochford nestles anonymously behind his kit, adding colour to the almost sinister palette his band are cooking up. In this world, playing the kit as a kit seems alien and intrusive.

As the evening mutates, Herbert and Rochford lock in to straight-ish, crowd-pleasing grooves, then let them dissipate into space before unpredictably pushing into harder areas, like a demo of live cartography.

What issues forth is less a representation of an album or group, but more of a set of parameters and ideas which can be taken away and reassembled by the listener post hoc. You get what the band allow through the leaking cracks of their unusual machine.

Live, improvised electronic music is very dangerous as often only the highly skilled – that is, not just someone with a MacBook – can even come close to designing, intimately understanding and controlling a workable, original system, let alone having the fluidity to make it musical. So, if you want someone to do all this within the loose framework of a jazz band, then you go to Leafcutter John.

Leafcutter deals less in audio than data flow, through carefully measured gates, algorithms and filters, generating a kind of purity of clatter reminiscent of Autechre.

And in the middle, obscured by sound, sits savant Sebastian Rochford, calm but powerful reminder that there may well be some cosmic force drawing music and art from our baffled frames.

Tim Key at the Arcola Tent, 12 March 2014

Autosexual pioneer Tim Key makes no secret of the fact that he is an arsehole. As such, he is familiar, occasionally irritating and disappointingly necessary.

His strangled route to his extended, sold-out metropolitan residencies gives some indicator of his peculiar and wide appeal – Russian student, writer, open-mike mosquito, sketch comic and now film star.

His current show, Single White Slut is a development of his slowly evolving theme of an effortlessly powerful, off-beat meta-poet whose sexual prowess is so compelling that it’s practically a nuisance to him while an unparalleled thrill to all woman.

With a blend of artfully dreadful poetry, personal horn-blowing and borderline sexual harrassment, this horrid man manages to select the worst traits of the character he has cultivated for himself and warps it into a Lynchian bubble complete with owl fancying and reckless priapism.

Always somehow one step ahead, Key heckles his own audience in order to keep them in check, to experiment with form and challenge them to give him something harder. All of this combines to fully engage the consistently packed Arcola Tent night after night with a thoroughly expert performance.

Key joins the likes of George Carlin as some of the few comedians can pull off working in the round without resorting to clumsily acknowledging the space. Indeed he extends the format with playful abandon, interfering with the stage and generally indulging himself in an hour and a half of well executed peacocking.

On stage Tim Key needs no recommendation, and off it he’s no arsehole. Clear your diary if you manage to get hold of tickets.

Alexei Sayle – Soho Theatre

Alexei Sayle, self-proclaimed godfather of alternative stand up, has emerged from a 16-year period of performance hibernation to illuminate the basement stage of the Soho Theatre, an apt and flawlessly modern setting for one of the few who fearlessly forged the art form from the universal revulsion of Thatcherism and malaise of the ‘80s.

Sayle is a one-off, a warm-hearted, heart-on-sleeve type of public grandad who unwittingly became the progenitor of so many grumpy old men, sweetly jaded misanthropes and that odious, sell-out arse-licker Ben Elton.

It’s a pleasure to see Sayle back on the stage, freely pouring his familiar flavour of hot oil into the mouths of the lunatics who seek to undermine society’s beating heart purely to serve their own malicious agenda.

It seems prescient that he has chosen this particular year to return to the stage – a Tory government is once again siphoning cow juice from the mouths of babes, led by a grotesque, puce monster, and popular culture has eaten itself and regurgitated the remains. Everything that Sayle railed against in the ‘80s has returned with a damaging vigour.

While rampant social destruction has become more sophisticated in its conniving, Sayle has not moved in step with the reflexive post-post-modernist cynicism which now constitutes contemporary stand up. But why should he?

Sayle is a set piece in and of himself, a character whose reputation as a left-wing firebrand precedes him. In the ugly moral void which today passes for modernity, his default socialism almost seems archaic and naive, but it serves as a vital reminder that humanity is essential and indefatigable in its goodness.

