"IT'S COMING DOWN, BABY!": Sir Richard Bishop interviewed by Erik Davis (from Arthur No. 27/Dec 2007)

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It’s Coming Down, Baby!
Erik Davis catches up with SIR RICHARD BISHOP—gypsy picatrix, ex-Sun City Girl and guitarist extraordinaire
Illustration by John Coulthart

Originally published in Arthur No. 27 (Dec 2007)

Superlatives can be lame, but Richard Bishop is one of the few post-punk guitarists who came of age in the 1980s to have achieved the incendiary prowess of a true Guitar God. Though largely unknown outside the underground, Bishop plays and improvises with an uncommon and original power. He can tantalize in a myriad of styles, he has a global jukebox in his head, he can shatter the walls of sleep and chaos, and he can turn on a dime. He loves the guitar and mocks it: he plays like an absurdist and a romantic at once. He studies the occult and travels the Third World fringe and you can hear it. He plays guitar to save himself and fails in the endeavor and you can hear it. He can scare the shit out of you sometimes, and he can make you giggle and grin.

For decades Bishop played with his brother Alan and the Charlie Gocher in the Sun City Girls, where his ferocious and inventive exploration of psych-rock, punk spew, idiot jizz, Indo-Arabic fantasias, and jazzbo abstraction was often shadowed by the madcap antics, acerbic lyrics and general air of arcane weirdness that surrounded that impossible act. Gocher passed away in February this year at the age of 54, and the Girls are no more.

But over the last half decade, Bishop has also been playing and recording solo instrumental music as Sir Richard Bishop, and the effort is really starting to flower. This year SRB released two great albums. While My Guitar Gently Bleeds features three long pieces that triangulate his essential territory as an improviser: a North African arabesque, a noisy electronic nightscape, and a modal neo-raga on the tantric tip. Polytheistic Fragments is a more accessible and varied work, featuring a dozen tunes that also stretch into Americana, gypsy rag and Lennon-McCartney charm. As always, the recordings are packaged with strange and mystic images that speak to Bishop’s longtime study of esoterica.

Earlier this fall Bishop toured with labelmate Bill Callahan. I called him while he was taking a break in Seattle.

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"SLOW DOWN": Erik Davis's "The Analog Life" column from Arthur No. 32

“The Analog Life”
by Erik Davis
from Arthur No. 32 (Dec 08)

Illustration by P.D. Hidalgo

SLOW DOWN
Is it really so horrible to imagine the planet down-shifting for once?

You can hardly blame anyone for feeling the fear and panic that helped drive October’s near financial meltdown. Scanning the headlines or the newsfeeds, our eyes greeted a steady pulse of bummer lingo. “Global Recession.” “Great Depression.” “Financial Collapse.” Serious words for serious times. But there was another phrase I kept stumbling across, less apocalyptic certainly but still delivered with a grim fatalism, that struck me differently. The economy, we were warned, was showing signs of a significant slowdown.

Slowdown? I don’t know about you, but I could use a bit of a slowdown right about now. Take things easy, not run around so much, maybe poke around the garden and restring that guitar. Hold a neighborhood potluck, learn emergency response, can some tomatoes. I haven’t finished rebuilding the office, and haven’t even cracked The Man Without Qualities.

OK, I am being a little facetious. After all, “slowdown” describes the debilitating stuttering of capitalism’s endless Big Bang-like expansion, an enormously powerful wave of transformation that in some manner or another floats almost all of our boats. If this immense flow of nested feedback loops, production networks, and capital flows starts to slow, then things don’t just mellow out. They start to fall apart, like a Chinese acrobat—scratch that, American acrobat—whose spinning plates lose their momentum and inevitably fall to the floor even as the poor fellow keeps his balance. That means families get pushed into poverty, small businesses close, poor folks grow desperate and rich folks even more selfish and mean.

