XAM Duo play their first show of 2017 next weekend in Folkestone.
The duo of Hookworms’ Matthew Benn and Deadwall’s Christopher Duffin, whose self-titled debut album was released in November last year to great acclaim, will play the Quarterhouse venue in the Kent seaside town on Saturday (February 4) as part of this year’s Profound Sound festival, which has been put together by Folkestone Fringe and our friends at Hot Salvation. XAM Duo play alongside Cowtown and Virginia Wing. Also appearing at the festival, which takes place from Friday to Sunday, are Cosmic Thoughts and Leafcutter John.
There are also a number of other events and activities across the weekend, including XAM Duo’s Modular Synth Workshop, which takes place in the Quarterhouse bar from 11am on Sunday, February 5. You can join Matthew and Christopher and learn how to build up a patch from scratch.
The full line-up of performances and events, plus timings and venue information can be found in a downloadable programme here.
Tickets are just £27 for a weekend pass, £10 per day or £5 per event and can be bought here. Under 23s are free.
We will be attempting to run a record stall while also playing some tunes at the O2 Forum Kentish Town on Saturday (January 28) as part of the Club The Mammoth All-Dayer, which sees live sets from The Fall, Hookworms, Girl Band and many more.
Doors open at 4pm for the label market, which features stalls from Alcopop, Dirty Bingo, Fuzz Club Records and Mute as well as our good selves. If you’re hungry, then Dirty Burger’s van will be parked up right outside the venue.
Spectres release their second album ‘Condition’ on March 10. The follow-up to their acclaimed 2015 debut, ‘Dying’, it was recorded by Dominic Mitchison in the band’s adopted home city of Bristol and mastered by Frank Arkwright (Mogwai, 65daysofstatic) at Abbey Road in London.
It’s louder and more abrasive than their debut, but also a real progression. It sounds huge and adds a genuinely innovative and confrontational edge, partly inspired by last year’s remix album, ‘Dead’, which saw everyone from Factory Floor to Richard Fearless instructed to “kill” the songs from ‘Dying’.
“There were discussions about experimenting with electronics, but the idea soon petered out when we realised we still wanted to experiment with guitars,” reveals singer and guitarist Joe Hatt. It’s true that a track such as ‘End Waltz’ has a relentlessly pounding, almost techno structure, in contrast to the kinetosis-inducing dirge of ‘Dissolve’ – the first single from the album which appeared as an edible tablet download with a suitably stomach-churning video late last year.
Elsewhere the almost restrained (by Spectres’ standards) white noise and wordplay of ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ and the sprawling ‘Colour Me Out’ are counterbalanced by brutal assaults such as ‘Neck’ and ‘Welcoming The Flowers’, which keeps threatening to drown itself in its own roiling diamond sea.
“On this album we became even less interested in actually playing guitar,” explains Hatt, “which meant that we got more into experimenting with the sounds we could get out of them when brutalising them and letting the feedback do the talking.”
Spectres were formed in Barnstaple, North Devon in 2011. After moving to Bristol a couple years later they self-released a few EPs and singles on their own Howling Owl label, before joining forces with Sonic Cathedral for 2015’s ‘Dying’, their incendiary debut that they promised would “snap people out of their comfort zones. We want our noise to smack the spoon out of their mouths that is feeding them the warm diarrhoea that is served by start-up PR companies”. The resulting largely positive coverage everywhere from NME to Drowned In Sound, The Times and the Guardian to BBC Radio 1 – not to mention people fleeing their gigs, hands pressed tightly over bleeding ears – would suggest they went some way to achieving this aim.
“We’ve managed to get way further than we ever should have considering the music – and enemies – we make,” admits singer and guitarist Joe Hatt, “so now it’s just a question of enjoying things until the van finally breaks down and we can’t afford to get it fixed again. We’ve all somehow still got the same jobs as two years ago, we still rehearse and record in the same spaces, we write music in the exact same way, so even though things have grown in terms of gigs and our audience, we are still the same horrible lot. Lack of success will never change us.”