One could anticipate that 16 years spent waiting in the wings for an appropriate monster to come along to be vilified might temper the central conceit of any gently aging comic’s vitriol, but Liverpool’s favourite gnome could never be guilty of such a thing.

London: Portrait of a City

This huge coffee table book is an oblique glimpse – or rather wide-angle view – into the photo archives of a city which has been so intensely photographed from every angle and elevation in the last 100 or so years.

The muted, seaside postcard colours of analogue film are rendered beautifully on the page with a typically Taschen attention to production.

The misty horizons of the capital and softly out of focus mews of the ’60s are candidly captured with a warmth of tone which is intimate and nostalgic.

These photographs aren’t the hackneyed and prim tourist shots of the Tower of London or Trafalgar Square.

Rather they are focused on the people and changing fashions and subtle landscapes which so often go overlooked.

At the same time as being visually nourishing, this collection saddens.

It’s a reminder of the barely extant, hidden nuances of the analogue medium which has been shunted over to accommodate relentless and artless Instagramming and a sea of low-resolution and frankly rubbish popular photography.

But Taschen have managed to draw as much dynamic range from their source material as is tastefully possible. Much of this book looks almost platinum-like in this respect.

Like watching the seasons gradually change through the same window for years, London’s evolution is slow and almost imperceptible.

Radical changes are very quickly rewoven into the fabric of the city so they become rapidly normalised, such is the speed and brutal turnover of the place and the transience of its population.

It’s only upon looking through such a stately visual history that one realises what a huge and strange area of the world London is.

The 1960s brutalist blocks labyrinthing off St Paul’s, the bomb-shattered tenements of the east, the horse-drawn omnibuses along the Embankment and the wood floorboards of Paddington station’s platforms are all gone.

But the listed landmarks which they embrace remain as monoliths to the character of the metropolis.

The social troubles such as the 1980s Brixton riots or the dustmens’ strike of 1979 are, unfortunately, almost footnotes in this anthology.

Yet on reflection – given the enormous physical size of London and the dizzy depth of its character – it’s easy to see why.

There’s just so much to cover and only a mere 550 pages to do it in.

Even so this is a welcome curio for any Londonphile.

London: Portrait Of A City by Reuel Golden, Eve Arnold, David Bailey and Cecil Beaton is published by Taschen, price £44.99.

In Mengele’s shadow – full-spectrum dominance from the US

Full spectrum dominance is a US military definition – who else could come up with such a frank and brutal term? – meaning total control over a battlefield, encompassing physical force in land, sea, air and space, as well as over communications and psychological channels. It’s a frightening and huge notion.

The US has been gradually chipping away at its aim for decades and it’s getting closer by the day. For all practical purposes it’s already there.

Clandestine military research and development is far ahead of the technology which has been declassified to the public. That’s one of the reasons for classification in the first place.

Take the case of the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance jet which was first flown by the US in December 1964.

It’s a stunning piece of machinery, even by today’s standards, capable of flying at three times the speed of sound (2,200 miles per hour) at altitudes of up to 85,000 feet. It still holds the world record for the fastest air-breathing, manned aeroplane.

When it was first in use there was literally nothing in the world that could match or assault it.

It outperformed every missile, jet and weapon in the world and was often used to shuttle diplomats and undercover agents into and out of places they weren’t supposed to be.

This machine was declassified in the ’90s, around 30 years after its first flight, when it was still the highest-spec publicly known aircraft.

It’s a far cry from the realm of conspiracy theory speculation to say that the US air force would not have declassified and decommissioned the Blackbird without having an even better operational successor already up its sleeve.

So what is yet to come? We can only imagine, though it’s clear that the operating limits of the Blackbird will be greatly exceeded in a way that would seem improbable to the layman.

The most advanced projects generally come from Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the broad and secretive organisation responsible for developing packet switching – the infrastructure upon which the internet relies – artificial intelligence, computers capable of receiving direct input from a human brain and other ideas from the sphere of science fiction.

Slightly lower tech but equally impressive are plans to completely control weather conditions in-theatre.