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Byron Coley and Thurston Moore's "Bull Tongue" column from Arthur No. 32 (Dec 08)

BULL TONGUE
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
from Arthur No. 32 (Dec 2008)

Of all the fucked up, nasty ass, deliriously damaged rock bands in the recent history of the American underground wonderland (particularly Texas), none come close to the squirm and hellacious sqwunk of Rusted Shut. From the incinerated skum of Houston weirdness improv outfit Grinding Teeth arose Rusted Shut in 1986. Their shows were a notorious mess, drunken and fueled by cheap-jack acid. After years of slovenly survival they’ve been somewhat rescued from universal distaste by the current noise legions. The Emperor Jones label released the Rehab CD in 2003 and AA Records did a sick lathe (“Bring Out Your Dead”) last year and their notorious “Fuckin’” track off the 2006 End Times Festival live comp is still the only loop that matters (check their myspace page for that one). It was with some apprehension of being held up by knife point that we unzipped their new Hot Sex EP (Dull Knife). But goddamn if this is not a great goddamned beast of a record. The core duo of Don Walsh and Sybil Chance (the original still alive members of Grinding Teeth) and Domokos (on drums and ‘earthscreamer’) just lay it out in an unctious smear of rawk n roll decimating any obvious pretence of hardcore, black metal, death metal, sludge, punk, avant improv goop etc.—shit is the REAL amerika full on. Salute and die.

Nigel Cross’s British label, Shagrat, only releases extraordinary material. He doesn’t bother with anything else. That means it’s always a label to watch and their newsy release, the Mariachi Riff Live and Free Music LP by Formerly Fat Harry, is a case in point. FFH were an ostensible Country Joe offshoot band, based in England, who recorded a lone laid-back, country-fried album for UK Harvest. It never struck us as wildly interesting, but Brits who saw the band live were always blowing spit-bubbles about how psychedelic they were. Some of that material finally surfaced on the Hux CD, Goodbye for Good, but this LP has the essential jewel—a 25-minute West Coast jam pinnacle that can match any ballroom band for sheer acid flash. An amazing record! The flip has two free-form pieces the band recorded earlier and they too are mind-blowers. If this material had surfaced while the band was still extant, they’d be legendary. As it was, they were so arcane only a few true believers like Pete Frame, Colin Hill (who wrote the fantastic liner notes) and Nigel had any idea that there even was a grail to seek. Easily the best archival find of the year, and an incredible record by any standard.

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“Way to Go, Ohio”: Arthur’s exclusive Q&A with THE PRETENDERS’ Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne (2008)

Chrissie and James (photography by Lauren Bilanko)

For the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Akron, Ohio has always been a hometown in permanent decline, a place she fled for England. Now America’s greatest ex-pat rock ‘n’ roller sees the future in her past: a reborn urban core where counter-culture businesses, including her own new restaurant (vegan, of course), are helping restore progressive community to a downtown trashed by short-sighted greed. That sense of small-is-better renewal runs through her band’s new album, which features the playing of James Walbourne, an acclaimed young rockabilly guitarist who joins Hynde here for an exclusive conversation with Arthur’s Oliver Hall.

Photography by Lauren Bilanko.

From Arthur 32, December 2008.

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“Real Eyes”: Greg Shewchuk’s “Advanced Standing” column for Arthur (2008)

This is the text of the “Advanced Standing” column for Arthur No. 32 (2008, online-only):

Real Eyes: What Are We Skating Towards?
by Gregory Shewchuk

Illustration by Joseph Remnant

“To know the truth of one’s Self as the sole Reality, and to merge and become one with it, is the only true Realization.” – Ramana Maharshi

One indication that I am not quite an enlightened being is my temper—I can get very angry and lose touch with my higher purpose. As much as I enjoy skateboarding, when things are not going well I occasionally lose my shit: throw my board, punch myself, scream at the heavens, and curse myself for even trying to ride the thing. It’s not always fun and games. In addition to the physical challenge, skateboarding can be highly emotional and often takes me to the edge of some very unpleasant feelings: doubt, frustration, depression, seething anger. Yet I keep coming back to my board, to roll around and delve deeper into the process. After 20 years of sidewalk surfing, I’ve started to understand what I am looking for.

I received my first skateboard—a Sims Kamikaze—in third grade in the rapidly developing suburb of Columbia, Maryland. I was a child with a toy. I played on my skateboard, hung out with friends, rode bikes and built ramps and listened to music and played video games. As I entered middle and high school and became more independent and physically capable, skateboarding became more of a lifestyle.

