Spasms and Savagery : 30 Years of Downwards – Russell Haswell – Slow White Fall – Non Existent – Fret – Halt – Antonym – Centrala Birmingham 10th June 2023
As Regis’ Downwards Records reaches thrity years of releases this event is a celebration of the music released on Downwards. So on a day hotter than expected fueled by hay fever medication and IPA we listened and wrote what we thought, have a look below.
It’s a spectacularly hot and sunny Saturday afternoon in Digbeth. There is shade but you have to hunt for it. Downstairs in Centrala there’s a screen playing a live Regis film and upstairs is empty except a table of electronics, a large looking PA with light tubes draped over it. The Photographer is in the grip of what I am assured later is a pollen bomb, he is sneezing, spluttering and groaning for most of the afternoon, evening and night. At one point he asks me if he can die of hay fever and I tell him he can, by me beating him to death with my notebook for moaning. We meet and talk to various people, an acid morris dancer, a techno fan from Los Angeles and others too. I am melting.
This is a celebration of thirty years of releases on Regis’ record label Downwards recordings and the man himself is buzzing around talking to people and getting stuff ready. We head upstairs for the first act who Regis introduces and welcomes us to the event. Antonym played first, standing on one side of the small stage he manipulates the laptop and electronics in front of him. The base sound is low and squelchy with high notes spinning over the top of it, it is thunderous and hard and as it goes on it gets harder and more squiggly. The betas are intermittent and hard as the repeat the simple pattern over and again. The bass is way low down and is starting to wobble nicely. The drones and wobbling now sound like he’s having a tantrum, it’s angry, losing control feel that slides down into broken beats, robotic voice samples that sound like stuttering metal gods trying to break through the huge throbbing drone. Industrial hammering factory sounds are replaced with rolling beats and then skittering noises , all built around snatches of vocal samples, weird noises and throbbing beats. There’s a whispered phrase over and over again as the sound of synths fighting to the death fly around over a low throbbing dissonant drone. An excellent start to the day.
HALT. are a duo on a laptop and electronics board, there’s a rising whine and feedback which fluctuates and then carries on. Other notes are added and gentle beats begin underneath, it’s still bloody loud although I am now stood leaning on the back wall to get the effect of both speakers through the crowd. The beat and music grow stronger together, high whines and whistles over a relentless slow beat. A throbbing drone gets higher and everything increases. There are choral singers underneath and drum and bass slipping and sliding beats are underneath the sound as it carries on expanding outwards. Then the noise of a didgeridoo takes over, brilliantly merging with the beats. The sound is fluid and masterful as it carries on. It dies down to synth stabs with no beats, it’s got a caliopi organ feel, circus like and it continues on and on. The beats come sneaking back and this now feels like it’s just on a plain, waiting to explode, onwards at the same pace but it still feels like it’s going to let go and then there’s a huge sub bass sound enveloping everything. Overbearing and destroying what was there. Underneath this comes new skittery sounds, heavy beats and jungle bass blasts going through everything, the bass dies a little and the beats turn into full on techno. It’s an immense sound with a rumble of nastiness behind it, they’re just throwing everything at it now, singing and sampling themselves. Then it drops all the way down, it fades out to scuttling insect noises and trills over a high whine. Then almost immediately they are back up, rim shot beats underneath more techno and it’s almost a funky hip swivelling groove. Almost everyone in the room is moving now, they slow down but it’s still damned loud.
The beats die off slowly and begin echoing more in a lost dub pattern sounding like it’s coming from the other end of a long tunnel, noise then muffled beats, wind and desolation. The sound of breathing and more skipping, scratchy high and disturbing sounds. Techno slides over everything again and it’s right in your head as you move around to it. It fades and they are gone. Second act, excellent again.
Now it’s Fret, Mick Harris is noticeable for most of the day due to his bright yellow shirt adorned with jellyfish. Best shirt of the afternoon I think. He draws the biggest crowd of the day, a fair few Napalm Death shirts around. He starts with a rising drone and some beats, he keeps moving around and is getting really into the performance. The beats and sound rises and gets louder and the feel is of hard dance music. It’s alright, it just sticks to the same groove for a while and then the static rises and the vibe turns away from dance into grindcore blasts and beats, the crowd are loving it and Mick is going bonkers behind his table. It reminds me of the Scorn stuff in places too, but then if it didn’t have elements of grindcore and Scorn it wouldn’t feel like Mick Harris would it? It fades to clicks and beeps, screams and synth winds blowing. Then drops back into thunderous beats to the cheers of the crowd. I’m not as into this as the others so far, it’s a good set and the sounds work well but its not gelling in my head. It fazes in and out and the beats kicks in like a bastard again, the visuals behind him are excellent and the music switches around from hardcore to dance to grinding and can’t make up its mind what it’s really doing. There’s a buzzing hum and then a burst of jolting static, back to the beats and I get it. I get it as the beats continue on. It’s noe very metal, grinding, pulsing industrial metal noises like you used to get when Ministry were worth listening to. The grindcore snatches get the biggest cheers and he is totally into this as is switches again into an industrial nasty groove.
