Author: Thomas Phelan

Writer and film-maker, and music lover.

Spit 'n' Static! 1020 Radio #10

Your eyeballs become swollen, clammy palpitations take over, then you awaken several hours later with the echoing sounds of unintelligible alien gibberish ringing in your ears. You’ve been exposed to Spit ‘n’ Static!, a raw signal of all things synthpunk and mutoid from sources unknown. Get yer eleventh hit, same slime same face, at Bristol’s 1020 Radio on the 13th Feb! 👽 👌

Heads on Sticks end of decade 2010's playlist!!

”And some people say it’s just rock and roll,

Oh but it gets you right down to your soul

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘Push the Sky Away’, 2013

Music has been my greatest companion. My favourtite drug, a rubber ring in emergency, a tool for surgical introspection. Anyone who loves their music will often struggle to summarise their decade without listing a string of albums or gigs before detailing actual events. The cathartic properties of music are forever intertwined with the narrative of our lives, from our deepest most private battles to the socio-political turmoil stared down by the nation. What this decade means to me is overwhelmingly represented in just 100 songs.

I entered the 2010’s in a fog of uncertainty, as did the country. The financial crisis seemed to coarsen people, the New Labour consensus lay dying, and an emerging appetite for punitive politics reared its head. For many young people, the student protests of 2010 were the seeds of their political awakening. Having had to endure the gleeful relish at further debt for simply wanting an education from pissheads at a bar I worked part-time at, I was well aware that my Media Practice and Film-Making degree would gather scant respect in a new climate of bitter division, and was sure that economic precarity was to follow due to the recession at the time of my graduation.

Right toward the end of my studies, I got hit by the ‘lightning bolt’. One of the greatest experiences is the hit of a fantastic tune when you discover an artist so brilliant it terrifies you that life could have carried on without their songs in your system. As a deep admirer of the original wave of synth artists (Cabaret Voltaire, Kraftwerk, early Human League etc.) I was dissatisfied with the way the synthesizer was being used as a mere indie-toy as opposed to the mysterious beast it was capable of. Stumbling around on YouTube late at night I was exposed to a song called ‘Vigils‘ by Xeno & Oaklander and it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Deep, cold, and analogue, it seized me with its glacial grip and before the song had finished I knew I had heard one of the best electronic acts there had ever been. They opened a door to a plethora of related acts I was totally oblivious to (Sixth June, Daybed, Automelodi) in addition to Veronica Vasicka’s excellent minimal-synth archival project/label Minimal Wave.

The dull, grey thud of intermittent unemployment and bullshit jobs plagued me and many of my friends from the summer of 2011. Despite the camaraderie which comes with living in a house full of struggling artists on the dole and not knowing what the fuck they were doing, anger and disillusionment were never too far from the skint revelry. Cccandy and Youth Code were on repeat during this period, perfectly matching the corrosive effects of austerity breakdown with their volatile and abrasive synth-punk pummel. When we finally got our shit together around 2013 and found some stability and money in our pockets the pop around us seemed brighter and effervescent. ‘s ‘Pilgrim’ and Arcade Fire‘s ‘Reflektor’ were my ‘songs of the summer’, whenever I hear them now I’m taken over with a sense of sunny renewal.

Each year brought more and more fantastic music, and little did I know that I was living in the city which was at the forefront of the ‘new’. Wych Elm, New Haunts, Avon Terror Corps, E B U, Orryx all knocked me sideways and enthused me so much that I finally plucked the courage to start Heads on Sticks. Any resulting success I’ve had I owe to the mosaic of artists, labels, promoters, and radio stations that make up the Bristol music monster invigorating me to want to get stuck in.

There’s an ocean of songs to sift through but I’ve settled for 100, ten per year. 100 good friends that have seen me through the tribulations of the tumultuous decade. No hierarchy, no objective ‘best of’, just simply the story of my 2010’s, and pretty much my twenties.

I approach the 2020’s with uncertainty once again. The devastating defeat of what felt like a once in a lifetime chance of national healing has left me fearing for the future of our country. I take great comfort in knowing that I enter the new decade in a total golden age of challenging, unique, exquisite and fiercely creative music and performing art.

Thanks for the music,

Tom (a fan)

Spit 'n' Static! 1020 Radio #9

Spit ‘n’ Static! hijacked Bristol’s 1020 Radio again for the ninth time, a noxious mutation of synthpunk and avant-garde electro with some electioneering worming its way in! 🗳 👽 👌

Heads on Sticks 2019

When writing ‘end of year’ anythings, it’s hard to avoid the cliché line of ‘this year was better than the last’, but it honestly feels true. It never ceases to amaze me how cutting-edge, transformative and exciting music is right now, both in my hometown of Bristol and across the world.

After spending an agonising hour trying to write something profound about the year, I instead decided to save the yakkin’ for the upcoming end of decade playlist and instead let the music do the talkin’!

Shout-outs go to Wych Elm for their cracking E.P., Grace Ive’s bedroom brilliance on 2nd, the synth punk renaissance from bands like Isotope Soap, U-Bahn and Dress Forms, and the cutting edge output of the Avon Terror Corps gang.

I hope you dig as much as I did x

Glaciers Noods Radio #11

Frosty coldwave hit Noods Radio for the eleventh time, another hour of icy minimal-synth and its many shoegazey post-punk cousins. This’ll be the last for two months so tune back in in February! 🎹 ❄️ 👌

Dress Forms ‘We Don’t Dig Guitars’

Post-punk’s electro cousin is rearing its head once again, the fizzy synthpunk pioneered by bands like The Screamers and Nervous Gender channelled in a new crop of mutants from the glam infused POW! to Aussie misfits U-Bahn and Set-Top Box.