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MAGIC(K) IN THE STREETS: Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic (Arthur, 2008)

An Open Invocation
by The Center for Tactical Magic

illustration by Cassandra Chae

originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008)

“Magic(k) works.” This declarative statement was recently hurled in our direction with a cautionary tone rather than a celebratory one. The sender of the warning was concerned that we didn’t take magic(k) seriously enough; that we were advocating its use willy-nilly like some sort of fun, new fad. But fear not. Although we don’t believe that fun and magic(k) are at odds with one another, we are nonetheless advocating its use very pointedly and with much consideration. And we are advocating its use precisely because it works.

As we’ve said in the past, one of the primary reasons why people don’t engage in magic(k) in the first place is out of a sense of dismissal. They dismiss magic(k) because they doubt it will produce results; and, they dismiss magic(k) because they fear it will produce results. Indeed, much of the bullshit that fertilizes the grand magic garden reeks of these airs of dismissal. Occult conspiracy theorists will even tell you that such bullshit is built up to protect the fruit from those who would dare set foot in the garden at all. Layers and layers of foul fluff and rotten rhetoric are woven into a formidable pile of vapid New Age-isms, Hollywood cheese, religious warnings, and occult elitism.

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“KEEPING IT LOCAL”: Trinie Dalton visits BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT (Arthur, 2008)

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Nabob, photographed by Trinie Dalton

KEEPING IT LOCAL
Two transplants from the Heart of Dixie who went west to the land of mesas, pueblos and geodesic domes, Rachael Hughes and Nathan Shineywater have found a way to thrive beyond society’s mad dash to survive. Trinie Dalton travels to New Mexico to meet BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT, and hear their stunning new album in the pair’s natural habitat.

originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008), with photographs by Lisa Law

Leaving Brightblack Morning Light’s northern New Mexico deep wilderness enclave, I finally get their obsession with the local AM radio. The daily monsoon moves in as I fly down the hill from their town in my red rental car. Mexican cumbia, a variation of the upbeat Colombian pop music, sounds interplanetary crackling through the fuzzy AM distance. I imagine it transmitting from some far off Mexican star, a star I’d like to visit. Crank the cumbia, see what it can do in a storm. Brightblack Morning Light’s Nabob Shineywater says AM is like Sun Ra. Yesterday morning, just after I’d arrived, we were hiking up a wash and Nabob asked, “Who are we to say Sun Ra wasn’t from another planet?”

The sky gets dark as wind kicks up. With the first lightning crackle and boom, the radio shorts and cumbia cuts out—quiet for a moment, then back up, hissing, scratched, and damaged. Have I blown the speakers? Has the radio station’s tower been struck? Each lightning bolt slicing vertically down the flat horizon causes more disruption. Nabob also mentioned that in Los Alamos, scientists recently disproved Einstein’s theory that light travels fastest. Radio waves now win that contest. Two days after the anniversary of the Pueblo Revolt of 1860—a big deal in these parts—thunder means the obliteration of human sounds. Recognizable dance beats are exchanged for something Frankenstein-ish: a live, electric orchestration so weird and marvelous it could only have been invented by Nature, the omnipresent force in this sandy region.

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Is the “planetary consciousness” of neotribal psytrance gatherings just window dressing for the same old hedonism?

Art by Hye Jin Lee

Trance Planet
by Erik Davis

originally published in Arthur No. 31 (Oct 2008)

Idanha-a-Nova, Portugal

This August, around 25,000 people hauled their kits and caboodles down a long hot narrow road in the middle of the Portuguese nowhere to camp like migrants along the shores of a lake not far from the Spanish border. They made the trek to attend Boom, a biannual electronic dance music festival that has grown into a large and successful event that eschews corporate sponsorship and keeps its roots in the underground alive. There were all sorts of people at Boom, but the dominant vibe of the weeklong festival was neotribal: a rave-inflected millennial florescence of hippie shit like long hair, fashion exotica, hardcore psychedelia, trance dancing, healing arts, and pagan-ish New Age mysticism with an apocalyptic thrust. There were chai shops and vegan grub vendors and massage centers and drug information booths, plus four music stages that provided everything from cheesy breakbeats to live world fusion to ambient driftworks. But the core genre was psytrance, an intense and sometimes unnervingly trippy form of electronic dance music whose pulverizing, brain-synching and monotonous beats that embody a ferocious psychedelic aspiration that makes dancing at Boom as much a ritual as a party.

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