Non Existent are a trio, the set starts with a crackling like fire burning and a rising drone, this sounds old and pagan. The beats sound like someone hitting a tree with a stick and rain drop inspired beats rise up. It turns into quick beats and techno takes over as they go into overdrive. The noise turns glitchy with the bass following the clipping fast moving beats. There’s a sampled voice in there somewhere but I can’t make out what it is at all. It’s layers of fresh interesting sounds, everything is focused in and crystal clear. There’s big noises, bursts of static as the beat and drone continues on under it all. The drone rumbles, lowers and then starts to muffle in on itself, it seems to be pulses radiating out as scuttling sounds crawl around your skull. It slows and the rain sound covers it all again.
Techno now, big beats moving around and the rhythm is brilliant, it feels like demons are flying around the room and the static sounds like steam released from an ultra pressured pipe. I can feel the bass going through my gut as the sound becomes more discordant and harder to follow. But even with that, it’s still excellent. The demons and static are taking over the room, ghosts in the machine circling and looking for weaknesses. Huge drones smash down over the top of everything, lowering everything down as the bass fluctuates and throbs. Then the beats flatten everything down and go on. The throbbing is huge now as house music plays somewhere deep underneath. They shift into soundscapes now, it’s almost Prog Rock and a buzzing takes up as loud noises clash again. There are loud, high skittish sounds and they are done. I really really liked this set. I need to hunt their releases out.
Slow White Fall is a project by Oliver Ho. It starts with a throbbing drone and sparkling synths. Then he starts to play guitar and it’s loud, distorted and everywhere. He’s moved right away from the dance stuff I’ve heard by him before and is too busy being a rock star with the guitar to do anything else. The thing is, I’ve seen rock live before and lots and lots of guitars and I’m not grabbed by this at all. There’s a drone still going on that is inducing nothing for me at the moment. It gets faster and the sound is manipulated more but he soon moves back to crashing guitar riffs, over an over. The distortion grows and hard, fast beats erupt into the mix, but then the guitar obliterates everything again, thrashing and whining. There’s no cohesion. The beats slow and repeat on, the drone carries on and a strange vocal tries to reach over the sound. It’s manipulated, distorted and echoing and the result is a threatening nasty sound.The guitar comes in again and it’s a buzzsaw punk/metal thresh sound that wipes everything else out. Tiny Kraftwerkian sounds ping through the mess and are obliterated by the guitar, it just keeps going wiping out everything, burning it all clean. The beat lowers down but so does the guitar, following and overpowering it all. It has turned into a huge angular noise. He plays whining guitar as industrial beats pound away behind. It feels like loss, decay and hatred. Slow nasty grinding metal with a chanting vocal which I think is the best track of the set. Then it finishes with an immense guitar swathe and a deep bass drone.
Russell Haswell next. His equipment is on the floor, no tables for him. The crowd has thinned somewhat but there are a good few people around the stage waiting for him. He’s introduced by Regis and then shouts, this one’s called ‘Even When It Rains It Doesn’t Clean The Streets’ It starts with low quiet synth notes, gently moving up and down like the ocean at night, there’s a harder edge coming up from below but then Haswell switches it to a horrendous squiggly synth sound that destroys any notion of tune or rhythm. It pierces through everything and people wince. This is noise for the sake of it and exactly what the people around the stage want. He pauses to shout out the name of the next song and answer abuse thrown at him by Regis then gets straight back to the noise much to the delight of the crowd around him. It almost starts to become techno at one point but then thinks better of itself and gets hard and unrelenting again. Then he asks for the projection to stop and we can’t see anything, just the shouting mob gathered around him and the noise prevails. One sounds like a broken video game on some archaic console. Another has what seems light Star Wars light Sabers and Blasters across it. Everytime the music pauses there is more shouting, unfortunately because the mass of noise is so loud I can’t hear much in between, I do however hear him say, at least twice ‘This one’s called Porcupine Tree are Shit’ and slagging off loads of bands he’d seen in the past.. ‘They’re All Shit!!’ The noise stupidity carries on and the funniest thing is watching peoples faces as they leave, bafflement, disgust, suffering, anger and just swearing being the best examples. He really does use lunacy to immense effect. He finishes eventually and the lights come back on.
That’s it for us, we leave as we are wiped out and it’s time to go. An excellent afternoon in Centrala as sunshine and torrential rain battled it out by the canal outside. I think it may be an expensive visit to Bandcamp coming up to catch up on the highlights.
Slow White Fall
Russell Haswell tweets as @RussellHaswell
Slow White Fall are on Bandcamp.
Non Existent are on Bandcamp,
Fret aka Mick Harris Tweets as @RealMickHarris1
All words by Adrian Bloxham and photos by Martin Ward