According to a USAF document which was put together in the ’90s and which detailed the desired-for technologies available to the military in 2025, techniques to gain such control include microwave scintillation of air and vapours as well as chemical intervention.

This last technique was famously applied by Beatle Paul McCartney before a show in St Petersburg. Atmospheric Technologies Agency was hired to take dry ice into the atmosphere to overseed and disperse nearby clouds in order to avoid dampening the occasion.

And it worked – you don’t get on the wrong side of Macca.

While rock stars are known for ostentatious displays of power, the military are usually a little more discreet, though far more effective in their chest-puffing.

The naive days of blindly supporting military work as a necessary force for good are long gone and some of the more sinister practices which were previously imagined have actually been exceeded in their darkness.

Take the example of the undeniably nasty CIA-run Project Artichoke, declassified in recent years, which sought to “get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature, such as self-preservation.”

It has been all but acknowledged by the conductors of such experiments that the subjects were unaware, though all would be unwilling or incapable of comprehension in the aftermath.

This and other projects involved doping subjects with powerful hallucinogens, toxic substances, torture practices and psychological bombardment.

But we know that that sort of thing would never be allowed to happen these days…

Of course, there have been even more primitive and barbaric experiments made on unsuspecting patients of domestic hospitals.

The list of radioactive and chemical experiments alone made on patients, prisoners and servicemen in the US is intimidating.

In the ’40s Vanderbilt university experimented on nearly 1,000 expectant mothers by tricking them into consuming radioactive iron, resulting in cancers in both them and their children, some of whom died as a consequence.

In the ’50s at the Medical College of Virgina, burn victims were deliberately burned and treated to injections of radioactive phosphorus 32, with some concentrations being up to 50 times what is deemed a safe dose.

Fallout from nuclear bomb testing in the Nevada desert resulted in somewhere between 1,000 and 21,000 deaths – a wide margin of error, of which even the lowest estimates are terrifying.

There is a wealth of literature on the US history of clandestine crimes against humanity available to those who are interested, and much of it resembles the death camp horrors of nazi Josef Mengele and friends.

Where the global military industrial complex is headed next is difficult to be certain, but full spectrum dominance is certainly priority number one, however it’s achieved.

It may seem futile to resist the ambitions of such a devastatingly efficient machine, but it would be deeply unwise not to.

Edinburgh Festival Round-up 2012

While the rest of these reluctantly united isles have brayed through the spectacle of The Games Which Should Not Speak Their Name, the wonderful city of Edinburgh once again splays itself before the greatest arts festival ever to set foot into reality.

Curling into every available corner of Auld Reekie is the much cherished Fringe and this year’s highlights have redefined what constitutes excellence in comedy and theatre and the magical amalgam of the two.

At The Underbelly Doctor Brown’s divinely named Befrdfgth and Claudia O’Doherty’s The Telescope are certainly five-star shows.

The former’s astounding control of both himself and his awkwardly terrified audience is what the festival fringe is all about – absurdist, provocative and fearlessly confrontational comic terrorism.

In an ambitious and theatrical advance from his long-standing one-man tennis match performance, Brown subtly takes the clowning form and dismantles it into a recursive, self-replicating marvel which is at once disgusting, beautiful and deeply genuine.

Very rarely does a mute and smirkingly malevolent force of nature get away with literally and savagely kicking his audience up the arse and even less frequently does such an artist elicit elated hoots from 100 or so fringe-hardened punters so consistently and with such great economy.

To say that Befrdfgth is an awesome act of art crime would be an understatement. Keep an eye on this horrific bearded beauty.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the truly magical The Indescribable Phenomenon (Greenside), a heartbreaking and wrong-footing exposition of the life of Anna Eva Fay, the first woman to be inducted into the Magic Circle.

Coupling casually magnificent magic with a true story of tragedy, humour and humanity, this show is a shrewdly put together powder keg of heart-wrenching power which will no doubt see its way onto the silver screen within a year or so.

Troubling the eminent Doctor Brown for the Fringe crown is Claudia O’Doherty, a secret genius with a sexy brass telescope which doubles as a portal through time and space.