In contrast to the seriousness of their music, the band have also become notorious for their relentless sending up of the music industry – their alternative James Bond theme for ‘Spectre’, which fooled one Evening Standard journalist into thinking Sam Smith had been listening to some Sonic Youth; their feather ruffling Record Store Day Is Dying campaign; the video for ‘This Purgatory’ in which they killed Fearne Cotton, Nick Grimshaw, Reggie Yates and Scott Mills – seemingly with John Peel’s approval – while recording a Radio 1 Live Lounge appearance; and most recently they shared a spoof Spotify ad that went viral.
“There are a lot of people who vocally hate us because of some of our ‘pranks’,” reveals Hatt, “but there’s always a lot more to them than merely trying to score cheap notoriety. Everything we do is a reaction to being part of a music industry that depresses us greatly, but also an industry we feel as though we should be part of on merit… even though we know it doesn’t work that way 99% of the time. We’ve met plenty of people at gigs who discovered us through the James Bond single, or just recently had people contacting us saying they’d listened to our music after seeing the fake Spotify advert we shared, which is great. If people think making fans by harnessing the band’s inner personality through campaigns against the music industry is more cynical than just paying someone who doesn’t care about your band to try and get reviews, then they can just shut up. We know we’re never going to be making a living off this, so we may as well try and have some fun with it rather than just keep our heads down and pander.”
But what future is there for a band as vital and visceral as Spectres in this post-truth world where making a living from music is seemingly a thing of the past unless you get a big fat BPI grant like Slaves; where you get more shares on Facebook for a meme poking fun at Spotify’s royalty rates than a genuinely thought-provoking and challenging video, like the one they made for ‘Dissolve’ last year?
“Just existing is enough for us at this point,” says Hatt, resignedly. “We’ve always known we will never have mass appeal, so merely being an entity is fine. We have friends moving into houses that are being bought for them by their parents out of panic because they see the market imploding and their kids’ futures doing the same thing. None of us will ever own a house, but if we write good songs we may get to travel around and stay in houses owned by other people and that’s all we want to achieve, really: a free Airbnb.”
After two years of playing live shows all over Europe in support of ‘Dying’ and its postmortem, ‘Dead’ – including memorably stepping into the slot vacated by Björk at La Route du Rock a couple years ago – the band had intended to decamp somewhere remote to write the follow-up. “We were going to bury our phones, burn our laptops and just write music for a week, come back and record it,” says Hatt. “But we didn’t get a chance to do this as all of our holidays from work were used up by us gigging more than we were used to. The romantic idea of the writing holiday soon just disintegrated into panic when we suddenly realised we were recording the album in a month and we only had about four songs.”
That they managed to produce a record as good as ‘Condition’ is a minor miracle, then, especially as the overriding themes and concept of the album, right across the songs and the stunning artwork, seem even more coherent and considered than the first album. But what exactly is the condition that the title refers to?
“I’ve always been interested in the human condition in terms of how we are programmed emotionally and either try to adhere or break away from that,” explains Hatt. “How we condition ourselves to try and blend in or get through the day, whether that be blocking things out, or drinking it all in, or in many cases both. The title came to me when we were mixing the first record and, from then on, it just stuck. It was about another year before I started writing lyrics for ‘Condition’, but it was good having that starting point forming and sprawling in my head for that amount of time as there was already a mood set. This all fed into the artwork quite heavily, too, where the idea was to try and present both the introvert and extrovert within us. We have worked with Stephanie Third [who did the ‘Dying’ front cover] again and she produced a set of tranimal-inspired photographs in which we wanted to depict human emotions bulbing out of a body in a vulgar mess, just like they do, but represented physically. The front cover of the vinyl version came about from me being a huge fan of the artist Laurie Lax’s ‘Comic Boom Boom’ series. The first time I saw them I thought that it would be an exciting idea to try and work with her on something similar for the future, and when the time was right we began working out ways of how to link her process to the themes and moods of the album.”