Joining the weirdo renaissance is art-punk trio Dress Forms. One of many projects featuring Portland punk veteran Jason Nickle (from Conditioner Disco Group and Collate), his live drum duties chopping against Jenny Logan and Izzy D’s primitive keyboards authentically capture that Units-like magic. We Don’t Dig Guitars, following prior mini-LP Display, is another slice of jumpy, lo-fi dissonance captured via analogue 8-track recordings.

For ten twisting minutes you race around tightly wound jams of nervous energy. ‘Ode to Crime’ transports straight to that glorious era of punk possibility without sounding derivative before the yearning for tactility and connection in the digital age ambushes you on the fuzzy ‘Attempt to Connect’. ‘Winter Shades’ veers between moody swagger and thrash fury all held together by Jenny’s shrieking vocals and we’re also treated to a cover of The Fall’s ‘Hey Student’ (Nickles adopting a nice faux Mark E. Smith singing style) and ‘Why Wait’ from Portland labelmates Way Worse.

Dress Forms have landed another cracker of a record, and sits with the best of ’em from Portland’s vibrant and growing music scene.

Holy Serpent ‘Endless’

Black Sabbath. Electric Wizard. Acid King. How is it that stoner rock can flirt so perilously close to prog-rock fantasy both musically and in visual identity, yet avoid its silly pitfalls. Two naked children of the earth gazing out across a scorched desert toward a bellowing volcano, holding each other as if awaiting some monstrous entity, strangely feels prescient. Perhaps that’s the secret, ground your surreal Sci-Fi concepts in a feeling all too real. Less Tolkien, more Jodorowsky.

Melbourne psych-rockers Holy Serpent has once again joined forces with RidingEasy Records for their third LP Endless, a record still heavy with earth-shattering doom metal but with their love of 70s hard rock given greater prominence. Clocking in at 40 minutes across six songs, the band achieve a smart sweet spot of allowing each track to breathe and ooze with sluggish tempos yet retaining a punk-like punch.

Album opener ‘Lord Deceptor’ is an absolute monster, a colossal metal summoning of pounding riffs and phantom keys nearly swallowing singer Scott Penberthy’s eerie vocals. It’s rolling power is so seismic and evocative that for six and a half minutes you’re whisked away from grey reality and into some psychedelic and stirring plane of existence. ‘Hourglass’ reaches similar heights of cinematic introspection, Lance Leembrugen’s drums crush against superb metal wrath recalling Tony Iommi’s sludgier cuts from Masters of Reality.

Strung-out grooves snakes throughout lending the record essential moments of cosmic intoxication. Thick Bass rattles against melodic fretwork on the slack ‘Daughter of the Light’, while trippy acoustic guitar triggers heady contemplation on album closer ‘Marijuana Trench’, ending the record on a note of hazy optimism.

Holy Serpent has touched the holy metal grail with Endless: an album which honours their metal heritage with some of the finest hard rock currently out there, yet it’s haunted sense of melody and stirring momentum achieve a strange sense of cerebral serenity.

Spit ‘n’ Static! 1020 Radio #8

Don your lead codpiece, fly-goggles, and whatever PPE you see fit. The Spit ‘n’ Static! signal was transmitted from the 1020 Radio studio LIVE! LIVE! LIVE! That’s right! Every synthpunk throb, quiver, and ooze to be enjoyed right as it was ‘appening! 👽 👌

Glaciers Noods Radio #10

The tenth Glaciers show hit Noods Radio once again, another hour of the usual minimal-synth coldwave vibez and some additional Belgian avant-pop, haunted choirs, and ice-cool electro from Berlin to boot!  🎹 ❄️ 👌

Robedoor ‘Negative Legacy’

Deep within the gruelling industrial working conditions of 19th century London, Dracula stalked the factories and workhouses in his thirst for blood like capital sucking the life from the proletariat, according to a Marxist interpretation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For all the sweeping social change and technological advancement brought about by the industrial revolution, the toil of the labouring class still haunts the cities of Western Europe.

With the demands of late-stage capitalism as aggressive as ever, its resulting alienation and disconnect have created a new and special spectral residue for sonic alchemists to try and tap into. From Bristol’s Dark Alchemy nights, Manchester dungeon mage Primitive Knot, and the many witch house artists conjuring spooky electronica across the States, potent mystical energy seems to be growing underneath the urban sprawl. Spearheading the wave of arcane electronics is duo Robedoor, an industrial occult drone act from L.A. comprised of unrelated Alex and Britt (co-founder of Not Not Fun Records) Brown, and have built a heady discography together touching on stoner metal, psychedelic explorations and space rock.

Their latest offering via Deathbomb Arc comes Negative Legacy, a four track journey of synth sorcery and sonic hypnosis which feels less performed and more exorcised in some forbidden ritual. While the swampy murk as heard on previous records still engulf, traces of melody ooze within the mire. Album opener ‘Entity Undertow’ creeps in with monk chants and febrile winds before swelling with hissing beats seductive bass, as if one were under a trance at the hands of the encroaching vampire. Putrid electro palpitates on the ravaged ‘Execution Myth’, cavernous drums pounds like the awaiting of the condemned against the feverish hellscapes of squealing synths and alien effects followed by the most evil, nastiest keyboard throb in this life or hereafter. The drum machines penetrate the smog on penultimate track ‘So Unknown’ while album closer ‘Cauldrone’ is a stirring meander through old-world strings, octave pedal manipulations and Martin Hannet style spatial snares.

This is a dark record, but we live in dark times. As the cogs of neoliberalism continue to grind, the workers and city dwellers yearn to touch the beguiling and ethereal. Negative Legacy is both a successful channelling of ancient mysticism and an unholy trip of detachment all too contemporary in the exploitative and disillusioned world we’re subject to.