O’Doherty’s experimental spectacular completely breaks the stand-up form and reshuffles the edges of paranoia.

Effortlessly spanning centuries of narrative, her upside-down approach is beyond refreshing, mixing freewheeling surrealism with a sophisticated structure which resembles a human brain undergoing a stroke.

Still reeling from last year’s Panel Prize – with sponsorship lamentably snatched away from the admittedly pretentious Perrier to the absurdly cheap Foster’s brand – are Max and Ivan.

Their Con Artists show at the Pleasance Courtyard is a technical step up from their acclaimed production of Sherlock And Watson and with it comes a sly nod to the arch criminal Jim Moriarty, in this instance a Cockney foil for a heist which tactically draws in every Bond caricature in a mercurial work of tremendous ferocity.

Also very much of note are The Yellow Show, a heartwarming spoken-word show from Rob Auton and The Magical Adventures Of Pete Heat.

Whale dies so that we might live

Religious groups the world over put aside their differences to give praise and thanks to a whale which sacrificed itself on a beach in Cornwall this week.

The sixty-five-foot mammal was discovered on Monday evening with wounds on her midriff, eye injuries and holes through her hands.

Attempts to rescue the beast were met with hooting noises and incoherent speech which many took to be speaking in tongues.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan WIlliams was on the scene. He said: “This animal has set an example by making the ultimate sacrifice — its own life — so that we might live another day.”

Similiarly, Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain Daud Abdullah also came to the air-breathing mammal’s defence, comparing her to the Prophet Muhammed, while discouraging the public from making graven images of her.

Secular groups also got involved with the action, recalling the 2001 “Thames dolphin incident,” which eclipsed the coverage of Princess Diana’s funeral by a factor of 10.

An Amnesty International spokesperson offered her thoughts on condition of anonymity: “Amnesty is famous for defending human rights, but whales are also humans. This is a prime example of the hypocrisy of governments and totalitarian regimes who insist on treating people who live in the sea and eat tons of krill every day as if they’re not the same as us.”

A Buddhist monk appeared on the scene shortly before the creature died to perform an ad-hoc self-immolation, which was greeted with warm applause.

While rescue groups could not resuscitate the whale back to life, all are agreed that it has been an important and revealing chapter of our human development.

The Darkness – Hot Cakes

The Darkness are clearly back to take over the world with this album.

This new slice of sex opens up with Every Inch of You, a warm-hearted love song to the physical stage which supports frontman Justin Hawkins’ flamboyant flying lotus personality.

It’s a genuinely infectious and stripped-down Queen-esque anthem which warmly embraces Hawkins’s “brother and my two best mates” and sets the record straight that the group is ready to mature.

From the production of the record it’s clear that the boys have been listening to a lot of Queen — guitarist Dan Hawkins has no doubt been sneaking a look at Brian May’s setup on his occasional guest performances with the band — a position further cemented by With A Woman’s delta blues guitar figure.

Think John Deacon’s Norman Greenbaum-plundering You’re My Best Friend and put it through a glam rock filter and you’ll appreciate what they’ve been doing for the past few years.

Execution aside, it’s reassuring to see the usual Darkness themes are in place.

Anal sex — in fact, every type of sex imaginable and available to a rock star — a full appreciation of exactly how awesome oneself is, and of course, a love of rock and roll.

One track that will no doubt set internet forums alight with apoplexy is a cover of Radiohead’s Street Spirit, repurposed into a staccato, chugging metal bastard.

But it clearly comes from a respect for its originators, with a witty and brief reference to the Just, also from the Bends, which reveals that this isn’t a piss-take.

In fact, a good few songs bear a strange resemblance to early Radiohead, particularly the freewheeling grunge of Pablo Honey — a comparison I feel surpised at making.

Love Is Not The Answer seems an odd choice of closer, but then the Darkness have always been there to answer unasked questions.

The boys are most definitely back in town.

Inside Darknet

In early 2012 the CIA’s public website was taken down by Anonymous, the hacktivist group responsible for similar attacks on PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, Amazon and others.