And Spectres’ mood has never really changed: “The same things drive us now as they did before because they’re so deep-rooted,” concludes Hatt. “Making noise that can’t help but make people forget and remember everything at the same time, and total disdain towards a world where we kind of need to exist.”
It’s time for the Independent Label Market once again. This Saturday (November 26) will see all of your favourite labels – and some of your favourite hipster breweries, too – congregating in Old Spitalfields Market in London to sell their wares. As ever, we have got some good stuff for you, including this exclusive tape of XAM Duo’s improvised show at the Total Refreshment Centre in London a few weeks ago.
We will also have copies (or sometimes just one copy) of every release on Sonic Cathedral this year, some of which are selling for £100 on Discogs. In case you’ve not been keeping up, this means we will have the following:
SCR071 – Odd Nosdam – ‘T r i s h’ splatter vinyl 12″
SCR072 – Odd Nosdam – ‘More Lost & Haunted Remains’ tape
SCR088 – Various – ‘Kraftwerk? Ja Bitte!’ glow in the dark vinyl 12″
SCR090LP – Spectres – ‘Dying’ red vinyl LP
SCR091 – Spectres – ‘Dead’ CD
SCR091LP – Spectres – ‘Dead’ double LP
SCR100LP – The Early Years – ‘The Early Years’
SCR101 – The Early Years – ‘Demo’ CD
SCR105 – Yeti Lane – ‘L’Aurore’ CD
SCR105LP – Yeti Lane – ‘L’Aurore’ clear vinyl LP
SCR110 – The Early Years – ‘II’ CD
SCR110LP – The Early Years – ‘II’ black / white vinyl double LP
SCR111 – The Early Years – ‘Nocturne’ lathe cut 7″
SCR115 – Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – ‘Balance’ CD
SCR115LP – Lorelle Meets The Obsolete – ‘Balance’ clear / blue vinyl LP
SCR120 – XAM Duo – ‘XAM Duo’ CD
SCR120LP – XAM Duo – ‘XAM Duo’ double LP
SCR121 – XAM Duo – ‘Total Refreshment Centre, London, November 5, 2016’ tape
And if that’s still not enough, we will also have copies of Ulrich Schnauss’ wonderful new album ‘No Further Ahead Than Today’ on vinyl and we will be joined by Adrian Dutt from Spectres who might just be, er, dropping something new and exclusive by his band, while also selling some rarities from his Howling Owl label, including more Spectres rarities, vinyl albums for a fiver, signed Oliver Wilde records, test pressings and lots more.
Please come and join us for a mince pie and a sherry. We are open from 11am until 6.30pm and are in good company, as you can see from the stall plan below.
XAM Duo – the new outfit formed by Matthew Benn of Hookworms and Christopher Duffin of Deadwall – will launch their debut album with a special show at the Total Refreshment Centre in London on Saturday, November 5. They will be joined for a night of indoor aural fireworks by a very special secret guest and also London-based experimentalist Moon Gangs. Doors open at 7pm, the live music finishes at 11pm and there will be DJs until 1am.
XAM Duo will also play a number of dates supporting The Early Years towards the end of November, plus hometown shows supporting Anna Meredith and Sealings. Here’s a full list:
October 14 – Leeds – Wharf Chambers (with Sealings)
November 1 – Leeds – Belgrave Music Hall (with Anna Meredith)
November 5 – London – Total Refreshment Centre (album launch)
November 24 – Leeds – Wharf Chambers (with The Early Years)
November 25 – Manchester – Aatma (with The Early Years)
November 26 – Newcastle – Cumberland Arms (with The Early Years)
‘XAM Duo’ is out on November 4. Its six tracks of improvised ambient beauty are both meditative and peaceful. It is astral jazz with an experimental kosmische undercurrent; modular synths meet saxophones; Cluster meets Terry Riley; Laurie Spiegel meets Pharoah Sanders; Ohr meets Impulse!. A warm, immersive and downright musical record, it rewards repeat listens. Watch the video for the edited version of ‘I Extend My Arms’: