Zero familiarity with any of this year’s line-up except New York’s junk electronic freakonauts Silver Apples means that Audioscope 2014 looks set to be a non-stop tale of the unexpected. Saturdays don’t get much better than this, and at 3.10 we see The Doomed Bird of Providence.

Let’s just repeat that name one more time: THE DOOMED BIRD OF PROVIDENCE.

Magnificent. Sounds like a bunch of Wheatsheaf-stained mantra-rock hairies, but they’re actually a septet of Oz/London (nick)cave-dwellers with a ramshackle line in Celt stomp and shanty swing. Take the hey-ho from Saint Nick’s Supernaturally, add a bit of Murder by Death and you might be somewhere near.

Earthling Society: with guitar trebled and wah-wahed to the max over blues-ish rhythm and cosmicspacerock keyboards, the Society open with their version of Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda and pitch themselves as a quintessential Audioscope band. Better when they ditch the vocals and just rock out, you can see why they supported Julian Cope circa Dark Orgasm – there’s more than a whiff of the Archdrude’s back-then penchant for guitar excess, not to mention Brain Donor’s chasmic numbskullery.

After a swift pint down at the Bookbinders, we get ready for Wrangler.




Stephen Mallinder from Cabaret Voltaire.

Shit, really??? Seminal name #1 of Audioscope 2014 then, and Wrangler do NOT disappoint. Retro-futurist industrial beats, dirty synths and near-dalek vocals make for a seedy brand of heavy electronica that’s got the Cabaret creep but with added rock-band thrust. Loud and ballsy, we like this lot. We like this lot A LOT. Audioscope 2014 is most definitely hotting up.

You Are Wolf cool the mood, but that’s a compliment … we are, quite simply, powerless to resist. Nothing like the ‘Bjork-does-folk’ tag in the programme, singer Kerry Andrew cuts a quietly captivating presence and compels everyone to listen – as in, really listen. With her storyteller’s charm and made-on-the-spot loops, and the band’s sparse yet experimental folk backdrop, you enter a world in every song. For the last track, she persuades everyone to join in (‘You’ve got to sing or it’ll be rubbish!’) while the loops build and build. You Are Wolf: biggest surprise of the day.

Telescopes up next. Big contrast and, once the initial thrill of high volume passes, big boredom. Telescopes are definitely louder and less tuneful than imagined, but all that early promise gets pissed away in their interminable search for a magic moment. Probably because they went up their own arse to look for it.

But no matter, that’s the fun of the fair, right? Some you get, some you don’t. Now it’s past 8pm and seminal name #2 is in the room:



But Jonny Greenwood IS here, such is Silver Apples’ revered status as electronic rock pioneers from way out left. And while no-one would dispute the timeless legacy of SA’s junk-lab space throb, tonight’s show is, in truth, a tribute to a once mighty force. Reduced volume robs the music of its disorienting power and carousel madness, and the sight of a slight (but sprightly) Simeon – born in 1938, go work it out – at the helm is nearly as weird as the music he makes. Still, the always-awesome Oscillation burns a killer earworm back into the head, and the man Simeon appears in fine fettle. Cheers to that, to long life, and to the very existence of their otherworldly oddness.

After the good-natured but muted Silver Apples, and the endless-aimless Telescopes, we’re in need of an action shot.

Matt Elliott, of Third Eye Foundation, is … not the guy to do it. Sorry. Just too slow, quiet and acoustic for this hour of the day, and we’re in danger of flagging. The yawning starts. Need a sit down. Back aches a bit. Only three things can save us: a blinder from Public Service Broadcasting (I’m not confident), a mini mince pie from the merchandise stand, and a massive bag of chips.

Pie (mince) and chips (loads) duly scoffed, we are upright and awake. Can the headliners deliver? For some people, PBS are THE reason for coming to Audioscope 2014. For others – me included – Silver Apples are/were the no-brainer attraction, and the fact that the room has emptied somewhat since Simeon/The Simeon departed kinda proves the point.

Jonny Greenwood has vanished.

But all caution is unfounded because Public Service Broadcasting deliver exactly the right kind of energy with tight guitar/banjo licks running over danceable moto beats and, of course, their public service films whizzing past in the background. For most of the set, I watch the band – all two of them – and let the films pass by without too much attention. For the last track, I watch the film – about people climbing Everest – and find that the music scores the drama spot-on. Is this true of every track? I should watch again.

Whether their film-nerd shtick has longevity is another matter, but tonight, Public Service Broadcasting put smiles on faces and prove themselves well worthy of top billing. Nice one.

And so ends another eclectic Audioscope: brilliant, again. Raising good money for Shelter, again. Now excuse me while I go play Wrangler’s LA Spark CD. Again.


Audioscope reviews of 2013 and 2015 here, and Audioscope’s Music for a Good Home 3 CD



AUDIOSCOPE 13: a partial review

12 bands in 12 hours from 12pm til 12am. That’s Audioscope 13, the annual Oxford all-day gig that raises money for Shelter by coaxing music fans out on a cold November night. How? With some shit-hot knowns, unknowns and soon-to-be knowns, that’s how. In its 13-event history, the late-night closing spot has been grabbed by the likes of Wire, Six by Seven, Damo Suzuki and Karma to Burn while countless bands have done the day shifts.

Unfortunately, the day shifts are beyond my grasp this year so let’s dive in unfashionably late to the Jericho Tavern and see what happens. All bands are new to me, in sound if not in name.

First, the news. Turns out that Thought Forms had to cancel due to illness. Now I’ve never heard them but their flyer bio (‘… Sonic Youth playing doom’) is the best of the lot and would surely win a prize if i) there was one ii) they turned up. Neither was the case but even if that bio is only half right, Thought Forms sound compulsory. Then again, you can’t believe all you read in promo bios – see Pet Moon later.

Eat Lights Become Lights are rhythmic nirvana for kosmiche heads. Two drummers – one sitting, one standing – hammer a relentless loco-motion that’s ultra repetitive, very Neu! and very nearly trancelike, shot through with bass, samples, drones and no vocals. At their best when Neil Rudd’s circular melodies build up to spacerock wah wah blowouts, this stuff really works live. Rave music for rock fans? Very possibly.

After the unpretentious, anonymous potency of ELBL, Pet Moon are an immediate contrast. Synth-heavy hook-heavy pop with R&B vox and fringe distractions (hair, not music) mean this band look way out of place on this bill at this hour. The dark-ish electro/Numan current is enough to divert at first but those currents fade fast when we’re hit with a mawkish pile of BALLS. Followed by another one. All benefits of the doubt evaporate and everything starts to irritate – the skinny jeans, the rolled-up t-shirt sleeves, the fringes, the Pop Idol frontman, the white vest …. no. Just. No. I leave them to it.

After the pretentious impotency of Pet Moon, Esben and the Witch are a total volte-face whose gothic tales transmogrify into huge post-rock walls of sound. I don’t know their albums and I don’t doubt their songs are more nuanced on record, but right now the Witch is a beast. ‘nuffsaid.

Closing the day and the event are Califone, the evening’s veterans. They’re late. Turns out that a guitar has gone missing – lost or stolen, we’re not sure yet – and that means ‘… it’s gonna be hard to play some of the songs. Has anyone seen a guitar?’ the singer asks.

‘It’s in a soft cover with Fender on it. The guitar is red-’

‘Is that it?’

A lone voice from the crowd. He points to a spot 5 feet behind the bassist. In that spot is a soft guitar case, solid in form, propped against some hardware. Bassist picks it up. Turns it, slowly – the word Fender appears. Opens the bag.

Yes. It is.

Califone then put their collective doofus to one side and turn in a 45-minute set that flits from piercing noise shards to dusty Americana, slide grooves, low-key acoustics and timeless classic rock with not even a bat of an eye’s lid. They cover a tonne of ground in their shortened stint but, sadly, not enough to make use of the red Fender. It stays in the corner, untouched.

And that’s the end of Audioscope 13 at the Tavern – a brilliant night of reps, vests and guitar thefts where a three-piece Witch nabs top plaudits.

See Audioscope reviews for 2014 and 2015, and Audioscope’s Music for a Good Home 3 CD