The attack methodology — known as DDoS, or distributed denial of service — is a very old one and relies on brute computing power rather than delicate snooping and penetration techniques.

Certain corners of the press ignorantly trumpeted this assault as an example of the new frontier of digital terrorism, a threat to national security and an attack on the core operating infrastructure of the CIA.

It was actually, as one witty observer pointed out, more a case of “someone tore up a poster hung by the CIA.”

The agency’s corporate-looking site serves little purpose in the day to day operations of the agency beyond dishing out press releases and propaganda.

The operative communications are handled on secure military networks which are completely isolated from the public site, and they are for more hardened and robust.

The distinction between these networks is useful in understanding a scary hidden world of digital activity called the Deep Web or Darknet.

While most internet users merrily tweet and Facebook each other and endlessly debate freedom of speech and internet legislation on the sanitised regular — or Surface — web, there is a parallel community operating in the Deep Web.

This is a secure, private and entirely unregulated other world which can only be connected to using dedicated software.

Even the omniscient behemoth of Google doesn’t index or crawl the Deep Web — or at least it doesn’t say it does.

Anonymity is provided by the onion protocol, a multi-layer encryption system which reliably obscures the origin of internet traffic via a huge network of voluntarily-operated computers, or nodes.

Traffic is randomly routed across this network in such a way as to leave no trace of the route the data has taken. Only operators of these nodes can see a limited set of information about such routes.

Users establish an anonymised connection to the system via proven secure methods and are then able to explore this invisible Aladdin’s cave of misconduct and secrecy.

Uses include exchange of all manners of contraband including controlled and prescription drugs, extreme and illegal pornography, bomb-making and guerilla warfare manuals and materials, sensitive and stolen-to-order data of all stripes and even the genuine commission of murder.

The going rate for a hit is around £20,000, with half paid up front and the rest on completion of the murder. Clients are asked to provide as much information about the personal lives, families, distinguishing features and habits of their mark, as well as recent photos and places of work.

High profile targets cost more to whack, but they’re certainly not ruled out.

These hit men are very real and often the product of training by military special forces, with many providing a just vague enough resume of wars served in and credentials as green berets and the like. They also don’t appreciate journalists asking them questions about their work.

This is a modern version of Murder Inc for the busy, wired professional who occasionally needs someone rubbing out.

The trade of drugs represents a major proportion of Deep Web traffic.

Admirably specific descriptions of every drug imaginable — hundreds of cannabis strains, LSD, 5MeO-DMT, Valium, you name it — are presented with friendly, clear and professional instructions for payment and transaction protocol on the largest of these drug trading platforms, the historically consciously named Silk Road.

Refunds and returns policies are conspicuously absent. Paypal is not an option.

Upon completing payment you can expect your galaxy of multi-coloured uppers, downers, screamers or laughers to arrive via a reputable international courier to the destination of your choice.

As Mitch Hedberg said, “I love my Fed-Ex guy ’cause he’s a drug dealer and he doesn’t even know.”

Much in the way that early adopters of the Polaroid camera quickly realised that the photo lab technician needn’t know about your lewd holiday snaps, so the Deep Web is also home to a vast repository of frighteningly extreme pornography, including incest, child abuse, scat and snuff.

Even more terrifying are the enterprising souls who makes such material to order.

Thanks to the digital detachment of the onion these black markets can operate with near impunity from law enforcement, for now at least.

Of course any intelligence agency worth its salt would set up as many of its routing nodes as possible in order to build an incomplete but still useful picture of such illicit transactions, and that’s exactly what the CIA and NSA are alleged to be doing.

The size of the Deep Web is very difficult to calculate, such is its architecture, but the most conservative estimates put it at around twice the size of all of the content indexed by Google, and the more generous figures suggest it’s closer to 500 times that.

The incessant crowing about internet censorship, freedom of expression and copyright violation which populates the media columns is rendered entirely redundant by the existence of this hidden system.

If you want to get up to no good and get away with it, then you could start in worse places than the Deep Web.